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House of Commons

Tuesday 8 May 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


National Curriculum

1. Mr. Buckley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received regarding the national curriculum ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John MacGregor) : I frequently receive correspondence from school governing bodies, teachers, parents and others which expresses substantial support for the national curriculum.

Mr. Buckley : Does the Secretary of State recognise that the national curriculum is becoming centrally prescribed? Does he accept Her Majesty's inspectorate's report that a deterioration in quality and deskilling of teachers may be a consequence of the national curriculum?

Mr. MacGregor : The recent Her Majesty's inspectorate report on the national curriculum shows that good progress is being made in primary schools and I do not accept that it is centrally prescriptive. It is important to have a national curriculum which raises standards to the levels of the best throughout the country, and we have

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made many efforts to ensure that teachers have plenty of freedom to exercise their professional judgment--the theme of a speech that I made at a recent conference held by the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association. It is well recognised that we are getting the balance right.

Mr. Evennett : Will my right hon. Friend advise us what is happening with regard to the history working group's report and when we shall hear his decision on that?

Mr. MacGregor : I am consulting more widely because the report attracted wide interest from many different points of view and it is important that those who offer advice on the report should do so only after they have read it. That consultation ends in the middle of June and I shall make an announcement then.

Mr. Straw : In view of the Prime Minister's almost complete U-turn which was announced in the Sunday Telegraph on 15 April, and the Secretary of State's different but almost weekly changes to the national curriculum's operation, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is an unacceptable confusion about the practice of the national curriculum, which cannot be resolved by a public relations man imposed upon him by his predecessor, the chairman of the Tory party? In view of that serious confusion and the fact that in the interview reported in the Sunday Telegraph the Prime Minister raised doubts even about the idea of a core curriculum, is it not time that the Secretary of State produced a White Paper setting out exactly the Government's policy?

Mr. MacGregor : That was a ragbag of holiday straws. The position is clear. As I go round the country, I find that teachers welcome the orderly decisions that I am taking to implement the national curriculum. There is no disagreement on the purposes and objectives of the national curriculum. It was made clear in the original White Paper and the consultative document, which I have reread, that the non-core subjects would have less rigorous standard assessment tasks than the other subjects, and that a variety of decisions had to be taken to implement the national curriculum and will continue to have to be taken. I am taking those decisions in an ordered and manageable

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way. I have been particularly concerned not to overburden school curricula or teachers with too much at once. There is considerable support for our recent announcements, all of which are available to teachers, and it simply is not necessary to have a White Paper.

Training Credits

2. Mr. Stevens : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what effect he expects the introduction of training credits to have on young people seeking further education and training after they leave school.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : By motivating young people to seek training and employers to provide it, training credits have the potential to increase radically the number of young people in jobs who receive worthwhile education and training. That is why the Government have announced their intention to run pilot schemes from next April.

Mr. Stevens : I welcome job training credits which will introduce additional flexibility to bring about specific training in the skills that individuals will need, but what role will the education service have in that new scheme?

Mr. Jackson : I believe that the education service will have an important role to play in the new scheme, which will present a considerable opportunity for the service to expand its provision of part-time education and training of young people. It will continue to be the major provider of part-time training and education and to play an essential role in the operation of the credit scheme. In considering applications for pilot schemes, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be careful to identify the local education authorities that have been most closely involved. We have received no fewer than 33 bids for the 10 pilot schemes that we shall be operating, which shows the extent of their popularity.

Mr. Leighton : The principle of training credits has been widely welcomed, but some youngsters should also be encouraged to undergo further education, including that for vocational careers. As one does not want students to make educational decisions mainly on financial grounds, is there not an equally strong case for offering a financial incentive to remain at school, by making training credits available to young people who decide to continue into further education?

Mr. Jackson : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and for the remarks that he made in response to the original statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, when the hon. Gentleman was a very welcome voice from the Opposition Benches. The implications of the part-time training credit scheme for those in full-time education will have to be examined. However, we have no reason to believe that the scheme will constitute a disincentive to remain at school or to enter a further education college full time. However, we shall monitor that aspect in the context of the pilot schemes.

Mr. Worthington : If the Minister believes that pupils will be motivated by the introduction of training credits, does he also believe that they will be demotivated by the

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withdrawal of funds by the Department of Employment from compacts and training and vocational employment initiatives that will shortly be announced? Does the Minister agree that students will be put off entering further education and training by the renegotiation of the youth training scheme and the cutting of Department of Employment money from that area?

Mr. Jackson : The hon. Gentleman should address those questions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The training credit pilot schemes involve expenditure of an extra £12 million in 1991-92 and £25 million in 1992-93, which is a considerable investment. If the schemes are shown to have worked, I hope that we shall see further growth under that heading.

Cedar Special School

3. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has any plans to launch a four-year research project into the inter-disciplinary team approach used at the Cedar special school for the handicapped near Southampton.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth) : We have no plans to launch such a project.

Mr. Colvin : The House will be aware of the wonderful work done by the Peto institute in Hungary in the treatment of handicapped children. Can my hon. Friend explain why the Government see fit to spend £5 million annually on the Peto institute when a more cost-effective alternative method than conductive education, namely the inter-disciplinary team approach, awaits evaluation at the Cedar special school near my constituency, at a cost of only about £250, 000? Does my hon. Friend agree that financing that scheme would be a good use of the taxpayers' money, as it would identify whether IDTA or conductive education is the best way forward in the treatment of handicapped children?

Mr. Howarth : We believe that conductive education should be among the options available to British children. It is at an early stage of development in this country. We are planning to contribute £5 million over the next four years to support the international Peto institute, for the purpose of ensuring that places will be available for British children and that British conductors can be trained in Hungary and bring their expertise back to this country. We are undertaking a comparative study of the kind that my hon. Friend commends to me, the results of which will throw light on the benefits of conductive education as developed at the Birmingham institute and the multi-disciplinary approach being used with a different group of children in another part of the country.

Grant-Maintained Status

6. Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schools have so far shown interest in obtaining grant- maintained status.

Mr. MacGregor : Ballots about grant-maintained status have been held at 88 schools. Parents at 66 of them have

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voted in favour of proceeding with an application. I have approved 37 of the 48 proposals which have reached me for decision.

Mr. Amess : Is my right hon. Friend aware that not all parents, pupils and teachers are satisfied with the arrangements for the reorganisation of sixth forms in the constituency that I represent and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman)? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to reaffirm the Government's support for the principle of schools trying to seek grant-maintained status? Will he join me in condemning as utterly irresponsible any local education authority trying to rubbish a ballot of parents, as is happening in a school in Basildon at the moment?

Mr. MacGregor : I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that I am a strong supporter of the grant-maintained policy. I believe that it has many advantages, which I frequently talk about, and I am absolutely clear about that. It has the advantage of quick decision taking, the school and the governing body have complete control over their affairs, it has greatly improved morale in schools and, perhaps most important of all, it is popular with parents, as is shown by the large increase in the numbers of pupils going to such schools. It would not be right for me to intervene when a particular ballot is taking place, as the issue may come to me later for a decision. Mr. Dunn rose--

Mr. Skinner : Is the Secretary of State-- [Interruption.] -- The right hon. Gentleman only kept the education job because the Prime Minister did not know where his hon. Friend, the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) was when she wanted him.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has only been called because I saw him.

Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman was off on holiday on an obscure island.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, instead of using the money in the way that he has just described, he would do well to send some money to Derbyshire for nursery school provision especially at Langwith in my constituency?

Mr. MacGregor : I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about, and this is not the first time. There is no extra money for grant- maintained schools. The advantage of the grant-maintained school is its ability to run itself without constant referral back. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is confusing grant-maintained schools with city technology colleges and, not for the first time, he has not made his point.

Mr. Dunn : Can the Secretary of State confirm that if the Opposition had their way the grant-maintained provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988 would be abolished, as would grammar schools, church schools, sixth forms in schools, sixth form colleges and the independent sector? Under the Opposition's proposals we would be required to have a comprehensive system for 11 to 16-year-olds with tertiary colleges. That is against the majority of opinion in this country.

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. From all the Opposition have been saying, it is clear that they have learnt nothing and that they have stuck by the policies of the 1960s. My hon. Friend is right to say that

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a number of the reforms that we are carrying out--I refer to the grant-maintained school reform--are very popular with parents, and I hope that the Opposition will think again about their opposition to those general policies.

Education Provision, Bradford

7. Mr. Madden : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has had concerning education provision in the Bradford education authority area.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : My right hon. Friend frequently receives such representations, on a variety of issues.

Mr. Madden : Does the Minister accept that one of the main reasons for the sinking of the Tory flagship in Bradford last week was the crisis in the city's education service, which arises directly from the £276 poll tax set by the Conservative party? Does she understand that more than 100 teachers are facing redundancy as a result of underfunding of the school budgets, that schools are crumbling in Bradford because we have received only a fraction of the £100 million needed to repair and renovate them, and that 50 lecturers are facing redundancy at Bradford and Ilkley college because of deep cuts in their funding? In view of all that, will the Minister arrange for an urgent early meeting with the new Bradford education authority so that the crisis in the city's education service can be resolved?

Mrs. Rumbold : Yes. Ministers are always happy to meet hon. Members with deputations to discuss education matters. But the hon. Gentleman must hurry before the normal practice in Bradford occurs--the Conservatives retaking control.

Teachers (Industrial Action)

8. Mr. Janman : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the effect of the introduction of the national curriculum of the recent decision by some of the teachers' unions to take strike action.

Mr. MacGregor : I regret any industrial action in our schools. It can only damage children's education, serves no useful purpose and diminishes teachers' standing in the eyes of parents and of the public as a whole. For those reasons many teachers regard such action as undesirable and unacceptable.

Mr. Janman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the calls for strike action within some teachers' unions are being led by members of Militant and the hard left--a notable example is Miss Anita Dickson, a self -declared supporter of Militant who has been elected to the NUT executive? Does my right hon. Friend consider that it is appropriate for such people to be teaching our children in our state schools?

Mr. MacGregor : I certainly think that the reactions of many parents to the comments and actions of some people in the teaching unions is that they would not wish their children to be taught by such people. The important message for us to get over is that the vast majority of teachers are not like that.

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Mrs. Mahon : Will the Minister confirm that he has refused to meet any of the local authorities that have been poll tax capped? Will he tell the House how on earth the national curriculum can be implemented in Calderdale, where the budget has to be reduced by £5 million?

Mr. MacGregor : The reason is that it would be inappropriate for me to do so. Local education authorities that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is proposing to charge cap have had the opportunity to put forward alternative proposals which he is considering. That is the right way to proceed.

City Technology Colleges

9. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress has been made as regards the establishment of city technology colleges.

Mr. MacGregor : The city technology colleges programme continues to make excellent progress. Three colleges are up and running and a further nine are due to open in 1990 and 1991.

Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the three CTCs in operation so far have emphatically shown their ability to raise standards, particularly in vocational education, to ensure that local companies continually take an interest in their curriculum, and, possibly most important, to increase the motivation of their pupils and those in surrounding schools? Does he agree that the most obvious demonstration of their popularity is their popularity with parents, and that significant proof of that is at Kingshurst where this year there are no fewer than 730 applications for 150 places, which is a record?

Mr. MacGregor : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend who has put many of the points in favour of the CTCs. I join him in underlining the importance of parents' attitudes towards the CTCs. The applications are well up on the number of places available. In addition, the colleges are clearly attracting other sponsors. Kingshurst, which my hon. Friend mentioned, had two original industrial sponsors and now has 70. That is very good progress.

Mr. Flannery : Why does not the Minister admit that the original plan for city technology colleges has totally collapsed? Does he remember the promises that private industry would finance those colleges? The withdrawal of funds--our funds--from Brighton city technology college is the latest failure. City technology colleges mean that in Nottingham where about £9 million is needed for schools, about £6 million goes to the city technology college and all the other schools--hundreds of them-- have to make do with the other £3 million.

Mr. MacGregor : I shall take just one or two of those points. It is absolutely not the case that the CTC programme is a failure--quite the reverse. I have said that 12 will be in operation before long. The programme is also attracting considerable industrial sponsorship--more than £40 million. It is new money and, therefore, apart from all its education advantages, it should be seen as part of the inner urban programme, and in that context it is very successful in raising education standards. In Brighton, the only reason I took the decision that I did was that it

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became clear that the pledge of the original sponsors could not be fulfilled and we would not get a private sponsorship.

Mr. Pawsey : May I ask my right hon. Friend to disregard the rantings of the Opposition? They are full of sound and fury and signify very little. The comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) are nothing more than nit picking. Conservative Members are most anxious to see the policy and programme for city technology colleges advanced far more strongly and far more quickly.

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. The Opposition dislike popular schemes conceived by the Conservative party and our schemes are popular. I should also like to move faster. The difficulty sometimes is in putting together sponsors and sites, and getting through the problems of planning permission and building. Those are the main difficulties. I have already given the number of colleges that we have in the pipeline and I hope that there will be others before long.

Mr. Straw : Is not the truth of the city technology programme that financial controls have been so inadequate that Ministers and donors have been able to play fast and loose with public funds? Will the Secretary of State explain how the CTC trust was allowed to authorise a potential donor to the Brighton CTC, Mr. Ivor Revere, to become the front man in the purchase of the land for the CTC for the Catholic diocese in Brighton so that he could hoodwink the diocese into believing that the land was to be used for housing rather than for a school? How was Mr. Revere able to filch £200,000 from public funds as a secret commission on that land deal? Why did that secret commission go undetected for three months until December? Why, above all, did the Secretary of State, well knowing by 8 December the fact of that secret commission, refuse to volunteer the information to Parliament? Why did we have to wait for four months for that information to be wrung out of him?

Mr. MacGregor : A great deal is wrong in all those questions. First, the site was purchased for a CTC and that was clear. Secondly, as soon as it became clear to my Department that commission had been paid, we acted. It was discovered through a normal routine check, we acted immediately and the money was repaid immediately. I made the announcement to Parliament when I was asked, in the normal way. There has been no concealment. A whole series of financial transactions go on every day in government. The key point is that the moment we discovered that money had been paid on commission--and we did not think it should have been--we got it back.

Local Management of Schools

10. Mr. Brandon-Bravo : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a further statement on local management of schools.

Mrs. Rumbold : Local management of schools schemes came into force on 1 April 1990 in 87 local education authorities. My officials are working with the remaining 10 LEAs whose schemes could not be approved to produce acceptable schemes for introduction in April 1991. We shall be monitoring and reviewing all aspects of LMS in the light of experience.

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Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Does my hon. Friend share my great concern at the ease with which some education authorities can retain far too many of their resources at the centre, thereby denying proper and adequate funding to the real business of education--the schools and their staff? Is there any mechanism by which my hon. Friend can impose discipline on education authorities?

Mrs. Rumbold : Yes. I can reassure my hon. Friend on that question. It is true that there has been considerable variation among local education authorities about the amount that has been delegated, especially from the discretionary area. However, one of the points that I hope will please my hon. Friend is that many of those authorities have discretion to hold back for one year only. We expect, therefore, that next year, and in ensuing years, more of the discretionary element for the central administration will be delegated back to the schools, where it should be.

Mr. Crowther : Is the Minister aware that poll tax capping will cause immense problems for the implementation of the Government's own scheme for the local management of schools? If the Secretary of State understands the principle of collective responsibility in the Cabinet, how can he justify an arrangement under which the children of his constituents will receive more resources for education than the children of my constituents? Is that not a gross abuse of the power of a Cabinet Minister?

Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Gentleman is slightly confused. Local education authorities set their budgets on their own terms and according to their means and desires. If local education authorities have done their job properly and the schools are receiving the money under LMS, there is absolutely no reason why the schemes should not continue as planned.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does my hon. Friend accept that many excellent schools in my constituency are hampered by the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council, which intensely dislikes church and village schools? Will she ensure that such councils cannot victimise church and village schools and that they can continue to do the excellent job that they are now doing at both primary and secondary level?

Mrs. Rumbold : I fully share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for small schools and Church of England and church schools generally. Under its LMS scheme, the local authority has the ability to ensure that small schools are protected. We shall be watching carefully to ensure that small schools receive the protection that is due to them, so that they may continue to do the excellent work that they have always done in the past.

Ms. Armstrong : Does not the Minister realise that there is widespread consternation about the operation of local management of schools? The scheme and the principle that we supported are being completely undermined by the centralised diktat that the formula based on average teaching costs represents. That formula is applied to no other aspect of education. When will the Government wake up to the fact that we have to pay the actual cost of teachers' salaries and not the average cost?

Mrs. Rumbold : It is a great pity that the hon. Lady does not understand the principles that underlie the local management of schools. In the first place, central

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Government have done nothing other than to set the loosest possible guidelines. The central point about LMS is that it is the pupils who lead the funding. Each local education authority determines how its local management scheme works according to the number of pupils and the age weighting of those pupils.

If we paid historic costs, which is what the hon. Lady would like us to do, we should simply build into the system the failures of the past rather than moving forward to the future, so that parents--voting with their feet and their children--get the best schools, which they deserve.

Mr. Haselhurst : Has my hon. Friend's monitoring of the local management of schools so far revealed many schools for which the variation between last year's and this year's budget is wider than it should be? Is she satisfied that sufficient flexibility is built into the system to ensure that some of the worst gaps can be closed?

Mrs. Rumbold : I am satisfied that some of the worst gaps can be closed by our monitoring of LMS schemes introduced in some authorities. Some authorities made some mistakes in their initial calculations, which have had to be changed, but there is a transitional period during which adjustments can be made. Moreover, minor or major variations can be made with the consent of the Secretary of State. There are adequate safeguards for the future.

International Baccalaureate

12. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the provision of the international baccalaureate examination ; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Rumbold : Two schools have made representations about offering the international baccalaureate.

Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the criticisms made of A-levels is that although they offer good depth, they lack breadth. The international baccalaureate, while providing the same academic standards, provides students with a broader curriculum at 18. Will my hon. Friend consider whether the Government should encourage the adoption of the international baccalaureate, especially as we move towards 1992?

Mrs. Rumbold : I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I acknowledge that the international baccalaureate is set to very high academic standards. I would draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, alongside A-levels, we have now introduced AS-levels, which are intended to do the job of introducing breadth into A-level studies.

Mr. Ian Taylor : Is my hon. Friend aware that, in my constituency, the American community school, on whose board of academic governors I serve, offers the international baccalaureate, and that many British people are now asking whether their children can be admitted to take it because of the international access that it gives them? Will my hon. Friend encourage other British schools to consider the matter seriously.?

Mrs. Rumbold : My hon. Friend will know that it is always open to schools to look closely at this matter.

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Fourteen schools in this country already offer the international baccalaureate. Some are maintained schools and others are independent.

Local Management of Schools

13. Mr. Martlew : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has to introduce flexibility for schemes for the local management of schools.

Mrs. Rumbold : The Government's framework for local management of schools gave LEAs ample flexibility to design schemes which reflected local needs and priorities. There are, moreover, simple arrangements which allow local education authorities to make changes to their approved schemes in the light of experience.

Mr. Martlew : Will the Minister agree to meet spokespersons of the Cumbria education committee, which requested such a meeting because of the Secretary of State's unfair criticism of the way in which it has been dealt with LMS? Is it not a fact that the problem with LMS in Cumbria, as in the rest of the country, is not how money is distributed but a lack of money?

Mrs. Rumbold : Local education authorities set their own aggregated schools budgets. They do it exactly the same as they did before. Therefore, if there is a particular small element of the way in which a budget has been disbursed, by all means, if an authority wishes to discuss it, there is no reason why it should not do so.

Mr. Latham : Would my hon. Friend have a look at the proposed averaging across secondary schools and see how it will affect sixth form colleges? Is she aware that the Rutland sixth form college in my constituency is most concerned about the proposals? I understand that other sixth form colleges are concerned as well.

Mrs. Rumbold : I am very happy to look at any particular schemes that are being brought in and to talk to the local education authority about them. It would be appropriate to allow the scheme to run for a year and then look at the effects.

Education Expenditure, Wigan

14. Mr. Lewis : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received regarding expenditure on education in Wigan ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alan Howarth : My right hon. Friend has received in the past month two representations about expenditure on education in Wigan.

Mr. Lewis : Is the Minister aware that the Audit Commission and Her Majesty's inspectorate have given Wigan education a clean bill of health and that the charge capping that has been unfairly placed on Wigan could militate severely against education provision in the town? When will the Secretary of State and his Ministers take responsibility--or is it be shifted along to Marsham street?

Mr. Howarth : Wigan's original budget for 1990-91 for all services is no less than 21 per cent. above its standard spending assessment, which means an extra bill of £151 for each Wigan charge payer. The huge majority of authorities have been able to establish a satisfactory education budget

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without setting such a high community charge that they run into charge capping. The hon. Gentleman might have a word with his colleagues on Wigan metropolitan district council and suggest that they do the minimum of shouting from the housetops and take advantage of the opportunity that they will shortly have to meet my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities and have a quiet talk together.

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