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Column 176The Secretary of State talks of encouraging diversity, at a time when he is squeezing out syllabus subjects such as classics and imposing syllabuses that are so prescriptive that Hitler and Stalin would have looked upon the right hon. Gentleman proudly as an heir to their tradition. [ Hon. Members :-- "What about Lenin?"] Lenin would not have looked at the right hon. Gentleman in that way--Lenin never looked at anyone in that sort of way.
If the Secretary of State wants to withdraw some of the prescriptions that he is putting in the various syllabuses, I should welcome it, but every act of this Secretary of State has shown that he wants to act as a dictator-- that he knows best and that no one else can contribute advice that he will take.
Mr. Hawkins : Does the hon. Gentleman defend the practice of many left-leaning teachers, who believe that rap music is an appropriate subject to be studied in English lessons? Would he not prefer the works of Oscar Wilde, such as "The Importance of Being Earnest"? Does he not agree that is the right recipe for children to learn good English?
Mr. Enright : What an extraordinary statement. Teachers in any school know best what will fire the imagination and enthusiasm of their pupils. They use a whole variety of methods to stimulate their pupils--as I did. To help my pupils discover what the optative and subjunctive are all about, I translated Beatles songs into Latin--which would no doubt be to the fury of the hon. Gentleman, but it contributed to effective teaching. Many teachers do the same and it is wholly absurd of the hon. Gentleman to ridicule teachers who are working effectively at the chalk face, at a job which he could never do.
The Secretary of State talks of giving increased choice, but what increased opportunities for choice do pupils have
The Secretary of State deliberately refused choice to 16-year-olds of the equivalent of the baccalaureate, thereby reducing their choices at 18-plus. I give way to the decorously dressed hon. and learned Gentleman.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : As a classicist myself with first-class honours, I should be interested to hear a rendition of a Beatles song, with all the words in English translated into Latin by the hon. Gentleman.
"Habitamus sub vitreo,
Mr. Enright : I apologise unreservedly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I could not resist the hon. and learned Gentleman's challenge. New clause 22 is totally inadequate to achieve the aims that we have for our children and the philosophy that the Opposition adopt towards improving education standards
Column 177not just for the few but for all our children. That means increasing the power of their imagination. That is what we should be examining, and it is that which the Secretary of State consistently curbs by his actions.
Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash) : The importance of new clause 22 is that it acknowledges that we have a changed system, in which more schools are going grant maintained--which I welcome. The 650 schools that have already voted for GM status are just a drop in the ocean. Many more are considering that course. One reason is the continuing antics of many local education authorities--antics that do not serve well the schools in their areas.
Mr. Anthony Coombs : I can tell my hon. Friend that a conference in Birmingham within the next two weeks on grant-maintained schools has been oversubscribed by no fewer than 35 schools, who are desperate to be free of the control of appalling Labour local authorities.
In Derbyshire, many head teachers are most worried about the way in which the local authority is seeking to prejudice the education given in some schools by the way that it distributes funds. One head pointed out recently that some schools receive £1,600 per pupil, while others get as much as £2,400--a gap of £800. He adds, most eloquently :
"If one examines the surpluses left over at the end of the year, it indicates the enormous differences and unfairnesses in the Derbyshire system. The council is quite blatantly failing in its duty to fund schools according to their needs."
That is an example of the way that some education authorities are choosing not to provide schools with the funds that they require. The importance of grant-maintained schools is that they are funded according to their needs.
Ms. Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley) : If the hon. Lady is so concerned about funding inequalities within an LEA area, will she comment on the situation in Birmingham, where four grant-maintained schools have been given half a million pounds between them, whereas the other 500 schools have been given only £6 million between them all? Does the hon. Lady consider that the Secretary of State acted equitably in the way that he distributed money between Birmingham schools?
Mrs. Knight : I understand that the hon. Lady is referring to capital allocations. If the schools make a good case, they will be funded. If they fail to do so, they will not be funded. The hon. Lady will find that many LEAs, including mine--and, I suspect, hers as well--have not given their schools the finances that they need, because those authorities have chosen to spend their capital elsewhere. I urge the hon. Lady to tell Birmingham city council that it is imperative that it spends more of its capital on schools. That authority is notorious for underfunding every school in its area. I am surprised that the hon. Lady did not make that point in her intervention.
It was interesting to hear from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who was conspicuous by her absence in Committee. She said that, in her view, the Bill was intent on abolishing local education authorities. That
Column 178is a travesty of what the Bill is about ; its purpose is to allow parents to choose what is best for their children, for the school that their children attend and for the community. It is not about the Department saying this and the LEA saying that ; it is about parents being able to make independent decisions about schools. That is a fundamental part of raising standards. It must be recognised that it is a movement which is continuing throughout the country, and that changes must be made in institutions to accommodate it.
Earlier speakers cited the Association of County Councils as an authority which did not support the Bill. In a letter to me, the association said that it welcomed the Government's present policies for education, and this Bill. It said :
"In particular, we are pleased to see the continuing drive for higher standards in schools, more open accountability to parents, greater day-to- day managerial independence for schools of all kinds, the merger of the bodies responsible for the curriculum and for its assessment, and stronger governing bodies."
That, surely, is evidence of the association's support for the Bill.
It is interesting to note that the Church, too, now wishes to swell the number of grant-maintained schools. I recall reading an article that stated that one in four bishops is privately in favour of schools opting out of LEA control, and is promoting it in the primary and secondary schools within his jurisdiction. That is very good news, and it provides support for the Government's policies.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) produced a long list of education Bills that have been presented to the House. That shows the importance that Conservative Members ascribe to education : it is proof of this party's willingness to grasp the fact that education is one of the most important and fundamental issues, and to ensure that children receive the best possible education.
I particularly welcome the diversity and choice that are now springing up throughout the country, even in Labour-controlled areas. If an area contains both grant-maintained and LEA schools, choice is provided. Previous Acts of Parliament have removed the artificial restrictions placed on school numbers ; now, parents can choose more widely. The city technology college movement is another aspect of the increased choice and diversity that are now available.
I believe that education is a fundamental issue of our times. If we fail children while they are at school, it will be very difficult for them to catch up later. New clause 22 recognises that change has taken place, and that greater changes will follow in the coming years. It is surprising that the Opposition should oppose it : it is a Luddite--indeed, an ostrich-- approach to say that local education authorities are the only possible providers of education. Why should that be so? If I must trust someone with responsibility for education, I prefer to trust parents--and the grant- maintained system is all about trusting parents' choice.
Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend) : I hope that the new clause will be opposed, for a simple reason : it is fundamental to the drift of Conservative education policy. It starkly demonstrates the way in which power is being concentrated in the hands of the Secretary of State. It does not give power to schools, governors or parents ; it gives power to the holder of the office of Secretary of State for Education. It represents one of the most dramatic
Column 179extensions of Whitehall power since 1945. The wholesale nationalisation of our education service will not lead to greater diversity ; all our experience clearly shows that nationalisation, and the dead hand of Whitehall, lead to a uniform system up and down the country, rather than the diversity that the Government pretend to favour.
Choice will be denied to parents, for a simple reason. There is a paradox at the heart of the Bill, and at the heart of new clause 22. On the one hand, the Secretary of State argues in favour of extending parental choice ; on the other, because of Treasury pressure, he must remove hundreds of thousands of surplus places from the education system. It is impossible to reconcile the removal of such a large number of surplus places with the extension of parental choice. Parents in Hillingdon and Bromley, where the grant-maintained sector is up and running, are experiencing less choice as a result of the Government's policies.
The new clause repeals an important provision in the 1944 Act--the provision that refers to a partnership in the delivery of education services. The new clause allows the Secretary of State power to dictate to the various bodies involved, whether they are local education authorities or funding agencies. That is power without responsibility. It would bad enough to give such a power to any Secretary of State ; it is even worst to give it to the present Secretary of State, who runs away from arguments, fears debate and is scared of questions. He is the Scarlet Pimpernel of the education world : they seek him here, they seek him there, but we all know that they will never find him at an education conference. He runs away from his critics, and, as a result, our children suffer.
In the introduction to the White Paper, the Secretary of State quoted John Ruskin. Let me refer him to another Ruskin quote, which I feel is appropriate to the way in which he speaks from the Dispatch Box. Ruskin wrote :
"Conceit may puff a man up but it can never prop him up." I think that the Secretary of State has much to learn from that. Even the right hon. Gentleman's friends are now turning against him. The education editor of The Daily Telegraph writes that he is "Aloof, ineffectual, almost invisible", and continues :
"his performance is beginning to provoke derision among his enemies and cause concern to his friends. His report card says he contributes little to discussion in class, lacks initiative, does not do his homework".
The new clause is a blow to local democracy. It will destroy the partnership established in the Education Act 1944. It does nothing to raise standards, improve quality, extend opportunity or provide greater parental choice. Our children and our nation deserve better.
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham) : I welcome the new clause as I welcome the Bill. Far from doing what the hon. member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) and other members of the Opposition parties have alleged, the new clause will introduce a more equitable distribution of powers between the Government and the councils--
It being Six o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker,-- pursuant to Order [15 December] and Resolution this day, put the Question already proposed from the Chair, That the clause be read a Second time :-- The House divided : Ayes 284, Noes 238.
Column 180Division No. 164] [6 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Durant, Sir Anthony
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Gardiner, Sir George
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Grylls, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hampson, Dr Keith
Hannam, Sir John
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Kilfedder, Sir James
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)