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Column 877to advertise a meeting. The 650 parents who turned up, with an independent person chairing the meeting, heard both sides of the argument clearly put forward.
What the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) said tonight was totally wrong. I repeat to her that the information put out by the local education authority in Devon was similar to that put out when it was under Conservative control. That information was approved both by Local Schools Information and the Grant-Maintained Schools Trust. What went wrong with the ballots at St. Thomas' high school and at Ottery St. Mary was that the parents did not make what Conservative Members thought was the right choice.
Mrs. Browning : It is amazing, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport--a seat more than 60 miles from Ottery St. Mary--has such detailed knowledge that he professes to know far more than the local Member of Parliament does about how the matter was conducted with the governing body, which has been in correspondence and communication with me on the subject for the past three weeks. If the hon. Gentleman knew so much about those events I wonder why he did not raise with me the fact that he intended to trespass on my constituency over a matter affecting Ottery St. Mary.
Mr. Jamieson : If an hon. Member raises a matter in debate in the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker, surely it is in order for another Member to speak about the substance of what has been said. The hon. Member for Tiverton is attacking me for coming to the Chamber well informed. I shall always accept such an attack from her, or from any other Conservative Member. I shall come to the Chamber well informed. The hon. Lady does not like what she is hearing, and most of all she does not like what the parents in her area--perhaps voters or former voters of hers--said in the ballot, not what the parents said at St. Thomas' high school.
So espoused are Conservative Members to parental choice that when the ballot goes against them they come to the Chamber whingeing and complaining about information not being presented clearly and fairly. I should have thought that the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam)-- he might have attended the debate tonight, such was his concern about the outcome of the ballot--would say that what is needed in those schools now is a period in which the wounds caused by the ballot can heal, and the school and the teachers can get on with the job of educating children rather than having to go through politically motivated ballots.
There has been some talk about capital expenditure on schools tonight. At one time, that was used as a part bribe to
grant-maintained schools, to entice schools to opt out. I am sure that the hon. Member for Tiverton will have done her homework, and like me will have noted that six grant-maintained schools in Devon put in a bid for a total of £2.85 million for capital works in 1994-95. Although those are the so-called flagships of Tory policy, what were those schools actually offered? I hope that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) is listening, too, because he has a particular interest in one of the schools. Of the £2.85 million that the grant-maintained schools in Devon bid for, the Government, with all their generosity to grant-maintained schools, offered them a mere £23,000. They must now be reflecting on whether
Column 878they would have been better off staying with the local education authority, because then they would probably have received substantially more.
Mr. Jamieson : I shall certainly give way if the hon. Gentleman will explain why the grant-maintained school in Plymouth did not get its £750,000 bid. In that case I shall be pleased to hear from him.
Mr. Streeter : The hon. Gentleman is extremely hostile to grant- maintained schools, but why does he not join me in congratulating the headmaster and staff of an excellent grant-maintained school in his own constituency--St. Boniface college, which this year achieved far better exam results than the comprehensive school just along the road, of which he used to be deputy headmaster?
Mr. Jamieson : The hon. Gentleman knows that that is an absolutely absurd idea. He may answer the question why he does not send his own children to the school in his constituency. Since the school in Plymouth went comprehensive and we got rid of part of the system of secondary moderns and some of the selection, we have seen standards improve more and more in the city. If the hon. Gentleman had done his homework, he would also know that.
One other matter that I shall raise concerns the fact that many of the children in my constituency are children of service families. Since the parents are serving abroad, sometimes in war zones, their children attend private schools through the boarding schools allowance scheme. Those schools are mainly private schools and an answer given by the Minister shows that, in total, £120 million per year is spent on that scheme. I am not opposed to the scheme, but to what degree is that huge investment of public money checked? So few of those schools receive an inspection, which was talked of by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)--the four-yearly Ofsted inspection. Inspections are not made of those private schools, yet they receive large sums of public money. I have examples of some of the few schools which have been inspected by Her Majesty's inspectorate and Ofsted. Those schools receive respectively a quarter, one half and two thirds of their money from the taxpayer, but they have the most damning HMI reports.
I have written to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, who has replied. I asked him if those reports had been made known to all the parents and children in the school. He said that the school is supplied with copies of the published report and that "it can distribute as it sees fit".
If there is a good report, it is sent to all the parents, but if, like those schools, it is a bad report, it is not. The Minister's letter continued :
"The onus is on the school to distribute the report to interested parties or to advise them where reports can be obtained." Needless to say, in the case of those schools, the reports never found their way into the hands of the parents. I look forward to hearing answers to some of the points that I have raised. In particular, I should like to hear what the Minister intends to do to ensure that children of service men and women get a decent education in those private schools which at present are not inspected by Ofsted.
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Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I confess that I went too far earlier when I protested about the total absence of Scottish Ministers on the Government Front Bench. It is fair to say that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) had indicated that he would not be able to attend the debate because of the Standing Committee. It is also fair to say that at least one member of the Scottish Office, the Secretary of State, is not so committed. In the United Kingdom Parliament, dealing with the subject of education which affects people north and south of the border, while the Labour party Scottish spokesman has been present for a good part of the debate, there has not been a single Scottish Conservative Member present. That reflects the attitude of the Conservative party to an important matter such as education north of the border.
Mr. Boswell : Would the hon. Gentleman like to remind the House how many members of the Liberal Democrat party were present during the extremely important debate before Christmas on the national education and training targets?
To add to the injury that I felt when the Minister said that he could not reply to my intervention, I was asked by the Scottish Office to indicate some of the matters that would be raised. Perhaps I had overestimated the Minister's speed learning on issues as complex as those relating to Scotland, notwithstanding his background.
It is a pity that there are no Scottish Office Ministers here because there are one or two kind things that we would have said--for example, about the early introduction of the five to 14-year-olds curriculum in Scotland. It is fair to say that the curriculum has been introduced in Scotland with greater public and professional acceptance and willingness to make it work than has been the case south of the border. However, aspects of the national curriculum have been changed even before some parts of it have been implemented. In testing, we have seen the Government's willingness to back down to a considerable extent under joint pressure from teachers and parents. Now, instead of imposing an ideological position, local authority staff are agreeing that teachers will be free to determine whether it is appropriate to test and, if so, when. The fact that there have been relatively few tests has not brought the huge outcry from parents that Tory Members lead us to expect. In Scotland, we have not the product of this Government but an inheritance of a much broader-based approach to secondary education and the examinations at the end of it.
It is understood that perhaps tomorrow we will get the Government's response to Professor Howie's report. While there is general consensus that Professor Howie has identified a weakness in a system which has served Scotland well for many years, I hope that the Government will not go down the road of having a two-tier system of examinations at the end of secondary education.
Column 880I was not allowed to intervene in what is substantially a debate dominated by English Members. The debate has had its moments. We enjoyed the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) describing the advertisement displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) as "rude". In case there is any doubt in the minds of those who read the record later, I hasten to add that the advertisement on the advantages of grant-maintained schools that the hon. Lady described as "rude" was placed in the Radio Times by the Department for Education.
Mrs. Browning : As hon. Members will observe, I have now put on my glasses. I tend not to wear them in the Chamber--that way, Opposition Members remain a blur to me. When the picture was suddenly flashed at me across the Chamber, without my glasses on it looked like a rather rude picture and I did not want to have anything to do with it.
Mr. Wallace : No. The hon. Member for Tiverton made two criticisms : first, having campaigned in the county council elections in opposition to grant-maintained schools, the Liberal Democrats maintained their election promise when they swept aside the Tories in Devon ; and, secondly, she seemed to have an aversion to open government and to be frightened that too much information was getting into the public domain. Undoubtedly, the fact that there was that amount of information led to the voters and parents taking the decision which they did in the ballots that have been referred to. Much of this debate has rightly concentrated on the need for investment in education and the question of resources. When one looks at the developments in places such as south-east Asia and the changes that will come from eastern Europe, it is clear that we must invest in our young people if we are to be able to compete economically in an ever more competitive global market.
Dr. Spink : The hon. Gentleman will be happy to congratulate the Government on their investment in education since 1979. They increased by 50 per cent. in real terms the total amount that is spent on education, by 19 per cent. the amount that they spend per pupil on capital, by 47 per cent. the amount that they spend per pupil in education and by 31 per cent. the amount that they spend on books and equipment in education.
Mr. Wallace : The hon. Gentleman could not have teed up my next point better if he had tried. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath referred to the brief from the Library for the debate on the Budget resolutions and the economic situation on 6 December. He pointed out that if one takes account of the appropriate education price deflators and the changes in pupil numbers, the increases in resources is not about 40 per cent., but just 2 per cent. That reveals a fall in real terms in spending on secondary education, and spending on further education has fallen by 22 per cent.
The report by the National Commission on Education shows that spending on books per pupil has fallen by 17 per cent. and expenditure per pupil was no higher in
Column 881volume terms in 1990-91 than it was in 1980- 81. At 1991-92 prices, capital expenditure in schools in Scotland when the Government came to power was £149 million. In 1991-92, it was £72.5 million, having fallen in one year to as low as £63 million.
Many of the figures are far from accurate. There has been a fall in investment in education if one takes into account all the relevant factors. It is not just a question of money and resources. The motion makes it clear that there must also be investment in goodwill and people, and an investment in the partnership described in the motion between all the main players.
The Government have been weak. There has been a negative investment in terms of goodwill at all stages, and the alienation of many of those employed in the education service has led to a staggering loss of morale. Looking north of the border, we can see the reasons behind the campaigns that the teaching unions have been mounting about the greater work loads, or overloads, which have been placed on them. We need only to look at an assortment of the 24 Government initiatives since the 1987 election. There has been a new initiative every three and a half months. Most of those are not trifling, and some are welcome. They include school boards ; the five to 14 programme ; performance indicators ; devolved school management ; modern language teaching in primary schools ; formal development planning ; action against bullying ; national teating ; computers in the classroom ; case conference machinery ; regulations recording truancy ; staff development and appraisal ; enhanced school inspection ; self-governing schools legislation--one could go on. Those are important developments, but, taken as a whole, they give a strong impression that the Government have substituted vision and strategy for a policy of change for change's sake. The policy lacks coherence. On the one hand, there is the promotion of
decentralisation, and on the other the imposition of central control.
The Association of Head Teachers of Scotland prepared a report which was sent to the Under-Secretary at the Scottish Office last year. The report said :
"If there is any underlying consistency to this catalogue of reforms, it certainly escapes casual scrutiny. People know it is not possible to travel in different directions at the same time. The problem is overcome by the use of phrases familiar to headteachers, for example :-- Emphasis on should not be to the exclusion of without losing sight of the need of' and the like. What this kind of language amounts to is a belief that by uttering a few well-chosen words, the laws which usually govern human affairs will somehow be suspended."
There are two unifying factors. Most, if not all, are time-consuming and require extensive work over and above the basic function of the teacher-- teaching children and young people in a classroom.
When the AHTS named the report to which I referred, it was no coincidence that it called it "Children Incidentally". The report said :
"The title chosen reflects our view of the way in which the immediate needs of children are being pushed to the periphery as all attention is concentrated on change as a process, and, seemingly, an end in itself."
Column 882There is stress and low morale, and that affects teachers and inevitably has an effect on the children they teach. It cannot be conducive to creating a proper educational environment in which the highest standards are achieved.
The staff of Inchmore primary school wrote to the Scottish Educational Journal --the journal of the Educational Institute of Scotland. They said :
"In the primary sector we, as individual teachers, have to address all curricular areas not just one subject. If the Government want quality then they must pay for it by ensuring that our children, in Scotland, are being taught by teachers who are not suffering from the stress of implementation."
When well-documented cases are presented to the Scottish Office, it appears that only lip-service is paid to the problem. The remedies that are put forward make no impact on the work load of the teacher in the classroom, and they fuel further the suspicion that officialdom at the highest level has no real concept of what it takes to teach children in the classroom of the 1990s.
We should not lose sight of the people who matter. They are the children in the classroom and the young people in our colleges and universities. At nursery, primary and secondary level and in further and higher education there have been tremendous pressures. In Scotland, the proportion of three and four-year-olds who attend nursery education is lower than even the United Kingdom average, which does not always bear worthy comparison with other countries. I have mentioned some of the problems in primary schools with the introduction of curriculum change. In further education, the important link between local communities and further education colleges has been broken as the Government pursue centralising tendencies.
While the Government boast about the increase in student numbers in our universities--a worthy achievement--they say little about the strain that additional numbers place on lecture theatres, laboratory equipment and tutorial sizes. Little is heard about the significant drop-out rate among students and the financial hardship that many of them face.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools asked what evidence there was that increased resources led to better standards in education. I know that it is not a very good authority, but perhaps I could quote from the Government's amendment to our motion. It suggests that the House
"believes that the Government's commitment to a high quality education service is further demonstrated by the record sums it is spending".
We have challenged whether those sums are as great in real terms as the Government claim.
Mr. McFall : The hon. Gentleman mentions the sums that have been spent, but he knows as well as I do that in Scotland we are going through local government reorganisation--not reform--which the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have estimated will cost £720 million. Given that the reorganisation is being put in place against a backdrop of reducing public expenditure, does the hon. Gentleman feel that the schoolchildren of Scotland in the future will be less well off than they have been up to now?
Column 883It is clear from the agonised protests of the hon. Member for Tiverton that the policy commitment made by the Liberal Democrats--
Mr. Wallace : I have only one minute left. The policy commitment of increased resources amounting to 1p on income tax is a popular policy. It gives substance to what we have argued. It is more convincing than the promise by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). She said that Labour's commitments would be met by tackling waste and not having so many carpets in the office of the National Curriculum Council. That lacked a certain degree of credibility. We have costed our programme. It was put to accountants before the last election. We argue that our sums add up a lot better than those of the Conservative party, given the public sector borrowing requirement that it has created compared with the false prospectus that it put to the electorate at the general election.
Education is an investment that we cannot afford not to make. By souring the relationships that are vital for creating a partnership to deliver a high-quality education service, and failing to invest the necessary resources, the Government are in danger of failing a generation. Glossy pamphlets and league tables will never be a substitute for the dedication and professionalism of the teaching profession. Our young people deserve far better than they have received after 15 years of Tory rule. Our motion makes it clear that we are the party which has the commitment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell) : The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlan(Mr. Wallace) at least paid my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State the compliment of picking up on the most interesting remark of the evening, which my hon. Friend made at the beginning of the debate. He properly made the point that there was no direct correlation between the total expenditure and the success of a particular school system. The Government's amendment makes it clear that we have a commitment which is evidenced by the high and rising level of provision of finances for education.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred inaccurately to the drop- out rate. He spoke as though it had increased. The Liberal motion also says that the drop-out rate has increased. He referred to spending on further education and deplored the breaking of the link with local education authorities. I thought that exactly that decentralising of power and empowerment of the local community was a Liberal priority. The hon. Gentleman also warned us, in a number of windy phrases, that we should not lose sight of children in the classroom--I agree. He said that we should make a heavy investment in education, which we have also done.
Column 884Let us now consider the facts. When I consider the debate I am reminded of the famous old remark about the Opposition Benches reflecting a row of extinct volcanoes. It is clear that the explosive force of the Labour party's spending pledges has been effectively, if temporarily, plugged by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who is sitting on the core. Nevertheless, in those places that I believe are known in the trade as round the back and out of sight, at the sides of the volcano of explosive spending, are pyroclastic flows. They appear at local gatherings such as teachers' conferences, where idle spending pledges are made. I anticipate that the plug will be removed from the central core and we shall see a return of the characteristic Labour habit of showering pledges all over the place in an uncontrolled manner.
To pursue the analogy, the Liberal Democrats, who tabled the motion, have seemed much more like the tail end of volcanic activity. They are gently rounded, non-threatening and entirely non-intrusive grassy mounds, but if one moves close to them one can observe the outcrops of volcanic pumice. If one moves closer still one finds that the stuff is abrasive, but essentially lightweight. That has been well evinced in the debate.
The substantial part of the contribution of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has already been dealt with and I shall respond to the issues raised by the Liberal Democrats later.
I shall deal first with the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). She offered her familiar litany of grouses, although she set them out more elegantly than she sometimes does. She referred in an almost thoughtful way to political correctness. If she wants to look for examples of political correctness in action she should look at local education authorities.
The hon. Lady referred to the alleged wastefulness of Government policies. It was conceded that there were well over 1 million empty places in schools. Those places have not been under the direct control of the Government--it is important to deal with that issue at a local level.
Mr. Boswell : The hon. Lady has made such assertions, but my brief experience and the experience of my colleagues has shown that we always turn our attention to potential problems such as that. We have not allowed it to occur.
The hon. Lady also spoke of centralisation. The number of school governors with a proper job to do in the local management of schools and grant- maintained schools is about 250,000. That is a huge increase in the number of people with a practical job to do on behalf of their schools and it is very much to be welcomed.
The hon. Lady was on familiar territory when she spoke about grant- maintained schools. She neglected to say that the great majority of parents, pupils and staff of grant-maintained schools are delighted at the provisions that have been obtained and the improvements in standards.
Mr. Pickles : My hon. Friend has mentioned grant-maintained schools and the effect of local education authorities. Does he deprecate the fact that Bedfordshire county council has withdrawn library services from
Column 885grant-maintained schools? Does he also deprecate the fact that Kent and Essex have withdrawn repairs and maintenance from school budgets? Does he particularly deprecate the fact that, in Cornwall, potential school governors apparently have to take an oath of allegiance against grant-maintained schools? Does he agree that we do not want placemen as school governors, but people who want to contribute to the school?
Mr. Boswell : Time is short--the answers are yes, yes and yes. The hon. Lady referred to the assisted places scheme without referring to its policy. I noticed, as did my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under- Secretary, that in her speech there was no reference at all to policies for education and no reference to a concern for the quality of education, except obliquely. Those are the reasons why we need to innovate and to make changes in educational policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) spoke with great passion. She analysed and destroyed the Liberal Democrat case for the one extra penny, but I will return to that myself because I will enjoy doing it as well. My hon. Friend then referred to a particular school and a complaint about a ballot which I think she has referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I remind the House that the Government believe in democracy and in the right of parents to choose the best future for their schools. If, where cases are brought to my right hon. Friend's attention, he judges that an LEA or anyone else has engaged in activities which have prejudiced the outcome of the ballot, he has the power to void the ballot, and he would use that power if it were justified. I think that I should not comment beyond that.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke with some force about his concerns over section 11 funding. He rightly anticipated that this is primarily a matter for the Home Office and we can draw his remarks to the Home Office's attention, but I should remind him for the record--it is an important point --that the needs of children in that category are not catered for solely by section 11 but are also reflected in the standard spending assessment formula.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) spoke with this characteristic force about what was going on and he pointed to the weaknesses of Labour policy. He referred, for example--as a higher education Minister, I should do so, too--to the remarkable achievement that we have produced in empowering young people and in expanding student numbers so that we now have more than 1 million students in this country. He also referred to the importance of challenging the settled monopoly of local education authorities and of increasing choice and he is entirely right about that, too.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) wound up the Back- Bench contribution with his characteristic whingeing about this and that, his dislike of certain grant-maintained schools, and his concern about the common funding formula, on which we have consulted fully and which is no more complicated than LMS standards of devolution. I had thought that the hon. Gentleman was a mathematician, but I could be wrong about that. He exemplifies one of the essential problems about the attitude of the Labour party, which is that nothing must ever be changed, and every innovation that we make is automatically rubbished because they have nothing to offer instead of it.
Column 886If I may return to the motion itself, I remind the hon. Member for Bath--I hope that I have not besmirched him, but I have it on the record--that he once said that his party would be very keen to see the benefits of grant-maintained status being passed to all schools. It is a sort of vicarious GM, no doubt including the LEA in the case of the Liberal Democrats.
I must return to the central point of the debate, which is the one penny. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton destroyed the case for one penny because she made the point that it had been amply recycled into a range of provision from nursery books to student loans. We have been told that it is "at least" one penny, but the Liberal Democrats have spent their penny in such a way that it is even more recycled than Thames water is.
I notice also that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), in the kind of debate that is never noticed because it happens on a Friday, referred to a visit to Hong Kong, where the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland may also have gone. He reported to the House on 14 January :
"There is no doubt that it is easier to do business where tax has a ceiling rate of 15 per cent.--[ Official Report , 14 January 1994 ; Vol. 235, c. 443.]
One or two extra on top of what we have, and what is the price of that?
In the middle of all these false trails, false complaints and false nostrums, the Government are getting on with the job of improving the nations's education. We should record that on the schools side alone, through the revenue support grant provided by the Department of the Environment, we are spending £17.1 billion directly into local education authorities. At the same time, we are asserting choice and diversity. We are driving forward, through performance indicators, higher standards. That is not divisive, but is what parents want. We shall continue to do that and to raise educational standards. For that reason, I invite the House to reject the motion and to support my right hon. Friend's amendment.
Question put , That the original words stand part of the Question :--
The House divided : Ayes 30, Noes 282.
Division No. 150] [9.59 pm Alton, David
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Foster, Don (Bath)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Johnston, Sir Russell
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Lynne, Ms Liz
Maddock, Mrs Diana
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Archy Kirkwood,
Mrs. Ray Michie.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)