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Before league tables existed, there was already a significant movement of pupils out of Skelmersdale to what were perceived to be more favoured schools. Parents perceived that there was a cachet to be had in schools outside the town, which might offer a better life chance to their children--and who can blame any parent for taking that choice for his or her children?

The inevitable result was that the children from the most ambitious and striving families had already been creamed off from secondary schools in Skelmersdale, to the advantage of schools outside the town. Increasing freedom of preference accelerated that process. The local education authority could, and did, help to even out that process by investment in Skelmersdale schools. I have no time to describe the details, but the help was considerable and intelligently done.

It came as no surprise that the first league table showed the Skelmersdale schools in a poorer light than the non-Skelmersdale schools, and the immediate result was a drastic drop in the intake of the Skelmersdale schools, ratcheting down those schools' academic possibilities.

Since that time, the schools have struggled to improve their position, not without some success. But the pattern has already been set and it is difficult to claw back. The pattern in sibling links already exists and is determined by the drop away.

There is no disagreement among all the schools in and outside Skelmersdale about the quality of management, the dedication of staff and their sheer hard graft. There is no disagreement about the terrible damage that will be done to the town if schools are driven out of business, which is more than possible. But competition for numbers produces active poaching, which goes on all the time. Parents are ever alert to any rumour. There was one appalling example where teachers at one school told parents of pupils in a primary school in the district not to send their children to the other secondary school down the road because it had a drugs problem. It did not, but the rumour was enough and the school suffered severe damage.

Skelmersdale is a town that has been brutally bashed about by two recessions. It has many of the problems of an inner city area, but few of the advantages. It can boast about the quality of its schools and college, but it faces a relentless struggle to keep its brightest and best-motivated children in the town.

The process becomes more difficult with the production of raw league tables. I hope that the Labour party is not accepting the principle of raw league tables standing alone until new value-added league tables are established. The SCAA says that that is unlikely to happen before the beginning of the next century--much damage will have been done before then.

Schools should primarily be competing with themselves to improve their standards year on year. Improvements should primarily be measured by contrasting attainment on entry to a school with attainment on exit. In Lancashire a great deal of work has been done in conjunction with Professor Peter Mortimer and the university of London's institute of education to try to create a viable analysis of what is value added. The aim has been to try to assess the factors that lie outside a school's control and clearly have an impact on students' attainment or standards in the school.

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The work has shown that pupils' attainment at 11 has a huge impact later on GCSE results--I do not suppose that that fact will surprise anyone. That information will, in turn, throw the spotlight on attainment in primary schools. Before league tables are, in turn, thrown at primary schools, the socio-economic factors that influence events in both primary and secondary schools should be clearly marked up.

I had intended to give details of how the research works, but the information is generally available and I do not have time to give it in detail. To summarise--of the 79 secondary schools in Lancashire that were considered in terms of the value added tables from 11 to 16, 33 per cent. of schools showed that they were better than their raw league table ranking. Some 49 per cent. showed in the value added tables that they were worse than their raw ranking. One could say that the figures might be wrong here and there, but they show an enormous shift in results between the two systems.

That work in Lancashire, as with projects elsewhere, must be heading in the right direction and must provide a fairer assessment of schools than the present league tables. SCAA spokespersons have said that they will not consider socio-economic factors. That fact has been reinforced by one or two Conservative Members in today's debate.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside and to the Government that, even when an agreed system is running, we shall still be faced with a vast problem of perception. The calculations are complex. I can foresee that parents will say that it is wonderful that the schools in Skelmersdale have made great achievements in terms of value added. They will note that it is good for the town and for everyone living there, but will add that the schools do not achieve the same exam results as schools in Ormskirk and Up Holland. They will therefore send their children to other schools even though they appreciate what a nearby school is achieving. Even with value- added league tables, there will be continuing serious social problems for schools in less-favoured districts such as Skelmersdale which face great difficulties.

I hope that it can never be claimed that I have said that I believe that the amount of resources is the sole determinant of standards in schools. I do not believe it to be even the most important determinant. It is, however, one crucial factor. At a time when standards are predicated on success in league tables, it is unfair and even immoral that there should be significant regional variations in funding per pupil. I shall run through the figures quickly, comparing Lancashire with three southern authorities of the same size: Essex, Hampshire and Kent. The serious resource deficit is the consequence of the area cost adjustment. The Minister has heard me complain about that adjustment on numerous occasions, but the gap is growing.

In the five-to-10 age range in 1993-94, £1,822 was spent on each pupil in Lancashire. Each Essex pupil received £60 more than that, each Hampshire pupil £44 more, and each Kent pupil £63 more. That is a large difference. For 1994-95, however, the gap increases. Each Lancashire pupil will have £1,867 spent on him or her, in Essex they will get £105 more, in Hampshire £62 more and in Kent £94 more. The disparity in the secondary sector is even greater. The Essex advantage over Lancashire, which used to be £85 per pupil, is now £145. In Hampshire, it used to be £63, but is now £85; and in Kent, an advantage of £90 has grown to one of £130.

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These disadvantages affect the constituents of the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) as much as mine--indeed, as much as those of any hon. Member with a seat outside the south-east. So we should all be worried.

Finally, there is a conflict between Government rhetoric about choice, standards, quality, expansion of higher education and nursery education, and the structures and the funding mechanisms that the Government have put in place. The Government's philosophy, as expressed in this place, has its roots in air. Pupils, students, parents and teachers live and work under the systems and regulations that the Government have put in place but which in many ways are strangling what the Government profess to want.

Ministers' vigorous defence of the private sector's right to opt out of virtually all the regulations and testing procedures that the Government have imposed on the rest of us show what the Government really think of the monster that they are creating. The priority for any Labour Government must be to maximise choice in education but also to ensure that one citizen's choice, under the mechanisms and structures that we have, does not remove another's choice. 1.22 pm

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth): I should make it clear at the outset that I am an adviser to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) had to say. Without league tables, we would return to the old system, which basically consisted of school-gate gossip. Parents had no information on which to base a reasoned decision. Therefore, I support league tables and am delighted that Ministers introduced them. I am also pleased that they now have the support of Opposition Members. Clearly, the light is at last beginning to shine.

The debate is about education and quality. I believe that the Government have done a great deal to improve the quality and standards of state education, in which the overwhelming majority of the nation's children are educated. If education had been left to the Opposition, the reforms would never have been introduced. It seems to me that the Labour party's education policy, in as much as it has one, can be summed up as "more of the same". It is locked into a 1960s time warp, believing that only one type of school holds all the answers to all the needs of all the nation's children. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to note that my hon. Friends agree with me on that.

There is a place for comprehensive schools just as there is a place for denominational schools, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, and for the assisted places scheme. We offer the maximum choice and diversity because we want to give parents the maximum freedom and choice. We are successful in doing that, and it is unfortunate that opposition parties cannot grasp it. Choice and diversity allow parents to choose the school that they think is best for their child.

The Government have introduced a series of reforms, starting with the Education Reform Bill in 1987. That major legislation, which became an Act in 1988, has been likened to the Education Act 1944 and that is not an unreasonable comparison. Since 1988, the Government have introduced local management of schools,

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grant-maintained schools, the national curriculum and testing, a new system of schools inspection, league tables and the GCSE and GNVQ. By contrast, Labour's education policy has been distinguished only by its absence. The Opposition were the dog that did not bark, despite the fact that the great education debate was initiated by a former Labour Prime Minister.

With the support of their colleagues in the trade unions, Opposition Members have criticised and opposed the Government's innovations and ideas, but they have little thought for the consumer, whether parent or pupil. Even today they reject efforts to raise school standards and deny initiatives that are designed to give parents greater powers and responsibilities.

Interestingly, Madam Deputy Speaker--I know that you follow these matters closely--Opposition Members produced a White Paper entitled "Opening Doors to a Learning Society". The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and I are the only people who now possess a copy, and it might be useful to show the document to the House.

Those of us who have been involved in education believe that the Labour party has been far more interested in bolting doors than opening them. The Opposition's mind remains closed to anything other than the increasingly discredited dogma of the 1960s. Labour's doorman for this exercise was the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), but the doors jammed, and they never opened and the White Paper became so much waste paper. It was claimed that this consultation document was the result of

"an exceptional type of consultation, not seen since the 1944 Education Act."

Some four months later Labour's doors remain as closed as Labour's mind on both the consultation and the paper. The document has been consigned to the oblivion that it deserves.

Labour is motivated less by a desire to improve education than by a raw appetite for power. The Opposition seem to believe that, by adopting some of the Government's education policies, they may secure some form of electoral advantage. I have news for them. Why should the electorate vote for Labour when, in the Conservatives, they have the real thing? We believe in league tables and grant-maintained schools and in all the measures that have been so painfully introduced by the Government in recent years. By contrast, the Opposition oppose competition and believe that only LEA education is good education.

It is said that there is much rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repenteth. I am not implying that the right hon. Member for Sedgfield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, is in any way a sinner, but at long last he has come round to the idea that parents actually like choice, and that the good, bad or indifferent comprehensive school does not provide all the answers. He has come round to the idea that grant-maintained schools should not be damned simply because they are outside the LEA establishment.

I welcome the conversion, which no doubt occurred on the stony way to his son's secondary school. Let me make it clear--I say this with absolute sincerity and I want no misunderstanding about that. I do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman and I do not condemn him, for he is doing what I do. I endeavour to secure the best for my children,

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and he is doing the same. The best in his case, and with his Labour-controlled LEA area, is a grant-maintained school outside it. If there is condemnation in this, it is of the quality of schools and the quality of education provided by a local Labour education authority. There seems to be a growing gulf between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). I acknowledge the fact that the latter, like me, has a large family. Between us, we have 11 children. We were both educated in the state sector, as were our children, but I suspect that that is where the similarity ends.

The hon. Member for Walton is quoted in The Times Educational Supplement as being

"an unequivocal opponent of grant maintained schools." Indeed, he quotes among his battle honours--we heard from him about it earlier--the Bluecoat school, where he was "on the winning side"--that is, the side that defeated an application for grant-maintained status.

I believe that it would be helpful if the right hon. Member for Sedgfield invited his hon. Friend into the Leader of the Opposition's room and, over a comradely glass of Glenlivet, and in his smiling, cheerful way, suggested that he change his ideas. After all, one cannot have, even in the Labour party, the leader doing one thing and one of his henchman saying and doing something completely different. It would be in the interests of the nation's children if the Labour party persuaded its comrades in the more militant LEAs to call the dogs off and to stop their unreasonable opposition to

grant-maintained status. I am convinced that one of the reasons why even more grant-maintained schools have not so far emerged is the campaigns waged against them--for example, by the hon. Member for Walton and other Labour Members, and also the Liberal Democrats. It seems that they and some LEAs were more interested in protecting their own interests and empires.

I believe that Opposition Members are abolitionists. They oppose grant- maintained status, grammar schools, city technology colleges and the assisted places scheme. They are opposed to anything other than the neighbourhood comprehensive. I must tell them that they make a grievous error.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The Labour party is against the divisiveness of consecutive Conservative policies that set out a small group, to the disadvantage of the majority. On grant-maintained schools, the hon. Gentleman is fully aware that our objection has been about the form of management, the preferential funding and the lack of local democratic accountability. It was never suggested by anybody that parents should not send their children to grant-maintained schools.

Mr. Pawsey: If that was a brief intervention, thank heavens the hon. Gentleman did not want to make a long one. When he says "divisiveness", I say "choice". I say with all the sincerity that I can command that I believe in choice. I want to give parents choice. "Choice" and "diversity" are key words, and I am sorry that I cannot carry Labour Members with me on what I believe to be a key principle of our developing education policies.

Mr. Don Foster: I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he believe, in the choice and diversity on which he is so keen, that it would be only fair to have a

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level playing field? Does he agree that it is unfair that grant-maintained schools have a financial advantage over LEA schools?

Mr. Pawsey: If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself for a little longer, I shall deal later with the reason why people elect for grant- maintained status--and it is not the money.

The Gracious Speech did not propose any new education legislation. Therefore, we shall have the opportunity to digest and absorb the reforms of previous years. The teaching profession has rightly complained about the pace of change. We are now moving from the stormy waters of reform into the relative calm of consolidation. There is now a breathing space in which we can further consider the actions that we have taken and undertake the fine tuning that will undoubtedly prove necessary. I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about that when he responds to the debate.

Another of the Government's achievements is the greater part now being played by parents in the running of their children's schools. There is a powerful argument that parents know best what is right for their own children. Parents do not leave their brains at the school gate when they go into the school to meet their children's teachers. Parents have a contribution to make and, in my view, it is a substantial one. Parents--I include the right hon. Member for Sedgefield--recognise that children respond to different challenges and different school environments. The Government have ensured that all parents now receive a written report on their child's progress at least once a year. Schools are also now required to publish test and examination results.

I am an unashamed proponent of grant-maintained schools. I believe that the system delivers choice and diversity. It also acts as a spur to those schools that remain under LEA control. Therefore, GM schools have an impact out of all proportion to their number. So far, about 1,100 schools have voted for GM status. That involves about 650,000 pupils. It means that well over 1 million parents have elected to send their children to GM schools.

Overwhelmingly, those GM schools come from the secondary sector. It is now time for GM status to be relaunched and focused principally at primary level. The House will recall that more than 17 per cent. of the nation's secondary schools are now grant-maintained. I want a similar proportion of primary schools to opt for GM status. Primary schools are naturally much smaller than their secondary brethren and they may not, on their own, be able to afford the specialist advice that exists in secondary schools. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should make it easier for primary schools to establish links with the secondary sector so that they can share some of the costs of providing the necessary expertise. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could refer to that point in his reply.

Some of us who were the poor bloody infantry in the education battles fought in Standing Committees will recall my argument that the principal attraction of GM status is not the additional funding--although clearly it is a benefit--but the greater measure of independence that such schools enjoy. GM status enables head teachers and their governing bodies to cut the apron strings that formerly secured those schools to the LEA and its ideas.

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When I sought to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), he saw me holding a survey published in The Times Educational Supplement and he would not let me in. I do not blame him. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question was given by The Times Educational Supplement . Its independent survey made it absolutely clear that the real reason for choosing grant-maintained status is not money but the independence that it allows.

Mr. Don Foster rose --

Mr. Pawsey: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, but I am already receiving curious signs from my Whip. Unless I move on, there will be grumbling.

The Government's record on advanced education is splendid. To paraphrase one of my hon. Friends, when the other lot were in, only one in eight of the target group went into advanced education. Today's figure is one in three, making well over 1 million students. My right hon. and hon. Friends and the Government have not received the credit that they deserve for that remarkable achievement. The only causes for disquiet are the way that discretionary grants operate and the fact that some LEAs do not make them. I should like to elaborate but I cannot do so, but I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would refer to that point when he winds up. Everything that has been achieved has been achieved at great cost. Ms Estelle Morris indicated assent .

Mr. Pawsey: I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees. Spending per pupil has risen almost 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979, when her lot left office. Spending on books and equipment has increased by 30 per cent., and teachers' average pay has risen 57 per cent. in real terms.

Ms Morris indicated dissent .

Mr. Pawsey: That figure of 57 per cent. is correct. Those improvements are a measure of the Government's achievements. Only with a Conservative Government will parents and pupils get a good deal and be able to ensure that the quality of education continues to improve.

1.41 pm

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): Much of today's debate has centred on the alleged contribution that grant-maintained schools have made to improving standards. In reality, only four children in 100 attend a GMS. Our concerns are quality, excellence and standards for all school children. If one adds to that number the seven children in 100 who attend private schools, one finds that nearly nine children out of 10 attend ordinary state comprehensive schools. The Government must answer the question of whether their educational reforms provide the framework in which every child can develop to his or her best. After 15 years of turmoil and change, are all children better equipped to fulfil the roles that society wants and needs, if this nation is to succeed in the intensely competitive global market economy? A small number of higher education establishments may be maintaining better standards, but the Government have failed the

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majority of young people. The charge against you is that, far from raising standards, you have failed most young people.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. The hon. Lady appears to be addressing me personally.

Ms Hodge: My apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker. I must learn the conventions of the House. I hope that you will excuse me. The charge that I lay against the Government is not the product of political dogma and prejudice but founded on the factual outcome of Government reforms. The Government chose to concentrate the nation's limited resources and energies on the few and to forget the many. Let us examine the facts. If we compare ourselves with our international peers, we will see that we are not attaining high standards and outcomes for most children. Only 27 per cent. of 16-year-olds in England get grades A to C in the core subjects of maths, the national language and science. In Japan, 50 per cent. of children achieve that level; in Germany the figure is 62 per cent.; and in France it is 66 per cent. It is indictment on 15 years' of Conservative Government that today one in five 21-year-olds has difficulty with basic maths and one in six 21-year-olds has difficulty reading and writing.

What matters to Britain is not what is happening in a few schools, but how the education system is meeting the needs of the overwhelming majority of our children. One of the ways in which high standards can be achieved is through the investment of resources in our education system. Education has been starved of resources year on year under this Government.

That is not to pretend that resources are the only answer to the problems that we face in our schools; but without the proper allocation of sufficient resources we will never achieve high educational standards. We can build effective schools only if we ensure that proper educational standards are a basic entitlement for all of our children.

That goal is not necessarily achieved through higher taxation; it is, most importantly, a question of political choice. If the £780 million that was invested in consultants for the British Rail privatisation process had been spent on improving nursery education for our under-fives, the Government could be proud of their achievements in improving educational standards and quality. Most of the children of Opposition Members attend state secondary schools--those are the schools to which we have a commitment. Most of the children of Conservative Members do not attend those schools. Conservative Members are quite happy to invest as much as £5,200, on average, in every pupil attending a private school. However, when it comes to state comprehensive education, we are, on average, investing less than half of that amount--£2,400--in every child.

That is the real unfairness and the real scandal in British politics today: it is not whether a Labour Member of Parliament chooses between one state school or another, but that most Conservative Members of Parliament choose to spend an average of £5, 200 on their children in the private sector. They believe that it is all right for the rest of us to survive in a system where less than half of that amount is spent on each child.

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Of course school outcomes are different. If private schools achieve better results, Conservative Members must ask themselves whether that is at least partly related to the resources invested in each child. One has only to compare the pupil-teacher ratio in the private sector with that of the state comprehensive sector to see that that level of investment provides a much more generous pupil-teacher ratio and therefore promotes higher standards.

Britain has a history of one of the longest periods of compulsory education in the world. Despite that, we devote a considerably smaller share of our national income to education than most of our European partners and the United States of America. According to the most recent comparable figures, we spend 4.7 per cent. of gross national product on education. France spends 5.4 per cent. of GNP on education, America spends 5.7 per cent. and Sweden spends as much as 7.2 per cent.

What has been the impact of those funding levels? What have our state schools been forced to do in the past 15 years? Under the current system, they have been forced to get rid of experienced teachers because they are too expensive. All hon. Members have examples of that happening in their constituencies. Under current constraints, state schools have been forced to make cuts in books and equipment.

A recent report by the National Association of Head Teachers states that schools, to cope with the financial constraints of this coming year, could install water metering and water controls to save money; have a central heating control switch in the head teacher's office to save money; sell rights to ice cream vendors to earn money; and replace broken windows with plastic windows to save money. The capital spending situation is a scandal. The extent of our investment in capital expenditure on schools means that, at current levels, it will take 60 years simply to deal with depreciation in those assets, without taking account of new assets that might be brought in. We have a poorer pupil-teacher ratio than in the past, and it is worsening. That is having an impact on quality standards in our education system.

I want to spend my last few minutes considering our commitment to nursery education. In 1972, the previous Prime Minister gave a promise that every three and four-year-old would be entitled to a place in a state nursery school. One generation later, successive Governments have failed to deliver that promise. At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister made a commitment that four-year-olds should have access to pre-school education in schools. However, since that commitment was given, all that has happened is that the Government have cut the budget for pre-school and early-years training through grants for education support and training funding.

I fear that there will be either a spread of poor quality early-years service or a growth in the number of four-year-olds in reception classes, where 30 children are looked after by one teacher and one helper. They are nothing more than a form of cheap child care.

Comprehensive, high-quality early-years services are vital to creating equality of opportunity for children and equality of opportunity between men and women, both in education and in the work place. They are vital to build the skilled work force we need if we are to be competitive and successful in the global economy.

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What have we got? Where is the commitment to doing something about the early years? Where is the new money that was promised? We were not told about it in the Budget. Where is the new capital that is required? It did not appear in the Budget. Why is there such a loathing of local authorities, as expressed by Sheila Lawlor in an article yesterday, which will prevent the Government, who one assumes is advised by her, from giving local authorities the necessary resources to improve early -years education?

Improving the quality of early-years education, will cost us money. The Danes and the French spend 1 per cent. of their gross domestic product on education of children in their early years. The French spend 10 per cent. and the Norwegians 11 per cent. of their education budget on the early years. We spend a mere 4 per cent. Let us compare ourselves with our international competitors. In France, a third of two-year-olds are in nursery schools and in Belgium, Denmark and Italy, more than 80 per cent. of children aged over three are in nursery schools or kindergarten. However, in Britain, only 14 per cent. of our three and four-year-olds have full-time places in nursery classes. The geographical distribution of provision is just as bad.

The concern for quality and excellence is central to my party's values. The educational entitlement that we offer our children is the key to creating a fair and equal society but, in a truly fair society, everyone would have an equal chance of a good education. In Britain, under this Government, only the privileged few have that chance while the rest of us have seen our schools starved of resources, our teachers hounded and promises of improvement in provision for the early years broken.

Too many of our children have been failed yet our children are our future. The Government's failure to invest in that future makes them unfit to govern. The British people are longing for the day when they can tell the Government to go and we can start to build an education for our children which will create a strong Britain for the future. 1.55 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): I shall be extremely brief. I shall not read out pages of prepared text, but intend to reply directly to the international comparisons made by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). The hon. Lady complained about nursery education, although Conservative education authorities such as Wandsworth have been pioneers in this respect. She also mentioned outcomes, but it was the Conservative Government who shifted the debate from inputs to outcomes. That significant shift has transformed the education debate. However, I shall concentrate mainly on the hon. Lady's international comparisons.

We have taken great care to introduce league tables, testing and the national curriculum, because we want to improve the outcomes of education system. The hon. Lady cited some figures, and I believe that I know their provenance. I think that they come from a document entitled "Educational Achievement in Britain, France, Germany and Japan: A Comparative Analysis" by Andy Green, published by the Institute of Education of the University of London, but the hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong.

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The document does indeed show that the outcomes of the education systems in France and Germany in particular, but also in Japan, seem to be superior to ours. In particular, the proportion of 16-year-olds obtaining the GCSE standard in a range of subjects is significantly lower in the United Kingdom than in France and Germany. The reasons cited by the document are important, and it is incumbent on the hon. Lady to explain the full facts.

The document states:

"as nations, they"--

Germany, France and Japan--

"place great emphasis on educational achievement, engendering high educational aspirations amongst individual learners. They . . . have a learning culture . . . and . . . the labour market, and society in general, regards those who do well in education."

The document is therefore taking account of a range of factors, such as starting salaries for graduates in industry, to encourage people to aspire to higher educational achievement.

The key paragraph that the hon. Lady should perhaps have cited, rather than reading her prepared notes, states:

"Prescribed curricula have governed the content of different types of school and for different ages. They have established norms and expectations for all children and have given clarity and purpose to the educational process. Curriculum development and pedagogical research has tended to have a more national focus than in the UK . . . Norms are established for all children, in whichever stream, and they are reinforced through regular assessment and reporting. In France and Germany, the practice of grade repeating serves to underline the expectation that certain standards are expected at each level."

The countries mentioned have a diversity of educational provision and wide parental choice. That is what the Labour party has yet to learn, and it is an issue that will make the Government's education policy a winner at the next election.

1.58 pm

Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley): In accordance with the traditions of the House, I first declare my role as an adviser to the National Union of Teachers.

We have had a number of interesting speeches on what all hon. Members have recognised as one of the most important topics facing the nation. I particularly enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who made an excellent speech on sensitive issues. It is only when we have a cross-party approach to those issues that we will be able to begin to tackle them. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) gave us his usual sensible and expert analysis of education and, as is normal in his case, offered us the philosophical underpinning that we sometimes lack. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) illustrated only too well how changes made to education in the past 15 years have affected the children and people within his constituency.

I should like to refer for a moment to the remarks by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey). I spent a number of hours in Committee and in the Chamber debating education with him. I have heard him express his commitment to choice before. How many children in his constituency can choose to go to Rugby school? How many of them can choose to go to Lawrence Sheriff school or the High School for Girls? All those schools are selective or fee paying. Even in the hon. Gentleman's

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constituency, which offers comprehensive education, what choice do parents have, other than the Kenilworth comprehensive, which is the only comprehensive school in that part of his constituency? The hon. Gentleman's attempt to persuade hon. Members that schools do not opt out for financial incentives came ill from him, especially when we had just heard a 10-minute speech from his hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), who said that he was about to advise the schools in his constituency to opt out in order to gain those very financial incentives. Perhaps I can understand the thinking of the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, because I know that the first school that chose to opt out in his constituency may have done so not to gain financial incentives, but in order to avoid closure.

It would be surprising if standards in education had not risen in the past 15 years. There is no doubt that many children now do and know more than those educated even a decade ago. One need only walk into a science class at any secondary school to see young people studying topics that used to be part of an undergraduate syllabus at university. Pupils are more likely now to be learning two languages, to have successfully completed a period of work experience and committed themselves to a period of community service than those of a previous generation.

It is probably no exaggeration to say--I speak on my behalf, at least--that many children in primary schools are more computer literate than many hon. Members. It is clear from talking to young people that many of them are more confident, more articulate and more ambitious than those in previous generations. Their work in creative and expressive art is, in some cases, outstanding. Young people get all too bad a press nowadays, but I want to acknowledge the real achievements of many young people, and, in doing so, the achievements of their teachers and their parents.

The real question is not whether standards have risen--they have--but whether they have risen enough, and whether they have risen across the board. More than a year ago, the National Commission on Education reported on the relative under-achievement of our 16 to 18-year-olds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) said, those young people lag behind their counterparts in Japan, Germany and France in terms of vocational and academic qualifications. The graduate comparison, however, is more favourable to the United Kingdom. Those comparisons reveal the real issue in the debate about standards. Our education system has always been plagued by the gap between those who achieve and those who do not. The main challenge that should have faced the Government in the past 15 years was how to bridge that gap and raise the education standards of all our children. The evidence shows that the Government have failed to meet that challenge; in fact, I am not sure that they even had it as a target.

The Tory legacy in education is one of two classes--the haves and the have nots; the selected and the rejected; the failures and the successes. As with the health service, the Government's policy has turned schools into

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competing financial units. If one school gets more, another is denied; if schools achieve, they are rewarded; if they are struggling, they are left to struggle.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Morris: I gave up some time to allow the hon. Member to make his speech, so I am not in a position to give way to him now. How else can we explain why grant-maintained schools have received two and a half times as much money for capital expenditure as other schools? Why is it that four times as much is spent on a child in a city technology college as on a child in a maintained school? What rhyme or reason is there in the public purse providing money for children to be educated in the private sector? Is it any wonder that a Government who have deliberately built into the system inequality of funding should have seen an increase in inequality of achievement?

Inequality of funding is not wrong because any Opposition Member envies those who manage to secure the resources. It is wrong because such favouritism cannot meet the needs of our children or of the nation. It must be at the least morally questionable to invest in some children at the expense of the rest. Perhaps even more importantly, it shows that the Government fail to realise that the future of our nation depends not on the skills of a few but on the contribution of us all.

I detect a feeling of complacency in many of the words that have been spoken from the Conservative Benches today. If Conservative Members think that what we have in our schools and education system is good enough, they are not ambitious enough for our country or our children. How can they be complacent when, after 15 years of Tory government, 150,000 children are still taught in classes of more than 40, and a further 1.5 million are taught in classes of more than 30? How can they be complacent when one in 10 children still leave school with no qualifications and the number of school exclusions continues to rise? Why are not the Government doing something about the fact that 25 per cent. of local authorities are now so short of cash that they do not give any discretionary grants to students between 16 and 18 for further education courses? Labour wants better than that. I believe that parents and teachers share in our high aspirations for the education system.

The Minister of State acknowledged that a sizeable group of our children are under-achieving. Those are children both in inner-city and outer-ring areas, in schools the catchment area of which is middle and working class, and in schools at both the top and the bottom of the league tables. Under- achievement is not in one school or one type of school. It pervades too many of our schools in the system.

However, the Minister must reflect why, after 15 years of the Conservatives running the education system, the problem has grown and not reduced. For the Labour party, education is about raising standards, not for the few but for a whole generation. Everyone has a part to play: teachers, parents and Government. There is no doubt that the conflict that the Government have created between those partners in education has done nothing to help matters.

There are three ways in which the Government can help to raise standards. The first is through the provision of nursery education. As my hon. Friend the Member for

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