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Column 1067churning out replies by the dozen. The Minister made a number of wrong statements in a letter that he sent to me. He stated: "Allowing for the reform of inter-authority recruitment, Lancashire's education SSA for 1995-96 represents an increase of 1.4 per cent. (almost £7 million)--above the national average increase of 1.2 per cent."
What the Minister did not say was that that 1.4 per cent. is tied directly to the increase in the number of children within the county of Lancashire. Last year, Lancashire got 2.3 per cent. against the average at that time of 2.7 per cent. because of the increase in the number of children on that occasion. He also failed to say that the figure is less than the rate of inflation. If so, it is really a cut, however anyone may wish to look at it, and the Government cannot get away with saying that it is not a cut.
The Minister went on to refer in his letter to school balances of some £700 million at the end of March 1994, adding that
"it is not unreasonable to think that some at least of this sum could be applied towards the pay settlement where it is possible for that to happen."
The Minister also says that that money should be used to help with school repairs and maintenance, as well as with the pay settlement; so he wants to use it twice. Neither he nor the Secretary of State know what the balances will be at the end of the current financial year. It must be taken into account that it is not spare money hanging around in school coffers. Each school needs to keep about 3 to 5 per cent. so that they do not run into deficit and have to borrow money. Almost all schools have committed projects on which they wish to spend that money to enable them to provide a better education to the children whom they teach.
The Under-Secretary of State for Schools then said:
"How Lancashire determines its spending priorities for the services for which it is responsible is solely a matter for the County Council."
What nonsense when, because of how local government is now funded, the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Education effectively fix the budget for every county council and borough council in the country. There is no flexibility or room for manoeuvre as budgets are fixed and rigid.
Lancashire county council is spending 108 per cent. of the SSA which it is deemed necessary to spend on education. That means that Lancashire county council regards education as so important that it spends 8 per cent. more than the Government wish it to spend. What the Minister fails to say is, if Lancashire county council spends more, where that money will come from. It is capped, so the money must come from cuts in other services. Should those be in social services? Should we close more homes for the elderly? What should we do? What the Minister says is nonsense.
In her speech today, the Secretary of State inadvertently misconstrued the evidence--I choose my words carefully--that was supplied to her. She said that Lancashire county council chose to impose cuts in education amounting to £19 million when officers recommended cuts of £13 million.
Column 1068My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) has checked on those figures during this debate. He found that the officers gave an illustrative figure if the cuts were to be 4 per cent. They also gave a big list of cuts totalling £42 million from which the county council could select. Ultimately, it had to come forward with cuts of 5.5 per cent., which is the £19 million to which the Secretary of State referred, so it was wrong to give the impression which the Secretary of State gave.
Lancashire county council does not have enough money to provide its services. It is time that the Government gave it more money and allowed it to provide the education that our children need. 6.22 pm
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton): First, I apologise to the House for being absent for 45 minutes. I had to leave the Chamber to take the Chair of the Procedure Select Committee, but I hastened back immediately. I was determined to speak because of how the Liberal Democrats in Devon have set out to mislead the people of Devon and because of the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) who, in Goebbels fashion, kept repeating a misrepresentation about the Government. The Government are not discredited. They have a new desire to ensure that people are properly represented, and the Opposition had better realise that in the next two years.
I make the accusation against the Liberal Democrats because, even before they had agreed a budget for Devon, their chief education officer said that, as the Government had cut Devon's grant for education, teachers would have to be sacked. Parents do not think that education should be a political football. They are interested in their children's education and want that carried out properly and as efficiently as possible.
Let us look at the truth. On the accusation by the county council that funding for education was being cut, in 1994-95, the standard spending assessment for education in Devon was £321.7 million. For the coming year, it is £328.4 million--no cut whatever but an increase of £6.8 million, the equivalent of more than £51 for every child in education in the county of Devon.
On the accusation that the Conservative party has paid no attention to education and are not interested in it, let us look at the education SSA for Devon over the past five-year period. In 1990-91, it was £276 million; by 1992-93, it had increased to £343 million. Given that, in 1993-94, sixth forms and FE colleges were taken away, expenditure for Devon was estimated to decrease by £34 million, but it still increased to £314 million that year. As I said, in 1994-95, it increased to £321 million. Whichever way we look at the matter--whether we put the £34 million at the beginning or at the end, because statistically it can be done either way--the SSA for education in Devon rose by between 30 and 35 per cent. over those five years, which represents a direct gain for Devon.
Mr. Don Foster: Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the figures provided by the House of Commons Library, based on a parliamentary question, show that in real terms, the cuts in SSA per primary school pupil in Devon are £46 and, per secondary school
Column 1069pupil, £178? Will he also confirm that the failure to provide funding for the teachers' pay award is costing Devon county council £5 million?
Sir Peter Emery: The hon. Gentleman is so misleading as to be wrong. What I am trying to explain is that net institutional expenditure for nursery and primary education in Devon is £1,879 per pupil, which is the average of any county in the country. The accusation that Devon is doing worse than other counties is wrong. It is interesting to note that expenditure per pupil in the nursery and primary and the secondary sectors has increased. In 1992-93, Devon was 24th and 25th respectively in the national league and in 1995-96 it was 19th and 18th respectively as a result of the increases which the Government have provided. That is how the Government have been assisting education in Devon.
What is so wrong is that Devon county council is taking money away from education and putting it into other services. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, will he consider the fact that education SSA should be ring-fenced so that local authorities cannot use education SSA for purposes other than education? Despite the increase in funding for Devon of £6.8 million, most schools have had their education budgets cut. How can that possibly be right?
Let us consider the alternatives that Devon was given. A budget was suggested by the Devon Conservative group, which would have ensured another £4.4 million for education in Devon and would have restricted the amount to the capping level. However, the Liberal Democrats have chosen a budget that will have to be capped. They voted the Conservative budget down. That cannot make sense and must be wrong. Spending per pupil in the country has increased by almost 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Spending per pupil on books and equipment has increased by 31 per cent. in real terms. Let us consider the teachers, because those are the people whom most of us want to look after. The average teacher's pay will be between £20,000 and £22,000 a year from April 1995. Since 1979, the average teacher's pay has increased by 36 per cent. That is considerably greater than the average increase in wages of 23 per cent. for the rest of the country. Teacher vacancies today are fewer than at nearly any time in our history.
What are the alternatives? We are ensuring that there is a national curriculum; what does the Labour party wish to do about that? It opposed the national curriculum, but I think that it will now accept it. The regular testing and assessment of children and students is an essential part of our education reform. The informal revolution involving the publication of results is a major benefit for parents and must be judged as such; and the examination results, GCSE and A-levels, are better than ever. That is what Conservative education policy is doing; it does not resemble the terrifying story that we heard from the Opposition Front Bench.
What do the Liberal Democrats want to do? They want to remove the right of parents to choose their children's school; they oppose grant-maintained schools; they want to abolish objective testing and performance tables; and
Column 1070they want to end the assisted places scheme and scrap A-levels, although I think that they are having second thoughts about that now.
The Liberal Democrats also want further and higher education institutes to submit to local authority control.
Is that what the country really wants? [Hon. Members:-- "No."] Of course it is not. Therefore we need to ensure that we stop having battles such as this about education. Let us make it absolutely clear what the Conservative party has achieved. If we let people in Devon know what the Conservative party will do for education in Devon, we will be a lot better off.
Madam Speaker: I have a short statement to make before I call the next speaker. In his speech moving the motion now before the House, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) used some words that were challenged at the time by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools. I explained to the House that my attention was disturbed at the time, and I undertook to look at the transcript. I have now been able to do so.
The hon. Member for Brightside was challenging the validity of education statistics given by members of the Government at various times in the recent past. Although he explained later the meaning he intended to convey, in my view he went too far in describing the Chief Secretary to the Treasury as "ethically challenged" and saying, in his words, that "they"-- that is, Ministers--"cannot tell the truth".
I know that the House can get over-excited in major debates of this kind and that words are used which, when read on the page, appear clearly unparliamentary. While accepting what the hon. Member said after my second intervention, I think it would clear the matter up if he would formally withdraw the two brief unparliamentary phrases to which I have now drawn attention.
Mr. Blunkett: Madam Speaker, I was aware of your concern on the issue of the second phrase that has been used, and I unconditionally agree to withdraw that. I should be grateful, because it is the first time that it has been raised with me, in relation to the phrase that I used in respect of the Chief Secretary--
Madam Speaker: If the hon. Member were to look at the words in the dictionary as to the meaning of being "ethically challenged", it is a question of morally not knowing right from wrong, and it is quite a serious parliamentary statement. As I said, I understand the hon. Gentleman did try to clear the matter up later, but I should be much obliged if he would withdraw, so that we might proceed with the debate.
Column 10716.34 pm
Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his speech in opening the debate, which he did extraordinarily well in the face of what appeared to be organised disruption by the yobbo tendency on the Conservative Benches.
I found the Secretary of State's comments-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Pope: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I found the Secretary of State's comments, although not surprising, certainly disappointing. She seemed to be trying to blame everyone else for the cuts in education rather than taking any responsibility herself. Education Ministers have a duty to take responsibility for what happens to the country's education service, but they have failed to do so. My constituency is a marginal seat which was held by the Conservatives until the most recent election. By no stretch of the imagination could it be described as Labour heartland, but I have to tell Conservative Members that the Government are no longer despised or loathed in my constituency--it has gone far beyond that. The vast majority of my constituents, even those who voted for the Conservatives at the last election, now hold the Government in contempt, because the Government are never prepared to accept that it may be they who have made a mistake or got it wrong.
As councillors struggle to balance budgets and school governors are confronted with the prospect of having to sack teachers, what is the reaction of the Government? Is it to take some of the responsibility for that? Is it to show some leadership? No, it is not. The Government's reaction is to blame councils, governors, the BBC--anyone rather than themselves. It is no wonder that they are held in utter contempt.
I have had letters from representatives of every type of school in my constituency--aided schools, council-maintained schools, primary schools and secondary schools--all expressing genuine outrage at the level of cuts confronting them. I have even received a letter from the chair of governors of a grant-maintained school, although there are no GM schools in my constituency--parents and governors in Hyndburn have far more sense than to want the education service to be dismantled in the way that GM status implies.
Following the comments of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett- Bowman), who is no longer in her place, about the so-called benefits of GM status in Lancashire, it is interesting to consider what the chair of governors of St. Wilfrid's GM school in Blackburn, which is in a neighbouring constituency to mine and which some of my constituents attend, had to say about the effects of Government policy. In a letter to the Secretary of State, he said:
"even after allowing for a known reduction of 2.5 staff, and a possible further reduction of two staff, a drastic cut in spending on capitation items will be inevitable and together these will have a very serious effect on the curriculum. If part of the cost of the pay award has to be borne as well as these reductions, it will not be possible for a budget to be approved which would enable the school's commitments to pupils to be met."
There we have it.
Column 1072GM schools are the Government's flagship. Yet the chairman of governors of a GM school in Lancashire admits that, as a result of the Government's funding of GM schools as well as local education authority schools, his school will not be able to meet its commitments to pupils. That is a disgrace. It is no wonder that the promised avalanche of school opt-outs has failed to materialise. The chairman of governors of St. Wilfrid's GM school and the great number of other people who have written to me are not Labour party activists. They are not even Labour party members. I have no idea what their political affiliations are. They entered the teaching profession and became school governors because they cared about children and wanted to contribute to a successful education system, and they are extremely angry about the current situation. A secondary school in my constituency was recently praised by the Office of Standards in Education. It is now about to lose 3.6 teachers. A large primary school in Accrington, in an area of intense social deprivation, a school where four out of five pupils have English as a second language, has lost three teachers in the past six months as a result of the Government's cuts in section 11 funding. Now the head teacher telephones me to say that it will have to lose another three teachers, possibly another four, as a result of that round of cuts.
Leaving aside the current round of cuts that the Government are inflicting on the education system, I should be grateful if, in summing up the debate, the Minister could explain how he justifies the cuts in section 11 funding for children and teachers in schools such as the one to which I have referred in my constituency. It is nothing short of an act of barbarism meted out to the most vulnerable children who are struggling within the education system. The Minister should be ashamed at the way in which the Government have cut that funding.
A primary school in another part of my constituency has received a favourable report from Ofsted, which found good relationships between staff and pupils and very good student behaviour. It is a school of which we can all be proud. However, the head teacher has told me that that school is to lose the equivalent of 2.3 teachers. One of the year 2 classes is to disappear, which will drive up the number of pupils in the other classes. Teachers will lose what little non-contact time they have at present.
That is happening in one school after another, not just in my constituency but up and down the country. Ofsted inspectors make constructive suggestions about how schools can improve, and the schools are keen to implement those suggestions, but they then find themselves unable to do so because they no longer have the resources.
Decision making in schools up and down the country is being driven increasingly not by educational requirements, but by budgetary needs. Children with special educational needs who attend mainstream schools-- particularly those children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties --are not being catered for as
Column 1073effectively this year as they were last year, and they will not be provided for as effectively next year as they are being provided for now.
The Government have stubbornly failed to comprehend that the code of practice--which the Opposition welcomed--has resource implications. Until they do so, the problems will be compounded. There are increasing health and safety risks as children are taught in overcrowded classrooms, with dilapidated furniture and equipment that schools cannot afford to replace.
I know that some Conservative Members will seek to blame local education authorities for those problems. I have some experience of the distortions being peddled--not by hon. Members, of course, Madam Speaker, but by Tory central office--about my local education authority in Lancashire. It has been suggested that Lancashire has one bureaucrat for every 17 teachers, but that is not true. To arrive at that figure, one would have to include every educational psychologist in the county, every educational welfare officer, every adviser, and all the staff who deal with statements. They are not pen-pushers or bureaucrats; those people provide essential, core, front-line statutory education services. If Conservative Members do not understand, it shows how much they have to learn about education in this country.
It has been said that Lancashire should allocate more funding to schools so that they would have more money to spend. But Lancashire already spends far in excess of the Government's allocation target on education. Most of the centrally retained funds in Lancashire relate to statements and even if they were delegated to schools it would not compensate for the cash cuts that the Government have imposed. There has been distortion after distortion, as the Government have sought to evade responsibility for the cuts. They said that Lancashire has large cash reserves. Again, that is not true. The local authority is operating on a minimal budget.
Conservative Members have suggested that Lancashire has too many surplus places. Yet Lancashire has met and exceeded every Department for Education target for reducing those surpluses. If every surplus place in Lancashire were abolished tomorrow, it would save the authority £500,000. But the authority is facing education cuts of £28.3 million in the coming financial year.
The Government are comprehensively failing my children, the children of my constituents, and children up and down the land. The Secretary of State has sought to avoid any responsibility for those cuts, and I am sure that the Minister will do the same in his winding-up speech: he will try to shift the responsibility on to local education authorities, governors and anyone else. But we know who is really responsible: the Secretary of State, the Minister and their colleagues in the Treasury who are more concerned about taking a penny off income tax in six months' time in a squalid attempt to bribe the electors yet again rather than spending the money where it is really needed--in the classrooms in my constituency and in those up and down the country. The Government's policy is a disgrace.
Column 10746.44 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): I welcome the opportunity to draw attention to the situation in schools in my constituency, and particularly that in the 15 primary schools which I have visited during the past year. I did so in response to an organised campaign urging parents to complain about over-sized classes, adverse comparisons between our education standard spending assessment-- [Interruption.] Is there a problem, Madam Speaker?
Mr. Atkinson: I am relieved to hear that, Madam Speaker. I was saying that I visited 15 primary schools in my constituency in response to an organised campaign urging parents to complain about over-sized classes, the adverse comparisons of our education SSA with that of neighbouring counties, and a lack of resources generally. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools for his helpful responses to those concerns. He pointed out that parents and teachers can be misled into making false comparisons between the SSAs of local education authorities, and that my local education authority of Dorset has not done at all badly in recent years in response to our representations. A 27 per cent. funding increase between 1991 and 1993 was followed by a 4.9 per cent. increase last year.
I cannot argue with those figures, which are well ahead of inflation. I also cannot argue with the trend in the amount that we receive per pupil compared with other LEAs. It is moving in the right direction. Nevertheless, it is clear from the meetings that I have had with head teachers and from the visits that I have paid to primary schools in my constituency that those schools are deteriorating. Their essential problem is overcrowding, with classes of 35 or more packed into rooms designed to take 25 or fewer. At one school, two toilets serve 100 boys, and in another a mobile classroom has been condemned for eight years. That is simply unacceptable. Why has that situation arisen? It is simply because the LEA has failed to anticipate and plan for the school population explosion that we are experiencing in the Bournemouth borough. It seems that our present strategic planning system fails to match increasing education provision-- that is, school places and class sizes--with planning permissions which inevitably attract young families. It is simply irresponsible to allow new housing developments without providing for the education of the children who move into them. Housing association developments are approved without taking account of the extra provision for special needs that will inevitably be required. I give an unreserved welcome, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), to the Government's acceptance last week of the Local Government Commission's recommendation that Bournemouth should return to unitary authority status and become its own LEA once again.
In spite of that situation, we have no complaints about our teachers. The education standards that are achieved, despite those difficulties, are above the national average. The schools are passing their first ever Ofsted inspections, which is a great tribute to the teachers' professionalism, dedication and commitment. I believe that insufficient public acknowledgement is given to the teachers and head teachers who are delivering the educational achievements
Column 1075for which we claim credit. My hon. Friend the Minister will also be encouraged to learn that those teachers whom I met were unanimous in welcoming the more streamlined curriculum, the simplified testing, the 20 per cent. free periods, the promise of less paperwork, and not least the promise of no more changes for the next five years. I hope that that promise will be borne out in fact.
Teachers also welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the review body's recommended pay increase. I hope and expect that my LEA will enable teachers to receive that increase in full. I have no problem with the policy for LEAs to make provision for teachers' pay in their budgets. That is what local government is or should be all about, although this year's SSA settlement represents the greatest challenge since education spending was cut by £1.6 billion under the last Labour Government.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her opening speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it plain in his Budget statement last November that this year is the crunch year for getting our public borrowing down and I fully accept his strategy. If he succeeds, parents, governors and teachers can expect the increased resources for our schools that they rightly demand. What I should like to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend is that the commitment that the Government are honouring to increase resources substantially to the NHS should also be extended to education. There should be more resources for special needs to ensure the success of the new code of practice which teachers have welcomed. Without extra funding, there is a real danger that some schools will refuse to recognise those children requiring special needs. When my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State replies to this debate, I hope that he will assure me that when Bournemouth becomes an LEA in two years' time its education SSA will reflect our urban labour costs better than the present SSA of Dorset has been able to do. Finally, I hope that every school in my constituency will continue to keep the issue of grant-maintained status on their governors' agendas. They owe it to their pupils and to parents not to ignore the resounding success stories of grant-maintained schools. As the headmaster of St. Walberga's school, the only grant-maintained primary school in Bournemouth, told me last month, it has enabled him and his governors to decide their own priorities, it has been good for his school, and he would not go back. That is the message that my right hon. Friend and her team must continue to bring to the attention of every school, notwithstanding the obstacles being put in the way by Labour and Liberal LEAs.
Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn): Until a month or so before I came to the House, I was chair of my county council finance committee, and for the past few years, together with my colleagues on Gwent county council, I have strived to protect front-line services from the worst excesses of public spending cuts imposed by the Government. In the financial settlement for local authorities announced by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Wales, councils were told that they could expect an
Column 1076increase of 2.7 per cent. in funding for the coming year, but when the funding for police was stripped away, and with it the provision for careers services, the real increase is a paltry 0.7 per cent. Against that background, LEAs, working in partnership with school governors, sought to protect our children's education.
I have been a school governor since I was 18, and I have never known a time when teachers have been more demoralised and so many want to leave the profession. They are good and experienced teachers, such as those I met at last week's lobby; they are teachers whom the education service can ill afford to lose, but under the present Government they feel undervalued and taken for granted. They are blamed for falling education standards and for all society's ills, from rising crime to industrialists saying that they cannot recruit enough skilled people.
The Government's failure to give teachers the respect that their contribution to society deserves has brought us to the sorry state we are in today, as school governors, many of them supporters of the Conservative party, are faced with the prospect of sacking teachers because they cannot afford to employ them.
The Government will not fund the teachers' pay award. What is the reason for that? Can the country not afford it, or do they have something else in mind? Last year, one of the schools in Gwent balloted parents on whether or not it should go grant-maintained. The parents rejected the notion of leaving the partnership with the LEA, but the pro-opt-out campaigners were able to distribute to every parent promoting grant-maintained status a rather classy video produced by the Department for Education at a cost of £64,000. They have no money for textbooks or for teachers' pay, but they have plenty of money for political propaganda. That is the record of the Government.
In commenting on the case being made across the country for the Government to allocate additional funds to meet the costs of the teachers' pay award, the Chancellor has insisted that LEAs have sufficient funds to meet the award and to fund schools adequately, if only they would reduce the "wasteful bureaucracy" in town and county halls.
In many LEAs, Gwent included, the council's budget strategy for some years- -certainly since local management of schools was introduced--has been designed to protect school budget shares despite cuts imposed by Government.
In the past three years, Gwent county council has taken almost £18 million from balances to sustain front-line services such as education. Schools in Gwent hold almost £8 million in balances, but the money is not evenly shared. Some larger schools have built up balances intended for projects in the coming year. Some have a few hundred pounds, and others have nothing at all.
The formula is so constructed that we cannot do anything to help the schools that are worst off. It is not possible to top-slice school budgets to help less well-off schools, because that would cut right across the board. It would be taking from the poor to help the rich--something that the Conservative party has been doing ever since it came to power.
As for the so-called wasteful central bureaucracy, many education authorities have pursued a vigorous policy of scrutinising all vacancies in order to reduce costs. They have slimmed down central staffing levels, and constantly keep them under review.
Column 1077In a typical LEA, the proportion of the total education budget controlled by schools themselves is around 65 per cent., the remaining 35 per cent. being used on nursery education, which, despite the sweet words of the Prime Minister, is still the statutory responsibility of local education bodies to provide. They also use it for adult education, public libraries and the so-called bureaucratic central services.
What are the bureaucratic central services that the Conservative party would sweep away without so much as a second glance? They include services provided directly for pupils and students: the operation of home-to-school and home-to-college transport, educational psychology services, services for pupils with special needs, and the operation of discretionary awards to students. Who are the bureaucrats, and how does sacking them affect learning opportunities? The bureaucrats are those who, for example, prepare statements on special educational needs for pupils with learning difficulties. They are the people who administer free school meals for pupils from families on income support, and there are plenty of those as a result of the Government's dependency culture policy. They deal with pupil welfare and truancy. They support pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds who have poor or little English. They are the architects and engineers who plan and implement education building programmes. They are the craftsmen and technicians who organise and carry out repairs and maintenance to schools. They provide financial management support for heads and governing bodies. They organise the payment of salaries and wages to school staffs, and educate children in hospital or at home if they cannot attend school.
Those people advise and support teachers in the implementation of the national curriculum, and with the number of changes that the Government have made to the national curriculum, that has almost become an industry in itself. They teach pupils to swim or to play a musical instrument. They administer Government regulations on the citizens charter, student awards and grants for education support and training, and ensure that the education Acts are implemented. Public service is labour-intensive. We cannot take teachers out of the classrooms and sit children in front of computer screens and say that that is education. We cannot sack home care assistants and give every pensioner in the land a microwave and say that that is care in the community, and we cannot take bobbies off the beat, put video cameras on street corners and say that that is policing.
When council budgets are squeezed and various departments compete for funds for services, the number of posts in the central services of an LEA are obviously reduced--to what effect? Parents have to pay for or contribute towards the cost of their children receiving tuition in swimming or a musical instrument. Nursery schools are closed or reduced in size. Tuition for children too ill to attend schools is reduced.
School buildings are not maintained adequately. Awards to students attending further education classes are reduced or delayed. Fewer adult education classes are provided. LEA youth clubs are closed, often with a social price to pay. Delays occur in providing pupils with statements for special educational needs or free school meals. Advice and support for teachers attempting to
Column 1078deliver the full national curriculum are reduced, or totally eliminated in some subjects. Libraries are closed, or have restricted opening hours; school meal prices are raised.
In other words, parents may have to pay more for services. The support given to pupils by local education authorities is reduced. The community as a whole loses learning opportunities in adult education classes and youth activities. Schools are given less support in the fulfilment of their responsibilities, and buildings fall into disrepair.
The Government fail to recognise that local education authorities are non- profit-making organisations, whose only reason for existence is to deliver education in partnership with school governors. LEAs are democratically run by elected councillors, who often work in coalition with teachers, parents and representatives of religious denominations. There is none of the quango state there.
Parents and teachers recognise the value of the support services provided by LEAs: they know that sacking those employed in support services to find money for the teachers' pay award is no answer. Adequate funds for teachers and those who support them is needed if we are to deliver a rich and meaningful education service--but I fear that hell will freeze over before the Conservative party recognises that.
Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford): Education is important to everyone, not just those going through the school system or parents of schoolchildren. It highlights major differences between the main political parties. This country needs a well-educated and well-trained work force to compete in world markets, and the Government's education policies will ensure that we secure it. I was disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who confirmed what people in my borough of Bexley have always believed--that Liberal Democrats have no education policies, local or national. Conservative Members have a distinctive education philosophy that encompasses opportunity, choice and diversity; we also strongly believe in standards, discipline and testing in schools. We want parents, as the primary educators of children who have a vital role to play, to be allowed choice. Labour does not believe in opportunity and choice for parents: the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) contained no policies, and no concern for parents or standards.
I was privileged to attend a grammar school in the 1960s, where I was given a very good education. Such schools were destroyed by the Labour party in the 1960s and 1970s, and replaced by huge monolithic comprehensives. In the 1970s, I was a school governor in Hackney, and saw at first hand what Labour local government was like under a Labour Administration. We endured appalling standards, demoralised teachers and a general decline in education. During the past 16 years, there has been a gradual improvement, with education reforms, investment and development.
The untruths that we have heard from Opposition Members must be nailed. They do not like to be reminded of their record when Labour was in office in the 1960s and 1970s, when resources were reduced and standards fell. Expectations were low then, and teachers were demoralised. We know, however, that, since 1979, spending per pupil has increased by 50 per cent. in real terms; spending on books and equipment has risen by 55
Column 1079per cent. in real terms. Opposition Members do not like to hear those figures, but we must continually remind them of the facts. Teacher vacancies are now at an all-time low, and teachers' pay has increased by 59 per cent. in real terms since 1979. That is a real achievement, thanks to Conservative policies and Conservative government: that is what is really happening in education, and what has happened for the past 16 years.
I want to concentrate on two aspects of education: nursery education and education for those over 16, in which regard I think the Government still have work to do. Much of the debate over the past 30 years has centred on secondary schools--their type and organisation, the implications of the national curriculum, the effects of local management of schools and grant- maintained status and so forth.
Mr. Evennett: Indeed they are--all opposed by Labour, all supported by parents and all doing good in the education world. The Government should be congratulated on re-establishing the foundations of good, balanced, effective secondary education: it now provides choice, diversity, opportunity and improving standards.
In primary education, too, considerable strides have been made. The return to good, traditional teaching is bringing results. A number of primary schools in my constituency and my borough of Bexley never abandoned the traditional approach, and continue to flourish. St Paulinus Church of England school in Crayford, under the leadership of Mr. Vinall, has an excellent reputation, as has Hillsgrove school in Welling, which I visited last Friday. I was extremely impressed by the work of the head teacher, Mrs. Spooncer, and her staff. As I toured the school with the chairman of the governors, Councillor John Raggett, I observed much good practice, achievement and enthusiastic learning.
That is what we have achieved in 16 years of Conservative government: that is the real story of education today--not the doom and gloom that we hear from the Labour party, or the non-policies advanced by the hon. Member for Bath.
I commend the Prime Minister's commitment to expanding nursery provision. My borough of Bexley already has a rolling programme of increased provision, established by the previous
Conservative-controlled council. I believe that children benefit from learning and socialising before they reach the statutory school age. I am well aware that some 90 per cent. of three and four-year-olds are already involved in some form of pre-school activity, and I support the expansion of nursery education, but I urge my hon. Friend the Minister not to abandon the Conservative belief in choice and variety.
The establishment of a monolithic provision by local authorities would be a disaster. I strongly support the voucher system: not only would parents be allowed a real choice, but the providers of nursery education would have to ensure that they were offering parents and pupils the highest standard of service.
I am also concerned about the possible effects on playgroups. My constituency has some excellent playgroups, providing a first-class service for children,