Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Does my hon. Friend agree that a test for youngsters soon after they entered primary school would give those in deprived areas a much better chance? I have a particular school in mind, which does an excellent job, but that it is not apparent from the results. If children were tested at five and then again at seven, we could see what the school had added. Often, it is extremely good. I believe that we need another examination.

Dr. Spink: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us what progress has been made towards establishing value added measurements, because they are important. It should be possible for us to provide value added information to parents.

5 Jun 1996 : Column 553

In my constituency, we need to provide pull as well as push for primary schools. By that I mean that the secondary sector must be enhanced in order to provide incentives for the primary sector. Thereby, for the next few moments, I intend to bring my remarks into order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. The hon. Gentleman has been in order throughout his speech and I hope that he will stay that way.

Dr. Spink: I give formal notice to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we must be granted a specialist technical school--other constituencies have them and Castle Point does not. We need at least one. We must have a sixth form facility for Canvey Island. I will seek to raise those subjects in the near future if I may.

All schools owe a debt of gratitude to Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools. He has done society a great service by exposing the problems in education and it is typical of the socialists that 50 Labour Members signed an early-day motion calling for his resignation because he blew the whistle. It is the sort of socialist antediluvian, shoot-the-messenger reaction that we have come to expect from Opposition Members.

We need Mr. Woodhead to look at moral education and guidance in schools, particularly primary schools. A good start would be to include in every inspection report--I do not think that it happens now--a section on the school's achievement, in quality as well as quantity, in delivering the statutory acts of collective worship and religious education which must be broadly Christian-based and which many schools are not achieving.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: I regret having to mention the hon. Member for Bath in his absence but, as he is unavoidably delayed, I have no alternative. He suggested in a pamphlet that we should abolish religious education in schools as well as the collective act of worship.

Dr. Spink: That is another silly Liberal Democrat policy which ranks alongside legalising cannabis.

I am sure that you will be appalled to learn, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, during a visit to a primary school in my constituency, when I asked why, during the service, they had sung only politically correct hymns about yellow buttercups and had made no reference to traditional hymns, to our saviour Jesus or to Christianity, I was told that they did not like to "indoctrinate" the children. I could not believe what I was hearing. We must ask Chris Woodhead to address that problem.

I do not accept that there is no time for moral guidance in our schools. I accept that there are often practical difficulties getting all the children together in one place at one time. Those difficulties must be addressed within the national curriculum. However, we need to find time to give moral guidance as well as academic skills because an articulate young thug is just as objectionable as a stupid young thug. Time must be made to give meaningful moral guidance, both structured and unstructured, and I hope that teacher training colleges and the inspector will address that.

It is worth listening to businesses and what they have to say because they have a valid stake in our primary schools. For example, the finance director of AssiDoman,

5 Jun 1996 : Column 554

Mr. Simon Redman, believes that we need more linguists and engineers. He feels that we could greatly improve our export performance if we could speak foreign languages more fluently, and I agree with him. He believes that the best time to start learning foreign languages is at the age of six or seven, or even earlier, which is when they start on the continent. That is why they are so much better than we are.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: I am sure that my hon. Friend will rejoice with me at the fact that RipleySt. Thomas school in my constituency has just been made a specialist language centre--one of only two in Lancashire. That is an incentive to all the primary schools in the area to improve their languages.

Dr. Spink: I am delighted to hear once again of progress in my hon. Friend's area. It does not surprise me. I agree that we should find more time for languages.

Mr. Redman also said that we must improve the status of engineering, technology and science. The best place for that is in the primary school. We need to educate primary teachers to understand and value those key wealth-generating professions. Too often, they are put behind the doctors, dentists, accountants and solicitors, and they should not be so denigrated. They are equal, if not superior, professions. Teacher training colleges must address that as well.

As part of their jubilee celebrations, pupils at Montgomerie county infants and junior schools in my constituency are planting a time capsule on Monday1 July. The special plastic capsule was provided by the European Nature Conservation Council, which has set up a nationwide scheme. [Interruption.] I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) say, "Hear, hear," when I mention a European institution. I am surprised to hear him say that, because it made me raise an eyebrow.

In 25 years, 200 buried time capsules throughout Britain, including that planted by the excellent children of Montgomerie county school, will be unearthed. I shall ask the head teacher, John Poskitt, whether a copy of this debate can be buried in the capsule.

I wonder whether, in 25 years' time, when the capsule is dug up, we will have solved all our education problems and be making the right investment in education for the benefit of our children and our society. I truly hope so.

11.47 am

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley): The hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) has been waffling on for 47 minutes about so-called standards and I must question the content of the end of his speech. He suggested putting a copy of his speech in the time capsule, but it would be better to put the hon. Member in and never mind his speech.

We all desire high standards in education and on occasions we have to listen to Conservative Members attacking Opposition Members as though we do not care about education. That is an insult. In the early part of his speech, the hon. Gentleman said that we could not just throw money at education. That could never be said of the Conservative party, which has done anything but that.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Robin Squire): I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow, but I must

5 Jun 1996 : Column 555

put on the record again that, as he knows, expenditure per pupil since 1979 has gone up by some 50 per cent. in real terms--a record of which the Labour Government prior to 1979 would have been proud.

Mr. Eastham: Later, when I have developed my remarks, I will take the Under-Secretary of State to task about the so-called big expenditure by the Conservative Government.

Standards are not just about examination results. We need good standards for school buildings and to provide the right equipment for children's education. Month after month, we experience Conservative Members talking about standards and about examination results. They never talk about standards for children who are handicapped or children whose first language is not English. They talk about the top few. It is a fact of life that some schools will never get into the examination charts, but nevertheless a good job is being done in those schools by the teaching profession.

Outrageous attacks have often been made on teachers, and we heard some more today. It is no wonder that teachers become demoralised when they have to suffer the sort of attacks that we heard in the previous speech. The teachers can do little about those attacks because they cannot stand up in the Chamber and take hon. Members to task. The teachers depend on some of us, who are not educationists but are interested in a fair deal for the teaching profession and for the kids in schools.

If the hon. Member for Castle Point does not know, I can tell him that teaching is often seriously under-resourced. I remember the Education Reform Act 1988, because I was on the Committee that considered it. Months after the Act came into force, schools still did not have the books and materials that they needed to fulfil their obligations under the Act. That was not the teachers' or the children's fault: it was the fault of under-resourcing by the Government.

When we talk about schools and achievement, we should consider every aspect of education provision, including learning conditions. Many schools, not just in my city of Manchester but in many other cities, are in such a poor state that if they had been in industry the Health and Safety Executive would probably have closed them down. Some of the schools should be condemned.

The Under-Secretary would be disappointed if I did not take up the points that he made and I will give the House some examples of the situation in many schools in Manchester. Many other authorities have the same problems, but I have more details about Manchester. We have had 17 continuous years of a so-called caring Conservative Government who supposedly give education a high priority. When I went to see the Under-Secretary of State last year with the chief education officer and some politicians to present the case for some realistic funding, the hon. Gentleman claimed to have spent more money. But many cities have not smelled much of that money in their authorities. Expenditure has often been weighted towards well heeled and better-off authorities and the direction of funds has been jaundiced.

Instead of waffling, I wish to comment on the situation as it really is. I do not want to make a pretty speech for 45 minutes but actually say nothing. I was so concerned about the schools in Manchester that I wrote to the Health

5 Jun 1996 : Column 556

and Safety Executive last year. The Minister claimed that expenditure had increased, but the HSE's letter to me stated:

    "Inspectors in this Area have become involved on a number of occasions when parents, teachers or governors complaints have been received concerning structural, electrical and other safety aspects of school buildings. To date we have not found it necessary to take enforcement action since the Local Authority and governors have been aware of the problem and willing to take appropriate action, mindful of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act to ensure the safety of staff, pupils and visitors to school premises. In general structural safety matters are the clear responsibility of the Local Authority.

    In the event of our finding a dangerous situation and the Authority or governing body not being willing to take appropriate action, the use of enforcement notices would be considered. It is not possible to enforce remedial work to a dangerous part of a building as the employer has the option of taking other equally effective measures to ensure safety which may include preventing access to any unsafe part of a school. This has happened in a number of cases in Greater Manchester.

    The Director of Education has been made aware of our concern in correspondence following visits to several schools by inspectors."

Rightly, safety is the responsibility of the local authority and if the authority does not take some action, the HSE will issue an enforcement notice to close the school. The action that local authorities have had to take is to put kids in buses for a 20-minute ride to other schools. The authorities have never had the money to deal with problems--for example, to make the school windows watertight--when the HSE drew problems to their attention.

I have a report from last year, entitled "Expenditure on Education Premises and Equipment in Manchester--Some Facts and Figures", in which the Under-Secretary may be interested. If he wants to make a note of the figures, I will give him a chance to get his pencil out. The report states:

The authority needed £50 million, but the allocation was £12.9 million. The Department for Education and Employment also put a cap on spending so that the local authority could even not spend that amount. It spent only £5 million. The report continues:

    "Estimated expenditure needed over next 4-5 years to bring schools and other establishments up to a satisfactory standard: £500 million."

We have a legacy of an accumulating need for spending. Year after year, there have been cuts in funding and allocations. After 17 years of continual cuts, a massive problem has built up. I worry about where the next Labour Government will get the hundreds of millions of pounds needed to cope with the neglect by the Conservative Government.

I have another report, entitled "Manchester's Crumbling Schools", although I emphasise again that the problem does not affect only Manchester. It gives some basic facts about the standards in schools. It states:

5 Jun 1996 : Column 557

    Another part of the report itemises some of the defects, because it is not always a case of putting a new roof on a building--although, God knows, we need plenty of those. The report states:

    "In many schools substantial items of engineering equipment and installations, such as heating systems (boilers), electrical wiring and fire alarms have exceeded their economic and/or serviceable life span of 15 to 20 years and need to be replaced as part of an on-going programme. The Department of Education and Science (DES) Building Bulletin No. 70 (1990) states that the economic life of commercial boilers is between 15 and 20 years."

Some of the boilers are listed; the report states that 61 schools have boilers that are more than 25 years old and that some of them are more than 40 years old. They are in Victorian buildings. There are 40 schools with boilers aged between 20 and 25 years, and 291 boilers require to be replaced. In winter, when it is snowing or raining, everybody in the school may be freezing because the boiler is not working. Hon. Members smile, but that is hardly a good way to raise standards. Would it put kids in a good condition to improve their reading and writing? Would it be good for the teachers to be freezing in the corner? Do you think that standards should include such matters?

Next Section

IndexHome Page