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Mr. Blunkett: Will the hon. Lady name one piece of legislation that did not create additional orders or paperwork, or require material to be sent out to explain it? All measures in the late 1980s and early 1990s contributed to that including, of course, the national curriculum, the assessment tests and the work that had to
Mrs. May: Over the past year, the Secretary of State has sent out an average of one piece of paper for every hour that a teacher should have been working. He could have introduced legislation to reduce the burdens on schools. By setting the schools free and trusting the teachers, he could have let them decide how to spend all their budget. Instead, he has continued to ensure that the budgets are spent not on the school's priorities but on those of the Government.
The Queen's Speech contained no measures to enable our universities to hold their heads high again as centres of excellence world wide and to compete in the global marketplace. But let us face it: the Secretary of State has lost interest in education. Indeed, he has publicly joked about his hopes to move to the Home Office. He simply will not face up to the problems that his policies are creating for teachers, parents and children. He certainly is not going to be doing anything about them.
Mr. Blunkett: Just to provide a moment of delectation, yesterday I travelled 500 miles to visit a school in Nottinghamshire, a school in Derbyshire and Garforth school outside Leeds. I left a school at 9 o'clock last night to get back to London--in bad weather--in time for this morning's debate. No one would do that unless he was really committed to education.
Mrs. May: Visiting schools is important. We both do that, although when I talk about visiting schools to find out what is happening, the Secretary of State's right hon. and hon. Friends tell me that I should not be doing it. It is a pity that he visits schools but does nothing about the problems that they have identified in relation to his policies. If he is visiting schools and listening to what they are saying, he will know that they want to be set free and have all their money supplied directly. They do not want their funding creamed off by central Government and local education authorities.
The Secretary of State has been turning his attention to other matters, such as social security, the countryside and Europe. We are told that in the next few weeks he will speak on patriotism. He has even opined on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Perhaps one of the questions on that show could be taken from the book that the Secretary of State has endorsed. It tells us that our schools are becoming an anachronism and that the future
Mr. Willis: Conservative-controlled North Yorkshire county council is planning to top-slice the money that the Chancellor is giving to schools and to calculate that as part and parcel of their allocation. Is that official Conservative policy?
One education Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech, on special educational needs and access to learning for disabled people. The Conservative party is also interested in improving access to education for disabled people, but parents are already worried about the Bill, especially part I, which relates to special educational needs. It will be necessary to scrutinise it properly. I sincerely hope that the Government will recognise the importance of ensuring that sufficient time is available in the House and another place for that.
The Bill is of particular importance because of the concerns that parents are raising. Although we have not seen it, we know from the background note issued by the Government for the Queen's Speech and from the consultation document that was issued earlier this year that a key aim will be to enshrine the principle that a child with special educational needs shall be educated in a mainstream school unless it is against the wishes of the parent, or a school or an LEA cannot take reasonable steps to adapt its provision. The intention is to put into force the Government's inclusion agenda.
I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the impact of that agenda which is being used by local authorities as an excuse to close special schools and to fly in the face of parents' wishes. I saw that for myself when I recently visited Thurlow Park school in Lambeth and admired the new £1.3 million nursery unit which was opened by the Secretary of State in March. The school is now threatened with closure by Lambeth council.
I saw the quality of education that the school provides and spoke to a parent who set out her concerns, which are shared by other parents of children in special schools. She was worried that if her son was placed in a mainstream school, far from being included, he would be treated by other children as being different and would not be able to get involved in all activities to the same extent as other pupils. A policy of inclusion would cause him to feel excluded within the class.
Parents have a real fear of that happening. It is not groundless. Such children have often moved from mainstream schools to special schools and their parents have seen the different quality of education and way in which their children can achieve in that environment. Parents are rightly concerned that there should be a choice of provision. They do not want special schools to be closed and children included in mainstream schools if it is not in their interests, but simply meets a Government target.
Mrs. May: I certainly endorse the Secretary of State's comments that we need to get the Bill right, and that is why we need to give it time. I hope that his remarks about the need to ensure that the inclusion agenda does not lead to a wholesale closure of special schools will filter down to those Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled authorities which are putting many special schools under threat of closure, raising genuine concerns for parents.
It is a difficult balance to strike. Parents are questioning the potential impact on special schools and are also concerned about the changes to the special educational needs code of practice and the Government's intentions on the back of that change. It is proposed to water down the statement for each child so that rather than specifying the position, it will simply have to set it out. There is a concern that local authorities will use that change to give a very vague description of the child's needs, thus reducing the right of children and their parents to access resources for those children's particular needs.
The Secretary of State will be aware that after the publication of the Green Paper on special educational needs in 1997, the Government came under a lot of pressure not to reduce parental rights to statementing. I recall pressing the Minister for School Standards on this point in the Select Committee on Education and Employment. Ministers have made a number of statements to the effect that there will be no reduction in parents' or children's rights. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), reiterated that point in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) at the last Education questions.
If parents find that the Government have kept to the letter of those promises but are using the code of practice to get out of their commitments, they will know, once again, that the Government cannot be trusted. This is a Government run by lawyers picking their words carefully, spinning and failing to deliver.
All spin and no delivery is an apt description of the rest of the sections on education in the Queen's Speech. What is there but the reannouncement of existing policies? The Government are so out of touch with what is happening in our schools that in a Queen's Speech bereft of content they could not find time for measures to redress the crisis faced by our schools, colleges and universities.
We know that the Government are out of touch. We have only to look at the problem of teacher supply to see that. On 26 November, about a month after we had initiated a debate in the House on the crisis in teacher recruitment and supply, the Secretary of State finally
The Government acted to increase the number of recruits into teacher training, not to increase the number of teachers in schools today. The message I get from schools as I travel around the country is that they fear that in so many areas they are close to meltdown. Indeed, the Department for Education and Employment accepted that in a letter which has been sent to local education authorities. It indicates the concern in the Department that a widespread four-day school week could be in place by January. The letter from the Department's head of schools, David Normington, says that Whitehall will co-ordinate Government intervention where measures fail. However, it wants local authorities to develop
Earlier this week I was in Cumbria. It is a very nice part of the country and until recently, it has not had many problems with teacher recruitment. It is an attractive place to live and it has always been possible to encourage teachers to work there. Even there, however, head teachers say that they are facing real difficulties. They are talking about having only one applicant for their specialist posts in secondary schools.
The problem of teacher supply is not confined to London and the south-east. It is spread out across the country. Children will suffer because the quality of education that is provided will suffer, particularly in secondary schools, if children's classes are being taught by non-specialist teachers.
What was the Government's recent reaction to this crisis? The Prime Minister announced in the press to head teachers that, over the next 10 years, the Government will recruit--should they get the chance--250,000 teachers. Setting aside the fact that the Government will not be in a position to recruit over the next 10 years, on current targets, vacancies and losses to the profession would leave us short of 100,000 teachers in 10 years' time. The Government are out of touch, spinning the truth and failing to deliver.
The Queen's Speech concentrated on secondary education. It claimed that the Government would introduce more specialist schools--a claim that we have heard many times from them. Yet those words ring hollow for the specialist schools that were told earlier this year that they could not continue with their applications for specialist college status because the Government had introduced the 30 per cent. rule, meaning that those areas in which 30 per cent. of pupils are already taught in specialist schools do not qualify for a further specialist school.
The specialist schools initiative was introduced by the previous Government, and the schools' records show that they do a good job for their pupils. If the Government are really interested in encouraging more specialist schools, they should not impose artificial limits in areas but enable those schools which want to become specialist schools to do so.
The Queen's Speech also referred to urban school reform. There is an indication there that there might be something new in the Government's thinking and that they might bring forward further proposals on secondary education. What do we see when we look at the background notes? It is all about city academies--already enshrined in the Learning and Skills Act 2000, although the Government have been finding it difficult to get people to take on that option. [Interruption.] Oh, the Secretary of State says that applications are flooding in. Perhaps he could tell the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many city academies will have been set up within the next three months, and then the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry could tell us in the winding-up speech.
The idea of city academies is not new--it is in the Learning and Skills Act 2000. Indeed, it is not even a new Labour idea--it owes much to the city technology colleges that were set up under the previous Government. City technology colleges such as Thomas Telford have achieved excellent results and shown the value of setting schools free and enabling head teachers and principals to have a real chance to control the destiny of their school.
What other urban school reform for secondary schools might be offered by the Secretary of State? Perhaps the Government will have another look at their fresh start proposals. Fresh start has been a complete failure from the beginning. Fresh start schools are closing. In the early days, head teachers of fresh start schools were leaving when they found that they could not get on with the job that they wanted to do. Telegraph Hill, for example, is under threat of closure by Lewisham council. The director for lifelong learning and culture at Lewisham council recently said on "World at One" about fresh start:
The Government talk about improved standards of teaching and education, yet we have seen secondary class sizes rise in the past three and half years: the pupil:teacher ratio in secondary schools is the worst for 25 years; the
The future of our secondary school sixth forms is under real threat. That is not only being said in the House; it is being said by secondary school head teachers throughout the country, for example, by the head of the secondary school in Tividale, West Bromwich, which has a sixth form of only 56 pupils and offers only a limited number of courses, but fills a niche in the market, provides options for education post-16 to young people who otherwise would not stay on for post-16 education, and achieves excellent pass rates in the courses that it offers. It is being said by the heads of secondary schools in Cumbria, where only five out of 27 school sixth forms meet the unofficial size criterion set by the Department for Education and Employment of 200 pupils. Small rural sixth forms feel particularly threatened by the Labour Government. They fill a need by ensuring that young people have a choice of provision in post-16 education, but the Government are threatening those sixth forms with closure, which would deny parents and pupils an opportunity to choose how and where they continue their education post-16 and would also affect the rest of the schools.
The Secretary of State mentioned bureaucracy and administration--the question whether, if schools are given greater freedom and more responsibility, it merely piles on more administration. That is, of course, not true. The problem identified by schools with existing bureaucracy is that it is not of value in raising standards in the classroom; it is just pieces of paper sent out by the Department for Education and Employment--or by the Department to the local education authority for it to send to schools. That practice was identified by the Government's better regulation taskforce as one of the methods used by the Government to enable them to claim that they have reduced the amount of paperwork they distribute to schools. Head teacher after head teacher and teacher after teacher says that the bureaucracy does not help to raise standards in the classroom--it does nothing to improve the education of children. We want to ensure that heads have the ability to make decisions regarding their schools, to control their schools' destiny and to raise standards in the classroom, unencumbered by the paperwork which has emerged from the Government continuously and at an increasing rate in the past three and a half years.
The Secretary of State spoke at length about the new deal, but when two thirds of young people on the education and training option of the new deal end up without a job, and only 13,000 young people have found jobs as a result of the new deal, it is no deal for young long-term unemployed people. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that there is to be a new deal mark 2, following discussions with the Wildcat Corporation--indeed, the Government have been talking to that corporation for some time now. They have recognised the complaints from businesses and employers about the new deal gateway not working. The Government realise that the new deal is not the success that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister claimed it was a week ago. They recognise that new deal mark 1 has been a failure and that
Business was also mentioned in the Queen's Speech in connection with learning and skills councils. The Secretary of State says that businesses have joined with Government in those councils, but businesses are complaining that there is not enough business representation on them to ensure that business needs are genuinely catered for.