Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4.29 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): Four years ago, this Labour Government were elected with the priority, "education, education, education." Four wasted years later, they have manifestly failed to deliver on that promise. That is clear to anyone who visits schools and listens to teachers complaining about the burden of bureaucracy; to head teachers complaining about Government interference; to governors complaining about the overload of red tape; to pupils complaining about disruptive children being kept in class, damaging their education and that of others; or to parents worried about teacher shortages that are creating difficulties in their local schools.

12 Mar 2001 : Column 643

Jenny Short, the head teacher of Loddon junior school in Earley, wrote in her open letter to the Prime Minister,

She set out those staffing problems and continued:

She has subsequently been in touch with me and said:

On a doorstep in Hurst during the weekend, a parent told me, "The Government promised education would be their priority. I haven't seen any evidence of it."

So as we consider the Budget's impact on education, what is the end-of-term report on the Government and the Secretary of State? "More red tape--done. Increased interference from Whitehall--done. Teachers leaving in droves--done. Larger secondary classes--done. More disruptive pupils in class--done. Grammar schools under threat--done. Abolition of grant-maintained status--done. Fiddled figures--done."

The legacy of the Government's four wasted years is a national crisis of teacher shortages, a demoralised teaching profession, schools threatened with four-day weeks, standards damaged and children's education suffering--for the Government, who came in promising so much, have delivered little, not just in education. The Secretary of State did not refer to any of the comments on the new deal that the Chancellor made in his Budget speech, because the Government have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on the new deal--a scheme that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has shown has directly resulted in only 13,000 jobs.

The evidence shows that the new deal works when the private sector is involved, using its expertise and flexibility in the interests of unemployed people--for example, Reed Executive in Hackney and Pertemps in Birmingham. We have seen what the private sector can deliver. That is why we will replace the new deal with "Britain works", which will involve private sector expertise and will focus on getting people into jobs as soon as possible and helping them to stay in them. "Britain works" will be a better deal for unemployed people, for employers and for taxpayers. The new deal is a broken pledge.

Mr. Geraint Davies: Does the hon. Lady agree that the shadow Chancellor's policy of keeping inflation below 2 per cent. would inevitably drive up interest rates, thus increasing unemployment and resulting in less money for education?

Mrs. May: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman consider the inflation rate at the moment. I understand that it is less than 2 per cent., so perhaps he should reconsider his intervention. He should look at the new deal figures,

12 Mar 2001 : Column 644

which show that the programme has failed to provide jobs for young long-term unemployed people; that the rate of decline in long-term youth unemployment has slowed under this Government in comparison with what was happening during the last years of the Conservative Government; and that where the new deal works, it does so because the private sector is involved. With "Britain works", we shall ensure that the private sector is involved, to get people into jobs.

Mr. Blunkett: Why has long-term youth unemployment fallen by 75 per cent? Why did the report of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research say that the new deal has added £500 million steady state a year to GDP? Why did it acknowledge that more than 200,000 youngsters have got into jobs faster? Why are 274,000 youngsters who had been unemployed for more than six months now in work when they were not when we came into office? And why are employment zones working so well that even the Conservative party cannot think of abolishing them?

Mrs. May: The figure from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research is 13,000 new jobs from the new deal. The report showed that hundreds and millions of pounds have been spent to find 13,000 jobs. Unemployed people deserve a better deal. They do not want to be put on training programmes only to find that they come off them when they go back on to benefit because there is no job for them. The new deal has become a revolving door for too many of the long-term unemployed, and that is why it needs replacing with a better scheme. "Britain works" will be that better scheme. The new deal is a broken pledge.

Let us consider the Government's education promises and look back on their early claims about extra education spending. Three years ago, in the first comprehensive spending review, the Government announced an extra £19 billion for education. We soon saw how wrong that figure was. As The Guardian said:

The Times reported:

[Interruption.] The Secretary of State seems to be commenting on the author of The Guardian report, but perhaps he would like to comment on the rebuke that he received from the Select Committee on Education and Employment, which said that there was

True to form, the Government have been up to their old tricks. They are perhaps getting a little better at hiding them--as they do in table C13, on page 202 of the Red Book. The Chancellor announced an extra £1 billion of spending on education, but a comparison of the figures on page 202 of the Red Book with the latest comprehensive spending review shows that, as a result of the Budget, the increase in education spending over the next three years is actually £200 million--not £1 billion. The answer is that one simply cannot believe a word that the Government say about their spending.

That is not the only way in which the Government are fiddling the figures. Ministers welcomed the School Teachers' Pay Review Body recent pay award for

12 Mar 2001 : Column 645

teachers, but they did not tell anyone that they were not going to fund the increases fully. Local education authorities will have to find the extra money, and schools will see their budgets being cut to provide the pay for teachers.

Ministers claimed to put £65 million into school budgets this year for the new AS-levels, but how many schools have seen a penny of that money? Their teaching costs have gone up, their resources costs have gone up and their examination costs have gone up, but the Government have not provided them with the extra funding to pay for that.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): May I remind the hon. Lady that I spent some years in local government? In every one of the 18 years of the Conservative Government, my local authority had to find a proportion of teachers' salaries--and she can check that point out. She should not complain about this Government when they are trying to do something to right that wrong.

Mrs. May: The Government are not doing that; that is the whole point. Local authorities today have to scrape around for the extra cash because the Government are not providing it. The Government hide and fiddle the figures so that schools do not know exactly what they will get, and fail to provide the funding that they promise for schools. The expectations of teachers and parents have been raised, but that is why they are now becoming totally disillusioned and fed up with the Government, They have heard so many promises on which the Government have completely failed to deliver.

We should not be surprised by that, given that, when the Government claimed to be introducing fairer funding, they said that more money would go direct to schools while at the same time specifying 89 categories of spending that local authorities could hold back from schools. The Government promised that they would change the standard spending assessment within a year of coming to office but they have done nothing about it. Few schools in the numerous authorities--such as Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Dorset, Leicestershire and indeed Staffordshire, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) referred--that have been disadvantaged by that calculation think that funding today is fairer. That is certainly not what I heard last week from heads in Wiltshire who face problems and budget deficits because of the difficulties caused by the Government's lack of funding. In any case, how much of the money announced in the Budget will be top-sliced from local authorities and redistributed to them as new money?

What about the way in which the Government tell schools how to spend their money? During a visit to a secondary school in Formby last week, I was told by the head, "I've got four pages of A4 which describe all the different funding streams that come into this school. One page covers the funding streams over which we have discretion; three pages cover the funding streams over which we have no discretion." The Secretary of State referred to the Chancellor's Budget announcement of an extra sum that will go directly to schools, but that is only true of about 1 per cent. of the money. Money should go directly to schools so that heads have the freedom to spend it in the best interests of children in their classrooms: they should receive 100 per cent. of it

12 Mar 2001 : Column 646

directly. Heads should have the freedom to spend the money on what they know is needed in their schools in the interests of their pupils.

The Secretary of State mentioned devolved capital. At a primary school in Woodley this morning, the head told me, "It's all very well talking about this devolved capital, but the problem is that I am only allowed to spend it in chunks of £10,000 and then only on certain priority areas. I can think of a lot of things I want to spend the money on, but I am not allowed to." We are far from the Secretary of State's claim that the people's money is being spent on the people's priority. Instead of the people's money being spent on schools' priorities, it is being spent on Labour's priorities.

It would be unfair to suggest that the Government have not increased spending on education, however. They have increased the amount that is spent on advertising in the Department for Education and Employment and the money that is wasted on bureaucracy. During the past four years, the Government have introduced 530 regulations. In the past year, they have sent out a directive a day to teachers. They have published well over 2,000 press releases and goodness knows how many of the Secretary of State's speeches have been published in glossy booklets. Increased spin--done.

At the top of the Government's list of achievements, however, is the increase in bureaucracy, red tape and paperwork that they have imposed on teachers. The Secretary of State mentioned reducing bureaucracy. In the Green Paper that was published a few weeks ago, the Government claim that they have reduced the number of pages of material sent to primary schools by 1,170 pages to just 490, but it was their fault in the first place that those schools were receiving nearly 2,000 pages of circulars telling them what to do.

What about the time that that bureaucracy, which keeps teachers away from the core job of teaching children, takes up? The Government say in the Green Paper that the standards fund will be changed and not all the money will go directly to schools. Some categories will remain as they are, but the system is apparently being changed to save time in schools. However, according to the Government, schools have spent three months filling in forms for the standards fund. That is hardly a reduction in bureaucracy.

Next Section

IndexHome Page