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Bob Spink: Does the hon. Gentleman support the Opposition Front-Bench policy of giving local people and councils the right to decide about the installation of mobile phone masts?
John Cryer: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the previous Governmentto be fair, he was not in Parliament at the timeweakened planning legislation to make it easier for big companies to build such masts. However, I agree with him. Councils should have the power to resist. They currently have limited powers, but they should be extended. I suspect that the big companies such as BT and Orange are building the masts as quickly as possible because they fear that the Government will introduce regulations to make it tougher. They want to build even the third generation masts now, so that they do not have a battle in 18 months' time. It is highly likely that the Government will introduce regulations in the next few months. I hope that they will do that as quickly as possible. The big companies will have to begin consulting and local councils will have the power to prevent such developments.
Secondly, I want to consider capital investment in schools. It is a matter of record that investment in schools has increased sharply under the Government, especially in the past two years. However, there was under-investment for a long time and the fabric of many schools was allowed to deteriorate. That problem is reflected in constituencies throughout the country. In my constituency, lack of investment has caused all sorts of problems.
Two schools in particular spring to mind. Edwin Lambert primary school in Hornchurch stands on a quadrangle. On one side, the school is Edwardian, but the other side was burned down in the 1960s. It was replaced by a typical, flat-roofed 1960s building, which is now crumbling. There is no capital to replace it.
The second school is Parsonage Farm junior school in Rainham, in the south of my constituency not far from the River Thames. That has a problem with demountables, which are crumbling. Again, there is a lack of capital resources to replace them and do a proper job.
I support public investment in schools, not part-privatisation or private finance initiatives. I have no objection to genuine partnership with the private sector because local government has always had such partnerships. However, we need to be careful that we do not adopt partial or full privatisation of parts of health or education.
The finance house, Capital Strategies, believes that outsourcing from local education authorities to the private sector will increase from £1.6 billion today to £5 billion in five years. We must be careful about that, and consider what has happened in America. In Baltimore, nine schools were handed over to a private sector company called Education Alternatives in an £85 million contracta pretty big contract, by any standards.
This has all been documented by Nick Cohen in The Observer newspaper. I know that a warm glow will envelop those on the Treasury Bench at the mention of his name, considering all the paeans of praise for the Government that he has produced. He documented what happened in Baltimore with Education Alternatives. The company took a large chunk of public money to run nine schools. Within a few months, it was claiming all kinds of miracles on behalf of the schools. It claimed that they were cleaner and better run, that the results had improved and that truancy levels had gone down.
Then, over the following year or two, more and more facts started to emerge as to what had actually happened in those schools in Baltimore. Truancy levels had increased, not gone down. The new technology was not there. The company was sacking teachersit got rid of 25 per cent. of themand crowding 40 children at a time into classes. Baltimore's The Sun then exposed the fact that Education Alternatives was falsifying the figures for exam results, which were actually getting worse rather than better. That is the kind of thing that is happening.
A second example is the Edison Project. This will be known to some hon. Members because it is run by a man called Chris Whittle, who is already trying to get his slimy claws on the British education system. Like many of the companies that have become involved in the American system, he thinks that he can make a lot of money out of this. He was a pioneering figure in American education, in that he managed to get his
The Edison Project's British salesman is a man called James Tooley, who was once hired by Chris Woodhead. Now that is a rich irony. This bloke James Tooley apparently approves of American primary school children watching Marilyn Manson videos. That is one of the things that used to be beamed into their classrooms. For the benefit of more senior Members, Marilyn Manson is a band fronted by a man who tends to eat live bats on a stage that is awash with blood. All the members of the band are named after particularly notable serial killers. So that hard right-wing Daily Mail sort of figure, that figure of morality, James Tooley, thinks it is all right for primary school children to watch that kind of nonsense. He was hired by Chris Woodhead, another hard right-wing Daily Mail sort of figure.
Mr. Pound: The Daily Telegraph.
John Cryer: I am sorry. Yes, Chris Woodhead went to The Daily Telegraph. He thinks that it is all right for teachers to have affairs with pupils, from what I remember. These are the kinds of figures who are menacing British education.
Chris Grayling: I was intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's comments about rail privatisation and his belief that the Ministers responsible should be brought before a public tribunal. Does he think that any Minister who follows the United States course that he has just described and introduces private companies to our schools should also face a public tribunal?
John Cryer: So far as I know, no one has been killed in British schools. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is referring to. I was talking about two accidents, Ladbroke Grove and Hatfield, which resulted in deaths. That is why there should be a public tribunal. I do not recall anyone being killed in British classrooms so far. In any case, the issues that we are discussing here are in their infancy, so we cannot really discuss them in those terms.
I have a son who is already in education, and my daughter starts primary school in September. It worries me that companies such as the Edison Project and Education Alternatives might start to get involved in British education. They are certainly eyeing our schools and education authorities extremely greedily. I want to see proper public investment in schools, not privatisation.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak. Before I discuss the area on which I want to focus, I must tell the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) that he is not alone in the House in his concerns about whaling, which are shared by Conservative Members. We would encourage the Government to take the strongest possible action to ensure that the trade is not revived.
I follow in the wake of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) in bringing to the Minister's attention the issues that face far too many of our schools:
It is worth echoing the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) that it is surprising, to say the least, that we have no support today from the Liberal Democrats, despite the concerns that they continually raise about education. They should be here to echo the comments being made by the real Opposition.
There is growing alarm in my constituency and across Surrey about the teacher recruitment problems. Let me talk the House through the example of a school in my constituency. As of today, it lacks a No. 2 in its English team. It lacks a No. 2 in its maths team as well as another maths teacher. It lacks two technology teachers, which means that pupils will not be able to receive technology classes next term. It lacks a geography teacher. It has a new music teacher. The head told me that that person has never taught a class before, but was the only option for next term.
Let me share with the House some of the head's comments about his situation: "We can cobble things together, but it will not be satisfactory. I can no longer guarantee consistency of teaching. We are now having to downgrade our targets for next year." That head's predicament is shared by his colleagues across Surrey and, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, across the south-east of England, as well as many other parts of the country.
The situation has become so desperate that Surrey's director of education has sent parents a letter expressing his concern and warning of what lies ahead. I shall share some of the letter with the House:
Media coverage of the national shortage of teachers will not have escaped your attention. The situation this year is the worst I have ever experienced. In common with schools throughout the country, Surrey schools are finding it increasingly difficult to fill vacant posts. Here, we have the added factor of high housing costs, which deter many teachers from living and working in Surrey.
Throughout the summer period, the local education authority will continue to support our schools in seeking to fill all current vacancies. However, it would be unrealistic to expect all posts to be filled by the beginning of the new academic yearthere are simply insufficient teachers to meet all of our needs. Schools will respond to any staff shortages they have in different ways and, probably, at short notice. It may be necessary to make changes to the way classes are organised, the number of subjects offered and even the length of the school week.
I do not wish to be alarmist, but I do want to be open and realistic with parents. Next term is going to be a challenging one for us all and I ask you for your understanding and forbearance in any action your Headteacher and Governors may need to take."
The Surrey county council education department has put as much pressure as it can on the Government in asking them to help. The director of education wrote to the Secretary of State a few days ago to draw her attention to the extreme problems being faced, such as nearly 500 vacant full-time posts for next term:
Teachers face huge amounts of unnecessary paperwork. I served for a few years as a school governor and remember being bemused by the amount of unnecessary forms, documents and initiatives with which we had to deal. Most of those landed on the head teacher's desk. On one bizarre occasion, a letter from the LEA read:
An unsatisfactory situation is developing in respect of key stage 3 tests, too. Most schools in Surrey are asking for their papers to be re-marked because of the extraordinarily erratic nature of the marks. They have called into question the availability and quality of markers. Teachers who have worked all year to get their pupils through those tests, and who see erratic marking that calls into question the quality of teaching that they have been delivering, are bound to feel that their morale is being undermined.
It is often said that it is simply a money issue, but in reality it is much more. The head of one school in my constituency told me that he had been looking for an English teacher for months and had advertised three times, increasing the financial package each time. He had yet to receive a single application.
One extraordinary discovery that I have made since my arrival in this House is that, until now, the Government have done no research on why teachers are leaving the profession. A couple of weeks ago I tabled a written question to the Secretary of State on the subject. Happily, there is some money in the Budget in this financial year to do that research, but I want to know why it was not done years ago.
In the past three or four years, the rate of departure from the teaching profession has increased by 30 per cent. More people now leave the profession in the middle of their career than retire at the end of it. That cannot be right. In my constituency and in the south-east generally, one of the biggest problems is housing. There are no easy answers to the housing problems of the south-east, but schools are losing young teachers because, as one head teacher told me, they no longer want to live with their parents. The Government need to understand, when considering housing policy for key workers, that whereas previous generations had council houses, that is no longer enough. Teachers do not want council houses. A much more careful and thoughtful approach is needed to real shared ownership for key workers.
The Department for Education and Skills has stated clearly that there is no crisis in the teaching profession, yet every teacher and head teacher in this country knows full well that there is indeed a crisis, and that it will get worse. One head teacher told me that even the supply of supply teachers is drying up, and that those who are available are of a lower quality than in the past and cost heads more money.
The only comment that I have heard from the Government in that context is the usual, "We shall be spending more on this in the years ahead"spending promises for the futureand the usual attempts to blame the Conservative party. Let me read the end of a letter from a community college in Sussexit is not in my constituencywhich concluded:
The Prime Minister was first elected on a platform of education as his number one priority. If I am not mistaken, he is now in his fifth year in office. When will the Government do something about this problem? When will they find a strategy to put teachers back into our schools? What do they intend to do this autumn to support head teachers, who are at their wits' end trying to work out how they can deliver the teaching that pupils need and deserve?