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16 Oct 2002 : Column 358—continued

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the media taking a lower profile in this case, but it is one case, and most appeal panels do not overturn the decision taken by a school. Did the hon. Gentleman have anything to do with leaking the story to the press in the first place?

Chris Grayling: I did not leak anything to the press. I have been totally open in raising my concerns locally and nationally. I wrote to the Secretary of State at the very start to say that there was a concern that needed to be sorted out. The hon. Lady does my constituents discredit if she does not recognise the angst in my constituency and in the whole area about what has happened and if she does not realise the extent of the debate that has taken place locally. It does not take anyone to leak a story like that to the media: it gathered momentum from the beginning, because of the genuine frustration that exists.

We must have a system that reflects the needs of schools, head teachers and governing bodies to maintain discipline. The Government must come up with a viable alternative, and I urge them to so because the need exists today.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Having been the chair of governors of a secondary school for 12 years, I sympathise with the school governors in this case. This afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition called for the abolition of the appeal panels, but the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Government should come up with a new system. When will we hear the hon. Gentleman's or the Conservative party's solution to the problem?

Chris Grayling: There is no difference. I fundamentally believe, as does the Conservative party, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green)—he set this out at our party conference—that the ultimate decision must rest with the governing body. The governing body and the community that it represents must be the final arbiter.

Let us consider the consequences of getting things wrong. [Interruption.] It is all well and good Labour Members trying to score points across the Floor of the House. They do not seem to understand the importance of this issue. [Interruption.] The Minister for School Standards may chuckle, but does he not realise the strength of feeling in the teaching profession? Does he not talk to those head teachers who strongly believe that the current system is letting them down? Does he not read the surveys of teachers leaving the profession? As I said, in the last year for which we have figures available, 15.8 per cent. of teachers resigned from the profession. Some 85.2 per cent. referred to getting out of teaching and some 45 per cent. referred to pupil behaviour as a key reason for their decision to leave. Has the Minister really not understood the importance of this issue? Can

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he not get to grips with it and give head teachers a framework within which they can work that is fair and just and protects the interests of their schools?

Rob Marris: Labour Members are a little confused about the system that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) described earlier, in which LEAs would have a role in the appeals system. That is in contradistinction to the system that we have now. Will the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) therefore explain how that would have worked in the case of the two pupils at Glyn technology school?

Chris Grayling: I did not come here to engage in a prolonged discussion about Conservative policy. I want action from the Ministers who have the job today and whose responsibility it is to sort out problems such as those experienced in my constituency. They have not done and are not doing enough. I hope that they will soon do enough to ensure that such a case cannot recur.

This case is only one problem. We have also had the A-level fiasco, and Epsom college in my constituency was one of the schools caught up in that. The Government also appear actively to encourage higher education institutions to accept pupils with lower attainments than those achieved by pupils in other schools. I highlight the case of a young lady from Epsom college who achieved very good A-level results but who was turned down for a place at a university that had offered places to pupils with significantly lower attainments. That cannot be right. We will not help to achieve excellence in society if we force down the achievements of those at the top of the pile so as to promote those who need help but who should not be pushed to the top for no good reason.

If the problems are not solved and if the Government cannot deliver a fairer framework and provide better practical support to heads and teachers, they will leave the profession. The plateau that we have mentioned today will be there tomorrow, the day after, the year after and the year after that. It is all well and good Labour Members citing all the so-called achievements of the past five years, but if they talk to teachers and head teachers, they will find that there is a crisis of credibility in the current system. If the Government do not address that crisis and provide the real solutions that keep the best and most experienced teachers in the profession, the improvements that have taken place in recent years under all Governments will not be able to continue.

6.9 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw): In the summer I spent a weekend at a game park in a faraway land. When a person visits a game park, he hopes to see the kill and have a sense of blood. As a new MP I have been waiting for the lions to devour the carcase of the downed Front Bencher. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed. The other part of the equation in a game park is the heat of the midday sun when mad dogs and Englishmen go out. That is when the jackal appears. It runs around but does

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not make a kill. Instead, it scavenges for berries and insects. There are a lot of jackals here today, desperately looking around for the odd—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Interesting though the hon. Gentleman's contribution may be, he should address his remarks to the motion.

John Mann: In that case I shall talk about the coalfields.

For the past 80 years in my constituency, the education world—

Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman took us on a tour of Africa and now we are off to the coalfields. Surely the subject of the debate is education.

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is correct. I have already reminded the hon. Gentleman to address his remarks to that topic.

John Mann: On coalfields and education, for the past 80 years, mining villages—now mainly former mining villages—in my constituency have not been well served by successive Governments when it comes to education. For decade on decade, the grammar school debate has had little relevance to them, other than in relation to secondary moderns, which the overwhelming majority of children from pit villages attended. During that period the children in schools in my constituency were described as pit fodder because on the Friday on which they were leaving school at the age of 15—eventually it became 16—the National Coal Board turned up and told them which pit they were working in on the Monday. Whether they liked it or not, they went into the pit.

The legacy of that is twofold. In our surgeries we see the level of illiteracy among the older population. Scores of retired miners who come to see me with compensation claims for industrial injuries caused by working down the pit cannot read or write. They bring the wife, the son or the daughter with them because, although they will not admit it, they cannot fill in the forms to get the compensation themselves. That is the norm rather than the exception.

However, the problem of lack of aspiration is even more terrifying. I spent most of September holding a public inquiry into heroin use in coalfield communities. Until the pits shut, those communities had a cohesion and a discipline that held them together. To put it crudely, problems of discipline were sorted out beneath the ground. The pits are not open now but the communities still exist and, since the decimation of the pits in the 1980s and early 1990s, they have struggled to cope. The level of heroin addiction among younger people from those villages in my constituency leaves me incredulous. Some of them started using drugs in the early 1990s at the age of nine, 10 or 11. Five of them died this year. The one permanent institution is the school. I am not prepared to tolerate for those children —from this or any other Government—anything less than I expect for my children.

My children go to and have gone to local state schools. That is my experience of education today. I can see improvements year on year, as can the majority of

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hon. Members, especially Labour Members. In addition to the results and the figures, we can witness the improvement. We can feel it and understand the difference today. I go to schools all the time. I take classes in secondary schools and talk to primary schools constantly, as I am sure do most of my colleagues. We find that teachers, head teachers and governors no longer have the problem of resources.

Let me give an example. Since Labour came to power, there have been 10 exclusions from Bircotes school in one of the big pit villages. The head teacher excluded pupils because he wanted to turn that failing school into one in which the community could take pride. He told me that the biggest difference was the #300,000 that was spent on the flat roof. The advantage of that was more fundamental than the saving in recurrent maintenance costs, which was substantial and detracted from other uses for the money; it also meant that his time as a head teacher could be used differently. Should his time be spent patching up 30-year-old flat roofs that should never have been built like that in the first place, or should it be spent on building standards in schools? That is the big difference.

Let me also give the example of New Manton primary school, which used to be called Manton primary school, and tell the House something about exclusions. The Government have made a bigger difference to primary schools than to anything else. The late Matthew Wilson—he died earlier this year when he was 19 years old—was in the headlines when he was five or six because the teachers went on strike when the governors would not exclude him. That school excluded someone three weeks ago.

The school is called New Manton because #1 million has been spent on it in the past six months. It has been rebuilt. That is the sort of change that we need if we are to raise aspirations among those children. For 80 years they have been told their place in society. They have been told where to go, and it did not matter whether it was a secondary modern or a comprehensive. They have been told where they would be for the rest of their lives. That does not create aspiration. When the jobs and the job security go, a time bomb ticks away that encourages a lifestyle of truancy, absenteeism and experimentation with drugs, especially heroin. I assure Ministers that when I publish our report on Monday, I will deliver a copy to the Department for Education and Skills. It makes four recommendations on the national curriculum and on how we create aspiration in schools in such communities.

The debate should be about how we further that process and extend to other schools the gains made at Knights Templar school, which my eldest daughter attended until the election. We need to translate the successes at brilliant schools to schools that are slowly beginning to be successful so that that success is replicated in every corner of the country. I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on a considered and relevant speech, but to people living in my constituency—and to those who went before them—it is a disgrace to hear the nonsense and rubbish that we have heard from the jackals at play.

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6.19 pm

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