Previous SectionIndexHome Page

15 Nov 2002 : Column 279—continued

Mr. Charles Clarke: The hon. Gentleman provides an absence of clarification. Which controls does he believe should be abolished: the national curriculum, the Ofsted inspection regime, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority?

Mr. Green: The national curriculum has become too wide.

Mr. Clarke: Should it be abolished?

Mr. Green: Not altogether. The Secretary of State and his officials have clearly pored over my party conference speech, for which I am grateful. Attention to the classics is always welcome. He knows that I suggested that the national curriculum has become too wide and that the statutory, compulsory introduction of citizenship was one of the minor idiocies that the Government inflicted on schools in the past year. Again, good schools introduced and promoted citizenship in different ways to relate to local conditions, but the Government used a sledgehammer and insisted that it should form part of the national curriculum.

Other subjects have had to be dropped.

Mr. Clarke: Would the hon. Gentleman abolish it?

Mr. Green: I would abolish the compulsory nature of citizenship classes. [Interruption.] Those who chatter on the Government Front Bench do not realise that when another subject is added to the curriculum, something has to be dropped. I have been to schools where they have discussed what to take out. It could, for example, be a careers lesson. In some cases, it was an information and communications technology lesson. Schools and pupils find such lessons useful and valuable. The Government do not acknowledge that, when they decide to include new compulsory subjects in the curriculum, useful subjects have to be removed.

Schools, not Ministers and officials, know how best to teach citizenship. That is at the heart of the difference between us. We are having an interesting passage of parliamentary exchange, which shows that the Government and the new Secretary of State have not got the point. They continue to believe that they know better than heads, teachers, parents and governors the way in which to run our schools. It appears that there will be no change in our school system.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): The hon. Gentleman argues that schools should be free and given

15 Nov 2002 : Column 280

total autonomy. Under what circumstances should the Government intervene in a school when problems arise? Secondly, my memory is perhaps weak, but did not a Conservative Government introduce the national curriculum?

Mr. Green: Yes, and it was a good idea. I am glad that the new Government in 1997 did not dispense with the curriculum, Ofsted or tests. The Conservative Government introduced important reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. I am glad that the Government continued with them. However, they have added huge control mechanisms to them, and that has led to demoralisation in the teaching profession.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) because he leads me to my next point. The micro-management that I have described is symptomatic of the Government's approach. In the past year, the Department for Education and Skills issued 275 documents to schools. That is 17 pages of paperwork for each working day. The Secretary of State recently said:

that is, teachers—

That is another honest admission of the Government's failure, and we welcome it. I regret to tell the right hon. Gentleman that nothing much appears to be improving.

In September, the first month of the school term, the Department issued 27 documents to schools. That is more than one a working day. There is therefore no let-up in the flow of unnecessary paperwork from the Department. I hope that the Secretary of State listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) on Wednesday. He went through the Department's solution to paperwork: more paperwork, including XGood Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume One"; XGood Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume Two", and the wonderful XBureaucracy Cutting Toolkit".

If the Secretary of State wants ideas about cutting Whitehall paperwork that ties up 20 per cent. of teachers' time, driving them from the profession, he should begin by reading the XBureaucracy Cutting Toolkit". Along with thousands of teachers, I have read it. Among the helpful advice in section 4 about the way in which teachers can cut bureaucracy is, XStop doing things". I am sure that that is tremendously helpful to teachers. Perhaps the Secretary of State could take his own advice. He could also benefit from reading section 2, which suggests, XGet started". I am sure that schools find that helpful, too. They should stop doing unnecessary things and start stopping doing them. I suspect that many teachers had worked that out for themselves, but the Department clearly has not.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): Most good head teachers and teachers throw all that stuff straight in the bin.

Mr. Green: I cannot improve on that criticism of the Government's approach to policy. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and wish him well when he next sees his Whip.

15 Nov 2002 : Column 281

It is not just our schools that need help; our universities need help too. I am desolate that the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education is no longer in her place, because I have read with fascination and close interest her interview in The Guardian this morning, just to show that I am catholic in my appreciation of the national press; it is not only The Daily Telegraph that I read. She admits that universities are in crisis, so it is a shame that she has left the Chamber, as that prevents her from apologising to the House, and to Britain's universities, for the crisis that her Government have brought about in five years.

Like other hon. Members, I heard the hon. Lady on the radio this morning, attempting to explain away the crisis, and not a hint of apology emerged. However, I am sure that if she rejoins the debate, she will take the opportunity to apologise. I was fascinated particularly by her question:

It does not appear that the Government understand it, because the Gracious Speech says:

That is not the portrait that the Minister painted in this morning's interview.

The Secretary of State asked me a number of questions; perhaps I may ask him just one. Will he confirm that the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) is acting in his new official capacity of Government kite flyer in chief when he suggests a #3,000 cap on tuition fees? Although the Secretary of State has delayed yet again the publication of the university funding White Paper, the Government have floated the idea that tuition fees might go up to #10,000. We understand from the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North, however, that they will be #3,000. That sounds to me like a debate going on inside the Cabinet. The House would be thrilled if the Secretary of State enlightened us about that, although he appears unwilling to do so.

Mr. Clarke: I did not respond because the hon. Gentleman's allegation is such nonsense. My very good friend who represents Tyneside, North and I have had many conversations over the years, but never once have we discussed university top-up fees. Perhaps we should have, but we have not. My right hon. Friend argues his own policies in his own speeches in his own way and from own his point of view, in what I hope is a national debate in which everyone will get involved. The suggestion that my right hon. Friend is flying a kite for someone is completely and utterly wrong—but I did not want to dignify the hon. Gentleman's remarks with a response until he goaded me perhaps a little too much.

Mr. Green: History will judge, when we see the effects of the White Paper. At least we know that it will be published this Session. One of the things on which I ought to congratulate the Secretary of State is making a commitment on the Floor of the House that the White Paper will be published in January—although, like the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), I seem to remember that the last time the House discussed education we were promised that it would be published in November. I hope that the Secretary of State improves on his predecessor's performance in that regard.

15 Nov 2002 : Column 282

We welcome the fact that the proposals will be introduced, not least because families as well as universities have been waiting far too long to find out when to start their financial planning for the top-up fees—it seems that the Government certainly have planned for them. It is worth reminding ourselves of how they got into this mess, and their manifesto pledge is unambiguous:

Members of the House, and the public outside, have witnessed the Prime Minister failing to rule out top-up fees on two separate occasions.

The Government appear unwilling to accept that the problem is as least partly of their own making. The Secretary of State said how proud he was of the target of 50 per cent. of 18 to 30-year-olds going into higher education, but he knows perfectly well that that is one of the targets that is imposing greater financial pressures on universities, and also that the Government's apparent ruling out of top-up fees has left them with nowhere else to go to raise the money. So, if the Government are to find a solution to the problem, they must sacrifice one of the manifesto pledges that the Secretary of State proudly read out.

Given that the Government misled the public over the original introduction of tuition fees, which they ruled out before the 1997 election and then introduced three months after it, I can understand why the Secretary of State is sensitive about breaking another higher education promise. I suggest to him that one way out of the problem would be to admit that it is wrong to fix an arbitrary target for higher education participation.

I commend two stark figures to the Secretary of State. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings for the proportion of people who complete a first degree, Britain is second. By any objective standard, there is no crisis in the number of people who go through first degrees. Indeed, I recently received an answer from the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education to written question 78381 that convinced me even more that the point is entirely valid. I managed to tease out from her what the Department's target on increasing participation in higher education means. It is

The measure is not the number of people who get degrees and benefit from them, but simply the number of people who start degrees.

The Secretary of State knows that the drop-out rate in some universities is getting as high as 40 per cent. Some of his speech at least was serious and reasonable, so, in his serious and reasonable mode, he will surely acknowledge that the measure of higher education's effectiveness is those who complete courses, not simply those who sign up to them. For instance, he will be aware that in continental European countries the entry rate is about 50 per cent., and a huge proportion drop out after the first year. If the Government are to measure their own success by promoting such a system, I suggest that they will not benefit young people. In particular, they will not benefit the young people whom they say

15 Nov 2002 : Column 283

they want to benefit—those who come from backgrounds where it is not traditional to go to university.

Next Section

IndexHome Page