|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab):
On a minor point, truancy has been mentioned, and it sets a bad example when, on a Conservative Opposition day, only two
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1422
Conservative Members who do not have to be in the Chamber are here. I am sure that they are both on the Opposition's A-team and will set the Chamber alight with their speeches, which I look forward to. Nevertheless, there should be more of them here to debate this important issue.
Will turnaround schools be located in existing buildings or in new build and, if the latter, where will they be put? For example, would the shadow Secretary of State support the construction of a new-build turnaround school in his constituency? Would he support that through the planning process, given that somebody would have to? If we reach the stage of new turnaround schools, which will be borstals of a kind, being constructedI do not think we will, by the wayone can imagine the reaction of Conservative Members for whose constituencies they are proposed. They would run a mile from Opposition policy. They would not want such a school in a million miles of their constituencies.
How would the schools be financed? Would the money come from the public sector? How would the Tory party, if it were ever to return to power, pay for the policy when it promises public spending cuts and tax cuts? Perhaps the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) will intervene and put me right. Would the money come from the public sector or would there be a mechanism to allow private sector companies to build or at least run the schools? I suspect that there would be the capacity to allow private sector companies to run them. When we get to the detail, I believe that that would be the solution because the Opposition cannot find a way round financing such schools on the basis of the spending proposals that will appear in their manifesto before the next election.
Mr. Hoban: If the hon. Gentleman pays close attention to such matters, he will realise that the Conservative party has made a commitment to increase spending on schools, including turnaround schools, by £15 billion over the lifetime of the first Conservative Government. That is a significant increase in expenditure. We believe that that will meet the cost of turnaround schools as well as improving school funding throughout the country.
John Cryer: I would be interested to know where that money will come from. If the Conservatives intend to increase spending by £15 billion, where will they find the money when they are committed to cutting taxes?
John Cryer: My hon. Friend is probably right about that. As I have said, when we get down to the detail, the Tories will probably include a proposal in their manifesto to allow private sector companiesperhaps "Group 4 Schools"to run the schools. Before they do that, they should consider the worrying examples of private sector involvement in schools in America, where they have been allowed simply to take over.
The most notorious example is Baltimore, where the private sectorthe company was called Education Alternatives Inc.took over nine schools. For some
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1423
time afterwards, results officially went through the roof and everything was going well until the local newspaper, The Sun in Baltimore, exposed what was genuinely happening. It turned out that the private company had fabricated all the results while creaming off public sector money to spend on a new headquarters hundreds of miles away. It had also spent money on a new fleet of limousines to ferry its executives around. I am drifting off the point slightly.
Earlier, a Liberal Democrat Member mentioned Conservative councils that pursued policies that directly contradicted Opposition statements from the Dispatch Box this afternoon. My council is an example of that. It is a Conservative-controlled local authority that, in the face of what we heard this afternoon, tried in the past few months to close a primary school in my constituency. At one point, it put three primary schools under threat but concentrated on one specific school, the R. J. Mitchell primary school. It is named after the designer of the Spitfire because of the history of RAF Hornchurch, the remnants of which are in my constituency.
The R. J. Mitchell primary school was placed under direct threat of closure, which was announced but never followed through because of public pressure. What would have happened if it had closed down? At some point in the next few years, there will be an increase in the number of children of primary school age in the borough of Havering, which I represent. If the closure had happened, houses would probably have been built on the site, the number of school-age children in the area would have increased and there would have been a corresponding increase in the number of children in the classrooms of the remaining schools. That would have made it more difficult to maintain discipline in those schools.
Conservative Members voted against the allocation of the money that has gone into reducing class sizes, especially for five, six and seven-year-olds. I probably visit a school a week, on average, and I would have thought that smaller classes were crucial to maintaining discipline. Ever-burgeoning class sizes would just make that more difficult.
Smaller class sizes are crucial, but the actions of the local authority in this case went directly against that. It was trying to create bigger classes and connived in trying to undermine the school. It announced the closure when it announced the consultation process, which meant that certain parents took flight and placed their children in other schools. The local authority hoped that that would result in a self-fulfilling prophecy and that the school would close almost of its own volition. That did not happen, however. Of course, it then tried to take the credit when it was announced that the school was to stay open.
I am sorry. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made a
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1424
crucial point in that regard. The shadow Secretary of State made it clear that, under his policies, there would be no legal aid and that the no win, no fee system would not apply in such cases. However, it is not as simple as that. Tory Front Benchers are under the illusion that the parents who get caught up in this process tend to be those without many financial resources, but most parents who decide to fight such decisions have some knowledge and a bit of get up and go, and they certainly have financial resources available to them. They would go to judicial review and, in many cases, they might win.
Rob Marris: May I correct my hon. Friend on one point? His recollection of what the Conservative Front-Bench spokesperson said is slightly different from mine. I do not recall the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) ruling out no win, no fee agreementsconditional fee agreements, to give them their proper title. That could be very difficult in terms of human rights.
We are therefore talking about people using their own money to go to judicial review. If that were to happen, it would be the parents who had the financial resources to do so who would go to court. That would involve a far longer drawn-out and more expensive process than we have now and local education authorities would incur far greater costs. I can certainly think of one or two families in the borough that I represent who would go to judicial review and end up running up large legal bills, as would the LEA.
The other point about the abolition of appeals panels is that, contrary to what we have heard this afternoon, head teachers are normally the final arbiters. Some cases go to the appeals panels, but I visited a school recently in which a number of pupils had just been expelled, for reasons that I shall not go into. To my knowledge, none of those cases had been to the appeals panel. That is the normal path. In the past 20 or 30 years, the powers of head teachers have grown rather than diminished. Those of us who visit schools regularlywhich probably means everyone in the Chamber todayknow that the head teacher is in a very powerful position, and that the school reflects that. If a school has a powerful, effective, strong head teacher, it will follow on from that and tend to be a good school. If a head teacher does not have those qualities, the school will start to slip, even if it has hitherto had a good reputation.
Another fantasy that we heard from the Conservatives today was the idea that education is now in the clutches of a group of wild-eyed lefties from the lunatic fringe. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) put forward that idea, but I do not know who he had in mind. Perhaps it was Chris Woodhead. If anyone who has served in education for many years has a specific politicised agenda, it is Woodhead. But it is not a left-wing agenda, as even some Tory Members must be able to spot. He had a very clear right-wing political agenda. It was not just political, however. It was also driven by the fact that he had an ego the size of Western
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1425
Australia. That played an important part. We were elected on 1 May 1997 and we should have sacked him on 2 May.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|