HC Deb 10 June 1986 vol 99 cc158-60
3 Mr. Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate about the provision of text books in schools.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Chris Patten)

My right hon. Friend has received no representations on what Her Majesty's Inspectorate has to say about the provision of text books in his recently published report on "The Effects of Local Authority Expenditure Policies on Education Provision in England". He has offered to discuss the report as a whole with local authority elected members.

Mr. Evans

Does the Minister acknowledge that the HMI report on Britain's schools confirms what many parents and teachers have been saying for a long time—that most state schools in England are desperately short of books and equipment? Does he further acknowledge that the new Secretary of State will have a mammoth task on his hands and will need much more public money if he is to correct that state of affairs before the next general election, when education will undoubtedly be a major topic?

Mr. Patten

I hope very much that education will be a major topic at the next election. I am bound to say that I do not think that it will redound to the credit of the Opposition when it is. The hon. Gentleman has been even more selective in referring to the HMI report than I had anticipated. The report is unequivocal, that in the majority of cases lack of money is not the main reason for shortages. The HMI report says: In nine-tenths of schools—

Mr. Evans

What about books?

Mr. Patten

The report says: In nine-tenths of schools it was the inadequate identification by teachers of pupils' educational needs and poor management of resources which were more telling factors than the level of capitation. That goes for books, too.

Mr. Pawsey

Will my hon. Friend confirm that HMI said that more money and resources would not resolve all the difficulties in our schools? As a practical example, does my hon. Friend agree that in the Inner London educaton authority more money has been chasing a reduction in the quality of education?

Mr. Patten

As ever, my hon. Friend is accurate in what he says. If money guaranteed the delivery of quality, as I have said before, the standards in ILEA would be second to none. Unfortunately, that is not so.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that the revelations of the HMI report have alarmed the Government so much that the one for 1985 will be the last such report?

Mr. Patten

We have not seen the last of those reports. I am delighted that this Government actually publish them. If the previous Government had published those reports, they would have shown that between 1975 and 1979 spending per pupil on books and equipment fell by 6 per cent. in the primary sector and by 8 per cent. in the secondary sector in real terms.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge the need to get the right balance between the number of teachers and books used by pupils? Does he recognise that there are more teachers per pupil than ever before and that perhaps the provision of more books is needed in some areas? Will my hon. Friend also remember that modern technology has taken the place of many books, and that should be taken into account?

Mr. Patten

As my hon. Friend points out, local education authorities have often chosen to spend more money on equipment than on books. Anyone who looks at the figures for books and equipment can see that trend over the past few years.

Mr. Radice

Does the Minister accept that the HMI report is a clear warning to the new Secretary of State that inadequate levels of provision are threatening standards? If he doubts my word, he should look at paragraph 98. Does he agree that more resources and investment in education are now desperately required?

Mr. Patten

On a number of occasions, both in the House and outside, I have made it clear that if we wish to accomplish all our educational objectives we shall have to see more investment in the education of each child. I have said that again and again, and even on television in the presence of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the HMI report makes it absolutely clear that it is important in the education service to make the best use of the resources that we spend. If we do that, we put up a better case for more resources in future.

Mr. Lord

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is now vital that all schools should publish annual accounts so that everyone can see precisely what is spent under every individual heading, including text books?

Mr. Patten

Yes. I invite my hon. Friend to take part in this afternoon's debate on the Second Reading of the Education Bill. I am sure that what he says on that will receive a warm response from me or my right hon. Friend.