HC Deb 24 January 1990 vol 165 cc900-47
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

I do not have the authority to limit speeches to 10 minutes on an Opposition day, when two subjects for debate have been chosen. However, I hope that both Front-Bench and Back-Bench speakers will bear in mind the fact that, if they are able to limit their speeches to 10 minutes, many more hon. Members will be called.

4.6 pm

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move, That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for the divisiveness and failure of its schools policies; notes that Britain now spends a lower proportion of its national wealth on education than in 1979, that fewer children receive nursery education, that a lower proportion of young people stay on in full-time education post-16 than in competitor countries, and that teacher morale has never been lower; and believes that unless there is effective investment in education and training with a properly valued and well motivated teaching profession, the Government will fail the next generation and further undermine Britain's economic prospects.

The Government's schools policies have clearly failed. Britain's teachers are underpaid, demoralised and leaving the profession. Children have to learn in squalid, underfunded conditions. The whole system is overloaded with hasty and ill-considered changes. Worst of all, the Secretary of State is blind to the scale of the problems that he now faces, as the complacent claptrap of the Government's amendment makes clear.

When the Secretary of State replies to the debate, he will no doubt feed the House with a series of comforting platitudes about the Government's record and intentions. He will ask us to accept his claim that there has been no deterioration in teacher resignations, no overall change in teacher supply during the last few years—as though the mid-1980s was a golden age of English education, when standards rose, choice was extended, books and equipment were plentiful and every child had a permanent, properly qualified and well-paid teacher in front of his or her class. However, Sir Keith Joseph was in office those few years ago, to be followed by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker).

What this Secretary of State must grasp is that the crisis over which he presides has arisen not just in the six months during which he has been in office, although it may sometimes seem that way. Instead, this crisis is the consequence of the accumulation of 10 years of damage and neglect; 10 years in which one year's flight of experienced teachers out of the profession has turned the screw on the next year's; 10 years in which one year's cuts in books and equipment and redecoration has compounded the next year's; 10 years in which each year's lack of investment means a generation of children who have been denied the educational choice—

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

These have been 10 years in which each year's lack of investment and intellectual self-fulfilment has meant a generation of children denied the educational choice and intellectual self-fulfilment to which they are entitled. They have been 10 years in which the nation has fallen further behind our competitors in its skills and ability to compete.

A rising proportion of parents now believe that the general standards of education have fallen in the past few years. An overwhelming proportion of the electorate believe that the Government want to run down public services such as education and health. And the difference between the Secretary of State and the electorate is that the electorate have direct experience of the Government's neglect of education—he does not.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the most notable reforms of the Conservative Government, especially in London, was the abolition of the Inner London education authority. Will he give me an unequivocal answer: will the Labour party bring back an Inner London education authority or not?

Mr. Straw

As I shall say later in my speech, there is no question but that the gratuitous and unwarranted abolition of the ILEA has made a difficult situation for teacher recruitment much worse in inner London; I know that as a parent. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is: no, I do not give that unequivocal assurance. Nor have I ever given it, because, unlike Conservative Members, we care about the education and about the children of inner London. Having seen the damage caused to them by one disruption, we shall not, in a cavalier way and without consulting parents or teachers, force further change. When we have won the next election, we shall carefully consult the boroughs and parents and teachers about what arrangements they think best for the education of the children of inner London.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

Is my hon. Friend also aware that, the interjection by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), notwithstanding, the Inner London education authority was abolished against the wishes of the parents and teachers of London? The hon. Member for Surbiton, who lives in the borough of Wandsworth, knows that meetings were called there at which total opposition to abolition was expressed—and the hon. Gentleman was never at the meetings.

Mr. Straw

Of course I understand what my hon. Friend says. The abolition of ILEA was an act of political spite with no educational justification. Those of us with children in ILEA schools have seen the difficulties that those schools have had to face in the past two years because of the Government's deliberate disruption of children's education and of the administration of education. Ministers' children do not go to school in ILEA or any other—

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)


Mr. Straw

I must get on.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)


Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment. Let us examine the record of the past 10 years. The first Secretary of State, then Mr. Mark Carlisle, was a well-intentioned wet who tried but failed to save education from the first and most savage round of cuts in 1980–81. He was followed by Sir Keith Joseph, sincere, indecisive to the point of paralysis, whose inability to produce a settlement of the two-year teacher dispute and whose failure to secure resources for the system tested our education service almost to the point of destruction.

It is perhaps as well to remember that the new chairman of the Conservative party was put in to repair the havoc wrought by Sir Keith, but he left the service in an even worse state than that in which he found it. The right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) is the master of the gimmick and the quick fix—the "here today, I'm off tomorrow" approach to policy. The man who landed the Government with the poll tax and the student loans scheme was also the architect of the lethal combination of city technology colleges, opting out, the local management of schools, an inflexible national curriculum, and the constant denigration of the teaching profession which has brought the service so low.

Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)


Mr. Straw

I will give way in a moment.

In 10 years, the proportion of national wealth devoted to education and training has fallen. Except in Labour areas, far fewer children in England receive the benefit of a nursery education than in our European competitor countries.

Perhaps the greatest test of any system is the proportion of young people who complete their compulsory school education with recognised qualifications and stay on beyond 16 in full-time education or high-quality training. On that test, the Government's record over the past decade is a national disgrace. The life chances of half a generation have been wasted. Fewer young people stay on after 16 than in any of our major competitor countries.

Moreover, the proportion staying on after 16 in full-time education has, as statistics from the Department of Education and Science show, barely moved—from 33 to 35 per cent.—despite a rapid decline in the size of the age group, which should have led to a dramatic improvement in opportunities.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

The hon. Gentleman is talking about spending. Will he explain why yet again, the Inner London education authority spent the most on secondary school pupils but came 88th in the examination league? Before he says that it is because of the composition of London, will he explain why Wigan, which spent £1,000 less per pupil, came 15th in the examination league?

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The hon. Gentleman should know the answer.

Mr. Straw

Yes, the hon. Gentleman should know the answer. The figures that he gave distort relative examination performance. As the Department's statistical bulletin makes clear, when an adjustment is made for the social input and intake of children in ILEA, it comes not 88th but 46th in the league. The hon. Gentleman should know that the costs of services in inner London are much higher than outside. Proportionately, it costs less to run ILEA than the social services department of the Conservative-controlled City of Westminster, and much less than running the Government-controlled Metropolitan police.

I return to the Government's lamentable record on 16 to 19-year-olds. The excellent report, "Towards the Skills Revolution", from the Confederation of British Industry, says: Britain has one of the lowest rates of participation in post compulsory education and training of all western countries, producing a much smaller number of school leavers educated to the standard required of a modern economy … Even in the newly industrialised nations in the Pacific Basin, far more people remain in education and training after the end of compulsory schools than in Britain.

Other countries have clearly established targets to raise standards and participation. South Korea proposes, within a decade, to get 80 per cent. of its young people to university entrance standard. The Socialist Government of France say that 75 per cent. should achieve university entrance standard. Labour has proposed the setting of similar targets for Britain—the doubling of participation for those aged between 16 and 19 within a decade, with clear machinery for ensuring that locally realistic targets are set and funded.

After 10 years in office, where is the Government's programme for extending participation for those aged between 16 and 19, and where are their targets for that age group? They have none. The one reform that the Government could have implemented at little extra cost—the broadening of the 16-to-18 curriculum with a five-subject A-level, as recommended by the Higginson committee—was vetoed last year by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

How quickly does the hon. Gentleman think that the numbers participating in higher education could be doubled? As he is asking for more resources, will he say why Ealing council has cut its education budget by £2.5 million but increased its rates by 32 per cent.?

Mr. Straw

I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of Labour's policy review and a copy of "Children First", which sets out Labour's policy in detail. Ealing is in the same position as every other local education authority: the Government have imposed completely unrealistic targets on it which, if it meets them, will result in the closure of classrooms and the sacking of teachers.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)


Mr. Straw

No, this is supposed to be a short debate and I have given way five times. There is lots of talk from this Secretary of State and his partner, the Secretary of State for Employment, about the need to improve education and training between 16 and 19, but precious little action, because this Secretary of State knows, as a former Treasury man, that if there is to be improvement in education there must be investment in it, and that is the one thing that the Government have resolutely refused to do.

In the past 10 years, the Government have deliberately cut their investment from the centre in the running and in the building of schools. In 1979, Government funded £6 of every £10 spent by local authorities; today, they fund only £4.50 of every £10. The Government have cut their investment in the running of schools by over 25 per cent. in real terms, and the modest improvement in total spend is entirely accounted for by local authorities and ratepayers who, year by year, have had to spend in advance of Government guidelines just to maintain a half-decent service. So underfunded is the service that in many parts of the country parents are forced to raise thousands of pounds to pay for essential books and equipment, but where the parents of a school do not have that kind of money, their children go without.

At Rottingdean school in Brighton, children are now to be charged £9 each for the use of a school locker.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

What has that to do with education?

Mr. Straw

If that has nothing to do with education, perhaps Government Members and the Secretary of State will tell me whether the arrangements for charging at the Bligh county infants' school in Kent, a state school, have nothing to do with education. This county primary school has made arrangements, as schools up and down the country do, to admit children who are rising five, those whose birthday falls in the summer term. They have done so especially this year because of anxiety among parents that, unless their children are now admitted, they will miss out on the nine terms of education that other children will receive before the national curriculum tests at the age of seven.

The parents of the 25 children rising five who were admitted at the start of this term are being charged £11 a week for tuition fees—this is in a state school.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Why not?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) asks why not. I will tell him. One, it is almost certainly illegal; two, if it is not illegal it is in breach of very clear commitments from the Treasury Front Bench.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)


Mr. Straw

I will give way on this issue to the Secretary of State and no other.

I spent this morning checking whether the report in the Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News was correct. I spoke to the headmistress and to the reporter of the story, and my office spoke to the divisional education officer. The story is correct in every particular. Kent county council now says that it is not a class for rising-fives but a pre-school playgroup. We asked the divisional director of education whether, if it was a playgroup, playgroup leaders were in charge of the class. We were told that it was a trained teacher on the roll of the infants' school. We asked whether the children were playing or learning. We were told that they were not playing, that they were learning. We asked who was paying the teachers. The county council is paying the teachers, we were told, but the parents are paying the county council. It is schooling, not a pre-school playgroup.

I now offer the Secretary of State a chance to intervene. Will he promise to investigate, under sections 68 and 99 of the Education Act 1944, whether Kent county council's actions are lawful, reasonable and consistent with Government policy or whether this is, as we believe, the start of fee-paying in state education? The right hon. Gentleman does not wish to speak.

Mr. Dunn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Straw

I give way.

Mr. Dunn

I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman has finally given way. I know that he likes to take these matters seriously, because I believe that he wishes to be remembered for that. He must understand, however, that the quality and range of education in the county of Kent are supported by the people of Kent. If the hon. Gentleman had his way, the range, variety and concept of schools in the county of Kent would not exist for five minutes under a Labour Government.

Mr. Straw

I have no idea why I accepted my hon. Friends' invitation to show my usual generosity and give way to the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). He did not answer the point; nor did the Secretary of State, and his silence is revealing.

One of the schools governors, the Rev. Steve Wallis said that the school had to charge parents for what their children would receive in any other educational authority because Kent Education Committee refused to fund such classes". That is shameful and outrageous, and the Secretary of State should condemn it.

Current spending by central Government has been cut; so has capital spending, which is down 25 per cent. in real terms in 10 years. The Secretary of State will not give the figures since 1979, but even since 1981—a year of cuts—there has been a catastrophic cut in the amount invested in the nation's schools. As Labour's campaign has highlighted, we have a nation of crumbling schools and schools with leaking roofs, rotting windows, classrooms that have not been redecorated for years and classes housed in split sites, prefabricated buildings and buildings that are way past their useful life.

This morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) told me that in his constituency, at the Birmingham Padget junior school in Pipeboys, the ceiling of one of the classrooms had collapsed yesterday evening. If that had happened during school hours, many children would have been injured.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The problem was worse than that. A ceiling in a corridor collapsed. For two years, school staff, parents, the council and I have been trying to get money to get the roof repaired. The city council has said that it has a growing backlog and inadequate funds. This puts children at risk.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving that detail. Birmingham has not been able to repair that classroom because it has not received the requested capital allocations from the Government. This year, capital allocations for England are just 64 per cent. of the 1981 level. Next year, despite all the bally-hoo from the Secretary of State, they will be £67 million less than in 1981. They are wholly inadequate to make up for the neglect of a decade.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Has my hon. Friend seen the school magazine "In Our Own Words"? The magazine was originally produced in Warrington, has become a national magazine and is about to go international. It is designed and edited by children, and all the contributions are by children. The magazine has been supported by Cheshire council and received substantial grants from the council. When it applied for a tiny amount of money centrally, because it was now a national production, the request was refused. Is that not a disgrace?

Mr. Straw

Yes, it is. If Cheshire county council spent at the target set for it by the Government, the teachers who are running that excellent project would have to be fired.

Throughout the country, desperately needed repairs and improvements have been delayed yet again by the Government's failure properly to meet local authorities' capital requirements. St. John's and St. Clement's Church of England primary school in East Dulwich is on two sites, one a converted church hall. Children have to walk back and forward across a busy main road. Its rebuilding is at the top of the diocesan list for Southwark, but it has been vetoed yet again by the Secretary of State.

In Bradford, the Buttershaw first school had three temporary classrooms which could not be used, so children had to be bussed four miles across the city to watertight premises. At last the city council has said that it will replace the classrooms, but I understand that they are being replaced not by permanent classrooms but by further temporary classrooms.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does my hon. Friend accept that there are now 600 temporary classrooms in Bradford, many of which have been temporary for so long that they themselves are falling down, as were the classrooms at Buttershaw, and that even Tory-controlled Bradford has been denied about £20 million when it asked for £30 million capital expenditure to improve the shanty town and crumbling Bradford schools? The Tory Government cut the amount to below £10 million.

Mr. Straw

I accept what my hon. Friend says. My hon. Friends who represent Bradford have run a brilliant campaign to draw attention to the state of the city's schools. There is scarcely a city with schools in a worse state. The conclusion we draw is that that is directly related to the fact that there is a Conservative council in charge.

While Britain's county schools are starved of cash, the Government continue their support for city technology colleges. No programme has been such a comprehensive and expensive failure. Twenty were promised by last month; we have three. Most of the money was supposed to come from business. Instead it has come in the main from the taxpayer. Nearly every blue chip company has boycotted the programme. What support there is has come from the sleazy, the failing and the second-rate—from American car auctioneers, ADT Securities; from the nearly-bust Lowndes Queensway; from the bid victim Dixon's.

The Secretary of State knows that the scheme is a failure. He has already limited CTCs to 20 in total, and has described the original programme of his predecessor as over-ambitious. He knows that the policy is wasteful and wrong, so why does he not scrap it altogether and immediately save £120 million, which could be spent on a crash programme of repairs and improvements, as we have demanded?

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)

Apart from the fact that parents are queuing up to send their children to CTCs, will the hon. Gentleman explain why teachers prefer to move from the state sector to work in city technology colleges?

Mr. Straw

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman does not understand why. If as is happening in Nottingham, more is spent on a single school, than the Government have allowed Nottinghamshire county council to spend on over 450 schools in its area, if money is lavished on school buildings and if the teachers are paid more, of course many parents will apply for their children to join that school and many teachers will prefer to work there. That does not make the policy right. It exposes the hypocrisy and double dealing of the Government in regard to the majority of children.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the capital allocation to the city technology college in Gateshead is larger than the amount available for all the other schools in Sunderland this year?

Mr. Straw

Is it any wonder, therefore, that the rest of the schools in Sunderland face such difficulty?

Mr. Flannery

Will my hon. Friend accept that the nonsense talked by Tory Members conveys the impression that teachers go along with the policy? The reality is that teachers in Nottingham are outraged because so much money is being spent on one school and a handful of teachers. Does my hon. Friend accept that other children and parents are angry at what is happening? [Interruption.] Tory Members all know that that is true.

Mr. Straw

I am aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Investment in education has been cut by central Government and the system has been overloaded almost beyond endurance by ill-considered, divisive, meretricious initiatives.

We warned two years ago that the Government's national curriculum was far too inflexible, much more a state syllabus, and that schools could not operate it in full and meet the other educational and social needs of their children. So it is turning out. The national curriculum is imploding under its contradictions. The testing arrangements are obscure, but potentially a nightmare, especially at seven and at 16, when Ministers have yet to explain how GCSE and national curriculum testing will fit together.

The Prime Minister is trying to make the history syllabus a partisan instrument. Schools are weighed down with paper. Local management of schools could have resulted in sensible delegation of some local education authority cash and functions. Instead, it is forcing many schools to choose between teachers and books, posing them impossible choices and putting schools under a financial incentive to dispose of experienced teachers and to employ the cheapest and the youngest.

There are more than 1.25 million surplus school places, wasting £240 million in premises costs alone. However, the responsibility for the lack of progress in removing those places lies with the Secretary of State. Opting out has scarcely been a success, but the possibility of opting out has paralysed the prospects for sensible schools reorganisation in many parts of the country, especially as Ministers have allowed schools to opt out to escape closure or reorganisation.

Given all that, is it any wonder that the morale of the teaching profession is lower than it has been for fifty years, that teachers feel unappreciated, that the Government reforms … have certainly not treated teachers as professionals"? Those are not my words, but the words of the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), a former Conservative Education Minister, at a speech to the constituency Conservative association of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, last weekend.

The right hon. Member for Brent, North was right to say that the blame for the collapse in morale lies firmly on Ministers. The Secretary of State may comprehend that he is reaping the whirlwind for the way that his predecessor treated teachers as the whipping boys of society. However, he has yet to acknowledge the scale of the problem over which he is presiding, rather than repeatedly making light of it.

Britain has been short of properly trained permanent teachers throughout the mid and late 1980s. However, a bad position is now becoming much worse. The percentage of teachers qualified in the subject that they are teaching actually dropped between 1984 and 1988. The percentage of graduates entering teaching halved during the 1980s. Half of those who train to teach are not in teaching after five years; some may later return, but there are as many people with teacher qualifications not teaching as there are teaching.

Today, thousands of our best and brightest teachers are getting out, either to other jobs, to no jobs, to go abroad or to retire early. Yet again, the Secretary of State will no doubt trot out his claim that only 1 per cent. of teachers—around 4,000—have been leaving teaching for other jobs. He knows that that figure grossly understates the real wastage in the profession. The report of Professor Alan Smithers, of Manchester university, states that, if one strips out those changing teaching posts and those reaching normal retirement age, we arrive at a provisional departure rate of 4.9 per cent. That is nearly 20,000 teachers—not 4,000—for 1989. He said: This … is likely to be an under-estimate, but it is nevertheless five times the aspect of wastage commonly referred to by Government Ministers".

The Secretary of State will also claim that the acute problem is confined to inner London. As Ministers have acknowledged, all London Labour boroughs have worked with a will to make the transfer of education responsibilities to them as smooth as possible. However, as I said earlier, there is no question but that the gratuitous abolition of ILEA has greatly contributed to the problem of recruiting new teachers in inner London. Despite the problems that inner London boroughs' now face, Ministers have yet to respond to the joint Labour and Conservative boroughs, initiative on housing, which was sent to them two months ago.

The figures for the country as a whole show a slow but steady worsening of shortages outside London, and across the country, with one head teacher and LEA after another reporting more and more difficulty in recruiting candidates of adequate quality.

If the Secretary of State denies that, let him answer three questions. First, can he guarantee that no child will be without a properly qualified permanent teacher in his or her class this year, next year or the year after? Or is he willing to give that guarantee only in respect of children who go to private schools?

Secondly, if there has been no change in the situation, why has advertising of teacher appointments in The Times Educational Supplement increased by nearly 60 per cent. in two years?

Thirdly, if there is no problem outside London, why did the schools sub-committee of his own, Tory-controlled Norfolk county council have on its agenda on 6 December last year, for the first time in its history, an item dealing with teacher shortages? Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the report in the Eastern Daily Press, which said: Nearly one in five Norfolk secondary school teachers are expected to leave their posts this year, new figures have revealed. The number of primary school teacher resignations has also soared"? If there is no problem outside London, where do those stories come from? I am prepared to give way to the Secretary of State if he has an answer.

The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) said in the House on 5 December: if we are beginning to have problems in Norfolk, whatever must it be like in other parts of the country? The hon. Gentleman continued: It is no good the Secretary of State pretending that the problem does not exist. It is no use pretending that, while money will not solve everything, we can expect a highly motivated teaching profession if we do not reward teachers accordingly."—[Official Report, 5 December 1989; Vol. 163, c. 286.] But teachers will not be rewarded accordingly by this Secretary of State. This Government's stock in trade is pretence.

The Secretary of State will tell us that teachers' pay has risen by 40 per cent. since 1986. So it has, but the right hon. Gentleman omits to tell us that, before 1986, teachers' pay had fallen grievously behind. A comparison of teachers' pay in 1979 and teachers' pay today shows that it is £1,000 less today that it would have been had it simply kept pace with increases in non-manual earnings over that period.

The Secretary of State has cash-limited the interim advisory committee on school teachers' pay and Conditions to £600 million, to give teachers an increase lower than the rate of inflation. When he fixed the cash limit in September, the Secretary of State wrote to the Chilver committee that inflation will continue to decline further in the months ahead". In fact, inflation has risen. What allowance will the Secretary of State make for that? Does he not understand that, if the cash limit is not lifted, teachers will not be properly rewarded, and that if they are not properly rewarded, they cannot be retained?

How will local authorities be able to keep the teachers they have if they observe the Government's poll tax spending targets? The Government's poll tax spending targets mean that education authorities across the country—Tory as well as Labour—will have to cut their budgets by more than 3.5 per cent. Let the Secretary of State say, now or in his speech, how many teachers will have to be fired and how many classrooms closed if those targets are met.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)


Mr. Straw

The Minister's PPS says, "None." Does the Minister himself say, "None"? Does he deny the claims made by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and the Association of District Councils? The simple truth is that there is not a local authority in the country that could meet the standard spending assessments for education and other services without having to cut the number of teachers that it now employs.

In an orgy of self-congratulation, the Government's amendment refers to the "coherence" of their programme. I hope that, in his heart, the Secretary of State does not believe such nonsense. Certainly no one else does. As the Government's so-called coherent programme of reforms has been introduced, so public support for their policies has evaporated. That is why Conservative newspapers such as the Sun, the News of the World and The Mail on Sunday have severely criticised the Government's education record since Labour launched its "crumbling schools and teacher shortage" campaign.

In contrast to the Government, we promise no wasteful, divisive gimmicks such as CTCs, assisted places and opting out. We have already spelt out and published a comprehensive programme for schools and teachers. We propose the setting of clear targets for staying-on rates, the establishment of an educational standards council, the reform of teacher training, the establishment of teacher training schools and a general teachers' council. We shall secure effective support for new teachers, a proper database for the teacher labour force and a career structure for teachers' assistants, make major modifications of the national curriculum and introduce local management of schools and a crash programme of repairs.

Above all, we promise a Labour Government committed to state education, investing in it and using it, and because the public increasingly—

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for nearly 40 minutes. That means that it will take well over an hour to launch a three-hour debate. There are many wise heads on both sides of the House, particularly on the Conservative Benches, and I wonder whether they could be given some consideration by the Front-Bench spokesmen.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I repeat what Mr. Speaker said at the beginning: this is a short debate and I hope that all hon. Members will keep an eye on the clock.

Mr. Straw

This debate was called by the Labour party. I had hoped to make a shorter speech, but the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) will find in tomorrow's Hansard that at least 12 minutes, if not 15 minutes, of my speech were taken up in dealing with interventions from Conservative Members.

The public increasingly back Labour's constructive alternative proposals, and public support for our educational policies is rising sharply. At the general election, the Conservatives and Labour were level on the question of which party had the best education policy, but Labour now has a 20 per cent. lead.

If, as the right hon. Member for Brent, North said, teacher morale has never been lower in 50 years, there is a reason for that; the reason is that, in 50 years, we have never had a Government who have treated teachers and children so casually, and who have so obstinately refused to invest in the nation's future. It is time for the Secretary of State to wake up to the crisis in education that is all around him. This Government's schools policy has failed, and I commend the motion to the House.

4.46 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John MacGregor)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its coherent programme for securing lasting improvements in standards in schools through its policies for the National Curriculum, assessment and testing, for increased parental choice, and for greater autonomy for schools; notes the increased expenditure since 1979 of over 40 per cent. in real terms per pupil; contrasts these reforms with the neglect of relevant education policies by the last Labour Government and the absence of any constructive alternative proposals by Opposition spokesmen; notes that the requirements of the National Curriculum, building on the successful introduction of GCSE examinations, enjoy widespread support in the education system; and welcomes the enthusiasm with which governors, teachers and parents are seizing the opportunity to exercise more choice and greater autonomy in the management of their schools. The Education Reform Act 1988 represents the culmination of a decade of work by this Government to create the conditions and framework to secure real and lasting improvements in our schools. The reform programme has been based on what needs to be done to raise standards. I have been quite clear throughout my period as Secretary of State that we need to raise standards substantially, and I am determined to do that.

Parents, employers and the public at large recognize that we must take a number of steps. We must define more clearly national objectives for what is taught in order to raise the expectations and achievements of pupils and teachers. We must guarantee a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils and improve the relevance of that curriculum to adult life and the world of work. We must improve the quality, standards and range of subjects taught for pupils of all levels of ability to match what is being provided by some of the best of our main competitor countries. I regard that as vital for our economic success in the 1990s. We must foster greater choice for parents, greater variety at local level, more control over their own budgets for schools, more responsibility for governing bodies, and greater involvement of local business people and parents in them.

Much has already been achieved in all those matters. It was clear from the dismissal by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) of the national curriculum that he simply does not understand what the reforms are already achieving. Let me remind the House of a decade of action under this Government, in contrast to years of drifting under Labour.

Mr. Haynes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. MacGregor

I have been asked to be brief. The hon. Member for Blackburn complained that his speech had been lengthened by responses to interventions, so the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

Mr. Haynes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall give way once.

Mr. Haynes

Does the Secretary of State agree that, if people have a choice and can go to a CTC, they should not expect to use the facilities of their local education authority? That is what people in Nottinghamshire think anyway.

Mr. MacGregor

Many people in Nottingham think it wrong that children going to a CTC—I shall have more to say about CTCs later—should be deprived of extracurricular activities for which their parents have paid through the rates. That is the wrong kind of discrimination.

I shall contrast the decade of activity under the Conservatives with what went before. Labour Members talked about examination reform. We acted. The introduction of the GCSE has already seen substantial improvements in teaching and learning; it was noticeable that the hon. Member for Blackburn did not refer to those.

Attainments have improved significantly. The proportion of candidates getting grades A to C has increased in just two years by about 15 per cent. The number of pupils staying on after the age of 16 rose in 1988 by about 10 per cent., the biggest single increase ever. That shows what our reforms are achieving. The available evidence suggests another substantial increase in 1989.

Her Majesty's inspectors report that those improvements, which are helping to motivate more children to positive achievement, are already beginning to improve the curriculum in the early years of secondary education. That is success, not failure.

We acted to introduce greater relevance and technical applications into the curriculum through the technical and vocational education initiative, known as TVEI. That programme is being supported by over £1 billion of new investment during the 14 years from 1983 to 1997. Every local education authority in the country is involved in TVEI. That is success, not failure.

We acted to put the Education Act 1981 on the statute book, ensuring a new deal for all pupils with special education needs. We acted to create 35,000 places in successful independent schools for bright pupils through the assisted places scheme, after the wanton destruction of the direct grant schools.

The hon. Member for Blackburn talked about greater achievement and attainment. The achievement of those pupils tells its own story. Over 90 per cent. of assisted places pupils last year gained grades A to C at GCSE, 86 per cent. gained grades A to E at A level and 70 per cent. of last year's assisted place leavers went on to higher education. That is success, not failure.

With schools now being able to manage much of their own budgets, we are now building on earlier legislation in 1980 and 1986 to give them greater freedom to take their own decisions. There are now thousands of new governors in our schools, representing a huge injection of new support from the community and from parents. Already, 83 schemes of local management have been approved in principle. From April, the great majority of LEAs will be introducing their schemes of financial delegation and formula funding.

There is widespread support for the principles of local management, and we shall be working with LEAs to ensure its success. That is why the Government are supporting a programme of over 100 million to assist schools in managing their budgets, through installing information technology systems and through training governors and staff. That is important reform for achieving success, not failure.

We have acted to improve and increase the availability and quality of in-service training for teachers. In the last three years we have supported a programme of £600 million for in-service training through specific grant for both national and local priorities. I remember the priority that the last Labour government gave to in-service training for teachers. No wonder we heard nothing about that from the hon. Member for Blackburn.

At the same time, we have reformed and sharpened the focus of initial training through the work of the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. Contrast that with the wringing of hands by former Labour Secretaries of State, which was all that passed for action on that count under the last Labour Government.

We will have substantially increased spending per pupil—up by 42 per cent. in real terms over the last 10 years. That is success. That compares with a cut of about 2 per cent. in the last five years of Labour government—that was failure.

Capital spending per pupil has increased by 10 per cent. in real terms over the same period, compared with the slashing of the school building programme under the last Labour Government because of the total failure of their economic policies.

I clearly remember how the school building programme was savagely cut under the last Labour Government because they went for over-ambitious spending targets in the first year or two, did much to destroy our economy, had to go to the IMF to he bailed out, and then we saw slashed capital building programmes for the three years thereafter. We had to pick up the problem from that point and make the improvements that we are now achieving.

Dr. Hampson

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the only time since the war when the proportion of young people going on to higher education fell was under the last Labour Government, due to the dramatic cuts that they made in education provision.

In view of the complaints that Labour Members now make about the fall in GDP, their attention should be drawn to the fact that the latest OECD figures show the proportion of GDP in this country well ahead of Germany, only slightly behind—by 0.01 per cent.—that of Japan, and the same as in the United States.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is right on both points. The illustrations that I have given and his point about higher education demonstrate how much hypocrisy there was in the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)


Mr. MacGregor

I will not give way again.

In short, while Labour dithered in the past, and still cannot make up their minds on how to improve quality, we have acted. Where they failed on educational expenditure, we have succeeded, as a result of the economic expansion that we achieved in the 1980s, in considerably increasing the resources devoted per pupil throughout the education system.

Mr. Straw

As the right hon. Gentleman is so proud of the amount being spent on education, may I ask him to comment on the policy of Kent county council, which is short of money and is charging rising-fives £11 a week for education? Does he approve of that policy?

Mr. MacGregor

I have a relevant part in my speech in which I shall reply precisely to that question—[Interruption.] It will fit into the context better if I deal with it then.

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. MacGregor

I shall not give way again, having taken careful note of what Mr. Deputy Speaker and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said a few moments ago.

I refute the charges of the hon. Member for Blackburn. and point to the considerable progress achieved on all fronts in the 1980s. We are on the right track. But of course—I accept this and have always said it—we still have a long way to go if we are to achieve the competitive, high-quality standards and performance that we require for the 1990s.

That is why we introduced the national curriculum and the many other measures contained in the Education Reform Act, the biggest reforms since 1944. I find it amazing that the hon. Member for Blackburn is so dismissive of the national curriculum and those reforms. We are pressing forward at speed with the national curriculum programme. It is a major challenge for everyone involved in education, and one we should all relish and welcome.

I suspect that secretly the hon. Member for Blackburn knows that that is right, but of course he cannot bring himself to give open support to the reforms carried through in that Act and in the national curriculum. There is widespread support and acceptance by teachers of the benefits which nationally agreed attainment targets and programmes of study are bringing to teaching and learning in schools.

The national curriculum is bringing new and welcome rigour to the curriculum planning of primary schools. I have made it clear in speeches at conferences where I have addressed members of independent schools that I hope that all independent schools will take up the national curriculum. As we get success with it, I believe that they will, because there will be a demand from parents that they do so, and the teachers will wish to respond. Clearer objectives and a supportive framework of what should be taught is bringing new life to the curriculum throughout our schools.

The fact that there is much enthusiasm for our approach is shown by the demands that I am now getting for the other subject areas to be brought fully and effectively within the national curriculum as soon as possible. Of course, there is lively debate about what they contain, and that is all to the good. I hope to publish the final report of the history group next month, geography and modern languages will follow in the summer, and. I shall be making an announcement soon on music, art and PE.

There is widespread support, too, for the national curriculum to be underpinned by effective testing and assessment arrangements. In a survey of parental attitudes conducted by independent analysts last year, over three quarters of parents expressed support for regular testing and regular reporting of the results.

That is the Government's policy. Under the national curriculum, pupils will be assessed against clear national standards at seven, 11, 14 and 16. For the first time, parents will have reliable reports, throughout the country and at all those stages, about their children's progress, and teachers will have the information they need to tailor their teaching to the strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils.

National assessment is well on the way to becoming a reality. Prototypes of the first national tests are under development and are being tried out in schools. The first national assessments of seven-year-olds in mathematics, English and science will be in 1991. Other foundation subjects and key stages will follow in subsequent years.

I have dwelt on that issue, because I believe that the national curriculum is a fundamental reform. When historians look back, this will be seen as a time of enormous change and improvement. That is why it is right to underline the importance of the national curriculum. We are devoting an enormous amount of resources, time and effort to ensuring that the national curriculum works. We are getting on with that constructively, with massive effort and with vigour, with the aim of raising standards and improving quality and relevance. Typically, the speech made by the hon. Member for Blackburn contained scarcely any recognition of that.

I want now to consider the Government's policies for extending real choice for parents, something that the Labour party does not really understand or believe in. We have abolished artificial limits on the places available in popular schools and parents are already benefiting this year, where places have been freed in secondary schools. We have required every local education authority to set up local arrangements for handling complaints which offer parents a readily accessible local route for pursuing complaints.

When schools have control of their own budgets—as so many shortly will—those which attract more parents, and hence pupils, will also attract more funds. That is a key principle of the formula under the local management of schools for distributing budgets. We have introduced a new and flourishing grant-maintained school sector. There are now 20 grant-maintained schools in operation, and a further 12 have been approved to start later this year. The new sector is growing rapidly. Already, the number of grant-maintained schools is about the same as the number of schools in an average local education authority—and they started only in September.

I want to spend a moment or two on that aspect of our reforms, because I believe that the benefits of and the potential for grant-maintained schools have been much underrated. Typically, the hon. Member for Blackburn dismissed those schools as a gimmick; that shows that he does not understand. Of course some local education authorities and their officials, in a narrow and blinkered way, oppose grant-maintained schools, because they are dedicated to uniformity and bureaucratic control. At heart, I suspect that some of them dislike giving the governors, teachers and parents real choice. I suspect that is what the hon. Member for Blackburn does not like about them. Some LEAs may be tempted to squeeze them out, but I hope that they will think again, as was shown in relation to CTCs.

Grant-maintained schools are popular with parents and successful with teachers. So far, there have been ballots at 78 schools on whether to apply for grant-maintained status. Even though the first grant-maintained schools have had their greater independence for only a short time, there has been a marked increased in the number of applicants for places.

Many schools have yet to complete their admissions procedures for entry in September 1990, but responses from parents greatly exceed the overall number of places available. For example, at Wilson's school in Wallington, there have been more than 470 applications for 120 places. That shows that we are extending parent power and parent choice and the results are clear.

The success of the first grant-maintained schools shows that parents have been quick to utilise their rights and choose the autonomy that grant-maintained autonomy brings. Moreover—this is very important—on my visits to grant-maintained schools I have seen the obvious dedication and enthusiasm of governors and staff for their new status. Many of them talk of the motivating effect that such status has had on them. Their hard work and commitment is proving a sure foundation for the new sector.

We are also widening parental choice by pressing ahead with our programme of city technology colleges. Three colleges are now open—only three years after the start of the programme. Yesterday I announced that Derby is to have a CTC, opening in 1991, and only last week I was able to confirm that the parents and children of Corby would soon be able to opt for this new and exciting choice of secondary education.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. MacGregor


Mr. Straw

Oh, go on.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Member for Blackburn admitted that his speech was too long because he had to give way; I will bear that in mind.

Parents are voting with their feet for places in the CTCs because they want their children to benefit from the vigour and innovation which characterises CTCs. They will pioneer new approaches to classroom practice, timetables, even the working day. They will develop new approaches to the curriculum, and show the way on co-operation and collaboration between business and industry and education. The CTCs are doing this just where it is most needed—in our cities and towns where, for years, the outlook for young people has been bleakest.

I want to put the expenditure into context, because the hon. Member for Blackburn always touches on peripheral points. We expect local authorities to spend about £11 billion on the maintained sector of schools under current spending. We expect CTCs to spend £14 million.

I want to see the benefits of CTCs as they develop spread more widely. That is one of the purposes of this innovative and creative idea. I want to build on the enthusiasm and commitment of business and industry which the CTC programme has already unlocked. That is why I heard with interest the proposal from the London borough of Wandsworth last week for a voluntary-aided CTC as a way of bringing what CTCs have to offer right into the maintained sector. I shall be looking carefully at all the issues involved.

Of course the proportion of spending on CTCs will rise as they expand. However, the proportion of spending on CTCs is still tiny in relation to spending on the total maintained sector. The whole of the education system and the inner-city area programme will receive benefits and a high rate of return from that comparatively modest investment.

The hon. Member for Blackburn referred to teacher shortages. He continues to show an unenviable capacity for misunderstanding—or perhaps he just prefers blatantly to misrepresent the facts. I am glad that, in reply to my repeated invitations, he has now accepted my offer of discussions with my Department's officials about the available statistics. I want a completely open debate about the statistics, and it would be at least an advance if we could have better informed speeches from the hon. Gentleman in future.

I have said many times—I repeat it again today—that there are some serious problems of teacher supply. However, no purpose is served by misrepresenting them. The hon. Member for Blackburn is always highly selective in his choice of statistics and examples. Therefore, I want to state the overall position.

There is no evidence that teacher shortages are dramatically worse than in previous years or that we are facing a nationwide crisis. All three measures of teacher supply bear that out.

Mr. Flannery


Mr. MacGregor

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of hearing the three points.

First, vacancies are running at the same rate as when the Labour party left office in 1979. Secondly, teacher resignations and wastage have stayed within a narrow band for many years; that is confirmed by research by Manchester university. Finally, recruitment to initial teacher training is running at levels unmatched in recent years. Teaching is clearly a popular profession, and rightly so. It offers a worthwhile career to young people. There has never been a better time to become a teacher; that is reflected in the increasing number of people queueing up to do so.

I want now to refer to morale and teacher status. Those who point to the worst examples as being typical of what is happening in schools actually discourage people from entering the profession. That is one factor that has diminished teachers in the eyes of the public and that is a great shame for the vast majority of highly dedicated and professional teachers who do so much. We should now be positive to deal with problems of morale and stress.

As for teacher shortages, I have always recognised that there are clearly problems within the overall picture, and I have frequently highlighted two problems. First, teacher recruitment is suffering from exactly the same problems as some other occupations in London and other high-cost areas, where housing—and the environment in which some of the schools have to operate—are particular issues. Secondly, there are certain key subjects—physics, chemistry, modern languages and maths, for example—for which schools may find it difficult to recruit. County education authorities such as mine are now addressing those problems.

But it is not just teaching that cannot get enough recruits in those subjects. They are the very same areas of expertise in which industry complains of recruitment problems. They are also, of course, the skills which are now in particularly high demand.

There has been, and is, a long-term problem here which we as a Government have been trying to address—the fact that, compared with the countries with which we most have to compete, not enough of our young people have been taking up these subjects. This is now exacerbated by the demographic downturn—the much lower number of school leavers up to 1996—on the one hand, and by the ever-increasing demand in a technological age and with the single European market looming for them, on the other. In the long term, one of the many benefits of the national curriculum is that it should greatly increase the enthusiasm among, and hence the numbers of, young people with such qualifications.

But that long-term solution will not provide an answer, so in the short term we are taking action which is targeted directly on these clearly identified issues. We have spent over £50 million since July 1986 on measures to address them, and these are continuing. They include bursaries for trainee teachers in physics, mathematics, technology and chemistry. They include the remit that I have given to the interim advisory committee for its recommendations for the coming year's salary settlement for teachers.I have specifically asked it to address these two areas of concern, with special reference to further use of incentive allowances. As the House knows, I have asked the interim advisory committee to report to me by the end of this month. With its report imminent, I clearly cannot say any more today about that matter.

Mr. Straw

When the Secretary of State sent his letter to Lord Chilver on 26 September, he said that inflation would fall further in the months ahead. In fact, it has risen. Is the Secretary of State going to take that into account in raising the cash limit.

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made it clear that the cash limit is a remit to the interim advisory committee. I do not want to say any more about what the committee might recommend to me. Clearly that is a matter for the committee, whose report I shall receive within the next few days—certainly by the end of the month, the time by which we asked it to report.

Let me turn to the other short-term measures. In-service training for conversion and updating of shortage-subject teachers is one. We have also commissioned open learning materials for the in-service training of teachers in these subjects. Through our new education support grant, which I announced last week—£2 million has been given in the first year, and with more to follow as total expenditure for this particular area—we are supporting local education authorities through the education support grant, particularly in areas of recruitment difficulty, to develop programmes for recruiting former teachers. This is an area that I regard as a major priority, and one in which there is tremendous potential. I have given a clear indication that, if good progress is made, I should like to see rather more of the education support grant concentrated on this aspect when we come to look at the priorities for next year.

Included also in the short-term programme is a publicity and advertising campaign, spearheaded by the teaching as a career unit. In addition, we are encouraging mature people to come into teaching, often after working in other careers. We have run a highly successful series of taster courses aimed at encouraging mature people to come into teaching, as we will be expanding thus programme next year. The licensed teacher route will provide an important source of teachers in the future.

This is a coherent and consistent programme of measures, and I will add to them as necessary. They are focused; they are targeted; above all, they are positive. They recognise that there are issues seriously to be addressed. That is in marked contrast to the contributions of the hon. Member for Blackburn. I re-read his speeches in the previous two debates on this question in the summer. Then, and now, he has failed to make a single constructive proposal. [Interruption.] I will come in a moment to the package that he raised at the end. When his criticisms are matched by complete absence of analysis and no positive ideas, then the House is entitled to dismiss them as empty rhetoric.

Let me turn now to resources. This Government have not merely set the policy agenda—acting where others have talked. We have also backed up our policies with resources. Look at the trend in spending per pupil. In 1979–80, about £515 was being spent on each pupil in nursery, primary and secondary schools. By 1988–89, that figure had risen to about £1,365 per pupil.

Mr. Straw

What about inflation?

Mr. MacGregor

I will come to the point about inflation.

That is a cash-terms increase of no less than 165 per cent. The real-terms increase, which is the one on which we ought to focus, is also impressive. In each and every year between 1979–80 and 1988–89, there has been a real-terms increase in spending per pupil. Overall, during that period, real-terms spending per pupil rose by 42 per cent.

Part of this increase is due to the improvements in staffing under this Government. As we all know, of course, teachers are much the biggest item of expenditure in school budgets, accounting for around half of all spending by local education authorities. As the House knows, there has been a steady improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio. In 1979–80, there was one teacher for every 19 pupils in primary and secondary schools; by 1987–88 that ratio had improved to one teacher for every 17 pupils.

I shall come now to the point that the hon. Member for Blackburn has been raising. He talked about the under-fives. Of course it is not possible to achieve everything at once. The great fault of the Labour party has been its promises to everybody that it is going to achieve everything at once. Unfortunately, quite a number of people will not remember just how very badly it did last time in that respect.

Having said that, I want to consider what has been achieved in respect of participation rates in education among the under-fives. That has shown an upward trend—rising from 39 per cent. in 1979–80, to 45 per cent. in 1987–88. This expansion has been funded by a substantial increase in spending on the under-fives—by about 45 per cent. in real terms over the same period.

Here I come to the point about Bligh primary school that the hon. Gentleman raised. I too have had this matter looked into this morning. I understand that a pre-school playgroup has been set up in the premises of Bligh primary school. Children are admitted to this group on payment of a fee. The children attending the group are not of statutory school age and are not on the school's roll. The group is funded, managed and taught separately from the main school, and the group is charged for the use that it makes of the primary school's accommodation.

Such arrangements are not uncommon or illegal. As there are always priorities for individual education authorities—they cannot achieve all that they would wish—we should commend the initiative of parents who undertake this kind of project.

Mr. Straw

This is a very important issue, so I am glad that the Secretary of State has given way. The truth is that the pre-school playgroup arrangement is a simple device or trick to circumvent the law against charging fees. The Secretary of State must agree to investigate what Kent county council has done. This is not a playgroup. Does the Secretary of State not understand that the teachers, who are teaching these children part of the national curriculum—not simply to play—are paid by the county council, out of funds provided by the parents?

Mr. MacGregor

I have had the matter looked into this morning, but I wish that the hon. Gentleman were not so disparaging of the pre-school playgroup movement. I think that it has achieved a great deal.

Let me turn to other resources. The education share of the Government's local authority grant settlement for next year amounts to very nearly £15 billion. Over 9 per cent. higher than for 1989–90, it is a huge sum by any standards. As regards capital resources for schools, next year will see a substantial increase for local authority capital and for grants to voluntary-aided and special agreement schools. The big increase in funds made available will allow local education authorities and governing bodies to continue their programme of improvement to schools. What we are making available for new improvement work alone—this, of course, is through the annual capital guidelines, and clearly it would be possible for local authorities to add considerably to it through capital receipts and in other ways—is a four-and-a-half times increase on the figure for last year.

Of course, there is never enough to satisfy everybody's aspirations. But I have to remind hon. Members that capital spending per pupil has increased by 10 per cent. in real terms over the last 10 years. I do not yet have the figures for actual spending—as distinct from forecasts—for 1988–89 or 1989–90, but I expect them to show further very substantial increases in real terms. I ask the House to contrast this with the record of the last Labour Government, who cut spending on local authority schools capital to around half its 1974 level in real terms.

All this clearly puts paid to any claims that this Government are not investing in our schools. Of course we would like to do more—all of us would like to do more—but we have to do what is possible within the resources available in the country as a whole. But we also believe that taxpayers and ratepayers have a right to expect that their money will be well spent. It is the Government's duty to press local education authorities, schools and colleges to achieve the best possible return for the enormous resources given to them.

We have had from the hon. Member for Blackburn the same old Socialist agenda rooted in the failed solutions of the 1970s. Opposition Members talk about a commitment to excellence, but where we seek to build excellence, their party has a commitment to destruction.

Opposition Members would tear up choice for parents. Their idea of excellence is a monolithic single-state system. When they talk about choice—they do not often do so—they do not mean choice for parents. When they talk about a new partnership, they mean a return to the old tyranny of monopoly local education authority provision. Theirs is a commitment to producers, not to consumers. Ours is a commitment to pupils and parents.

Opposition Members posture about a broad and balanced curriculum, but their own policy document will deny it. By limiting the national curriculum to the core subjects of English, maths and science, they will return schools to the unsatisfactory mish-mash in which many pupils followed an inadequate and unbalanced curriculum.

Our reforms of the school system are necessary for the new world of the 1990s. They are in schools now, building upon the solid foundation that the Government have already put in place. They are now rapidly taking shape, to the benefit of pupils, parents and teachers. The real failure would be to stand in the way of those great reforms. The Government have created them, are developing them and will bring them to fulfilment.

In comparison with that record of reform and achievement, from the utterances by the hon. Member for Blackburn, it is obvious that he and his party have no new thoughts. They peddle the failed old mixture that they peddled before. This afternoon, hon. Members heard plenty of spending commitments along the old lines. We will rapidly try to find out from the hon. Gentleman just what they amount to, and we will ask him to cost them so that we know how much substance there is in them.

The last Labour Government made promises and totally failed to achieve them. In fact, we saw a downturn in spending. In 1987, the Labour party made promises, but, when they were totted up, the electorate saw through them and realised that we could not afford them on that scale at that time. We will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman said this afternoon and we will ask him many questions about exactly what his proposals amount to. That is why I urge the House to reject the motion and support the amendment.

5.21 pm
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

I am amazed that the Secretary of State for Education and Science can give such a misguided impression of what is happening in schools throughout the country. In particular, I refer to teachers' impressions of their own worth, especially in view of the pay deal that is currently being examined. I would have liked the Secretary of State to have come clean and said, "Yes, I made a miscalculation when I wrote to Lord Chilver about the pay award for the coming financial year. Inflation is rising, and I recommend a further amount to deal with that." Hon. Members heard nothing like that. We heard only "Wait and see."

One would imagine that the Government have just come to power, that the problems that they talk about are new and have taken them by surprise, and that they have had nothing to do with them. Today's problems are a result of the wasted opportunities of the 1980s. During that decade, we experienced real underfunding by central Government. Education was neglected, and educators at all levels were subjected to abuse by Government Ministers. That is why we have such problems in our education system.

We are spending less of our gross domestic product on education, although the challenges of the 1990s in Europe and further afield will require a far more highly educated and trained work force. Had we been able to maintain the spending level that was much denigrated in 1979, we would be spending a further £3 billion on education. There has been a drop of 27 per cent. in real terms. We must tell the electorate, "Forget the flannel about the Government's wonderful spending record." Without exception, the real increases in education have been due to spending by local authorities that have cared about their education responsibilities. For example, in the past decade there was an increase in university spending of about about 1 per cent., with the Government responsible for virtually all funding. Where local authorities have made a substantial contribution to polytechnics, the number of students has increased by more than 50 per cent. Commitment has come from Labour local authorities, not from Tory central Government.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman will be able to make his points later.

Throughout the 1980s, teachers' pay fell behind that of other non-manual workers. It is almost £1,000 less than it would have been had the marker that was set down in 1979 continued. Failures are to be found everywhere.

Because of changes in the rate support grant, Welsh local authorities have lost almost £1 billion of central Government funds to finance local government services, of which education takes the lion's share. When Her Majesty's inspectors examined the state of schools in Wales, they found that, as in England, there was a massive backlog of repairs. In my county of Mid Glamorgan, an estimated £25 million was needed to bring schools up to standard. In the neighbouring county of West Glamorgan the figure was £28 million, in Gwent it was £14.5 million, and in the rural county of Powys the figure was £5 million. The results of Government underfunding stare us in the face in dingy schools.

The Secretary of State for Wales had the wonderful idea of the valleys initiative. When the proposal was first aired, Mid Glamorgan county council said, "What a wonderful idea. We badly need six new schools in our valleys." The valleys initiative was published, and it stated that there would be six schools for the county of Mid Glamorgan. However, the initiative failed to state that two schools were due to be opened in a month and that the other four were already planned. Not an extra penny was put into the valleys initiative to build new schools or to improve existing ones, but there was plenty of money to give pubs a new coat of paint. The Government could find money for pubs but not for schools. That is indicative of their thinking.

When we moved from the old Burnham system of remuneration to the new interim advisory committee system, and when it finally put the first award into practice and examined the money that was provided by central Government to fund it, my county of Mid Glamorgan found that it was more than £300,000 short of what was needed. The county had no part in the negotiations for the pay award. The Government gave a sum of money to the interim advisory committee that determined the award, but the ratepayers of Mid Glamorgan had to find £325,000 to finance it.

A similar problem can be found in the implementation of the national curriculum. It is all very well for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to say what wonderful things will happen as a result of the national curriculum, but, once again, his Department and the Secretary of State for Wales are failing sufficiently to fund the changes.

There is, for example, the question of the proper teaching of science subjects in primary schools. In Mid Glamorgan, about half of all primary schools were built before the first world war, and they have neither the water supplies nor the power points needed for science to be taught properly in their classrooms. The Government gave Mid Glamorgan £200,000 to start a programme of upgrading those old schools, but the county council has been obliged to find a further £480,000 to implement what it still describes as a modest programme for ensuring that proper facilities are available for teaching the national curriculum.

I asked parliamentary questions of the Secretary of State for Education and Science and of the Secretary of State for Wales about extra funding for implementing the national curriculum in respect of children with special needs, but both replied that no special money would be provided for that purpose. As to the modest primary school programme, Mid Glamorgan county council will have to ask each poll tax payer for £1.25 extra to fund it, when at the same time the Government are putting pressure on local authorities to keep down the level of poll tax.

The theme for the first two years of this decade, as for the 1980s, will be underfunding of our education service. The Secretary of State referred to the importance of teachers, but it seems that their wages will continue not to reflect their importance to the community. When the Minister replies to the debate, perhaps he will explain how the education service is to respond to the excessive inflation that is a consequence of the Government's economic policies.

There are accounts in today's newspapers about the pressures on teachers, who feel that they are of little worth—partly because of the low wages that they are paid—and are leaving the profession. They cannot stand the pressures imposed by an underfunded system and look for easier jobs elsewhere. Although the Secretary of State might deny that there are shortages and say that more people are entering teacher training this year than for a long time, the number for crucial subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and craft, design and technology is below the target set by the Department. The shortages can only get worse.

Wales has never been known for having a lack of teachers, but Mid Glamorgan is reporting difficulties in recruiting teachers of modern languages, Welsh, technical subjects and science. That is the legacy of a decade of Conservative rule. I hope that the House will support the motion fully as that is a way of showing the public that there are people in positions of power committed to improving the country's education service. We shall prove that by voting for the motion.

5.33 pm
Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

I shall be brief, and so that others of my right hon. and hon. Friends may participate I am not prepared to give way to any interventions.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) spoke of the legacy of a decade of Conservative government. Anyone who has been involved in education for a number of years will acknowledge that educational legacies take a long time to accrue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke of the Government's efforts over the past decade, which led to gradual change and implementation of the Education Reform Act 1988.

Anyone involved in education at national level in the 1970s will remember the problems that the service suffered then. I make no apology for reiterating the remarks of my right hon. Friend in respect of the 1976 public expenditure White Paper, which recommended the most draconian cuts in all social services after many promises—some of which have been repeated today—were made. The remarks of Opposition Members today prompt the question, "Haven't we heard it all before?"

The Education Reform Act 1988 will bring massive and welcome changes, but I draw some specific matters to the attention of my right hon. Friend. He spoke of the need to introduce assessment and testing, and said that schemes for that purpose will come on stream in the near future. He spoke also of the need to maintain the impetus of change, with which we would all agree. However, other aspects of the implementation of change should be borne in mind. Records of achievement, for example, can add immeasureably to the value of primary school education. They are welcomed by parents and teachers and are extremely popular with the pupils themselves. I trust that there will be no lessening of my right hon. Friend's commitment to ensuring that records of achievement will be kept.

As to teacher costs following the implementation of local management schemes, it is no coincidence that local authority after local authority, whether Conservative or Labour-controlled, has expressed grave concern about the effects that those costs will have on school budgets. I have the honour to be chairman of a large, group 8 primary school, of which there are not many. It has £12,000 worth of incremental drift per year. The table of winners and losers shows it to be a winner on day one, but it rapidly becomes a loser. The governing body faces severe problems in contemplating what teacher costs will mean for that school. I urge my right hon. Friend to re-examine that aspect. He has received representations about it, and I know that it is a matter of concern to him.

I feel sure that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House unite in the desire to see delivered the Government's education reforms. By and large, they will be delivered by the commitment of teaching staff in our schools.

It is true to say that problems are emerging in many schools. I do not disagree one jot with what my right hon. Friend said about teachers' commitment. I do not disagree one jot with what he said about improved standards for teacher training, which we would all welcome. I urge him to reflect upon what has been said in many quarters—that the speed of the change, and the extra workload being imposed, is causing strain. That must be recognised and dealt with. It can be done in several ways.

The problems of the interim advisory committee and the question of the restoration of teachers' negotiating rights are causing difficulties in the teaching service, but I think that those problems can and will be solved in the not-too-distant future.

We have certainly not resolved the problem of delivery. I believe that people who are interested in and concerned with education expect the Government's reforms to bring about a considerable improvement in standard and quality throughout the education system. We cannot afford to see the reforms fail because we do not have adequate staff to deliver them. Therefore, we must study the problem carefully.

We have heard a great deal about the way in which we should deal with teachers' salaries. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will remember the time that we spent together on the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' education committee and on the Burnham committee, studying the problems created by the enormous pay hike in the 1974 Houghton award. The Clegg award caused similar problems, with another enormous hike in salaries in 1979. There is universal agreement that that must not be allowed to happen again.

Teachers' morale has been mentioned on many occasions. Morale is affected not just by pay and status, but by an amalgam of factors that lead to an appreciation of what teachers represent and that they alone are able to achieve and to deliver the Government's stated aims. I hope that there will not be any falling-away of the commitment to see those aims achieved in as short a time as possible. However, haste must not be the single determinant, as it is more important to get it right.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider the points that I have raised when he studies how his Department will respond to those important matters in the next few months.

5.42 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State will pay heed to the words of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton). His expressed words, and some of his implied words, will bear careful reading and reflection, and I am aware that he speaks with experience of the subject. He rightly warned of the need to combine urgency with solidity and consistency, and that it is important to deal with the fundamental issues and not superficial concerns.

The Secretary of State comes to the debate after six months in office. We are at the beginning of a new decade, and it is appropriate that we should look at the state of our schools. We should reflect on the past decade and the coming decade as a background to the motion tabled by the Opposition and the amendment tabled by the Government, and we should consider what has happened to the Government's public commitment to education—the public commitment as manifested by the amount of money that the nation commits to education.

Between 1978–79 and 1990–91 the proportion of public expenditure on education fell from 14.4 per cent. to 13.7 per cent., at the same time as other categories of public expenditure increased, most notably defence. I know that the partial answer to that dichotomy is that school rolls have been falling. However, the Government seek to gain credit for the fact that there is a better teacher-pupil ratio. We should have been using the great decade of oil revenue to increase the percentage of our public expenditure on education. If the Government stand to be condemned, it is first by the statistics that show that we give less priority to education in our national expenditure now than we did 10 years ago.

I understand the time pressures today on the Secretary of State, but it is interesting that he did not give way when I sought to intervene when he kept on repeating the point made in the Government amendment, that there has been increased expenditure since 1979 of over 40 per cent. in real terms per pupil. I accept that. But what is the ratio per pupil of expenditure in the ordinary state school, compared to the ratio of expenditure per pupil in a city technology college? The answer is that a disproportionate amount is being allocated, and there is massive expenditure per pupil for the elite little group at a CTC, compared with per pupil expenditure on those much less fortunate pupils who are in a state school. That is unacceptable and unjustifiable by any standard.

The Government are also indicted by other statistics. The Secretary of State does not have to take personal responsibility, but the Government must accept that one sign of how bad their policies have been during the past 10 years is the low take-up rate for post-school education or training of pupils in Britain, compared with our competitor countries. Consider the figures in Australia, Canada, France, West Germany and Japan, which are all countries that we must compete with in an increasingly competitive world. The staying-on rate for pupils after l he official school-leaving age in Britain is less than half the rate in some of those countries, and the number is rising less quickly.

The educational attainment statistics and targets in Britain have been compared with those in other countries during past debates. For example, during the current Committee stage of the Education (Student Loans) Bill, information has been given that the number of people in higher education in Korea has already reached the figure that the Government have targeted for 10 years' hence. We are falling behind appallingly.

Dr. Hampson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

I shall not give way. It is not that I do not wish to, but many other hon. Members wish to speak. We are failing to achieve standards and targets that will give Britain the educated community that it needs. The Government have also now confirmed that they are not after all committed to doubling the number of students in higher education. The reality is that we are not attaining the prerequisite of higher education, as an insufficient number of students aged over 16 stay on at school.

There have been new initiatives on employment training, which are welcome, and it is important that we continue to develop them. However, there is no real commitment or coherence in policy.

It would now be appropriate for the Government to reconsider the idea of amalgamating the Department of Education and Science with the part of the Department of Employment that is responsible for training. I know that that has been considered by the Government, and those functions ought to go together. That is what happens in other countries, for example, Australia. If the education and training system is integrated, we shall be able to deliver the appropriate curricula and training to produce an appropriately educated work force in the future.

In training, there are many things that we can do and I shall list a few. For example, we could promote more exchanges between staff in schools and colleges and people employed in local industry and commerce, by secondment. We could encourage more technology in schools. We could ensure that teachers have more knowledge of the needs of the local labour market, and we could enable the national curriculum to contain enough flexibility to allow young people to leave school much better equipped for the rapidly changing world of work.

Perhaps the most substantial indictment of the Government's schools policy is the continuing teacher crisis caused by inadequate pay and insufficient numbers, and leading to a tragic lack of morale.

Hidden in the small print of last week's revenue support grant announcement was something rather interesting. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have, in effect, given teachers in the south-east a regional pay advantage? I do not deny that teachers in the south-east—like those elsewhere—need more pay; indeed, my colleagues and I have said so many times in the House. The adjustment in the settlement, however, will not remedy the massive problem of teacher shortages—which is most acute in the south-east, where the cost of living is higher, and most particularly in the more deprived parts of that region.

By eliminating negotiating mechanisms, the Government have limited the amount available for teachers' pay next year. Teachers in other regions are therefore forfeiting part of their pay rise in order to generate scarcely more acceptable salaries for their colleagues in the south-east. I trust that the Minister will agree that that does not constitute an adequate response to the needs of teachers in the most stressed parts of the country.

As the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said, we are still substantially short of teachers for several core subjects in the curriculum. As is clear from the Central Register and Clearing House survey of the autumn 1989 entry for teacher training, planned entry targets are not being reached in several subjects that the Government themselves consider vital—craft, design and technology, modern languages, mathematics, religious education and science—and that is at least as true today. The cause of the shortage is not just the difficulty of recruiting people with these qualifications across the sectors. Because the appeal of teaching in the state sector is becoming increasingly reduced, given the choice, those with the necessary qualifications tend to opt for a different profession entirely.

The national curriculum is, in part, a good thing: it is wise to ensure that young people are taught all appropriate subjects. It is, however, a major headache for those who are expected to implement it. Teachers are falling behind with their work. The hon. Member for Crosby mentioned the high incidence of stress, and a report produced only today makes clear the importance of this point. Teachers have next to no time to plan, and less and less non-contact time. They are under increasing pressure as they try to deliver all the new initiatives.

Mr. Harry Greenway

That is nonsense.

Mr. Hughes

It is true, and if the hon. Gentleman visited the schools, he would hear as much from heads, deputy heads, departmental heads and all the rest.

Mr. Greenway


Mr. Hughes

No, I will not give way.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman will not give way because he does not know.

Mr. Hughes

I do know. I visit as many schools as the hon. Gentleman, if not more. I have been into the classrooms, out of the limelight, and have talked to ordinary teachers. I have sat in on whole afternoons of lessons, and have seen the obligations that the national curriculum imposes. Governors and teachers know that what I am saying is true, and if the hon. Gentleman, who is a former teacher, does not agree, that shows how far removed he now is from the profession of which he was once an eminent member. Teachers also have the mounting task of recording and assessing the performance of pupils—a task which, given the pressures imposed by the curriculum, they will increasingly be unable to carry out.

I gather that the Government may be likely to scrap the audit proposals. Apparently the Minister of State made that clear yesterday when she visited my constituency, and I hope that she will confirm it when she winds up the debate. If that happens, it will be a welcome change of plan, as teachers will have one less thing to do.

The Secretary of State talked about local management of schools. The Government amendment commends the enthusiasm with which people are supposedly welcoming LMS, but that is certainly not true of all authorities, including even those that are Tory-controlled. Hereford and Worcester, for instance, considers it a very bad idea. I know that county well—where that friend of Ministers, Dr. Muffett, is chairman of the education committee. According to Hereford and Worcester, where all LMS schools should be funded according to average teaching costs in their local authority, but must meet the actual costs of their own teachers", Hereford and Worcester does not intend to go ahead with the scheme, because its schools could lose more than £100,000 from their budgets.

The teaching profession is still in crisis, and we can find no consolation in the up-to-date national figures. The Secretaryof State did not proffer any; the last accurate Government figures were given in a written answer a year ago. We do know, however, that 20,000 teachers left the classrooms last year. We know that, unprecedentedly, the six teachers' unions have united to tell the Government that there is a crisis, and not just in the capital. We know that in some subjects that crisis is worse than ever. We also know that there are now more than 1,000 teaching vacancies in inner London, and I know that there are more than 225 in my borough of Southwark. If that is not a crisis, I do not know what will ever constitute one.

I have been to see the Minister of State with my proposals. I suggested that the Secretary of State should urgently call a meeting of London teachers and listen to their ideas, because they know what they are talking about. I also suggested ways of facilitating teachers from Australia, New Zealand and Ireland teaching here, a mechanism for reviewing incentive payments and a mechanism to ensure that many of the empty properties that have recently been built at such great expense are made available to teachers in the south-east. So far those suggestions have been greeted with silence. The Government could have come up with some urgent and effective initiatives, but they have not done so.

What, then, is the position at the beginning of the new decade? We are spending a smaller proportion of our gross domestic product on education than many of our neighbours; bizarrely and alarmingly, we are spending even less of our GDP on education than Third-world countries such as Swaziland, Zambia and Zaire. We are making defence spending a greater priority, while we are reducing education spending. The policy to recruit more teachers has clearly failed. LMS and its method of implementation are not acceptable, even to Tory local government. Many teachers fear the implementation of the national curriculum.

There is no vision for the future, just as there has been no successful policy in the past. The Secretary of State and the Minister of State must accept that the policies of the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), have failed: they have not produced successful results. Change is needed urgently if British education is not to have an even bleaker future in the 1990s than it had in the 1980s.

Let me warn the Secretary of State that at the end of his first year he will receive his first annual report. All I can say is that he had better do much better than the previous pupil in his position in the class, and much better than he has done in the first six months of his term of office

5.57 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and I agree on at least one thing—the need for better remuneration for teachers—but I disagree entirely with his remarks about my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), the benefit of whose reforms the hon. Gentleman will see in the not-too-distant future.

Last week the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) described my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as "fizzing with fury". Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that his speech did not fizz with anything. It contained no inspiration, no excitement and no new ideas; it was all too predictable—dull, boring and far too long.

I suspect that the wording of today's motion would be rather more accurate if it referred to "the failure of the Opposition to produce any policies on schools". It is significant that the part of the hon. Gentleman's speech that referred to his policies lasted less than one minute, and I found his silence eloquent.

We get the same old, tired stuff from the Opposition that we have heard so many times. The Labour party's policies continue to be those of levelling down. Where excellence is seen, they seek to destroy it. They are completely negative and totally destructive. They will abolish grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges. They even seek to denigrate the independent sector. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] I am not surprised to hear Opposition Members confirm so unreservedly that they would like the independent sector to be abolished.

For Opposition Members, parental choice is meaningless. For them, freedom of choice in education, as in everything else, is meaningless. We seek to improve the quality and the standard of state education, where the majority of our children are educated. We start with the improvement of educational provision for the under-fives. Almost 25 per cent. more children under five years of age attend nursery or primary schools when compared with the last year of the last—and I do mean the last—Labour Government.

Seventy five per cent. of all four-year-olds now go to local education authority maintained nursery or primary schools. During the last 10 years, the proportion of three and four-year-olds going to school has increased to almost 45 per cent., and nine out of 10 attend nursery classes, reception classes or playgroups.

There is even more good news in primary and secondary schools. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] The reforms introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley are beginning to bear fruit. The Education Reform Act 1988, which provided for the national curriculum, the introduction of local management of schools, open enrolment and grant-maintained schools, will be a landmark in British education.

It is significant that the two great Acts of this century to reform education were introduced and piloted through the House by Conservative Secretaries of State. The only new education initiatives have come from Conservative Administrations. The city technology college programme still goes forward, despite the spiteful attitude of Opposition Members and their colleagues in certain education authorities. The politics of envy still exists. The impact of the national curriculum will be felt throughout the education system. It ensures that schools do not waste valuable time or resources on less important subjects. It concentrates on those that are recognised as of real value.

In addition, and confounding its critics, the GCSE examination is proving a substantial success. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science. In speech after speech, she has properly drawn attention to the success of the GCSE examination. It will improve the quality of our children's education. One of the best proofs of the improvement in quality is the increase in admissions to higher education. It is no accident that, during the last 10 years, 200,000 additional students have been admitted to universities, polytechnics and further education colleges.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Mainly to polytechnics.

Mr. Pawsey

That underlines, as perhaps nothing else does, the fact that the quality of education in our schools is improving and that it will continue to improve. There would be little point in seeking to improve access to higher education unless young people leaving school were properly qualified to take advantage of the additional places. That is a measure of the success of the Government's policies. It is one of the benchmarks against which our policies will be judged.

Opposition Members have referred to teachers. Certainly we require the full-hearted co-operation of the profession if our reforms are to bear fruit. Like the love of a good woman, a good teacher is beyond price. Sometimes I believe—to return to a point that was made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey and by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton)—that the torrent of paper now overwhelming our schools prevents head teachers and staff from getting on with their primary job, which is to teach. The pace and the extent of the reforms have placed a great strain on teachers. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley goes down in history as the great initiator, my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Education and Science will be remembered as the great consolidator. He quite properly believes that there should be a period during which schools can digest the various reforms that we have introduced.

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe that teachers' remuneration should adequately reflect the importance of the work they do. Most teachers in British schools are dedicated both to their profession and to the children who are in their charge. The interim advisory committee has been given £600 million this year to improve teachers' pay. That figure is 55 per cent. higher than last year and double that of the previous year.

It is amusing to reflect on Opposition criticism of teachers' pay. During their last period in office, teachers' pay increased by 6 per cent. That has to be compared with this Government's record: during the last 10 years, teachers' pay has increased in real terms by 30 per cent. That shows the people of this country who actually care about teachers and their level of pay.

A survey of teacher numbers was undertaken by the Department. It confirmed that almost 22,000 students went into teacher training in 1989. That was a substantial increase over 1988. But perhaps the best indicator of teacher numbers was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his opening speech when he referred to the pupil-teacher ratio. I was delighted that, in response to a parliamentary question, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), told me: The overall pupil-teacher ratio in maintained nursery, primary and secondary schools in England in January 1989 was 17 and in January 1979"— under a Labour Government— was 18/".—[Official Report, 16 January 1990; Vol. 165, c. 159.] That is a real and significant improvement.

As usual, the Opposition's arguments are long on rhetoric and on criticism but short on ideas. Does anybody, either inside or outside the House, really know what the Opposition's education policies are? Even more to the point, does anybody really care? Perhaps the greatest criticism of the hon. Member for Blackburn and his predecessor, the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), is that nobody knows what they would do, were they to be elected to office. The electorate would be required to sign the usual blank Socialist cheque and take on trust whatever a Labour Government chose to give them.

In the Standing Committee that is considering the Education (Student Loans) Bill, the Opposition's favourite phrase is "as resources allow." That is the inevitable cop-out of Socialism. I do not doubt that the intentions of the hon. Member for Blackburn are good. However, the path of Socialism is always paved with promises—promises which will be honoured, but only when resources allow. The Opposition are as ever long on promises but short on delivery.

6.8 pm

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) is very honest: he profoundly believes in the nonsense that he talks. I propose to deal with reality.

The shortage of teachers is a developing crisis. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers told the Select Committee—or it may have been the Standing Committee considering the Education Reform Bill—that it was a developing catastrophe. Every group that we visited described it in those terms.

There is a shortage of full-time teachers; if the Minister believes that the correct figure is 4,000, let him go on believing that. The crisis is on such a scale that it will come to hang around his neck before long and then he will have to look at the real figures.

There are shortages of part-time and supply teachers. The Secretary of State and Conservative Members never mention what happens when applications for teaching posts are invited. There used to be 10, 20 or 30 applications for each position; now there are regularly only one or two. In order to put a body before a class, schools have to select one of those two because of the shortage and the way in which teachers have been treated by the Government.

Our schools are crumbling. Hon. Members do not need to listen to me—they have only to go and look at the state of our schools. All this endangers the national curriculum, which cannot be put in place without enough teachers.

There is a lack of teachers with qualifications appropriate to the subjects that they need to teach. In primary schools, teachers face endless meetings at lunchtime and after school; they also face pressure to go on courses. Stress is endemic in the primary sector, in which teachers are beginning to lack confidence because of the abuse heaped on them by successive Tory Ministers.

Extremely able teachers are beginning to feel inadequate because of the pace of events and the pressures to implement the Education Reform Act 1988. Teachers have faced continual attacks and rudeness from the Government and Conservative Members—but that has suddenly changed because of the shortage of teachers and the crisis in the system. Conservative Members now talk nicely about teachers because they want to recruit them.

At the same time, we are witnessing the fruits of the Government's demeaning of the profession. The Education Reform Act had nothing to do with the private sector. Ministers in the Committee considering that Bill frankly admitted that. The Secretary of State said today that he was asking teachers in the private sector to consider the national curriculum. He did not ask teachers in the public sector; he passed a law making them implement the curriculum.

Conservative Members call the private sector independent. It is not. It is not independent of the wealthy and the rich, on whom it depends. And it gives itself away by taking funds from the public sector of education to give to the city technology colleges and the assisted places scheme. Hundreds of millions of pounds are being poured into those colleges—money taken from the public sector. One such college in Nottingham is costing almost £8 million, yet only £2 million has been allocated for 400 schools in the rest of the area—and Conservative Members think that sensible. Other schools will suffer because of those colleges.

As for teachers' low wages, the Secretary of State knows that the Prime Minister has allowed him only £600 million, which makes little or no difference. Teachers' poor pay and lack of negotiating rights were condemned by the United Nations International Labour Organisation five years ago. The Government continue to mingle in the international fraternity without giving teachers the negotiating rights that all other nations have. That is what the Government have done to the teachers by diktat.

Now the Government are starting to praise teachers, but they have still given them no negotiating rights. Only increased salaries and better conditions will bring back the teachers whom we need. There are 400,000 teachers who are not teaching—the same number as are. They are ready to return to the profession if they are given decent conditions. At present we are raking over the leaves of Europe, bringing in teachers from Denmark, Holland and other nations—countries in which teachers' wages are almost twice as high as here—many of whom cannot speak English. We have all the teachers we need here, and given proper circumstances and wages, they would return.

Teachers need a properly funded major salary increase to give them professional levels of pay. They need incentive allowances, proportionate to the needs of the professionals who have left the service. They need better conditions, better status and respect for the excellent job that they do.

Meanwhile a great deal of money has gone in the direction of the CTCs because the Government want to privatise our education system. The CTCs must be withdrawn; the Government must understand that we shall withdraw them.

If the Government do not take note of what I have honourably and quickly outlined, our children will suffer, parents will suffer, the system will suffer and all this will amount to a recipe for educational disaster. Conservative Members may smile, but they should wait and see what happens when the Education Reform Act and other Government proposals are imposed on our children. The children of Conservative Members do not even enter the same system; similarly, Conservative Members do not use the Health Service that they are destroying.

6.15 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I will not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), except to say that I am in favour of the maximum possible expenditure on education consistent with the promise of improved standards—which brings me to the point that I want to make, which concerns A levels.

I apologise for resorting to Americanese, but in the interests of brevity I shall. The question I want to ask the Government is: are A levels being "dumbed down"? Is it Government policy to allow them to be dumbed down? We have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commend the education system for improving standards by means of the GCSE. I am not an ideological opponent of the GCSE, but I share the doubts of those who have expressed surprise that the number of people gaining top passes in the GCSE has increased by 50 per cent. in two years. This smacks of educational inflation, and I am not alone in taking that view. In this country we have financial inflation and housing inflation, and it seems we now run the risk of educational inflation, too.

The educational establishment is urging on the Government the need to bring A levels into line with the GCSE. In the past, I have always been worried by the rather secretive and autonomous nature of the examination councils. I have recently seen evidence that dumbing down is going on in A levels—an extremely serious matter.

A few years ago, the Government decided against the Higginson committee's sensible recommendation that A-levels should be broadened so that pupils would take five instead of three. On reflection, I believe that the Government were right to resist that, because I suspect that they, like me, do not have enough confidence in the educational establishment broadening the A-level syllabus while maintaining standards.

The establishment is getting its own back on the Government because, out of control of the Government and without reference to them, it is going about the business of dumbing down A-levels under the guise of bringing them into line with the GCSE. My evidence springs particularly from one examining board, which is toning down and debasing the content of the English A-level syllabus. For example, it will include not two Shakespearian plays but one; there will be room for Caribbean poetry, but not for two Shakespearian plays. I could give other details, but for the sake of time I will not do so.

If the Government are to raise educational standards, to put more money into the curriculum, as they should, and to talk up the GCSE, they must be honest with themselves and ask the examining councils what they are doing to A levels. Extra expenditure on education will cause educational inflation in the number of certificates given to pupils, who will be told that they have done extremely well, when in fact they have not because the examination has been simplified or, as the Americans say, "dumbed down". That will produce the same results as financial and housing inflation. Foreigners will eventually find us out. We talk about equalising educational diplomas throughout Europe, but it will gradually become apparent that an 18-year-old English child does not attain the same level as an equivalent French child. That will be bad for the reputation of education in this country.

It is imperative that the Government take my question seriously and do not take refuge behind the etiquette of the education system by saying "This is not for us but for the examining councils." I should like a serious reply from my hon. Friend the Minister. The worst possible thing that could happen would be if the pressures from the Government and education interests to expand higher education, of which I approve, were to be founded on a diminishing intellectual base.

The universities should take that point seriously. If by a stroke of fate I were a Treasury Minister—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had this experience some time ago—and the Treasury were asked for more money for higher education; if I were to be reminded of the importance of not only vocational subjects but the humanities; and if I had evidence that the intake of universities was based on a debased A-level syllabus, I would laugh in the face of the Secretary of State and refuse him money. What is the point of giving higher education more money if standards are going not up but down?

The question I am asking is crucial. All the good work that the Government have done and all their investment—the Secretary of State made a generally reassuring speech today—will count for nothing if the examination system inflates the currency of education and leaves us with an egalitarian policy, to which the Government are supposed to be opposed.

6.23 pm
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

I realised that I had not much time, so I quickly tried to cut my speech.

I should like to reiterate the statement made by the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) that morale in the teaching profession has never been lower than it is today. That was an accurate statement. I have visited schools in my constituency, but I have never found teachers so disheartened as they are now. The reason for that is their pay and conditions. They are demoralised and have lost all confidence in the Government.

Teachers' pay is a major issue. I am sure that hon. Members have received dozens of letters from teachers, but I should like to quote from one that I received from a teacher, Jeff Palmer, in my constituency. He says: I am the Head of Physics at Washington School. I am 43 years of age and have been teaching for 15 years. Before entering teaching I worked in industry for 10 years. I have a degree in Physics and industrial qualifications. My salary is under £16,000 … The morale in the profession has never been lower. Most of my colleagues are sick and tired at having more and more work placed upon them. They, and I, are fed up with Mr. MacGregor and others telling us what a marvellous job we did in implementing GCSE and how we are going to make a success of National Curriculum, and at the same time deny us a reasonable wage. That letter is similar to dozens of others that I and other hon. Members have received.

The Teachers Pay and Conditions Act 1987 became law early in that year. The Government insisted that it would be a temporary measure, but it has now been extended until 1991. In 1988, the Government were condemned by the United Nations International Labour Organisation for denying teachers their negotiating rights. The Secretary of State is refusing to comply with international law. He continues to flout international conventions that have been ratified by the Government.

The majority of complaints made by teachers is about their pay and conditions, so let us consider the real statistics. At the present rate of inflation, by March 1990 teachers' pay will have increased by 2.5 per cent. lower than inflation in the period during which the interim advisory committee has been in operation. A teacher at the top of the main professional grade will be £400 a year worse off because of inflation. During the period that the IAC has existed, the pay of teachers at the top of the main professional grade, with an allowance, will have increased by 13.8 per cent. less than the increase in average earnings—a relative loss of £2,100 per year. Is not that the main reason for the shortage of teachers in our schools?

Why does the Secretary of State persist in using selective statistics that amount to misleading propaganda about teachers' pay? He maintains that they have had a 40 per cent. increase since March 1986. He knows that between 1979 and March 1986 teachers' pay increased by 58 per cent., while that of other non-manual workers increased by 76 per cent. The 40 per cent. increase that he claims for teachers since 1986 is merely part of a catching-up exercise. Since 1979, the pay of non-manual workers has increased by 132 per cent., but teachers' pay has increased by only 118 per cent. The Secretary of State should give the full picture, not his partial account.

As the Secretary of State knows, a detailed survey of vacancies carried out by the six teachers' unions—it is not often that they get together to do anything—made it clear that schools currently have about 8,000 vacancies. He knows quite well that insufficient graduates are opting for teaching as a career. Why should they become teachers, with a salary of just £9,390, when they can obtain salaries well in excess of £10,000 elsewhere? Even if the full £600 million that the Secretary of State has allowed for increases this year were distributed entirely to the main scale, it would still give teachers a starting salary of about £10,100 next year. He knows that that money will not be so distributed and that teaching will remain as unattractive as it is at present.

The Government have made numerous promises to disband the IAC, but they have failed to honour their pledges and have made no serious attempt to do so. The truth is that they do not want teachers to have back their negotiating rights. They wish to continue to dictate teachers' pay as part of their policy to control public spending.

For three years, teachers have accepted imposed pay and conditions and education reforms such as the national curriculum, which has resulted in a hugely increased work load for them. We congratulate them on making the GCSE a success. But enough is enough. To make matters worse, if that is possible, we now find that the £600 million planned increase for teachers' pay is being allocated on a regional basis. This change undoubtedly underpins the Government's intention to introduce new differentials in teachers' pay.

Without providing any new money and without negotiating with the trade unions, the Government have put in place preferential financial arrangements for employers in the whole of the south-east region. The publication 10 days ago of the revenue support grant settlement for 1990–91 contained these new arrangements in small print in an annex. Teachers in the south-east can therefore be offered bigger pay rises at the expense of their colleagues in the rest of the country. We oppose this arbitrary imposition of regional pay differentials. It is totally unjust that teachers elsewhere in the country should forfeit part of their pay rise, which is bound to be inadequate, in order to generate scarcely more acceptable salary levels for their colleagues in the south-east.

No explanation has been offered by the Secretary of State. I hope that when the Minister of State replies to the debate she will explain why this has happened. In previous years only part of the south-east received extra grant; now the whole of the south-east will get it.

Teachers are leaving the profession in huge numbers, despite what the Department of Education and Science says. The Guardian of 29 December carried the following report: Five times more teachers are leaving the profession than official statistics reveal. A report by researchers at Manchester University's school of education found that 20,000 teachers left the classroom in 1989, compared with the government figure of just 4,000. The report blames the scale of the losses on the effects of the Education Reform Act. Work overload, poor pay and low morale were the main reasons given for leaving. As I said, I have received dozens of letters from disgruntled teachers. I had intended to quote another, not from a constituent but from someone in Birmingham who had had enough and had written to me, but I shall not do so because another hon. Member wants to speak and I have given a guarantee to you, Mr. Speaker, that I would allow him time.

The teaching force is already disgruntled. Unless the Government take action pretty quickly, the problem will get worse, and more teachers will leave the profession. Our children are losing out. The Government will not be forgiven for the damage that they are doing to the nation.

6.32 pm
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I share Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Education (Student Loans) Bill with the hon. Member for the City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), and I am grateful to him for sitting down promptly and allowing me an opportunity to intervene in the debate. He read out a letter from a physics teacher. As an ex-physics teacher, I found that a good way to get my support.

Although I do not go along with the general theme of doom and gloom that we have heard from the Opposition Benches, at least I agree with Opposition Members that the nettle of teachers' pay must be grasped. I do not know if they will all share my view that, when we consider teacher shortages and other problems referred to during the debate, we shall have to grasp the nettle of differentials and local pay bargaining and get away from the old scales which operated when I was a teacher and which still, I am afraid, operate today. They were not good for teachers' pay, any more than was the old Burnham committee whose return Opposition Members are always calling for. The Burnham committee was very bad for teachers' pay, so whatever way forward the Secretary of State chooses, I ask him not to go for another Burnham committee.

I welcome the calmer atmosphere in which the education debate is now taking place. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to his colleagues for the way in which they have taken a lead in providing that atmosphere in which we can talk about education and its future in a civilised fashion.

I support the aims of the Education Reform Act 1988 and so intend to support the Prime Minister's amendment tonight. In the brief time available to me I simply want to refer to something which will be on the agenda for education in the future—the relationship between national and local government. We have heard a great deal about local government, but no hon. Member has so far spoken about something which is in the minds of Members on both sides of the House: the present unsatisfactory relationship between national and local government when it comes to education.

Under present education policy, more and more the focus is placed on the classroom and the school, but the recent reforms have also strengthened the role and function of the Department of Education and Science. I have no idea if it was the original intention but although, rightly, we are putting more and more power into the hands of governors, teachers, heads and parents, unwittingly perhaps we are putting more power into the hands of the Department. We now have tension between the local authorities and the Department on such matters as the definition of the curriculum and city technology colleges, which I strongly support. Tension also arises on the question of grant-maintained schools—of which I am a strong supporter—and the education support grant.

The role of the local education authority, therefore, has diminished and, probably under any Government, will continue to diminish. This is not to undervalue the good work done by many local education authorities, including my own in Norfolk, but we have also heard this evening about the appalling record of the Inner London education authority, shortly to go, unlamented.

The Government and the local education authorities continually blame each other for the effect of their decisions on, for example, school numbers, the average pay concept and the setting up of budgets in schools. My own view is that the present system is too bureaucratic. Along with many of my colleagues, I prefer a centrally-funded system with a supervision of standards by the Department of Education and Science. There is no time to develop the details of this, but it could be fleshed out if time was available. The great advantage of central funding, particularly relevant to the debates of the past week or so, would be an immediate two-thirds reduction in the community charge.

Mr. Cryer

Good idea.

Mr. Thompson

I am developing a theme and seeing where it leads. The figure of £278 which is presently being quoted would then become something like £200.

I have believed for a long time that education should be funded centrally, before anyone even thought of the community charge, but in view of the time I would like to conclude my arguments without dwelling too long on the community charge itself.

The arguments developed by Ministers against central funding of education are, I think, flawed. If time allowed, I would develop that theme and explain why my suggestion is perfectly feasible. The change that I have suggested could be presented as a major commitment to education and training by the Government. Central funding would mean a small increase in funding by the Exchequer, which would no longer be raised locally. As we are agreed that greater priority should be given to education and training, I can see my suggestion, supported by many of my colleagues, going along with an increased commitment in that regard.

We have heard stories of doom and gloom from the Opposition, but no constructive suggestions. The constructive suggestions have come from Conservative Members. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will accept that my argument for a change in the relationship between local authorities and Government is intellectually sound, has much support and should be seriously considered.

6.39 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

This has been a debate about education standards. It has been about the Government's policies on standards and their lack of ambition in terms of raising this country's education standards to the level in western Europe and other parts of the world.

I should like to pick up two points that were made by Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton), in what I think was his first speech since he became Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, made an interesting and well-informed speech. I hope that Ministers listened to his comments about local management of schools. Labour and Conservative-controlled authorities throughout the country are afraid that LMS will create a set of unmanageable problems which will damage the delivery of education.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) talked about A-level examinations and the possible need to make reforms along the lines suggested in the Higginson report. He talked himself into a certain state of pessimism. It is possible to achieve a broader examination of students at 18 while maintaining standards. Higginson offered the Government a way in which that could be achieved. When the Labour party is elected to office in a year or two, we will implement the Higginson recommendations and reform the 18-plus examination.

The key phrase in the debate was uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), when he said that, as a parent, the key question that he would want to ask was whether the delivery of education satisfied him in relation to his children. The Secretary of State and all hon. Members should ask that question. Would we be satisfied with some conditions that obtain in our education system? The answer is that, if we honestly face those problems in schools to which our children go, we will have difficulty in saying, "Yes, we are totally satisfied."

The Secretary of State often talks about there not being a real teacher shortage problem, but he then admits that there is a problem in London and the south-east. If there is a problem there, I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues whether they would want their children to go to a school in Tower Hamlets. The teacher shortage in that borough is so acute that the local authority is considering recruiting teenagers, not as teachers but as child minders, so that young people do not run around the streets and so that children are not without care during the day. That is not about education; it is just about child minding.

The Secretary of State said today and in his letter to his parliamentary colleagues that, in addition to the geographical problem, there may be a shortage problem in certain specialist subjects—for example, mathematics, physics, chemistry and modern languages. My hon. Friends should make the calculations and tell us what would be left of the national curriculum if those crucial subjects were taken out. It would mean taking out about 40 per cent. of the national curriculum—yet the Secretary of State is satisfied with saying that there is a shortage of those subjects, in the clear and complacent knowledge that delivery of those subjects will be below the standards that parents expect for their children.

The Secretary of State fails to admit a crucial factor—that there is a shortage of qualified teachers in particular subjects. We may get teachers in front of children, but we do not always get teachers with the requisite skills. [Interruption.] It is no good disagreeing with that. The Kingman report on the teaching of English and reports on the teaching of mathematics show the extent of the hidden shortage because we do not have enough properly qualified teachers.

This all points to the need for a highly motivated and properly paid teaching profession. Last year, PA Management Consultants studied a comparable range of graduate professions. After five years in a profession, the average salary in that group two years ago was nearly £18,000 a year; but after five years' experience, the average salary of graduate teachers is £13,500. Is it therefore surprising that people will not be attracted into or remain in the teaching profession?

The Secretary of State failed in his remarkably complacent speech to recognise the problems of overload in terms of delivering the Government's education reforms. He should go into any primary or secondary school and ask the head teacher how he or she envisages delivering the national curriculum. He will be told that the head teacher does not know the answer, because the Department of Education and Science does not know it. Those who teach subjects such as arts, music and physical education are worried. Eighteen months after the enactment of legislation, the national curriculum working parties in those subjects have not even been set up. How can a head teacher describe how the national curriculum will look on implementation in a school when the Government have not even set up the appropriate working parties?

There is a problem of overload when teachers are not given accurate or reliable information about how the testing system will work. They do not know about the relationship between testing and the national curriculum. The Minister talked proudly about the technical and vocational education initiative, but when we asked questions in the debates on the Education Reform Bill about the future of TVEI and its relationship to the national curriculum, the Minister of State had no answers. Ministers still do not know how TVEI will fit the national curriculum. All those changes are creating problems of overload. It is about time that the Government recognised that those changes also bring into question the standard and delivery of education.

Some Conservative Members dismiss the notion of good schools in a physical sense. They seem to think that the resources available are not important. I shall give some examples to make my point. Queensbury school in Bradford has such bad facilities that there is a lack of laboratory space in which to teach science under the national curriculum. What does that mean for educational opportunities? Faversham street school in Bradford is more than 100 years old and is part of the Victorian legacy to Bradford. I understand that it is a listed building, but everyone who knows anything about that school lists it as unfit for educational purposes. How can we expect children to learn and work in such conditions?

How do the Government expect children in primary schools in Waltham Forest to work in such conditions? There are 61 primary schools—10 are more than 100 years old and 31 are more than 50 years old. Sixteen schools use mobile classrooms, 24 have no gymnasium or sports room, and 30 have no access for young disabled children. All that makes a difference in terms of the facilities available for our children and the school's environment and ability to deliver good-quality education.

This has been a debate about standards. Our argument is simple: without a motivated teacher force, direction, and investment in the physical resources of education, standards cannot be delivered. The Secretary of State made much play of the impact of the GCSE, but it is worth reminding him that the GCSE has worked not because of the way in which the Government have resourced it but because of the commitment made by individual teachers, beyond their contracts, to make it work.

The Secretary of State ought to answer a point that he made in what was claimed to be an exclusive interview in last Friday's Daily Express with Will Stewart, a home affairs correspondent, who is a reliable journalist. The article said that the Secretary of State was concerned about teacher shortage, and that he was going to run a campaign of television commercials to attract people back into the teaching profession. It also said—I quote the Daily Express, not something I do as a habit— Mr. MacGregor also asked examiners to take the crisis into account when marking GCSE papers. Is that not a confession from the Secretary of State that the Government cannot deliver educational standards? It is very much the point that the hon. Member for Buckingham was making: we can get the statistics to look right, but are the Government leaning on examining bodies to ensure that the statistics stand up?

The Secretary of State has made a real confession. For a long time after he became Secretary of State, he tried to hide his talent. Many people thought that he had become the Lord Lucan of the DES, but he emerged eventually. When he did emerge, he made the substantial confession that he has presided over a reduction in standards and in ambition.

The crucial point about the motion is that the Government are presiding over a deterioration in standards and ambition in education. The real indictment of the Government's record is that we have a Secretary of State who is happy to defend the status quo, who has no ambition for the country's education system, and who does not seem to be concerned that the gap between our educational achievements and those of western Europe, the United States and Japan is widening. That is what the CBI said in the autumn. That is the case and the Government continue to preside over the deterioration of education. Above all, they have set low standards and low expectations for children. That is why I ask my hon. Friends to support the motion.

6.51 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

When I was reflecting earlier today upon what I was likely to be asked to answer in the debate, and upon the points that would be made by Opposition Members, I made a check list for myself. I started by noting that they would talk about lack of resources and the disgraceful state of buildings, and that they would go on about the support that local authorities, central Government and the taxpayers should give to education; then they would talk about how bad teacher morale was, being negative about it, with not a single positive suggestion; they would talk too about the pay and conditions of teachers. My check list has been rather good. When I look at the runners for the 2.30 at Wolverhampton or Kempton park, I should like to have the same success that I had this afternoon.

Of course, a great deal has been said by Opposition Members about the state of school buildings and the conditions in which children are learning. There is a point to be made—that this year we have contributed 9.6 per cent. more in extra resources for education expenditure. That is not the whole story. As well as the £485 million in capital grant allocated this year, local authorities can spend money of their own.

It must be said that not all school buildings are in the dilapidated state that Opposition Members allege. One would think that every school was about to fall apart at the seams. It is true that some are in better condition than others, but the condition of many primary schools that I go into is relatively good. We must pay tribute to the teachers who spend a great deal of time making such schools attractive places in which to teach children. It is a pity that we did not hear more about the way in which teachers tackle their jobs.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) said that it was not attractive for teachers to enter the teaching profession, yet the starting salary for a good honours graduate is £9,400. That is not bad compared to other professions. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) knows that I was in his constituency yesterday. The point made to me by a head teacher there was that what is needed in the teaching profession is a good career structure. By that he meant incremental pay, incentive allowances for subjects where there were shortages, and local allowances for local difficulties. Those are the very things that my right hon. Friend has put in the remit to the interim advisory committee this year.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey also mentioned another point, also referred to by the hon. Member for City of Durham, that the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association has raised with them, presumably in their capacity as advisers. It arises from a misunderstanding of the allowance described in the revenue support grant distribution report for extra labour costs incurred in London and surrounding areas.

The area cost adjustment for education enhances the standard spending assessment of authorities in and around London to allow for extra labour costs incurred in these areas in respect of all employed in the education service. That adjustment is based on objective evidence derived from the new earnings survey. The variations found in different counties on the edge of the area are dependent on the incidence of extra cost shown by the new earnings survey in the constituent districts. Therefore, it does not imply anything about what teachers ought to be paid in those areas.

I turn to my hon. Friends, whose support I have found most gratifying and whose speeches were excellent. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) raised several points. He and I have known each other for many years because we have been together in local and central Government. He was right to mention 1976. At that time we heard of the draconian cuts that the Labour Government had inflicted upon us.

He also mentioned local management schemes, and referred to the schemes asking the Government to look carefully at the proposals for Conservative counties and Labour counties; other hon. Members mentioned the same point. It is important to recognise that authorities have prepared their own local management schemes. Authorities have different schemes; they have used different formulae. Some have gone as far as extending more of their executive rights to the schools, but many local authorities have kept a great deal of money to the centre. There is a transitional period of four years in which the money will go to the schools.

It is the intention of Government that as much money as possible should go from the general schools budget to schools to allow governors and schools to make the decisions that are rightfully theirs about how to spend the money. The principle behind local management schemes is that the money follows the pupil. That means inevitably that the schools that are delivering good education to their children will mean more money for the schools. If one grasps that fundamental point, it means that the market for parents to choose the right schools, in their opinion, for their children will increase the amount of money going to the schools.

As we have talked about choice in education, it is important to underpin what my right hon. Friend has said about it. It is important for children to have the opportunity to go to schools like city technology colleges. That partnership between industry and the public sector is most important. It builds on much of what has been established during the past 10 years in the partnership between industry and the state sector of education. It began with the technical and vocational education initiative and continued with compacts—which, I say generously to the Opposition, came as much from the Inner London education authority as from others.

The idea of city technology colleges is of proven worth and they will undoubtedly be a success. Many parents will want to support them. Grant-maintained schools have also been a great success. There are already 20 of them, and they are attracting more pupils and teachers. It is important to recognise that.

Finally, I wish to refer not only to my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), for whose support I have been most grateful, but to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who raised the extremely important point about standards and, in particular, A levels. It is because of the very fears that he expressed about education standards, especially A levels, that we were anxious about accepting the recommendations of the Higginson report.

We felt that it was dangerous to introduce so many changes at one time—the GCSE, the national curriculum, a new system to govern schools and a new system of funding schools. To introduce changes to the A-level examination would inevitably have led to some diminution of quality and of the high level of standards in our schools. That caution has been more than justified by what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said today. We shall take note of that and draw the attention of the examining bodies to what he said.

The Government's amendment is eminently sensible, and my hon. Friends have clearly shown that it is worth the support of the House. I hope that all hon. Members will join us in the Lobby to support our amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 224, Noes 285.

Division No. 45] [7.02 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Allen, Graham Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Alton, David Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Anderson, Donald Ashton, Joe
Adley, Robert Devlin, Tim
Alexander, Richard Dicks, Terry
Arbuthnot, James Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Dover, Den
Aspinwall, Jack Dunn, Bob
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Durant, Tony
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Dykes, Hugh
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Eggar, Tim
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Emery, Sir Peter
Bellingham, Henry Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bevan, David Gilroy Fallon, Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Favell, Tony
Boswell, Tim Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bottomley, Peter Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fishburn, John Dudley
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Fookes, Dame Janet
Bowis, John Forman, Nigel
Brazier, Julian Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bright, Graham Forth, Eric
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Browne, John (Winchester) Fox, Sir Marcus
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Franks, Cecil
Buck, Sir Antony Freeman, Roger
Budgen, Nicholas French, Douglas
Burns, Simon Fry, Peter
Burt, Alistair Gardiner, George
Butler, Chris Garel-Jones, Tristan
Butterfill, John Gill, Christopher
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Carrington, Matthew Goodhart, Sir Philip
Carttiss, Michael Goodlad, Alastair
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Chapman, Sydney Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Chope, Christopher Gorst, John
Churchill, Mr Gow, Ian
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Colvin, Michael Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Conway, Derek Gregory, Conal
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Grist, Ian
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Ground, Patrick
Couchman, James Grylls, Michael
Cran, James Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hague, William
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hampson, Dr Keith
Day, Stephen Hanley, Jeremy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Barron, Kevin Grocott, Bruce
Beckett, Margaret Hardy, Peter
Beith, A. J. Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Heffer, Eric S.
Bermingham, Gerald Henderson, Doug
Bidwell, Sydney Hinchliffe, David
Blair, Tony Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Blunkett, David Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Boateng, Paul Home Robertson, John
Boyes, Roland Hood, Jimmy
Bradley, Keith Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Howells, Geraint
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hoyle, Doug
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Buckley, George J. Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Caborn, Richard Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Callaghan, Jim Illsley, Eric
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Ingram, Adam
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Janner, Greville
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Cartwright, John Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clay, Bob Kennedy, Charles
Clelland, David Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Kirkwood, Archy
Cohen, Harry Lambie, David
Coleman, Donald Lamond, James
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Leadbitter, Ted
Corbett, Robin Leighton, Ron
Corbyn, Jeremy Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Cousins, Jim Lewis, Terry
Cox, Tom Litherland, Robert
Cryer, Bob Livingstone, Ken
Cummings, John Livsey, Richard
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cunningham, Dr John Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dalyell, Tam Loyden, Eddie
Darling, Alistair McAllion, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McAvoy, Thomas
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McCartney, Ian
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Macdonald, Calum A.
Dewar, Donald McFall, John
Dixon, Don McKelvey, William
Dobson, Frank McLeish, Henry
Doran, Frank McNamara, Kevin
Dunnachie, Jimmy McWilliam, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Madden, Max
Eadie, Alexander Mahon, Mrs Alice
Eastham, Ken Marek, Dr John
Evans, John (St Helens N) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Martlew, Eric
Fatchett, Derek Maxton, John
Faulds, Andrew Meacher, Michael
Fearn, Ronald Meale, Alan
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Michael, Alun
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fisher, Mark Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Flannery, Martin Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foster, Derek Morgan, Rhodri
Fraser, John Morley, Elliot
Fyfe, Maria Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Galloway, George Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Mowlam, Marjorie
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Mullin, Chris
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Murphy, Paul
Godman, Dr Norman A. Nellist, Dave
Golding, Mrs Llin Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Gordon, Mildred O'Brien, William
Gould, Bryan O'Neill, Martin
Graham, Thomas Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Parry, Robert Steinberg, Gerry
Pendry, Tom Strang, Gavin
Pike, Peter L Straw, Jack
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Prescott, John Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Primarolo, Dawn Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Quin, Ms Joyce Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Radice, Giles Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Randall, Stuart Turner, Dennis
Redmond, Martin Vaz, Keith
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Wallace, James
Reid, Dr John Walley, Joan
Richardson, Jo Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Robertson, George Wareing, Robert N.
Rogers, Allan Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Rooker, Jeff Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Sedgemore, Brian Wilson, Brian
Sheerman, Barry Winnick, David
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wise, Mrs Audrey
Short, Clare Worthington, Tony
Skinner, Dennis Wray, Jimmy
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E) Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Soley, Clive Mr. Allen McKay.
Spearing, Nigel
Hannam, John Mitchell, Sir David
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Monro, Sir Hector
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Harris, David Moore, Rt Hon John
Haselhurst, Alan Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hawkins, Christopher Morrison, Sir Charles
Hayes, Jerry Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Moss, Malcolm
Hayward, Robert Moynihan, Hon Colin
Heathcoat-Amory, David Mudd, David
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Neale, Gerrard
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Nelson, Anthony
Hill, James Neubert, Michael
Hind, Kenneth Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hordern, Sir Peter Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Norris, Steve
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Oppenheim, Phillip
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Page, Richard
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Paice, James
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Pawsey, James
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hunter, Andrew Portillo, Michael
Irvine, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Irving, Sir Charles Price, Sir David
Jack, Michael Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Jackson, Robert Redwood, John
Janman, Tim Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jessel, Toby Rhodes James, Robert
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Key, Robert Roe, Mrs Marion
Kilfedder, James Rossi, Sir Hugh
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Rost, Peter
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Rowe, Andrew
Knapman, Roger Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Ryder, Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Knowles, Michael Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knox, David Shaw, David (Dover)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lang, Ian Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Latham, Michael Shelton, Sir William
Lee, John (Pendle) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lightbown, David Shersby, Michael
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lord, Michael Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames, Hon Nicholas
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Speed, Keith
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Speller, Tony
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maclean, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McLoughlin, Patrick Squire, Robin
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Madel, David Steen, Anthony
Malins, Humfrey Stern, Michael
Mans, Keith Stevens, Lewis
Maples, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marlow, Tony Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sumberg, David
Mates, Michael Summerson, Hugo
Maude, Hon Francis Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Miller, Sir Hal Thorne, Neil
Mills, Iain Thornton, Malcolm
Miscampbell, Norman Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Whitney, Ray
Tracey, Richard Widdecombe, Ann
Tredinnick, David Wiggin, Jerry
Trippier, David Wilkinson, John
Trotter, Neville Wilshire, David
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Mrs Ann
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Winterton, Nicholas
Waddington, Rt Hon David Wolfson, Mark
Walden, George Wood, Timothy
Walker, Bill (T'side North) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester) Yeo, Tim
Waller, Gary Young, Sir George (Acton)
Walters, Sir Dennis
Ward, John Tellers for the Noes:
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Watts, John Mr. Irvine Patnick.
Wheeler, Sir John

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its coherent programme for securing lasting improvements in standards in schools through its policies for the National Curriculum, assessment and testing, for increased parental choice, and for greater autonomy for schools; notes the increased expenditure since 1979 of over 40 per cent. in real terms per pupil; contrasts these reforms with the neglect of relevant education policies by the last Labour Government and the absence of any constructive alternative proposals by Opposition spokesmen; notes that the requirements of the National Curriculum, building on the successful introduction of GCSE examinations, enjoy widespread support in the education system; and welcomes the enthusiasm with which governors, teachers and parents are seizing the opportunity to exercise more choice and greater autonomy in the management of their schools.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I understand that the normal convention of the House is that, when a Member of the House visits another Member's constituency, he should inform him in advance. It has come to my notice that the Secretary of State for Health has been in my constituency today, although he gave me no notice. He has been at the headquarters of the Northumbria ambulance brigade, where he has been making a propaganda film that puts his side of the ambulance dispute, using vehicles and equipment—

Mr. Speaker

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Clelland

My point of order is this, Mr. Speaker: is it in order for the Secretary of State for Health to visit my constituency without giving me notice to make a propaganda film to support his side of the ambulance dispute?

Mr. Speaker

As the House knows, there is no absolute rule on this matter, but the convention is that if a Member visits another Member's constituency, he always informs him.