HC Deb 19 July 1991 vol 195 cc682-713 12.10 pm

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker

May I point out to Back Benchers who hope to be called that although I did not earlier limit speeches to 10 minutes, and cannot do so now under the Standing Order, perhaps they will bear such a limit in mind, so that all of them may be called.

Mr. Fatchett

It is a strange experience to have a 70-minute break, but I reassure right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House that I am almost two thirds or three quarters through my speech.

Mr. Pawsey

Is that meant to be reassuring?

Mr. Fatchett

Yes, because it means that I shall not take much more time.

It may be helpful if I summarise my earlier points. I said that any deterioration in education standards over the past 12 years is the Government's responsibility and I criticised them for their failure to provide nursery education and to give our young people the start in life that they would enjoy in other European countries. I criticised the Government also for their managerial incompetence and inconsistency and for their politicisation of education. I criticised them for failing to invest in our education system.

As we reached the enforced half time, I spoke of the double standards of Conservative Members in imposing their ideology on the maintained sector, but sending their children to private schools.

I turn to another area of criticism. I sought information about the funding level of city technology colleges, but still await some parliamentary answers. The Government have not denied that there is a massive differential between the funding of CTCs and adjoining schools. For example, the Nottingham CTC grant represents 71 per cent. more than the normal funding level for Nottinghamshire's local education authority; for Kingshurst CTC in Solihull, the figure is 24 per cent. more; for Middlesbrough, 60 per cent. more than other schools in Cleveland; Gateshead, 270 per cent. more; and Bradford, 250 per cent. more. We know also that the Harris CTC is funded on the basis that it has 1,100 students, when it really has fewer than 800.

The Minister excuses such differentials on two grounds. He argues that CTCs are new schools and therefore should benefit from start-up money. That is not the case with the maintained sector. In an earlier intervention, I asked the Minister to name one maintained school that would benefit in that way under local management, but he was unable to do so. The Government's argument applies only to CTCs, not to other schools.

The Minister's second argument, which was equally erroneous, was that CTCs are funded more expensively because of their emphasis on technology. That shows the Government's double standards, because if it is right that CTC students should have access to the best in technology—and they should—the same facilities should be made available to all children.

When the Government speak about choice, they mean choice for a few. They have no view on how to raise standards across the whole education system. For 12 years, they have been more interested in ideological experimentation and in the education of the few than about the majority of children.

Overall standards must be improved in each and every school throughout the country and we do not accept that some market mechanism will make that possible. Under the market system, some schools will improve, but others will deteriorate and no overall increase in standards will result.

The Government's obsession with the right to choose for a few means that the entitlement of all parents to high-quality education for their children is ignored. The Conservative party is the party of partial choice for a small group of parents. The Labour party is the party of rights and entitlement for all parents, because we believe in improving standards across the system.

It is clear from this and previous debates that only one party is serious about raising standards for all children and that is the Labour party. The public trust Labour because only our party has policies for improving standards and has articulated them. The public know that under a Labour Government, there will be an expansion of the good start in early education through higher investment in nursery education. They know that Labour will improve education performance school by school, local authority by local authority, through its powerful, independent, much-acclaimed and non-political education standards commission.

Labour has an approach to managing the education system, but the Government have abdicated their responsibilities. Parents recognise that difference and look to Labour to improve overall standards. Parents know also that Labour will open up participation in post-16 education and that it has ambitions for our young people which will put them in line with those in the rest of western Europe.

The Minister knocked Labour's ambitious targets, but our counterparts in western Europe would view them only as realistic, everyday and matter of fact. It tells us much about the Minister and the Government's record that the hon. Gentleman saw fit to mock Labour's ambition to match the targets achieved by our European neighbours.

Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House agree that education is the way to build for the future and to provide skills and knowledge to ensure individual achievement and the country's economic success. For the first time in our history, personal satisfaction and economic success through education are converging. The country needs a Government who will seize on that opportunity and build for the future. For Labour, education is not just the big idea in opposition, but will be its big achievement in government.

12.18 pm
Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

I am mindful of the time and will try to keep to the guidelines issued by Mr. Speaker.

Let me congratulate the education team, from the Secretary of State downwards. Over the past 12 years, the Government have tried to get to grips with education problems; yet, somehow, the education establishment has constantly eluded us. For the first time, we have now brutally taken the whip hand to ensure that what we want to be done will indeed be done.

As a headmaster—and, indeed, since ceasing to be one —I have witnessed the decline in educational standards that began in about 1965. That decline cannot be blamed on either teachers or parents; it was caused by two other factors. The first could be described as the intellectual climate, in which "trendies" insisted on following every fashion, including the discovery method. The second is Labour's obsession—mentioned by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett)—with the egalitarian comprehensive system. I should add that inspectors in university departments and teacher training colleges were largely responsible for destroying the primary schools. We shall never get education to work properly until those two problems are dealt with.

Teachers in the classrooms did not want the new methods; they wanted to go on teaching. Parents did not want them, either: they wanted their children to be taught. Never has there been such a betrayal of both parents and teachers as in the past 20 years.

The first thing that should be taught in infant and junior schools is discipline. Unless children are trained to sit down and work, nothing will be achieved. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) may laugh—

Mr. Fraser


Sir Rhodes Boyson

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. If he wishes to indulge in a little laughter session, that is his privilege, but I do not intend to join in.

Mr. Fraser

I have to agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

That worries me rather.

The discovery method is the worst form of teaching that we have ever seen. When it is introduced in primary schools, standards fall. Teachers are paid to teach—to plug children into arithmetic and English and to equip them with a body of knowledge. Children do not acquire such knowledge by accident. Schools are, in a sense, artificial institutions: children will not go to school because they want to. They would prefer to play outside. Nowadays, some schoolrooms are really indoor football pitches.

All these developments have undermined the confidence of teachers. They have now been told that they must not actually teach; they must simply place around the room such items as Euclid's theorems, Faraday's electromagnetic laws and the use of the subjunctive and the children will discover them of their own accord.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

No, I will not—much as I respect my hon. Friend, who once taught at a school where I was headmaster. I wish to allow others time to speak.

The continuance of civilisation depends on men and women standing on the shoulders of those who have lived before. The "discovery method", however, rejects that principle, relying on induction and, in many instances, destroying what had been achieved in infant and junior schools. At the same time, there was a move to the "look and say" method and "real books" and away from phonics, which is the method by which most children learn to read. Ten per cent. of teachers can teach by any method if they are left alone; 10 per cent. cannot and must be got rid of. The remaining 80 per cent. need a method and that is where phonics came in.

In the early 1960s, when I was a headmaster in Lancashire, I supported early experiments in comprehensive schools. I do not believe that an entire system should be turned around until it has been tried. Before long, however, I found that the Labour party and certain other organisations were trying to achieve salvation by means of faith rather than works. The Labour party got shot of its previous policy—as it often does: it has recently been forced to support the free market because of its shortage of policies. Looking round for a replacement policy, it became wedded to the concept of the egalitarian comprehensive school and destroyed 400 good technical schools. It destroyed hundreds of grammar schools and thousands of secondary moderns. I know: I taught for 10 years in secondary moderns and also did some remedial work. It will be a long time before the situation is remedied, even with the help of the city technology colleges.

What have we done over the past 12 years? We seem to be getting to grips with the problems better than we were before; again, I offer my congratulations to the present ministerial team. I approve of the tests for children aged seven, 11 and 14. I also believe that diagnostic tests should be applied automatically and that any teacher who does not apply them should be out of a job. The new tests should establish whether schools are doing their job and, if they are not, their staff should be replaced. Children's chances, especially in the inner cities, are made or 'broken by what they are taught at school. I know that from my experience of teaching in inner cities and downtown textile areas.

As soon as we presented our proposals, the educational establishment set up committees on which ordinary teachers were hardly mentioned or seen. They built a massive structure, at great expense. Once again, the left wing damaged what had been achieved. I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science talk of returning to pencil-and-paper tests which can easily be applied within the curriculum without distorting it.

The Government have also done a good deal to enhance parental choice. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the assisted places scheme, which has benefited 50,000 children. The Labour party would destroy that, too: Labour has learnt nothing from what has already happened. The introduction of the CTCs and grant-maintained status has also increased parental choice. I want a system in which all parents can choose from a variety of schools and can even choose among mini-schools within schools.

We must do two more things. First, we must openly return to some system of selection at the ages of 11, 12, or 14. We will never return to the grammar schools as they were, just as the Roman Church was never the same after the reformation and the counter-reformation. One can never go back, but every other country with which we compete has some form of selection, according to interest and ability, at those ages.

We have been hearing about the G7 summit. Woe betide us if the Russians and eastern Europeans, with their excellent education system, ever go to a genuine free market economy. If we do not get our education right, they will overtake us. On the whole, education is better in Russia and eastern Europe than it is here, despite the improvements that we are trying to make. I recently met the headmaster of a school in Russia which recruits its 200 pupils from a recruitment field of 7 million. I am not advocating that; I am merely mentioning it. It is a physics and mathematics school. The Russians did not get to outer space by accident. They were able to do it because they have a sound educational system. It is a good thing for us, in competitive terms, that they had a bad economic system. That is why they did not do even better.

Russia has a whole series of specialist schools, including trade schools. Thirty five per cent. of children in Russia go to trade schools where, from the age of 14, they are trained for trades, and can study 1,150 crafts. Germany has three types of school. Sweden and the Netherlands have different types of school, as does Japan. Only the Labour and Liberal parties—I regularly pray for their salvation—have swallowed the concept of the egalitarian comprehensive school and teaching in mixed-ability schools, which is the most uneconomic teaching system ever discovered by man. It is like going back to hand-loom weaving. Previously, we brought children with the same interests and abilities together under skilled teachers. The Government must accept different forms of selection so that each child is taken to the limit of his ability.

We must raise the status of teachers. The discovery method degraded and denigrated teachers. They were almost unnecessary—just chairmen or people wandering round. They must be teachers again and must be paid as such and the professional factor must apply. I therefore welcome what is being done about teachers' salaries.

It is particularly important that primary and infant school teachers are well trained. I would not go so far in respect of secondary teachers. One can put teachers into a secondary school and give them a year's induction and one knows almost immediately whether they will make teachers or not. But the skills required for junior and infant school teaching require careful training.

I believe that the 1,265-hour contract should be torn up. Just when industry was buying out the rule book so that people finished the job, we gave the teachers a rule book. There are trendies in the Department, as there are in every educational establishment. I hope that there are fewer of them now. They may be very nice people. No doubt there is nothing wrong with them—they do not beat their wives or eat their grandmothers—but they have been partly brainwashed. When I was at the Department, they tried to get the proposal through and, if I did nothing else, I stopped it then. Teachers should be professional workers who finish the job. If that means working until 7 pm or 8 pm, I would expect no less of my teachers or myself. But if the examinations are over and teachers want two days off in the summer, they should be able to take that time off. There is no need to add everything up and say, "Where are you on this?" That represents the proletarianisation of the whole profession.

I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and Ministers are to keep A-levels, which are an important benchmark. We want to build up a similar assessment at age 18 on the technical, vocational and trade side, and one which is accorded equal respect. They have such tests in other countries and we should follow their example. We are moving towards that, but for goodness sake let us keep A-levels in the meantime.

I was never an enthusiast for the GCSE and I am still not, but I accept that it is here and that we must work with it. I am glad that we are moving back to examination work rather than project work because project work is against the interests of the inner-city child and of children from deprived homes. In a home with books, the whole family does the project. I have suggested that the whole family —including grandmother—should go up for the certificate and not just the pupil concerned. But in a home without books, a pupil is disadvantaged by project work. So many things done by the trendies handicap those from deprived homes.

I should like another GSCE board to be established on which there are no educational experts, just a random sample of parents and employers. Let that board draw up a syllabus to compete with those produced by the educational establishment and let schools be able to choose a totally new board from outside.

I am in favour of grant-maintained schools. I make a gentle suggestion to my hon. Friend the Minister. In our general election manifesto we should say that we will make all schools grant maintained. That would be one of the most popular actions that we could take. It would be good for parents and would help us to be re-elected. We should look after parents and pupils. For the good of this country, we should be re-elected.

12.34 pm
Mr. David Bellotti (Eastbourne)

Many hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate. Those of us on the Opposition Benches may say that the Government have got many things wrong, but we cannot accuse them of not doing anything in recent years. The education service has experienced regulation after regulation, Bill after Bill, and coercion after coercion until those involved, whether teachers, parents or pupils, are beginning to wonder what is going on around them.

The Minister began his speech by talking about city technology colleges, and I wish to do so as well. When the Government first announced CTCs, we were told that eventually there would be hundreds of them, but the Government decided that they had to scale down their ideas—[Interruption.] I saw a statement to that effect by a Minister. Eventually, there was another statement by a Minister who said, "No, we must stop at 20." The Government stopped at an unlucky 13.

The Minister took us on a tour of one or two of the more successful CTCs, from the Government's perspective. In Brighton a massive amount of Government money has been lost and tremendous disruption has been caused to the local education authority by the Government's proposal to have a CTC in Brighton which never eventuated. Private individuals put Government money into their pockets and then left. The Government and the LEA lost money. At that time, the LEA had a plan for secondary education in part of Brighton. Because of the Government's desire to have a CTC, the church involved in a church-aided proposal for a school in the area does not wish to proceed. The LEA and children have suffered greatly as a result of the Government's proposal. The Government torpedoed the LEA's plans. I should like to know how much money the Government spent on the aborted CTC proposal. I believe that more than £250,000 of public money has been wasted.

I turn to another plank of the Government's policy which has been espoused today—grant-maintained schools. On 14 September 1987, almost four years ago, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Thatcher) said: I think most schools will opt out. That has not happened. Last week, I saw a picture of the Secretary of State for Education and Science who had a piece of paper and was celebrating the fact that 100 schools were grant maintained. But there are 23,250 schools.

Mr. Fatchett

Does the hon. Gentleman share my view that the photograph taken at the Hampshire school was an abuse of Government and political power, in the sense that those 100 children were used for deliberate party political purposes? It would be interesting to know whether the consent of the parents was sought in respect of the photograph in The Daily Telegraph, how much money the Department of Education and Science spent on setting up the photograph, and why the school agreed to become part of what was clearly party political advertising. Does that not again make the point that the Government have to learn an important lesson—that there is a thin line between party political activities and expenditure and Government activities and expenditure? The Government have clearly gone over that line many times.

Mr. Bellotti

I am grateful for that intervention and I entirely agree with it. I should like to see pictures of the Secretary of State with pupils of some of the 23,150 schools that have not opted out, perhaps with some of the derelict buildings that have resulted from lack of Government funding.

That photograph was an abuse of political power. If Ministers set out on a journey expecting most schools to opt out but have found that only 100 out of 23,250 have done so, that is an indictment of their intentions after four years in government.

The Minister referred to and quoted many people who were supportive of the Government's policies. I shall share two quotations with the Minister. The first is from the Conservative chairman of Hampshire education committee, who said on 17 June: Mr. Clarke is hell bent on destroying local education authorities without any idea of what to put in their place. If there were a logical plan for a system better than the present one I would, as a loyal Conservative support it. But there is not. Mr. Clarke's ambition is to get all secondary schools and many primary schools opted out. I am going to be left with a demoralised, unhappy dump of an authority running sinking or ghetto schools. Those are the words of the Conservative chairman of Hampshire education committee. If they are not enough, I will read a second quotation, because the Minister gave us six. The second quotation is from the Conservative chairman of Solihull education committee, who said: Opting out was initially intended by the government as a get-out clause for crumbling, badly maintained schools which were being ignored by local authorities … it was not meant for schools with attractive buildings, good facilities and excellent examination results. The whole issue in Solihull will be bruising and damaging to the authority and to the schools concerned. I have to admit that I am finding some government policy hard to reconcile as a Tory myself. In education particularly there is an almost flippant attitude and consequences of government actions do not seem to have been considered. I could not put it better than those two Conservative chairmen of education authorities.

The Minister tried to demonstrate one of the advantages of the shift—which the Government are proud to espouse and for which they do not apologise—towards central control of education. The Minister also explained that there had been a shift towards the involvement of parents. One of the main planks of that shift appeared to be the parents annual meeting which the Government had legislated to introduce in every school. From their experience in Sussex, school after school will tell him that those annual meetings are a complete waste of time. Parents are already involved in their children's schools, but they regard the annual meeting as a fruitless waste of time. I know of one secondary school in Sussex which has to organise other social events so that the meeting can take place and so that half a dozen people will attend.

The Government have tackled education reforms, but they have not achieved what they set out to achieve. Indeed, almost the reverse is true in respect of choice. In areas where the Government have funded a city technology college or a grant-maintained school, there has been massive destruction of local authority planning for post-11 education. Local authorities have been left to pick up the pieces for the children in the areas surrounding those areas affected by the changes.

The Liberal Democrats believe that local education authorities should be responsible for all education in their areas. In government we would put back under local education authority control all those grant-maintained schools and CTCs, because it is absolutely essential that education can be well planned in each area. However, we agree with the Government that such schools should have full delegated budgets and much more power than they had previously, because we support that aspect of the Government's proposals. The Government did not need to disrupt the education system in some parts of Britain to achieve some of their aims. Those aims could have been achieved anyway.

There should be more places on governing bodies for people who are intricately involved in education, such as parents and teachers. We have gone overboard in trying to include people from the business community who are not yet convinced that their time will be well spent.

The divisiveness of the assisted places scheme must surely go. Resources must be applied across the board for the benefit of all our children. Parents must also have the opportunity to complain and to raise various issues, and the Liberal Democrats would appoint an education ombudsman so that complaints could be referred when necessary.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science complained about local authorities that restricted so-called "freedom of choice" by not making all information available to all parents, and he referred especially to their restricting education authority services to those schools that were not grant maintained or city technology colleges. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) intervened to say that a crossing patrol had been taken away from a school which was funded outside the local education authority service.

If the Government are taking funds away from local education authorities and giving funds to schools directly, do they really expect local education authorities to use the funds allocated by Government and those raised locally for schools for which they no longer have a financial responsibility? If they use funds for such schools, there will be a further reduction in the money available for schools which are not grant-maintained schools or city technology colleges. When teachers from those schools are invited to training courses in the local education authority, is it not right that the GMS schools and the CTCs should make a financial contribution? No one can provide something for nothing.

The main theme of today's debate is choice. The Government are found very much wanting on that matter. In the past three or four years, in education authority after education authority, parents have less choice than they had before. East Sussex is an example. Even today, two parents out of 100 each year do not get one of the schools of their choice, although they are asked to write down the names of up to three schools. That is not good enough, because parents should have greater choice. East Sussex has an increased school population in many parts of the county. Given that and the county's inability to build new accommodation, it is obvious that parental choice will be reduced.

The title of the debate refers to "Choice", but the reality is that for parents, there is not choice, but preference. Parents are asked to give their preferences; they are not asked to choose. Liberal Democrats want parents to be able to choose. I was chairman of the education authority in East Sussex between 1986 and 1987. That year still stands as the best example in the past decade of parents receiving their first choice in education. We were able to achieve that because we appointed 100 extra teachers that year to ensure that teachers were available to teach the children in the schools that the parents chose. In that year, 96.5 per cent. of parents obtained their first preference at 11-plus. If the Government were serious about choice, they would encourage local education authorities—and financially support them—to employ the number of teachers who are needed for parents to achieve their choice.

The Government would also have to address the issue of school accommodation and buildings. If there is spare capacity, the appointment of more teachers is fine, but some schools are full. The Government's building programme is such that, one after another, schools make application through the local education authority to the Government for funds to build new schools or to extend existing schools, but the Government are not prepared to allocate the necessary sums. The Government must be honest. Unless they are prepared for local education authorities to employ more teachers and unless they are prepared to allocate funds for extra school buildings, choice becomes a fiasco and a fallacy.

It is interesting to read the answer to a written question in Hansard on 26 April 1991. We see that 34 of the 39 county councils that are local education authorities have to spend more than 100 per cent. of the money that they are allocated for education through the standard spending assessment to achieve the standards that we all believe should be achieved in our schools. That clearly shows that the Government are underfunding and failing to recognise what is needed to deliver the education service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) has asked me to say that in Sefton, £20 million needs to be spent immediately on school building premises, yet the Government are not prepared to support the local education authority in that regard.

May I outline two or three areas in which we differ from the Government—

Mr. Philip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

The hon. Gentleman has already spoken for long enough.

Mr. Bellotti

I shall bear the time in mind, but the Minister spoke for 50 minutes. I am making the only contribution from my party today and I wish to develop a few more points.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) referred to nursery education and a table on that matter. It is generally recognised that more resources must be allocated to pre-school education and the Liberal Democrats' alternative Budget statement in March contained a figure of £250 million, which would be available for the education of children aged three to five. It is essential that every parent who wishes to have education for that age group should be able to achieve it. Whether it is in school, in a pre-school play group, or whatever, it should be available on demand. The latest figure that I have seen in the Labour party's proposals is £50 million and I encourage the hon. Member for Leeds, Central to try to have that figure increased.

If ever there was an area in which the Government have failed to deliver, it is special education. Every local education authority should have a separate special educational needs service, which should be properly funded and involved with parents. Wherever possible, it should be integrated in the mainstream of schools. Local education authorities do not have the resources to ensure that children are statemented almost immediately a need is identified by a teacher. My authority of East Sussex tries to do that within a time scale of six months, but, with the discussion thereafter about the child's needs and which school it should attend, it can be as much as a year before such a child receives the education that it needs.

The Minister will be aware of early-day motion 972, which has now attracted 123 signatures. It draws attention to the serious problem of special educational needs and whether the Education Act 1981 is being fulfilled. Is the Minister prepared, following today's debate, at least to see whether there are ways in which the Government could help local authorities, with extra funds or whatever, to adopt higher standards in relation to special educational needs?

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central spoke of the consensus on the national curriculum. The Government had a consensus in the three major parties on that issue, but went over the top—a phrase which has been used several times today. The national curriculum has now put teachers in a straitjacket with no flexibility. I met the secretary general of the Soviet Union teachers' association two years ago and he told me that the Government of the Soviet Union had decided that they would control less of the curriculum from the centre and allow individual schools, with parental support, to decide on parts of the curriculum. I shared with him the view that the British Government were going in the opposite direction and putting teachers and schools in a position where they have absolutely no flexibility.

As I come to the end of my remarks—[Interruption.] I have dropped 10 pages of my notes in the light of today's disruption—we could all have spoken for longer if events had turned out differently.

I wish to draw attention to the role of teachers. Unless hon. Members are united in praising and encouraging teachers, we shall not be doing our best for children. It is those teachers whom we rely on to deliver the education. Year after year, when I was outside the House, I heard murmurs from Ministers deploring teachers in our schools, when I wanted to hear words of encouragement and support. One way to elevate the status of teachers would be to have a general teaching council, which would give them the status that they deserve. That council could control professional qualifications and set standards which would be acceptable to all political parties.

In this context, when announcing the pay review body we should consider that, from 1974 to 1989, teachers' salaries as a proportion of average non-manual earnings fell from more than 135 per cent. to less than 110 per cent. One cannot devalue a profession over that period by reducing pay in relation to others and then expect it to deliver the goods.

A subject that has not been touched on much today is that of 16 to 18-year-olds. I sincerely believe that when the Secretary of State announced in the House that central Government would control sixth-form colleges and further education, the Government did not realise that that would cause the chaos that we have now and which will continue. There is now a dual track system, in which the education of some 16 to 18-year-olds will be under central Government control and others' education will be controlled by local authorities. That is a recipe for chaos as time goes by and we try to address the key issue of the staying-on rate of 16-year-olds.

We have heard about a table relating to three to five-year-olds. I shall refer to one relating to 16 to 18-year-olds which comes from the Department of Education and Science statistical bulletin for 1990. It says that in 1988, 79 per cent. of the 16 to 18-year-old age range in the United States were in education, in Japan there were 77 per cent., in France 66 per cent. and in West Germany 47 per cent. Once again, the United Kingdom came bottom of the league, with only 35 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds in education. Unless we address that issue —the Government are not doing so through the youth training scheme cuts—we shall have problems.

The word "choice" appears in the debate's title, but in this context "choice" is a delusion. The title also includes the word "standards"—such values are far too important to leave simply in the hands of the Government. The Minister concluded by saying that he wanted to put children first. Having observed the Government's education policy from outside the House for 12 years, I believe that the one thing that the Government have not done is to put children first.

12.57 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I support the Government in the radical reforms that they have introduced during the past 10 and 11 years to improve choice and accountability and, therefore, standards. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said so brilliantly, they have been doing so in an educational climate which, for more than 20 years, has made the job of good teachers—who constitute the vast majority—that much more difficult.

There are three basic characteristics of that educational climate. First, it was a climate that judged standards by what resources were put into education, rather than what was turned out at the end of the day. Despite the increases in resources that the Government have made available for education, particularly teachers' salaries, I do not see any connection between existing standards and the resources that have been put into education during the past 20 years. In many cases, precisely the opposite is true.

Secondly, the presumption is too often made that uniformity would allow excellence to be preserved. It is assumed that by making schools comprehensive and ignoring parental choice, good standards could be imposed on schools. Good standards are attained with the support of parents for their children's education. That can be done only in a regime that gives parents a genuine choice.

The third characteristic of the old regime was a fundamental distaste for testing or any sort of relative elitist standards. When the Conservatives were in power in Birmingham in 1982–84, I was on the education committee. We set up a standards working party, but as soon as we lost power in 1984 it was abolished, even though it was the only way that the education committee could address what was happening in the classrooms.

When the National Foundation for Educational Research carried out a review of reading standards in schools it found that only 26 out of 95 local education authorities could provide any information about the movement of reading standards in their schools over the year. That is appalling and shows how testing and assessment have fallen into disrepute in our schools.

The Government have adopted the right approach by making parents more accountable either through grant-maintained schools or local management of schools. I am the chairman of the board of governors of a large comprehensive school in the north of Birmingham. Even on the pilot scheme that is available under local management of schools, that school is three teachers better off and has managed to increase the amount spent on equipment, tools and materials by no less than 50 per cent. in two years. It has had a tremendous effect on teachers' morale.

Further reform would be welcome in three areas and would improve standards. Attainment targets and testing should be made more comprehensible for the layman and the parent. I was delighted to see that in May the number of attainment targets for mathematics and science was reduced from about 14 or 17 to five in each subject and that the number generally has been halved.

Good teachers want to know how children are doing relative to others in the class. I am certain that parents want to know that and also want to know how the class fares compared with other classes in the school and in the area. I hope that Professor Griffiths, who will chair the School Examinations and Assessment Council, will ensure that there is a more easily comprehended exam-oriented rather than course-oriented system of assessment, because that would improve standards.

Secondly, we must look at qualifications for head teachers. There should be no restrictive practices about how one becomes a head teacher, but there is evidence that headmasters do not have sufficient knowledge of what goes on in their classrooms. As a result, they are not able to resolve the problem of teachers whose expectations of their pupils are too low. I was in a school a few days ago and a parent told me, "In class my son was told by the teacher to expect only a grade D at GCSE this year." Such a low level of expectation condemns pupils to low standards and can be resolved adequately only by heads of departments reporting to head teachers who are properly briefed. Head teachers could do more such operational work.

I am glad to note that the Secretary of State proposes to reform the structure of Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools. I hope that its operations will also be reformed. We need to look at the inspectorate system as a whole, especially as more schools become grant maintained. I should like to see more co-ordination between the activities of the schools inspectors employed by local education authorities and Her Majesty's inspectorate. I hope that the Government will address that.

1.3 pm

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I shall confine myself to problems in education in my borough. Lambeth has been responsible for education for 16 months since 1 April 1990. We did not want to be responsible for education and warned the Government about the consequences of the break-up of the Inner London education authority. We realised that if education were left to financially hard-pressed boroughs with intense social and economic pressures, which were described by Lord Scarman in his report and in a series of inner-city reports, there would be a danger that in poor areas with shrinking populations education would be ghetto-ised. That underlines the difficulties in what is a relatively small area for an education authority. That is what has happened in my borough.

Achievement in education is often a reflection of the social and economic pressures at home and among families. My constituency, which covers a third of Lambeth, has unemployment approaching 25 per cent. and unemployment has increased by 40 per cent. over the past 12 months. In the borough as a whole, 25 per cent. of the population is in receipt of poll tax benefit, which shows the levels of poverty among the families of schoolchildren. Seven out of 10 people in Lambeth are tenants and 60 per cent. of those tenants are in receipt of housing benefit—another sign of the depths of poverty. We have the second-highest level of lone parents anywhere in England. I shall not moralise about single-parent families, but it is a fact that it is immensely more difficult for a child from a lone-parent family to achieve educational attainment than it is for a child from a two-parent family.

In some of our postal districts—indeed, in one that the Prime Minister once represented as a councillor—more than half the population is unemployed and a quarter is living on social security. Coupled with that, between a quarter and a third of the population is black. I hasten to add that I am not equating poverty and a failure to achieve attainment with being black, but that adds another burden. Discrimination, and sometimes the lack of a tradition of education, make it even more difficult to succeed.

That is the social and economic background in which Lambeth has to act as an education authority. The break-up of ILEA was bound to make it more difficult and was bound, eventually, to reduce the choice that is crucial for the people whom I represent. Already, more than half our secondary school pupils are educated out of the borough. Before the break-up of ILEA, that was unimportant. My children were educated out of the borough, partly by the wife of the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) in a comprehensive school in adjoining Southwark.

With the break-up of ILEA, local authorities are becoming more parochial in the way that they view intake, and opting out will make the choice for pupils who go outside the borough even more restricted. For instance, the city technology college in what was Sylvan school in Upper Norwood is bound to be choosing its pupils on the basis of aptitude and ability. There is bound to be a selection process that operates against the people whom I represent.

I recently had a letter from a former Member of Parliament, and a former councillor, about what is happening in Bromley, another adjoining borough. Mr. Macdonald tells me: Bromley had 17 Secondary Schools … So far 1 has opted out and 6 more … await the Secretary of State's decision. I will not detain the House by reading out all the arguments from this responsible person, but it is clear that opting out will deny children from my borough access to schools in neighbouring boroughs. Furthermore—it is a decision that I regret—the pressure of poll tax capping on my borough has led to the council not giving travel passes or maintenance grants to children taking sixth-form education outside the borough.

I shall give what is perhaps an extreme example of how parochialism will reduce choice and chance. Islington runs a further education college which has an optical technology unit. I would not have known about it if my son had not happened to study optical technology. He travels once a week from Brighton to Islington because Islington provides the only course that is available in southern England. Islington has discovered that only one or two Islington children take up the course, so the course is at risk of being closed. That is a vivid illustration of the way in which the break-up of education in London will start to restrict choice because of the taking of parochial views.

As well as reduced choice, we have reduced resources. That was always inevitable following the break-up of ILEA. In the City of London there are about 12 affluent parents paying for one child while in the borough which I represent each child is supported by only six parents. Locally based resources in my constituency are much less than in many other areas.

The break-up of ILEA was bound to have the greatest effect on boroughs such as the one in my constituency and to lead to those that have having more and those who have less having even less.

One of the prime purposes of my being a Member of this place has been to explore and promote the ideal of equality—at least equality of opportunity. No great equality of wealth can be brought about by tax redistribution or by giving people extra benefits. Some of the figures that relate to those on social security in the area that I represent illustrate that. One way of achieving more equality, however, is the provision of education opportunity. It is the one thing which enables people to break out of their history and inheritance and to achieve equality.

I shall illustrate my argument with some figures. It is extremely difficult to accumulate £250,000. That sum, as a capital investment, would produce an income of about £25,000 a year. It would be difficult by the redistribution of wealth to give everyone £250,000, but if someone is lucky enough or good enough to pass A-level examinations and to go to university, he or she will have no great difficulty in London in earning £25,000 a year at the age of 23 or 24 in some of the professions. That is the equivalent of the benefit of owning £250,000 and that is an illustration that people with education achievement can break through much more rapidly than others.

Education provides the only means by which people in a borough such as the one that I represent can break the chains round them and enjoy equal opportunity. Unfortunately, there are huge impediments. Many children grow up in homes where there are not many books, where there is not the tradition of literature. Often the religious tradition, for example, was tied up with literature, but that tradition has been diminishing. In many homes the television is much more important than the book. That is the position in far too many families.

There are also far too many families where there is no one to talk to children. A single parent is often under great pressure, so the child is left with a minder. That child can be almost irreparably damaged by the age of five years. There are far too many families that have experienced homelessness. That has a tremendously deleterious effect on young children as they move from one bed-and-breakfast hotel to another.

When reading a novel by Tom Wolfe entitled "Bonfire of the Vanities", I was struck by a throwaway remark about someone coming from a family of third-generation welfare. I thought about my constituency. Certainly there are families who are second-generation welfare. If we do not break the cycle, we could have third-generation families in that position. It will be extremely difficult for them to break out of that inheritance.

Are we breaking out? Examination results are not a bad measure of equality and achievement. I had a vivid illustration of that when I attended a parents meeting in Brixton. A black mother said, "Don't bother so much about the equal opportunities policy, just give my child his O-levels, his A-levels and his degree, and his opportunities will be equal. All the cultural aspects in the world that are put into the curriculum will be no substitute for the inequality that my child will suffer without those qualifications."

In the schools in my borough, only 30 per cent. of children obtain between one and four GCSEs, grades A to C, against a national average of just under 50 per cent. Only a handful of children took A-levels at the last examination, although we should not ignore the fact that many children—511—took A-levels at colleges. Nevertheless, only 35 children, out of a 250,000 population, took A-level examinations in Lambeth's schools. Only one in five children gained GCSE mathematics, grades A to C. Because some of them did not even sit the mathematics exam, only 15 per cent. of children in the borough gained GCSE in mathematics. Indeed, 10 per cent. of the children entered for examinations did not turn up for the exam. It is against that background that I contrast the record in my schools with my devout belief in the importance of giving equal opportunity through educational achievement. There is a huge discrepancy in my area, which does not exist in all other areas.

I make it clear that what I say is not a reflection on Lambeth. I know that some people will say that it is, but Lambeth has been doing the job for only 16 months. Indeed, the figures that I have given are marginally better than they were under the Inner London education authority. Even the Minister has praised the quality in our schools. It is not a reflection on our schools, nor a reflection on the quality and commitment of our teachers. We are not saying that the position is hopeless. Some schools achieve examination results above the national level, which shows a degree of commitment and interest.

Of course, what I have said does not apply only to our secondary schools because the damage is often done before the children leave primary school. Often, the damage is done by the time they go to primary school because they have had no nursery education, and sometimes they have lived in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and been looked after in child minding facilities. We cannot blame just one segment for any failure. I am underlining the need to provide adequate resources to balance the inequalities between the opportunities for one part of the population and those for another part. I shall not rehearse all the arguments against the poll tax. However, as a result of poll tax restrictions, less money is being spent in my borough this year, which implies a 7 per cent. cut. Lambeth has done its best to protect statutory services, and primary and secondary education in particular, but I am appalled at the cuts that it has been compelled to make in youth services, including sport.

In a city borough, sport is an important adjunct to education, because athletics promotes an understanding of the relationship between effort and reward. That is an important analogy, which teaches that if one studies hard, one achieves results. I am unhappy that boroughs such as Lambeth are forced to concentrate on statutory services at the neglect of others.

There is no substitute for additional resources for boroughs such as Lambeth which have such enormous discrepancies in educational results and in which people are denied an opportunity to play their full part in society. I am not suggesting that throwing money at an education authority is the only way of solving its problems. I demonstrated that results can be achieved with only limited resources. However, if there is to be equality of opportunity and if people are to be allowed to break out of the chains of their inheritance, more resources must be provided—and at the moment there are not enough of them.

1.20 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Two of the Government's principal objectives are greater parental choice and improved quality. We want parents to have the maximum possible choice, but if they are to exercise it, they must be kept properly informed. I therefore welcome proposals to increase the available information about individual schools. It should not be restricted to examination results but should include teacher numbers and teacher continuity.

The information given should also include truancy levels. I welcome the recently published regulations requiring schools to differentiate between authorised and unauthorised absences. Some schools have accepted high truancy levels for far too long. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said, if children do not attend school, they cannot learn.

When parents are able to make an informed choice of schools, standards will rise. The majority of parents naturally want the best for their own children, and will elect to send them to the school which offers the quality of education best suited to their own children. Schools that do not offer parents what they want, where academic standards are slack and discipline poor, will not attract pupils. Parental choice is a powerful force, and when it is unfettered it will improve standards. The best schools will serve as a benchmark against which others in the area will be judged.

For too long the assumption has been made that the only good state education is local authority education, but that concept is being challenged, and that will increasingly be challenged with the growth of the grant-maintained sector. One hundred grant-maintained schools have been approved and the applications of a further 100 are well advanced. Their popularity is due not only to the additional cash that they receive but to the greater independence that they enjoy. Now that the apron strings which tied them to local education authorities have been cut, grant-maintained schools are able more accurately to reflect parents' wishes and aspirations and to take account of local conditions. They no longer have to obey the diktats of a local education authority which is sometimes motivated more by political than educational motives.

With the benefit of hindsight, I am convinced that we did not do enough to publicise the benefits of grant-maintained status. When we introduced the Education Reform Bill, we naively did not anticipate the fact that some LEAs would mount massive campaigns of disinformation against grant-maintained status, funded by charge payers' money. I was delighted when, in a recent speech to the Centre for Policy Studies, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the Government would legislate to limit the amount that a local education authority could spend to campaign against grant-maintained status.

I also welcome the provision that allows school governing bodies in future to be reimbursed up to the same limit as LEAs to fund their own campaigns for school freedom I make no secret of the fact that I want more schools to be grant maintained. I expect grant-maintained schools to become the 1990s equivalent of the council house sales of the last decade. Both allow more choice, more freedom and greater independence. I believe that even the Labour party will come to accept grant-maintained schools, just as it has been forced to accept the sale of council houses. The conversion may be slow, but I think that the Labour party will recognise the power of parents' arguments for grant-maintained status, as it has been made to recognise the strength of tenants' arguments for council house sales.

I am convinced that the only reason why more schools have not become grant maintained is that many head teachers and their staff fear—I use the word advisedly—that if, God forbid, Labour wins the next election and returns grant-maintained schools to the local education authorities, those who suported grant-maintained status will be penalised—their cards will be marked. That is a sad comment on the position currently adopted by some LEAs and another reason why their stranglehold on state education should be broken.

However, it is not just grant-maintained schools which provide parents with choice. Choice is also provided by the city technology colleges. Although only 13 have emerged so far, and the process is slow, that should not detract from the fact that they are proving highly popular and successful. Solihull CTC, for example, has received 1,000 applications for its 180 annual places. It takes children at all levels of ability, including "statemented" pupils and those with special needs. It certainly does not cream off pupils. The CTC ethos ensures that children work—Solihull's school day is between 20 and 25 per cent. longer than the average day at a comparable LEA school, although the college receives no extra funding.

Incidentally, 66.4 per cent. of the intake at Emmanuel CTC in Gateshead come from deprived or severely Deprived backgrounds. The principal says: We have taken more than our quota of disadvantaged children. There is not much cream there!

Any debate about quality and choice in education must, of course, refer to the nation's teachers. As I have said repeatedly in the House, the majority of the nation's teachers are dedicated both to their profession and to the children in their charge. That dedication is now being recognised by an improvement in remuneration, and by the establishment of a pay review body. When this year's pay award has been full implemented, the average classroom teacher will receive about £17,000 a year, while seven out of 10 secondary school teachers will earn more than £20,000. That is good news—news which builds on the success of the interim advisory committee.

One of the more significant sets of statistics that I have seen recently refers to the number of days lost through strike action taken by teachers. In a parliamentary answer dated 10 June, my hon. Friend the Minister told me that in the three years 1988, 1989 and 1990, fewer than 60,000 days were lost through industrial action, while in one single year—1985—851,000 days were lost through strikes. We have come a long way since the dark days of 1985. Teachers now recognise the good intent of the present Administration and I believe that we are now winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the nation's teachers. Over the next few years, the review body that the Government have announced will serve to enhance the esteem in which teachers are held. It should be recalled that, without teachers' good will, the reforms that we have introduced will be that much harder to implement.

Independence and freedom have also found their way into advanced education. Despite opposition, the polytechnics are no longer tied to local education authorities and, despite many gloomy forecasts from the Opposition and their cohorts in the LEAs, no polytechnic has gone bankrupt. Indeed, the, reverse is true—they are extending choice, increasing the number of courses and offering students greater variety than ever before. With the excellent example of the polytechnics before us, we now intend to free up the colleges of further education and remove the uninspired hand of LEAs from their affairs. I am certain that some of the benefits that the polytechnics now enjoy will be extended to colleges of further education.

One of the best indicators of the Government's success in schools is, paradoxically, to be found in advanced education. When we came to office in 1979, only one in eight of the target group were in advanced education. The figure is now one in five and by 2000 it will be one in three. Those figures illustrate two things—first, that the Government have much expanded the sector to absorb the greater number of people now seeking advanced education and, secondly, that large numbers of young people are now suitably qualified and able to take advantage of that expansion. There are now more than 1 million young people in our colleges, that figure being about a quarter of a million up on that for 1979. That is a real indication of the Government's success, and my right hon. and hon. Friends can certainly take credit for it.

No success comes on the cheap, however, and this year, for example, spending on education is up by 16 per cent. —more than twice the rate of inflation—and I have no doubt that the Conservative Administration will further increase funding to the benefit of the nation's children.

Our aim, in a nutshell, is further to improve the quality and standard of our state education so that it compares favourably with that offered by any other country in the world. That is our objective, and that is what we shall achieve.

The Minister may gain the impression that I am less than enthusiastic about the role of local education authorities. I do not doubt that they have done excellent work in the past 100 years but times change, and organisations—no matter how good—must respond to change. In my view, with the emergence of the grant-maintained schools and with the independence of the polytechnics and colleges of further education, the role of the LEAs will be much diminished. I hope, therefore, that proposals will soon be put before the House to redefine the role of LEAs.

1.33 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will not take fright at the bundle of papers in my hand. It provides the basis for the first part of my argument and goes right to the source of the education problems that the House faces. No matter how much money we put into it and no matter how many reforms that we introduce, we shall never get education right unless we get our ideas about education right. The document, "Language in the National Curriculum—Materials for Professional Development", intended for the training of teachers, goes right to the heart of our education problems. It cost £21 million to produce. It is part of a project on the English language and I propose to quote one or two passages to give the House some idea of the quality of the report. It states: The speech situation is almost always a shared one, and the writing situation is usually an isolated one. You may smile, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that quotation probably cost you a fiver. The document also states: The interactive purpose of speech events affects the language used. Blow me down—another fiver gone. It talks of …secretarial surface features such as spelling and punctuation". Note the combined disdain for secretaries and for teaching people how to write and spell. Again I quote: Most speech contexts are interactive, and involve the participants in both speaking and listening. I did not know that before! Yet another fiver gone.

Let us consider the report's ideological bent. It states: Parents need educating. If they are pulling pupils in a direction that we do not endorse and which may subvert our aims, what are we doing to counter this? A valuable staff activity would be to devise a poster or pamphlet setting out the school's approach to spelling and justifying it. The writers of that report would have a hard time justifying some of the approaches to spelling and grammar taken in that lamentable document. Regrettably, not all parts of the document are as amusing, in a funereal way, as some of those quotations. Most of the report is taken up with banal, pseudo-intellectual bilge—that is what the document is and it cost the taxpayer £21 million.

The Government's aim on teacher training is to reduce the amount of theory involved and to have more practical work. But the document states: An additional linguistic trend, not confined to functional theories of language, has been welcome to the compilers of the LINC programme. Until about 15 years ago, most linguistic studies were characterised by attention to small units of language, up to but not beyond the level of the sentence, usually out of the context in which they were actually used. More recently. however, developments in text linguistics, discourse analysis and functional grammar have provided a basis for examining patterns of language across complete texts. The LINC programme recognises the importance of this work and its relevance to education. Accordingly a text-based view of language is adopted and complete texts are the usual focus of attention. We move in that paragraph to a decision to base the whole of the £21 million document and the training for English in the national curriculum on something which is, admittedly, called a "linguistic trend".

I have no faith in the education industry, as constituted, to take account of new ideas in education and to treat them with reserve. They are merely ideas and do not deserve to be immediately implemented and foisted on the impressionable minds of young teachers who, sadly, are among the lowest achievers in terms of A-levels.

What is the effect of having hastily adapted and adopted theories of unproven substance as the basis of reports, then thrusting them on people who—let us be frank—may not be of the highest intellectual calibre? Moreover, that is much more likely to damage their students than it is to aid them. The Government have much work to do to sort out the over-reliance on theory, transmitted and transmuted by people who are not of the first intellectual quality and in whose hands these theories can be extremely dangerous.

First, the education industry is highly inbred as a profession. Secondly, it is isolated from life. It includes people who have never in their careers left education—they come out of the classroom, go on to teacher training, do some teaching and go into university. The whole thing is cyclical and introverted. Thirdly, some people will ask whether this is a serious academic discipline at all—it certainly has pretentions to being such. It is a fact of life —not just my opinion—that the people with the best brains do not teach in the educational departments of universities and that those who do are not always held in the highest esteem. As a result, the dangers of a hasty adaptation of fashionable dogmas, of which I gave examples for the LINC report, are extremely serious.

You may think, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am building too much on this report, but, although the Government decided that the report was so banal, so sub-standard and so inadequate that they would not publish it, even though the project cost £21 million. it will still be used to teach teachers, because that section of education is outside Government control. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) spoke about the educational plight of his constituents. I understand his concern, as I was taught in Dagenham which had a few problems when I was a boy. Those children will get nowhere under such an approach because they are told, "Don't worry about the secretarial aspects of punctuation or spelling; that's for secretaries. We're not going to bother your heads about that." They will not get a job that way. The problem is not merely one of funding and organisation, because ideas determine the outcome of education. If ideas that are fundamentally flawed are implemented and absorbed by people who are more interested in playing around with those ideas than with the end product, people in Lambeth and elsewhere will not be able to write or to get a job. How can they get A-levels when they cannot write properly?

On a higher level, I could not help noticing that Mrs. Raisa Gorbachev said that people in Britain no longer read English literature. She is right, but they can read shop signs. If you think that I am joking, Madam Deputy Speaker, I refer again to the £21 million report—a bundle of fun—which mentions shop signs in its passage about literary language. I do not want to bore the House or to be accused of tedium, but this document is written in such tedious language that I could quickly send the House to sleep. The report says that we must deconstruct—that fashionable word has crept into the mind of these low-grade people—the whole idea that there are different sorts of literature. Until now we had believed—in our feeble way—that there was a difference between Barbara Cartland and some perhaps slightly more elevated forms of literature. But no; we are told that we must deconstruct that idea. We are told that literature occurs everywhere.

The report states: Such contexts include advertising language, newspaper headlines, playing on puns in everyday conversations, the rhetorical patterning of a parliamentary speech"— I hope that I cannot be accused of that— the imaginative names used on shop fronts by hairdressers and hairsylists. As Raisa Gorbachev said, we might not read English literature, but we shall breed children who might be able to make puns on shop signs, so our aims are extremely high.

Let us imagine the effect of such semi-intellectual claptrap on the impressionable minds of some young teachers. Although the Government are not publishing the report, it will affect young teachers and will perpetuate a vicious circle of under-achievement in places such as Lambeth.

Another fundamental question is that of the so-called democratic nature of the organisation of our education. As I said, it is not, broadly speaking, run by the Government; it is run by liberal-left ideologues—I must use that phrase —and by local authorities. That is where the power lies. What is the democratic basis of those local education authorities? Statistically, the highest turnout in the most recent elections was about 50 per cent. The average was much lower. One of the lowest levels in the shire counties was reached in Humberside, where the figure was 34 per cent. The figure for my county of Buckinghamshire was not brilliant, at 33 per cent. The figure for Hackney was 36 per cent., as it was for Newham. Those figures apply to the turnout. The basis for the exercise of educational power is rather lower because it is a proportion of the number of those eligible to vote. In Humberside, all educational decisions are based on the support of 14 per cent. of the electorate. The figure for Staffordshire is 15.9 percent.; for Hackney it is 18.7 per cent. and for Newham it is 20 per cent. Those are Labour authorities and the turnout is rather low. However, I am sorry to say that there are also Conservative examples.

Labour Members and the Liberal Democrats—we must not forget them—rail against what we regard as choice and say that what is sacrosanct is the democratic and local nature of education. I have described the reality. When so much grave twaddle is talked in the House about the democratic roots of education, we should realise that that simply is not true. The turnout in our local elections is extremely low. People run education without having any real democratic authority. If a quorum were involved, it would not be attained on such numbers.

The implications for grant-maintained schools are serious. In such schools, there has to be a 50 per cent. quorum in the first ballot. No such quorum applies to the people who run education in local authorities. I have a practical suggestion for my hon. Friend the Minister. I want him to drop the 50 per cent. barrier for grant-maintained schools. There should be a barrier, because it is right that there should be some form of consultation. However, the barrier should be dropped to the level of participation in the most recent local elections. If someone proposes an opting-out—grant-maintained—school in Humberside, the barrier should be not 50 per cent., but 34 per cent., because that was the turnout in the most recent local elections in Humberside as a result of which Humberside county council runs the entirety of education in its area.

To use the current phrase, that would provide a level playing field. Parents would not have to achieve a level of turnout which was far superior to the level reached by Staffordshire and Humberside county councils which is their basis for running their policies. That is a practical suggestion. Anything that helps to break up the system in a positive and fruitful way, gives choice and encourages grant-maintained schools should be permanently at the front of our minds.

The Government have done wonders over the past decade in increasing the proportion of people taking part in higher education. I very much welcome the focus on getting people to stay on at school. However, a problem has come up in my rural constituency. In education, we not only need to get the ideas right, which is fundamental, but we need the resources to support them. I understand it when hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Norwood, talk about that.

In my constituency, a difficulty has arisen in encouraging parents to keep their children at school after the age of 16. A new cost for travel arrangements has just been put on them. There will no longer be a subsidy for travel. In a rural constituency, that is important because parents have to pay about £120 a year. If we wish to encourage students to stay on at school, which is a national necessity, it is no good telling parents that if their child stays on at school after 16, they will not only be deprived of the income that that child would have contributed to the family finances, but will have to pay £120 extra a year for the child's journey to school. The matter deserves attention. I have taken it up with the county council, which has a tight budget, partly because of the expansion of special educational needs provision. The matter poses a problem for my constituents, especially for those who are keen to take the new opportunity of keeping their children on at school after the age of 16 which the Government are offering.

I welcome what the Government are doing in the SEAC and what they are doing to give parents more choice through the grant-maintained system. Education in this country will never come right until there is a pincer movement against the educational establishment. It is a sclerotic establishment which is not open to new views and it goes out of its way, not to subvert—that is too dramatic a word—but to resist like a congealed jelly everything new. We need people at the top who are forceful and who are not bureaucrats and we need escape routes at the bottom for the children who are trapped there. Only then will we be able to put pressure on that Brezhnevite system and open it up to the benefit of all children.

1.52 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will forgive me if I leave shortly after speaking because my daughter is to be married tomorrow and there is much to be done.

The Brethren wrote to me this week and raised a number of points of conscience with which I should have liked to deal, but I cannot do so in the time available. However, I know that they would like to have on record the fact that they have strong views on subjects such as sex education and computer education, which many schools and local authorities are not taking into account.

I strongly support the emphasis on choice that my hon. Friend the Minister set out in his opening speech. The speech of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) was interesting. He said that he was looking for equality of opportunity within Lambeth, but his constituents have always voted Labour. They voted for an authority which removed choice. Circular 10/66 stated that all secondary schools should be comprehensive and uniform in nature, a ruling which was heavily applied by the inner London education authority and totally applied in Lambeth. I know almost every school in Lambeth from my 23 years of teaching in London. I saw excellent schools being changed in character from good grammar, technical and secondary modern schools into comprehensives. That policy took away all choice, ambition and competition in schools.

The hon. Member for Norwood lamented the fact that children have little choice to learn about life through sport, and I agreed with the thesis that he put before the House. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is no longer here, but perhaps he will read what I have said. In the Dick Shepherd school near the Tulse Hill school in his borough, for a long time children were not allowed to play competitive games. Some brilliant West Indian boys at that school were known to have great cricketing talents, and they asked only to have a wicket painted on the wall and to be allowed to play competitive cricket, but the school, under the ILEA, would not allow them to do so. The hon. Gentleman may not know about that case, but I did not hear him championing the need for proper team games and competitive sport at that time. We lost generations of children to bad, uniform education which did not take account of the need to give children a proper choice between schools and a choice of courses within schools. They were also grossly denied the opportunity to learn through sport.

My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the assisted places scheme, which has been a great success without being a highly expensive operation. Today, at a cost of £70 million, 28,000 children are successfully educated under that scheme. My hon. Friend went on to warn about city technology colleges and I support him on that.

My hon. Friend was challenged by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti), who said that very few schools were becoming grant maintained. In the London borough of Ealing, more than 50 per cent. of secondary schools have voted to become grant maintained, including the school to which the Leader of the Opposition sent his children.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) or anybody else should lose sight of the enormous political and educational revolution that that policy will bring to this country. Were the Labour party ever to regain power and seek to return to the old system, it would—as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said—reverse decisions thoughtfully taken by parents in possession of the facts after attending meetings. The schools have taken a deliberate and carefully thought out decision to become grant maintained. We are witnessing an educational revolution of the highest importance, which the Labour party would destroy.

Whatever the hon. Member for Leeds, Central says, sport has declined in many schools simply because the Labour party tried to crush children's competitive instincts and would not allow them to undertake competitive sport. We all remember the head mistress from a Bristol school who said that pupils under the age of five should not have an egg and spoon race because it encouraged them to be competitive, which was bad for them.

When I first started to teach I was elected general secretary of the Westminster Schools Athletic Association —a sports association of all the schools in Westminster, including comprehensives, grammar and secondary modern schools. We had wonderful inter-school competitions which did a lot for children. There were annual prize givings, with prizes for the winners and recognition for the losers, with prizes for some of them as well. I returned to that competition in the last year of ILEA, which is strongly run by the Labour party. There were no prizes or competitions; schools merely received a certificate for being good schools and the children received an acknowledgement for being present. That revolution was achieved by ILEA over about 30 years. It was not good or fair to the children. The Select Committee has said that there must be compulsory basic physical education and games in schools for pupils up to the age of 14, with diverse provision after that, which I strongly support. Teachers should be paid for extra-curricular activities—if I had time, I would develop that point.

As one who marked O-level and A-level papers for 25 years, I want to see proper standarisation between all schools. Lawrence Norcross, former headmaster of Highbury Grove school was right to write in The Daily Telegraph this week that in some schools where there are teachers of high integrity, children receive grades in English and other subjects that are conscientiously thought out by the teachers, whereas in some other schools all the children receive grade A because the teachers are less conscientious. I do not think that the examining boards are sorting out that problem properly, but they must do so.

It is right to penalise bad spelling and bad grammar in GCSE exams other than English to the extent of 5 per cent., but, as someone who examined English and other subjects at O-level for a long time, I would not want there to be heavier penalisation than that. If one is marking chemistry, one should consider the chemistry element, not the English, although that must be satisfactory. Otherwise, we would be penalising pupils for bad English, bad grammar and bad spelling in both the English and the other papers. To overdo that would be unfair, and to underdo it would be wrong. A balance has been struck and I hope that my hon. Friend has no plans to go further.

1.59 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

The debate is about wider choice and higher standards and I had hoped that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) would use it to give a detailed analysis of what his party, if it were ever to return to office, would do to raise standards and widen choice. However, we were treated not to a clarion call to Labour's policies but to carping and denigration of Government policies.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central spoke about the Government's failure on nursery education. The Government did not dismantle the system of nursery education bequeathed to them by their predecessors. Nursery education has been extended, but more needs to be done to improve education than simply to say that the essential foundation is 100 per cent. provision of nursery education. I am anxious, as I am sure are the Government, to see a reduction in the numbers in primary schools, and the Government have significantly improved the pupil-teacher ratio.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Leeds, Central accuse the Government of a lack of consistency in their changes. The only consistency under a Labour Government was the consistency of compulsion, an attempt to squeeze everybody into a comprehensive system that left little opportunity for variety. He also spoke about crumbling schools. Perhaps Labour had no such schools when it was in office. If a perfect system had been bequeathed to us we would not have had repair bills. However, as schools get older there are huge bills for repair.

No one can expect a perfect system in which every building and every facility is in sound repair all the time. Constant attention is required and we are making progress. Labour suggests setting up an education standards commission, which seems likely to have almost draconian powers, and criticises the Government for not giving enough support to local education authorities. That is rich from a party which proposes a commission that will wield a big stick with local authorities.

The shadow of the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) was very much apparent on the Opposition Benches; perhaps that explains why so few Labour Members are present. Promises to spend more money on improving education would earn an instant rebuke from the hon. Lady, who has made it clear that there will be no extra money.

We are all anxious to improve standards and should discuss in detail how that can be done. Parental involvement in education is a key factor. The more we encourage parents to be interested, involved and committed, the more beneficial it will be to whatever we try to achieve in education. In that context, extending the boundaries of choice must be right. In fairness, however, we must recognise that there are limits to the extent of choice and that they are imposed by the availability of resources and, sometimes, by the availability of transport. School buildings are not elastic, and schools cannot simply be expanded to cope with enormous demand. If in any instance, only 45 places are available and there are 140 applications, not everybody can be satisfied, so there cannot be total freedom of choice.

Despite those limiting factors, it is infinitely more rewarding to continue the quest for widening choice, as the Government are, than to constrict education to a standard mould. It is a good thing if we can achieve variety in the types of school that are available. That is more easily done in an urban area and more complicated in a rural area, where distance is a factor. It is a good thing that there should be small, large, single-sex and specialist schools. Therefore, the Government are right to pursue the idea of the grant-maintained school, which is proving to be highly popular as an alternative form of provision.

I am concerned that local education authorities are hostile to these ideas. Essex county council is taking a sniffy attitude to any school that goes for grant-maintained status. It has circulated information, based on figures that are challenged by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, to primary schools in the Saffron Walden area. The authority is warning that the feeder schools may be put at a financial disadvantage if the ballot on whether Saffron Walden county high school should become grant maintained is in favour of such a change. Such activities are highly reprehensible, especially when there is doubt about the figures that are being used.

If standards are to be improved, testing is inescapable. It has to have a place in the system. It goes on all the time in schools and the issue is about what form it takes. An objective form of testing is required to complement teacher testing. There must be a constant element. If we are honest, we will admit that the arrangements this year for seven-year-old testing were not satisfactory. There has been a great reaction from teachers about it and we have said that we shall examine the system. However, we should not be bounced into saying that there is no place for objective testing. We must stick with it, because people must have some idea of what their children are capable of at certain ages, without its putting any stigma on a child who has done less well.

Other factors that are crucial in the improvement of standards include teacher training, which has hardly been mentioned today, but to which the Government are rightly turning their attention. Inspection has been mentioned, and is essential. We must have a tighter system of inspection of our schools. The Government have been inovative in their determination to raise standards and I applaud them. They have set a new, relevant and well-directed agenda. I look forward to its continued implementation.

2.3 pm

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I have listened with interest and patience to the debate. I represent the London borough of Barnet, which has the best record of education results of any local authority. It is significant that Conservative councils, year in and year out, produce good education results. Very few Labour councils are in the top quartile of local education authorities and many are in the bottom quartile.

Mr. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Popular)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall

I do not think that I should give way. I have been patient in waiting for my turn. The hon. Lady has waltzed into the debate nine tenths of the way through and does not have the right to ask me to give way in the few seconds that are all that I have left.

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said that the problems of Lambeth were created by charge capping. I suggest that they were caused by non-collection of the community charge. Lambeth has specialised in not collecting. It did not collect the old rates, it does not collect rents as it should and it has not collected the community charge as it should. The speech of the hon. Member for Norwood underlined the irresponsibility of Members of this place who are inciting their constituents not to pay the community charge. It is irresponsible of hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Bow and Popular (Ms. Gordon) not to pay the charge until the last minute and then complain that local authorities do not spend the money.

Mr. Gordon


Mr. Marshall

I must tell the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) that when I referred to figures in Brent in January 1990 I was talking about Brent under Labour control. It was under Labour control that Brent sent 1,600 children to Barnet, which was under Conservative control, because the parents of those children felt that they were given a better deal by Barnet than by Brent.

In the few minutes that are available to me I wish to praise the teaching profession. Without good teachers there is no hope for the future of our children. When I was an A-level examiner, I always knew which schools had good teachers because those schools produced much better results. I remember paper after paper from one school in which gilt-edged securities appeared as guilt-edged securities. That was the fault of the teaching profession.

The vast majority of the teaching profession is highly dedicated and it is unfortunate that a small minority of teachers give the profession a bad reputation. The sloppy dress of some teachers is all too often the forerunner of sloppy standards. I read a report on my son the other week in which the teacher wrote "William trys hard." I wondered how hard that teacher had tried to produce correct spelling. If that is how he writes "tries", one wonders what else he does in the classroom.

The debate on standards in education was started by Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who decided that the best way to improve standards was to get rid of direct grant schools and to close grammar schools. He destroyed our centres of excellence. That was his way of improving standards. The Labour party has learnt nothing from that experience. It would abolish the remaining grammar schools, city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools, which have been so successful. I was pleased to be able to refer earlier in the debate to the great success at Hendon school. There has been a huge upsurge in the number of applicants for places at that school. The amount spent on books has increased by 50 per cent. and extra teaching places have been provided since it became a grant-maintained school as opposed to a local authority school. Grant-maintained schools are centres of high morale within the teaching profession. They are producing good results and I believe that after the next election there will be a huge upsurge in their number.

It is important to maintain the standards of A-levels. At the University of St. Andrews, to which my hon. Friend the Minister and I went, it was noticeable that the students who had studied for A-levels did much better than those who had taken the Scottish higher leaving certificate. That demonstrates the worth of A-levels as against the broader Scottish highers system.

One problem with our education system is that it lacks sufficient diversity I well remember during a visit to Israel going one morning to a school that was like an old-fashioned grammar school. It produced highly academic pupils. In the afternoon I went to another school that taught its pupils motor mechanics and hairdressing, for example. The pupils who received that training secured a job as soon as they left school. I suspect that that is not the position when pupils leave schools in Lambeth and elsewhere. That is why I welcome the CTC programme, which will lead to children being able to acquire a post as soon as they leave school.

The debate is about standards, quality and choice in education and I believe that choice and standards in education are given to us by the voluntary aided sector. It was unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Minister did not refer to the voluntary-aided sector, because many parents in my constituency welcome voluntary-aided schools. Like the chairman of the Conservative party, I send my children to voluntary-aided schools. I ask my hon. Friend to reconsider the problems of Hazmonean high school and Hazmonean preparatory school. I am sure that I have the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) in asking my hon. Friend the Minister to look positively on those schools. Some 20 to 25 per cent. of people in Barnet go to shul every Saturday. The number of voluntary-aided Jewish places in Barnet is 4.5 per cent. of the total number of school places in the borough. That is far too low a figure. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to increase that provision in the years to come.

2.15 pm
Mr. Fatchett

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall make a few brief comments in reply to the debate. It has been a somewhat unusual day, with a statement on the G7 summit and another statement to come at 2.30 pm. Perhaps we should recommend that right hon. and hon. Members spend a little more time listening to this important education debate.

I wish to pick up one or two specific points and then make a general point. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has had to leave, and he apologised to the House for that. He made a number of points about school sport. I am keen on school sport and the Labour party is committed to it. It would help if the hon. Gentleman could get the facts right and rid himself of one or two of his prejudices. It is not the local authorities, of any political persuasion, that have been against competitive sport; they have found it difficult, for a variety of reasons, to maintain the level of participation in school sport. They have been forced to sell school playing fields and there have been difficulties with space in the curriculum. The charging policies under the Education Reform Act 1988 have made it difficult for schools to use sports centres. Competitive tendering has often put local sports centres and their facilities outside the financial reach of the schools. All those problems were initiated by the Government, and all have reduced the level and quality of school sport.

An editorial in The Times in November 1989 showed that not one authority, whether Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, is against school sport—the problem is delivering it. It would have helped a great deal if the Government had shown some enthusiasm for the report of the physical education working party and, in particular, if they had accepted the recommendation that each child should be given the opportunity to learn to swim by the end of key stage 2 of the national curriculum. It was the Government who opposed that proposal.

A number of hon. Members referred to the importance of teachers. It is true to say that education standards can be improved only by good quality teaching. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) made the valid point—one wholly in line with Labour party policy—that we need to establish a general teaching council. That would be an important means of improving the status and the professionalism of the teaching profession. There is a broad consensus for that proposal, but for some reason that Government are resisting it.

On occasions, it would help if Conservative Members changed their script. For a decade, they have denigrated and criticised individual teachers. It would improve standards if the Conservative party recognised the value of teachers' contributions.

My general point echoes the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who let the Conservative cat out of the bag. His vision of a tiered, structured education system under a further period of Conservative Government is one which few parents would accept. It is one under which some youngsters would have opportunities, but others would miss out. His example of the Israeli system gave us an insight into future Conservative education policy.

I ask parents thoughout the country—although I know that this would be a burden—to read the hon. Gentleman's speech. He said that there would be elite schools for a minority of so-called academic youngsters, while others would teach subjects such as motor mechanics and hairdressing. That is a wholly outdated ideological concept, and one which would certainly damage the country's future economy.

If Conservative Members were to study the education systems of Western Europe, it would be clear to them that no other country runs an elite education system. The rest of western Europe is trying to broaden the basis of its children's knowledge and participation, but the hon. Member for Hendon, South wants a 19th century, two tier, structured elitist system.

The Conservatives offer choice for a few on the backs of the majority, and high standards for a few while disregarding the majority. That is the crucial divide between us in the education debate. Labour believes in an overall improvement in education standards because that is right for the children of this country and their parents, and because improved education is at the root of improved economic efficiency.

Britain needs an education system which provides opportunity for all, but in today's debate we have heard from the Minister downwards only concern among Conservative Members about 100 schools. Labour is concerned about the country's 24,000 schools and all the children who attend them. Labour believes in high standards, high achievement, targets and ambition.

Mr. Oppenheim

The hon. Gentleman should try visiting more schools in Labour authority areas, to see what a mess they have made of them.

Mr. Fatchett

The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim), who went to a private school, knows so little about the maintained sector that it would be better if he did what all Parliamentary Private Secretaries should do, which is to keep quiet. He is good in that role, but when he tries anything more, he is very bad at it.

We are keen to extend opportunity, standards, and ambition to all. The Conservative party's view is limited to the elite, is outdated, and will harm the country's children and its educational and economic performance.

2.22 pm
Mr. Fallon

This has been a good debate, but somewhat one-sided. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) could not find one Labour Back Bencher to support him today, but had to rely on another member of the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser)—who made the more thoughtful of the two speeches.

I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for their contributions. What came across clearly was the high regard in which we hold teachers—contrary to the claims of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. Over the past six days, I have visited schools in three local authorities in different parts of the country and found teachers who are enthusiastic and committed. We look forward to seeing that borne out in the forthcoming GCSE and A-level results.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) made a trenchant case for selection and discipline and valuable points about teaching methods, in a speech that can be read and read again with profit by us all.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) asked me two specific questions. One concerned Brighton city technology college. We did not go ahead with that project because the sponsorship was not there. The hon. Gentleman would certainly have criticised me for going ahead without the 20 per cent. contribution from the private sector. In fact, the money was not lost, and I understand that the site is being actively marketed.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me about special needs. I emphasise that none of the obligations placed on local education authorities by the Education Act 1981 was changed by the Education Reform Act 1988. Indeed, we have slightly modified local management of schools this year to allow local education authorities a little more scope to ensure that resources are available for statemented pupils—and, indeed, some others—when they are delegated at school level.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) spoke eloquently of the need for simple and practical testing and asked me specifically about the HMI review for staff. That review has now been concluded and we are studying the results.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) referred to the LINC materials. I agree that they were an absurd waste of the £21 million that was devoted to them. We have already decided that they should not be sent round schools; my hon. Friend, however, was especially anxious that they should not be circulated round teacher training colleges and institutions. Let me reassure him and my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) that we are taking a long, hard look at teacher training generally and specifically awaiting the results of the inquiry carried out by the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education into the way in which the teaching of reading is taught in teacher training colleges.

I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central failed to respond to any of the challenges that I offered him. He waffled on the subject of nurseries, giving no dates, no commitments and no promise that the pledge on nursery education contained in Labour's document would be implemented. All that we had were pious hopes —and we know what happens to pious hopes when Labour are in government.

The hon. Gentleman also made a disgraceful attack on the integrity of the new leaders of the National Curriculum Council and the School Examinations and Assessment Council. Everyone else in the education world will wish the two new appointees well: they face an enormous challenge —to ensure that our curriculum and the testing are introduced and implemented sensibly and in a manageable form, school by school.

I outlined to the hon. Gentleman, case by case, the catalogue of intimidation, harassment and non cooperation that the city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools have had to endure since their establishment. He refused to repudiate what I had said or to give any undertaking that his party would urge the Labour-controlled local authorities that are responsible to change their policies. We received a clear message today that there is to be no change in labour's policy. Labour remains committed to eliminating choice, wiping out the city technology colleges, re-Integrating the grant-maintained schools and abolishing the assisted places scheme. It remains committed to defending the bureaucracy and giving LEAs back their monopoly; and, above all, it remains committed to fudging our educational standards. The Labour party wants certificates for all and the end of the well-established A-level. So be it. The Government will ensure that the country hears that message loud and clear. We aim for higher standards through wider choice and greater parental accountability. The Labour party has made it clear that it would replace choice with control and would entrust standards to the same bureaucracy that has already failed to deliver them.

In the 1990s, education is becoming a growth industry, as home ownership did in the late 1970s and 1980s. There is a growing appetite for more and better qualifications at every level. Only the Conservative party has the policies in place to ensure that that appetite is properly satisfied.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion by leave, withdrawn.