HC Deb 09 November 1992 vol 213 cc627-716

Order for Second Reading read.

3.35 pm
The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I welcome the fact that we have two days to debate the Bill. It reflects the importance that both sides of the House attach to the issues that we are addressing. I am sure that one thing that links both sides of the Chamber is the hope that we can provide the best possible education for all our children—even if we differ strongly on how that can be achieved. I hope that that, at least, will link both sides of the House.

I want to improve education for all children in state schools, building on the hard work of the hundreds of thousands of teachers and governors who labour so hard in the schools of England and Wales. In particular, I want for children in our schools what most parents want for their children: for knowledge to come first and for visible achievement to be there for all to see.

That approach builds on the equally visible achievements of the past 13 years. During that time, this Conservative Government have transformed the education system in England and Wales. We have successfully cast adrift the attachment to uniformity and conformity— that by-words of the left-wing education establishment that characterised our education system during the 1960s and 1970s and often did such damage to many in a generation of schoolchildren.

We have replaced those by-words with some of our own —choice, diversity and, above all, standards. Our commitment to the essential goals of standards, choice and diversity will be further enhanced through the provisions in this landmark Bill.

Our proposals—first set out in the White Paper which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I published in July—are far-reaching. They will set in place a new framework for primary and secondary schools that will endure well into the next century. I cannot emphasise enough the fact that they will give much greater freedom —the twin freedoms for schools to become self-governing and to specialise and vary their approach within a basic curriculum, common to all, opening the same doors for all our children.

The Opposition like to talk about equality in education, but they do not mean equality, they mean uniformity. They mean pushing children together, en masse, to be treated exactly the same.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

When the Secretary of State talks about uniformity, does he think that the organisation of the national curriculum in various subjects is moving towards uniformity or diversity?

Mr. Patten

I respect the hon. Gentleman, who I know speaks with authority as he was not only a deputy head of a school in the north-east but a classics teacher. However, the national curriculum has been one of the great achievements in education in this country since 1979. It is not imposing uniformity, as a range of different syllabuses are available in, for example, GCSEs. The national curriculum ensures that every child in the country is educated to the highest level possible, as measured at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16. The national curriculum should now be a matter of bipartisan agreement across the Chamber, even though the Labour party was once against it, and much as I respect the views of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright).

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)


Mr. Patten

Is the hon. Gentleman another deputy headmaster or classics teacher?

Dr. Wright

I have a question for the Secretary of State for Education about what he described as legislation that would set the scene for a generation—or did he say the next century? Does he think that the process as he described it, with a White Paper produced on 25 July—

Mr. Patten

28 July.

Dr. Wright

That makes it worse. Does the right hon. Gentleman honestly believe that, if a White Paper is produced on 28 July to which replies are needed by 25 September, a Bill is published on 30 October and debated on Second Reading on 9 November, such a process is a foundation on which to build an education system that will work into the next century?

Mr. Patten

Yes—it shows how hard my hon. Friends in the ministerial team and those in the Department for Education have worked to address the task in front of them.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Patten

Yes—I know that my hon. Friend is not a classics teacher.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure that, with his background, he is—that the ideals that he has just enunciated are precisely those enunciated by Lord Boyle, who said that every child should go as far and as fast along the education road as possible? Lord Boyle's efforts were frustrated by the efforts of the Labour party, which put everything into a hotch-potch and destroyed the foundation that Lord Boyle sought to create.

Mr. Patten

I know that my hon. Friend, with her considerable scientific knowledge, speaks with authority. She is right to recall that the late Lord Boyle wanted every child to get on as well as he or she could. However, his vision was obstructed by what went on in the 1960s and the 1970s, which is what the Bill, like its predecessor Acts, tries to address.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

A few moments ago, my right hon. Friend referred to his hope for a bipartisan approach to be taken to the Bill. There are a number of grant-maintained schools in my Dartford constituency. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all opposition parties are still opposed to the concept, as they were six months ago?

Mr. Patten

I confirm two matters: first, that my hon. Friend is lucky to have a number of excellent grant-maintained schools in his constituency; secondly, that the opposition parties are united in their opposition to grant-maintained schools. Needless to say, the Liberals have done a few U-turns along their journey, as they normally do. Shortly after the election, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) was quoted in the Western Daily Press—so it must be true—as saying: We would return opt-out schools to a strategic framework provided by the local education authority. That was on 2 April 1992, and the hon. Gentleman waited slightly more than one month before committing his first U-turn and stating in the Bath Evening Chronicle on 6 May 1992: We would be very keen to see the benefits of grant-maintained status passed to all schools … Maybe what we should do is to have all the schools opt-out instantly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do you want him?"] We do not want him, but at the time I thought that I would. In his Liberal Democrat statement on education, published in September 1992, he did a U-turn on his U-turn and said: Liberal Democrats remain opposed to the creation of grant-maintained schools and we recommend continued opposition to applications for grant-maintained status. There is consistency of purpose on the part of the Liberal party.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

My right hon. Friend is being most unkind to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). The latter will not leap to his own feet, but surely he is the gentleman who in his professional life was bidding to run the accounting system of a grant-maintained school? It seems that the Liberal Democrat Whips have got to work on him since.

Mr. Patten

There is something lurking in the woodwork here. It is absolutely true that the hon. Member for Bath, like his party, is committed to opposing grant-maintained schools. It is also absolutely true—if I am wrong, doubtless he will get up and make his position clear—that he has a consultancy with a firm of accountants which recently approached one of the two grant-maintained schools in his constituency—Beechen Cliff—and offered the school its professional services, claiming as one of the great advantages for those services the fact that the hon. Member for Bath was working for the firm.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman will not want to go down in history as Mr. "facing both ways in Bath". He has two choices: to drop his opposition to grant-maintained schools, or to drop his consultancy with the accountancy firm in question.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Patten

Certainly not. I shall, however, give way to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who seems to want to intervene—

Madam Speaker

Order. I think also it is about time we got on with the Second Reading.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

While we are on the subject of U-turns will the right hon. Gentleman explain how he finds it possible to close rural schools with high standards in isolated areas in my constituency when I have asked him not to, and yet keeps them open, also in my constituency, when asked to do so by a neighbouring Member of Parliament?

Mr. Patten

I am not aware of that, but if the hon. Lady gives me the details, I will look into them and reply. I have always stressed the need to maintain rural schools because of their importance to local communities.

Perhaps I have already given way too much; in any event, I should like to return to my speech. I believe in providing children with an equal opportunity to excel and to reach their full potential. That is why I want an education system geared to the needs and aptitudes of every child, a system that can meet the needs of pupils with learning difficulties and those of gifted children at the same time. To achieve that goal we need an education system built on foundations of choice and diversity.

We have already put in place many of the reforms necessary to achieve our goals. I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), whom I see in his place, who piloted through the Education Reform Act 1988, which I believe history will judge to be as important a measure as anything Lord Butler produced in his time.

I pay tribute also to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), whose Education (Schools) Act 1992 set in place the vital independent inspection regime for all schools. I am building on what they and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) have achieved since 1987. The House should be pleased to have before it the evidence of what has been achieved in that time.

I come now to grant-maintained schools and choice. More and more schools are choosing—

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Patten

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom, if it would not get him into trouble, I would call my hon. Friend.

Mr. Field

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the briefing that the Barnardos Society has produced for Members, in which it expresses pleasure at the Government's continued commitment to children with special education needs, but goes on: However, it is unacceptable that, as provided by the Bill, mainstream schools, whether under the local education authority or of grant-maintained status arc able to exclude children with special education needs on the grounds of 'efficient use of resources' ". Does the Secretary of State accept that many of our constituents are worried by the Bill because they fear that the schools that they choose for their children will refuse entry on the basis that there may be additional costs? The Bill legally allows schools to do that under the catch-all category "the efficient use of resources". What special measures will the right hon. Gentleman take to protect the most vulnerable children?

Mr. Patten

I welcome the Barnardo's briefing. I have not seen it, but I shall look at it tonight and address that issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are setting up a tribunal to which aggrieved parents can turn if they think that their child has not been placed in the proper mainstream education school in which they wish their child to be educated. I shall deal with that matter later.

The issue of resources arises where I approve the admissions policy of a particular school, and involves a clear statement of the number and sorts of pupils that the school can take. I certainly intend that all schools, grant-maintained as much as local authority schools, should take as many grant-maintained pupils as possible. It is good to see some LEA schools and grant-maintained schools increasingly specialising in special needs

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)

I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend's assurance, because there was some misapprehension about the provision for special needs in the grant-maintained system. I say that following a meeting with the British Dyslexia Association, which was also attended by an hon. Friend. The Secretary of State will know that that concern has been expressed, especially in my county of Kent. I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to make clear what he has said about special needs, because there is a great demand for such teaching, and parents, especially those of dyslexic children, are looking to the system to provide it.

Mr. Patten

I recognise what my hon. Friend says about children with special needs. I am glad to report to the House that, in its examination of special needs assessments, the Audit Commission recently found that all the grand-maintained schools it had examined took special needs very seriously, and provided a high standard of education. A leader in The Times last week stated that a number of grant-maintained schools were beginning to specialise in the issue of children with special needs.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)


Mr. Patten

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. I have given way a great deal.

I can announce that today we have approved the 340th school for grant-maintained status. A further 150 are in the pipeline, having voted yes. That enables me to say that I think that we shall have at least 500 grant-maintained schools by 1 April next year and will probably have getting on for 1,500 by 1 April 1994, in direct accord with the White Paper projection.

Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that excellent news, and hope we shall soon achieve the total he mentioned. Will he take steps under the Bill to try to prevent or to persuade Labour-controlled authorities, such as the one in the London borough of Merton in my constituency, to stop using tactics against schools that would like to become grant-maintained? Some authorities are bombarding parents on their doorsteps and at school gates with anti-grant-maintained literature.

Mr. Patten

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. The approach of a few authorities, although not most, is totally wrong. Parents should be allowed to make up their own minds about a serious issue in an atmosphere of peace and quiet. The evidence available to me from the London borough of Merton suggests that the literature from the local authority, paid for from community charge payers' funds, is—I must pick my words carefully—falling short in its adherence to normal standards of accuracy—

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Patten

—in other words, what the hon. Gentleman who is asking me to give way would call a porky.

We have seen a lot of porkies from the Merton education department. What worries me is that these are attached not to politicians who, it is alleged, use these tactics form time to time, but to the names of education authority officers—the civil servants of local government, who should know better. I pledge that I will unhesitatingly move to tighten up the Bill further during its passage through the House.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

While the Minister is dealing with the issue of political interference in applications for grant-maintained status, would he care to comment on the situation in Fulham, where a school that is vastly over-subscribed is seeking to become a three-form entry school? The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) has told that school that the best way to enhance its chances of getting permission to become a three-form entry school is to become a grant-maintained school. In a letter to the school, the hon. Gentleman says: The Government's policy is to encourage schools to go grant maintained and if there were two applications on the table, one from a grant-maintained school and one from a maintained school, and their priority was equal in educational terms, then the likelihood is that the grant-maintained school would be successful. He goes on to say: I think that is a long way from being blackmail. I do not. I wonder whether the Secretary of State does.

Mr. Patten

I have to consider every application for grant-maintained status or change of character on its merits. I must not fetter my discretion by commenting on any individual school. However, it would not be fettering my discretion to say how lucky the people of Fulham are to have my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) representing them.

Mrs. Taylor

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Patten

I will not give way, because I must make progress. I have a speech that is 40 pages long, and I am only on page 7. I will never get to the end at this rate, and I have given way as much as any Secretary of State has ever given way.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Patten

However, simply because he is so nice and charming, I will give way once more—to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I will then make progress with my speech.

Mr. Banks

What a nice fellow the Secretary of State really is, when he is not being his usual obnoxious and smarmy self.

May I take him back to the points raised by the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) about Merton council? It will not have escaped the attention of the Secretary of State that Rutlish, the Prime Minister's old school, rejected grant-maintained status by 61 to 39 per cent. Is the Secretary of State saying that the local authority used unfair methods in that case, and that the parents were not rejecting Government policies and the Prime Minister?

Mr. Patten

The answer is yes, yes and yes again, to borrow a phrase from my right hon. Friend. Parents were told, in a leaflet shamefully distributed by the local education authority, that Rutlish school would lose £80,000 a year. That was simply untrue. The allegation had no foundation in fact. It will not have escaped the notice of my hon. Friends that, last Friday, there were five ballots for schools on grant-maintained status and that, in the other four, the vote was yes. In those areas, the information put in front of parents was straightforward.

I had better get on with the Education Bill itself. My civil servants want me to say that it is quite a long measure. It is indeed. It contains 255 clauses and 17 schedules. However, I can offer some small consolation. Parts II and IV, containing 134 out of the total of 255 clauses, reflect, respectively, a re-enactment and consolidation, with modifications, of the 1988 proivisions on grant-maintained schools, and a consolidation of the schools attendance provisions in a great number of Education Acts stretching right back to 1944. All that is needed to be done. Much of that which is contained in these parts of the Bill is not new, I believe that the education world generally will be grateful to us for having adopted a neat narrative approach. It will make the relevant legislation much more accessible, much more user-friendly and much closer to the aims of the citizens charter.

I shall comment as briefly as possible on the major proposals that are contained in the Bill. First, I shall deal with grant-maintained schools and the funding agency. The unit of account in our proposals is the self-governing grant-maintained school. Local management of schools under local education authority control has gone a good way down the road of giving schools control over their own affairs. That is Government policy that goes back to the policy developed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker).

At the end of the road is self-governing grant-maintained status, which offers schools the opportunity to have control over their total budget, to employ their own staff and to manage their own affairs. Schools here and elsewhere—for example, in New Zealand, where under a Labour Government between 1987 and 1990 they went much further in terms of grant-maintained status than anything that I am proposing—have shown how well they can take advantage of the opportunity.

It has been suggested that allowing parents to take their schools out of local authority control is undemocratic. I find that a most paradoxical argument, to use a phrase of the right hon. Enoch Powell. A far higher proportion of parents vote in grant-maintained ballots than of electors in local authority elections. That is the truth about the democratic element. It is a simple fact that democracy prospers in direct proportion to the involvement of the relevant electorate. That is exactly what happens in grant-maintained ballots. More people vote in these ballots than in others and most of the ballots are successful —seven to eight out of 10 to date.

It is precisely the rapidly growing popularity of grant-maintained schools that necessitates that I put in place a supporting framework for funding them. Hence the proposal to establish a Funding Agency for Schools, and the parallel proposal to take a power to set up a Schools Funding Agency for Wales. My right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), the Minister of State, Welsh Office, will have more to say about that when he replies on behalf of the Government this evening.

I wish to make it absolutely clear that the funding agency will not manage grant-maintained schools. Management is the job of governors and head teachers, who are responsible to parents and the local community generally through regular ballots for governor places.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Patten

I shall not give way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Mr. Spearing

No, I shall not.

Mr. Patten

If the hon. Gentleman will not forgive me, he will have to learn how to do so.

I move on to grant-maintained school funding. The total resources available to the funding agency and grant-maintained schools will be determined annually by Government in the normal way. More than a few LEAs, however, are telling their schools that they will be better off financially by staying with local authorities. That is simply not true. I have made it clear time and again that grant-maintained schools will be given additional funds to reflect their additional responsibilities. Just as important, when a school opts out, it will receive in cash what LEAs hold back from their schools to spend centrally. There is no way in which the allegations can be true.

I have set out the advantages for grant-maintained schools now, and they will continue to be the arrangements for grant-maintained schools in future. By comparison, a much more uncertain future is in store for many LEAs. That is not because of the provisions of the Bill. There is uncertainty because of the work of the local government boundary commission, which is reviewing boundaries in county areas throughout the land. The review will lead to the end of many LEAs as we know them within four or five years. As I have said, there is a very uncertain future for many LEAs.

In any system of compulsory education there must be a clear duty to ensure that sufficient school places are available to meet the needs of all pupils. We must ensure that there is that availability. The duty currently lies exclusively with LEAs.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Secretary of State give way on that very point?

Mr. Patten

I shall give way when I have concluded what I have to say on the supply of places.

As the number of grant-maintained schools in any area grows, it cannot make sense for responsibility to continue exclusively to rest with LEAs.

One of the Bill's key proposals is that as the number of grant-maintained schools grows, the funding agency will take on a parallel duty to ensure an adequate number of school places, sometimes responding to local groups, local people or voluntary organisations that want to set up a new school. I shall look very much to such people and organisations to supply those schools. In all but the most Luddite of local education authorities, I expect collaboration between the LEA and the funding agency to ensure that there are sensible proposals to deal with the need for more school places.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in overcoming his earlier remarks. Does he agree that, ever since popular public education has been in vogue in this country—about 120 years — a duty has been laid upon boards of education and LEAs, which was continued under section 8 of the 1944 Act, to ensure sufficient and adequate provision of schools in any one area? Does not the Bill destroy that principle, which has always been central to public education?

Mr. Patten

No, the Bill develops that principle. There will he two bodies—the LEA and the funding agency—with parallel but not shared responsibilities. A little healthy competition will be no bad thing for some LEAs.

We must also deal with the removal of surplus school places, of which there are up to 1.5 million in England alone. The money wasted on maintaining many of those places should be available to spend on children and their teachers, to whom I am most grateful. I guess that many of them would be glad if some of the money locked up in surplus school places was available in the classroom. I am advised that up to £300 million a year is lost in maintaining surplus school places. That is just the premises-related cost —it does not include the capital sums that would be available if the buildings and land could be sold and the proceeds ploughed back into education.

That is why I am proposing to take a power under the Bill to direct, if necessary, either the LEA or the funding agency to make rationalisation proposals. If I am not happy with them, I can make my own proposals, at which point all the proposals will go to a new public inquiry system. As it happens, that is much along the lines of one of the ideas put forward by the Opposition before the general election, when the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was their education spokesman.

I am aware of the particular reservation of the Churches about the proposal to widen the existing powers for LEAs to include voluntary schools in the drive to eliminate surplus places and so release money for education. We have listened carefully to what they have said. I shall continue to reflect equally carefully on the best way forward, as always in co-operation with the Churches.

The desire to increase parental choice is central to the Bill. Self-governing grant-maintained schools extend choice, but there may be some anxiety about the length of time that can be taken to sort out pupil admissions to schools where there are both grant-maintained and LEA schools in the locality and where parents can apply direct to the schools of their choice—the more so where the LEA is failing to co-operate with the grant-maintained schools.

I hope that that lack of co-operation will fast become a thing of the past. However, the Bill gives the holder of my office a power to impose collaborative admission arrangements if necessary. I hope that that power will be used only rarely.

I pay tribute to the way in which the grant-maintained schools and LEAs in boroughs such as Bromley, Hillingdon and those in Surrey have worked together to ensure that school admissions go smoothly where parents have a choice between grant-maintained and LEA schools.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that difficult situations can arise when excessive applications are made to a particular school? Does he agree that the spread of grant-maintained status will give schools that adopt it greater scope to meet more quickly the desire of parents to have their children admitted to those popular schools?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) is right to say that grant-maintained as well as LEA schools stand out as beacons of excellence. They are schools whose rolls bulge and at which parents queue to gain entry for their children. One of the Bill's aims is to improve the status and standing of our schools, so that queues will be spread more widely across the educational landscape.

Selection is an issue that Opposition Members are prone to raise whenever Government education policy is debated. They would have looked in vain for evidence in the Bill that our proposals for increasing diversity really mean selection by the back door. I stress, however, that I am always happy to consider applications for changes of character from any schools in this country on their merits —as has been done since 1944.

The Bill provides for business or other sponsors to nominate sponsor governors for voluntary-aided or grant-maintained schools. We hope that will support the efforts of an increasing number of schools to specialise in particular curricular areas, such as technology, and serve as a supplement to the delivery of the national curriculum.

It is not our intention to force any particular pattern of schooling on any area. We want schools to reflect the requirements of local people. Too many people in the education world, and perhaps among Labour Members, suffer a kind of dyslexia when they see the word "specialisation", and read it as "selection". They are behind the times, once again. The S word of which Labour should be frightened is specialization—as I pointed out when the New Statesman, in a remarkably broad-minded way, recently invited me to contribute to its pages on exactly that issue. I look forward to receiving a similar invitation from Tribune—and I shall be happy to write for that publication too, free of charge.

Mr. Tony Banks

We all have to do that.

Mr. Patten

I make a pledge to the hon. Member that I shall make such a contribution for no fee, when the invitation comes.

There has been much talk of the White Paper, and presumably the Bill, bringing the reign of local education authorities to an untimely end. They protest too much. The reign of some LEAs has been far from glorious but, even so, I pay tribute to the performance of many of them. I am happy to reassure all LEAs that I see them having a continuing role in the new structure, in the way that the White Paper and the Bill set out.

Part III of the Bill makes provision for children with special educational needs. The Education Act 1981, following the Warnock report, was a landmark in education legislation. The Bill embodies the principle enshrined in that Act but reflects a fundamental review of its operation, on which we consulted widely. Much credit is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), for all the work that he contributed to that review. Our suggestions take much the same course as the joint report recently published by the Audit Commission and Her Majesty's chief inspector, which was generally welcomed.

The Bill makes provision for the Department to provide a code of practice to which LEAs must have regard in performing their duties. It will contain clear guidance to help LEAs to decide when to assess a child's needs and when to make a statement. Regulations made under the Bill will also set out rigorous procedures—including statutory time limits—that authorities must observe when assessing and statementing a child. Too many LEAs take too long to perform that essential responsibility—those are not my words, but the words of the independent Audit Commission. That delay causes anxiety to parents arid can often hold back the education and development of their children. It must stop.

The Bill extends the parents charter to pupils who have special educational needs in the way described in the White Paper and in the Bill itself. Those measures represent a major advance, and I hope that they will command a wide measure of support from all parts of the House. Much as right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber my differ on other aspects of the Bill, I trust that special educational needs can largely be the subject of non-partisan scrutiny.

Mr. Steinberg

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Bill confers on grant-maintained schools a legal responsibility to admit children with special educational needs? According to my reading of the Bill in its present form, grant-maintained schools will be expected to take such children only if they have been statemented; it makes no provision for the 18 per cent. who have not been statemented.

Mr. Patten

The Bill makes it clear that any school—whether LEA-run or grant-maintained—must accept a statemented boy or girl when a direction has been given to that effect, subject only to an overriding right of appeal to the Secretary of State. I am afraid that councils of all political colours must bear the blame for the shameful queues of people who wait three years or more for statementing in many parts of the country. I hope that those queues will soon be cleared as a result of the Bill.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention. We discussed the matter a couple of weeks ago, when I appeared before the Select Committee.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Patten

I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not. I have given way several times, and I must make progress.

A small proportion of schools, often in the inner cities, fail to equip their pupils with the basics that are required for them to lead a life containing any real satisfaction, and making any positive contribution to the rest of society. By any count, that small number of schools can be described as failing schools, and I have no doubt that the House will support the Government's determination to deal with them.

Since 1944, we have entrusted that task to local education authorities. I do not pretend that it is an easy task to deal with a failing school—which is normally the result of a failure of leadership on the part of governors and/or head teachers—but all too often, with a few notable exceptions, LEAs have preferred concealing the difficulties to facing up to them. The Bill provides a framework for effective action, involving both LEAs and—if necessary —education associations appointed by the holder of my office.

In one respect, the Bill goes beyond the proposals in the White Paper. Following constructive discussions with the Churches—for which my noble Friend the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and I are very grateful—all voluntary schools will be brought within the scope of these measures. Education associations will be very important in ensuring that a child's only chance of a school career is not wasted in a failing school.

We thought that "education association" was a pretty good name. We imagined that we in the Department had dreamed it up, but I am afraid that there is little new under the sun. Little innovative matter exists. We need only flick through the pages of 19th-century educational writers such as Ruskin—let alone Thomas Carlyle: only today, I discovered that he was busily corresponding with John Stuart Mill in February 1835 about the need to set up education associations. Those are the exact words that he used.

I assure the House that, if a grant-maintained school fails its pupils in a similar way, I shall not hesitate to take equally effective action. That is provided for in part II of the Bill—in clause 111, I believe.

Let me deal briefly with the curriculum and with religion. The Bill promotes autonomy, accountability, choice and diversity—all in the pursuit of our principal objective of improving quality and raising standards. The establishment of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and of the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, will provide a new focus for the pursuit of better quality and higher standards.

We discussed this matter earlier—during one of the many interventions on my speech—and I do not want to start any more hares of that kind. I believe, however, that the introduction of the national curriculum has been an astonishing success, thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley and his successors. Nobody now can imagine the country's schools without the national curriculum. I have never met a teacher, in the 57 school visits[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker


Mr. Patten

That was just to see whether the Opposition were awake, Madam Speaker.

I have never met a teacher, in the 57 school visits that my hon. Friends and I have made to schools throughout the land since April of this year, who told me that he or she wanted anything other than the national curriculum. The new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority will provide a new coherence to the process of keeping the curriculum up to the mark and maintaining its vitality and relevance.

Academic and intellectual standards are vital, but they are only one part of the ethos of a school. The new inspection arrangements now being launched will make it absolutely clear that a fresh impetus will be given to questions of spiritual and moral development—issues that the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed yesterday in his excellent article in The Mail On Sunday. He made some very telling points about the responsibilities of all of us here.

In that context, the Bill amends the law relating to religious education, first to take account of the special position of grant-maintained schools and, secondly, to build upon the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988 as they affect all maintained schools, by ensuring that all religious education syllabuses will be brought into line with the provisions of the Act. It is quite simply shameful that, following the 1988 Act, two thirds of local education authorities have yet to revise their religious syllabuses.

I have no doubt that the official Opposition will soon come round to supporting the provisions in this excellent Bill. They have done so on every other occasion during the past 13 years. We have had a new thought from them every time that we have considered an education Bill.

Look at their record. They opposed the national curriculum; now they embrace it—a U-turn. They opposed local management of schools; now they support it—another U-turn. They opposed grant-maintained schools. Then they had a change of heart. After the general election, there was a U-turn. Then they had another change of heart. They have begun to oppose grant-maintained schools. They have done a U-turn on their U-turn over grant-maintained schools. There has been, I repeat, no fresh thinking on education by the Labour party on any occasion during the past 13 years.

I hope that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)—I look forward to the hon. Lady rising for the first time to make a speech on education at the Dispatch Box—will clarify one serious point. Parents have a right to know the answer to this question, as it goes right to the heart of the Bill.

The Labour party went into the last election with a firm commitment to abolish grant-maintained schools. All the hon. culprits on the Opposition Benches fought on that manifesto. Within two months of the election, however, the Labour party's education spokesman, who was then the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), reversed that policy. He issued advice on grant-maintained schools to Labour party members that read: parents and governors may feel bound to make decisions about what they think is best for their schools. Labour must not appear to be placed in a hostile position of opposition to parents. Perhaps the hon. Lady will be able to tell the House today how that advice squares with her own barely concealed contempt, expressed at the last Labour party conference, for those schools and their parents who wish to run their own affairs. At that conference in September, the hon. Lady accused parents of hijacking schools that wanted grant-maintained status.

If that is the hon. Lady's position, can she tell the House today whether it is still her party's policy to return grant-maintained schools to local authority control? In other words, is she prepared to back her principles with a firm commitment against the provisions of the Bill, or will those principles go the way of every other principle held by the Labour party, as we saw last week—the "here today, gone tomorrow" sort of principles?

Of course, it does not matter very much what the hon. Lady says about grant-maintained schools in the context of the Bill, because some Labour authorities—backed by Labour Members of Parliament and various trade unions and some professionals employed in education departments, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) pointed out in her important intervention—will in any event continue to fight applications for self-governing status. Those disgraceful tactics, which the hon. Member for Dewsbury has done nothing to reverse—in fact, quite the reverse—must stop. We shall ensure that the Bill offers no hiding place for those people.

I should like to take one case study of how the Bill might work on the ground in a named education authority. Why do not we look at what is going on in Birmingham, England's second city? Nowhere have some parents and some school staff who have wanted to opt out been subjected to more vilification than in Labour-controlled Birmingham. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Quite right."] "Quite right," I hear said from some part of the House.

In the context of the Bill, some Labour Members have been quick to rush to the defence of Birmingham's Labour-controlled local education authority. I have to say "some", because not all have displayed such political Pavlovian instincts. Some Labour Members, to whom I pay tribute, have taken a more intelligent view, such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), who is not in her place this afternoon and whom I respect.

She commented on the grotesque underspending on education compared with Birminghaam's standard spending assessment and hijacking of money earmarked for education for other prestige projects. She told the "Today" programme only last week: the lesson is pouring public money, poll tax payers' money, into big prestige projects does not deliver the goods for the people who are paying. How right the hon. Lady is. I agree with that, and perhaps the hon. Member for Dewsbury will say whether she agrees with her hon. Friend and Front-Bench colleague.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it a convention that, if an hon. Member intends to name another Member in a debate, that Member should be informed? Did the Secretary of State tell my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that he intended to refer to her in the debate?

Mr. Patten

I was quoting with approbation and admiration the hon. Lady's criticisms of her own local education authority. Further to that point of order, but carrying on my speech, if I may, the hon. Member for Dewsbury did not have the common courtesy to inform my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham that she would name him this afternoon.

Mrs. Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) has been passed the letters book, but if he has he will know that there is a letter for him on the Board, which he may not have collected.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

It might be useful if the House settled down and got on with the debate.

Mr. Patten

I agree. The old excuse that it is in the post is never very good. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham tells me that he was in the Members' Lobby at 2 o'clock, but I will obey your injunction, as always, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I have even more interesting things to say about Birmingham and its attitude to the Bill.

Ms. Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)


Mr. Patten

I have given way dozens of times, and I do not intend to do so further.

Does the hon. Member for Dewsbury agree with the sentiments expressed in a secret policy document on the White Paper that has fallen into my hands, which was prepared last month by Labour councillors and policy advisers in Birmingham? It states: opting out will be even more attractive financially under the White Paper. It goes on to ask about the post-Bill world: Would we be better to reverse our policy of spending more on schools and concentrate more on re-allocating those resources to our political priorities of nursery, special needs and wider links with the community where there could be a greater political return for us?

Ms. Morris

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Patten

I certainly will not.

It continues: Our values of quality, access and equality could be much more enhanced in these areas than by ploughing more and more money into schools, where not only are we losing the political battle with the Tories"— well done, colleagues in Birmingham— but also continuing to pay more monies to other local authorities to educate Birmingham children. Does the hon. Member for Dewsbury share those sentiments?

The hon. Lady had better be quick to tell us her answer, because the schools in Birmingham are voting with their feet. There are already four grant-maintained schools. Today, my noble Friend Baroness Blatch, the Minister of State in the other place, added five more to the list, so there are now nine grant-maintained schools in Birmingham. That means that more than 10 per cent. of secondary pupils in Birmingham will soon receive their education in self-governing schools, which will allow the Funding Agency for Schools to operate in Birmingham as soon as the Bill becomes law and to sort out the awful mess made by the local education authority there.

Ms. Estelle Morris

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Patten

No. I said that I was coming to the end of my speech, and I was cheered by Opposition Members. I now intend to come to the end of my speech.

As the hon. Member for Dewsbury ponders the facts and tries to fashion some semblance of a policy to put forward as an alternative to the Bill, she could do worse then reflect on—

Ms. Morris

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Secretary of State continually to refuse to accept a comment from an hon. Member who represents a Birmingham constituency when he continues to refer to the local education authority in Birmingham so disgracefully? He has talked this afternoon about democracy and openness. What sort of openness is it when he will not give way to an hon. Member who represents a Birmingham constituency?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is for the Secretary of State to decide whether to give way.

Mr. Patten

The hon. Member for Dewsbury could do worse than reflect on the advice of one of her party's former top education advisers, Ann Carlton, who is a one-time special adviser to Anthony Crosland. She wrote recently that the Labour party, in the face of the Bill, should now draw up an alternative education policy based not, as in the past, on the self-interested pleadings of local education authorities and the teaching unions, but on the interests of children and parents and on the needs of Britain's economy. That would be nice, but somehow the idea of Labour putting public interest before vested interest seems strangely remote.

The legislative proposals I have outlined today are ambitious. They are ambitious because we recognise that education is the essential lifeblood of our community. The children we educate in our schools today will be the parents of the new century. Education is a vital investment for the future. That is why it has been and will remain at the very heart of the Government's programme.

4.32 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I have no hesitation in opposing the Bill. Nothing that the Secretary of State said allayed my fears that the Bill will take Britain's education further in the wrong direction. It is wrong in principle to foster division, selection in schools and the centralisation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State.

It is significant that the Secretary of State had so little to say about the contents of the Bill. He seemed to spend more time knocking Birmingham than he did explaining any merits of his own legislation. I remind the Secretary of State that it was only in May that he wrote a glowing letter of recommendation to a school in Birmingham after his visit, apologising for his delay.

Mr. Patten

The school is thinking of going grant maintained now.

Mrs. Taylor

So the Secretary of State went to the school to persuade it. The Secretary of State now recognises that there are good schools—and more than just one. The Secretary of State said that he was very impressed by all that he saw of the hard work going on in Birmingham.

Perhaps the Secretary of State should remember what the Minister for the Environment and Countryside said when he went to visit the green show in Birmingham. He was so impressed by Yardley secondary school that he got the Nature Conservancy Council interested in its work, and the school is now on the list for foreign visits.

Perhaps the Secretary of State should recall Birmingham's record on nursery education. No Conservative authority in the country has as good a record on nursery education. Perhaps the Secretary of State should have a word with is right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir. N. Fowler) who, I understand, is chairman of the board of The Birmingham Post which stated recently that it was not surprised to see yet again the usual knee-jerk reaction of the Department of Education that anything coming out of Birmingham local authority is, by definition, bad. Birmingham is used to being knocked by the Secretary of State, and his attacks today will impress no one.

The Secretary of State's speech has proved that this is a pretty miserable, dreary and bureaucratic Bill with no vision for the future. It extends centralised control. The Secretary of State already has more powers than any of his predecessors. He can already dictate how many beads seven-year-olds must count in maths tests, but he now wants more powers. More than half the Bill is devoted to failed ideology. The Government have succeeded so far in persuading just 1.5 per cent. of schools to opt out, so the Bill is intended to push the other schools even further.

Another reason for our strong opposition to the Bill is that it is totally irrelevant to the real problems in education after 13 years of Conservative government. The main issues that concern parents, governors, pupils and teachers are not opt-out and grant-maintained status; they are over-sized classes, lack of nursery provision, a shortage of books, lack of resources and the Secretary of State's constant chopping and changing and interference in the classroom.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Is it not high time that the hon. Lady gave up her opposition to grant-maintained schools? She is not very good at U-turns and it took her a long time to do a U-turn over the right to buy. I think that she said that she would do that over her dead body. For the sake of all children, is it not high time that she did a U-turn over grant-maintained schools? She had the benefit of a very good education at Bolton school. Why should she deny other children that chance?

Mrs. Taylor

I want all children, including mine, to have the best education available, and that does not mean following the grant-maintained status route.

The Bill does nothing to address the main problems. Indeed, I believe that it will aggravate those problems as Department for Education resources are concentrated on glossy propaganda to promote grant-maintained schools. It is significant that the fastest growing area of Department for Education expenditure is self-promotion by the Secretary of State. In 1979, the Department spent a grand total of £103,000 on promotion and publicity. Last year it spent £6,942,000—a seventyfold increase. The new funding agency bureaucracy will soak up other moneys which should be spent in the classrooms.

The Secretary of State boasted with his usual modesty that the Bill is the biggest Education Bill ever—a sort of "never mind the quality, feel the width" Bill—and a "never mind the quality, feel the width" speech went with it. The Secretary of State also had the gall to mention the Bill and his reforms in the same breath as the Education Act 1944. I must tell the Secretary of State that he is no Rab Butler. The Education Act 1944 created the foundation of our education system. It was an important breakthrough for the nation's education, not only because of what it contained, but because of the way in which it was constructed. If the Secretary of State wants any of his education legislation to last for 40 months, let alone 40 years, some important lessons must be learned about consultation and listening to people who may disagree but want to see an improvement in education.

Mr. Spearing

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Patten

Rescue her.

Mr. Spearing

It is the Government who need rescuing.

Is it not correct that, although the 1944 Act was the basis of our post-war education, it was introduced by a predominantly Conservative Administration under a Conservative Minister of Education with the wholehearted support in principle of all parties in the House as well as the Churches and all the professions in education? Did it not knit together the hearts and minds of those involved in the profession, rather than divide them, which is what this Bill will do?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right. The 1944 Act could never have been the success that it was if it had not been for the consensus which was developed so carefully at that time.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

If the 1944 Act had the support of Labour, why was the Labour party so energetically opposed to grammar schools, which were part of that legislation?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman should understand education history. The previous Prime Minister abolished more grammar schools than any other Secretary of State.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Taylor

No, I want to make progress. I want to concentrate most of my remarks on the limited number of new ideas in the Bill rather than run through every clause.

The opening remarks of the Secretary of State show that he has not taken on board the weight of the opposition to his proposals. Not only those who sit on this side of the House oppose the Bill; the opposition includes the concerted voice of those in local government on both sides of the political fence, and the professionals who are involved in education daily.

The aim of the Bill is to implement the White Paper proposals which were published on 28 July when Parliament was in recess and schools had already started their summer holidays. The consultation period ended on 25 September, which was three weeks into the school term and before most parents, governors and teachers had had time to examine the proposals. This may well be the largest Bill, but it must surely have had the least consultation. However, that does not seem to have mattered a great deal to the Secretary of State, because he has obviously decided that his ideas are near perfect; hence the Bill says that it aims simply to implement the White Paper.

Mr. Pawsey

The hon. Lady will recall that the Bill will have a protracted Committee stage. It will then have a Third Reading and a Report stage, and be passed to the other place. During that period, representations can be made to Members of Parliament and members of the Standing Committee. In other words, the effective consultation period continues. Does the hon. Lady agree that, despite what she said about the consultation period that was set out, there has been ample time for trade unions and everyone else to make representations to not only my right hon. Friend but every other interested Member of Parliament?

Mrs. Taylor

It adds a new dimension to consultation to suggest that it should take place after the Bill is published and when it is in Committee. I understand that Department for Education officials were drawing up amendments while the Bill was being printed, which shows the haste of the procedure.

The Committee process may be made more meaningful if the Secretary of State serves on the Standing Committee which will consider the Bill. If the Secretary of State wants to tell us that he will sit on the Committee which examines the Education Bill, I shall be happy to give way so that he can make his position clear. However, he thought that he needed his beauty sleep and, therefore, would not serve on the Committee. He can clarify his position and say that he will serve on the Committee. In this instance, his silence shows that he will not be with us. If the Education Bill is so important, why will the Secretary of State not be there?

The timing of the White Paper and the Bill does not surprise anyone who has watched the Government retreat into talking only to those who agree with their ideas. Indeed, the Secretary of State went so far as to cancel a lunch with The Times after the newspaper's editorial on the White Paper dared to criticise him.

Ministers appoint like-minded advisers and take their advice, which is not advice at all but simply a reinforcement of their prejudices. Not listening has become the hallmark of the Government. As has happened with the miners, the Government will pay a high price for their education mistakes if they do not learn to listen.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Has the hon. Lady listened to the thousands of parents who have voted with their feet so that their children can have the benefit of grant-maintained education? What message does she have for those parents today?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman will do well to remember the vast majority of parents who want nothing to do with grant-maintained status.

The Bill is wrong in principle because more than half of its provisions are aimed simply at pushing more schools to opt for grant-maintained status. If any good comes out of the Bill, it will be the opportunity to explore the fallacies of the opt-out proposals.

In 1988, my colleagues predicted what would happen as a result of the education Bill of that year. At that time they were speculating about the position. However, we now have the facts that bear out what my hon. Friends predicted.

Let me remind the House why so much of the Bill is considered necessary by Ministers. There are more than 25,000 schools in England and Wales. The Secretary of State said earlier that of those, 340 have opted for grant-maintained status and 150 are in the pipeline. That is hardly a success for the Government. So we have this Bill to try to push more schools down the grant-maintained road. The Government have tried hard already. We have had the bribes and the glossy image. I hear that heads of grant-maintained schools have been paid to preach to other schools about the virtues of grant-maintained status.

Occasionally, reality breaks through. An example is the letter that the Minister sent to governors of grant-maintained schools which says: Funding across the board will be restrained". As much of the pressure on schools to become grant maintained has come from the promise of extra funding, perhaps it is not surprising that we are having this debate before the public expenditure announcement on Thursday. The Secretary of State does not seem to have put up much of a fight for any education sector. However, it is probably just as well for the Government that this debate is taking place after last Wednesday, given the Secretary of State's treatment of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). The Minister might not have persuaded some hon. Members into his Lobby last Wednesday, if this debate had already happened. [Interruption.] The Minister does not seem to understand that there are some northern Members in the House.

The Government's confusion is not confined to that. The Government have always been confused about the expected size of the grant-maintained sector. The former Prime Minister said that she expected half of schools to become grant-maintained by the last election in 1992. The former Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who is not here now, expected opt-out to take off in what he called a few bad Labour councils. The figures for opt-out show that the vast majority of opt outs have taken place in Conservative local education authorities. So if opt-out is a sign of dissatisfaction with the local education authority, there is clearly far more dissatisfaction with Conservative local education authorities than with Labour ones. Tory Kent and Tory Essex have more opt-outs between them than all Labour authorities put together.

The Secretary of State has now declared his target.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

As an Essex Member, I wish to comment on that. The hon. Lady is wrong. The fact that so many schools are opting out shows how good the local education authorities have been to those schools. They have taken them to a level of maturity, competence and self-reliance whereby they can stand on their own two feet and make decisions for themselves—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions should be brief. They are supposed to be questions, not speeches.

Mrs. Taylor

I am glad that I allowed the hon. Gentleman to explain that point. I suggest that he has a word with the right hon. Member for Mole Valley, because I was quoting him earlier when I spoke about bad authorities.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

In attacking grant-maintained schools, the hon. Lady seems to be arguing the case for local authorities, especially Labour-controlled local authorities, and their so-called "excellence at providing good education". Will she also explain why it appears that the 10 authorities with the worst GCSE examination results are all Labour-controlled? Will she also explain why, with one exception, those authorities are all in the top 10 for spending on pupils? Does not that show that Labour local authorities know nothing about educational standards?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman has just proved why league tables and statistical results are of such little value. The Department for Education has sometimes acknowledged that. The hon. Gentleman has been active in trying to promote grant-maintained status. As there are still some 24,500 schools to go, Tory Members will be kept very active on that in future.

Because the opt-out drive has failed so far, the Government are introducing proposals to make opting out easier: no second resolutions for governors; set limits on the spending of those opposing opting out; and clauses 72 and 73, which seem to be a licence to bribe for the Secretary of State. We shall oppose all those proposals, because we do not want schools to make decisions without the proposals having been discussed in detail. We are not afraid of discussing the facts.

In Committee, we shall look carefully at some of the activities of grant-maintained schools and we shall want to know whether Ministers share the views that some of grant-maintained schools have of themselves. For example, does the Secretary of State believe that grant-maintained schools should be sold as private education without the fees? Is that the image that he wants for grant-maintained schools? I am happy to give way to him if he will tell the House whether he thinks that that is an appropriate description of what grant-maintained schools provide.

Mr. Patten

indicated dissent

Mrs. Taylor

The Secretary of State shakes his head. Is that because he disagrees or because he does not wish to intervene?

Mr. Patten


Mrs. Taylor

I give way to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins).

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Would the hon. Lady care to defend the use of charge payers' money for blatant political propaganda against grant-maintained schools? How can she defend that?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman would do well to find some hard evidence before he says such things. He should look carefully at the budget of the grant-maintained trust and of the Department of Education in promoting grant-maintained status.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor


Why are there so many clauses about the liquidation of grant-maintained schools? Is it a recognition of the logical outcome of trusting the Government? Can we expect those schools to run into difficulties?

Mr. Hawkins

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

No, not again.

Mr. Hawkins

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady challenged me to produce evidence. Is it in order, when I seek to produce that evidence, for her to refuse to allow me to do so?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Yes, it is in order to do so.

Mrs. Taylor

The Bill's emphasis on grant-maintained status is simply an attempt to save a failed policy. Despite bribes and the escape route for schools that have opted out to avoid closure, less than 2 per cent. of schools have fallen for the Government's trap. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out earlier, last Friday we heard the welcome result of the Prime Minister's old school, Rutlish, voting against opt out.

The Secretary of State has been giving the impression that grant-maintained schools will get preferential treatment on funding, but he does so without admitting that he will be discriminating against the vast majority of schools. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will answer the simple question: will there be a level playing field for funding or, all other things being equal and over and above any administrative expenses, will a grant-maintained school get preferential treatment? Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) was right to say that a grant-maintained school was likely to be successful? I see the Secretary of State telling his junior Minister that he can deal with that when he winds up. The House deserves an answer to that fundamental question now.

Mr. Patten

I cannot resist the temptation. Grant-maintained schools will continue to get their fair share of resources, which recognise their additional responsibilities, their independence and freedom. That was there in the past and it will be there in the future. The hon. Lady should draw my remarks to the attention of those of her colleagues who are campaigning around the country on false information to the contrary.

Mrs. Taylor

If that is an answer, we shall wait a long time for clarification. Perhaps the junior Minister will be more forthcoming when he winds up the debate this evening.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

As the hon. Lady comes from my part of the world and has a similar accent to mine, she will be well aware that the Lancashire education authority starved the grammar schools in Lancashire so that their facilities were way behind when they became grant-maintained. Schools in Lancashire will benefit enormously from the fact that, from now on, the Lancashire education authority's funds, which have been massively misdirected, will now go into those schools.

Mrs. Taylor

That does not appear to be what parents in Lancashire think. Not for the first time, I disagree with the hon. Lady.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)

Will my hon. Friend accept from me that everything that has just been said by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) is untrue?

Mrs. Taylor


Much of the discussion about grant-maintained status has been presented as schools escaping from local authority control—that is what, in essence, the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) was suggesting. The reality is that the grant-maintained schools will be opting into a new, powerful, centralised control system. The creation of the funding agency will not only be expensive, bureaucratic and a waste of scarce resources, but will give unprecedented powers of control to the Secretary of State. The Conservative-controlled Association of County Councils says that the Bill has significant constitutional implications.

At times, the Bill is honest about the Secretary of State's intentions. Clause 245 states that there will no longer be any need for a local education authority. I had thought that subsidiarity was in favour with the Government at present, but apparently not with the Secretary of State. He will be appointing funding authorities that are accountable to no one but the Secretary of State. As the ACC said, that must be a loss of democractic accountability.

We must ask ourselves who those in the funding authorities will be. Will they be as representative as all the other quangos from the Department of Education—the great and good of the Centre for Policy Studies? I do not think that the Government's record on the independence of their organisations can lead us to have much hope in the funding agency.

During the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988, the Opposition raised a number of constitutional issues about the result of increasing power being placed in the hand of the Secretary of State. They were added to a general warning that once the process of gathering power together starts, it will inevitably continue as it becomes a form of addiction for Conservative Cabinet Ministers.

There have been some significant examples in recent years of Secretaries of State becoming hooked to the addiction of power, and the present Secretary of State has taken up the addiction. He adds an extra governor to one school, supposedly as a one-off, but then he carries on and further extends his powers. He allows a school that was part of the reorganisation programme for removing surplus places to opt out. Despite all the fine words about being tough on surplus places, schools have been allowed to opt out. There has been even more interference in the national curriculum, almost daily, by the present Secretary of State.

At the right hon. Gentleman's appearance at the Select Committee, he acknowledged that he would receive 44 new powers as a result of the Education Bill. Given the precedents, I think that we can expect the number to rise during the Bill's passage. Why will that happen? It is because the Bill is a further reckless attack on local government. It builds on past attacks by creating a new experimental system of central control to run grant-maintained schools alongside existing local authorities.

The Secretary of State will create the new Schools Funding Agency which, according to the Bill: shall comply with any directions contained in an order made by the Secretary of State. If there is a new, centrally appointed funding agency with powers that exist in parallel with those of local authorities, there is bound to be conflict between the new quango and the LEAs.

That conflict will be created simply because the Secretary of State is giving himself new powers. The right hon. Gentleman recognises that such a conflict will exist. How does he deal with it? By giving himself even more powers. The Bill states: any dispute as to whether any functions are exercisable by a funding authority or a local education authority shall be determined by the Secretary of State. It is not surprising that even Conservative local education authorities feel threatened, and believe that the new system is being rigged from the start.

The Conservative Education Association—not an organisation which I would normally consider quoting—has made a hefty and significant response to the Government's proposals. On the section on funding councils and the increase in the Secretary of State's powers, the association states that it is seriously disturbed at a massive and dangerous increase in powers given to central government and accused the Secretary of State of nationalising our schools".

Dame Angela Rumbold

I hope that the hon. Lady will accept from me that the Conservative Education Association, while containing the word "Conservative" in its overall title, is not an official Conservative party organisation. We in the Conservative, party have no pre-emptive right to the word "Conservative". I hope that the hon. Lady understands that the comments attributed to it are in no way associated with the Conservative party.

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for making that clear. I have been checking, and understand that the author of the submission to the Secretary of State was one of those who travelled with the Prime Minister on the campaign bus during the election, so perhaps some of the comments are significant. It might be worth quoting another of the comments of the Conservative Education Association. It states: We have been disturbed by what we see as the growth over the past year or so of too ideological an approach to education policy making. We believe that there is too much ideology and not enough practical common sense. Occasionally the Secretary of State would do well to listen to those people—even in the Conservative party—who disagree with him.

The centralisation of power does not stop with a new Schools Funding Agency. The Secretary of State is taking a number of direct powers over grant-maintained schools. They are his favoured few, for which he is supposed to believe in the right of self-determination, but he has taken powers so that he may modify the instrument of government of any grant-maintained school. He may replace any or all of the first governors of any grant-maintained school. The Secretary of State controls all the resources of grant-maintained schools through the funding agency—a control which he has already used directly this year by warning those schools that they should not apply for capital grants to spend on libraries, sports halls or sixth-form blocks. He controls not only the money, but every instrument of government. He can replace any governor whenever he chooses. If that is independence from the Government, I am not sure what the Secretary of State would mean by central control.

The Secretary of State repeated today that he intends to be tough on surplus places. He even claimed to have adopted some of our proposals. I wish that he had, because we believe that every authority should have plans to deal with that problem, and that there should always he a public inquiry. The Secretary of State does not establish a duty for all local authorities to deal with surplus places. Not surprisingly, the Bill simply gives him more power to pick and choose when the issue is tackled. There will be a public inquiry only if the Secretary of State uses his increased powers to bring in his own proposals.

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that opt-outs are bad news at any time but that at a time of economic recession and a public spending squeeze more of them would be especially worrying? The example of universities relying on central Government funding does not augur well for secondary and primary education. Further centralisation of education at a time of recession will surely be bad news for parents and children.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some people in the grant-maintained sector are beginning to be alarmed about exactly how much funding will be available. As I said earlier, there may be even more bad news in store for them on Thursday.

Does the Minister really think that his Department is capable of dealing with all the decisions that he wants to take on? Can it, for instance, deal with surplus places—of which the Secretary of State has been making much? He demonstrated that he lacks the knowledge to exercise these powers in his recent letter to all LEAs, in which he listed schools that do not exist, schools that had already been closed and, for one authority, he listed grant-maintained schools, which were well beyond the authority's power to deal with.

Mr. Patten

That phantom list of schools was produced by the local education authorities themselves and sent to us. Does the hon. Lady agree that that shows the need for us and the funding agency to look more robustly at the evidence from local authorities? It seems that they do not even know which schools in their areas do not exist and have not existed for some years. To put it mildly, they should start dealing with their data collection systems.

Mrs. Taylor

I am glad that the Secretary of State sets such store by the information that comes from local authorities. I wish that the Department would put that into practice. The case of Sheffield is instructive. That city has written on more than one occasion to the Department correcting the Department's figures. Sheffield wrote in January correcting the figures, yet in September the Secretary of State and the Department were still using out-of-date, misleading figures. Following one of the right hon. Gentleman's sets of figures, we learn that Sheffield should close seven or eight secondary schools; following the other, Sheffield apparently needs to build three more secondary schools. So much for the Secretary of State's ability to take over all decision making in education.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

I hesitate to prolong the agony, and I salute the hon. Lady's capacity to pack a three-minute speech into three quarters of an hour, but she has given us everyone's view but her own. I should love to know what she thinks about grant-maintained schools. Is she saying that she is not ready to listen to the parents who have voted on this matter? Does she intend to rescind grant-maintained schools? Perhaps she will give us her own views and stop quoting so many other people's.

Mrs. Taylor

There have been two ballots in my constituency since the election. I have listened to a great number of pupils and parents talking about the issue and I know the schools involved very well. The decision to opt out was overwhelmingly rejected because the parents bothered to look at the information and the facts—and I share their concern.

Earlier, the Secretary of State was not willing to be drawn on the extra administrative burden of dealing with surplus places, but he has one clear responsibility in this respect. Many LEAs are worried that the Secretary of State wants them to publish proposals to reorganise schools so that some of their schools will feel under threat and, when under threat, may choose to opt out. Of the schools that have opted out already, no fewer than 63 have done so because they were threatened with closure under a reorganisation.

If the right hon. Gentleman is genuinely interested in tackling surplus places, will he say here and now that he will refuse any application for grant-maintained status from a school seeking to opt out to avoid closure?

Mr. Patten

I have said on a number of occasions, including occasions in the House, probably before the hon. Lady took up her present responsibilities for education, that I will not allow grant-maintained status to be used as a bolthole for failing schools or to be applied for by failing independent schools. Grant-maintained schools and local education authority schools must operate on equal terms. We do not want failing schools of any sort: if schools are failing, they should be shut.

Mrs. Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question, just as he has consistently failed to answer questions throughout this debate. I am sure that the Minister who winds up will want to pursue the matter this evening, as will we in Committee.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

The Secretary of State has just said that we do not want any failing schools—we would all agree about that—but he went on to say that if they are failing they should be shut. What, then, was the purpose of the education associations, which one assumes existed to help failing schools? I disagreed with that method of helping failing schools, but now the right hon. Gentleman says that they should all be shut.

Mrs. Taylor

That is a good point, but my hon. Friend will understand that under pressure the Secretary of State will say almost anything.

Then we have the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for specialisation. We certainly think that that is a code word for selection. I recognise that there is a lobby in the Conservative party—I suspect that we have already heard from it today—that wants to bring back the grammar schools. We may hear more of that later today—indeed, some Conservative Members seem to be indicating that we will. We never hear from the same lobby about the other side of the case6bringing back the secondary moderns —an inconsistency which I am sure is a mere oversight. I wish that those promoting selection would do so openly rather than hiding behind words such as specialisation. Then parents could know where they stood.

Selection is certainly not what I want for my children; nor do I want them to specialise too early. I want educational doors to be kept open for each child as long as possible, not a system of education that closes doors in children's faces.

There should be some scope for cross-party agreement on the part of the Bill that deals with special needs. I served on the Committee that examined the education Bill implementing the Warnock report. We recommended that, as far as possible, children with special education needs should be integrated into mainstream education provision. That principle received all-party support. As we predicted, the problem has been that resources have not matched the requirements of that policy. That has a parallel with community care. Integration is right in principle, but it cannot be delivered if it is treated as a cheap option. The integration of children with special needs will not work unless it is done properly, and that requires extra resources.

The improvements in the Bill, while welcome, are not a complete answer. We welcome the time limits on statementing, although we hope to clarify some issues in Committee. We accept the need for the new tribunal system which acknowledges the concerns of parents. However, I am afraid that we share some of the worries such as those expressed by the Spastics Society that the new tribunal should not be just another panel of experts who can intimidate the parents of children with special needs.

We also wish to look at the case for a proper attempt to ascertain the wishes of the child in line with the Children Act 1989. As the Secretary of State said, we are all well aware of the different statementing records up and down the country. Significantly different proportions of children are being statemented, and the delay in some areas is too great. We hope that the Bill can help improve matters.

The Minister must be aware of the resource implications. We cannot offer a new deal to special needs children without more resources. I hope that the Minister is aware that the proportion of children with special needs who require statementing is small, and that the majority of special needs are met in other ways. It was not clear from the Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) whether he was aware of that. There is concern that although the Bill may somewhat improve the provisions for those who require statementing, it may do so at the expense of those who have a significant but lesser degree of special need.

Mr. Patten

The hon. Lady raises an important matter and I am conscious of the fact that I did not answer it properly when her hon. Friend intervened. Grant-maintained schools are not allowed to discriminate among applicants on grounds of ability unless they are selective schools. In addition, they cannot change their admission arrangements without coming to me as Secretary of State. That means that there is a clear guarantee that unless such schools are selective in some way there is no way in which children with special education needs will not be received into them. The matter can be further discussed in Committee.

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure that the parents of children with special needs would want to rely on that guarantee. The Secretary of State has missed the point. If local education authorities have to spend more time and resources on children who require statementing, where will the extra resources come from? Is there not a real danger that they will come from the special needs pool which will thereby be depleted, to the disadvantage of children with special needs that are not such as to require statementing?

In his intervention, the Secretary of State spoke about grant-maintained schools. I was not dealing with those, but I share the concern of groups such as Mencap which are worried about the proposed division of responsibility between the funding agency and the local authority. As Mencap says, how can a system operate coherently and efficiently if one body retains responsibility for children with special needs while another is responsible for the schools which provide the education? Mencap and others are increasingly worried that if the funding of schools becomes more dependent on league tables that are supposed to demonstrate their success, children with special needs, and especially those with behavioural problems, may prove even more difficult to place in future. Those are some of the issues that we shall explore in great detail in Committee.

I said earlier that the Bill was wrong because it concentrates on the wrong issues and ignores the real problems in education. We should be building on what is good and sound, such as the GCSE, and not undermining the good, as the Secretary of State did in August and September.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)


Mrs. Taylor

No, I shall not give way. It is too late.

The Secretary of State's reaction to this year's GCSE results was typical of what is wrong with his approach to education. His knee-jerk criticism of the examination results was splashed all over the papers regardless of its impact on youngsters who had worked hard for their success. Tory right-wingers do not like the GCSE because of its course work and because they find it difficult to accept that half of our children can obtain the top grades. The Minister had to respond to his right wing and criticise the examination. His time and the time of the House would be better spent on other issues, such as trying to reform post-16 qualifications.

The Bill should be judged on its contribution to improving education. Does it properly address the long-standing education problems faced by our children? It does not. Despite the Secretary of State's assertion that he wants to open the White Paper's door of opportunity to all children, he is returning to a divisive selective system that will open doors only to some. We have been down the road of selection, of specialised education. It led directly to second-class education for the majority of our children. It encouraged massive and widespread under-achievement and underpinned our low rating in international education comparisons. It gave the favoured few, those who were supposed to be succeeding, a narrow and limited view of what education opportunity was about.

The Bill does nothing to ensure that every child in Britain will be offered the chances, choices and resources to raise educational achievements to the highest possible level. It gives the green light to those who wish to select and reject and will deny many children the chance to learn. It sells the majority of our children short and closes doors rather than opens them.

Successive Conservative Governments have destroyed all hope of consensus in education, although many Conservative councillors share many of our values. There is a fundamental difference in approach between the Opposition and the Minister. We believe that the doors to education should be opened as wide as possible and kept open for as long as possible. The Government seem intent on creating a series of hurdles to discourage young people.

The Bill is dangerously irrelevant to the needs of education. It has nothing to say about how to raise standards and levels of achievement for all our children. Every country in Europe knows that pre-school education with trained teachers provides the basis for higher achievement. Where does the Bill deal with early-years education? Every country in Europe knows that coherent post-16 education which ensures the highest quality of education, leading to real achievement—not the low-level courses designed to reduce unemployment that we have had from this Government—is the key to an efficient economy and real achievement. Where is the post-16 education in the Bill?

Where is there any mention of the need to gain the co-operation of teachers using their professional skills in the enterprise of raising achievement levels? The Secretary of State is failing our children. The White Paper spoke of "developing moral values" and of teaching children to be involved in their communities. How can that happen if schools and pupils are encouraged to opt out of their communities?

The Bill will not only encourage a divided set of schools but will create an amoral framework in which community, parents and children will be encouraged to despise and denigrate each other. The Bill will not help to create the kind of education system that our country wants and needs as we move into the 21st century. We shall oppose it on every occasion.

5.30 pm
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), to borrow an analogy from the classroom, has proved herself a disappointing examination candidate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set her a number of examination questions on grant-maintained schools. He did not expect every question to be answered, but most examination papers say, "Attempt to answer one question."

The hon. Lady did not attempt to answer even one and then, perversity on perversity, she set some examination questions for my right hon. Friend—a curious inversion of the procedure that candidates in examinations are supposed to follow. When she did so, he promptly answered them all. The hon. Lady has given a disappointing performance in her answers about Labour party policy on grant-maintained schools.

Let me warn the hon. Lady about one thing. She and the Labour party must tread warily. They are trying to minimise the impact that grant-maintained status is having by marginalising the 300 or 400 schools that have already gone through with grant-maintained status. They claim that that is only a tiny statistic in relation to the great mass of schools. She should recall early Labour party attitudes towards the sale of council houses—a good analogy, as that was the enfranchisement of tenants, just as this is the enfranchisement of parents.

To begin with, the sale of council houses was a cloud no bigger than a man's hand—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know this familiar biblical metaphor. Now, it fills the firmament of political life. I believe that, while grant-maintained status may be a cloud no bigger than a man's hand now, it will grow similarly to fill the whole education firmament. The hon. Lady and her party should pay careful attention to the coming reality.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I should like to underline what my right hon. Friend says. The Labour party would do well to pay attention to this revolution in education. Is the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) aware that, in my constituency, every high school or secondary school has opted out, apart from one that was not allowed to do so last year but will do so this year? That represents parents who have money, parents who have only a little, and parents who have none. Old and young, rich and poor alike see grant-maintained status as an opportunity for their children and grandchildren, and the Labour party does not understand that.

Mr. Alison

My hon. Friend underlines my point. Grant-maintained status is starting slowly, but it will gather momentum and will become one of the great realities in the political firmament.

I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not only for his general presentation of this important Bill but for his special reference to religious education, in which he has taken a great personal interest, reflecting his own commitment, and about which he had a number of important things to say. Better still, there are important religious education features in the Bill.

I shall briefly say a few words about this rather rarefied and specialised subject. The Education Reform Act 1988 required that all new religious education syllabuses should reflect mainly Christian religous traditions. However, as my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out, this requirement has been applied only by the one third of all local education authorities that have drawn up or are in the process of drawing up new syllabuses. That is a poor performance.

Therefore, in clause 224, my right hon. Friend proposes to close a legal loophole by requiring all local education authorities to bring their syllabuses into line with the Education Reform Act 1988, if they have not already done so. This provision is greatly to be welcomed and is likely to receive that welcome in all parts of the House.

Clauses 10 and 11 give governing bodies of grant-maintained schools the right to be represented on local committees that prepare and monitor agreed syllabuses on religious education. This is also most welcome and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for this. My only concern is that these arrangements do not come into play until 75 per cent. of either primary or secondary pupils are educated in grant-maintained schools within the area of the local education authority. This trigger point should more appropriately be set at 50 per cent. and I hope that my right hon. Friend will examine the matter if an amendment along those lines is tabled in Committee.

Grant-maintained schools will wish to play a part, working with others, in preparing local religious education schemes, but it has to be recognised that in some cases, agreed syllabuses are of poor quality, making few intellectual demands on children. For this reason, the Government are right, in clause 126, to give the governing bodies of grant-maintained schools the right to choose the agreed syllabus of another authority. That is a reflection of how poor some of the existing syllabuses are.

I welcome the support the Bill gives to Church schools and in particular I welcome—I believe that I shall not be the only one to do so—the possibility of the creation of new denominational and non-denominational Christian schools.

My right hon. Friend will have received some evidence from the Church of England Board of Education. This is an immensely influential and beneficial body in the firmament of the Church of England, and the Church of England has a substantial stake, as my right hon. Friend knows, in education. About 20 per cent. of all schools are based on a Church of England foundation, and that is a high proportion.

However, the board of education has submitted some rather controversial proposals to my right hon. Friend. Without wearing my modest official hat as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, and speaking as an ordinary Back Bencher, I warn my right hon. Friend that I disagree with a couple of the ideas that the board has put forward. One is a change in the provisions affecting school worship. It proposes that the requirement for all grant-maintained schools to hold a daily act of worship should be dropped and replaced with the requirement for an occasional act of worship. As part of rendering the requirement occasional, the board proposes that children should be able to visit acts of worship according to non-Christian faiths. Most people accept that schools should teach about non-Christian faiths, provided that the integrity and coherence of each faith are respected and that the legal requirements of the 1988 Act that bear on a mainly Christian content are fulfilled.

There is a great difference, however, between children studying a world religion in a classroom and participating in acts of worship of another world religion. The Church of England's Board of Education of the General Synod proposes that schools should be free to arrange visits to acts of worship taking place within "faith communities", as it puts it. Many parents, however, will see little distinction between children observing acts of worship and participating in them.

I fear that the board's proposals give insufficient: weight to the concerns of parents who have a sincere faith, of whatever religion. Its proposals may prove counterproductive in the aim of developing respect, tolerance and understanding.

Many Muslim parents, for example, might have strong reservations about their children visiting Hindu temples. If it is not right to expect Muslim children to take part in acts of Christian worship, it cannot be right for Christian children to be expected to take part in acts of Muslim or Sikh worship. I heard that, a fortnight ago, primary school children within a northern education authority, on a school visit to a mosque, were made to pretend to be Muslims at prayer. Surely that is just as offensive to Muslims as to Christians.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will realise that real difficulties are likely to arise if we act on the board's advice in this context, although we all wish to maintain and integrate the mainly Christian emphasis of the 1988 Act with the need to learn discreetly about the reality of other world religions.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I ask for my right hon. Friend's views on the substance of religious education. It seems that the Government have done well in trying to ensure that the Christian tradition is used as a basis of teaching. In my experience, however, moralistic wiffle-waffle is taught about the third world, rain forests or some damned thing. Nothing is taught about the history of the Christian religion, let alone the Bible. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us his views on the substance of religious education rather than its form.

Mr. Alison

I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. It is one reason why we owe an immense debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and some of his predecessors for having joined in the general campaign to ensure that religious education syllabuses are brought properly up to date under the auspices of the 1988 Act and that "mainly Christian" means that most syllabuses have features of Christian religion that are properly taught, which means that there should be room for only one, or at the very most two, other world religion or religions.

Syllabuses are now subject to complaints by parents, and, as a result of the innovation that is contained in the Bill, grant-maintained schools, at least, will be able to shop around for a proper religious education syllabus. That means that there will be a huge emphasis increasingly on a proper Christian content. Schools will be able to introduce religious syllabuses that are not likely to be the subject of complaint and that genuinely teach mainstream traditional Christian religion.

I emphasise that religious education is not to be confused with religious instruction, religious indoctrination or religious nurture. The key word is "education". The complaints procedure and my right hon. Friend's innovation will, I am sure, lead to a great improvement in the content of syllabuses. We do not want thematic teaching to be aimed to impart, for example, the relevance of light in all world religions. That sort of teaching takes us nowhere; it is thematic and hopeless. That is the sort of thing from which we are hoping to escape as a result of my right hon. Friend's innovations and changes.

I hope very much that the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), as he articulately expressed them, will be met in what has been provided.

I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to some representations that I have received from Christians in Education—a department of CARE, Christian Action, Research and Education. It greatly welcomes the Education (Schools) Act 1992, which requires that all schools should be inspected on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of their pupils. Its provisions will help to implement some of the positive concerns that are set out in the White Paper about moral values in our schools.

Spiritual, cultural and moral values, however, are given slightly less emphasis in the Bill than in the previous two important education Bills. We would welcome the possibility of an amendment that would require schools to publish information about their spiritual, moral and cultural values. Such an amendment would help parents to make appropriate choices and give inspection teams a baseline for inspection.

Mr. Patten

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the tasks which I have laid down upon the Office of Standards in Education, the new inspectorate of schools —it will be examining and reporting on every primary and secondary school in the country over four years, and thereafter once every four years—is to report on the spiritual, moral and cultural ethos of a school? The chief inspector and his colleagues will be giving greater attention to that and setting great store by it.

Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware that I will, if he thinks that the procedure which I have outlined is inadequate, take seriously his request to consider the possibility—no more than that—of an amendment to the Bill along the lines that he has suggested?

Mr. Alison

My right hon. Friend has fulfilled the almost divine prerogative of "Before you call, I shall answer." He has made a fabulous contribution to the debate. We shall wait carefully on what he has said.

I would welcome also—

Mr. Pawsey

In addition to what my right hon. Friend has said about the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, does he agree that we have seen a positive example of further consultation on the Bill taking place this evening?

Mr. Alison

My right hon. Friend is an immensely flexible and receptive Secretary of State. He is well supported by allies and friends such as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), who keeps a sharp eye on us when we debate education matters.

It is to be welcomed that inspection teams will be reporting on the spiritual and moral aspects of school life. It is important that the teams include those who are equipped to report on such matters. That is especially important where schools have a particular and, in my advocacy to my right hon. Friend, clear Christian ethos.

We must ensure that we avoid unsympathetic or even hostile inspections. Many schools will not be able to choose their own inspectors. It will be damaging if non-Christians, or those hostile to the Christian religion, carry out an inspection of spiritual and moral aspects of school life. I am talking of those who are basically unsympathetic to the entire ethos of a school. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will bear these matters in mind.

My right hon. Friend is to be welcomed for his immense grasp of education matters, representing as he does the greatest seat of learning in the known universe. He has taken a particular, committed, profound and sympathetic approach to the issues surrounding religious education, for which we are all profoundly grateful. We wish him every success with the Bill.

5.49 pm
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

As we are all aware, the Government have dictated education policy for the past 13 years, yet whenever any criticism is levelled against the system, they blame anybody but themselves: they blame the teachers, the schools or the local education authorities. Now, instead of taking the opportunity to invest in education, they intend to make our education system the most centralised, bureaucratic and nationalised system in the western world.

We are told that the Bill will give us a double offering —choice and diversity—but in fact it contains more of the divisive reforms which have already caused upheaval in our schools and antagonised the education professions. Without any concessions to allow schools time to absorb the many and various alterations in recent times, the Bill moves the privatisation of the education system up a gear. It will extend opting out, further reduce the role of LEAs and increase specialisation and selection.

There is a disguised and ominous theme to the Bill. I served on the Committee which considered the Education Reform Act 1988, which gave the Secretary of State immense influence over the education system. We complained at the time that he was taking on too many responsibilities. The proposals in the current Bill reinforce that influence and give him inordinate control over education matters at local level. At a Select Committee meeting last week, the right hon. Gentleman agreed that he would be taking on more than 40 new powers. The ultimate effect will be that the rights of parents and the entitlements of children will be eroded.

Among other things, the Secretary of State will gain the power to approve changes of school character, to decide local admissions policies, to replace governors of opted out schools, to take over failing schools and to reduce surplus places. The sheer length of the Bill makes it impossible to mention every proposal during a Second Reading debate, so I shall concentrate on just a few.

The Secretary of State will have the power to appoint a new school curriculum and assessment authority—a single body to replace and combine the functions of the National Curriculum Council and the School Examinations and Assessment Council. That new body will be firmly under the control of the Secretary of State and will not be in any sense representative. In fact, it will be similar to the NCC and SEAC, which are controlled by puppets of the Government.

The Secretary of State's new powers to intervene in a wide range of matters will create confusion and administrative uncertainty for parents, teachers and schools. The main confusion is about the Government's proposal to appoint a statutory body, the Funding Agency for Schools for England. Its members, again appointed by the Secretary of State, will share the duty to secure sufficient primary and secondary school places from the point where 10 per cent. of pupils are in grant-maintained schools.

If more than 75 per cent. of pupils are in opted-out schools, the funding agency will take complete responsibility for education planning. We are told that local education authorities can apply to be relieved of that responsibility well before that point is reached. I expect that many Tory-controlled LEAs will jump at that opportunity. At the Select Committee meeting last week, the Secretary of State suggested that that was already happening and that many Tory-controlled LEAs were applying to get rid of their responsibilities for education.

Once the Bill is enacted, LEAs will have only a range of residual functions. The potential administrative chaos and institutional conflict is obvious, especially as the funding agency will have an interest in extending grant-maintained status. The members of the agency will be appointees of the Secretary of State and are therefore highly unlikely to show any inclinations to resist Government direction. Indeed, it would be against their interests to do so.

The Bill promises the continued existence of LEAs, but how can we believe that promise when they will have a markedly diminished role and the prospect of further delegation? The pressure to delegate even more will further weaken them and, as more schools opt out, the LEAs will lose powers to the funding agency. Eventually, they will be relieved of all their functions. Local government has been taken out of education. Democratically elected LEAs are being replaced by unaccountable quangos answerable only to the Secretary of State.

It is once again clear that the opportunities for growth and development are to be restricted to the grant-maintained sector. The Government want all schools to opt for grant-maintained status, despite the fact that opting out has proved an embarrassing flop, as the figures that I shall give later in my speech so clearly show.

Immediately before the general election, the then Education Secretary predicted that an avalanche of schools would opt out as soon as a Tory victory was assured. The Grant-Maintained Schools Trust claimed that 2,000 schools would quickly opt out. That has not happened. In fact, there has been a minimal response, with fewer than 400 schools opting out.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reason why so few schools have managed to opt out thus far is the LEAs' vigorous, vicious and hostile campaign against such schools?

Mr. Steinberg

The majority of schools do not want to opt out because they are satisfied with their local education authorities. Those that have opted out are in local education authorities which have underfunded their schools, and those schools opted out only because they had no alternative but to do so. Opting out has been a complete wash-out in Durham, where there is no support for such a system. That has been profoundly embarrassing for the Government and has contributed to their desperation to make grant-maintained status easier to achieve and more attractive to individual governing bodies. Head teachers and school governors have been bombarded with propaganda. We have heard about expenditure on campaigns by LEAs, but it cannot compare with the amount of taxpayers' money spent by the Government on bombarding head teachers and governors with propaganda.

To ease the route to opting out, the Government intend to abolish the second governors' resolution before a parental vote, thereby reducing the amount of time for resistance. They intend to limit LEAs' spending on information about opt-out ballots and to allow voluntary bodies to impose the establishment of new grant-maintained schools. The Government are prepared to spend large amounts of public money on campaigns in favour of grant-maintained status, but they intend to wipe out any attempts by LEAs to oppose them, by placing a restriction on LEA expenditure. The Secretary of State has confirmed that today.

The proposals are not so much about offering the choice to opt out as about the far more menacing implication of enforced opting out. There is a very real possibility that schools will be forced to opt out against the will of their governing bodies. Opting out is aimed at the break-up of the cohesive pattern of local education. It encourages moves towards selection, with a school able to choose its pupils, and it leads to neglect of the less able or disadvantaged child. Until now, financial bribes have been offered to opting-out schools at the expense of other children in the community. It is no wonder that the largest group of opted-out schools are those under low-spending Tory authorities. It is in Labour areas that parents have the greatest confidence in their locally accountable education service.

Schools where ballots are pending include Blackfriars, Devon Foundation and King Edmund schools in Conservative-controlled Essex, and the George Warr school in Conservative-controlled Wiltshire. The list goes on and on. They are all schools in Conservative-controlled areas wanting to break free of useless local education authorities.

Where schools are labelled as failing, LEAs will give way to local education associations—more ominously known as hit squads—which will move in to take control. Those hit squads are already being labelled as a dad's army, because they will consist of retired head teachers and former managers of industry. Again, the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint association members, who will have the authority to take over the management of a school, or even a group of schools, from the governing bodies and the LEA. Associations will have the power and the funding of a grant-maintained governing body.

Education associations pose significant threats. No criteria are given to define a failing school. It will be left to unreliable, privatised inspectors to decide which schools are at risk. Only schools in LEA areas will have the pleasure of education associations. That presumably means that grant-maintained schools will never fail—or if they do, it will not matter.

Mr. Walden

The hon. Gentleman appears apprehensive—as, in my experience, are some Conservative voters—about pitting one school against another and thus introducing friction. It is important that the public understand that the vision of a smooth-running machine is false. That is a totalitarian vision. Friction, as T. S. Eliot pointed out, is a necessary component of any successful culture. Controlled friction between schools, by generating more competition, will be fruitful and beneficial. Friction is inevitable if one has freedom.

Mr. Steinberg

The only friction that I know is that generated by a Tory Government who have been destroying education for the past 13 years. The Bill is the last nail in the coffin.

An education association will have the power to propose changes in the character of a school under its management and, if necessary, to suggest closure. It will have the power to hire and fire staff in order to achieve its goals, and it will manage a school until the Secretary of State is satisfied that it has achieved a satisfactory performance.

Following the involvement of the education association, the school would be forced to become a grant-maintained school without any ballot of parents. Where is the choice that we hear so much about? The truth is that education associations are being introduced as a way of ensuring that inner-city schools opt out when they would not otherwise do so.

In some areas, three separate authorities will operate —the local education authority, the funding agency, and the education association. What is that but a recipe for absolute chaos? The Government are determined that the number of surplus places should be reduced to make financial savings. The Secretary of State has given himself ultimate control in the power to force a local authority to reduce the number of its school places.

It is to be expected that LEA-controlled rather than grant-maintained schools will be targeted. The funding agency is almost certain to favour grant-maintained schools, and the new policy of rationalisation will result in "full" grant-maintained schools and the closure of LEA schools. Parents' choice will be limited when they find that a school of their choosing has been closed so that a grant-maintained school can flourish. That is total hypocrisy. LEAs attempting to close schools in an overall provision plan have found that the Government allowed threatened schools to opt out—and in some areas produced even more places by opening a city technology college.

The Bill contains a substantial section on specialisation, which is distinct from selection. Specialisation is presented as schools "playing to their strengths" and is to be encouraged by the option of adding sponsor governors with a background in commerce or industry. Specialisation is, therefore, likely to be associated with increased funding inequality. Also, a school wanting to develop its specialism will be allowed, if necessary, to alter its structure.

Grant-maintained schools will be given a free rein, with the possibility of becoming selective. They may apply to change their character and admission policies and will then be judged on their merits by—guess who—the Secretary of State. That will undoubtedly lead to selection re-emerging by the back door.

Mr. Clappison


Mr. Steinberg

I have already given way, and I have much more to say.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Bill's provisions will not work in counties such as Northumberland, which have a three-tier system comprising first schools, middle schools and high schools?

Mr. Clappison


Mr. Steinberg

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I wish that he would sit down.

If I were the Member of Parliament for my hon. Friend's constituency, I should be very worried about the local schools. They are the targets of the surplus places that the Government are talking about. Such schools are likely to be closed down. Unless they opt out, they will probably have no future. I should be a very worried man if any such schools were in my constituency.

Selecting children for specialist schools ignores the developing and changing nature of children's abilities and needs. It assumes that the number of children having a particular aptitude at 11 years of age is definable—and that the same children and number will have identical aptitudes and needs later in their education. Educationists know that that is not the case, but the Government, as usual, ignore reality and claim to know best.

In Durham, the local authority co-ordinates local planning and control in deciding what is best for the school, parents and students. We face the prospect of individual units specialising in music, science or languages vying for business. A number of schools will thrive in that environment and will be able to develop into selective centres with a high reputation for quality in their area of expertise. That will be achieved by selecting the brightest children. Anyone can do that. There will always be the survival of the fittest, but a proper national education system cannot develop in a free market atmosphere.

The Government continue to reject equitable resourcing to nationally agreed minimum levels; yet with a national funding council, national curriculum, and national testing, the need for nationally agreed levels of resourcing is inescapable. The Prime Minister's insistence that pupils everywhere should have the same opportunities is solely a reference to the national curriculum. There is no such insistence in relation to funding.

The Government continue to promote the myth of parental choice. They do not face the fact that, ultimately, parents will find their children being turned away from schools which are full, whether they are specialised or selective. The policies proposed by the Government will lead not to parents choosing schools, but to schools choosing pupils. As surplus places are removed, choice becomes more limited, because more schools are full. Parents are able to express a preference from a variety of options, but do not have the right to a choice of school. It is not explained what will happen to pupils when their parents are unable to secure their first choice.

Although the Bill goes some way towards improving provision for special needs, I do not think that it goes far enough. Those with special needs are still under threat, and the introduction of the funding agency will bring confusion. The LEA and the funding agency will, from the 10 per cent. entry point, share a duty to secure sufficient places in the area for pupils with statements; the LEA will continue to be responsible for pupils with statements, whereas the funding agency may become responsible for pupils with special educational needs without statements.

That is totally confusing, and I fear that it will endanger the links that have been carefully made between mainstream, special schools, and their support services.

The future of the integration of disabled and handicapped children in mainstream schools will be at risk unless a duty is placed on grant-maintained schools to admit any disabled or handicapped child, rather than the duty being placed only on the grant-maintained schools specified in the statement. The quality of education provided for such children will be seriously endangered unless we legislate for more than what I see as a quota system.

The proposals could also result in LEA schools having to provide for all special educational needs, with grant-maintained schools becoming even more elitist than already planned. The 1981 and 1988 Acts were never resourced adequately, and there is already a huge commitment of resources for LEA schools. We do not want or need elitist grammar schools; we need schools which provide for a cross-section of the school population, giving all children the best possible quality of education. Such schools must be adequately resourced.

While our European neighbours develop an education policy according to national interest, out Government pursue a policy of dichotomy, division and disregard. The Bill is irrelevant to the real needs of education. Not even passing lip service is paid to increased investment and better facilities. Parents care whether a school has sufficient books and equipment, enough teachers and adequate buildings; the Government's only investment, however, is in the establishment of a mechanism to dismantle local control.

My principal demand is for minimum standards of resourcing for education, with particular regard to staffing levels linked to class sizes and curricular needs, to nursery provision, to books and equipment and to in-service training for teachers. It is clear that the education service is drastically underfunded. A significant and immediate injection of funds is essential; in turn, a high-quality education service will rely on well-motivated, properly qualified and trained teachers, with the time and resources to fulfil their professional role.

Quality teaching goes hand in hand with an increase in the recruitment of teachers, and with their retention in the profession. The Bill makes very few references to teachers, and gives no hope for the opening of a serious dialogue with the profession the search for an improvement in schools. It says nothing about the central role that the teaching profession must play in any scheme to improve the quality of education. That may not come as a surprise, but it represents a fundamental flaw in the Bill.

The Bill will reduce the influence of the LEA as an employer by increasing grant-maintained status and delegation under local management of schools. Teachers will thus become more vulnerable. The removal of surplus places will lead to the displacement of teachers; unless the Bill is changed drastically, the redeployment of teachers —already extremely limited—will become a virtual impossibility. The LEAs' ability to redeploy teachers will be seriously diminished. Grant-maintained schools would be unlikely to accept redeployees, and the funding authority is not likely to take responsibility for managing a redeployment programme and encouraging grant-maintained schools to employ redeployees. Schools which remain under LEA control will face surplus place reductions themselves, and are unlikely to be in a position to accept redeployees.

A quality public education service is the foundation of a civilised and economically successful society. The success or failure of the public education service rests essentially on both the level of resourcing and the efforts and contribution of the teaching profession. Without the necessary investment in education—including its teachers' salaries and conditions of service—its full potential cannot and will not be achieved, and the nation's children and the nation as a whole will suffer from all the adverse consequences.

6.15 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

If the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) thinks that grant-maintained schools are such a flop, why did he devote about 75 per cent. of his speech to attacking them? If they are a flop, why is the hon. Gentleman so worried about the future of LEAs? I suggest that he is confused.

I found the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) particularly disappointing. It was totally negative. After 55 minutes of it—and an intervention from one of my hon. Friends—the House is still unclear about the Opposition's official policy. Are they going to repeal legislation relating to grant-maintained schools, or are they not? Are they going to take grant-maintained schools back into LEA control, or are they not? If the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) wishes to intervene, I shall willingly give way to him.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

I shall have something to say tomorrow.

Mr. Pawsey

I hope that the House heard that. The hon. Gentleman wishes to remain silent, and Conservative Members find that silence eloquent.

I welcome the Bill, which maintains the thrust and momentum of both the 1986 and the 1988 Acts. It is the third in a trinity of Bills designed to improve the quality and standard of state education, from which the majority of our children benefit. One aim of the Bill is to develop the grant-maintained school. There is no doubt that, following our general election victory in April, grant-maintained status is here to stay and will increasingly become the norm, especially in the secondary sector.

Speaking at the Council of Local Education Authorities in Liverpool earlier this year, my noble Friend Lady Blatch said: Local education authorities can no longer be guaranteed a monopoly in providing education services. Those who hear in those words the death knell of the LEA may be somewhat premature, but there can be little doubt that they sound a clear warning note about its continued existence, at least in its present form. A wind of change is blowing through the state education system, and LEAs will undoubtedly feel the draught.

The role of the LEA will unquestionably diminsh as the number of grant-maintained schools increases. It should be remembered, however, that the LEA exists not for the benefit of the well-meaning people who serve on it, but for the benefit of children and their education. If that education can be improved by a vehicle other than an LEA, we should not hesitate to adopt such a vehicle. No one system enjoys a monopoly of virtue; there is clearly merit in increasing the amount of choice and diversity, and that applies to school administration just as much as to the schools themselves. It is likely that a residual role will remain for LEAs, but it clearly will not be as all-encompassing as it is now.

I readily acknowledge the work of those who serve on LEAs, both elected members and officials. We live in a time of change, however, and the education system cannot be immune to that change. It does not operate in a time warp. Clearly, it must respond to the greater parental expectations that exist as a result of the 1986 and 1988 Acts.

Local education authorities, established almost 100 years ago by Act of Parliament, are not the only vehicles that can deliver good education to the nation's children. I am convinced that there are alternatives. The grant-maintained school is one. In the past, it has always been accepted that the Government must accept responsibility for what goes on in the nation's schools, even though the Government do not administer them. When I look at our education system, I am reminded that although the Government are responsible for what goes on in the nation's schools, they do not have power over how money is spent in those schools. They may will the means, but local government, through the local education authorities, decides how those means will be spent.

It is sometimes argued that the resources made available by central Government are inadequate, but that is not borne out by the facts. In response to a recent parliamentary question that I tabled, it emerged that the United Kingdom spends a higher percentage of its gross domestic product on education than either Germany or Japan. That is underlined by the fact that the pupil-teacher ratio in this country is now 17.5:1. Only seven years ago, it was 18.5:1. There has been a steady improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio throughout the lifetime of this Government.

The increase in resources is also borne out by teachers' pay. According to a recent answer to another parliamentary question that I tabled, the average teacher's pay on 1 April 1992 was £20,630, an increase of some 273 per cent., in cash terms, since 1979—or a real-terms increase of 46 per cent. Despite the ill-informed comments of some Opposition Members, it is clear that this Government have consistently increased funds for education since 1979.

Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend)

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Government's commitment to education, but is it not true that, in real terms, spending on education each year since 1979 has been less than that in other areas of Government spending? If the Government were spending the same percentage as was spent in 1979, an additional £1.5 billion would have been spent on education in the last year alone. Those are the real figures.

Mr. Pawsey

The hon. Gentleman takes no account of falling school rolls. That is the key here, and it was the basis of the reference made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to surplus places. It may be that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to my right hon. Friend's excellent speech.

The problem facing the Government is that they have no control over the way in which funds are spent. To take up an illustration given by my right hon. Friend when he opened the debate, when we look at Birmingham, the nation's second city, we see that in 1991–92 its standard spending assessment for education amounted to £457 million. Spending on education in the same year amounted to £392 million, so its standard spending assessment was underspent by £65 million. That illustrates some of the problems that have to be overcome by the present system of administering education.

The priorities of some local authorities are not always those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Most of us want more money to be spent in the classroom, yet all too frequently resources are wasted on matters that do not relate to the child in the classroom. I suspect that that is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend is anxious to move forward with grant-maintained schools. With grant-maintained schools, the apron strings that secure schools to the local education authority are cut. We see a much closer relationship develop in the grant-maintained school between the school, its teachers and its governing body and the local community.

Grant-maintained schools are a substantial success. Parents like them. There is little doubt that by the end of this Parliament half of all the nation's secondary schools will have applied for grant-maintained status. Grant-maintained schools use resources best. They can make decisions more quickly and in their own best interests.

Those three specific issues have to be contrasted with what happens in the local education authority school. First, it does not enjoy the same level of resources, for some of that school's money is used to fund the local education authority. Secondly, decisions relating to that school are often taken at local education authority level, and the LEA may be some miles away from the school. Thirdly, the LEA's consideration of the needs of that school is sometimes distracted because of the conflicting interests of other schools within its area.

It is also interesting to note that grant-maintained schools encourage a greater sense of involvement by both parents and governors. It was significant that in a recent article in The Times, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, said: The single most potent factor in academic success is parental involvement and support. Although some of us might challenge his view about parental involvement being the single most potent factor, it plays a substantial part. The greater involvement of both parents and governors in the running of a school, which is seen as their own school, must be good for the education of the children in that school.

It is interesting to note that Opposition Members are beginning to come round to that point. My hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to a press release that was issued in June this year by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who was then the official Opposition spokesman on education. I shall quote what he said in full: It must be recognised that local circumstances will vary. The community of schools is under threat of being broken up but parents and governors may feel bound to make decisions about what they think is best for their school. Labour must not appear to be placed in a hostile position of opposition to such parents. That may not have been a blinding flash of light on the road to Blackburn or even Dewsbury, but it certainly represents a shift of opinion by Opposition Members.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on those areas where substantial numbers of parents have been interested in opting out? The London borough of Wandsworth's appalling record and its total contempt for the educational values and standards of the schools that are trying to educate children in that area has led to parents very reluctantly—I speak as one parent in that position—taking the view that anything is better than to have one's children under the regime of the London borough of Wandsworth. That factor has led some people to vote for opting out. I should have thought that that would be a matter of serious concern to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)


Mr. Pawsey

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but one of my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), also has great knowledge of what goes on in the London borough of Wandsworth and its neighbouring authorities. Therefore the hon. Gentleman will, I know, forgive me if I give way to my hon. Friend who will put the other point of view.

Mr. Bowis

I suspect that the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) knows no more about Greenwich than he does about Fulham, which he left not so long ago. The truth is that Wandsworth's schools only recently escaped from the Inner London education authority's regime, under which 45 per cent. of parents voted with their feet and took their children out of that borough's education system. They are now coming back. The schools are improving. Wandsworth is giving the go-ahead to those schools that wish to go grant-maintained and the results—attendance and everything else—in Wandsworth are better.

Mr. Pawsey

I was right to give way to my hon. Friend, who has given the hon. Member for Greenwich his come-uppance.

To return to the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury, who now leads for the official Opposition on education, I am reminded that when she was the shadow spokesman on the environment she was originally opposed to the sale of council houses, but that even she came round eventually to acceptance of that policy. I believe that history will repeat itself. Grant-maintained schools in the 1990s will be what the sale of council houses was in the 1980s, for the same fundamental reason: they give more power and more responsibility to the individual and reduce the role of the town hall and the bureaucrat in people's lives. I am convinced that most parents know best what is right for their children, and grant-maintained status encourages that laudable objective.

I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not duck the problem of failing schools, especially those in inner cities. Some schools have failed their pupils, and LEAs have not always been able to rise to the challenge of the failing school and to lift to an acceptable level the quality of education at the school. Under the Bill, where a school is identified as being at risk, the Secretary of State will be empowered to appoint an education association to take over its management until it regains and maintains essential standards. That is a fallback position, which will be adopted only after the LEA has been given every opportunity to put its house or the school in order.

The education association will be small. Its members will be appointed by the Secretary of State and it will receive direct grant from central Government. It will have powers similar to those enjoyed by a grant-maintained school. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State addressed this specific problem, because some inner-city schools have undoubtedly failed pupils and parents. The education association will bring new ideas and new minds to an old problem, and so often it is new ideas rather than money that are needed to answer the problem of the failing school.

The Bill makes it easier for specialist schools to emerge, and I look forward to their development. I want more schools to develop expertise in science, music and the technology that leads to engineering knowledge.

Hon. Members will recall that the title of the White Paper that gave birth to the Bill was "Choice and Diversity: A New Framework for Schools". There is little doubt that such a twin approach will advance the quality of education. Parents want more choice in the type and character of schools. The old idea that only one type of school can deliver education to all the nation's children is increasingly discredited. Children are not, thank God, identical. Some will always rise to the challenge of an academic environment, just as others will prefer a slower and perhaps more technical approach.

The Bill must ensure that children get the education that is best suited to their needs. The grant-maintained school provides more flexibility and autonomy and develops a stronger commitment among staff, parents and governors, which certainly results in better use of resouces.

It has been patronisingly argued by Opposition Members that headmasters and school governing bodies lack the initiative, intelligence, expertise and enthusiasm to run their own schools and need the crutch of the local education authority. It has been argued that those schools cannot think for themselves or develop without the wisdom or guidance of the LEA. I have news for Opposition Members: most heads and governing bodies want more freedom to decide their own future. They are only too well aware of the shortcomings of the existing LEA system and want to improve their school and the education that it offers for the benefit of their children.

The new Funding Agency for Schools will be responsible for recurrent and capital grants and will share with LEAs the duty of securing sufficient school places until 75 per cent. of pupils in an area are educated in grant-maintained schools. At that point, the funding agency alone will discharge that responsibility. It does not establish a son of LEA or set up an LEA by another name. The funding agency will have fewer powers, and essentially its job will be to allocate funds and not to direct the form of education in an area.

Some, principally Opposition Members, say that we are centralising education, but that allegation is not borne out by the facts. We have reduced the role of the middle man in education—the LEA. Grant-maintained schools will have enhanced autonomy and greater responsibilities and the Department of Education will be responsible for providing funding. The interface that will be created by those two halves will do much to improve the quality and standard of state education and will give real local control. There will be no third party to interpret or distort the intentions of national Government as they apply to schools.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to small primary schools, especially those in small rural areas. I am pleased that they will be able to come together in clusters —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to have the support of my hon. Friends, who appreciate that point —making it easier for them to apply for grant-maintained status. Village schools with relatively few pupils do not feel able to apply for grant-maintained status. Under the Bill, that will be made much easier and more attractive. They, too, will share in the benefits that come from grant-maintained status.

I conclude by saying that Christmas is not too far away and by recalling my right hon. Friend's well-known sense of humour. The Bill reminds me of a Christmas cake. It is substantial, full of goodies and very fulfilling. I commend it to the House.

6.36 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

May I begin, even in his absence, by congratulating the Secretary of State on delivering a speech which at least he enjoyed? Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it and I suspect that many people who are truly concerned about education would not have done so. I far preferred the measured speech of the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg).

Mr. Pawsey

He appreciated that.

Mr. Foster

I thought he might.

The Bill is the 17th education measure that the Government have introduced in the past 13 years. One gets the impression that the Tory approach is, "We shall keep on trying and might get it right one day." I believe that the Bill fails to get it right, and I hope to explain why I so believe. I also hope to deal with one or two of the points that the Secretary of State made directly to me.

I acknowledge that there is merit in some parts of the Bill. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) referred to those, and I agree with her comments about special educational needs, to which I add the subject of pupil attendance. There is some merit in the Bills's proposals on those subjects, and I hope that it will be possible to achieve all-party agreement on them in Committee.

For many, however, the biggest problem with the Bill is its omissions. It fails to tackle the key fundamental problem that is faced by many of our schools— underfunding. There is no commitment to ensure the massively increased funding that is so desperately needed to repair our rapidly crumbling school buildings, to provide more teachers, to reduce class sizes, to provide more opportunity for under-fives and to provide better equipment and more books.

No doubt we shall have to wait until we hear what the Chancellor says in his autumn statement on Thursday. I suspect that none of us will hear any good news about overcoming the underfunding of schools. If the Bill is enacted, governors will still face the stark problem of choosing which books or which equipment not to purchase, or of choosing which teachers they will have to sack.

The Bill goes no way towards meeting the aims set out in the White Paper, "Choice and Diversity: A New Framework for Schools". I cannot see a single clause that will ensure that every child will have the best possible start in life. Indeed, I suggest that the chaos and division which the proposals will bring will go a long way towards harming the current quality of education in schools in England and Wales.

I am sure that if he were here, the Secretary of State would have recalled that some months ago, I urged him to ensure that there was adequate consultation on the White Paper before the publication of the Bill. I specifically asked him to ensure that the consultation period did not cover only the summer holidays when it is most difficult for those directly concerned with education to produce co-ordinated responses. I know that I was not alone in making such a request. Clearly, the requests were largely ineffective, because the Secretary of State went ahead and the consultation period largely covered the summer holidays, with just a couple of weeks tacked on to the end.

What was proudly hailed by the Secretary of State as the largest ever piece of educational legislation has had what I understand to be almost the shortest consultation period attached to it. If what we hear is true, the shortness of that period has caught out even Department for Education officials. It is almost certain that the Bill will receive as many amendments from them as it will from Opposition Members.

One would think that the Government would have learnt their lesson from the poll tax with all its problems. The system of law-making used to be that we thought first and then legislated. The Government seem to see it the other way round—that we legislate first and think afterwards.

Perhaps it did not really matter that there was a short consultation period. After all, there is little evidence that the Government took much notice of the responses they received. The latest edition of Education magazine says: The Bill contains virtually no surprises. Nor does it reflect in any way the weight of opinion which so roundly questioned many of Mr. John Patten's original policy plans. It is as if the Secretary of State and his Department are a black hole into which any vaguely dissenting voice disappears, never to be heard again and certainly never likely to influence the thinking of the Secretary of State.

It was, therefore, perhaps somewhat foolish of the Secondary Heads Association at its recent conference to complain, as many others have done, about the isolationist stance of the Secretary of State. It was perhaps even more foolish of the new president of the association to comment: Since the election the Secretary of State has refused to consult the very people, heads and deputies, who will be required to make his new proposals work. It probably was foolish because the evidence suggests that, even when the Secretary of State consults, he takes only limited notice.

The Secretary of State does not even take much notice of people who are normally his supporters. The Conservative-controlled Association of County Councils came across the reluctance of the Secretary of State to consult and then to listen. The association writes of its concerns that they were explained to the Secretary of State at a meeting with him … obviously, time did not permit their reflection in the published Bill. That is very charitable of the ACC. I suspect that the real reason was that the Secretary of State simply did not agree with the points made by the ACC.

Mr. Bowis

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is about to enlighten the House on the process and procedures of consultation which led him in May to be in favour of every school being grant-maintained, but in July to believe that no school should be grant-maintained.

Mr. Foster

I have already said that I will turn to the points raised by the Secretary of State in a few minutes. I will pick up that point if the hon. Gentleman will wait a few moments.

As we understand it, the Secretary of State has received hundreds of responses to the White Paper. I and many other hon. Members have received copies of many of those responses, which make interesting reading. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has referred to one response from the Conservative Education Association. It is so important that it is worth repeating one small extract from the document. The association says: The Government is nationalising the schools of England and Wales … it represents a massive and dangerous increase in the power given to central government. We have already heard from Conservative Members that there is now an attempt to disown that association and its comments.

Let us consider some other responses. It is believed that the intention that the unelected funding agency for schools should take over many of the functions of local education authorities will mean a marked loss of democratic accountability. That is the view of the Tory leader of Kingston upon Thames council. He continued: In the place of the local LEA will be a remote national body, albeit with regional offices, which will be accountable only to the Secretary of State. It will be quite impossible for this body to respond flexibly to local needs, or to the problems of aggrieved parents. Let us consider the Conservative-controlled London Boroughs Association. What did it have to say about the Bill and about the White Paper? The association described them as a "cause of serious concern". Organisations from all walks of life have criticised the White Paper, but it is clear that those comments have fallen on deaf ears. Their comments have dealt with many specific aspects of the Bill.

I touched earlier on the 39 or 44 increased powers that the Secretary of State will take on. Those 39 or so steps are steps towards the erosion of local accountability and local democracy. They are an attack on local government. That point is picked up by another of the responses to the White Paper: The Bill implies a profound shift in responsibility from local to national government for the provision of education that is of great constitutional significance. Those are not my words, or the words of Liberal Democrats, Labour Members or trade unions. They are the words of the Tory-controlled Association of County Councils.

It is interesting to reflect on the debate on the Education Reform Act 1988. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said: The Secretary of State has taken more powers under the Bill than any other member of the Cabinet … Within the parliamentary system, no Secretary of State should ever be allowed to hold such a degree of power."—[Official Report, 1 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 792–95.] Under this Bill, the Secretary of State will take on some 40 additional powers on top of those that he received from the 1988 Act. Is there no limit to the Department's desire to take all power to itself?

There is no doubt that the Bill is an attack on local government. It further erodes the shared responsibility between local and national government which was such an important feature enshrined in the Education Act 1944. Let us consider the major thrust of the legislation, which is the Government's desire to expand the grant-maintained sector despite having no evidence to suggest that a school will be able to deliver higher-quality education to its pupils merely by becoming a grant-maintained school.

The whole concept of opting out is beginning to create chaos and division in our education system. It is already leading to the two-tier system that we have sadly already seen in the national health service. It removes any opportunity for coherent strategic planning at a local and democratically accountable level.

I intend to refer in a moment to the intervention of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) about U-turns. However, let me say first that Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed opting out, and we are not alone in that. I referred a few moments ago to the present Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. This what he said about opting out five years ago: Opting out should he dropped completely. It will undermine the whole of the basic educational system of this country."—[Official Report, 1 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 795.] We understand why the Government are so keen to make it easier for schools to opt out. Like their proposals for city technology colleges, the Government's so-called grant-maintained revolution has turned out to be a damp squib. At the present rate of schools opting out, we will have to wait until the year 2150 before all schools have opted out. It is frightening to think that, in that period, there will have been another 200 major Education Bills through the House. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth say that he expected that more than 50 per cent. of schools would have applied for grant-maintained status by the end of this Parliament. That is well in excess of even the most optimistic dreams of the Secretary of State.

There is evidence elsewhere in the Bill of the Government's attempt to railroad grant-maintained status through. For example, governors may now decide to put forward proposals for opting out as any other business at about 10.30 pm at a governors' meeting when many of the governors may already have gone home. If they do that, there is no redress in the legislation.

The Government want to make opting out easier and they are also introducing a funding agency in England and its counterpart in Wales. The membership of those unelected quangos will be determined by the Secretary of State without any consultation. However, the Liberal Democrats share the Secretary of State's view in one respect at least. We accept—and we advocated it long before the Conservatives took it on board—that budgets and management decisions are best made at local school level. That is why we should like to see an extension of local management to all schools; not just to those that take the risky path of opting out.

We should like that extension to be contained within a local, democratically accountable strategic planning framework. That is the problem about the alleged U-turn to which the Secretary of State referred. He quite rightly referred to an article that appeared in a local newspaper. However, that article gave only the first half of the story, which is that we should like to see further delegation of power and responsibility to all schools. The article did not include the vital ingredient that that should happen within a strategic planning framework at the local level which is democratically accountable.

In that sense, we could almost argue that the Government are not being radical enough. Given that the Government are so wedded to open competition within education, it is surprising that in certain circumstances, they are limiting the period within which grant-maintained schools can obtain services from the local education authority.

When the Under-Secretary of State for Schools replies, perhaps he can explain how, under the market philosophy in which the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues believe, the Government will limit the opportunity for grant-maintained schools to purchase services for their LEAs when, for example, the LEAs provide the best quality service at the best possible price.

The Bill is not as radical as we should like it to be in other aspects. We are very sympathetic towards the proposals to amalgamate the School Examinations and Assessment Council and the National Curriculum Council, although we should like to make changes to the composition. However, given the Government's clear wish to see vocational and academic qualifications given equal status, we should like the Government to go further and integrate into the new body the National Council for Vocational Qualifications.

Clearly there is not enough time for me to examine all aspects of the Bill today. We shall be able to examine those aspects in Committee. We want to examine the possibility of the reintroduction of selection by the back door. The Secretary of State assured us that clauses 230 and 231 will not do that. We also want to consider carefully the proposals for sponsor governors in voluntary-aided schools, because at first sight that appears to be a mechanism by which those with the largest cheque books can buy themselves places on governing bodies.

Not long ago, the former inspector of schools, Mr. Eric Bolton, predicted: if we were able to lift the veil hiding the Government's intention for Education, we would find, not a coherent vision —worrying or otherwise—but uncertainty, confusion and incoherence. The veil has been partly lifted with the Bill, and Eric Bolton's predictions have been justified. The Bill creates more confusion, uncertainty and inherent instability than it resolves.

The Secretary of State told us in the House recently that he had made an excellent speech at the Tory party conference. I disagreed with him and I have found very few people who would agree with him. The Secretary of State would now have us believe that the Bill is equally excellent. I disagree with that as well. The Bill is bad and it does not tackle the fundamental problems facing our schools today. It will increase division and set school against school, teacher against teacher and even pupil against pupil. That is why I and my colleagues will oppose the Second Reading of the Bill in the Lobby tomorrow.

6.57 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I warmly welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on this important Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on introducing legislation which will rank alongside the other important measures that the Government have introduced to promote parental choice and, above all else, higher standards. The drive for higher standards lies at the heart of the Government's education programme. We believe that higher standards can be achieved through the exercise of parental choice.

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). The word "standards" passed her lips only once, in passing, at the end of her speech. She said very little about how she would raise standards. The word "choice" did not pass her lips at all. Anyone who heard the hon. Lady would be driven to the conclusion that standards appear low down the Opposition's agenda and that choice does not appear on it at all. That is the great difference between Opposition and Conservative Members. The drive for higher standards is the fundamental objective of our Government. I welcome the reforms in the Bill, which put in place the necessary framework for the achievement of higher standards. That framework will be warmly welcomed by my constituents.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned five schools which voted for grant-maintained status on Friday. I am proud to say that one of those schools is in my constituency. At Bushey Hall school, a popular and well-regarded school, 83 per cent. of the parents voted in favour of grant-maintained status. That decision came hard on the heels of the vote of parents at another school to opt for grant-maintained status. At Mount Grace school, another popular school, 89 per cent. of the parents voted in favour of grant-maintained status.

The parents at those schools will be most surprised to hear what Opposition Members and especially the hon. Member for Dewsbury said about selection. The parents clearly voted to seek grant-maintained status because they wanted to keep the character of the schools—mixed-ability schools with highly motivated teaching staff who seek to bring out the best in every pupil.

The parents will greet what Opposition Members said about selection with utter derision. Selection was not in the parents' minds. They may have been interested in specialisation, but that is a different matter. One feature of today's debate is that Opposition Members are unable to distinguish between specialisation and selection. That is worrying in view of the need for specialisation, especially in technology. I welcome what the Government have said about technology schools and colleges.

Mr. Enright

Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by specialisation? He said that it would mean more technology. Will specialisation be only in technology?

Mr. Clappison

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that 80 per cent. of a school's time is taken up by national curriculum subjects. That will be the case in any school which opts to specialise. However, some parents and some schools may feel that in the remaining 20 per cent. of a school's time there should be some scope for specialisation. It is possible for schools to specialise in several subjects. Classics may be important, but the hon. Gentleman may agree that today there is a strong need for specialisation in technology. Many schools may choose to specialise in technology, including possibly some in my constituency.

Parents in my constituency will be interested in the attitude of Opposition Members to the exercise of parents' democratic choice. The hon. Member for Dewsbury talked a great deal about local democracy and accountability. She had no view to express to parents about them exercising their choice in ballots. What does she say to the 89 per cent. of parents at Mount Grace school who voted in favour of grant-maintained status? The message that comes over loud and clear from the Opposition is that parents' views do not matter and that Opposition Members know better than they what is best for their children. Those parents will be worried by what Opposition Members said, but I am sure that they will draw great reassurance from what Conservative Members have said about the reforms in the Bill.

Ms. Estelle Morris

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a school serves more than the children who attend it at any given time? It also serves children who will be pupils there in the years to come. Does he accept that the school serves the whole community? How can he justify a system which does not give a vote to most members of the community but only to parents who have children in the school at that particular time? How is that democratic? How does it allow people in the community to express a view about the type of school that they should have in their neighbourhood?

Mr. Clappison

I know that the parents of other children in my constituency and in the general community widely welcome the decisions of those schools. I am also aware that the local communities in Birmingham have welcomed the decision of schools such as Baverstock school to opt for grant-maintained status. Such schools make a distinctive contribution to the life of the community. The hon. Lady's argument is spurious. She seeks to deny parental choice. She suggests that parents do not know what is best for their children. That view will not receive the support of the overwhelming majority of parents.

Parents, will however, welcome the reforms in the Bill. They will not see the need, for example, for a second governors' resolution when there has been a first resolution and in any event there will be a parental ballot. Nor will they see what is wrong with limiting local authority expenditure campaigns about grant-maintained status. Of course, local education authorities will be allowed to allocate some expenditure to such campaigns. They will be allowed to pay for the production of one leaflet. But why should they be allowed to continue spending valuable resources on propaganda? Why should they go beyond their duty to transmit reliable, balanced, objective information? Parents will not see why local authorities should squander money in that way.

Parents will certainly warmly welcome the measure to allow clusters of primary schools to opt for grant-maintained status. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) said. It is an important point. As yet, few primary schools have chosen the grant-maintained status option because they face obvious difficulties of scale. However, the Bill will assist them to opt for grant-maintained status by allowing them to opt out in groups and to pool their resources. The Bill does not force parents to do anything. It does not exercise favouritism. It enables parents to carry out their wishes. When the Bill is enacted there may well be a substantial increase in the number of primary schools which opt for grant-maintained status in the wake of the substantial numbers of secondary schools which have done so.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury and other Opposition Members have been keen to play the numbers game, but they will lose. The number of grant-maintained schools is increasing all the time at an accelerating rate. At the time of the general election, there were 217 and there are now 330. There are 150 more in the pipeline. [Interruption.] By deriding those figures, Opposition Members deny the right of parents to exercise choice.

Opposition Members stand in the way of a great tide of parental opinion. Parents have seen the success of grant-maintained schools, which have raised standards. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may laugh at talk of raising standards, but their constituents will not find it a laughing matter, especially those in Birmingham.

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

Does the hon. Gentleman regard the 1.4 per cent. of schools which have opted out as a great tide of enthusiasm?

Mr. Clappison

That figure represents thousands of pupils and parents. Those parents have made a decision about what is best for their children. The hon. Gentleman will have to accept that the schools which have opted out of Labour local education authority control are a beacon of hope for other parents in the area. We know how difficult it has been for such schools and how many obstacles have been put in their way. Schools which have opted out have higher standards, increasing numbers, a more conspicuous school ethos and greater pa rental support. Those beacons of hope are needed in Labour LEAs.

Opposition Members will be aware that almost invariably the schools which prop up league tables—drawn up on any basis of academic performance—are in Labour LEAs. Parents will have noted the light-hearted way in which Opposition Members treat standards and choice. To Opposition Members it is a matter for laughter. Higher standards, greater academic achievement—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Let us have a little decorum in the classroom.

Mr. Clappison

The overwhelming majority of parents in Britain want higher standards. Opposition Members talk of releasing grant-maintained schools from central control. They have got it completely wrong. They are denying parental choice and the exercise of parental rights, and standing in the way of the wishes of an ever-increasing number of parents.

At the general election, the Opposition's manifesto echoed what they have said today about doing away with grant-maintained schools and returning them to local education authority control. They lost that election, and the only decision that they will have to make in the next four years will be when to reverse that policy and accept the inevitable, and how best to disguise the fact that they were wrong all along. They must face the fact that there is an ever-increasing volume of support from parents for grant-maintained schools, which are invariably associated with success. Indeed, they have become a great success story in our education system.

I welcome the Bill, which puts in place the necessary framework for the development of that success story. I look forward to thousands more parents exercising their rights and achieving the highest standards for their children through the grant-maintained system.

7.10 pm
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

May I tell the hon. Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) that grant-maintained schools are not a reality in the political firmament in Wales. Not more than three are up and running in the Principality.

I hope that the special needs objectives are achieved and that the proposals work. Nothing is more distressing than to interview parents in my constituency who believe that their children are not getting a fair crack of the whip on that important matter. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) that an injection of money is urgently needed so that the existing system works, let alone so that the proposed system is successful.

I wonder whether there has ever been such an arrogant speech proposing the merits of a Second Reading measure as that made by the Secretary of State. It was a tour de force, but it was bombastic, arrogant and calculated. There was a lot of posing, pointing, declaiming and provocation in that tirade of one hour's duration. Such a style will not and cannot win a friend. However, I agree with the Secretary of State's opening remark that every child should have the right to the best education. After all, children are young only once.

By implication, the Bill acknowledges major problems. Conservative Governments have been in power since 1979. Although they have been responsible for the education service in Wales for some 13 years, yet another Secretary of State has come to the House with legislation designed to put right the many serious faults, many of which, after such a long time of government, we can now lay at the door of the Conservative party. After all, since 1979 Conservative Administrations have had more than £100 billion of North sea oil revenues, which they have squandered when some of them could have been put into the education service to solve some of the problems with which we are now grappling. We have only to witness the over-large classes, the national deficiencies in skills and training, and the tumbledown and dangerous schools throughout Britain. Furthermore, teachers' morale is now dangerously low and schools are using out-of-date books and equipment.

If teachers are demoralised, schoolchildren will lose. Teachers in areas of high unemployment have particular problems. Bad housing, housing shortages and homelessness represent powerful challenges to teachers in a hard-pressed profession. Many pupils in state schools—perhaps in all schools—come from broken homes. Marriages and partnerships frequently break down and it is foolish to believe that the consequences of those problems do not manifest themselves in the classroom from day to day.

The Government underestimate the scale of the problems faced by those who must practise the art of teaching in the classroom every day. Teachers have not been well served by recent Secretaries of State, who have let the education service down. The work of teachers and the hopes of parents have been seriously affected. Looking back, we had Mr. Mark Carlisle and Sir Keith Joseph— one was tired and the other was tortured. Soon afterwards, we had the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). Their attitudes to their positions showed that they were clearly on the political make. It is fair to say, however, that we had a bland and rather quiet interregnum when the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) was Secretary of State. In all those 10 years of office, the major problems faced by our school service were not improved but made worse. The revenues from North sea oil were not employed effectively to improve prospects for children.

The funding council in Wales and the funding agency in England are fundamentally undemocratic, yet all hon. Members will agree that they are at the heart of the Bill. They are likely to undermine the structures based on elected local education authorities under the Education Act 1944. The Bill is silent on future levels of investment in the school service. That factor is crucial, but the Secretary of State gave no inkling about how his proposals would be funded or how the problems within the school service will be tackled financially.

I wish to protest about the undemocratic nature of the funding authorities. The Secretary of State for Wales, who has an English constituency, is to set up a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation—a quango. It will be neither accountable nor elected, but nominated. It will be set up in a Wales which voted overwhelmingly for Labour, by a Conservative Cabinet Minister without a Welsh parliamentary seat. It is insulting to Wales and goes against the grain. It is not in keeping with the times. The Government are making a major error of judgment in their treatment of Wales.

Under the Bill, what guarantees will there be that the many smaller and rural schools in Wales will remain open? What is the long-term future of the Welsh joint education committee? Can the progress in the Welsh-medium education—where strides have been made—be maintained? Can the successful community schools now located in our high schools continue to fulfil their widest roles? The schools provide the locations for youth clubs and societies, and remain open 360 days a year. Under the Bill, can the community schools continue with their fine work in the long term, not least in my county?

What consequences will the Bill have for the emerging post-industrial communities in our south Wales valleys, which deserve the very best? I remain unconvinced that the Bill will help those communities. I pose the same questions about the schools in the rural and scattered communities in mid-Wales and north-west Wales. The recent changes in Her Majesty's inspectorate are for the worse. The inspectorate will be at sea when the Bill is enacted.

The Bill will prove a backwards move for Wales. The Government's decision to set up a funding council is a major misjudgment. Wales is democratic; it is a mature political democracy. We have concluded that we want fewer, not more, quangos. We want more elected representatives to deal with the issues and problems. The Secretary of State for Wales has made an error in acceding to English measures being enacted in Wales.

If the Welsh LEAs are abolished—as they will be eventually under the Bill—what chance will there be for the school orchestras, bands, choirs, drama groups and numerous sporting activities in the long term? We must pose that question, as we in Wales know that the LEAs have played an important role and provided good leadership. We are entitled to conclude—

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jones

No, I shall not give way, as I shall soon conclude my speech. After two hours of speeches from the Front-Bench representatives, we need shorter speeches from the Back Benchers.

The Bill is undemocratic because the funding agency and the funding council, unlike the elected LEAs, are unaccountable to all but the Secretary of State. The Bill contains a massive defect. The funding agencies will create a big new bureaucracy, but there is a crashing silence on the source of the extra money needed. The Bill will encourage selection. The Society of Education Officers has correctly summed it up and states that the Bill is a recipe for duplication and confusion. The Bill should point to a much wider provision of nursery education. It should aim to rebuild and modernise our crumbling schools, and make all schools warm, light and safe. It should seek to provide more books and modern equipment for the use of pupils and staff. It should plan to end the scandal of oversized classes.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jones

No, I shall not give way, as the Front-Bench team has had its hour. If the right hon. Gentleman is called he will have his time, although I am not at all sure how he has spent his time while in office.

The Secretary of State did not make the case for the increase in the centralisation of our school service. The House should refuse the Secretary of State's invitation to support so flawed a Bill.

7.25 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside will understand if, for reasons of etiquette, I cannot respond to any of the issues that he has raised, due to my role elsewhere. I am not surprised that he failed to give way to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State as, in him, we have a right hon. tiger from Wales who will certainly respond to the hon. Gentleman's point later.

The debate was opened in stunning style by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I can do no more than repeat the epithet which came from Selby to the effect that there must have been divine intervention when questions were answered. We look forward to more of that as the Bill proceeds to its rightful place in the statute book. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) continued in that light when he spoke of the trinity of legislation.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said too much, but the most memorable part of her speech was the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth). The hon. Lady produced the three minutes of meat of her speech and seemed to say that the Labour party was opposed to grant-maintained schools because they were no good, so no-one wanted them, which was why there had to be campaigns to stop them in case too many people wanted them and, if so, it was unfair, because if not everyone was able to have them, no one should have them. I hope that I have correctly related her policy.

The Opposition should not oppose the Bill. They have not given a reason why they should do so in principle. Some issues for discussion have been raised from both sides of the House, and we shall no doubt continue to discuss them today and tomorrow. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will listen to and answer questions raised. The debate should be a chance to clarify and to explain to the world outside how the measure will proceed. The Bill has followed a consultation period, which is clearly and rightly continuing.

At the outset I declare an interest that I share with the hon. Member for Dewsbury as I am a consultant for the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association and, although I think it does not matter in the context of today's debate, for the Association of Colleges for Further and Higher Education and for the Association of College Management. I should also declare the opposite of a pecuniary interest—something which costs me—in that my daughter is training to be a teacher and I am the son of a teacher. Therefore, I speak with feeling when I say how wonderful teachers are, and I expect my right hon. Friends to support me all the way. Teaching is a wonderful profession and we are fortunate that its members devote their lives to it—I say that in all sincerity, family apart.

The House does well to introduce legislation to enable teachers to provide the best education for our children and to draw the best from our children. Education is about "educo"—drawing out of children what is contained in them. We sometimes forget that "educo" also applies to the teacher. If a teacher does not have the knowledge and experience drawn out of him or her, the benefits cannot be instilled in the child and the child does not receive a full education.

All too often, arguments about education become polarised between those who wish it to be entirely child-centred and those who wish it to be entirely imposed. I liken the process to baking a cake. If a child is given the ingredients and told to bake a cake, he or she will make a nasty mess. It helps if the teacher gives some guidance not only on the relative quantities of the ingredients, but on how to mix and bake, and at what temperature. Teachers' experiences, taken together with the innate abilities, ingenuity and initiative of children, will lead to quality education.

Mr. Enright

I was delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to the Latin roots of the verb "to educate"—he said that it meant drawing out. Would he like to reflect on what "instil" means? Originally it meant a sort of forced feeding.

Mr. Bowis

I was using the verb "to educate" from the teacher's and the child's point of view. We do not want any forced feeding; I hope that the best teachers will encourage feeding without resorting to the sort of drip feeding to which the hon. Gentleman may be alluding.

I was chairman of my London borough education committee at the time of Lord Joseph's reforms—excellent reforms in their way, to do with reading, poetry, and so on. There was also the technical and vocational education initiative. Teachers said that it was all wonderful, but wondered when they would be allowed to get on with the business of teaching. I was in this place when the Education Reform Bill introducing the national curriculum was going through. Again, teachers said that it was great, but they wanted to get on with teaching. What do grant-maintained schools represent if not the opportunity for teachers to get on with teaching, in partnership with heads, parents and governors? I cannot for the life of me understand why heads or teachers should resist this plea.

There are positive and negative reasons for choosing grant-maintained status—a fact which sometimes confuses the Opposition. There are certainly negative reasons why people should want to escape from a bad LEA, but there are also positive reasons why they should join a good GM school. I do not need reminding of the horrors of the inner London education authority. I remember from the days when I was first elected, in 1987, the carol service that ILEA provided for its children. It had nothing to do with "Away in a Manger" or with Christmas trees; it had to do with Trafalgar square, the place where people go to demonstrate.

I can remember the anti-cricket and anti-competitive sports mentality in ILEA. I can also remember the anti-police attitude. I quote an ILEA document circulated to teachers at the time: The police have a vested interest in law and order and … thus are not best qualified to talk to children about the subject as their views are likely to be one sided". I can remember, too, ILEA's views on physical education: The hidden curriculum of PE does more than its fair share to produce and reproduce the social and psychological basis necessary to sustain a system populated by ruthless captains of industry, technocrats and subservant proletarians. I can remember the time when Benjamin Britten's "Let's make an opera" was condemned as racist and sexist, largely because the villain was called Black Bob. I can remember the time when ILEA produced, at twice the cost, half the results for the children of London, particularly for those at secondary school. All this is why parents voted with their feet in the borough of Wandsworth.

As I said, however, there are also positive reasons. Parents and school can see the benefits which can flow in terms of budgetary control and school morale—which in turn can lead to a higher quality of education. I have never said that grant-maintained status is the most wonderful thing that can happen to a school. A school may be on the right lines without it. But I do say that it often represents the right way ahead. Equally, it is a challenge, not an easy option. Choosing grant-maintained status means accepting the responsibilities which go with it.

I had hoped that the Labour party's previous education spokesman was coming around to a more positive view of GM schools. At the time of the election, it seemed that the Opposition were agreeing to support parents and not to go back and undo everything that they have achieved and wanted. Today's sad statement of policy, however, made me realise that all that has come unwound in the intervening months.

To listen to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) on the subject of voting is to remind oneself that when Labour introduced changes to schools—from grammar to comprehensive—it did so by means of circulars: there were no votes for parents. Suddenly the Opposition have found a new belief in democracy. Our way is the best way, since it deals with the wishes of parents.

I welcome the movement in this Bill to restrict the campaigns being fought against grant-maintained status. They have been grossly unfair in some parts of the country, and parents have been misled, not least in the borough of Merton, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) spoke earlier.

I ask my right hon. Friend carefully to examine the way in which empty places are assessed. Sometimes applications for grant-maintained status are refused on the understandable grounds that there are too many empty places. There is always a balance to be struck between the need to remove empty places and the opportunity to take on grant-maintained status. It is not always easy to distinguish the genuine from the non-genuine. On several occasions I have wondered whether an assessment in my area has taken into account the use of rooms by nursery classes, for instance. Not always, I fear. We should also bear in mind other educational uses—secure resource centres, libraries, and so on. We must keep up the pressure to get rid of empty places, but we should also keep under review the procedures that these assessments follow.

I have four questions for the Secretary of State; we can explore them further as the Bill proceeds. The first concerns quality control and how to ensure it. There needs to be such control before schools reach the stage when the education association is brought in. I saw how schools were rescued from ILEA by Wandsworth borough education committee and its officers, and I am sure that the same can be done for other schools by patient work to take them off the at-risk list and to enable them to flourish thereafter. We need quality control, not just a rescue system when schools have reached the stage when the education association has to be brought in, correct though that method probably is.

Secondly, I should like to explore further the co-operation between the funding councils and the LEAs. Perhaps the councils could seek the views of LEAs and present the joint view, if one can be found, to my right hon. Friend for his final adjudication. Such a presentation could include local matters which might affect the LEA, not the funding council.

Thirdly, I hope that my right hon. Friend will come to the schools prom in a fortnight's time and have a careful look at its programme. He will see all sorts of bands and orchestras—the county youth band, county wind groups and jazz bands, and so on. These groups are organised on a county or borough basis by the education authority to bring musicians from schools together and to create this wonderful festival of music. Many hon. Members on both sides feel that this is a precious system, and we need to ensure that it is not put at risk by the uncertainties which may emerge from an examination of the management of schools.

Fourthly, I want to ask a question put to me by Deaf Accord. It concerns special needs and the grant for education support and training—GEST—which, as my right hon. Friend knows, was the Government's response in 1989 to the needs of the deaf-blind. That grant has enabled provision to be made on a regional basis. We need to know that the service will be guaranteed and, if it is available in a school which goes grant-maintained, that it will still be provided in the region for which it was originally intended. Above all, we need to know how this funding will be dealt with in the future.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) spoke about special needs. I take a particular interest in that issue and welcome the Secretary of State's moves on it. He has met many of our concerns—some of which were raised in debate earlier this year—on the speeding up of statementing, the appeals procedures and parents' choice. We should also look at the whole issue of the funding of schools for children with special education needs who do not necessarily reach stages four and five and thus full statementing.

Sixty per cent. of the children in one of my schools on the border of another London borough have special educational needs. However, only 10 per cent. of them are statemented and the school receives from Wandsworth borough extra funding only for that 10 per cent. The school takes many children from across the borough boundary and receives nothing extra through recoupment for them. I should like to see a scheme which provides recoupment from the centre in the same way as mandatory student awards. The Secretary of State will not be able to produce the response that he gave earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) because there might be a Treasury input.

I warmly welcome the Bill and wish the Government well as they take it through Committee. It is the latest Bill on the road to seeking the best for every child. That is done by making sure that the best is the norm.

7.41 pm
Ms. Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

Before I turn to the substance of the Bill, I should like to deal with what the Secretary of State said earlier, when he made yet another of his repeated attacks on Birmingham's education system. He was not sufficiently well mannered on that occasion to let me, a Birmingham Member, answer him, so I shall take this opportunity to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is not listening."] That is nothing new. I sometimes wonder whether the Secretary of State realises how much damage his repeated, unjustified and inaccurate attacks on Birmingham's education system are doing to the children. He has chosen to leave the Chamber. Earlier in the debate, the Secretary of State was manoeuvring his political virility and not engaging in proper discussion with a Member from one of the largest education authorities in the western democracies.

In September, the Secretary of State launched a disgraceful attack on surplus places in the city of Birmingham, knowing full well that the city had a solid agreement with his Department on how those surplus places would be reduced. That agreement has been in place since before the general election, but despite that, the right hon. Gentleman chose to make political capital out of it. If Birmingham is close to the hearts of Conservative Members, why did the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and the Secretary of State, both of whom spoke about Birmingham, not take the chance to congratulate the city on the improvement in this summer's examination results which were published last week?

I shall make the Secretary of State an offer. It is not one that I would make to many people, and certainly not to many Conservative Members. I shall take him out for half a day in Birmingham and show him Sheldon Heath school, where he will see some of the best design work in the country. I will show him Cockshut Hill school, which has a wonderful technology centre and a level of expertise among teenagers that is unparalleled.

Mr. Pawsey

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Morris

The hon. Gentleman must be joking.

I will take the Secretary of State to Harvey Road school, Stechford school—

Mr. Pawsey

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady mentioned me in her speech, and it is the normal practice for a Member thus mentioned to be given an opportunity to reply.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

It is not a matter for me.

Ms. Morris

I shall also show the Secretary of State Gilbertstone school. I have visited all those schools in the past few weeks, and in them primary school children excel in all areas of the curriculum and teachers create a marvellous learning environment. I shall even buy the right hon. Gentleman his lunch at East Birmingham college, where he will see adult learning and vocational courses taught to an exceptionally high standard. After all that, he will not even have left my constituency, let alone visited the rest of Birmingham, but he will have seen quality learning and quality teaching.

The Secretary of State must stop using Birmingham children as political football: people there do not deserve it, and teachers' morale and pupils' performance is falling because of it.

It seems that the Secretary of State and some hon. Members have read a different Bill from the one before the House. The Secretary of State spoke about quality, choice and accountability. Every response to the Bill that I have seen finds selection, uncertainty and confusion. The Bill destroys not only local accountability but the partnership between central and local government. It will destroy co-operation between schools and the network of support systems that is to he found in most local education authority areas. Nothing in the Bill and nothing that has been said in the debate can possibly justify that destruction.

I am saddened by the fact that so little recognition has been given to the valuable role played by LEAs in our education system. For almost a century, nearly every piece of education legislation has been entrusted to LEAs for implementation. The Secretary of State said that legislation in the past 13 years has improved school standards. Who implemented legislation on training and vocational education, pioneered pupil profiles, trained the governors and guided the implementation of the national curriculum? It was not hon. Members but people in LEAs, working in conjunction with the Government and schools.

Conservative Members seem to take credit for the legislation but will not give credit to the organisations that helped to make it a reality. The LEAs provide stability and continuity, and are the cornerstone of teaching and learning. Nothing justifies undermining that, but funding councils are to replace the LEAs. No matter what has been said by Conservative Members, those funding councils will take over a significant number of the functions that are currently carried out by the LEAs. The councils are ill thought out and ill defined.

The Government do not appear to have a strategic plan for education into the next century. We do not know how many grant-maintained schools are envisaged. Nobody has told us why 10 per cent. is chosen as the entry point for funding councils, or why 75 per cent. has been chosen as the exit point. No one can guess how quickly those percentages will be reached in local authorities, and no one has explained how what remains of an LEA will fit into any new local government structure. We have been offered no proof that grant-maintained schools are successful in any measurable way.

The Bill is not about education: it is about bureaucracy and structure. For ideological reasons, the Government seem intent on pushing schools into an unknown abyss, and they have no idea of the consequences. I am the first to admit that LEAs may not be perfect, but they have a proven track record for innovation and as efficient vehicles for the management of education.

The Bill will irreparably damage the network of expertise and support that is to be found in most LEAs. Above all LEAs are accountable to local people. The Secretary of State said in the Select Committee, and I have heard it said in the debate, that the local democracy argument does not count for anything, because not many people vote in local government elections. If only two people vote in a local council election, it is one more than will cast a vote for someone to serve on the funding council.

What gives locally elected education authorities their strength and legitimacy is the fact that they operate from the community that they serve. People know who serves on them and how to get hold of them. Anybody who has represented his party at local council level will know that the crucial point is that a low turnout in a council election does not mean that people do not use local government. Whether they vote or not, people use the structures and the accountability of local government to express views and seek help. There will not be that access to members of the funding councils, and the quality of the decisions that those councils take will be the poorer as a result.

The Bill is not only destructive but misleading. Its main buzzword is "choice". It raises parents' expectations. They think that they will be able to choose from an array of schools. One can imagine it, as the form comes through in January. One can see the parents saying to each other, "Should we choose the grant-maintained school or should we go for the LEA school? Should we try for a city technology college, or should we put our son into the grammar school? Should we take a risk on our 11-year-old developing an aptitude for maths and send him to a specialist school? Or should we choose that school down the road to which that nice business man has just given all that extra money?"

There is then the ultimate choice. Can hon. Members see it: parents sitting there and saying, "Should we send our son or daughter to that school down the road where the head has just been sacked and which has been given a label saying 'failing school'?" Does any hon. Member think that that is what it would be like and that that will be the nature of the choice before parents? No law, and the Bill is no exception, has ever guaranteed parental choice. The best parents have ever had is the right to express a preference. That is all that the Bill will offer.

Furthermore, with pupil numbers increasing arid surplus places reducing, the choices for parents will diminish even further. The Bill shies away from the crucial issue of how schools will choose whom to take when demand exceeds supply. That concept is bound up with the concept of a range of different schools. No one can escape the reality that schools will choose and parents will be chosen, that teachers will select and pupils will be rejected. The only parents who will have any choice—the only parents who have ever had any choice—are those who have money, and those who have the skill and the contacts to weave their way through what will be an incredibly complex system.

The basis of the White Paper and Tory party thinking is that schools should compete for pupils and resources. Schools have always been competitive. There has always been friendly rivalry between neighbouring schools. There is nothing wrong with that. That does no harm to schools or pupils. However, schools have been competitive within a framework based on the understanding that there is a wider responsibility to a public service of which they are all part. Because they understand that, schools have been co-operative as well.

We should never underestimate the value to the education process of teachers from neighbouring schools sharing skills and knowledge, of their being prepared to collaborate and even to share resources. If the Government turn education provision into a marketplace, they will destroy that co-operation. They risk forcing schools to build barriers between themselves so that they can jealousy guard their ideas and strengths with the aim of climbing higher up the examination league table. That is wrong, because it will not give the nation what it needs —higher standards in all our schools and not just in few.

This afternoon, Tory Members have alleged that Labour Members do not want individual schools to improve standards and do well. That is an insult, and they know it. The difference between the parties is that we are intent on providing a system that raises standards in all schools for all pupils rather than on focusing the resources and attention on a few selected schools and a few selected people.

The Bill is one of the longest Education Bills in the history of education. In its 252 clauses, it manages to bypass the real issues surrounding education and the real problems facing our schools. We still have classes with over 30 pupils and school buildings that are a disgrace in a modern economy. We have a work force of frustrated teachers who despair, year after year, at having to make diminishing resources go further and further. We have teachers who are fed up to the back teeth with filling in forms when they would sooner be in classes with pupils teaching them what they need to be taught.

Above all, schools in the 1990s are trying to operate in an economic and political climate that militates against their success. For as long as abject poverty exists in our towns and cities, so many families have to cope with the problems of homelessness, and poverty-related illnesses continue to rise, education standards will fall, because education and teaching do not take place in a vacuum.

Schools need, more than ever, stability and continuity, certainty and clarity. The Bill and all that Government Members have said today offer none of that. That is why nearly all the clauses in the Bill deserve to be fought every inch of the way. We must stop the infliction on schools and children of a bureaucracy that will do no good to anybody.

7.56 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton)

Parental choice is exercised rather differently in rural areas from how it is in urban areas. Both at secondary and primary level, there is often no obvious choice for parents in rural areas, which is why we have a tradition—particularly in the part of Devon that I represent, which has more than 90 parishes —of local schools providing an education for children right across the spectrum, from those with special needs through to the high achievers and those who go on to attain higher academic qualifications. Therefore, choice for parents is geared to ensuring that standards in rural schools are maintained because they are part of the community.

The White Paper rightly looked at the difficulties for small rural schools. Many of our schools have fewer than 100 pupils—60 or 70 is not uncommon. I know that governors have been addressing themselves to the proposal for clustering the smaller primary schools. I am sure that schools that wish to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Bill will co-operate.

However, I ask the Secretary of State to look again at the proposal on the governing bodies at such small schools. People feel very passionately about their local school. That does not mean to say that they do not work with other small adjacent schools so as to reap the advantages of economies of scale. However, the parent governors in particular want to feel that they are the governors of their local school, as this is the traditional role. I ask the Secretary of State to address that problem to see whether we can provide for primary schools the opportunity to cluster without governing bodies feeling that their representation of their school is threatened. That would be most welcome.

Will my right hon. Friend also look at another aspect of the rural schools? He is rightly addressing the issue of surplus places, and I have already heard hon. Members speak of the good use to which the money that could be realised in this sector could be put—not least to help children with special needs. The county of Devon has 7.9 per cent. surplus places, compared with a national average of 22 per cent. Any radical pruning of surplus places in the small rural schools would have a detrimental effect. It might mean that we could lose a school and then see a definite need for it two years later. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State carefully to examine the different ratios, especially as they bear upon rural schools.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) would not let me intervene following his remarks about drama, music and school orchestras. Since local management of schools, I can assure him that schools in my constituency have been able to provide and, indeed, enhance those excellent facilities. If schools in Wales have difficulty in learning how to do that under local control, I am sure that there are people in Devon who could provide excellent advice.

My main interest in the Bill is the way in which it provides for pupils with special needs and their parents. I have a special interest in the subject and I know that I am joined by many charities that welcome the Government's initiative, especially as set out in part III, which extends choice to the parents of a child with a statement. They will be able to be involved in the choice of a suitable school and, more important, in the setting of a statutory time limit in which a statement is to be provided. The appeal directives are also welcome.

Since April, when I became a Member of this place, I have received many letters on education from anxious parents. I have not received one letter from a parent who is concerned about the quality of education that his or her child is receiving, but I have received many letters from parents of children with special needs, many of whom I have been able to see. They are desperate and frustrated because of the time that it has taken for their children to be assessed and statemented. I know that the provisions that bear on these matters are greatly welcomed. It 'would seem that the Government, in a broader sense, are reflecting on the 1981 legislation.

There are matters that I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will bear in mind when the Bill is considered in Committee. Clause 156 turns on the input from health service providers. It refers to children under five years of age and the need for the health service to inform parents of and to advise them on the voluntary organisations that might give them appropriate advice on their child. I understand why the clause is in the Bill. If a child has come under the care of clinical psychologists or paediatricians, it will be apparent in many instances before he or she reaches school age that it will be helpful for the parents, and the school that the child will be attending, to be aware of individual needs, which should be considered long before school age.

Unfortunately, when it comes to learning difficulties, there are many conditions that the medical profession is unable to diagnose. That means that a child may be under the care of paediatricians and clinical psychologists long after the age of five. I am concerned that some clinicians tend to feel that, once a child has reached school age, his or her problems are only educational and that they need no longer have an input. I hope that we are moving towards a system of multi-disciplinary teams and input from a range of people who have a connection with the problems of an individual child. To justify the role of paediatricians and clinical psychologists up to the age of five but not beyond does not take into account the fact that in many instances it will not be until the children are older —sometimes not before they are in their teens—that the exact difficulties will emerge and possibly medical diagnoses will be made.

Obviously, there needs to be special provision in pre-school years, but input from the medical profession should be extended while the child is at school or in other full-time education, whatever his or her age happens to be. Let us take the case of a child of 12 or 16 years, even, who does not receive any form of diagnostic assessment that enables the medical profession to say, "This is the child's problem"—that happens in some instances. It is obviously a pity that the parents are not advised by the clinician about the voluntary agencies that might be able to give useful advice and support. I should like to see input from the medical profession extended throughout the school life of the child.

Specialist or charitable schools are also important. The Audit Commission, in its report entitled "Getting in on the Act", cautioned on the basis of the experience of Denmark. It reported: As such pupils grow older, the gap between them and their peers becomes wider and they become socially isolated. There is a need to be flexible. We would entirely agree with integrated education for pupils with special needs where their needs can be adequately met—I emphasis "adequately"—in mainstream education. Denmark, however, is finding increasingly that it is having to increase the provision of special schools or make the necessary provision within the private charitable school sector.

The Bill will establish stronger statutory rights for children with special education needs and their parents. I hope, however, that we shall examine more carefully quality of input and the outcome for the children. We are rightly concerned about standards for children in mainstream education; we wish to raise standards and we are interested in measuring outcome. Similarly, these are important matters for the child who is statemented as well as for the child who comes into the 18 per cent. category, who has special needs but has not received an official statement.

It worries me enormously that even when a child has a statement and additional specialist teaching time is allocated, parents still complain to me that they read that the child will receive an additional five hours of teaching, for example, but find that that five hours does not always go directly to the child. They find that it is used by the local school to provide more teacher time and more one-to-one teaching.

Special education needs involves much more than one-to-one teaching time. Without a doubt, that form of teaching is useful. It is more important, however, that the time that is allocated to the child, or the additional assistance, is appropriate to his or her needs. One-to-one teaching is not sufficient. It is important that the teacher, or any other person in the school who deals with the child, has been properly trained and is properly qualified to deal with the child's specific needs.

Additional hours for individual children who have been statemented should not be merely mopped up within the education system. The hours should be used specifically for the individual child and not as general support for the class or school. That is not the outcome that the parents expect when they read and accept the statement. If we are serious about quality of teaching and outcome for both children with special needs and mainstream children, it is important that these matters are examined.

Mr. Jamieson

May I give the hon. Lady an opportunity to support Devon county council, which is responsible for the area in which her constituency lies? Perhaps she will respond to a comment that went before the education committee—it is a Tory authority—only recently. It was said: It is difficult to see how a funding agency could be other than remote, unresponsive, ignorant of local issues and unaccountable to local feelings.

Mrs. Browning

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but it was not relevant to special educational needs. Those needs will continue to be dealt with by local education authorities. I have already said that there are areas of special educational need with which I am not entirely happy.

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned Devon, a county with one of the highest percentage rates of statemented children in the country. It is well over the 2 per cent. that Professor Warnock anticipated in her report, and the same can be said in terms of the 1981 Act. Three cheers for Devon for its achievement—it has done better than many other local education authorities—but we are still using targets and figurees that stem from the Warnock report, the conclusions of which were enshrined in the legislation of 1981. There was identification of the 20 per cent., of which 2 per cent. would need either specialist education, additional help or specialist help within the mainstream of education.

I am delighted that the 1981 Act is being reviewed. The difficulty with Warnock—excellent report though it was and a watershed in its day—is that although it listed a whole range of conditions that should qualify for the 2 per cent. group and mentioned dyslexia and autism, neither of those two conditions is included in the list of 20 subjects. We all know that there are thousands of children with dyslexia or autism. In many cases, autism is not diagnosed until late in a child's life, especially for those at the more able end of the continuum. However, it is a lifelong condition and handicap.

I received a fax today from the National Autistic Society, which says about autism: Several LEAs do not accept it as a useful label. That is appalling for the parents and children who live in the area of an LEA that does not recognise the term "autism". Indeed, I know that some LEAs do not accept the term "dyslexia". I am not sure what they call it—I think it is "specific learning difficulty". If we are to provide quality of education for such children and if we are to define and measure outcomes, it is vital that diagnostic assessment is accurate from the beginning. Only then can we provide the specialist education that they need.

Some of those children do not come within the 2 per cent. group; many come within the 18 per cent. group. The difficulty for them, especially if they do not have challenging behaviour but are typical children who sit quietly in the classroom and allow everything to wash over them, is that when they leave full-time education they are the children we fail because they hit the buffers. When they go on to training or the workplace, it becomes apparent that they have serious problems that were not addressed during their school lives. They become a difficult problem for the training and employment agencies and others who seek suitably to qualify them to take their place in society. As the Audit Commission report said, they become isolated socially because it is often too late to begin a programme that should have started 10 or 15 years previously.

I welcome the step forward in part III of the Bill, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider the matters that I have raised. I hope that we can build on the Bill's provisions in Committee and within the general review of the 1981 Act. We need to ensure that local authorities do not use politically correct language—the modern terminology—to disguise the serious problems faced by many children with special needs, especially those in the 2 per cent. and 18 per cent. groups.

8.13 pm
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)

Like many other hon. Members, during the summer holiday I read the White Paper that was the prelude to the Bill. It spoiled my summer holiday, as I am sure that it spoiled the summer holidays of many teachers, those involved in education, parents and, I hope, many hon. Members. The White Paper made me angry because of its absurd proposed time scale. It is a profoundly insulting time scale for a Bill that we are told will transform the education system for a generation and more.

Some hon. Members have drawn comparisons with the 1944 Act, but that was a consensual document, carefully researched and prepared, which set the basis for an education system for a quarter of a century. Everyone who has examined the Bill has remarked on the contrast with the 1944 Act. The Bill is intellectually shoddy and it was preceded by an intellectually shoddy White Paper. That was the main reason for my anger when I read it. It was not so much what the Government were proposing, as the fact that they were proposing to do it on the basis of an intellectually shoddy argument. Every hon. Member should remember that when considering the detail of the Bill. The White Paper was like a Pattenesque article in The Spectator about God, morals and the universe. It was elevated into a White Paper and is now transferred into a major Bill. It would be funny if it were not so serious and tragic.

It is not the Opposition who are making those comments—far from it. Indeed, it is quite a job catching up with the comments of every informed outside commentator. I shall quote what was said by Stuart Maclure, the former editor of The Times Educational Supplement. He is one of the most independently minded, committed and informed supporters of the British education system. He read the White Paper while he was on his summer holidays, and he said: Is it my imagination or is this White Paper not unbelievably bad? Bad in a sense of poor quality—far below the standard you expect from a great department of State? Could you imagine David Eccles, Edward Boyle or Anthony Crosland—or for that matter Margaret Thatcher or Keith Joseph—putting out such a slipshod and windy White Paper? And here is John Patten proudly boasting that he wrote the first and worst chapter himself. The Bill is shoddy. It is devoid of any analysis or research and it is unfounded in every sense.

One Conservative Member gave a little peroration on how grant-maintained schools were somehow the route to quality, I wanted to intervene, but he would not let me. The fact is that there is no established link between grant-maintained schools and quality. One would have thought that there would be an attempt to show some connection, especially as the whole of the education system is to be transformed on the basis of that alleged connection —but there is no evidence of such a link, despite what Conservative Members want to believe. There is also no link in the White Paper with the fact that there is to be a wholesale reorganisation of local government.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Wright

I shall give way to those Conservative Members whose children attend state schools. Is the hon. Gentleman one of them?

Mr. Thurnham

My child goes to a special school—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Is the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) giving way?

Dr. Wright


Mr. Thurnham

I have a child with special educational needs who goes to a special school. It is a voluntary school, not a state school, but it is excellent. It is maintained out of the fees paid for the children. The hon. Gentleman tried to impose a quite unnecessary qualification on hon. Members who want to intervene in his speech. Perhaps he will tell us which grant-maintained schools he has visited to judge the position for himself.

Dr. Wright

That is an interesting question and I am happy to answer it. I have been in more than one grant-maintained school. Indeed, I have something to say later about Birmingham, which may interest you. However, perhaps we should not swap such questions because there may be some vulnerabilities around the place.

There is no evidence that there has been any serious consultation. It has been a fraud, rather like the consultation about opting out of bits of the health authorities. One of the Government's great achievements has been that for ever and for all time they have devalued the word "consultation". It means that they are statutorily obliged to issue a document before they tell you what they will do.

The White Paper's one practical offering was that the funding formula for grant-maintained schools would be related to standard spending assessments. Within two days of the Government making that announcement, it was exposed as nonsense. Because schools generally spend about the SSA level, most grant-maintained schools would lose out. The Government retreated from that one specific proposal within 48 hours, and we are still waiting for something to replace it.

Earlier, the Secretary of State almost admitted just how sloppy is the Bill. He said that it could be tightened up in Committee—"Don't get too stressed. We have people who can do some work on it." That is an extraordinary remark to make about supposedly major education legislation. The Secretary of State was saying, "We may not have it right at the moment, but I am sure that we can get it right as we go along".

That is no way to proceed in respect of the country's education system. If we were not used to that mentality, it would seem even more extraordinary.

At the heart of the Bill is the dismemberment of the post-war education system and a move towards compulsory, universal opt-out. I hope that we can reach a consensus on some aspects, such as special educational needs, assessment integration, the curriculum, and attendance—but they are not at the heart of the Bill, as the White Paper's first Pattenesque chapter tells us.

The Bill must be seen in the context of the failure of the opt-out experiment. If it had succeeded, the Bill would not be required. Opting out is considered completely irrelevant by the overwhelming majority of schools, teachers, and parents. Its failure compelled the Government to introduce inducements into the system and to skew formulas, to get what they want. The Conservative party is supposed to be the party of choice, and the public have said that they do not want opting out. The Education Reform Act 1988 gave the public the opportunity to choose. They made their choice and rejected opting out. The Government respond by saying, "You are jolly well going to have it, whether or not you like it."

Even sordid little provisions such as dispensing with the second ballot are an attempt to abbreviate the democratic and consultative process.

Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Wright

The same principle that I enunciated earlier applies.

Mr. Congdon

I am not interested in the hon. Gentleman's qualifications.

Dr. Wright

Then I will not give way.

We have also seen the complete failure of the delegation system put in place by the 1988 Act. The Bill is in some respects a betrayal of that system. If it had worked and the Government were committed to it, it would not now have the ladder cut from under it by moving from delegation to complete severance. Despite the nods in the direction of the 1988 Act, the Bill technically repeals much of that legislation on the ground that it is inadequate for the Government's purpose.

We have yet to see the arrival of the promised market solution to education. There is belated recognition that, even if people wanted to solve certain problems, they will not do so. Some form of planning must come back into the system. The Bill reflects the Government's inability to overcome problems through the market, which cannot plan, solve placing, or confront all the system's other problems. Unfortunately, the Bill approaches that aspect in a way that combines confusion and centralisation. That is one of its worst features.

Many point to the way in which the Bill is riddled with defects from top to bottom. It embraces an enormous capacity for confusion and muddle between the funding authority—now known throughout the system as the sweet FA—and local authorities. In one of his glib asides, the Secretary of State said that there would be competition in the planning of school places. Imagine what that will mean in trying to run an education system.

We should listen instead to those in the classroom. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) explained that the funding authority will be completely divorced from the other support systems that make schools work. The Bill reflects no understanding of what such a system involves and that a funding authority will need a quality dimension and some kind of quality inspectorate.

The education association proposals for failing schools are laughable and reveal no understanding of the processes whereby schools succeed and fail, or of the consistent, long-term strategies that must be adopted. There is no clarification either of the funding basis. There is a bribe to voluntary schools, but there is no level playing field, and technology colleges are only an option for the grant-maintained sector. Even in the Government's own terms, there is no even-handed approach. Real diversity and choice would mean a level playing field between the different elements in the system. On count after count, the Bill fails, and many will be pressing for guarantees as it progresses.

The Bill also undermines the very system of school government—and I support parental involvement—with the engagement of parents and volunteers that has been slowly and painfully built up over several years. That is not just my contention. The National Association of Governors and Managers comments—

Mr. Congdon

We know what they are like.

Dr. Wright

You want to abuse that association too, do you?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hesitate to intervene, but there seems to be a growing habit among hon. Members to use the word "you". I can understand hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who are not yet familiar with the rules of the House falling into that habit, but I hope that they will remember that the Chair is not responsible for this Bill or any other.

Dr. Wright

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is just unfortunate that Conservative Members instantly abuse organisations with whose views they do not agree. That is not at all helpful. The National Association of Governors and Managers, which has done sterling work in supporting the new system of school government, states: The newly established system of school government would be weakened if some governing bodies were induced or obliged to assume additional responsibilities which they could not effectively discharge within the time and commitment that they could give them. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will bear that important point in mind.

What, then, is the Bill really about? Clearly, it is about conveying a particular ideological view to the education system, whether people agree with it or not, with no evidence to support it and with no concern about its likely effects. Worst of all—one would have thought that Conservative Members would find this slightly disconcerting, but plainly they do not—the Bill nationalises the system.

I am not quoting what has been said by Opposition Members. We heard earlier that the Minister had cancelled a date with The Times on the basis of a sterling editorial, which had said exactly the same: that the system would be run from Whitehall and stuffed with quangos. The Bill offers us the erosion of local democracy and local accountability, the end of pluralism and partnership and a complete reversal of what we thought the education system was all about. It gives the Secretary of State more than 20 new powers; it sets up quangos; it provides for appointments by the score to be made by the Secretary of State. On almost every page of the White Paper is a magical sentence giving the Secretary of State a new power of direction.

The Bill will bring about a major constitutional change. It will mean the end of a system based on partnership, and the worst feature of all is the casual way in which the change is being made. It used to be a source of pride among Conservative Members, among others, that one of the great virtues of our education system—indeed, an index to our whole constitution—was the fact that it was a national system locally administered. I am tempted to say that the Bill replaced that with a national system nationally administered, and I would say it if it did not overstate the coherence of the Government's proposals.

The proposals are deeply dishonest. The Government have not even had the courage to set about creating the kind of system that they would really like to create; instead, they are legislating in a mean, sordid, shoddy and dishonest way.

Let me conclude my speech—[Interruption.] This is important, at least to some Opposition Members. When we say that the Bill is irrelevant and dangerous, we say it because we mean it. Our reasons are not ideological; we are concerned about what goes on in schools, and what happens to children and parents.

Two or three days ago, a constituent wrote to me about her children, who attend a primary school in my constituency—I will not name it. She wrote: Dear Sir, At a recent school meeting I was rather appalled to be told that the school budget had been cut to an all time low. Our school has already lost three staff members, making conditions for both staff and pupils extremely difficult, and if teachers are ill children cannot be taught. There are now mixed age classes in the upper end of the school years 3 and 4 together and years 5 and 6 together. My own child is seven years old and is in a class with 7, 8 and nine-year-olds. This is an intolerable situation. The teachers cannot be expected to work properly, and give their all under the new curriculum, to mixed age classes, and it would not be expected of them. Mr. Major has said that our children deserve the best education, but with the restrictions that are being put on them, I feel that our teachers cannot give this. My constituent goes on to describe how money is having to be raised for essentials; hon. Members will know the kind of story that she tells.

Faced with what I am afraid is the reality in today's schools, my constituent asked me to write back telling her what was being done. I shall write back saying, "The Government are presenting an Education Bill. It is a tremendously big Bill, one of the biggest that we have had." She will ask what the Bill will do about the conditions that she described. The answer is that it is completely irrelevant to her concerns: indeed, in many respects it will make matters worse, by making effective planning much more difficult. Let me add that that lady's local authority is spending above its SSA level on education.

Those are the issues that people want to discuss. That is what education means for people who live in this country and use its schools. They are not on some ideological trip, as the Conservative party is. Every response to the Bill—not from Opposition Members, but from others who know about education—has used the same words: confusion, instability, incoherence. I only hope that the Government will take such words on board, and that their obsession with structures will give way to some understanding of education as a process—for that is what they clearly do not understand.

It is not just a question of resources, although of course resources matter. Let us not hear the same sterile argument again. Nearly every speaker so far has mentioned Birmingham—mention of Birmingham appears to be almost statutory. The Secretary of State put us on that track virtually at the outset. My children go to school in Birmingham; that is my vested interest in the Birmingham education system, but there are many serious questions to be asked about it.

Let me add two points to the important observations that have already been made. First, many of the problems experienced in Birmingham result from the under-resourcing of the system, which means that resources must be relevant. Indeed, the Secretary of State made that case earlier, when he pointed out that many resources had been taken from education and put elsewhere. Resources matter deeply.

Secondly—this has not been mentioned so far— Birmingham suffers from all the damage inflicted by a layer of selection. If we really want to use Birmingham as a model, we must see what kind of model it is. It is a model of a system on which a layer of selection has been imposed, creaming off 10 per cent. of the pupils and creating a two-tier arrangement. It is a bit rich of the Government to describe such systems as monstrous, when the Bill is about to re-create them.

The anger that I felt when I read the White Paper in the summer has now been compounded with a good deal of sadness. I was sorrowful, rather than anything else, to observe that the Secretary of State seemed to think that a measure of profound importance to many people was merely a jolly wheeze. What good fun it was to introduce a Bill like this! As the right hon. Gentleman puffed and preened in his usual way, telling us how he was going to wreck the system, I reflected on the tragedy that we were dependent on Conservative Members to say, "Hang on a minute; we cannot go on like this. We cannot set in train a sequence of events that will set school against school, parent against parent, governor against governor and teacher against teacher. We cannot let the system be wrecked because the Secretary of State—on some ideological mission, enslaved by right-wing pressure groups —thinks that it is a good idea."

A real agenda for education is waiting to be seized. It is an agenda to do with quality and excellence; it addresses questions such as "Why do a third of 16-year-olds fail to gain a single GCSE pass at grades A to C?", "Why do one in four school leavers fail to gain a single graded GCSE?" and "Why do only one in five 18-year-olds gain an A level pass of any kind?". We should be discussing those problems. There is a huge educational agenda out there, and—as in 1944—a consensus is waiting to coalesce around it. The tragedy is that the Bill has nothing to do with any of that.

8.39 pm
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I have been waiting to hear about the two grant-maintained schools that the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Wright) said that he might have visited, but by the time he reached the end of his speech he seemed to have forgotten about it. What a disgraceful qualification for an intervention. What is wrong with people making sacrifices to send their children to private schools, if they want to give them the best education they can? What is wrong with somebody striving to earn the highest possible income in order to pay the fees and, in the process, paying taxes so that the children of other people can have a better education as well? What is wrong—

Dr. Wright


Mr. Thurnham

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He went on for long enough. When I asked him whether he had visited grant-maintained schools, he seemed to make out that he had, and then it turned out that he had not. If he had visited grant-maintained schools in his area, or in Bolton, he would have heard a very different story.

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman were to visit Greyfriars school and Baverstock school in Birmingham he would not find the decline in morale and standards about which he and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) spoke. He should also visit Bolton's grant-maintained schools—St. James's and Crompton Fold—and see the spirit among the children, parents and staff—and the bearing and manner of the headmaster, someone who knows what he is doing and how to run a school in the best interests of the children, not as part of a uniform bureaucracy, which is what the Opposition favour—absolutely no choice whatsoever and no opportunity for people to do their very best for their children.

I commend many of the Bill's provisions to the House. I am disappointed, however, that Opposition Members have been unable to appreciate its good features. I wonder how many lives the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has? I notice that she is not in her seat. She was kind enough to let me intervene during her speech. She once said that the right to buy would be over her dead body. I am not sure whether she wants this Bill to be passed over her dead body. I hope that she will eventually see the light, however slow she may be to do so.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education pointed out in his speech that about £300 million a year is wasted on the provision of surplus places. I hope that he will direct Bolton education authority's attention to the waste that occurs as a result of its surplus places. On a pro rata basis, I should not be surprised if £1 million a year was wasted on surplus places in Bolton. I hope that the education authority will make additional funds available for schools that deserve more money to be spent upon them. In addition to the two schools that have already become grant-maintained. Canon Slade is to hold a ballot at the beginning of December. I am sure that the parents will see the benefits that we are discussing tonight.

A disappointing feature of the debate is the negative attitude adopted by the Opposition. Parents have written to me recently expressing their concern about the negative attitude of Labour authorities over the provision of bus fares for children attending private schools. One authority refused to provide the uniform for a child who had won a scholarship to a music school because it was a private school. The parents were on income support. How disgraceful. That nine-year-old child just does not exist in the eyes of that education authority. Those authorities are making a considerable profit by not having to pay for the education of these children if they do not even contribute towards the cost of bus fares or school uniforms.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) on her excellent speech, in which she highlighted the special needs requirements, for which the Bill makes provision. The Bill will be a great success in that area. It deals with so many of the obvious requirements. I understand that the total cost of special needs education is about £1.5 billion. I intend to deal with some of the issues raised with me by constituents.

First, the arrangements for speech therapy are riot working satisfactorily. I hope that the Bill will enable them to be improved. In the case of one child, Rebecca, in my constituency, her parents are still having to pay for her to have private speech therapy, although it should be available through state arrangements. A proper agreement should be reached between the health authority and the education authority as to who exactly is responsible for speech therapy. However, the latest circular seems only to have added to the confusion. It has not resolved the issue.

The House has already heard about the long delays over the issue of statements. I hope that the Bill will help to reduce those delays and make the issue of statements a much more straightforward process. The special educational needs tribunal, the appeal tribunal, should work far better than the present arrangements, under which one appeals to the same body that made the original decision.

I hope that the Bill will address the need for choice of school in every possible respect. Children should not be forced to go to a special school when the parents and the child feel that that is not in the child's best interests. The local authority can make that decision now against the wishes of the child. I hope that full parental choice will be introduced.

I am also concerned about the status of voluntary schools. In my constituency I have Birtenshaw, which is a very fine school for children with special educational needs. Its future is very uncertain under the new arrangements. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some comfort to such schools. I have already referred to the fact that my son is at the Royal School for the Blind in Wavertree, which is also run on a voluntary basis. That school also needs reassurance about how its costs will be covered.

It is important that costs are compared fairly between the state and the private sector. If one takes into account all the overheads in the state sector, one often finds that a local authority tends to favour its own schools when their costs are probably higher than those in a well-run voluntary school. As for the arrangements in special residential schools for emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children, there is considerable uncertainty about the number of children in those residential schools. A survey carried out in 1987 for the National Children's Bureau showed that there were about 11,000 children in these special schools. The costs of having children in special schools can be very high. In the case of Pepperharrow it can be high as £50,000 a year. However, it has been pointed out that the earlier a decision can be made to send a child to such a school the greater the chance the school has of success with that child.

It may be that the Home Office ought to pay the bills. If children are not put on the straight and narrow after, in many cases, a disastrous early upbringing, they will clearly cost society a great deal of money later if they resort to a life of crime and end up in prison for half their life and commit crimes when they are out of prison. I hope, therefore, that the Home Office will be persuaded to cover some of the costs instead of leaving the cost to be borne completely by local authorities.

I attended a meeting recently at the Department for Education when a delegation from residential schools for emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children met the Minister, Lady Blatch. She said that she felt there was a need for these schools to market themselves to the local authorities, but local authorities are monopolies and can make decisions for reasons that are not entirely rational when it comes to marketing. If they have their own schools, they will be inclined to favour them and make short-term decisions based on immediate costs rather than on decisions that are in the best interests of the child—and in the long term, without doubt, in the best interests of society.

I have also received a note from Mr. Stephen Lloyd, the director of the Hesley group of schools. It consists of six schools for EBD children and children with special needs.

He says that he is not happy with the way that the White Paper sets out the position. He believes that there is a contradiction between more pupils now being excluded from schools—we do not appear to have any figures, but I hope that the Department will start to collect figures for exclusions, because concern is growing about that matter—and the fewer placements that are now being made in residential schools for therapeutic purposes. Those fewer placements are taking place because of financial restrictions.

Mr. Lloyd believes that the Education Act 1981 is not addressing that problem. He argues that there is no significant difference between the costs of residential education and care in the private sector and in the mainland sector, if all costs are compared on a like-for-like basis he says: The White Paper is wrong to suggest limiting parental choice to the maintained sector only. Many other examples of high quality provision exist and, given similarity of gross costs, the child's best needs should be met (with parental involvement in decision making) irrespective of the legal operating base of the school. I am concerned that parents in my constituency are being denied the opportunity to send their children to Birtenshaw school, although they have moved to a house nearby.

Mr. Lloyd continues: The theme of the White Paper is 'choice'. This restriction of choice negates the theme. If one is planning a comprehensive service for children, local authority administrators should have the ability to use 'out of authority' placements as part of their planning process for best 'provision and financial reasons'. Many such officers are restricted by local authority policy from doing so. He says that the White Paper is wrong to suggest that such oversight cannot be given to non-maintained or independent schools and implying, again wrongly, that local authority schools automatically achieve such status. Residential schools have high fixed costs, if one regards staff as fixed costs, and obviously get into difficulty if the number of pupils declines. I appeal to my right hon. Friend carefully to consider the case for residential schools. He will be aware from his previous position in the Home Office of the great cost to society of children who are classed as EBD. I hope, therefore, that he will not allow residential schools to wither on the vine because of the short-sighted policy of local authorities. He is in a position to direct that more resources be allocated to those schools so that in the long term, society can benefit from the good work that they do.

8.51 pm
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

I came to the Chamber to hear a debate on the Education Bill. Many parents, teachers, councillors, and some Tory county councillors in Devon, in which my constituency of Devonport lies, will be watching this debate closely. I shall measure the column inches in Hansard tomorrow to assess the amount of time that the Secretary of State spent attacking the Opposition rather than addressing the serious matters in the Bill.

The Bill is about the future not only of the education system but of local democracy. It is no exaggeration to say that, if the Bill's proposals are fully implemented, by the turn of the millenium local government could have all but disappeared.

The Bill was spawned from the White Paper, "Choice and Diversity: A New Framework for Schools", which was packed with unresolved questions and conflicting ideas and, worst of all, resounded to the heavy rumble of the remorseless juggernaut of state control. The White Paper was the diagnosis and the Bill is the cure. I had hoped that the Secretary of State might have told us what the disease was.

The White Paper has every appearance of having been written by a novice on a voyage of discovery. As we leaf through it, on every page there is a treasure trove of hitherto undiscovered facts about our education system. I am sure that the education world held its breath when it was told in paragraph 1.5 that "comprehensives serve many communities". That astonishing revelation was surpassed in paragraph 1.16 by: The reality is that children have different needs. Only the deep insight of the experienced eye could have spotted that. Paragraph 1.41 says: praise or encouragement loses value if lavished on every piece of work. In my days as a teacher, that last trite epiphet, which was seemingly drawn from a bottomless pit of banality, would have attracted a failed grade and the comment: "Lacking in depth, showing little more than the most shallow understanding of the subject in hand. See me."

When the White Paper was written, the Secretary of State was new to his command and as he travelled on his voyage of discovery in the world of education he encountered the natives, who had time-honoured practices and modes of working that he did not understand. So, like a proselytising missionary, he moved among them, attempting to change their way of life before he understood them, seeing evil where there was none and stamping out sins which did not exist.

The Secretary of State would have done well to have paid regard to some of the 850 responses to the White Paper. Clearly, he would have furthered his own education had he done so. He has treated the consultation period with contempt by making no discernible changes to his proposals in the period of metamorphosis from White Paner to Bill.

The worst aspect of the Bill is its power to embrace our education system with the clawing arms of state control. The Government want to inflict on our schools the very thing that they say is bad for business. The Government who introduced the state curriculum and dictated the content of examination syllabuses now wish to dictate articles of government, abolish local accountability, replace governors at will, send in education associations and, most of all, invest more and more powers with the Secretary of State. I remind him of the Prime Minister's foreword to the Tory manifesto for the last election, which stated: Politicians must never make the mistake of thinking the state knows best. As the Secretary of State takes more powers to himself, inhibits the actions of others and dictates every aspect of education, I remind him of a quotation, for which I had to burrow in Devonport high and low, from Angus's description of Macbeth: Those he commands move only in command, Nothing in love: now does he feel his title Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe Upon a dwarfish thief. I deal now with one of the five great themes of the Bill: choice—a concept enshrined in the name of the White Paper. When it comes to parents selecting a school for their child, choice is subtly changed to "preference", but, most important, the Bill removes the most fundamental of parents' choices: the right to choose who runs the system locally, the right to choose councillors in elections, the right to elect an LEA and the right to change the people running the system if they so wish. The only person with choice will be the Secretary of State, who will have sole power to decide members of the funding agency.

The Bill purports to free parents and schools from the alleged bureaucracy of local education authorities, only to replace them by a beast far more terrifying—the funding agency. Schools will be embraced by a far more powerful bureaucracy, which will be more remote, unresponsive, ignorant of local needs, unelected and unaccountable to local feelings. That costly new bureaucracy will prove worse by far than the one from which the grant-maintained schools thought they were escaping.

There are other ways in which choice is being eroded. If the Government close all the surplus places in schools to make the aggregate number of places equal to the total number of pupils, parental preference will vanish as children are shoe-horned into the places available. To maintain the concept of preference, some surplus places must remain. I should welcome a statement from the Secretary of State about what percentage of extra places will be required and what basis of information he has used to arrive at his decision.

It is worthy of note that the Bill does not propose that one more penny is spent on books, on equipment, on teachers, or on leaking roofs, and that the only extra funds available will be for the bureaucracy of the funding agency. The Secretary of State has given an assurance that the money will be found by savings from removing surplus places. That is ironic, as most of the surplus places exist only as a result of the schools having the ability to opt out if facing closure by an LEA. The opting-out laws have destroyed the local education authorities' ability to plan and to make savings.

It is astonishing that such reliance should be placed on savings from the removal of school places when the definition, true number and nature of surpluses have not been established. Furthermore, there have been instances when the Government have allowed schools that would otherwise have been closed by local education authorities to remove surplus places to become grant-maintained schools.

My lack of confidence in the Government's capability to act quickly and to respond to local needs has been more than adequately highlighted by their treatment of Devon county council, a Tory authority, in its plans to reorganise secondary education in Plymouth. The plans were launched in 1984, but it was only this summer that the announcement was made that in September 1993 the final reorganisation of the last two schools will take place. The attempts by the local education authority to remove surplus places have been met by prevarication, fumbling inefficiency, and totally unwarranted and costly delay.

The main object of the Bill is to make schools go grant maintained—hence the need to set up the funding agency to replace the local education authorities. At no point does the Bill address the positive relationships which schools enjoy with local education authorities. Schools do not exist in a vacuum; they need the formal and informal networks, mostly provided by the LEA, on which they rely heavily. The Association of County Councils says: The National Curriculum and its associated arrangements are not implanted in the life of schools simply by virtue of text from the National Curriculum Council, or SEAC or the DFE. From my own experience in schools, I can confirm that the national curriculum, the GCSEs and the local management of schools proposals would not have been in place now if it had not been for the excellent work of local education authorities. Schools look to the LEAs on a practical basis for support services, specialist legal and employment advice, in-service training, and much more. Many local education authorities include councillors and full-time officers who provide inspiration and leadership. Indeed, the quality of education owes much to the vision of those people, who belong to other parties as well as to my own.

All those benefits could be replaced by a centralised, remote funding agency appointed solely by the Secretary of State. Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine the grey, faceless quango, full of the Secretary of State's appointees, doling out grants in Whitehall, replacing our excellent local education authorities.

The Secretary of State made an announcement that there are now 350 grant-maintained schools. That is hardly an avalanche.

Mr. Patten

There are 340.

Mr. Jamieson

As I said, it is scarely an avalanche. In 1987 the former Prime Minister assured us that by this time there would be almost 11,000 opted-out schools.

The Bill is needed because of the resounding lack of enthusiasm of parents for grant-maintained status. The Secretary of State made much about democracy in his speech. If he had confidence in local democracy, he would introduce proposals to allow schools to hold ballots to opt back into local education authority control. Perhaps the lack of enthusiasm to become grant-maintained is due to lack of trust in the Government.

I am sure that parents of children in grant-maintained schools will monitor the Secretary of State's commitment with interest. It was a case of, "Watch my lips: grant-maintained schools will receive more money", but the Secretary of State's muttered aside in response to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) spoke volumes. When the hon. Gentleman asked whether more funds would be available, the Minister said, "Not this week." I hope that that is on the record and that the Minister will explain what he meant by that when he replies to the debate.

It is not my intention to address the detail of the Bill at this stage. However, I cannot ignore clause 19, which gives any parent the right to a copy of a list of names and addresses of every parent of every child registered at a school. Schools and local authorities currently consider that information to be confidential, limited-access information.

Sometimes we judge a Bill on the major issues that it raises, but it is the detail which betrays the lack of insight of its authors. When clause 19 was inserted in the Bill, did the Secretary of State pause for a moment to consider the consequences of publishing that information? That information could be used by commercial organisations. Far worse, however, an estranged or violent parent could use it as a device to trace other parents or children. The information could be used in the heat of the moment by a parent to demand the address of a particular child. At present, such demands are regularly turned down in schools. At the very worst, such information could provide a comprehensive list of local children for people with the basest of motives. A most senior education officer described the proposal to me yesterday as the paedophile's charter. I hope that the Minister will recognise the error of clause 19 and announce its withdrawal.

Today we should have been considering the real issues which affect our schools. Parents should have the right to minimum standards enshrined in law. We should have been addressing issues such as class sizes, building standards, levels of equipment and teacher-pupil ratios. If the Bill had been about conditions and giving parents rights and genuine choice, I could have commended it to others. However, it is seriously flawed and it has engendered bitter opposition from local authorities, including the authority in my constituency, it has found little resonance with parents and it will effectively nationalise our schools.

9.8 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I will not follow the path pursued by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), as I do not have much time. However, I was interested to hear him quote Shakespeare. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recall these words of Shakespeare: Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more". I know that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport is a keen supporter of the National Union of Teachers. He will be pleased to learn that this evening I saw Fred Jarvis, who was general secretary of the NUT for many years. He had a terrible accident two weeks ago when his car overturned, but he emerged with only a scratch. Fred is good and well. As one who enjoyed a grammar school education, he will support the best education for others. The Bill will facilitate that.

The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) spoke disparagingly about the Birmingham education system, which gives special education to 10 per cent. of its children. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the same argument against selection was used against the Parmiters school in Bethnal Green when I was the Conservative candidate for Stepney and Bethnal Green some years ago. I do not argue for selection but let us treat the matter academically.

Socialists in the area, including Shirley Williams, said that that two-form entry grammar school was wrecking the surrounding comprehensives. They said that the fact that 60 children received a grammar school education in the area wrecked the 20 or 30 local comprehensives. Parmiters school was destroyed, and the 60 children a year who had previously gone to that distinguished school were distributed about six per school to the comprehensives.

What difference did that make to those schools? None whatever. But it damaged the opportunity of the children who would have enjoyed a good, strong. grammar school education, just as the hon. Member for Devonport did. I know that he was pleased with his education. Those children lost the chance of such an education, and suffered accordingly.

Mr. Jamieson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

No. I listened to the hon. Gentleman for a long time, and he has not left me long, so I will ask him to forgive me.

The hon. Member for Devonport said that the Bill centralised education. How can he say that when the Bill envisages a system which gives schools throughout the country independence which they have never had before?

Mr. Jamieson

indicated dissent.

Mr. Greenway

He sits and shakes his head. I should be glad to take him to my constituency, to poor, not so poor and comparatively wealthy areas. All the secondary high schools have opted for grant-maintained status, except for one, which is on its way. Other schools within striking distance of my constituency have also become grant-maintained. They enjoy a new independence.

I give cleaning as an example of the benefits of opting out. If the hon. Member for Devonport has ever run a school, as I have, he will know how important it is to have the school clean and free of graffiti, to have the floors scrubbed, and so on. If the school becomes derelict, that leads to more dereliction and a bad attitude among the children.

Northolt high school examined its cleaning budget when it gained grant-maintained status. It took the cleaning contract away from the local authority and found a private cleaning system. It saved £70,000 a year. Where does the money go in such cases? It does not go back to the cherished local authorities about which we have heard so much. It goes to pay for books, pencils, rubbers and teachers for the children.

Some of the children in Northolt high school are poor and deprived. They come from sad, tough backgrounds. I should have been thrilled and impressed if I had heard Opposition Members say that they were striking out for poor children and would support the opportunity which will come from the diversified system of education which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined.

The diversified education system includes the assisted places scheme. I know cleaners in Hanwell whose children have had assisted places and are doing well. They are grateful, and the children have enjoyed the places. The diversified system enhances the role of Church schools and single-sex schools. It takes into account the fact that children are all different. If the hon. Member for Devonport—I concentrate on him but I should address my remarks to all Opposition Members—has ever run a school, he will know that children are different and need different types of schools and courses.

The awful pressure that I experienced professionally from the Inner London education authority when it went loony Left was unbelievably Labour doctrinaire. It did not want choice for children. Rather, primary schools were zoned to secondary schools. Children went to their local primary school and were then zoned into their local secondary school. There was no choice or diversity, and certainly not the choice for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is providing. As a result, standards were not what they should have been.

The Opposition cannot say that every child should be treated the same and that no account should be taken of their differences. They must be given the education that each child needs and deserves. That is where the Labour party has gone wrong for so long, yet it still does not see it.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is scandalous that Labour-controlled local authorities should have used chargepayers' money to mount campaigns against schools that wanted to go grant-maintained. For example, the previous Leader of the Opposition sent his children, Stephen and Rachel, to Drayton Manor high school in my constituency. Parents of children at that school in Hanwell decided that they wanted the school to go grant-maintained. The loony Left council in control of Ealing sent the education officer, the deputy education officer and all the brass from the education committee—the paid officials—as well as elected members to pressurise parents and governors against doing that.

However, those governors and parents, to their great credit, held out and investigated what grant-maintained status could mean for the school. They decided that they wanted an independent state school. The parents canvassed other parents and the governors and eventually, after a long tough struggle lasting many months against the Labour local education authority, they won through. To his credit, the chairman of the governors resigned.

I have noticed that Labour governors of schools that go grant-maintained do not always resign when the school goes grant-maintained, even if they oppose it. Why do they hang in there? Are they converted or do they stay there for further trouble? Time will tell. I hope that Opposition Members will support me when I say that, if Labour governors who have been dedicated to the battle to oppose schools going grant-maintained stay on the board of governors, they will do so in a constructive manner and support the school's new status. That is fundamental and important.

Religious education is as important as any subject on the school curriculum. The tragedy is that two thirds of local education authorities have not had a new syllabus for religious education, which is desperately needed. It needs to be genuinely and sincerely argued out and hard fought for. Under the Education Reform Act 1988, the former Ealing Labour council produced a new religious education syllabus that did not refer to God, the Bible, the Prayer Book or Jesus. That RE syllabus was required to be mainly Christian. Such a spurious exercise is not acceptable to parents. Parents in Ealing opposed it and petitioned against it. Finally, when a Conservative council was secured in 1990—

Mr. Enright

Which school?

Mr. Greenway

The school was in Ealing. Why does not the hon. Gentleman listen instead of interrupting from a sedentary position? Where are his manners?

Mr. Enright


Mr. Greenway

No, I shall not give way.

A religious educational syllabus was produced in Ealing by the local socialists which virtually disowned Christianity. Parents from Acton high school and others petitioned against it strongly. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), who is a friend of mine, despite appearances, and who is a Roman Catholic—

Mr. Enright

What is the name of the school?

Mr. Greenway

I mentioned it, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not take what I say seriously. I hope that he will read Hansard tomorrow, look at what I have said and ensure that, where he has influence in other sectors—I am sure he does—where a Labour party or any other party is in control, such a thing never happens again.

9.21 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)

A number of Opposition Members will have sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on religious education. During a high-quality debate reference has been made to special education, a subject that unites a number of hon. Members. But that is where any consensus must end.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) and other hon. Members referred to the consultation process that led to the White Paper and subsequently the Bill. The lack of consultation is not untypical. When we consider the proposals for reforming —if that is the right word—Her Majesty's inspectorate, we see that the consultation process was short and was, on balance, ignored.

When the head of Ysgol Hughes in Gwynedd and the heads of the nine primary schools that feed into that comprehensive school wrote to the Western Mail in September, they said: We are amazed that this document"— the White Paper— was released, not only when schools were closed for the summer holidays, but, furthermore, when the term of office of one governing body is drawing to a close, and the next body is not yet elected. To have a consultation exercise about a major reform of schools and education at the beginning of the school summer holidays shows the Government's lack of seriousness about consultation.

Dr. Spink

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that in my constituency half the schools—17 out of 34—read the report, understood it, discussed it with me and wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with their comments on the White Paper. That is consultation par excellence, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that effort.

Mr. Murphy

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) say that the consultation process would continue in Committee. My experience in Committee under this Government shows that very few concessions are made at that stage, but times are changing and one never knows.

There was, at least, sufficient time for public organisations and those involved in education in the Principality to consider the consultation exercise and the White Paper. They have told the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of State their views on the proposals. We would expect the National Association of Local Government Officers, which represents those who administer education, the National Union of Teachers, and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers to be worried about the proposals. But, so, too, are head teachers in Wales, local education authorities, the majority of academics who teach education in Wales and most people in the Principality. The Society of Welsh in Education said that the White Paper was one of the most outrageous documents produced this century". The National Association of Head Teachers said: the impact of the proposed legislation upon Welsh life, heritage and culture, specially in rural Wales, will be incalculable". The House will therefore realise that this Bill is essentially alien to our Welsh culture.

A teacher who wrote to our national newspaper in September said: The failure of the Welsh Office to act independently, or to listen to its own advisers, is a terrible betrayal of the education service in Wales. He went on, appropriately since the Minister of State is with us: The Minister of State for Wales' sole function seems to be to rubber-stamp the latest imposition from Westminster, however wrong-headed or contradictory. The problem with the legislation that has come from across the Severn estuary is the same problem as the writer of the 19th century Encyclopaedia Britannica had when he wrote, "for Wales, see England".

The proposals fly in the face of our strong Welsh democratic traditions and they are alien to our strong Welsh community values. They ignore almost wholly the separate administrative structure of Welsh education, set up as long ago as 1881. Above all, the Government have no mandate for the proposals from the people of Wales. Of the 38 Welsh Members, only six are Conservatives. All the others, Labour, Nationalist and Liberal Democrat, are united on this occasion in their feelings about opt-out schools and about the Bill.

The Bill is a disgraceful and unnecessary imposition on the Welsh people. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the so-called opted-out, grant-maintained schools in Wales, where they have proved to be deeply unpopular.

Mr. Patten

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a couple of excellent grant-maintained schools in his constituency. Does he condemn them? Is he against the teachers and parents there?

Mr. Murphy

The Secretary of State has been given false information: there are no grant-maintained schools in my constituency.

Mr. Patten

I apologise; my geography is not good enough. I understand that they are in the county next door.

Mr. Murphy

Yes, they are in that county. I shall come to those schools in a moment. Meanwhile, of all the hundreds of primary and secondary schools in Wales, only three are grant-maintained, two of them as a direct result of proposals for closure. Four primary and 10 secondary schools are now applying for opt-out status. Four of the proposals from those schools were thrown out by the parents and two of the proposals were rejected by the Secretary of State—hardly a success story for GM schools in Wales.

Some of my hon. Friends have asked about the purpose of the Bill. Presumably it is designed to offer further inducements to GM schools. If grant-maintained status is so popular, why the need for the Bill?

Many Welsh educationists see problems in the Bill. The possible reintroduction of grammar schools and of selection are universally detested in the Principality. We believe, too, that the so-called specialist schools would mean a concentration of resources on a small number of schools. We admire our experts in Wales; we do not say that those who have spent a lifetime studying education should be derided for their views. The experts tell us that the proposals will cause major problems in our rural areas. The last thing they want are grant-maintained schools in the south Wales valleys or in the inner parts of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. Is it any wonder that, of the 692 ballots for opt-out in Britain, only 121 came from Labour-controlled local authorities?

The point on which the Secretary of State was given false information is of interest to the House. We hear about the great success story of three opt-out schools in Wales, but two of them, Cwmcarn and Brynmawr in Gwent, were given grant-maintained status by the Secretary of State. They had asked to join the system because Gwent county council had been asked by the Welsh Office to come up with some ideas about school reorganisation.

I have no doubt that the Minister of State will mention the £23 million spent in Wales on teaching no one and the 118,000 empty school desks in the Principality. When the local authority came up with plans to save that money, the schools that were to go because they were too small were saved so that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State had something to say about opt-out schools in Wales. Where is the logic or sense in that?

The Secretary of State said that those schools were in my constituency. Cwmcarn, which has only 323 pupils, was in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), who, by pure chance, was the Leader of the Opposition at the time, and the Government thought that they could score some cheap political points by allowing opt-out in that constituency.

Perhaps the worse aspect of the Bill is that even more quangos will be created in Wales. Only last week the Secretary of State for Wales replied to one of my hon. Friends about appointments to public bodies in Wales. The answer took up 42 columns of Hansard. Almost 1,000 people in Wales are appointed by the Secretary of State in a Government who have no mandate whatever in the Principality.

We are now being asked to have a curriculum council. There is some merit in that, and in the fact that the assessment aspect will be added to it. However, the Secretary of State has no statutory duty to consult it and there are doubts about its future independence. The Welsh Joint Education Committee has been established for many decades and is ideally qualified and suited to do that job. Why has it been sidetracked? Why can that body not be the curriculum council for Wales?

The Minister of State is responsible for the Welsh language in Wales and will be aware of the good work carried out by the Welsh language education development committee of the WJEC, the so-called PDAG. It has been in existence for only six years, is effectively independent of the WJEC and everybody else, and virtually everybody in Welsh-medium education in the Principality has said that it should remain. The deputy director of the Open university in Wales and the chairman of the University of Wales board for Welsh-medium teaching and many others wrote to the Western Mail some weeks ago and said that the committee's disappearance was yet another attempt to undermine local democratic control over education by centralising all power in the Welsh Office and its nominated Quangos. There is much talk about education associations. If the so-called failing schools are in danger of disappearing, those associations will move in and take them over, but everyone knows that the best body to do that is the local education authority. It can do it discreetly and quietly and, without fuss, it will try to improve the school. The panoply of bringing in some association, another quango appointed by the Secretary of State, is absolute nonsense. It has been suggested that retired head teachers should be used for the job. One Welsh director of education wrote: This is an extraordinary proposal and suggests a kind of task force of geriatrics who will rescue a school from perdition. That is only one aspect. The worst of the quangos will be the Schools Funding Council. It is unnecessary and unwanted. The Secretary of State will be able to appoint even more people to it.

It does the Secretary of State and the Minister no credit when they ignore the good work of the Welsh Joint Education Committee, which only recently achieved top place in eight out of 20 A-level subjects—more than either the Oxford or Cambridge boards—and an 82 per cent. A-level pass rate. One of the finest institutions in the Principality is not being used, simply because it is linked to local government.

All Welsh Members of Parliament are sick and tired of the quangos by which Wales is increasingly being governed. They are packed with the placemen and placewomen of the Secretary of State and the whole system is becoming corrupt and rotten. It is becoming a public scandal in Wales and the Bill does nothing but ensure that that will continue.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Is not the only solution to this deep-seated problem the establishment of a democratic Parliament for Wales with legislative and tax-raising powers? If we had that, we should not have to endure Bills such as this.

Mr. Murphy

Regional government elected by the people of Wales is the answer to these quangos, because democracy, at whatever level, is valuable. We cannot afford to lose it.

In her first-class speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris) said that local education authorities have done a good job, but that the Secretary of State is reluctant to talk about that, and the Bill and the White Paper make no mention of it. However, as Dyfed county council has told us, only they can deal with the provision of Welsh language properly. They should be dealing with surplus school places, the oversight of admission policies, the overview of special education, weaker schools, local planning, local advice and in-service training. All those functions are properly the prerogative of democratically elected local education authorities.

I hope that the Minister will tell us something about his plans for the reform of local government in Wales, as we are all awaiting with interest what the White Paper, if there is to be a White Paper, will have to say on that. As long as there is uncertainty in local government, it will effectively be blighted. No expenditure decisions can be made or long-term planning undertaken.

The Bill will fail because it is out of tune with Welsh traditional democratic values. It is ironic that in 1902, when an education Bill sponsored by a Conservative Government was passing through the House, Mr. Balfour said that the time had come for the end of what we would today call quangos. He said: Our reform, if it is to be adequate, must in the first place, establish one authority for education … possessed of power, which may enable it to provide for the adequate training of teachers, and for the welding of higher technical and higher secondary education … In the second place … this one authority for education being as it is responsible for a heavy cost to the rate payers, should be the rating authority of the district … I would say to them"— the ardent believers in quangos— that though they may prefer an ad hoc authority, they must surely know that no ad hoc authority now can cover the whole ground of education". If only Mr. Balfour were back so that he could talk about the value of democracy.

The bureaucratic jungle in England about which my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) spoke exists in Wales as well. Planning for schools will be in the hands of local education authorities, the Further Education Funding Council for Wales, the Schools Funding Council for Wales, the Welsh Office education department, grant-maintained schools and education associations. If ever there were a recipe for educational chaos and disaster, that is it. In the words of a former chief inspector of schools in Wales: It is surely a triumph of hope over experience to expect that such self-interest, isolated, fragmented decisions, made in thousands of separate institutions, will add up to a sensible, effective and efficient national school system … there is no clarity at present about the Government's vision for the public education service of this country. My hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) both pointed that over these two days, rather than discussing this nonsense, we should be talking about nursery place, oversized classes, the lack of books and equipment and crumbling schools. That is what is at stake in education in Wales and the rest of Britain.

The education system in the Principality and the country generally is yearning for stability and certainty. Instead, education is driven by the dogma of competition, market forces and the other rubbish that comes from the Centre for Policy Studies. The result is a jungle. School is set against school, college against college and college against school. That is no education provision for our young people.

A few months ago in Cardiff—in the fine St. David's hall—500 young people from Gwent undertook a great festival of music and culture. They came from our valleys, county towns, villages and the inner city areas of Newport. I am fearful that the Bill's provisions will mean that such a festival will never take place again. Similarly, I fear that the advice that is given by local education authorities and the ability to give anyone, irrespective of where he or she lives and his or her earnings, the opportunity to have a good education, will be destroyed by the enactment of the Bill. When the professor of education at the university of Swansea said that the Bill is a shoddy, conniving and mendacious document that has little to do with raising standards or choice", she spoke for the people of Wales.

9.41 pm
The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to reply on behalf of the Government on the first day of the debate. It gives me the opportunity to highlight the aspects of the Bill which are of particular relevance to Wales and to put the record straight on a number of points made by the hon. Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). Before dealing with any detail, I have a question to put to both hon. Members about crumbling schools. If that is the position under the existing local education authority regime, why have local education authorities underspent their capital allocation this year by no less than 15 per cent?

I hope to deal with some of the other issues that have been raised—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the House will settle down so that we can hear the Minister.

Sir Wyn Roberts

I hope to deal with some of the other matters raised during the debate. I am in the happy position of not having to rush through the issues as my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), the Under-Secretary of State, will have the opportunity to deal with outstanding matters when they open and close the debate tomorrow.

The principles on which the Bill's provisions are based and the proposals as they were set out in the White Paper, "Choice and Diversity: A New Framework for Schools", apply equally in Wales as they do in England. The way in which they are implemented, however, will differ in certain important respects.

The Government have an excellent record in recognising the distinctive needs and historical, cultural and linguistic characteristics of the education system in Wales. There is no clearer example of this than the way in which we have implemented the national curriculum. I do not know whether Opposition Members are aware of this, but we have made separate orders for geography, history, art and music—which, together with the Welsh language, will form the core of what we call Cwricwlm Cymreig—the Welsh curriculum—which will give children in Wales an understanding of the influence which the uniqueness of their country has on their lives.

We have established a separate Curriculum Council for Wales. The hon. Member for Torfaen seems not to know that the body is already in existence. In fact it is. It advises the Welsh Office on curriculum matters. I hope to say more about it in a moment. More recently, we have taken steps to establish a separate and independent office of Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools in Wales—[Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside finds wrong with that. I assure him that that office is greatly respected in Wales.

The Bill's provisions continue in the same vein, with separate and different arrangements for Wales where we consider them to be right and necessary. Much of the Bill is concerned with grant-maintained schools, to which the Opposition are implacably opposed—at least for the time being. I shall spell out in a little detail just where we are and what is happening in the grant-maintained sector in Wales.

There are three grant-maintained secondary schools in place already in Wales—Cwmcarn, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), and Brynmawr, both in Labour-controlled Gwent, and Bishop Vaughan in Labour-controlled West Glamorgan. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) claimed that the majority were in Conservative-controlled authorities. Five other schools have balloted in favour of seeking grant-maintained status, and the proposals are either with my right hon. Friend for consideration or are awaited shortly.

There has been a tremendous surge in interest in grant-maintained status over the past few months. There have been more parental ballots during the past six months than in the previous three years, and all bar one have been in favour of grant-maintained status. We are aware of interest in dozens more schools and I expect the issue of grant-maintained status to be on the agenda of most schools in Wales as the new governing bodies are reconstituted this term. I anticipate a significant increase in the number of applications coming to my right hon. Friend in the next few months.

We should not forget the background against which that surge of interest has taken place. The attitude of some local authorities has been quite deplorable. My hon. Friends have described the position in many English authorities, which have not accepted a policy endorsed by the electorate last April—

Mr. Win Griffiths

Endorsed in Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts

This is a united kingdom. Is the hon. Gentleman a separatist?

Those English authorities have not recognised the wishes of parents and governors to have a greater say in the running of their schools. Neither have they collaborated in the interests of the education system generally and the welfare of pupils in particular. Their attitude has been one of open hostility and petty vindictiveness. It is not surprising that other schools, faced with that openly hostile attitude and intense pressure from LEAs, have taken a more cautious approach to the question of grant-maintained status.

As I have said, the position is changing. Parents. governors and head teachers are recognising more clearly the benefits and advantages of grant-maintained status. I have visited two of the three grant-maintained schools in Wales. Indeed, I visited one on Friday. They are reporting much greater freedom in the use of their budgets and more money to spend on books, equipment and staff. The hon. Members for Dewsbury, for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) should take note of that.

Those schools are also reporting a greater freedom to decide on their own priorities and not to have them determined to a large extent by the LEAs. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) spoke about that. Those benefits are apparent to parents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and others described.

Mr. Win Griffiths

In Wales, too?

Sir Wyn Roberts

Yes—in Wales, too. I am not surprised that each of the three grant-maintained schools in Wales has increased pupil numbers this year.

Another important aspect is the interest currently shown in grant-maintained status by the primary school sector in Wales. We have a large proportion of primary schools, and almost 30 per cent. of them have fewer than 100 pupils. I am keen to emphasise the benefits to them of grant-maintained status. I assure Labour Members that those schools are certainly taking an interest. We are witnessing a tremendous upsurge in grant-maintained status in Wales—[Interruption.] Labour Members may laugh now, but the laugh will be on the other side of their faces in due course.

At present, calculation and payment of recurrent and capital grants to grant-maintained schools in Wales is undertaken by the Welsh Office, as is the monitoring of the propriety of grant-maintained schools' expenditure. With the large number of such schools in Wales, it would not be right for those essentially executive tasks to be performed by the Welsh Office—which is why the Bill makes provision for the establishment of the Schools Funding Council for Wales to undertake grant-paying functions. It will not be bureaucratic, any more than its English counterpart will be.

The council will also have duties for the effective administration of the grant-maintained sector in Wales in working alongside the local authority maintained sector to secure sufficient school places and, in certain circumstances, to rationalise provision and to remove expensive surplus places.

Mr. Enright

Will the Minister give way?

Sir Wyn Roberts

In a moment, as soon as I have described the essential differences for Wales.

I stress that applications for grant-maintained status will still be decided by the Secretary of State for Wales. We are taking a pragmatic approach to establishing the funding council. Although we envisage a growing number of grant-maintained schools, it would be wrong for us to anticipate parents' wishes—so the Bill includes an enabling provision to allow the funding council to be established by order. That will be done when the level of grant-maintained schools justifies the formation of a separate body. It is therefore in the hands of parents in Wales as to when the funding council will be established.

I hope that we shall hear no more nonsense about the imposition of an undemocratic quango on the Welsh education system. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) asked where local democracy was when the comprehensive system was foisted on us with a vengeance by circular. The Government adhere to the principle of parental choice and involvement, and if the Schools Funding Council for Wales is established it will be because parents decide that they want a significant grant-maintained sector in Wales. The experience of recent months indicates that we shall have a significant number of grant-maintained schools in Wales sooner rather than later. It is right, therefore, to make proper provision in the Bill.

Mr. Enright

Will the Minister give way now?

Sir Wyn Roberts

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman once I have put over this point.

As to curriculum and assessment, quality is the key to our education reforms. We aim at raising standards of pupil performance by setting standards and measuring achievements. Our proposals reflect our decisions on the next steps. In parallel with the amalgamation of curriculum and assessment functions in the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, we are providing for the transfer of assessment functions to the Curriculum Council for Wales, and for the renaming of the council as the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales.

Mr. Enright

On what principles will the Welsh Office select members of the Schools Funding Council? Will they be selected in the same way as members of South Glamorgan district health authority, or will they be selected in a reasonable and democratic way?

Sir Wyn Roberts

If the hon. Gentleman reads the relevant clause in the Bill, he will see that the council is composed largely of educationists and business people.

The Curriculum Council for Wales has already played a strong supporting role in the development of the national curriculum requirements in Wales. As a result, the distinctive geographical, cultural and linguistic heritage of Wales, the "Cwricwlwm Cymreig", is an integral part of the national curriculum in the Principality.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

Will the Minister give way?

Sir Wyn Roberts

No; this is very important. The council will continue to support work in monitoring and reviewing the curriculum, but as a result of this Bill it will receive new assessment functions. Those functions are the assessment of Welsh at all stages, including GCSE and A-level, and the assessment of all other subjects in Wales for key stages one to three.

The new authority will build on the curriculum council's work, but will be a more substantial body for Wales. It will advise Ministers on all aspects of the curriculum in Wales, and it will have a significant part to play in supporting the place of Welsh language education.

Mr. Llew Smith

Will the Minister give way?

Sir Wyn Roberts

The hon. Gentleman has not been present for most of the debate. I am dealing with points that have been raised by hon. Members who have spoken.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I believe that the time is right for the council to become more involved in ensuring that supporting classroom materials are available, particularly materials in Welsh.

We propose that the authority should take over the development of classroom materials for Welsh medium and Welsh second language. That work is currently carried out by my Department, with the advice and support of the Welsh language education development committee of the Welsh Joint Education Committee.

We are grateful for the work that the WLEDC has done over the years, but I must tell the hon. Member for Torfaen that we have moved on significantly since the establishment of that committee. The national curriculum is introducing the Welsh language to all pupils aged five to 16 in Wales. The council is responsible for monitoring and review of Welsh within the curriculum—work that the new authority will carry forward, with statutory assessment for the national curriculum, GCSE and advanced level work.

It makes sense now to bring that work together with curriculum and assessment work so that the one can inform the other. It also makes sense in making the best use of available resources in a way which improves accountability for those resources. That is the difficulty: here we have a sub-committee of the WJEC which is largely dependent on Government money, as delivered through the Welsh Office. Even when the WLEDC was established, some people asked for it to have a statutory basis, and that is precisely what we are providing now. Above all, it makes sense for teachers to be able to look to a single source for advice and guidance on Welsh language teaching and materials.

The proposals in the Bill will enable work on curriculum development and assessment in Wales to be brought closer together. They carry forward the work of the curriculum council into a new and extended body, which will have a key role in raising standards in our schools in Wales and in supporting Welsh language education.

It has again become clear to me during the debate that the Labour party stands firmly for the status quo in this, as in everything else. The Labour party sees grant-maintained schools as a threat to the uniformity that it prizes above all else. It is against parents having a say in the kind of school that they wish their children to attend. It is against more devolution of power from county hall to the boards of governors of individual schools.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to he resumed tomorrow.