HC Deb 08 July 1993 vol 228 cc531-64

[Relevant documents: First Report from the Education Committee of Session 1992–93 on The Department for Education's Expenditure Plans 1992–93 to 1994–95 (House of Commons Paper No. 305) and the Government Response thereto (House of Commons Paper No. 695); Report of the Department for Education and Office for Standards in Education: The Government's Expenditure Plans 1993–94 to 1995–96 (Cm. 2210)]

Motion made, and Question proposed.

That a further sum, not exceeding £15,520,183,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges that will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1994 for expenditure by the Department of the Environment on revenue support grant, on residual payments of rate support grants, on payment of non-domestic rates to receiving authorities in England, on a grant providing support to certain receiving authorities affected by changes in the calculations underlying revenue support grant as a result of population change, on a grant providing transitional support for certain local authorities, on a grant to compensate 75 per cent. of the expenditure incurred by them on preparation work for the council tax, on payments to specified bodies and the Commission for Local Administration in England, on payments for Valuation Office Agency rating and valuation services, on payments to meet the expenses of valuation tribunals, and on payments in respect of expenditure by the Local Government Commission.—[Mr. Forth.]

7.35 pm
Sir Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

This, of course, is a notable first for the Education Select Committee in so far as we have been able to secure our share of what is by any definition a very short period of debating time for two important subjects—the one about social security and now the one about education. I would like to see all Select Committee reports given time to be debated on the Floor of the House, so that the House would have the opportunity of sharing with the members of the Select Committees some of the evidence that they have received and the conclusions that they have drawn from that evidence.

I am particularly pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on the Front Bench. With his customary courtesy, he dropped me a line to say that he had been able to rearrange an engagement for this evening as he was particularly anxious to share in what he, too, recognises as a notable first. I thank him for giving up what is, after all, a very precious Thursday evening when he could be elsewhere. I also thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who, I understand, will be contributing to the debate a little later.

Our report, which was published on 11 February 1993, followed the progression of reports which this Committee and its predecessor Committees made on Department for Education, formerly Department of Education and Science, expenditure. It follows, therefore, a pattern that has been established over the years, in which we have sought to do a number of things. Perhaps the most important has been to try to improve the presentation of the figures so that they can be more readily understood by more people.

As we discovered in our recent deliberations with the officials of the DFE, there is considerable difficulty in finding one's way through the tables of figures and the statistics which make up the running of a very intricate and complicated Department. I believe that my colleagues would wish me to pay tribute to the Department for the fact that improvements have been made in the presentation of the information. However, to use a term that we all know well, there is still room for improvement, and we hope to see continuing improvement in the future.

I want to draw attention to three points which arise from our report and which I believe are worthy of attention.

The first relates to plans. Although the total of local authority expenditure, nearly half of which goes on education, is now planned and controlled by the Government, the Department publishes no plans for spending by local authorities. We have recommended that the least that should happen is the breaking down of the total into sub-blocks—under-fives, primary, secondary, post-16, and other—and that we should be able to look at the outturn and spending for the coming year, which should be presented in terms of these blocks.

We also stress the point of accountability. This was a matter that exercised the Committee quite considerably. It is vital for people at every level, whether they be school governors, parents, local councillors, Members of Parliament or whatever, to be able to identify quite clearly who is responsible for the various elements of expenditure within our education system.

Questions have been presented to successive Secretaries of State on this subject which have left the Committee still unwilling to accept that this vacuum of accountability should be allowed to continue. The Committee is saying that there should be greater accountability and that efforts should he made to find out exactly who is responsible for what.

As a former local authority man, I can understand the difficulties as regards what comes from the centre and is hypothecated by statute, or whatever, and what is delegated to the rim, as it were, in terms of the local authority, and now, with the changed legislation, is delegated to yet another rim, the schools. I know that my hon. Friends who have been members of local authorities will share my view that there is a vacuum. We all know that it is exploited by hon. Members on both sides of the House, as they can point the finger at someone else.

In the crucial area of education spending, it is important that we should have direct accountability and the ability to ask those who make the decisions and are responsible for them some questions about the whys and wherefores. I hope that the Department will examine that issue so that we can anticipate some improvements next year.

The Committee experienced some difficulties with the statistics in the report and we have considerable sympathy with the Department. The collation of the returns from local authorities is quite unacceptably bad. The fact that, some eight months after the turn of the financial year, we have fewer than 50 per cent. of the returns is not acceptable by any standards. If Parliament—and that means the Select Committee—is to scrutinise the figures in any sensible way, we must improve the way in which the information is collected. That would allow us to look more critically at the outturn of education spending and examine accountability in a more sensible and meaningful way.

Another point in our report concerns the amount of capital expenditure on grant-maintained schools. We concluded that there was certainly an imbalance as emphasis had been placed on capital expenditure for grant-maintained schools, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said clearly that it was a matter of policy.

Although I accept that there are other means available to local authorities, such as the use of capital receipts being transferred from one area of expenditure to another, the constraints under which the vast majority of local authorities operate are such that, in reality, that option is seldom possible or available to them.

We are concerned about the disparity of funding as the gap is shown to widen over the next few years. That is unsupportable, given the state of repair of many of our schools—an issue which the Select Committee has considered for many years and which must be addressed.

The principle of grant-maintained schools is very much part of the Government's policy, but in order to have fairness we should ensure that state schools—the local education authority maintained schools—are at least given the same opportunities.

I ask my right hon. Friend to look critically at whether the expectation that the money will be there is to be realised. There was a distinct feeling among members of the Committee that the belief that that would happen was a triumph of hope over expectation.

I shall now make one of two wider remarks. I recognise that we are short of time and other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate. The debate is essentially about the estimates, and we spend vast sums of money on education. Therefore, any comments which affect education and the way in which money is spent must be valid.

In recent months, we have seen problems right across the educational spectrum; problems arising from the main principles of the Government's legislation, the national curriculum and the issues that flow from it. I have said on many occasions and reiterate tonight that those principles are absolutely right. However, I find it inconceivable that, so many years after I believed the debate about the principles of a national curriculum, the principles of rigour, the principles of testing and assessment to be over, that debate still continues.

I believe that there is evidence of widespread support in schools for the principle of the national curriculum and that the excitement about the entitlement of every child in the country to a certain basic level of education can be taken as read.

Few people who work in education and in schools would dispute the need for rigour in the system and some means of testing and assessing. Those words assume different meanings for different people. Perhaps we all go back to our own childhood too often and try to relate to a world which, if it ever existed, is more in people's imagination than in reality.

Deficiencies have occurred in the detail and the implementation. I have said that putting legislation on the statute book is to some extent the easier part of the exercise. What is vital is how that change is managed and implemented. We have seen some polarisation in the implementation of the reforms which can be described only as unfortunate.

It cannot work without partnership—the partnership that we all recognise to be vital between school and home and the equally essential partnership that I believe also to be vital between the Government and schools and those who work in education. We have to do everything in our power to ensure that the polarisation that has taken place is reversed and we must bring people together to talk about the implementation.

A great deal is said about the Dearing review, which I believe is broadly welcomed. We await with great interest Sir Ron Dearing's recommendations. I believe that he is taking evidence from anyone who cares to give it, as well as seeking advice from various groups. At this stage, I have no reservations about the opportunities for people to contribute to that review.

Sir Ron Dearing has shown himself to be a man of independent thought, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked him to address four specific questions. I hope that the Dearing review presents more than just an opportunity to look at how the system is working; it should give everyone an opportunity to take one step backwards from the current confrontation.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will acknowledge that, while there is clearly a short-term problem that has to be examined by Sir Ron Dearing, there are other problems which perhaps need medium and longer term solutions. If Sir Ron Dearing does the first part of his job as well as I hope he will—indeed, he must if we are to make progress in this debate—there will be other matters he can address also by continuing the vital consultation processes.

As far as the reforms are concerned, we should see a continuous process of fine tuning and improvement. Above all else, the acid test has to be practicality. Will it work and, if it works, will it deliver what we want?

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

I am listening with care to my hon. Friend's remarks. He will be aware that, as chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Sir Ron Dearing will, for the term of his office, have a continuing role in reviewing precisely the subjects to which my hon. Friend refers.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I am aware of that, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for confirming the point. Seeing Sir Ron as an independent figure—as a bridge over which people can walk to transfer views from one side to the other—is critical. It is also important for my right hon. Friend to realise that if Sir Ron is to do his job, he must continue to show, as he has shown so far, his independence.

It is always open to Government to accept or reject advice. While that is right, so long as we can be sure that the advice is objective—I have in the past said that I have not always been sure that it has been objective—at least we shall know that the people concerned, about whom I have spoken, have had an opportunity to contribute.

If we are really serious about having a mass, high level system of education, we must recognise that the changes implemented over the years have been vital. But I make no apology for reiterating my earlier point: that that cannot be achieved without co-operation. Secretaries of State have the right—I defend my right hon. Friend's right in the matter, just as I defended the right of a predecessor of his, Baroness Williams of Crosby—to put forward policies, and we and others have the right to challenge them. But once those policies have been put forward and the principles decided, it behoves everyone to try to make them work.

The Secretary of State must lead from the front in that exercise. He knows better than anyone that the polarisation that has existed for some time must be undone. We trust the Dearing review will produce sensible proposals. I hope that everybody—including people in the trade unions who have perhaps used the present situation to exaggerate matters and undermine some of the basic principles to which I referred, about which I thought there had been agreement years ago but which have been dragged back into the arena—is serious about wanting to achieve what we all wish to achieve. If so, we must take a step backwards so that we may take several steps forward to meet each other.

Too many people are adopting preconceived ideas about the reforms which most people agree are absolutely necessary. Teachers, Ministers, trade unionists and everybody else accept that only one group of people matters—not teachers or Ministers, but the children in our schools for whom the education system exists. If we can remember that, we shall make progress, and in doing so we shall achieve what everybody, inside and outside education, wants—a systematic and controlled improvement in an education system that must serve Britain into the middle of the next century.

7.53 pm
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

The debate is helping to highlight the difference of view across the Floor of the House. Education is described in the document in the language of management, finance, systems and constant tinkering. In contrast, my hon. Friend and I see education not just as a means of enhancing individuals' life changes but as an investment for society at large.

That is why we would have liked to see in the document a reference to spending on nursery education, because that would be giving the best possible start to all children. We want children to be taught by the best and most highly qualified teachers. We reject totally the notion of a mum's army. We want high-quality teachers and high-quality teaching, and we want people with the qualifications to bring that about.

We contrast that with the spectre of the profession now, laden with bureaucracy. I shall concentrate my remarks on the need for the accountability of funds in the system of schooling. After all, we ate told in the document that next year nearly £l 7 billion of taxpayers' money will be spent on the education system. We want that money to be clearly accountable to the taxpayer in the proper manner. Even the document says that local authorities should be accountable to their electorates. We do not disagree with that.

We believe that if a local education authority can be voted in to do a job, people locally should also have the power to vote an LEA out, if that is what they want. To have effective accountability of the substantial sums of taxpayers' money about which we are speaking, it must be as near to the people as possible, and particularly near those who pay the taxes and receive the services. It is unquestionable that over the years LEAs have served us well, but unfortunately they are now being blamed for many of the supposed ills of the education system.

The Government have created a need for change in the funding arrangements, with policies for opting out, by creating grant-maintained schools. I shall not tonight argue the principle of GM schools, although we have not seen the predicted avalanche. The policy is now progressing at a snail's pace, despite the cajoling that has occurred and the bribes that have been given.

To fund the GM schools we need a funding agency, Which is yet another quango to be added to the long list of quangos. In recent years, the Conservatives have found a new enthusiasm for quangos that was not shared by former Governments. For example, Baroness Thatcher, when Prime Minister, said in answer to a parliamentary question in 1980: We shall hope to make more progress in the future by reducing further the number of quangos".—[Official Report, 4 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 424.] A few months later, the same Prime Minister, when again asked about quangos, said: We were able to announce yesterday a further reduction of 140 or so in the quangos. That is very good news".—[Official Report, 19 May 1981; Vol. 4, c. 151.] Yet today, in the post-Thatcher renaissance era of Conservatism, the greatest growth industry in Britain is quangos. Who are the unelected, independent-minded people who are free from party politics and who sit on quangos?

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, according to latest estimates, quangos are now assumed to be responsible for one fifth of all public expenditure?

Mr. Jamieson

I was aware of that and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing it out. This week, a question was tabled asking about the representatives on the Further Education Funding Council and about their political affiliations. I gather that two members of that body, a Mr. Bennett and a Mr. Fallon, were both Tory Members until 1992. Mr. Bennett is described by Roth in Parliamentary Profiles as a hard-Right Thatcherite educator". When the Tories fail at the ballot box in local elections, they then denigrate and undermine the work of councils. To regain local control, they dispose of the democratic institutions and replace them with quangos run by Tory placemen—in this case, failed Tory politicians. It is the new philosophy. If the Tories cannot gain the confidence of the people, they go through the back door and exercise control through quangos. Those quangos, freed from democratically accountable, meddling councillors, develop rather as the Welsh Development Agency has done.

Of course, I hope that organisations will not develop that way because a report from the Public Accounts Committee published today claims that the WDA is run like a private fiefdom. Is that what we are to expect of the funding agency, which is charged with spending £17 billion of taxpayers' money? Will it be run as a private fiefdom for the benefit of those who serve on it, paying consultancy fees for a study into the possibility of privatising itself, with massive golden handshakes to its former members?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth)

Do I assume that, because the hon. Gentleman says that the funding agency is responsible for a £17 billion spend, he anticipates that all schools will shortly vote to become grant-maintained?

Mr. Jamieson

That is the Minister's aspiration, not mine. Whether the figure is £1 billion or £17 billion, that is the hon. Gentleman's aspiration, not Labour's aspiration. We do not want any grant-maintained schools. Instead of a funding agency, we want councils to run their own systems, accounting for their own money, in the extremely good and democratic way that they have done that for many years.

In Committee on the Education Bill, it became clear that the funding agency would meet in private. The public, whether they be parents, governors or other interested parties, cannot attend its meetings. It will be unsullied by public scrutiny, faithfully performing the will of its political masters in Sanctuary house. How appropriately named is that building.

Much of the new legislation during recent years has resulted in a massive growth of bureaucracy, both in the classroom and in other aspects of school life. I have been a supporter of local management of schools for many years. Long before the Government introduced that, I felt that it would be a good system for running schools. It is a way of making better-quality decisions in schools, and where the system is running successfully that is happening.

Local autonomy is very valuable, but we must accept that it does not necessarily lead to a reduction in bureaucracy and overall administration. The theory is that local management of schools moves administration from local education authorities to the schools; the myth is that the overall amount of bureaucracy and administration is therefore reduced. The sacrifice is in the economies of scale that cannot be achieved.

Page 14 of the recent Audit Commission report states: A number of schools increased administrators' hours quite sharply as they took over their budgets. Local management of schools has caused more duplication and administration. That is inevitable. In many cases, it is due to inexperience, so I accept that over the years there may be an improvement. The system was introduced too hurriedly, and there was too little training. Where is the evidence that the increase in administration in schools is matched by a reduction in the LEAs?

In so many areas of policy, we are sailing into uncharted waters and are unclear about where responsibilities lie. We had an example of that at a meeting of the Education Select Committee only a few weeks ago. Senior officials from the Department for Education were asked a simple question: what was the difference between an authority in which 74 per cent. of schools had opted out and an authority in which 76 per cent. of schools had opted out? The answer was: I think it might be wise if we offered a note on that question …we are at the edge of our expertise here, I think. [Interruption.] The Minister laughs. If he does not think that he is at the edge of his expertise, I hope that he will instruct some of his civil servants so that they can understand how the system will work.

It was made clear at that Select Committee meeting that even his senior civil servants did not know how the system would work. I look forward to the Minister giving us the answer that his senior civil servants could not. If senior officials from the Department for Education do not understand how the system will work, how can we expect local education authorities, governors, head teachers and parents to understand?

At that same meeting, it also became clear that the financing of the bureaucracy and administration of the funding agency would come out of the aggregate school budget, not out of that part designated for grant-maintained schools. Therefore, it will be a burden on all schools, both LEA and grant-maintained.

If the Government get their wish—which I doubt they will—pursue their policies and more schools become grant maintained, I fear that much of the £17 billion funding intended to be spent on our education system next year will fall into the hands of an unaccountable body. The education system needs clear, unequivocal lines of responsibility. With the way that things are going, we will not achieve that.

8.7 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Croydon, Central)

Our debate began on the right lines by looking at accountability. The different notions of accountability are interesting. For many of us who are parents of school-age children in London, especially in inner London, some of the points made tonight about accountability will cause a wry smile. As many people are aware, until recently education in inner London was under the control of the Labour-controlled Inner London education authority.

That notorious authority had the biggest expenditure in the country per child, per teacher, per school, per anything we can imagine. Coupled with that, it consistently had one of the worst results in the country for GCSE and A-levels. Year in, year out, it had the highest expenditure and the second or third worst results in the country. Many of us saw that as a case of Labour local government playing progressive education with our children's future and using other people's money to do it. There was little or no real accountability.

Spread across inner London were neighbourhood mixed-ability comprehensives, the best of which were bad and the worst indescribable. There was no diversity and no choice. We had to take our children to the neighbourhood school whether or not we liked it. There was no competition between schools or within schools. To hear an ILEA primary school teacher complaining that even on sports day no child was allowed to come first in the egg-and-spoon race was a classic example of ILEA's attitude.

To cover those appalling results, ILEA decided to massage them and to introduce "disadvantage factors", to push that high-spending authority a little higher up the league. That meant nothing to the parents, when they thought about it—and even less to potential employers, who want to know about a youth's educational achievements, not about his or her environmental disadvantages.

Until ILEA disappeared, there was no real feel about individual schools, no results, and no choice except to opt out completely. That happened in one instance. In division 10, around 46 per cent. of secondary school children who should have been in those schools opted out. Twice the national average attended independent schools. They stayed away in droves. Many others stayed away by truancy.

Many outer-London areas—including my own of Croydon, which borders Lambeth—viewed accountability differently. They introduced variety with Church, comprehensive and independent schools and, recently, two city technology colleges. They pioneered standardised testing years ago and published results. That helps with accountability to parents, who can then choose the school that they wish. It involved not only accountability but limited competition, which tended to force up standards.

The demand for nursery education was also recognised and the number of places in Croydon is increasing from 600 to 1,800 next year. We anticipate that demand will be completely met very shortly. That will be done without any bleating for extra Government money.

With the division of ILEA, different boroughs took different approaches. Lambeth and Southwark continued as before—using ILEA methods, achieving ILEA results, and incurring massive expenditure. Division 10, however, took a hint from Croydon and introduced variety and choice, published results and created competition. There is no geographical tie, but a range of comprehensive, Church and magnet schools, independent schools with assisted places, and CTCs.

In that way, in just three years the 46 per cent. opt-out rate has fallen to 27 per cent., not including the CTCs; truancy is down; and every three or four-year-old child in division 10, in Wandsworth, is offered free nursery education. The budget has been cut by £20 million in real terms, to produce a better service. Schools are competing and results are improving.

In just three years, the number of children with no GCSE passes has fallen to one in 10, from one in five at the tail end of ILEA. The number of children gaining one or more GCSE passes at grade A to C has increased from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. and the number achieving five GCSE passes at grade A to C has risen from 17 per cent. under ILEA to 27 per cent. Those results are not good, but they are a lot better than under Labour-controlled 1LEA's unaccountable approach.

The United Kingdom is already spending more per pupil than Germany or Japan, but to produce poorer results. It is a question not of how much is spent but of the way in which it is spent, and of the abuse that we see in Labour-controlled inner London. The answer must be to take a leaf out of a book of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and go for accountability.

There needs to be more variety and choice and schools must be encouraged to become grant-maintained. If they do, and we can move expenditure in such a way that those schools have revenue for capital plus revenue, they will be able to reverse the situation. I hope that there will be an opportunity soon to do that in such a way that we will be funding children, not schools, and that schools will be answerable to parents and children. We would then have real accountability.

8.14 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I congratulate the Chairman and members of the Select Committee on their excellent report, which primarily concerns state funding. The House may he interested to know that a predecessor of mine as Member of Parliament for Bath, Mr. A. J. Roebuck, was the first Member of Parliament to suggest, in 1884, state funding of education. It took him 18 months to persuade the House to agree, but it did so eventually, and provided a sum of money somewhat smaller than that spent on maintaining the royal carriages.

I suppose one could argue that from small acorns great oak trees grow. However, if Mr. Roebuck were able to return to the House today, I suspect that he would be very disappointed in state education. The great oak tree is beginning to lose a number of its branches through neglect and the increasing onslaught of Conservative policies.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir P. Beresford) hit the nail on the head when he spoke about competition. Many Opposition Members fear that Conservative preoccupation with competition is creating much of the strife within the education service and believe that the co-operation and partnership that has been such an important feature since the Education Act 1944 must be re-established.

The strife is such that many people wonder why the Secretary of State for Education kept his job in the mini-reshuffle while the Chancellor of the Exchequer lost his. Bearing in mind the fact that I defeated Mr. Christopher Patten in the general election, I explain it by paraphrasing Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell—to lose one Patten may be unfortunate, but to lose two looks like carelessness—[Interruption.] I am glad that Conservative Members liked that.

The Chairman of the Select Committee touched on another matter of concern to many of usthe need for much clearer information on which to base such debates. I am sure that that view is held by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. It is possible to interpret the report's figures in many different ways. They have been used by Conservative Members to argue that expenditure per pupil has increased since 1979 by more than 40 per cent. Equally, the same figures can be interpreted—taking into account not ordinary levels of inflation but educational levels—as meaning that expenditure has increased by only 21 per cent.

Furthermore, if one accepts that most costs are fixed or fairly fixed and do not vary significantly with a decline in pupil numbers, one can claim that, although expenditure per pupil has increased, additional expenditure since 1979 is, in real terms, only 2 per cent. higher. A more detailed inspection of those figures shows that the real-terms expenditure per pupil on secondary education has declined by 2 per cent. If we look at the funding in respect of further or higher education students, we can demonstrate a decline of 22 per cent. per student over that period.

I am making the point not in order to start a debate between both sides of the House as to who is right and who is wrong, but merely to agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee that it is important to provide accurate statistics, and accurate interpretations of those statistics, with which we can all agree.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

While the hon. Gentleman is talking about statistics, will he acknowledge not only that spending per pupil has risen by 45 per cent. since 1979, but that books and equipment are very important? Spending on books and equipment since 1979 has risen by 31 per cent. Both are real-terms increases and should be welcomed.

Mr. Foster

The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. It is possible for all of us to select from the mass of statistics in the way that he has. However, he has not contradicted the figures that I quoted—for example, that there has been a decline of some 22 per cent. in the expenditure on higher or further education students. We could spend a lifetime bandying statistics across the Chamber, but that would be of no great benefit to anyone.

What is more important is that we look at some of the specific areas of spending highlighted by the report. Much play is made in the report about expenditure on grant-maintained schools, one of the major planks of Government education policy. Very clearly stated in the report is the disparity between capital expenditure on grant-maintained schools and that on local education authority-maintained schools.

What the report did not make reference to—because the information did not come to light until recently, but was in respect of the years considered by the report—was the double funding of many grant-maintained schools. That meant that many grant-maintained schools were not only getting increased money because of the greater devolution by the LEA to individual schools, but already getting an increased element in their assisted maintenance grant.

Approximately 32 grant-maintained schools have received sums in excess of £100,000 per annum more than they would reasonably expect to receive because of that double funding. That, and double funding at lower levels, has meant that some 32 local education authorities have lost sums of money to those grant-maintained schools in excess of £250,000 each. In each of those local education authorities, there are many schools in desperate need of that money being spent on them and, more importantly, on their pupils.

Accountability has been mentioned. The Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), mentioned the difficulty of determining accountability for the different parts of the education budget. To be fair, the Department's response refers to its understanding of the Committee's frustration with the multi-layered nature of accountability.

I agree with the Committee that there is a need for a separate inquiry into the matter. It may surprise the Minister that I also agree with him about the need to devolve more and more responsibility to individual schools. However, I would go further and say "within a local democratically accountable strategic planning framework". But we agree that there is a need to devolve more and more power to given schools.

It is vital that we look carefully at the accountability of those responsible for making decisions within individual schools. I do not believe that that accountability can rely on governors' meetings—which can be, and often are, held in private—and on the annual governors' report that is very often presented to an empty school hall.

I hope that the Minister will say whether he would be willing to find ways of opening up the accountability of the governing body. Will he consider asking the Office of Standards in Education to look at the governors' annual reports in addition to their four-yearly inspections of the schools?

There are many other matters that we could address in this debate, but I shall not because many other hon. Members wish to speak.

It is not clear from the breakdown of the figures presented in the report precisely how the different tranches of money have been split up. We do not know what sums have been set aside for the implementation of the national curriculum in our schools. One thing is certain: a number of reports and studies have been undertaken to look at the true costs. Coopers and Lybrand has carried out detailed studies in this regard, and the figures that it has come up with demonstrate that sums well in excess of what is currently available will be needed for the overcrowded and over-prescriptive national curriculum to be successfully followed in both primary and secondary schools.

Has the Minister studied the figure that Coopers and Lybrand has produced? Does he agree with those figures? If not, what alternative figures is he prepared to make available to us?

Reference has been made to the absence in the budget of any significant sums for infant and nursery education. Many hon. Members—particularly Opposition Members —are concerned that there seems to be no real willingness by the Government to provide the significant boost to high-quality early-years education that is desperately needed.

Many hon. Members and people outside will be aware of the recent studies that have demonstrated the benefits of nursery education, not only to the individual child but to the nation as a whole. Those studies have also demonstrated that there is a financial benefit to the nation. A recent study in the United States, which was carried out over a 30-year period, showed that, for every £1 invested in nursery education, the nation benefits to the tune of £7. It makes economic as well as educational sense to invest in infant and nursery education.

May of us are concerned that not enough funds are currently being made available for spending on special educational needs. I should be interested to know if the Department has carried out any detailed costings of the money that would be necessary to carry out the recommendation in the report "Within Reach", which the Minister so roundly welcomed when it was published.

Repair and maintenance is another important area that is seriously underfunded. Across schools, further education and higher education, it is now estimated that some £4 billion will need to be spent to bring our institutions into a reasonable state of repair.

Let us consider areas in which money is wasted. They were referred to by the hon. Member for Croydon, Central. I ask the Minister to look again at the expenditure that the Department and the Government have wasted on the appallingly crude and inadequate standard attainment test. This year alone, some £35 million has been wasted.

The years 1992–93 have not been a happy time for the education service and, sadly, the evidence suggests that better times are not around the corner.

8.29 pm
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

As a newly appointed member of the Select Committee, I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution. I must declare that, as the husband of a primary school teacher, my household income is affected to some extent by the Government's expenditure plans.

In their document on spending plans, the Government have set their own test of the effectiveness of their expenditure programme. To use the jargon, they have said that they wish to be judged on outputs as much as on inputs. That is a healthy sign. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) criticised what he called the language of finance, accountancy and efficiency. [Interruption.] He certainly talked about accountancy. I can answer that criticism by saying that good accountancy and good book-keeping are necessary to ensure that the large, but finite, sums of taxpayers' money spent on education are properly used to provide education of the highest standard for children in every part of the country.

In their document, the Government say that their paramount objective is to raise the standards of achievement across the curriculum. Over the past few years, that has meant a number of radical reforms, the most important of which was the introduction of the national curriculum and testing. They were enacted in the Education Reform Act 1988, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). I shall come to that later.

I welcome some of the other developments in the Government's policies. There is sufficient evidence, in terms of international comparisons of pupil achievement, to give everybody who is reasonably open minded cause for concern—I put it no stronger—about whether children in the United Kingdom could be achieving higher standards at school than they have on average in past decades. In a world economy that is becoming more competitive, Ministers are right to keep under permanent review the education system in this country and to be always vigilant and alert for new ways of ensuring that that system is better suited to the challenges that face our country.

With that in mind, I welcome the Government's approach to teacher training which stresses school-based rather than college-based training. I welcome also the Government's insistence over the years on more information being made freely available to parents and the general public about the performance of schools. That involves HMI reports, school prospectuses and examination results. It is interesting that, on other occasions, Opposition Members are proud of their support for the principle of freedom of information, yet, whenever that principle has been tested in education policy, they have been, in their voices and votes, in favour of secrecy and against openness.

I have the honour to represent a constituency in Buckinghamshire. Since my election, I have made a point of visiting as many schools as possible within my constituency. It is a diverse area. I have visited nearly 40 schools. I have been to village schools with one teaching head and a part-time teacher, large primary schools in an urban environment with a large ethnic minority intake, and grammar schools and upper schools taking many hundreds of pupils from within and outside the county. I have found dedicated teachers who enjoy the confidence and support of their governors and of the parents of the children in their charge.

There might be cross-party agreement on the fact that one does not seek militants, revolutionaries or bolsheviks in Buckinghamshire. [Interruption.] I will disappoint the hon. Member for Devonport by saying that one had to search hard and long to find a notice from the National Union of Teachers in any of the common rooms that I visited.

From talking to the heads and staff in those schools, I found a yearning for a constructive partnership with the Government to ensure that the national curriculum and the system of testing work. That yearning has been coupled with a growing sense of frustration at the cumbersome and bureaucratic way in which the curriculum and, in particular, the system of testing have been implemented in practice.

I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends are aware, from the representations that have been made to them, of the fact that those concerns are not confined to their political opponents. They are felt widely, not just among moderate and responsible members of the teaching profession, but amongst governors and parents who have been life-long supporters, and often members, of the Conservative party. It is important that, through the Dearing review and the Government's response to it, we get the balance right for next year.

The Government have a duty to insist that certain key skills—a core of basic knowledge—are taught consistently to a high standard in every school in the country. They have a duty to introduce a system of rigorous testing that ensures that measures of achievement can be made. I have found few teachers in Buckinghamshire who object to that as a matter of principle. However, that must be set alongside the fact that, in a thriving school, which attracts the loyalty and support of parents, and one in which the local community feel a sense of pride and identification —the Government wish to see that, and it is evident throughout my community—there must be room for the spontaneity of the enthusiastic teacher to explore other areas of learning that may not always require to be tested. Those two important principles must be balanced. I believe that the Dearing review and the Government's response to it will ensure that that balance is struck appropriately.

We need a diverse curriculum but it must not be so prescriptive as to turn into an education straitjacket. For example, even in Aylesbury there are first schools in which the teachers are struggling with children from family backgrounds of material poverty, where there may not be many books or where there may be instability. Those teachers have to work hard to teach the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy which are essential if those children are to take advantage of the education opportunities available in the country later on.

I know that teachers in such schools will want to include elements of history, geography and other subjects in their teaching. However, they may fear that too prescriptive an approach to those other subjects might make it more difficult for them to give adequate attention to the basic tasks and set the children in those schools at a disadvantage compared with other schools in neighbouring districts where there is perhaps greater parental support for the traditional academic route.

There is an opportunity for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the next year to build upon the tremendous willingness that I find within the teaching profession and amongst governors and parents to forge a constructive partnership such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton).

I find no wish to return to the old days of the secret garden when information was kept within the confines of the classroom but a ready acceptance of the duty that the schools and the teaching profession have to the wider community. There is also a belief that practical and sensible reforms of the national curriculum and testing are necessary to make the system work as the Government wish it to work and in a way that would be in the interests of pupils not only in my constituency but across the nation.

8.40 pm
Ms Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

The report of the Select Committee on Education observed that the Government's plans for capital spending on schools appear to favour grant-maintained schools over local education authority schools. The Minister freely admitted that that was indeed the case, reflecting the Government's commitment to the success of grant-maintained schools. It makes me wonder about the Government's commitment to the success of local education authority schools—to the continuing success of the those which are working well and to the improvement of those which have problems.

For 1992–93, the difference in capital expenditure breaks down nationally into an average of between £110 and £116 per pupil per annum in the grant-maintained sector compared with £88 per pupil in the local education authority sector. It will fall to £75 per pupil in the LEA sector in 1993–94, to £71 in 1994–95 and to £66 in 1995–96, which is a serious decrease in funding. There is deliberate discrimination in capital funding, which ignores the pressures on local education authorities to replace and renew major elements of post-war education buildings which are predominant in many authorities.

In Tower Hamlets, emergency repairs are necessary to some of the prefabricated and system built units. The delay in the repairs has exacerbated longer-term maintenance problems. The estimated backlog of repairs is more than £2 billion nationally. In 1992–93, London authorities received only 35 per cent. of the £86 million that was identified as needed for the basic building work.

The decline in the school environment has a considerable impact on pupils' learning. I know that from personal experience, as I have taught in prefabricated huts which are freezing in winter and boiling in summer. Such conditions are not conducive to getting the best work from teachers or pupils. We hoped to do away with such temporary buildings, but the present capital funding regime means that they will remain until they rot.

The Secretary of State claimed that local education authorities have access to capital receipts as a way of increasing scope for capital expenditure, but there has been a steady decline in local authority receipts which are deemed to derive from educational assets. They have decreased from £285 million in 1988–89 to a forecast of only £60 million in 1992–93.

That is primarily due to the downturn in the property market, the residue of surplus assets being less straightforward in terms of disposal because of planning consents, location, lack of money and mortgage problems, and, above all, the threat of transfer to grant-maintained status when local education authorities want to reorganise and rationalise their schools. They are left with schools with a limited number of pupils and wasted space, and they cannot carry out plans which have been wored out in advance for the benefit of the whole education service—schools which are planned to close then opt out, and the plans are thrown into chaos.

At the same time, the Government restrict spending by capping controls which are forcing down LEA expen-diture. They are limiting the use of capital expenditure which is funded from revenue. As a result, the scope for enhancing future credit approvals has been substantially limited, so the argument that LEAs have free access to capital receipts is false—that access is severely restricted and declining.

Mention has been made of the double funding for grant-maintained schools. An answer to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) revealed that more than half of the 492 grant-maintained schools are being double-funded through their annual maintenance grant for activities such as advisory and library services which were previously provided by the LEAs.

The higher level of grant which grant-maintained schools receive to cover the costs of services formerly provided by the LEAs has been maintained. The LEAs still have to provide those services, and the duplication is costing them nearly £2 million in London and, I believe, nearly £14 million across the country.

The Government recently released two consultation documents on the common funding formula, in which they state that they intend to continue to allocate additional money for grant-maintained schools' extra responsibilities. The funding agency will be a quango and centrally controlled by the Government. It will increasingly transfer funds from the local authority sector to the grant-maintained sector, which will put the squeeze on local education authority schools.

Schools that need funds for various reasons will be tempted, bribed and pressured to become grant-maintained, and the local education authority will be starved of funds. They will nevertheless have to maintain services for children with special needs and fund welfare officers and educational psychologists out of the continually decreasing funds. The services are bound to suffer, to the disbenefit of all children.

In many areas, classrooms in local authority schools now have more pupils than before. I believe that there are advertisements in New Zealand and Australian newspapers for instructors. Hard-pressed schools have found a loophole—if they employ untrained instructors, they can pay them less than teachers. We have all heard the Prime Minister's advocacy of mum's army. Increasingly, unqualified people will be teaching our children in order to spin out the money. Experienced teachers are being given the push; they are being pressured and made to feel that it is time that they took early retirement because older teachers cost more and they are being replaced by new teachers.

It seems strange to me that although a recent school inspectors' report said that in the past few years the crop of students who have become teachers are of an extremely high standard, we shall now have licensed teachers—we used to call such people unlicensed teachers—in our schools, and "instructors" from New Zealand and Australia. I have nothing against New Zealand or Australia, but I have something against the idea of unqualified people teaching our children.

Sir Paul Beresford

Is the hon. Lady aware that the school system, certainly in New Zealand, and I believe in Australia, too, has taken into the primary schools non-university qualified but trained teachers, along the lines that are now being suggested here? It might be relevant to mention that those two countries have a higher standard of literacy than this country, despite having the same sort of difficulties involving non-English speakers, especially from the Pacific.

Ms Gordon

The hon. Gentleman may be correct. I do not know about the standard of literacy in New Zealand. If the standard there is higher, I should say that that must be despite the fact that there are unqualified teachers in the schools, not because of it. What is the pupil-teacher ratio? Are the unqualified teachers assisting qualifed teachers? We need to know the whole picture.

The Government's doctrinaire approach to education clearly plans to set the clock back to before 1945, when we had a two-tier system of education. There were elitist selective schools and a much lower standard of education, with a lower proportion of highly qualified teachers, less money and worse school buildings for the average child. The funding agency and the move towards grant-maintained schools take the system in that direction again towards an elitist education for the minority and low standards of education for the majority.

To that end, the Government are wasting a great deal of badly needed money. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how much it cost to pay external examiners to mark the tests that the teachers would not use—those tests that the teachers so clearly proved were badly designed and ill timed. How much money was spent on the publicity campaign to denigrate teachers and governors, and to try to convince parents that they were wrong? The campaign failed. That money was badly needed for books, buildings and other education purposes, yet the Government used it to bolster their doctrinaire approach and to try to push their policies forward.

Yesterday, with other members of the Select Committee, I visited a city tech. Of the £12 million that had been spent to refurbish the school building, 20 per cent. came from business, but 80 per cent. of it was taxpayers' money. There were 170 computers for 400 children, and as for the pupil-teacher ratio, I saw one class of 13, but most classes consisted of two or three or seven children at the most. That was great. It would be wonderful if we could have those ratios throughout the country, hut when resources are limited, there must be some quality and some fairness in sharing.

The Government's policies, especially their funding policies, are designed to limit quality and to reduce fairness, to provide a good education and wonderful provision for the elite and very little for the rest.

8.53 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

To someone who does not serve on the Select Committee, the one fact that emerges most clearly from the two documents—perhaps not surprisingly, as over the past four years the Government have increased expenditure on behalf of the taxpayer by no less than an annualised rate of £100 billion a year—is the enormous amount of money being spent on education by central and local government. The spending of the Department for Education, which has already increased by 5.8 per cent. since last year—more than the rate of inflation—is planned to increase by a further 11 per cent. over the next two years. Local education authority expenditure has risen from £13.2 billion to £17.6 billion—an increase of 30 per cent.—over the past four years. Those are very large increases, given the general state of the economy and inflation.

I agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), that the way in which the figures are presented needs to be improved significantly, if there is to be real accountability for parents, especially in individual local authorities. For instance, it is not right that we have to rely on standard spending assessments across the board and cannot break education spending down between the various local authorities. In particular, we cannot break down within education heads the sums that ought to be spent by individual education authorities. Of course, it is unacceptable that it takes eight months for local education authorities' outturn figures for current spending to emerge so that parents can use them as a performance indicator.

Sir Paul Beresford

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the difficulties is that many authorities, such as Lambeth, Southwark and Haringey, are years behind with their outturn figures anyway, in spite of the efforts of the Audit Commission?

Mr. Coombs

My hon. Friend anticipates me slightly. I shall have something to say about Lambeth later.

The average taxpayer, and indeed the average parent, does not want to know exactly how much has been spent on education; rather, he or she wants to know how effectively it has been spent and the kind of results that are being achieved in our schools. There is no doubt that expenditure at local and central Government level has risen significantly in real terms over the past five years— although there may have been a slight reduction in 1992–93—while pupil numbers have not risen significantly. Pupil numbers have risen by perhaps 5 per cent., whereas the real financial increase has been closer to 20 per cent.

Pupil-teacher ratios have significantly improved. Early education has been mentioned in the debate, and over the past 10 years it is in early and primary education that the most significant improvements have been made, from 27:1 to 21:1. The latest social trends survey reveals that significant improvements have been made over the medium term—for example, in the number of under-fives who have had both playgroup and nursery education. The number of children being taught in large classes has fallen significantly in secondary schools, from 30 per cent. in 1977 to 24 per cent. now, and even more significantly in primary schools.

Mr. Don Foster

I should hate the hon. Gentleman to mislead the House. I think that it was the Under-Secretary of State for Schools who told us at Education questions recently that the number of pupils in large classes, in primary schools had risen—albeit by a comparatively small proportion. Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that only 24 per cent. of children in this country are in nursery schools or nursery classes, and that that is the lowest percentage in any EC country except for Portugal?

Mr. Coombs

It is also fair to point out that, over 10 years, there have been significant improvements, and that 90 per cent. of young people under the age of five now have the opportunity to attend either a playgroup or a nursery. That is a record figure. Similarly, teachers' salaries are better than they have ever been. An average classroom teacher now earns £20,600 a year. We spend a greater proportion of our gross domestic product on public education than Germany and Japan, which produce much better results.

Labour Members are in no position to lecture us on the resources given to education. When Labour was last in government—thank God, that is a long time ago—expenditure on education dropped by about £1.1 billion in real terms and fell as a proportion of GDP. Moreover, instead of rocketing as it has under the Conservatives, the number of people in higher education fell.

Mr. Jamieson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government can make that claim because Labour authorities have spent more on education than Tory authorities? Nursery places are much more likely to be available under Labour authorities than under Tory authorities.

Mr. Coombs

The point that ought to be made concerns the return that the charge payers are getting on that money. That additional expenditure is in direct proportion to Labour authorities' propensity to waste rather than their propensity to achieve higher educational standards. If one examines the increased expenditure and absolute levels of expenditure of authorities across the country, it is difficult to see any correlation between the level of expenditure—per pupil or not—and the kind of educational results that are being achieved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby talked about working against the polarisation that he saw in many education matters. My view is that parents want the school that their children attend to be more accountable to them and that, whether that happens by local management of schools, with a greater proportion of the local authority's budget going to individual schools, or via the grant-maintained route, the kind of system whereby local parents have more control of their own schools is likely to continue.

I recall the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—I know that he will intervene, although I am not necessarily saying that he was supporting grant-maintained schools —saying on 6 May 1992: We would be very keen to see the benefits of grant-maintained status"— in terms of greater ability to control the expenditure at local expenditure— being passed to all schools … Maybe what we should do is have all schools opt out instantly. Whether they opt out or whether they actually get a greater control of their own expenditure, they will wish to have more devolved power, more local control and more local responsibility. The hon. Gentleman looks as though he is itching—

Mr. Don Foster

Let me set the record straight. I thought that I had explained my position. I do indeed believe that more power and responsibility should be devolved to individual schools, but those schools should remain within a strategic planning framework that is local and democratically accountable. I thought that I had made that clear.

Mr. Coombs

The fairly non-controversial point that I seek to make is that, in a context in which more power and responsibility are being devolved to schools, local education authorities will have to rethink their role in a very fundamental sense; indeed, many authorities, including Labour-controlled authorities, are doing that. They may not have education committees; they may devolve power through social services. The authorities will retain certain functions, such as special education, psychology, school attendance, transfers, transport and so on, but if they are to adapt to the new philosophy whereby the Government are steering rather than rowing, they will have to get used to a partnership with schools based on a new maturity—whether the schools are grant maintained or locally managed. If they do not, they will suffer the kind of fate that the National Association of Head Teachers talked about in connection with Lambeth, when it described it as a classic example of an authority that may wither and die because of its own incompetence and its inability to face the future.

The standards of schools are what counts to parents, and there have been significant improvements in standards over the past few years. Since 1979, the number of people getting one or more A-level has increased quite dramatically—from 15 to 22 per cent., an increase of about 50 per cent. The number of people getting five GCSEs has also increased significantly.

According to a national institute study recently acquired by the Library, we do not compare as well as we should with our competitors, Germany, France and Japan. In Britain, 27 per cent. of 16-year-olds reach the equivalent of GCSE grades A to C in mathematics, the national language and one science, compared with 62 per cent. in Germany, 66 per cent. in France and 50 per cent. in Japan. Such a record applies to mathematics for 13-year-olds.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Those statistics are interesting, useful and fairly well known. However, we do not have standardisation across the countries, which is important; otherwise, we may draw the wrong conclusions and concentrate on the wrong areas. We should concentrate on science—that is absolutely clear—but we need standardisation and a proper comparison.

Mr. Coombs

The Select Committee will embark on precisely that. It will be worth while. Those are some of the arguments that it makes in its report. That is the difficulty of comparability. Nevertheless, the statistics cannot just be ignored. They come back to the culture that exists in many schools. Many teachers are not guilty of those problems, but, too often, they regard testing as discrimination and believe that it encourages a climate of failure.

In the words of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), too many people regard measurement and reporting as unjustified criticism and too many regard league tables as divisive. I do not thing that they are. Most parents want to know how their children are doing compared with other children, and not just the absolute standards, which may or may not be rigorous.

So far as the tests are concerned, it is interesting that the Office for Standards in Education talked about the quality of teaching and learning going up significantly. The Institute of Directors also shared that view, and—

Ms Gordon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Coombs

Let me finish the sentence.

Although we wish to see Ron Dearing streamlining the national curriculum and making the assessment procedures much more simplified than they presently are, the one thing that would damage education more than anything would be if we went on to pick and mix testing, whereby tests were associated with the children who took those tests, rather than set a rigorous test across the country that all children had to take and that would produce precisely the uniform standards that the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) mentioned.

Ms Gordon

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that parents like to see how their children perform in league tables compared with other children. Does he not feel that our first concern should be for the well-being, education and development of children? Does he not know that those comparisons can severely damage those children who do not appear in the top 25 per cent. of the tables, whichever way they are counted or published? Has he not heard of the terrible damage that the 11-plus examination did to the confidence and development of 75 per cent. of the children in this country?

Mr. Coombs

I believe, as do the vast majority of parents, that that is the greatest myth in education at the present time. Children are more naturally competitive than the hon. Lady gives them credit for, and I do not believe that they will be damaged in any way if we let parents know how their children are doing in comparison with other children.

One of the problems that we have with reports from many schools is that they do not give parents any idea of how their children are doing in an absolute sense, and certainly not how they are doing in a relative sense. As evidence, I have a report here—I will not mention, from whom it comes, except to say that it is from a child aged 10 in a midlands school. It is the year report, July 1993. On science, it says: In the investigations carried out, she has shown that she can complete a task, observe accurately and record the results in a variety of ways. On history, it says: She is beginning to develop the ability to sequence events over a long period of time, to look at evidence and draw conclusions about the past. On geography, it says: She has continued to build upon skills already experienced and develop those, including physical, human and environmental geography. That is the only information that that child's parents will receive on that child in that year and I do not believe that such a report is sufficiently rigorous. If the Government wish to see the kind of improvements in accountability between schools and parents that we all wish to see, they will have to issue advice on reporting which makes such reports more specific and, I hope, encourages greater competition between children than is evident at present.

If we are to improve standards in schools and maintain that improvement where it occurs, it is vital that schools do not focus on the lowest common denominator but become beacons of excellence for the children whom they serve.

9.10 pm
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

Not being a member of the Select Committee, I too welcome this opportunity to discuss education expenditure on the Floor of the House, and I congratulate the members of the Select Committee on giving us the opportunity.

I shall concentrate on a narrow subject that does not receive the attention it deserves, but which is of growing importance in raising standards in schools today. I in no way condone or condemn education policy during the past two decades, but there can be no doubt that there has been a revolution in our schools. People who suddenly find themselves going back to school, not having been there since they were pupils 20 or 30 years ago, barely recognise what they see.

During the past 20 or 30 years, there has been a revolution in the breadth of subjects studied, in the aspirations of parents from all social and economic walks of life for their children to succeed and to have career opportunities that they did not have, and in the aspirations for girls as well as for boys.

There has also been a revolution in the relationships in education today. The relationship between teachers and pupils, between parents and teachers and, most significant of all, between the school and its community is not what it was 20 or 30 years ago.

I approve of most of that revolution, but I am critical of some of it. It can be summed up in a phrase that I like but which, in itself, does not say a lot—the entitlement curriculum. In education, we have started to consider the curriculum that children are entitled to receive and say that that is the entitlement curriculum.

But we must move on to consider the entitlement curriculum in terms not so much of what is being taught as of how that teaching takes place. It is that difference on which I wish to concentrate. The case that I want to make is that we have put far too little expenditure into support staff in schools in order for the entitlement curriculum and the teaching of it to be as successful and effective as it might be.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Morris

I am conscious of the time, and I do not want to deny hon. Members the opportunity to speak. I shall happily talk to the hon. Gentleman after the debate.

One great change is that we cannot go back to chalk and talk. Schools now use technology and computers. Children watch television outside the classroom and teachers must make the way that they teach as effective as the messages that children receive from various media outside school. There was the day when a poster of a dinosaur in a classroom was meant to motivate children to learn about prehistory. [Laughter.] It was not I who smiled at the mention of dinosaurs and looked at the Minister. Now that children watch films such as "Jurassic Park" and see dinosaurs alive in the streets, the poster in the classroom is a most ineffective means of getting the message across. That is another revolution that has taken place.

According to the report that we are discussing, £40 million has been spent by the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council, the National Curriculum Council and other research institutions. I welcome that, but I bet that that money has been spent mainly on researching what should be taught. I bet that it has not been spent on helping teachers in schools to teach the national curriculum and I bet that it has not been spent on helping those teachers to come to terms with the revolution in content and methodology that they are being asked to implement. I maintain that insufficient funds are given for staffing in schools to reflect the changes that they are being asked to implement.

A Coopers and Lybrand report some time ago found that only 50 per cent. of a teacher's working week was spent in contact with the child. I worry greatly about that, because I still believe that the sign of a most effective school is that conversations between teachers and pupils are of a high order and of great frequency. It worries me that 50 per cent. of teachers' time takes them away from talking to and working with pupils in the classroom. A teacher now is a typist, a printer, a laboratory assistant, a designer of work sheets and booklets, a form-filler, a ticker of boxes and a sender of returns to faculty heads, to head teachers, to education authorities and to the Ministers at the Department for Education.

In terms of the effectiveness of expenditure on education, we are spending an awful lot of money on training our teachers to do jobs that they should not be doing. We boast—and I welcome it—that, over the 80-year period covered in the report, there has been a 70 per cent. increase in graduates. Can we justify spending millions of pounds on increasing the number of people who leave education with degrees and then putting them into a workplace where we expect 30 or 40 or 50 per cent. of their working week to be taken up with photocopying, printing, filling in forms and conducting other basic administrative tasks?

I contacted two schools in my constituency for which I have a high regard to find out what sort of support staff they have. In a primary school, 29 secretarial hours a week are allocated for all the local management of schools, for keeping accounts, for secretarial duties to the head, for answering the telephone and for working for the teachers in an administrative capacity. In a secondary school with almost 1,000 pupils, there are three staff members to do all those tasks.

The reality is that in schools today teachers do not even expect administrative support for those tasks. They naturally think that their job includes a whole range of administrative and bureaucratic tasks that are needed to support them in their jobs. I also worry that the environment in which we ask teachers to carry out those tasks is not a professional one that is conducive to good teaching. In secondary schools, no one but the most senior staff, and in primary schools no one but the head teachers, has office accommodation.

Other staff have nowhere to keep their books or to spread out their papers. They have no classroom of their own that they can use as a base from which to be effective teachers. The normal sight in schools today at the change of lessons is of teachers scurrying across the playground with their arms full of books, equipment, videos and even tape recorders which they move from one classroom to another. Our education system does not give them the stability of a classroom of their own.

Money is wasted because teachers do not use the skills that we have enabled them to develop during their teacher training. There is a fall in teacher morale. Teachers go into teaching to teach pupils and not to be bureaucrats and administrators. They are constantly frustrated by the pressures to draw them out of the classroom and away from teaching.

Most worrying of all is the fact that we have deprofessionalised teachers. That does nothing for teacher morale, it does nothing for the way in which other people perceive teachers and it does nothing to make teachers more effective. I ask the Minister to consider any other professional body, whether politicians like ourselves, doctors in their surgeries, people in the legal profession or civil servants. The Minister should consider the support services that we give them to enable them to do their jobs. He should then consider the support services that we give teachers to enable them to do their jobs. Not one of us could claim that we could be effective Members of Parliament if we had the level of support with which teachers are expected to manage in schools. We had such a debate on our profession in the House almost a year ago this week.

When we draw up expenditure plans, we concentrate far too much on developing policies on the curriculum at a distance from the classroom and on producing reports. We talk far too much about policies at middle and senior management level, and we concentrate far too little time and far too few resources on what teachers need to do the job as effectively as possible in the classroom. My criterion is that teachers should be left in the classroom to teach and to work with pupils for as much as possible of the working week and for as much of the child's time as is commensurate with good administration, good in-service training and a good professional regard to teachers working, meeting and talking with other teachers.

The whole range of tasks with which the Government have landed teachers in terms of increased administration has served only to make wider the division between the fact that we train teachers to teach and put them in the classroom and the fact that we then take away the time in which they should be teachers and fail to give them the support that they need to be more effective teachers. Perhaps, in future reports, the Select Committee may draw that point to the Government's attention and may seek assurances that we shall begin to address that point seriously in financial terms.

9.22 pm
Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

We spend much time inside and outside Parliament discussing changes in our society. One thing that does not change is the argument about money. We have heard Opposition Members tonight talk about the great golden age that must once have existed when every school, every local authority, every special interest group and every body in the country had all the money that it required. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) peddled that line in his speech today. It was the speech to which he treated the Education Bill Committee a number of times and at length. There was no golden age, and I do not not suppose that there ever will be.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) and other hon. Friends have said, it is not how much money is spent but how the money is spent that matters in the debate. In some schools, the cart has come before the horse. Many schools have long had fund-raising as part of their budget requirement. They are geared up to raise money effectively throughout the year. A number of schools raise money and appeal at an emotive level for parents to support their children's education. Having raised the money, they then decide how to spend it. That may be the wrong way round.

I confess that from time to time I join in the general clamour to spend more money. Here I make common cause with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and others in the cry for nursery education. It is self-evident that, if we made a little investment now, the gains in educational value and in social terms later would be significant. I add my voice to that.

The main burden of what I want to say is about spending and investment across the age range, and how we assess its value. In education, as with everything else these days, we are happy only when we are surrounded by jargon, acronyms, euphemisms and buzz words. One that I welcome with open arms is the phrase "added value". In education that is an all-purpose, all-embracing, all-things-to-all-people term. I suspect that, even in the fulness of time, it may not replace that strange creature of our times, the level playing field.

In the light of the testing problems, boycotts and league table disagreements that we have had, it is obvious that raw examination data to lever up standards is not enough on its own. There has to be a context of wider home, school and community influences. We must also add the ability, experience and performance of teachers, and the stability, motivation and morale of the teaching service. So the assessment and appraisal of the profession by the profession becomes even more urgent both for its own sake, and as an ingredient in the "added value" as a tool in professional development.

It is clear that the basic and constituent part of any "added value" has to be children, and what has been added to them and what potential they have developed. No apology is needed when we conclude that testing and monitoring their progress is self-evidently quintessential. I have heard no teacher, no union and no hon. Member say that they are against testing itself. Even testing at stages before the final testing at the age of 16 is no longer an issue. But the damage done by the boycott has been considerable. The damage has been to the continuous monitoring of children.

Having won concessions on league table publications and also achieved the Dearing review, some teachers had the taste of blood and of flexing their muscles, which they liked. As a former teacher, I understand that feeling. But hon. Members must look beyond that. We showed the papers and we raised the question, "What was all the fuss about?" People asked how easy the tests were. People said, "Look at the way that standards have declined in our country that we can present such papers. How can teachers argue that they are overworked?"

Of course, we did not win the argument with the parents, who tend to believe teachers and head teachers in the way that patients believe doctors rather than politicians. Many schools set their own key stage 3 English papers last month. Many of those papers were virtually identical to the Government's papers in style, structure and content. That proves my point about teachers tasting blood. Exam results, tests, monitoring—call them what we like—must be better defined. We are trying to show the progress that children make in time through each key stage.

Key stage 1—the summer birthday children who have completed less than six full terms—must be borne in mind. Key stages 2 and 3—the different transfer ages of children at two and three-tier schools, high and middle—must also play a part. Special educational needs, socio-economic and demographic make-up of the area and problems of urban and rural deprivation all must be taken into account when processing the raw data from schools. Other things such as extra-curricular activity must be added.

But it is wrong to presuppose that most parents cannot make a judgment of sorts about their children, their schools and their teachers. To make that supposition is the equivalent of talking down to children. Research is going on apace into the "value added" concept, but I will not weary the House with it. The Library has provided me with an excellent summary of that research, with studies, papers and learned opinions from all over the country. That is one area that the Select Committee could look at in future.

Having said that, let me add that there is a danger of over-intellectualising the debate with indices, indicators, snapshot determinators, residual deviation scores, expertise which becomes self-perpetuating and science which becomes deliberately blinding. In education, nothing is agreed for ever. Periodically, we rediscover the wheel, chalk, and the closed classroom door. We also rediscover bringing parents and business people back into schools. A lot of it goes round in circles, but when children leave our schools and go into the world, they find that the world has not gone round in circles at quite the same speed.

The children will have to make their own way in their future life without the adjusted results of whatever value the education system has added to them. All I am saying is that we should keep the matter in perspective. The survival, prosperity and well-being of our children in school will depend on their ability to compete with their peers from other nations which are more determined to succeed than we are. That is the bottom line. If we strip away the self-interest and expertise, that is the only thing that matters.

9.30 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I join other hon. Members on both sides of the House who have welcomed the fact that the debate is taking place. It is a step forward. The Secretary of State, whom I welcome back to the Chamber, missed some good speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that he will take the opportunity to read them in detail in Hansard.

The debate has been wide-ranging. I begin by mentioning a few facts from the report. The first was mentioned by the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton). He talked about the difficulties that the Select Committee experienced in defining lines of accountability. That is a real problem, and one which should give cause for anxiety to both Opposition and Conservative Members. I hope that we all agree that in future greater attention should be paid to accountability. If we cannot have accountability, the House is failing in its job.

We need accountability on two scores. First, there needs to be financial accountability. Secondly, there should be full accountability of decision-making because in education it is so much in the public interest.

I have noticed that no one has mentioned that the report says that in real terms education spending fell between 1989–90 and 1990–91. That fall is significant. We shall look with interest to see what happens in future years and the extent to which the Secretary of State is able to defend the essential spending within his Department against the Treasury cuts which I am afraid loom over us all.

The other fact which has come out of the debate is that not only the level of spending but the nature of that spending and the priorities that the Government choose to emphasise are important. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made an interesting speech. He was the only hon. Member present from a Tory shire county. He reminded us of the salutary fact of our position in the international league tables.

Only a few weeks ago, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research published its league tables. They showed that the number of French and German 16-year-olds who gain the equivalent of GCSE grades A to C in essential subjects is double the number in Britain. After 14 years of Conservative government, the Government would be wrong to be complacent about the direction in which standards are going.

The problems that we face in education are widespread. Many hon. Members concentrated on the Government's priorities. I wish to say a word about them too, even though time is short. The Government have made it clear that one of their main themes and priorities is the centralisation of all decision-making in education in the hands of the Secretary of State. In the past few years, we have seen an increasing and unhealthy concentration of power in Whitehall. We shall soon consider the final stages of yet another Education Bill designed to give the Secretary of State more powers. That is a regrettable move.

The concentration of power is wrong in principle and also clearly wrong in practice. It has become evident that those schools which have become grant-maintained—or Government-maintained, as Ministers now like to describe them—are finding it extremely difficult to deal with a central Department in all decision making. It was significant that in the middle of last month, 88 per cent. of all grant-maintained schools had not yet received their final budget for the current year. That could not have happened under the local authority system. That shows that the Secretary of State cannot even run 500 schools, let alone the 24,500 that he seeks to run.

Returning to the specifics the report mentions the position of grant-maintained schools with regard to funding. Sometimes Ministers are quite honest and tell us openly that they intend to favour grant-maintained schools. Sometimes they say that there are bribes and sometimes they say that the extra money is simply there to reflect the extra administrative burdens facing grant-maintained schools. The report shows clearly that, with regard to capital, the Government have made a straightforward political decision to favour the schools that suit their particular political ideology.

However, there are other issues involved in terms of ongoing expenditure. The point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon). Recently, we have seen that many grant-maintained schools are receiving double funding. The problem is not simple because schools which have become grant-maintained in the first instance receive the highest level of double funding. I understand that grant-maintained schools in one authority are funded on eight different formulae. That must be a recipe for chaos.

One of the difficulties is that there is no proper accountability for grant-maintained funding. The Audit Commission's writ does not run that far. It is important that the Select Committee should consider that point in future because it is an area of significant expenditure.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

On the specific point of double funding, I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that Tory-controlled Calderdale council has decided, as a result of the implications of grant-maintained funding and the way that is sucking money from the local education authority, to spearhead a national campaign to try to persuade the Government that the present formula is simply pumping money into grant-maintained schools at the expense of other schools.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that many people outside this place, including Conservative councillors, are appalled at the priorities that the Government have given to grant-maintained schools because they understand the practical problems and what is happening on the ground. At the moment, the Government are creating a hierarchy of funding according to the political correctness of a school as defined by the Secretary of State.

I want to refer to another area of funding which has not been touched upon today, but which is extremely important. That is the amount of money which the Government are spending on propaganda. The Government have recently spent more than £500,000 on producing booklets and glossy folders in an attempt to persuade schools to opt out. Indeed, the Government wasted £17,500 recently on a revised booklet which will be out of date before many people receive it because of the new Education Bill.

The publicity budget of the Department for Education has risen dramatically in recent years. In 1979–80, the publicity budget was £103,800 which was just over one tenth of a million pounds. The publicity figure last year was more than £8.8 million. That shows the scale of the increase in the budget. There has been a staggering increase of 8,455 per cent.

The Government are now spending more than £370 per school simply on publicity and just to tell the country what the Government believe should be happening. Such a sense of priority is wholly wrong; it shows that Ministers are not in touch with the reality of the problems.

I would have liked to raise many problems. I would have liked to have referred to the Government's failure to stand by their promises on section 11 funding to provide additional help for some of the schools that need it most. I would have liked to comment on the fact that the Government have cut the budget for drug education, which could do so much to help young people and keep them away from the appalling tragedy that could befall them.

One of my main criticisms, which I want to mention despite the shortage of time, is of the way in which the government deal with education expenditure as it relates to provision for the under-fives. The junior Minister who is to reply to the debate this evening has made his position clear. When I asked him at Question Time recently whether he agreed that nursery education provided the best start in education and should be available to all three and four-year-olds, he refused point blank to agree.

The Secretary of State has kept very quiet on this matter. His predecessors had commitments to nursery provision. Surely Ministers can see that, if we spent more on pre-school education and nursery education, we would be identifying problems at an earlier stage, helping children to settle better at school, helping them to perform better throughout their educational career, giving them a better chance of finding work later, and, indeed, ensuring that there was less chance that they would end up engaged in criminal activity.

The Government seem incapable of viewing education expenditure as an investment in our future. Unless the Government can change their attitude; unless they can see that if they fail to spend money at certain crucial stages they will have to spend even more later on many of the problems that will arise, I do not believe that we will make real progress.

I thought that the contributions from the hon. Members for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), talking of partnership, saying that there should not be confrontation in education, echoed very clearly things that hon. Members on this side of the House have said on many occasions.

During the last 12 months the attitude of Ministers, who seem to have adopted a confrontational approach whenever possible, has been extremely damaging to education. If other Conservative Members were vocal in the way that those two hon. Gentleman were tonight, we could make more progress in education. I am sure that members of the Select Committee from all sides of the House have an important contribution to make.

9.42 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth)

This is an important and, regrettably in many ways, a rare opportunity for the House to consider this vital part of Government activities, education, in a thoughtful way. I congratulate the Chairman of the Education Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), on initiating this debate, and all those who have taken part, even though over the past year some of us have become fairly familiar with each other's arguments. It may well be that the odd remark that I make will have been heard before. Nevertheless, the arguments are of such quality that repetition will not necessarily damage them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby asked some important and fundamental questions arising from his Committee's report and reflecting my Department's response to it. I will deal with them as quickly as I can, but try to do justice to them.

My hon. Friend—and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs)—asked why we could not use the sub-blocks, or control totals, of expenditure on which our provision for local education authorities is based for planning purposes. The difficulty is that these control totals do not represent a planning breakdown of education standard spending; they are derived exclusively for the rather technical purpose of calculating standard spending assessments.

They do not represent an indicative breakdown of how education should be deployed. They are not read or regarded as such by local education authorities. Therefore, I do not think that it would be right to attempt to compare outturn data with them. Although there might be a temptation to make that connection, I believe that it would be wrong to do so. I am certainly not persuaded that this would be the right way to use that information.

The Committee Chairman and other hon. Members made quite a point about the accountability argument. I believe that in many ways accountability—someone used the expression multi-layered; it is not a very elegant term, but it will do for this purpose—exists in a number of different forms in education expenditure. It certainly exists in a global sense, because the Secretary of State is responsible, through the normal procedures of the House, for establishing the correct and appropriate level of expenditure overall, and for the distribution of that expenditure.

As for accountability, local education authorities, and, increasingly, grant-maintained schools are accountable in their own way and through their different procedures to their own electorates. That is as it should be. We cannot expect—and I would be surprised if hon. Members on either side of the House asked for it—the Government to accept accountability or responsibility for the details of how local education authorities spend their money in their own areas.

In almost every regard, local education authorities are given a lot of discretion in how they spend money on education, and they are accountable for it to their own electorates. Equally, grant-maintained schools are accountable to parents and local communities through their audits, annual reports and elected governors, and that is as it should be.

The accountability systems and mechanisms are strong and robust. It may be that it is not as easy as everybody would like it to be to draw direct lines of connection between the global figure and that established by local education authorities. One must make the point in passing that many local education authorities do not produce the returns of information as quickly as one would like, either to the Secretary of State or to their own electorate.

My hon. Friends the Members for Crosby and for Wyre Forest asked why we do not receive information on education as quickly or comprehensively as we would like. We continue to strive to make that information available. We have strengthened the procedures and reminded local authorities of the need for accurate and timely returns, and we continually chase latecomers for information.

The House may not believe it, but for the first time ever, we received a full return in respect of the 1990–91 financial year, and in respect of the 1991–92 financial year we received returns from all but five authorities by March. However, even by March, five authorities still had not returned their figures.

In the Department we do our best to gather, collate and disseminate the information that the Select Committee and hon. Members want so much, but we rely completely on local education authorities to provide us with the basic information. If they cannot or will not, due to either inefficiency or recalcitrance, there is not much that the Department can do. We will continue to strive to improve, but we hope that the House will understand that we continue to rely very much on local education authorities.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Minister acknowledge that the reason for the delay in setting grant-maintained school budgets was not the tardiness of local authorities in the majority of cases?

Mr. Forth

I have discussed this with grant-maintained school heads and others, and if they want their budgets to be based on the most up-to-date information, inevitably there will be some delay in establishing the final figures. They can have the figures much earlier if they want them to be based on previous year's information, but from the soundings that I have taken, it seems that they are content with the pace so far. We have improved on last year and we will seek to improve next year, but the truth is that, if we respond to their requests for basing their budgets on the most up-to-date information, the outcome will be as it has been. I believe that the balance is right, and the grant-maintained community accept that.

I welcome the comments that the Chairman of the Select Committee made about the national curriculum, and in particular the work being carried out by Sir Ron Dearing at the invitation and request of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in reviewing the curriculum and the testing regime. My hon. Friend said that he had no reservations about the opportunities that Sir Ron has provided for people to contribute to his review and to the conclusions that he will draw from it. We welcome and admire the way in which Sir Ron Dearing has gone about the important and responsible tasks that the Secretary of State has set him.

I emphasise—because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the point in an intervention—that the fact that Sir Ron Dearing will soon take up his position as chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority means that he will have a continuing role. He will be in a position to continue his review of the curriculum and testing regime on an on-going basis in precisely the way that the chairman of the Select Committee requested. We can take reassurance from that.

We are looking forward to Sir Ron's report, which will be available soon. The Secretary of State will then make his own judgment of what Sir Ron says, and my right hon. Friend will come forward with his response as quickly as may be. At that point everybody will be able to assess for themselves the way forward suggested by Sir Ron, and my right hon. Friend will then be in a position to bring forward his own proposals.

A number of hon. Members, not least the chairman of the Select Committee, raised the point to which the House returns from time to time, namely, the concerns expressed about capital allocations to grant-maintained schools. I shall, as I have done on previous occasions to the Select Committee and elsewhere, quote from two letters. The first was sent by the Prime Minister in August 1991 to a gentleman named Mr. Doug McAvoy, in which my right hon. Friend wrote: We have made no secret of the fact that grant-maintained schools get preferential treatment in allocating grants to capital expenditure. We look favourably at grant-maintained schools in order to encourage the growth of the sector and I am delighted to see that numbers are continuing to grow rapidly. The former Secretary of State wrote in a letter to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in May 1991: On capital, I made clear at the time when allocations were announced for grant-maintained schools in January that my intention was to ensure that schools becoming grant-maintained were set up on a sound basis. In 1991–92 the sector as a whole has received relatively rather higher capital allocations than the LEA sector as a whole. I make no apology for that. We have said time and again, without apology, that grant-maintained schools will be given the capital allocations that the Secretary of State deems necessary and desirable for those schools to operate on a sound basis. In doing so, we must make our assessment of the very rapid rate of growth of the grant-maintained sector in making capital available to it.

In that context, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), as usual for Opposition Members, could not quite decide whether he wanted to deride the small number of schools that had become grant-maintained or whether he was fearful of the large number that were becoming grant-maintained. When I bring him up to date and tell him that nearly 1,000 schools have voted yes to become grant-maintained, I leave him to decide whether he is afraid of that as a rate of progress or whether he finds it a derisorily small number. I leave him to explain his position on that.

A number of important points were raised during the debate. For example, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) referred to my Department's budget for publicity. We have an obligation under the citizens charter to provide the maximum information to parents throughout the country. We have an obligation to tell parents about the availability of the grant-maintained school option. We shall continue to discharge in full our responsibilities to parents and taxpayers for the moneys that we spend on informing them and keeping them up to date on the rapidly changing environment.

This has been a useful debate. Some important questions have been asked. I have done my best, in the short time that has been available to me, to answer them. I welcome this and future opportunities to debate those matters and clarify them further.

9.55 pm
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, and to the Minister for arranging the debate in such a way that a member of the Select Committee has the privilege of replying to it, as is perhaps appropriate, albeit briefly.

In reviewing the Government's estimates for expenditure on education, I have the same problem as the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), the Chairman of the Select Committee, in finding my way through the statistics. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) that we do our best to find our way through them because it is important that we have a full picture of how the Government are investing in our nation's education system. I invite the House to see the picture that I see, which is one of incompetence, waste and a failure to invest in the nation's schools. In short, it is a failure properly to address the educational needs of the nation's children.

The Government may defend themselves by pointing to increased expenditure in certain areas, but in many cases that is misdirected. For example, there is the obscene luxury of Sanctuary house, which is like a set for a Hollywood epic—a disaster movie in the context of the debate: "The Towering Fiasco" perhaps—

Mr. Jamieson

"Jurassic Park".

Mr. O'Hara

Yes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) also said earlier, "Jurassic Park" is an appropriate title for a Government who think the way to the future is backwards.

Department of Education accommodation costs are especially difficult to work out; they are opaque. However, it appears that there has been a 75 per cent. increase between 1987–88 and 1992–93. The costs of Sanctuary house appear to be double those of its predecessor, Elizabeth house. However, it is staff costs that have risen most dramatically, by some 68 per cent. I note that current expenditure plans allow for a further increase of 67 new staff, on top of an increase of 200 between 1989–90 and 1992–93. The precise number is difficult to work out when we take account of Ofsted and the staff who have transferred to the Department of National Heritage.

It is clear that central administration is the one area that is sacrosanct. Perhaps that is why it has taken refuge in Sanctuary house. All those extra millions are not available for allocation to schools, but there is no hint of performance indicators to justify the mushrooming of central expenditure, despite the Government's predilection for indicators in every other area of the education service.

I expected to hear the justification—and the Minister has just given it—that the extra staff are needed for important Government reforms such as the national curriculum and the increase in grant-maintained schools. If the Secretary of State listens carefully, he will hear a hollow laugh throughout the country.

On the national curriculum, I invite him to visit any school in the country to see for himself the accumulated outpourings of documentation and other literature, much of it piled up in cupboards or even filling whole rooms. All of it is expensively produced, much of it is redundant and much of it is unread because teachers cannot keep up with it.

There is so much sheer waste, but no expense is spared on it. The Secretary of State had the opportunity to repent and not publish the redundant key stage 3 tests, but he went ahead and wasted a further £35 million on that. All that outpouring of literature is expensive not only in terms of money but in the damage that it does to morale, motivation and good will across the whole area of education.

What about the increased numbers of grant-maintained schools? Perhaps there is a justification for increased central administration costs as those schools become the direct responsibility of the DFE. We cannot know, because we do not know the performance indicators, but we can do some calculations—as my hon. Friends have done. The Government estimate, probably optimistically, that by 1995–96 there will be 2.25 million pupils in grant-maintained, schools and 5.2 million under LEA administration, yet it is projected that GM schools will have more than £250 million spent on their capital programmes compared with £342.5 million for LEA schools.

That is scandalously disproportionate. It is all about bribing schools, often against their better judgment, to follow the Government down an ideological yellow brick road, away from the imputed disadvantages of LEA administration and towards direct control from the centre, albeit by an agency. It will be remote control with no local knowledge and no local accountability—those essential elements of LEA administration. It has nothing to do with investing in the education of the majority of the nation's children.

I describe that as misdirected expenditure. Meanwhile, the picture of massive, widespread dilapidation of the nation's schools will continue to worsen. Figures are not available, but the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) gave an estimate of £4 billion. Certainly the shortfall can be counted in billions of pounds. Then again, the education of the majority of the nation's children does not figure highly in Government priorities—few of its members use state schools.

Expenditure on the assisted places scheme is set to rise inexorably, to provide for increased take-up, revised forecasts of parental contributions and fee increases at participating schools—no belt-tightening there. The scheme has become a lifeboat for the independent sector, funded from the hard-pressed budgets of state schools. It is argued that it provides a ladder of opportunity for bright children of impecunious parents.

It being Ten o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, and the Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates).

MADAM SPEAKER, pursuant to paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates), put the deferred Questions on Estimates and Supplementary Estimates, 1993–94 (Class XIII, Vote 4 and Class VII, Vote 8).