HC Deb 11 June 1996 vol 279 cc122-73
Madam Speaker

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

3.56 pm
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

I beg to move, That this House believes that raising standards in schools is essential for the economic prosperity and social cohesion of the nation; notes the appalling disparity in skills between the UK and other developed nations; condemns the Government's obsession with structures at the expense of standards; and further urges Ministers to concentrate their efforts on providing excellence for all rather than returning to the divisions of the past. I must commiserate this afternoon with the Secretary of State for Education. It is one thing to have one's Back Benchers against one; it is quite another to have the chairman of one's party and the Prime Minister against one. When the Secretary of State makes a statement tomorrow to the Confederation of British Industry conference about discipline, detention and dealing with bullies, perhaps she could start with her own party and make it clear that she is not prepared to put up with the bullying tactics of the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who throws his weight about in suggesting that the Prime Minister, having given a particular task—[Interruption.] I am sorry if I am keeping Conservative Members awake—

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Not very successfully.

Mr. Blunkett

If I am not doing so very successfully, a little whole-class teaching, which I intend to give this afternoon, is needed.

When the Prime Minister gave the Secretary of State the very simple task of quietening down education issues and asked her to ensure that there was quiet in the teaching profession and that the divisions caused by her predecessor were set to one side, obviously she genuinely believed that he meant it. Over the past few months, we have seen quite the opposite. It was intended that the Secretary of State should come out fighting, with a right-wing agenda, to repeat exactly the performance of her predecessor with a set of proposals that had already been rejected not only by parents, governors and teachers, but by her own party. I commiserate with the Secretary of State because it is impossible for her to know exactly what is expected.

What is absolutely certain is that 17 years of failed Tory policies, floundering, disarray and waste have undermined the chance genuinely to lift standards, opportunity and excellence for all children in this country.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am totally astonished that the hon. Gentleman has so much sympathy for the Government. Has not the Labour party changed almost every policy that it has put forward in the past 20 years, never mind 17 years?

Mr. Blunkett

As I shall show this afternoon, every time Labour announces a policy, the Secretary of State comes up with her own version of it a few days later. [Laughter.] I am delighted to share in the amusement of Conservative Members. The opinion polls should suggest a different story to those who find the matter funny. With Labour having a 39-point lead on education and an even bigger lead on the issue of standards, I do not think that the Tories have anything to laugh about at all. We are trouncing the Conservative party on every single issue in education, because—after 17 years of failure—we are concentrating entirely on lifting standards, achievement and opportunity for all our children in every school in every community in Britain. We are not concentrating on providing a privileged education for a few, and mediocrity for the many.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I will give way in a moment. [Interruption.] I am being heckled by junior members of the Secretary of State's education team, who are being threatened by the chairman of the Conservative party. He is suggesting that a rabid right winger is needed in the Secretary of State's team to bring a little sharpness to the debate. I look forward to the reshuffle that may take place in July, when I shall find out who that rabid right winger might be.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Bill Cash.

Mr. Blunkett

I doubt that it will be the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), on the grounds that that would be going one step too far in terms of European union. The Tory party should be making more effort to match the standards that exist in other European countries. The indictment is that, on every single statistical estimate available, the Conservatives have failed to match what is happening in other developed countries around the world.

Mr. Greenway

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that education is run locally? Is he aware that the Labour party has been in charge of many local authorities for 50 or 60 years, and that standards in those authorities, which include Hackney and Islington, are deplorably low? How can he pretend that the Labour party stands for higher standards, when in practice it achieves absolutely nothing?

Mr. Blunkett

I thought that the Government had announced that they had decentralised and devolved responsibility from local education authorities to schools. I thought that they took pride in the local management and local funding arrangements for schools, and in the fact that they had taken away what they describe as the "control" of local authorities.

Now, as with everything else, someone else is to blame for what has happened in the past 17 years. They are the BSE Government—the "blame somebody else" Government. They will not take responsibility for anything. Who has been directly in charge of the teacher training colleges and institutions that the Secretary of State will be dealing with, if not tomorrow, certainly in the forthcoming White Paper? Who has been responsible for not providing a clear curriculum within teacher training institutions? Who is responsible for the failure to provide a minimum level of time for teaching the basics in teacher training? Who has been in charge of those teacher training institutions that have failed to equip teachers to provide discipline and a disciplined environment in the classroom? Who is responsible for the failure to deliver the essential, basic provision to five, six and seven-year-olds? It is certainly not local authorities or Labour councils; it is entirely because of 17 years of successive Conservative Secretaries of State being removed in a desperate effort to try to improve the situation that they have messed up.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

If a Labour Government were elected, would it retain the services of the current chief inspector of schools, Mr. Woodhead?

Mr. Blunkett

The question rests with the Secretary of State, who is in danger of having someone declare a by-election in what might euphemistically be termed a Conservative safe seat to allow the head of Ofsted to step into Parliament and take her place, for which several Conservative newspapers have called recently. If I were Secretary of State, I would make a decision that would ensure that everyone responsible co-operated. I would not divide the service. I would concentrate not on selection, grant-maintained status or structure but on the key task of giving our children the same life chance that they would have if they lived in France, Germany or Switzerland.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way in a moment.

The statistics are clear. A third of our 11-year-olds are falling two or more years behind those countries on maths or literacy. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research programme shows that, even with children spending more time in education, compared with the Swiss they are falling two years behind in maths by the time they reach 11. GCSE and A-level results show that we reach only half the performance levels of the French or Germans or some of our south-east Asian competitors. We have everything to be ashamed about and little to be proud of in respect of the way in which the Government have mismanaged the education service. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who has been very persistent.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

On education policy U-turns, does the hon. Gentleman recall his attack in the Sheffield Star only 18 months ago, when he condemned people who preach one thing and send their children to another school outside the area. Is the fact that the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) have done so the reason for the hon. Gentleman's U-turn?

Mr. Blunkett

I dealt with that silly question in the previous education debate, when the hon. Gentleman asked it in exactly the same terms. I understand now why the electorate are so unenamoured of the Government. They hear the same old tripe week after week, and month after month. Let me talk about what people want to hear about—the real lessons of education.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Blunkett

No, I shall make some progress before I give way again.

The key lesson is that we should never ration excellence. If excellence is rationed to the few, the talent of the many will eventually inevitably be excluded from the opportunity for excellence. The second lesson, which follows directly from that, is that selection has failed. It failed historically and it is failing in the present climate. We have only to take the Prime Minister's word for it. Only a few months ago he said: The top 15 per cent. of youngsters who come out of our schools are equal to anything you will find anywhere in the world. The other 85 per cent. frankly are not. Not only is that an indictment of 17 years of Conservative Government, but it shows what happens when children are segregated so that high standards and quality are provided only to the few and not to the many.

All this explains why the Secretary of State is so opposed to grammar schools. It is why, during her term as education chair in Norfolk, she did not review or reverse any of the proposals implemented over the previous four years, under a Conservative Government and a Conservative county council, to remove grammar school status and provide comprehensive education. It is also why, except for the eccentric right, no one wants to bring grammar schools back, and why selection is anathema. It is why the idea of a grammar school in every town is laughable. Spending between £2.5 billion and £3 billion on providing grammar schools for 5 per cent. of the population, while 19 out of 20 children will then inevitably attend what would become secondary modern schools, is an insult to the intelligence of parents.

This is why we reject the idea, why parents have rejected it for the past 30 years, and why the former Prime Minister spent so much of her time as Education Secretary ensuring that she removed grammar schools. Just 10 days ago, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) was reported in The Times Educational Supplement as saying that "Margaret" had signed the closure of more grammar schools than any other Minister. He added that when he had pointed this out to her once or twice, she glared at me and changed the subject. Of course she did, because Tory party policy at the time was clearly against grammar schools and selection, and in favour of introducing comprehensive education.

The problem is—the past 17 years are a good example of this—that under Conservative Governments children have not been provided with the sort of comprehensive schooling that gives everyone an opportunity to succeed.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

I think I heard the hon. Gentleman say that grammar schools would not be allowed under a Labour Government. He must be aware that his party's leader has said that parents whose children currently enjoy the benefits of grammar schools can vote to retain them if they so wish. Does he support his leader's policy; if so, does he believe it inconsistent to allow those who enjoy the benefits of grammar schools to retain them but not to allow others to vote for those benefits by voting for new grammar schools in their areas? If choice is to mean anything, people must be given that choice.

Mr. Blunkett

I was not sure—I gather from radio broadcasts that Ministers are not sure either—that Tory party policy would allow local populations to vote on the matter, thereby reopening all the votes in local elections of the past 30 years to remove grammar schools and ensure open access and admission policies. But let me answer the question directly: I wrote the policy, so of course I am in favour of it. I wrote the policy, suggesting that we will not permit selection, but where grammar schools already exist, parents with a direct interest in their children's admission to them will have a vote. That seems perfectly fair to me.

We already know what people think and feel. Although the Secretary of State is engaged in a battle with Cabinet colleagues over whether there should be 15, 20, 25, 40, 50 or 100 per cent. selection for all schools, an experiment is already taking place. Grant-maintained schools are allowed to select up to 10 per cent. of their intake by examination, yet only 43 of them have chosen to take up the option. So the notion that the percentage to be selected is the big issue of the moment is nonsense.

The issue of the moment is how we can transform our education system—how we can get to the point where every 11-year-old who does not have a specific special educational need can read, write and add up to the level of their chronological age. The issue is how we can transform our education system, through nursery provision and through primary education, so that every child has the ability to reach their full potential and thereby to make selection an absolute irrelevance.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Is not the problem that some rich and powerful parents are able to exercise selection by bussing their children from one side of London to the other? That being the case, what choice would the hon. Gentleman give to parents in west London, for example, who would expect to be able to feed into the Oratory school but are unable to because some parents bus their children in from the other side of London? They have no choice; they have no selection. What would the hon. Gentleman do about that? What would he say to those parents?

Mr. Blunkett

When the Conservative Government introduced the London Government Act 1963, they permitted people across the then Inner London education authority to choose—as denominational parents have done over the decades—to send their children to the school of their preference. I did not know that Conservative Back Benchers were against that; I did not know that they would be arguing against Catholic parents being able to choose a Catholic school, whether it is voluntary aided or otherwise. Let me make it absolutely clear that the whole task of lifting standards rather than meddling with structures is to ensure that parents can make genuine choices, because real opportunity exists, because every single school is performing at its best.

I shall be clear about rich and powerful parents—they are the ones who buy private education.

Mr. Hughes

Middle-class left-wingers.

Mr. Blunkett

No, I am not talking about middle-class left-wingers; I am talking about the 20 out of 23 members of the Cabinet, from the Prime Minister down. Those in the Cabinet who have not bought private education are desperately fighting to stop the education system of this country being completely divided and ruined once again by a squabble over structure—including, apparently, the Secretary of State, who is losing hands down.

Let me be absolutely clear about privilege. If we abandon state education and give up on it because we cannot achieve those levels, because we cannot get every 11-year-old up to the level of their chronological age and because we cannot ensure that every comprehensive school delivers the goods, we would do exactly what the Government have done. We would say to people—as the Deputy Prime Minister has said—"We will allow you to `escape' from the inadequacies of inner-city education under the Tories."

What have the Government done? They did not lower class sizes and they did not intervene to help bring about real change—they doubled the assisted places scheme. They undermined state education and then encouraged people to leave it. What sort of confidence and faith can anyone have in a Government who doubled the assisted places scheme instead of attracting people into the state sector? The Government should have said to middle-class people, "We will save you money. You will not have to spend your hard-earned pounds on buying private education because we will invest in making it good enough for your children." Instead, they doubled the assisted places scheme at a time when we have record numbers of classes with more than 30 pupils in primary education.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Robin Squire)

No, we do not.

Mr. Blunkett

The junior Minister has said that we do not. There are now 1.6 million children in primary education who are being taught in classes of more than 30. Pupil-teacher ratios have risen for the fifth year running. The statistics would have hit the headlines if the Government had got them right the first time round. The Government cannot add up, nor can they spell. They have issued press releases that have misspelt the Isle of Wight—it has been spelt "White". The Government are not literate or numerate. Is it any wonder that the rest of the population are struggling? The most indictable statistic is that more than 41,000 young men and women left our schools last year at the age of 16 without any qualifications.

Mr. Squire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that he intends to move on, but it is important to put on record the fact that, according to the latest figures that I have seen, there are fewer primary school pupils in classes of more than 30 and 35 than there were in 1979.

Mr. Blunkett

Which set of latest statistics is the Minister talking about? Some 1.6 million children are desperately seeking a Government who will pay not for a handful of people to go to the private sector but for lower class sizes at the key infant stage in order to ensure that all five, six and seven-year-olds learn to read, write and add up. Teachers need the time and the space to do the job. The Government will achieve that end not by providing a paper promise of nursery education, but by providing genuine, free, professional and high-quality nursery places. That should be followed by teaching the basics in classes that are small enough to manage. Targets must be set throughout primary education following a baseline assessment that is made when a child enters a reception class. In that way we shall begin to transform our education system.

We propose to change teacher training, to set targets and to establish a task force and we are committed to achieving those aims by the second parliament under a Labour Government. That programme represents the beginning of a process of matching the achievements in the rest of the world.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

Nursery education in my constituency is at 94 per cent.—and it has been at that level for the past 20 years. That figure has been achieved through the co-operation of local authorities of all political colours. Predominantly Conservative Governments—at least for the past 17 years—have provided enough money to pay for 94 per cent. of nursery education. My local authority has chosen to make that provision while other local authorities have chosen to waste their money in other ways. Consequently, we have had to ring-fence the money for nursery education by giving it to the parents so that local authorities that do not have high nursery education priorities cannot cheat them any longer.

Mr. Blunkett

I knew that the intervention would be a good one. The hon. Gentleman should reflect not upon what the Conservative Government have given to Calderdale, but upon the way in which the local authority—comprising parties of all political persuasions—has prioritised nursery education. It did so against the backcloth of a letter that the hon. Gentleman received from the Secretary of State 18 months ago suggesting that expenditure on nursery education was a diversion from real expenditure on mainstream schooling.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, under the Government's voucher scheme, money will be clawed back from Calderdale for the four-year-olds for whom it provides in order to offer a paper promise in areas where there is no existing provision. If we couple that with the fact that administration costs could go directly to providing new places, we find that the hon. Gentleman is arguing my case for me. I am very grateful to him.

We have announced a range of measures in recent months. On truancy and exclusion, we emphasise the importance of tackling disaffection and of allowing schools the option of a one-term exclusion rather than 15 days or permanent exclusion from the school. Ten days later the Secretary of State announced not three months, but 45 days. That announcement was 10 days late and three weeks short of our own announcement.

At the end of May, I said that something drastic should be done about teacher training. I called for an immediate project to ascertain what has happened to those who have undergone teacher training in the past five years. The Secretary of State is to say something about teacher training tomorrow. There is a major shortage of English and maths teachers. The number of teachers who are qualified to teach those subjects has dropped dramatically by 22 per cent. and 25 per cent. respectively. Last year's GCSE results saw a drop of 1.9 per cent. in maths, and a 2.8 per cent. drop in English.

Last year, we announced that we considered head teacher training to be a crucial prerequisite for anyone taking a headship; the Secretary of State then announced the same. We announced baseline assessment targets and home-school contracts; the Secretary of State announced them a few days later. We made an announcement about education for 14 to 19-year-olds at the end of March; the Secretary of State made the same announcement 10 days later, on the back of the Dearing inquiry. We have announced that we are in favour of extending local management of schools, and I gather that the White Paper will probably follow us.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

Certainly. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can add his own examples.

Mr. Hawkins

I have been following Labour education policy for many years. Is not the hon. Gentleman's attempt to rewrite history a complete travesty? During the past few months, he and the leader of his party have tried to apologise for everything that Labour and the militant teachers it has supported have stood for for over 17 years. Is he not really admitting today that the Conservatives have been right all along, and trying to rewrite Labour policy in the Conservative shadow?

Mr. Blunkett

I find it difficult to take anything seriously from someone who is abandoning his constituency for the chicken run because he knows that education policy, and Tory party policy generally, will result in his losing his seat. Let me deal with the issue head on, however.

Seventeen years of Conservative government have led us to announce a series of programmes and changes that the Conservatives have failed to introduce during those two decades. We are announcing programmes because the Conservative Government have not done so; we are talking about changes and improvements in standards because they have not happened. I could name many more improvements that are needed— for instance, the repair and renewal of buildings. It will be interesting to see whether the Secretary of State has anything to say about that, in the White Paper or elsewhere.

Let me repeat that we will ensure that the £3 billion backlog of repair and maintenance of schools throughout the country—a Tory legacy of neglect—is dealt with directly through a new public-private partnership which will not be exclusive to grant-maintained schools, but will be available to every school in the country. We will ensure that teachers teach, and children learn, in classrooms that are warm, safe and fit to work in, and that everyone has the opportunity of a decent education, wherever they live and whatever their background.

We are talking about transforming the life chances of our people. We are talking about transforming access to further and higher education. We are talking about our "Target 2000"—our aim to ensure that by the year 2000 every 18-year-old will have reached at least qualification level 2. We will transform and replace youth training in order to achieve that goal, and offer every young person who has been out of work, education or training for more than six months the opportunity of a job, a learning place or a position in the voluntary sector.

With £1 billion allocated from a windfall tax, we will transform young people's life chances. We will tackle head on the skills shortage that the Government will reveal as the biggest own goal of Euro 96 when they announce on Thursday, that, after 17 years, they are falling further and further behind our European partners and our competitors across the world. There are skills shortages at a time of high unemployment; and the Government are failing to match, or even begin to match, their own targets. Forty per cent. of people have advanced qualifications, compared with a target of 60 per cent. That is a failure unequalled anywhere in the developed world.

We are not talking simply about revealing failure—about league tables and inspections that tell us what is going wrong, but do nothing to put it right. We are talking about rectifying as well as revealing: about ensuring that we intervene, and spread excellence and achievement from one school to another and from area to area. We will use the education authority as the voice and advocate of parents, not to control, but to support and to work with schools in achieving their goals. The family of schools should share resources and specialisms, and link through new technology to make it possible to ensure that, instead of rationing to a few, we are able to open up opportunities to the many.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

I accept the implication of the hon. Gentleman's comments that national initiatives must be translated into best practice, school by school and classroom by classroom. Will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity now to say that he and his party have full confidence in the independence, integrity and programme of work of the current chief inspector of schools?

Mr. Blunkett

I am sorry, but it is not my job to answer questions about the chief inspector of schools. It will be my job shortly, God willing, and I will then answer questions. Is it not interesting that a Secretary of State under siege, who is doing her best to fulfil the mandate that she was originally given, is now taking second place to an appointed official? Is it not a shame that Conservative Back Benchers have to ask me, the shadow Secretary of State, what I will do about the chief inspector of schools? It is the chief inspector's job to reveal the inadequacy, the failure and the abysmal performance of 17 years of Tory government, and it will be our job to do something about those problems.

We will offer support as well as pressure. We will unite parents, teachers and governors with their education authorities, schools and central Government, to do the job. The Government have failed to do that job, as, I am sorry to say, has the Secretary of State. When we get the chance, we will unite this country to make education the key to economic prosperity and social cohesion. That is the pledge from the Labour party—not structure, not status, not muddle and not selection, but excellence and standards for everyone.

4.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the measures which Her Majesty's Government has introduced to raise educational standards through greater diversity and parental choice, the establishment of a common framework for the curriculum, assessment and regular testing, greater self-government for schools and colleges, and enhanced accountability through inspection and the publication of performance information; and welcomes the increases in achievement and participation which have followed.'. I am grateful to the Opposition for tabling this debate. It is a pity that they thought fit to devote only half a day to educational standards, but of course they have always been rather half-hearted on the subject. Consider the double-speak we have just had to endure from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). He has been so little in evidence over the past few days that The Times has taken to describing him as Labour's health spokesman. The hon. Gentleman may wish he was, because it is obvious that he has an impossible task.

In the confused shambles that constitutes Labour's education policy, the hon. Member for Brightside cannot reconcile the words or the actions of his Front-Bench colleagues or the structure of education with his own views, with those of the left-wing Campaign group of his party or with those of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), or—since the hon. Member for Brightside talked a lot about polls— with those of 74 per cent. of Labour parliamentary candidates. [Interruption.] I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his sympathy, but he should save it for himself.

The hon. Member for Brightside is confused, and who can wonder? He opposes grant-maintained schools, but the Labour leader is sending his son to one. The hon. Gentleman opposes grammar schools, but now he finds that the shadow health spokesman—the real one—has chosen to send her son to one. To cap it all, the hon. Gentleman thought he was safe in opposing cuts to child benefit, until he found that the shadow Chancellor had overruled him.

Nor can the hon. Gentleman reconcile his new-found enthusiasm for standards with the practice of those town halls up and down the land where Labour has long held sway. The hon. Gentleman's seemingly interminable speech clearly demonstrated the hypocrisy and plain humbug of Labour's so-called education policy. It is difficult to know how the hon. Gentleman kept a straight face. He must surely know which party presides over the worst educational standards in the land. I will remind him.

Labour controls the boroughs of Islington, Tower Hamlets and Southwark, where 20 per cent. of seven-year-olds are illiterate—a fact exposed by the recent Ofsted report. Labour controls Islington, which also has the poorest GCSE results in the country. Some caring parents living in Islington—such as the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)—choose schools for their children outside that borough, which is not quite a vote of confidence in the Labour comrades. One wonders who took part in the opinion poll about which we heard so much from the hon. Member for Brightside—not, I think, Islington parents, who vote with their feet.

Who is in power in Tower Hamlets, which has the highest truancy rates in the land? Labour, of course. Who controls Nottinghamshire, where last year the local education authority denied 11-year-olds the right to sit their standard assessment tests although that is the law of the land? Who deprived those pupils? It was Labour. At Hackney Downs, the LEA reduced a once outstanding grammar school to the state where it had to be closed—although there were only eight pupils per teacher and it cost nearly three times the national average to educate each pupil. Who is in charge in Hackney? Labour.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Will the Secretary of State comment on Labour-controlled Northumberland, where only two schools have gone grant-maintained? One did so by two votes, with the opposition of most of the parents when they realised what that decision meant. The other school went grant-maintained because there was a proposal to close some primary schools in the county because of its sparse population. Northumberland is at the opposite end of the scale that the right hon. Lady mentioned. Can she say anything critical about Northumberland and its education authority?

Mrs. Shephard

Last year, Northumberland county councillors complained that their education budget fell short by £700,000, but awarded councillors £500,000 in increased meal and travel allowances. They also should have known that the case of Hackney Downs shows convincingly that there is no connection between resources and results. There may be some connection between Labour councillors and higher meals and mileage allowances.

The lack of a connection between resources and results can be seen in the 10 LEAs that produced the poorest GCSE results—Islington, Knowsley, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Manchester, Lambeth, Newham, Hackney, Liverpool and Haringey. Every one of them produced results way below the national average, and most incurred expenditure per pupil above the national average—nine out of the 10 with Labour in control.

If the hon. Member for Brightside and his colleagues are so concerned about standards, opportunities for all our children and Britain's competitiveness, why do we not hear from the hon. Gentleman outright condemnation of those of his Labour comrades who have allowed such scandalous situations to develop? We hear not a word. All we hear are the footsteps of Labour Front Benchers opting out for their own children and voting with their feet.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

I implore my right hon. Friend not to move on without referring to Derbyshire, which was omitted from her list. Is she aware that places such as Bolsover and Chesterfield have one nursery school for every 6,000 or 7,000 of the population, whereas High Peak and the Derbyshire dales have one nursery school for up to every 22,000? Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures reveal not only reprehensible management but show that downright political bias determines Labour education policy?

Mrs. Shephard

The story of Derbyshire's local authority would fill a book, or many books. I am delighted that my hon. Friends lose no opportunity to expose the extraordinary goings-on and the extraordinary identification of priorities that we have seen in that authority.

Dr. Spink

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that she is criticising the political control of the LEAs, not the teachers, who are professional, dedicated and do an excellent job? Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the increase in the number of youngsters in higher education from one in eight to one in three is one of the greatest achievements of the Government, and that it would be put at risk if she were to adopt policies that Labour advocates, such as doing away with the student grant and child benefit?

Mrs. Shephard

It is extraordinary that, while claiming that they want to give incentives to young people to continue in education and training, Labour Members use as their means a tax on parents of £560 per child. The increase in numbers going into higher education represents a welcome increase in standards of achievement over the past 16 years. However, as I am always ready to admit, there is a great deal more to do.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) paid a graceful compliment to good teachers. He is right to do so. However, it is a fact that Labour Administrations cannot deliver. Labour equals poor leadership, which allows poor teaching, and the result is abysmally low standards of achievement and millions of children deprived of their right to a good education.

Mr. Blunkett

I should like to clarify this, because it is important for the months and years ahead. Is the Secretary of State suggesting that it is not possible for teachers to teach well, for heads to lead or for education officers to give support if the councillors are not of the best in those individual authorities? I should be grateful for a straight answer.

Mrs. Shephard

The straight answer is that I have given the House illustrations of bad achievement in Labour-controlled local authorities, which have been backed up by examples given by my hon. Friends and which, alas, illustrate all too well the prospects for education, training and competitiveness in this country in the unlikely and appalling event of a Labour Government being elected.

Mr. Blunkett

With the right hon. Lady's indulgence, let us pursue this a little further. Is she suggesting that the political complexion of the elected members of an authority is affecting the teaching of children in the classroom, the quality of head teachers or the work of officials in those authorities?

Mrs. Shephard

The record of the authorities I have quoted speaks for itself, and there is no need to go into more detail. It is obvious that, in badly managed, Labour-run authorities, everyone's job is more difficult.

Let us look at what the Government have put in place to raise education standards. As I have said, there is always more to do and higher levels to achieve. Let us look at what we have already achieved against continuous resistance and hostility from the Labour party. At every step, the Labour party and its comrades in the Labour town halls have fought every measure to raise standards.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

May I refer to the difficulties that the hon. Lady seemed to be presenting to the House in her last comments? If head teachers, councillors and local education officers can monitor what is needed in a particular area, the Secretary of State should be receptive to those needs. In my authority of Staffordshire, there is a clear and urgent need for capital spending on school buildings. Despite extensive building repair and improvements, there are schools in my constituency with classrooms that should not be used. Repeated bids to her Department have not provided the funding we need to bring the classrooms up to an acceptable level. Surely that will affect education standards. Can we abandon this party political approach that the right hon. Lady seems to be adopting, and recognise what is needed in our nation's schools?

Mrs. Shephard

I am delighted to abandon the party political approach for one moment by telling the hon. Lady a fact—spending on capital programmes has been increased for this year by 7 per cent., which should help Staffordshire and every other local authority in the land. Perhaps I might remind the hon. Lady of the party political activity undertaken by her colleagues in the House and elsewhere who have opposed everything that the Government have sought to put in place to improve standards in education.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

My right hon. Friend has been talking about the measures that the Government have taken to improve education standards. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) referred to the assisted places scheme. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that excellent scheme is designed to help poorer families, not the better-off, as the hon. Gentleman wrongly alleged in his speech?

Mrs. Shephard

I am delighted to confirm that the assisted places scheme is designed specifically to help children from disadvantaged families take advantage of a good education within the independent sector. It extends the choice and diversity that have been the key notes of this Government's education policies.

What have we put in place? We have introduced the national curriculum, the national system of testing and assessment for children at seven, 11 and 14, and more freedom for schools to manage themselves, with local management for LEA schools and over 1,100 grant-maintained schools, which act as beacons of excellence to promote ever higher standards. We have introduced more accountable schools. The national system of rigorous inspection means that, for the first time, all schools will have their strengths and weaknesses made known to parents and to taxpayers. We are providing much more information for parents.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to congratulate the headmaster, staff, governors, parents and children at Ripley St. Thomas school in my constituency, which has recently become a specialist language centre, having raised vast sums from everybody in the locality? One of these days, would my right hon. Friend pay a visit to the school, because I am sure that she would enjoy it?

Mrs. Shephard

I am sure I would, especially if my hon. Friend were the guide. I am delighted to congratulate those responsible for the school, because that example illustrates precisely the greater choice for parents and the greater diversity that we have sought to put in place.

We have introduced grant-maintained schools, grammar schools, city technology colleges, specialist schools and colleges and, of course, assisted places.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

Will the right hon. Lady explain to the House why, when she was a member of Norfolk county council's education committee, she voted for the closure of all the remaining grammar schools in the county, including the one that she attended, North Walsham girls high school? Why did she do that, and what has changed her mind since then?

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Lady will find that her chronology is a little wrong. She will find that I may well have been working for the council at that time, but I am glad that the hon. Lady mentioned Norfolk, because an entirely new choice for parents has been introduced by the Government with the introduction of vouchers for four-year-olds. The hon. Lady has made quite a campaign of trying to rubbish what is going on with nursery vouchers in Norfolk, and I am delighted to tell her the result of some research that we are producing today. It shows that 86 per cent. of Norfolk parents are delighted with the nursery voucher scheme. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be thrilled to hear that.

We have also introduced effective action to improve the least successful schools.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Shephard

No, not at the moment. I must make progress.

We have also introduced effective action to improve teaching. We are establishing 25 literacy and numeracy centres to tackle basic skills teaching in primary schools. We are introducing more stringent teacher training for reading and arithmetic. We are introducing training and an entirely new qualification for head teachers, and, of course, the Teacher Training Agency was set up specifically to improve the quality of teacher training.

What is the record of the Labour party? We have heard a great deal about intentions and about the activity over the past couple of months, but when we legislated in 1979 to save the remaining grammar schools, who voted against it? Labour. When we legislated in 1980 to establish the principle of publishing exam results and to bring in the assisted places scheme, who voted against? Labour did.

When we carried through the Education Reform Act 1988 to establish the national curriculum, national testing and assessment, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and the abolition of ILEA, who voted against it? Labour did. When we legislated in 1992 to free further education colleges from local authority control, who voted against? Labour did. That legislation included the establishment of a rigorous system of school inspection, but Labour voted against that, too

When we legislated in 1993 to make it easier for schools to go grant-maintained and to establish the Funding Agency for Schools, who voted against? Labour did. When we legislated in 1994 to reform teacher training and to set up the Teacher Training Agency, who voted against? Labour did.

That is a long record by the Government of achievement in raising standards, and a long and shameful record by Labour of opposition to every measure to raise standards—a record that Labour and Hansard cannot deny. Labour was so busy opposing that it has not even noticed what it voted against over the past 16 years, as the hon. Member for Brightside made clear. It is no good trying, hopelessly, to put it right over two or three months.

Mr. Garrett

The right hon. Lady earlier drew comparisons with Labour local authorities. Will she cast her mind back to the time when she was a leading light in Norfolk county council's education authority? She may even have been the chair of that authority for a time—[Interruption.] Does she recall that, when she played a leading role in Norfolk education, it was probably the worst authority in the country? It was at the bottom for the league for expenditure on books, for expenditure on pupils and for class sizes, for expenditure on buildings. Independent observers held it up as an authority—[Interruption.] Its results were very poor, too—[Interruption.] I keep being interrupted, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

It is a rather long intervention, but it is not helped by sedentary interventions from Conservative Members.

Mr. Garrett

Does the Secretary of State admit any responsibility for that deplorable level of performance, while we are on the subject of comparing councils?

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Gentleman has helpfully and usefully provided a perfect example of Labour's usual attitude, which is that resources equal good results.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend give way on the subject of Norfolk?

Mrs. Shephard

This must be the last intervention for some time.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. Friend recall that I had five children at the village school, at which she appointed the school head, at the time that she was a school inspector? All my children received an exceedingly good education.

Mrs. Shephard

I thank my hon. Friend.

In the days when Labour Members voted against every measure to put standards in place, at least they were consistent. The puzzling thing now is that some of them oppose one thing, some another. The hon. Member for Brightside, for example, does not like selection in schools. Just a few weeks ago, he said about children: Creaming them off and putting them in schools that provide excellence—that's the theory—you give excellence to a very small minority and you write off the rest. Of course, his view is not shared by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) or several other Labour Members, who are very happy for their children to belong to that "very small minority".

The hon. Member for Brightside has many times voiced his opposition to grant-maintained schools. But he goes further than that—he objects to parents choosing any school not in their own local authority, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) pointed out. I am sorry that he is no longer in his place. The hon. Member for Brightside should really take to task the hon. Members for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and for Barking (Ms Hodge), just two of the Labour Members who have made that choice using the powers that Government policies have given them—while, of course, seeking to destroy those policies lest other people's children should gain from them.

Last Friday, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield announced his support for streaming and his opposition to mixed-ability teaching. Yet not only has Labour promoted those educationally harmful mixed-ability classes for many years, but only last December, in a policy paper, it said: schools have rightly rejected forms of streaming which have labelled some children as failures throughout their schooling. Do hon. Members remember the hon. Member for Brightside saying, "Watch my lips—no selection"? How curious that the views of the shadow spokesman for education seem so different from those of other hon. Members, not only in his party but on his own Front Bench.

The Labour Party reminds me of that old Tuscan army, Where those behind cried `Forward'! And those before cried Back'!"— and some no doubt went sideways, just like the Labour party which is trying to go in all directions at once—wherever the magnet of an opinion poll leads it. By the way, for the avoidance of any doubt, the Tuscans lost.

This Government have already carried through the most radical programme of change for our schools in living memory, but we have to go further. The Dearing 16-to-19 review heralds a wider and more rigorous range of vocational and academic qualifications. On Thursday, we shall publish the third competitiveness White Paper, setting out plans for education and training policies to equip Britain to face the future.

The skills audit addresses what has been a chronic problem for this country for 120 years. It is this Government who have had the courage to do that; it is this Government who have brought forward the measures to deal with the deficiencies. We shall continue to do so, because it is this Government alone who understand the challenge of global competition.

Later this month, I will publish a White Paper to extend self-government in all schools, to give more freedom to grant-maintained schools, and to give all parents more choice of schools—including grammar schools. In September, I will launch a thoroughgoing reform of teacher training to ensure that new primary teachers are better equipped in future to teach the three Rs. We shall be bringing legislation before the House to support better school discipline and to give powers to Ofsted to inspect the work of LEAs in raising educational standards. Those measures are essential if pupils are to learn effectively.

I shall predict Labour's response to that programme to raise standards ever higher. It will fudge, it will oppose—not just us, but each other. Labour Members will doubtless seize eagerly on the advantages of our policies for their own children, while denying those opportunities to the children of others. Some of them may pay lip service to the cause of higher standards—we heard some of that this afternoon— while allowing their local authorities to lower standards at every turn. In other words, they will practise the creed which socialism has used throughout its history—"Do what I say, not what I do." People will see behind the smiling face of new Labour the class envy and mediocrity of old socialism.

This Government will continue their programme to give the people of this country the finest education in the world. I urge the House to support the amendment.

4.58 pm
Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on a tour de force this afternoon on Labour party policies and the way in which we will try to lever up education standards. His speech was in stark contrast to the bereft performance of the Secretary of State. We heard little of what the Government propose to do about the crisis in our schools that has come about after 17 years of Conservative government. All we heard was an onslaught on the Labour party in local government. I am tempted to ask whether the right hon. Lady will accept responsibility for her Department's activities. Which of her five predecessors does she blame for the problems in our schools today?

What is happening in our schools today is a direct result of the dictations of the 1988 education Act—wrongly titled the Education Reform Act—which was put on the statute book by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). The Government had high expectations of that Act. On Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman described the legislation in the following way: This Bill will create a new framework, which will raise standards, extend choice and produce a better-educated Britain.—[Official Report, 1 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 771.] Yet, according to figures produced on the performance of our education system, problems in schools today show that the expectations of the Act are not being realised. In fact, school standards may have suffered as a direct result of the Act because of the nature of the national curriculum and of standard attainment tests, which were so flawed and so poorly introduced.

The Secretary of State said that the Labour party has opposed all the Government's so-called "reforms", the national curriculum and national testing, but she is wrong. If she reads the Second Reading speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) on the 1988 Bill, she will know that that he warned that the manner in which the national curriculum and the standard assessment test were being designed would lead to the national curriculum being over-prescribed, making it unable to deliver the goods that the Government intended it to deliver.

The pronouncement of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn was prophetic—what he warned of has come to pass. Those two crucial criticisms about the fatally flawed nature of the SATs and over-prescription have been borne out by the investigation of none other than Sir Ron Dearing. He was brought in by the Government to sort out the mess of the national curriculum—a twice-revisited national curriculum, with twice-revisited tests. In 1993, he said: The National Curriculum is fundamental to raising educational standards. Urgent action is needed to reduce the statutorily required content of its programme of study and to make it less prescriptive and less complex. A closely co-ordinated review of all the statutory curriculum Orders should immediately be put in hand, guided by the need to:

  1. i reduce the volume of material required by law to be taught;
  2. ii simplify and clarify the programmes of study;
  3. iii reduce prescription so as to give more scope for professional judgement;
  4. iv ensure that the Orders are written a way that offers maximum support to the classroom teacher."
On key stages 1, 2, and 3, which are fundamental to our primary education, he said: The primary purpose of the review at Key Stages 1, 2, and 3 should be to slim down the National Curriculum; to make the Orders less prescriptive; and to free some 20 per cent. of teaching time for use at the discretion of the school. We would not be in our current position if the Government had listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn and piloted their national curriculum and standard assessment test. As a direct result of their not listening, since 1988 near chaos has reigned in our schools as teachers have become demoralised and our children's education has suffered.

As Secretaries of State for Education came and went, Sir Ron Dearing was brought in to try to bring some order where chaos reigned. His report, published in December 1993, vindicates the Labour party's advice to the Government during the passage of the 1988 Bill. Had the Government listened, today we might have higher school standards. We might also have saved the £750 million that they wasted on the introduction of the national curriculum, which they had to revise twice to get it right, making it less prescriptive and more directed to the needs of children.

It is not the first time in our educational history that we have seen the so-called "twice-revised codes". We saw them at the beginning of education, when we had payment by results, and now we see it revisited in the redrawing of the national curriculum. I still do not think the Government have it right. Those are the rewards of the 1988 Act, which are there for all to see.

The Prime Minister was quite right. As a direct result of those reforms introduced by the Government, he admitted that the top 15 per cent. of youngsters who come out of our schools are equal to anything you will find anywhere in the world. The other 85 per cent. frankly are not. That is a frightening admission of complacency by the Prime Minister about the quality of our state education. It is a condemnation from the very top of Government of the quality of education received by 85 per cent. of our pupils.

It showed absolute complacency for the Secretary of State to go to the Dispatch Box and fail to address those concerns, but spend most of her time trying to bash Labour-controlled local authorities, which are doing their level best to provide decent education for the children in their area.

The Secretary of State did not attempt to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside about the responsibilities of head teachers and teachers to teach the children in their care. The Prime Minister was absolutely right to draw attention to that failing, but his Government must now act.

Not only have Labour Members drawn attention to the problems in schools today, not only does the Prime Minister admit that there are problems and not only has Sir Ron Dearing tried to straighten out the national curriculum, but the Office for Standards in Education—the Government's organization—has drawn attention to problems in our education system. Ofsted stated: Far too many children were found, however, not to be making the progress which they should. That quote is from 1996, after 17 years of Conservative government. It has been 17 years of a Government who have tried to dictate from the centre what is taught in our schools, how it is taught and how teachers are trained. There has been a range of issues, and legislation after legislation, but the Government have not yet produced the improvement in standards that we desire for all our children who are being educated in the state sector. That quote is another condemnation of the Department for Education and Employment, under a Government who have had 17 years in office and who still fail to take responsibility for their actions.

It is absolutely disgraceful that the number of pupils leaving our schools with no passes at GCSE rose from 7 per cent. in 1993 to 7.8 per cent. in 1995. According to a recent parliamentary question tabled by hon. Friend the Member for Brightside, 41,389 pupils left school last year without a single GCSE pass. That is another demonstration of the Government's failure in education. Sir Geoffrey Holland—who, until recently, was the permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment—said that 13-year-olds in English schools lag two years behind their continental cohort, and that they never catch up.

The Government have recently published results that demonstrate another important problem. There is a huge achievement gap between the ages of 7 and 11. In English and mathematics, about 20 per cent. of pupils were below level 2 at the age of seven, whereas more than half were below level 4 at the age of 11. That is a very worrying trend in our pupils' achievements.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hall

No, I shall not give way. The Secretary of State did not give way to me, so I am not sure why I should give way to the hon. Gentleman. He can make his own speech in his own time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that he will catch your eye if he behaves himself.

Ofsted has found that, in key stage 2 generally, there has been a slowing in pupil progress, particularly in years 3 and 4, and that that is a worryingly persistent feature of inspections in recent years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside drew attention to the fact that, in the past five years, pupil-teacher ratios have worsened. That is a poor record of government, and I must ask: who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? We heard from the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink)—he has left the Chamber—in a debate on education last Wednesday. He blamed teachers; he blamed parents; he blamed pupils; he blamed the Labour party. He exonerated the Government—fancy that.

Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

It is the Labour party's fault.

Mr. Hall

The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that it is the Labour party's fault. He must have been asleep for the past 17 years. He sat on the Back Benches in government, taking no responsibility for the problems that they have created in our state education system.

We see that the Government have once again deployed the BSE strategy—blame someone else. After 17 years, it is really time that they held up their hands and said, "We have made mistakes in education. We recognise the failings and are prepared to do something about them." All we get instead are attacks on Labour-controlled local authorities.

One of the interesting things about standards in schools is that teachers, and teaching methods in particular, have been singled out for criticism. Anyone in the teaching profession who has reached the age of 65 may well have entered the profession in 1952 and given 44 years of loyal service. The Conservatives have been in power for 33 of those 44 years; they still blame the Labour party for the teaching methods employed in our schools, whereas teaching methods have been adopted and approved by successive Governments, Labour and Conservative. It is important that that is recognised. Anyone who has entered the teaching profession in the past 17 years has known nothing other than Conservative control and seven Acts of Parliament and the interference that they brought with them.

On a local note, Cheshire county council—my local authority—is controlled by the Tories and Liberal Democrats. It has a very poor record on education in terms of pupil-teacher ratios. It is 97th in a league table of 109. In spending terms, it is 96th out of 109, spending only £1,483 per pupil, which is far below the national average and much below the exemplars for education. A pupil-teacher ratio of 24:1 is far too high.

Mention has been made of the interest in the level of funding for the state education system. The difference between the amount received by Westminster city council for education and that received by Cheshire county council is iniquitous. Both are Tory-controlled, but one receives far more than the other. If my local authority received the same amount as Westminster, it would be able to employ 4,539 extra teachers.

I do not accept that employing those extra teachers would not raise standards at schools in my county, in my constituency and, indeed, at the local comprehensive school attended by my son. I do not accept for one minute the argument that class size does not matter. The idea is straightforward: a good teacher teaching 40 kids will teach 30 kids better. That is plain common sense, and we should be doing something to reduce pupil-teacher ratios.

The Government must consider why teachers leave the profession. The Public Accounts Committee recently considered the number of teachers retiring. Between 1985–86 and 1994–95, 150,000 teachers left the profession and 108,600 left prematurely. They left not because of ill health but through voluntary early retirement. If they could be encouraged to stay in the state system, we should have a huge wealth of resources to help increase standards in all our schools. We need to encourage teachers to stay in the profession.

We know why teachers become shell-shocked. There has been an initiative overload by the Government, who have demanded that teachers do more and more in less and less time. In addition, they have heaped criticism on teachers when they fail to achieve what is demanded of them. We must seriously examine ways to retain teachers in the profession.

I am encouraged by the Labour party's commitment to ensuring that, within five years of taking office, we shall be providing a nursery place for every three and four-year-old whose parents want one. We shall do so because we know that it will represent value added for the rest of those individuals' careers.

Mr. Pawsey

How will Labour do it?

Mr. Hall

I am not taking any sedentary interventions from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Pawsey

I tried the other sort.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) must control himself. He seems to be getting into bad habits these days.

Mr. Hall

The crux of the matter is how to raise standards in education. If we can provide a nursery education for every three and four-year-old whose parents want it, the benefits throughout the children's careers would be there for all to see. This is an important commitment that the Labour party has made. We have also committed ourselves to reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds to below 30 in the lifetime of a Labour Government. That is essential to improving standards in the state system.

I am attracted by the idea that the Labour party is committed to a general teaching council. This will ensure professionalism, which will in turn empower teachers and make them feel valued. We can thereby hope to improve the quality of teaching. I am also attracted by my Front-Bench colleagues' ideas, which are not new, of assertive discipline in school, ensuring that we employ the best teaching methods, and instituting criteria-based assessments of how pupils are performing.

The home-school contract is probably one of the most important that we can develop. It engages parents in the education of their children to ensure that we all get the best out of the system. It also increases expectations. I am confident that the Labour party, once in office, will make education its passion and that, through partnership with everyone involved, it will improve the quality of education for all.

Our approach will be based on co-operation, partnership and opportunity, not on diktat from central Government, which ignores the people who are most important to the enterprise—teachers, pupils and parents. We shall bring them all together in a co-operative venture so that our education system will ensure that the economy is well served into the 21st century.

I commend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside to the whole of the educational establishment as a good example of what the Labour party will do in office in the not-too-distant future.

5.15 pm
Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the education policy of the Conservative and Labour parties.

It was in Islington—and under Labour—that I saw education break down as I had never seen it break down before. When I arrived in Islington as the head of Highbury Grove school, I was still a member of the Labour party, but what I saw there drove me out as a refugee to the Conservative party. That is perfectly true. Schools in Islington were run as if by the red guards in China. When my chairman of governors asked whether the school could be run as a workers' collective, I fled. This is all public knowledge; I have written about it.

Education in Islington is still, I believe, among the worst in the country. It is a question not of money but of the way in which education services are organised in that particular authority. It is no wonder the leader of the Labour party fled with his son to another borough. I had to say that at the outset, as I am still a schoolmaster at heart, as I know the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) is, too.

Interestingly, Highbury Grove was saved by working-class and immigrant parents who wanted their children taught properly, as opposed to the trendies in the Labour party who wanted the school run as a collective. It was the working-class and immigrant parents who kept Highbury Grove, which was then the most over—I have forgotten the word.

Mr. Harry Greenway


Sir Rhodes Boyson

Indeed. I am so excited, but I must control myself. Highbury Grove was the most over-subscribed school in London at that time, and it was the working class parents and their children who kept up standards. It certainly taught me a lesson about where I stood politically.

From time to time, we see a movement towards common sense in the Labour party, and we drink to it. If the Opposition paid for it, we would drink to it even more. However, any such movement is very slow.

The first issue that I wish to highlight is the teaching of children in ability groups. There has been a revelation in the Labour party, which has discovered setting. Its members have been to a prayer meeting and decided that setting is the answer. Setting means that each child is tested in every subject and goes into a first, second, third, fourth or fifth group for each separate subject, according to the results of the tests. It is like a progressive barn dance, with pupils meeting from time to time as they move from class to class. Under this system, the whole class has to wait until the last child has arrived, 25 per cent. of teaching time will be wasted and the gates will have to be locked to prevent children leaving between classes.

Anybody who has seen setting in a school, as I have, knows that it does not work. We tried it for one term at Highbury Grove and the staff—including the trendies— said that they wanted no more of it and that they would sooner teach one class where they knew what they were doing.

We know that children differ in ability. We all differ in ability—academically, in sport and in everything else. We have to accept it as a fact of life. It is nonsense to pretend that all children are the same, and it would be a grey world if they were.

It is the height of cruelty to educate able and less able children together. It makes the able arrogant—they think that they have all the answers—while the poor little boy at the bottom of the class who never gets anything right in class will kick in the windows, and I am on his side because of all the disadvantages that it brings him. Whatever he does, he knows that he cannot succeed.

At last, after the prayer meeting, Labour has decided on setting. However, I would like to see a school that is organised in that way with normal staffing. If there is one, I would be happy to go to see it with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). I do not think that there is one. I do not think that there is a school in discovered space that continues to use that system. It is simply not on.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the argument that the Opposition are putting before the nation is the same dishonest argument that they used to encourage the launching of comprehensive schools? The Opposition said then—as they are saying now—that every child will have his or her own timetable and work at his own pace in every subject. That is totally impossible to organise in any school, as my right hon. Friend and I know from our long and deep experience. Finally, I remind him that he said that a good school is where the children go in fast and come out slow. Is that not right?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

My hon. Friend has remembered the advice that I gave him. I advised parents to stand outside the school gates to see how quickly the children went in the morning and how slowly they came out at the end of the day—or vice versa—and, if the staff came out so fast at 4 o'clock that they knocked the children down, to go home, as nothing could be done with that school. It is the best test of any school—better than all the inspectors.

Mr. Greenway

What about my point about setting?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

My hon. Friend, who also taught in the east end of London and whom I first met on my second day in London—obviously, he has influenced me in relation to the Conservative party—mentioned setting, but I have said enough about that.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

If the hon. Gentleman is offering to show me a school that is totally setted, I shall give way. If not, I shall not. I am waiting for such an offer from anywhere in the world, and I shall accept it.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Between his Waldorf and Stadler act with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), I would encourage him to think about what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech. He did not say that every class in every school would involve setting. He said that we would work from the presumption of the advisability of setting over mixed-ability teaching, but he entered an important caveat—that it is for the teacher to decide the pedagogical methodology employed in the classroom.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

That means that every school will organise itself and that there will be no interference from socialist authorities such as Islington. Am I right in that? Will schools in Islington be able to organise themselves in exactly the way they want without any interference from the local authority?

Mr. Kilfoyle

We have made it absolutely clear that not only do we support the local management of schools but we seek to reinforce that in a variety of ways. That is published Labour party policy. It is for the school to run itself and not for the local authority to run it as part of a line of management. That is history now.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

I feel that policy is being made as we speak and that we are in the centre of the world. However, I shall move on, as I wish to make two more points.

My second point relates to grammar schools. Apparently they will be allowed to remain.

Mr. Greenway

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

No. I am godfather to my hon. Friend's son, so I shall restrain my hon. Friend.

There are currently 161 grammar schools and they will be allowed to continue, provided they receive an affirmative vote. Perhaps the rest of the country should be brought in on that. Why cannot the rest of the country be allowed to decide whether to bring back grammar schools? However, it is a step in the right direction. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition knows how far he is prepared to go on that, but the Opposition spokesmen do not. They are doing their best to answer me, but they are really in the dark, in which case, as they are honest people, I am concerned that they should be worried about it. However, I shall hurry on.

The grant-maintained schools have been most effective. Without any interference from me, all but one of the secondary schools in my constituency are now grant-maintained, including the Catholic one. Parents took that decision against the wishes of the teaching unions, just as, back in Islington, parents wanted to run their schools in their own way. The introduction of grant-maintained schools has been one of the Government's greatest achievements.

My third point is totally non-partisan, as has been all that I have said, because I am speaking the truth. It relates to a teaching method—whole-class teaching. Mixed-ability classes comprising four groups—A to D—is the most inefficient method of all time. School after school currently uses that particular method. If the teacher has four groups, each group will receive tuition for only a quarter of the lesson. If he has three groups, they will receive tuition for only a third of the time, and if he has two groups, they will each have half a lesson.

The difference between our schools and those in the far east, where children are two years ahead, is that they are all taught together in classes far larger than ours. I do not accept that it is a matter of class size. I have seen classes of 60 or 70 in Japan, Taiwan and throughout the far east that have higher standards and discipline than those here. [Interruption.] I do not want to upset the Labour party. I am helping them towards the truth. In many primary school classes, children between nine and 11 are divided into four groups. The children might as well go home for three quarters of the day. That method will have to be looked at again.

My father was the chairman of a divisional executive in Lancashire and he was also a Labour alderman. He was genuinely Labour. He was a conscientious objector in the first world war and was in Wormwood Scrubs with Mr. Morrison; so I have a good background in these matters and no one can take that away. He said that grammar schools were the ladders of working-class opportunity, and Haslingden grammar school remained a grammar school until he died. He also preserved Bacup and Rawtenstall grammar school, which has 950 pupils—some hon. Members will know it. That school was also saved by my father, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), for whom I have the greatest respect, knows. I shall keep my hon. Friend under control, too. Outside that school, there should be two statues—a blue statue for me and a red statue for my father.

Mr. Kilfoyle


Sir Rhodes Boyson

I shall not let the hon. Gentleman in again because I am about to sit down. I shall get my own back at the end of the debate.

Mr. Pawsey

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm for the benefit of the House that today is an Opposition day debate on education? Do you not find it significant that only one Labour Back Bencher is present?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I would not have thought that the hon. Member needed me to give him that information. This is certainly an Opposition day debate on education.

5.29 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

It is always difficult to follow the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). I am sure that many hon. Members will vividly remember his recent speech in which, having described his time as a teacher as climbing up the drainpipe, he told us that the most important skill that a teacher must have was to learn to climb the rigging.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Brent, North for being able to elicit a clear statement from the Labour Front-Bench team—that was the point that I was hoping to raise with him on an intervention—that it does not believe that it is appropriate for political parties or the Government to determine how individual schools should organise their classes or how children should be taught. There might be all-party agreement that decisions on how to arrange organisation in a school are best left to individual teachers, schools and governors. I was a little disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman clearly supported that view.

The right Member for Brent, North made various comments on, and expressed views about, grouping, and referred, for example, to Taiwan and very large classes. I hope that he accepts that that is not a very good example with which to criticise mixed-ability teaching, because many Pacific rim countries organise their lessons in such a way that the more able children are involved in helping the less able. They provide a very good example of effective mixed-ability teaching. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman and I agree, however, that, whatever method is chosen, the most important thing to ensure is that children are actively involved in every lesson, rather than passive, which, sadly, often happens.

About a couple of months ago, I was excited that education had at long last reached the top of the political agenda, but in view of debates in the past two or three weeks, I am increasingly uncertain about whether it is a particularly good thing. I do not object to party-political point scoring from time to time, but recent debates have not moved the general education debate very far. The Government's latest proposal, for the introduction of a grammar school in every town, for example, which the Secretary of State said today she will announce shortly, will not address the concerns of people, teachers, parents, governors, and, perhaps, the entire nation about the education service. Nor will the Opposition Front-Bench team's telling teachers how to teach or schools how to organise themselves move the debate on.

It seems that we are almost in an era of a gimmick a day. Such an approach will not raise achievement in schools or keep failure at bay. It is important to recognise that some of the recent gimmicks have not addressed the underlying problems of shortages of books and equipment, overcrowded classrooms and shoddy buildings.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to stand outside one of the primary schools in my constituency and to talk to many parents as they delivered their children to school. I talked to them about their concerns about the education service and what they considered the most appropriate way forward. They made it absolutely clear that they did not believe that there would be any benefit in returning to a selective education system, and that they wanted more emphasis on literacy and numeracy. Many believed that the introduction of high-quality early years education would be a step in the right direction. Every parent argued for increased resources in education, and the vast majority said that they were quite willing to see a small rise in income tax to pay for it.

When I was reading—many hon. Members in the Chamber will have seen it during the past few days—this week's edition of The Times Educational Supplement, I was interested in the remarks of Dr. Colin Butler, who describes himself as a senior English master at Borden grammar school in Kent. He said: The largest single handicap on education today is not selection but funding; and a lot of so-called educational problems are really financial problems in disguise. I certainly agree with that. I was somewhat disappointed by the rather dismissive way in which the Secretary of State suggested that the level of resources made no difference to the quality of education provision. As somebody said fairly recently—I cannot for the life of me remember who—insufficient resources threaten the provision of education in the state school sector.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying about talking to parents outside a primary school in his constituency, resources, and a grammar school in every town, but will he tell us what those parents are saying about grant-maintained schools? Is it Liberal Democrat policy to obstruct and oppose parents' and teachers' wishes for a school to become grant-maintained?

Mr. Foster

I should make it clear, as I have in many previous debates, that my party is absolutely clear about its policy on grant-maintained status—we oppose it. We would bring grant-maintained schools and, indeed, city technology colleges, back into the light-touch strategic planning framework of local education authorities. We have also made it absolutely clear that, while the legislation stands, we would not oppose a school assuming grant-maintained status if parents went through the appropriate procedure of a ballot and a majority were in favour of it. To elaborate further, there are two grant-maintained schools in my constituency, with which I work. I do what I can to assist because I believe that, as a Member of Parliament, I should support the education of all children in my constituency. I hope that that is a clear answer.

Sir David Madel

What does the hon. Gentleman say to the parents of children at those two grant-maintained schools who do not want to return to the local education system? How does he deal with that?

Mr. Foster

I make very clear the policy on which the Liberal Democrats will fight the next general election. The electorate in Bath will have an opportunity to consider that and other issues, and they will decide whether to vote for candidates who make such a proposition, which is perfectly fair and reasonable. The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was reasonable for somebody to obstruct policy between elections, and I said that it was not. I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's point later.

Given the nature of the education debate, many people have been concerned in recent months about not often hearing good news about what is going on in the education service. It is important to recognise that, as a result of very many hard-working and dedicated teachers, and the support of their governors and parents, some excellent work is going on. I should like in particular to congratulate Eileen Whiting and all her staff at Twirton-on-Avon county infants school in my constituency on the absolutely excellent Ofsted inspection report that the school has just received. Despite the many good examples, there are real concerns about the education service after 17 years of Conservative government and innumerable pieces of education legislation.

Some of the concerns were mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). In summary, he said that there are concerns about inadequate levels of achievement in literacy and numeracy; about the staying-on rate post-16, which appears to have stalled; about the inadequate levels of skills training for the employed and the unemployed; and about the growing number of pupils who are being excluded from our schools.

There is particular concern about the low morale of people who are working in the education service—teachers, lecturers, head teachers and others. The hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) referred to the increasing number who are leaving the profession, very often as a result of stress-related illness. He will be aware that there is even a problem in recruiting head teachers to inner-city schools, and a potential problem of recruiting teachers in a number of subject areas, particularly science and mathematics

Mr. Hall

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the number of teachers leaving the profession—more than 150,000 in the past 10 years—represents a haemorrhage of experience that we would have done well to staunch? Teachers with a greater length of service will clearly be the best, and will get the best out of pupils. We must address the issue of keeping quality within the state system.

Mr. Foster

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, who made the same point adequately during his speech. The other point he made in his interesting speech, which would go a long way to prevent the haemorrhage, concerned a return to more partnership and co-operation in the education service, rather than the market forces, dog-eat-dog approach introduced by the Government.

The problems will not be overcome by increased selection. Many of the parents I met yesterday remember the old selective education system and the 11-plus. In the old system, those lucky enough to pass went to a grammar school, while those who failed ended up in a secondary modern school. The right hon. Member for Brent, North talked about grammar schools providing a ladder of opportunity; he did not remind us that those who went to secondary modern schools did not get that opportunity and did not get a second chance—which can be provided by a more comprehensive education system.

Parents cannot understand where the Government are going. One minute they tell us that parents will have the right to choose their child's school; now we are told that the White Paper will propose that schools will increasingly choose their pupils. Selection will not raise levels of achievement; it will mean a return to quality education for the few and inferior education for the many. There will be a return to choice for a few, but no choice for the majority.

Mr. Robin Squire

That is absolute rubbish.

Mr. Foster

Perhaps the Minister would like to explain why he thinks that it is rubbish.

Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman is talking absolute tripe. His suggestion that the creation of a grammar school, as one of 12 schools in an area, will at a stroke demolish the education provided in the other 11 is balderdash.

Mr. Foster

The Minister will, perhaps, recall the days when there was widespread use of selective education.

Why did secondary modern schools—through no fault of the teachers—provide an inferior education? They did not provide a second chance for those who failed the 11-plus examination. Those points cannot be denied, and they show why a return to selection will not, by itself, raise levels of achievement.

We must surely recognise that children are different, as the right hon. Member for Brent, North so eloquently put it. They have different levels of aptitude and ability, and they have different aspirations. We must provide an education system that meets all those different needs and aspirations for every young person. The vast majority of parents have no choice whatsoever about the school to which they send their children, so we must ensure that choice lies within every individual school, and not between schools. In that way, we can ensure that every individual reaches his or her potential.

It is a great pity that the Secretary of State, who I believe agrees with that aim, has been forced to capitulate to the Prime Minister, and now seems to be following him down a well-trodden dead end. It is also a pity that she has been forced to continue to promote that other pet project of the Prime Minister—grant-maintained schools—which is a failed policy initiative if ever there was one. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Opposition Members may recall—[Interruption.] I am sorry—they are not in opposition yet, although they will be shortly. Conservative Members may remember the Secretary of State's predecessor telling the House that he would eat his hat with a garnish if the majority of secondary schools were not grant-maintained by the next election. I hope that the current Secretary of State has not agreed to take that on.

Where, in all the Government's gimmicks, is the visionary thinking about the future? Do they not realise that the world has moved on? Information is widely available, and we need to develop an education system that helps young people to gather information and use it wisely. We must develop an education system that starts to think of teachers not as the providers of information and knowledge to young people, but as people who help to develop and promote the learning process. We must ensure that young people are given more opportunity and are required to take more responsibility for their own learning.

Mr. Harry Greenway

With all respect, the hon. Gentleman is producing a lot of hot air. I should like to know, as would the country, the Liberal Democrats' position on mixed-ability teaching. Is he aware that, at last, the Labour party is talking about raising standards and says that it will consider ending mixed-ability teaching? Is it not amazing that Labour has reached the first rung on the ladder of raising standards?

Mr. Foster

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been for the past 10 minutes, but I have had an interesting debate with the right hon. Member for Brent, North about the importance of politicians not dictating to teachers how they should organise their classrooms. In certain circumstances and with appropriate resources, it is possible to do some exciting work and help all children in a mixed-ability class, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. The problem is that we often polarise the debate and talk about one teaching method as opposed to another when we should be making available a range of teaching methods so that children have opportunities to learn in a variety of ways.

Mr. Greenway

indicated assent.

Mr. Foster

I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees.

Having been critical of the Government, I must add that I do not believe that Labour's attempts to steal the Government's clothes are helpful either. Opposition Front Bench Members will soon be telling teachers what colour chalk to use. I was interested to read a comment from a former Labour Member of Parliament, Mr. Christopher Price, in the education supplement to today's Guardian. He said: Labour at the moment is committed to "do" very little; most of its policy statements consist of tactical manoeuvres to outflank the Conservative Right on school discipline and avoid any spending commitments before the coming election. How right Mr. Price is.

Instead of telling teachers how to teach and schools how to organise, Government and Opposition would do well to commit themselves to increase investment in the education service to reverse some of the recent damaging cuts. In so doing, I hope that they will, like me, recognise that, while extra money will not by itself raise achievement, it is an essential starting point. What is the point of streaming pupils—if that is what people want—if there are not enough habitable classrooms? What is the point of advocating a return to traditional whole-class teaching methods if pupils still have to share books and to work in overcrowded rooms?

Expanded nursery education, ensuring that schools have books, equipment and decent buildings and making sure that our teachers have the opportunity for high-quality, in-service training courses cannot be achieved without increased resources—or by a string of gimmicks that look back to a failed selective system. If the House passed legislation providing that there should be a no new education gimmick day, we would spend the day examining gimmicks from earlier days and finding that they do not provide the means for raising achievement that the country desperately needs.

As I said earlier, I have not been impressed with the level of the education debate in recent weeks. If we are to do what all parties say they want to do—to raise achievement in our schools, which is desperately needed—one problem that parties must address is resources in schools. Only my party has been prepared honestly and openly to make a commitment to increase resources and to be clear about where the money will come from. The electorate want to hear that sort of honesty from all political parties, but, sadly, it has been lacking in the recent debate.

5.51 pm
Sir Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

I do not think that even my severest critic would describe me as a rabid right winger. Opposition Members have often prayed in aid some of my criticisms of Government policies in recent years. I remain committed to education. I abhor extremism, whether of the right or the left. The politicisation of the education debate has much to answer for in respect of many of the problems that we face.

I would be less than true to what I believe if I did not say how appalled I was by the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). That is not because I disagree with what he said he wanted to achieve in education, such as an improvement in standards, better quality across the board and a variety of teaching methods. A remarkable consensus exists in the education world for those things, which we all want in our schools for the benefit of our children.

In a recent article, I said that one of the most significant benefits gained by the Government has been by dragging the Opposition on to our ground in espousing so many of the things in education for which we fought for so long. However, to turn round and blame all the ills of education on the past 17 years is not just to rewrite history but to ignore it. The seeds of many of the problems that we are trying to tackle today were sown many years ago. I shall mention one or two.

It was in the 1960s that changes were made to the requirements and qualifications for entry into the teaching profession. It was in the mid-1960s that O-level mathematics was dropped as a prerequisite for entry to teacher training. That happened between 1965 and 1970, only 30 years ago. A teacher who entered teacher training at that time was probably 18 or 19. A simple sum shows that they are still in schools and still without O-level mathematics. I instance that because maths has been much mentioned not only in this debate but outside the House.

The ease with mathematics that many of us had taught to us has gone. It is small wonder that many teachers have said since that they feel ill at ease with the subject or that their lack of ease has been passed on to so many pupils. It was not until the early 1980s that that requirement was reinstated. One must be careful before picking points in history to illustrate and bolster specious arguments.

To talk about rationing excellence is ridiculous. It was when the evolution that followed the 1944 Education Act, which worked through the system in the next two decades, was abandoned in favour of an egalitarian revolution that the problems started to arise. It was not a question of rationing excellence but of abandoning it. Abraham Lincoln once said that we cannot make the poor rich by making the rich poor. Never was that more true than with education. If we deprive children who can benefit from it of the opportunity for excellence in the name of egalitarian nonsense, we shall not achieve the perhaps laudable aims that we set out to obtain. Common sense dictates that that will not be the case.

We talk about pendulums swinging. My wife is an able and distinguished primary school head teacher.

Mr. Robin Squire

indicated assent.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I thank my hon. Friend for his endorsement.

My wife tells me how much she hates pendulums and that she prefers balances. Trying to get a little movement either way from the centre achieves far more than the vicious swing of the pendulum that throws out so much of the good in the name of change. In education, we must surely look at what is good and build on it. We must look at the best and use it as an example. We must consider what needs to be changed and seek the most effective way of changing it.

In all that, we must seek the co-operation of those who work in education. Most importantly, we must recognise that education policy is delivered not by politicians but by teachers. Improving the quality of teachers and their training and giving them the resources that they need is critical to the whole debate.

On resources, we have heard what the £1 billion windfall is to achieve. I was staggered by the list of commitments that it would finance. I will give the House a simple example of the cost of improvements. Recently I was invited to speak at the launch of "Making Sense of Science", which involved improving the opportunities for science co-ordinators to acquire extra skills to take back into their schools. That is fine, but in a school with 10 classes and only 10 teachers there are no opportunities for staff release time. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to do their jobs.

Let us imagine that, by way of a single improvement, we want to offer every primary school in the country increased resources of 0.2 per cent. for its staffing costs. That represents two teaching periods a week. Let us further assume that we pay for that solely from the supply budget, so that no permanent or even temporary contract is entered into. That will cost about £92.5 million.

Doing the sum is easy: it costs about £120 a day for a supply teacher. There are 39 teaching weeks in a year, and 19,500 primary schools in the country. That shows the danger of making wonderful promises about increased resources. Of course I would like improvements of this kind; I have recommended them in the past both on my own behalf and via the Select Committee. The difference is that we recognise the need to be realistic. It is the cruellest of deceptions to pretend that £1 billion will do more than scratch the surface of the problem.

Of course we want more money for education; of course we want it targeted on achieving better standards. But unless we are realistic about the costs we shall be perpetrating a cruel deception on those who believe that the promises can be delivered.

Mr. Kilfoyle

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) mentioned the windfall tax in the context of initiatives for the training of young people. The Labour party has consistently said, on public platforms and in policy documents, that we will provide extra resources for education, as for other areas, as and when the economy allows.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I accept that that is what has been said, but it was not said today and it is not said very often. It is one of those convenient omissions that many people make when trying to justify a case. The House should be concerned about promises of increased expenditure, because it will take a massive amount of money to bring about even the minimal improvement that I have mentioned.

A great deal of this debate is about standards and whether they are as high today as they used to be. In this context, I offer the House a brief quotation: Many who are in a position to criticise the capacity of young people who have passed through the Public Elementary Schools have experienced some uneasiness about the condition of Arithmetical knowledge and teaching at the present time. It has been said, for instance, that the accuracy in the manipulation of figures does not reach the same standard which was reached 20 years ago. Some employers express surprise and concern at the inability of young persons to perform simple operations involved in business. That is an extract from "The teaching of arithmetic in elementary schools", HMSO 1925. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The golden age of education exists largely in people's minds.

Today a revolution is under way in many of our classrooms. Some standards have undeniably fallen. Standards of numeracy and literacy are not as good as I should like them to be; there is empirical evidence to show that they have declined. But the wonderful breadth of knowledge, particularly evident in primary schools today, makes what I learned in primary school look very small beer indeed. We have brilliant teachers teaching mixed ability classes at varying speeds of learning. Brilliant teaching requires excellent preparation, delivery skills, and understanding of the differing needs of children—especially in the primary schools, which have come in for so much criticism.

Let us look for the places where quality exists and then build on that quality. Let us set up the best as an exemplar for the rest. Let us cease the continual carping—the belief that the wheel can be rediscovered, or that everything was perfect 30 years ago, and that everything today is imperfect. The truth, as ever, lies somewhere between the two views. We must build on the good and seek to change the bad.

In these debates we hear of the importance of getting it right for our children and giving them the necessary opportunities. On that there is a remarkable consensus. The 1944 Act arose not out of political dissent but from political consent. If education is indeed so important, we must surely all recognise that trading meaningless statistics across the Chamber and exchanging meaningless insults in newspapers and other education articles does not achieve the one thing that we all want: raising standards so as to give our children the best possible opportunities. If we could stop politicising the debate in this way, I would follow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State down her poetical road and say: And even the ranks of Tuscany Could scarce forbear to cheer.

6.6 pm

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

In the search for higher standards in education, it seems to me that we would do well to be fully aware of what, apart from the Government, we are up against. We live in a culture where to call someone clever is an insult, where to describe someone as an intellectual is to heap on him or her at least suspicion and probably a great deal of scorn. Those are the attitudes that have fed down over decades to our school children. Secondary school teachers fight an unending struggle against classroom cultures in which anyone who works hard is stigmatised as a swot. Even in higher education, many students actively disguise the fact that they are working hard and seeking to achieve, for fear of losing kudos with their peers.

I am continually dismayed by the number of students I meet who do not like what they are studying, even though they are perfectly intellectually competent to get through. Part of our task, therefore, is to assert that cleverness, skill and achievement in formal education are as much to be celebrated and emulated as the same qualities in a footballer, runner or singer. That is no small task.

We also have to face up to the huge psychological and cultural influence exercised over our children by the electronic media, which have wildly accelerated over the past 25 years the availability—perhaps the necessity—of electronic devices which offer instant problem solving, not just in mathematics, or which dominate via the screen large chunks of our working and leisure time. As a force acting on the consciousness and the sub-consciousness of our children, this phenomenon weighs heavily against much of what those who set out to tackle academic standards are seeking to achieve.

Our traditional education methods, whether progressive or reactionary, are fundamentally linear. They are based on systematic logical thought, or on the endless reiterative process of pursuing information from left to right and from top to bottom. The pencil and paper tests thrown at the education world in recent years are part of that process. At the same time, there is a hugely predominant influence on children's perception of instant visual—sometimes aural, often automatic—processes involving little interaction, analysis or self-criticism. So the methods by which we monitor standards and desperately hope to improve them—until recently, little but testing has been used in this context—may for the first time be fundamentally out of synch with the dominating cultural forces in society.

I am by no means saying that we should be trying to turn back the clocks, but I recall, for example, worrying about teaching English in higher education where students were producing their written work on computers or word processors with spell checks while we were testing them in examinations that were in manuscript.

The problem of raising standards across the education field is a massively complex cultural problem, while the proposed means of achieving it are simple—and often simple-minded. We have thrust on schools a predetermined curriculum that is controlled from the centre, assessed by crude systems outside the control of the teachers, monitored by a dubious inspection system, and progressively used to fuel crude league-table systems that are badly distorting the functioning of schools and standards.

At the same time, we—I do not just mean the Government—are insisting day after day that schools and teachers are malfunctioning. We expect them to jump from initiative to initiative, we pile on them an intolerable burden of Whitehall-inspired bureaucracy, we tell them that everything they have done for the past 20 years has been at best useless and at worst perverse, and we remove from them much of the responsibility for assessing the pupils they meet every working day.

There is nothing wrong with asserting the value of whole-class teaching; there is nothing wrong with asserting the value of setting up comprehensive schools; there is nothing wrong in asserting the value of phonics in the teaching of reading. What is wrong is the Gadarene lurch towards the centralised determination of such teaching styles and the lack of quantification of when and where different styles are used well, badly or in fruitful combinations with one another. There is the assumption that schools, groups of schools and partnerships—by which I mean partnerships that deliver teacher education—should not be encouraged to seek the matrix of solutions that are best for them. There is the assumption that schools can bear incessant burdens of bureaucracy without consequence for classroom teaching.

We look to other countries for comparison and for example. As the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) said, we should not be in the business of reinventing the wheel. Successful practice elsewhere must be attended to. However, just as we should beware of over-simple blanket solutions in teaching methods across all schools in England and Wales, we should beware of adopting wholesale the solutions that may be highly effective in different cultures. The same over-simplification exists in the Conservatives' relentless pursuit of the elixir of selection. It is derived from a hazy nostalgia for the good old days and from the simple certainty that selection will benefit the brightest children and improve their standards.

At least two of my hon. Friends have referred to the Prime Minister's lament about the top 15 per cent. and the other 85 per cent. We have to remember the simple truth: it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Selection at 11 will no doubt create excellent grammar schools, but it will also create many more secondary moderns that will have enormous difficulties in achieving the sort of excellence that is required.

Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the Newtonian law that operates in this market of education drives up standards for the few, but drives down standards for the many?

Mr. Pickthall

That is bound to be the case in terms of simple comparison, yes.

I wish to deal briefly with the problems that we need to address in the raising of standards. I maintain that we have a serious educational and cultural problem in the fact that we have particularly failed thousands and thousands of teenage males. The gender gap is widening. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) referred to failure at the GCSE level. The figures show a huge disparity in achievement between teenage boys and teenage girls, with the girls doing a great deal better.

Alistair Smith, a consultant in accelerated learning, has done some research which shows that 16-year-old boys have an average vocabulary of 8,500 words and that 16-year-old girls have an average vocabulary of 11,500 words. To put that into context, The Sun caters for people with a vocabulary of 2,000 words, the Daily Mirror caters for people with a vocabulary of 10,000 words and the quality papers cater for people with a vocabulary of 20,000-plus words. If those figures are accurate, they show that the average 16-year-old boy could not cope with the Daily Mirror—if, indeed, he tried to read at all.

Vast numbers of young men, particularly young white males—this has all sorts of political and social dangers that I do not have time to go into—are grossly under-achieving. I believe that this is partly because of the cultural barbarism to which I referred earlier. Their disaffection is making the raising of standards in secondary schools immensely difficult. Many girls will openly tell us that they resent the systematic disruption of their classroom experience by boys—sometimes over many years. The social consequences of this are horrendous. We need to analyse the roots of it, and a whole variety of measures to challenge it are needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) was right to emphasise the crucial problem of the gender gap in teenage education. He was also right to stress the problem of growing class sizes, particularly in primary schools. The Government reiterate that class sizes make no essential difference—an argument that conveniently fits their financial priorities—but anyone who has taught classes of 34-plus knows exactly how much more difficult it is to monitor and to improve standards.

I shall briefly touch on the argument about poor teachers. Mr. Woodhead has done us a service in headlining the number of teachers he assesses as poor. The percentage of the work force in teaching thus castigated is reassuringly small. It would make an interesting comparison if Mr. Woodhead were to assess Members of Parliament—I should be astonished if only 4 per cent. of them were classified as poor at their jobs. Nevertheless, an uncommitted, worn-out or incompetent teacher can do immense damage. There would be few laments in schools if the obviously unsuited teachers were eased out as quickly as possible—better still would be systems to prevent their entering the profession in the first place.

One enormous worry has been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South: the sheer volume of experienced teachers leaving our schools and colleges early who still have a potential 10 years or more to contribute. A similar problem arises with stress-related absences, which the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned. This is an aspect to which we need to pay particular attention. If we lose large numbers of experienced teachers through burn-out, we lose their knowledge and the schools lose the stability that such teachers bring. I believe that there is a strong case for carefully targeted sabbaticals to allow experienced teachers a breather and to keep many of them in the profession.

Teacher education has a key role. If we allow even a small number of new teachers who are not good enough into classrooms, we create a situation that is even worse than allowing problems to arise for perfectly good and experienced teachers. Most obviously, we must change the funding mechanisms for higher education institutions so that they are not heavily penalised if a student leaves the course. It is absurd to squeeze individuals through courses when they do not want to teach but merely want paid employment.

To attract the right people into the teaching profession, we have to raise the morale of the existing work force and to make teaching satisfying and attractive. To an extent, of course, this depends on pay and conditions, but that is not the main factor. It is understandable that many of the best potential teachers will look elsewhere for a career when confronted by a situation in which teachers—and those who educate teachers—are regarded by the Government as being of low esteem and responsible for the whole spectrum of social problems faced by our community, and when the impression is given that there is a drive to trawl the profession for inadequate teachers to sack. Who would go into the profession in those circumstances?

Correcting that drop in morale and potential deterioration in the profession of teaching is largely a matter of consistent support, of meaningful in-service education and self-education, of professional development and of personal problem-solving. We have to ensure that that goes into the process of future training.

Finally, what depresses me most about debates on education in the House is the readiness of many hon. Members to prescribe central nostrums for schools and standards: nostrums based on prejudice, anecdote, dogma or worse. In debates about disclosure of outside earnings, it is interesting to note how many Conservative Members assert the need for outside experience in order to be well informed as Members of Parliament, yet they mention no such requirement regarding their readiness to impose structures, styles, teaching methods or syllabus content in our schools.

Perhaps the Industry and Parliament Trust should conduct a programme for all Front Bench education spokespersons. They could spend several weeks each year in the classroom to gain practical experience which could inform their decision-making. Recent and relevant experience might produce a more spectacular improvement in standards in our schools than reliance on the dogma and slogans of 20 or 30 years ago, as the hon. Member for Crosby pointed out.

6 20pm

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to grammar schools and to secondary moderns. He drew the conclusion that, because of the inequality of existing resources, grammar schools should be abolished. With the utmost respect to the hon. Gentleman, I believe that he has got it wrong. Grammar schools should be retained and the others—whatever they are called—should be better resourced. That is the solution.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss standards in education, but I am surprised that the motion was moved by the Opposition. The House should recall that hon. Members on both the Liberal and the Labour Benches have consistently opposed the Government's efforts to improve the quality and the standard of state education. For example, Opposition Members argued against the national curriculum and testing, grant-maintained schools, the introduction of the Office of Standards in Education, league tables, greater parental involvement, and the introduction of vouchers for nursery education. Opposition Members have consistently opposed the measures that the Government have introduced to improve the nation's education system.

I appreciate that an approaching general election concentrates minds—especially the minds of those who have been in opposition for 17 years. Labour Members are clearly anxious to exchange the sackcloth and ashes of Opposition for the Red Boxes and the ministerial Rovers. They want to get their hands on the levers of power. Therefore, they are prepared to say anything and to ditch any principle in order to ensure that they get a majority at the next general election, whenever it is called.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) told head teachers at their conference that they could not duck their responsibility for the crisis in children's literacy and numeracy". That is the first time that I can remember a Labour education spokesman attacking the sacred Plowden report. He said that, in the name of "child-centred" education, whole-class instruction has been abandoned in favour of some form of child self-discovery.

I do not have the slightest doubt that the hon. Gentleman will discover next the need for discipline in the classroom. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)—who is a former education spokesman—has already made that startling and original discovery, and he talks about introducing a curfew for children.

Perhaps the next thing on Labour's education shopping list—after streaming—will be the introduction of a form of grammar school. Of course, Labour Members will not call it a "grammar school", but it will provide good, sound selective education. Perhaps it will be known as a British local academic institution reformed—a BLAIR for short, but not for long, if the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has his way. He would set up Prescotts, which would be old-style comprehensives in the socialist republics in south Yorkshire and inner London.

No doubt the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris)—I am sorry that she is not in her place—would espouse Estelles, which would be schools for the daughters of distressed members of the National Union of Teachers. I say that because the NUT will certainly be distressed by new Labour's wholesale adoption of the Conservative agenda for quality in education.

The fact is that, one by one, the education shibboleths are being abandoned. The benchmarks that have guided Labour's education thinking for so long are being jettisoned like so many outdated textbooks. I welcome the Government's efforts to improve teaching in schools. I am pleased that we had the courage to dismantle Her Majesty's inspectorate and to put Ofsted in its place. Ofsted and Chris Woodhead are now revealing the problems and the shortcomings in primary education, for example.

Ofsted revealed the problems in London schools. Its inquiry into the teaching of reading in primary schools in the Labour-controlled London boroughs of Islington, Southwark and Tower Hamlets raised serious doubts about standards in primary schools. Ofsted made it clear that a lack of resources was not the problem. Its report entitled "The Teaching of Reading in 45 London Primary Schools", which was published on 7 May this year, said that under-achievement in reading is a threat to pupils' education. That is hardly surprising when one remembers that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, nine out of 10 of the worst-performing local authorities are Labour controlled.

The Secretary of State has announced that she intends to publish primary school performance tables. I deeply regret the fact that that is opposed by some misguided trade unions, to the extent that they are seeking to persuade school governing bodies to act illegally and not make their school results available to the Department for publication. I deplore that action, and I hope that second thoughts will prevail. Standards may be raised by ensuring that parents are able to exercise reasoned judgment when deciding between schools. That laudable objective is already meeting with success in the secondary sector: parents like it, and they want it.

I am intrigued that Opposition Members are consistent only in their inconsistency—what they oppose today will be tomorrow's soundbite and next year's policy statement. Therefore, I urge the House to reject the motion.

6.26 pm
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

The Secretary of State's speech was in some ways characteristic of the Government's position. However, it was uncharacteristically flat, in view of the fact that she is believed to be at war with the chairman of her party. I shall return to that point later.

The Secretary of State highlighted structure, which tells us a lot about the Government's attitude: they remain obsessed with structure when everyone else is talking about standards in education. The Secretary of State trotted out all the old shibboleths. She attacked local education authorities, but did not mention funding cuts and the deliberate confusion of setting with streaming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) raised an important issue in referring to Government waste. He highlighted the botched attempt to introduce a national curriculum at a cost of £750 million or £760 million. I was quite taken with the comments of the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) about his father. I do not doubt that he was a marvellous man, but I recall the right hon. Gentleman telling me that his father burned the results of his trial for Blackburn Rovers. There is a lesson to be learnt from that, and I would not believe everything he told me.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is also a supporter of Blackburn Rovers. My father burned the results because that year the team was knocked out of the cup at an early stage.

Mr. Kilfoyle


The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) spoke enough sense to warrant his description by Labour Members as a de facto Labour supporter in matters educational. He referred again to a penny on income tax, but he and his party have never explained how they would put that penny towards education and local authorities.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), who chairs the Select Committee, has just resumed his seat. I welcomed his urging of caution—things do tend to ebb and flow in education, as in all contexts—but there was an element of looking backward in his references to the 1960s and 1970s. It is time that hon. Members from all parties put that time behind them, and began to prepare for the 21st century.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I apologise for missing the first few sentences of the hon. Gentleman's speech. Does he agree that the problem with education legislation and change is that, if such measures are poorly considered or poorly implemented, they behave like a time bomb, ticking away and then exploding in future generations? It is important to consider where developments began, before making too many judgments about where we are today.

Mr. Kilfoyle

That is why the hon. Gentleman will probably agree with the well-considered proposals of the Labour party, and approve of our recognition that the whole nature of education is changing. It is becoming learning-centred, as opposed to teaching-centred.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) admirably flagged up the gender gap—the alarming difference between the educational performances of young men and young women.

Last but not least, let me refer to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey). He obviously did not read or hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) had to say about discipline, truancy and pupil referral units some weeks ago, when he once again set the pace for the Government to follow. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman said that we would come up with another name for good schools. We already have a name for them: comprehensive schools.

I pay tribute to all the teachers, parents, governors and members of local education authorities who ensure that the best interests of our children are pursued in schools throughout the country. Despite the Government's backward-looking obsession with structure—flagged up again by the Secretary of State—those people have fought against the odds to raise standards for all our children in all our schools. Raising standards is recognised on all sides as vital to economic prosperity and social cohesion, as the motion suggests.

If we are to match our global competitors—whether in Europe, in North America or on the Pacific rim—it is essential for our educational standards to be comparable to theirs. If we are to have a nation at ease with itself, where opportunity for self-improvement is available to all, an inclusive education system, offering excellence to everyone, is a sine qua non.

Sadly, the reality is rather different. After 17 years in government, and despite numerous legislative changes, the Conservative party is still failing large sections of our population in the quality of the education that is delivered, imperilling those twin objectives of economic prosperity and social cohesion. We have a Secretary of State who is at war with the Prime Minister's own policy unit. The chairman of the Conservative party wants her political head on a plate. She is supported on her right—literally— by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), an Under-Secretary of State who is renowned for being sopping wet in Conservative party terms. In all fairness to him, he is joining the battle with the party's ideologues.

What is happening to the hawkish Minister of State, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth)? He seems to have been effectively "disappeared"—no, wonder of wonders, he has appeared. He is not often seen anywhere nowadays; he tends to be replaced by the ubiquitous but seemingly educationally and politically nondescript Lord Henley. Another Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), has failed to make any impact, while his colleague, the other Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who is not present—is so ignorant of her brief that until yesterday, when she was disabused on a radio programme, she thought that parents decided by ballot on selective status in schools. Is it any wonder that the public are heartily sick and tired of a failed Government and failing education policies?

We offered a cross-party consensus on nursery education, for example, to enable every three and four-year-old whose parents wanted it to have quality nursery education. That was rejected out of hand. Instead, we have what the Treasury describes as a "deadweight cost"—a handout to those who can already well afford private provision. No doubt they have been given it for electoral as much as educational purposes. It will not provide any places in what the Pre-School Learning Alliance has described as the 200 black holes around the country where there is no nursery provision. Good authorities, such as Conservative-controlled Solihull, have made their views well known.

Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

It is now Labour-controlled.

Mr. Kilfoyle

Even when it was Conservative-controlled, it made clear its views about the impact of the legislation.

The Government are so confident about their ideological prejudice that pilot schemes for nursery education were transmuted into phase 1. There will be no meaningful evaluation of the lessons of that phase before the scheme goes national. Cuts in local education authorities imperil areas where provision is good—hence my reference to Solihull. Wherever there is an outstanding service for three and four-year-olds, people feel endangered, and nothing that the Government say will change that. While the Government make their case—as they did regularly Committee on the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill recently—people are aware that £20 million will be spent on administration, and that the Government are failing to cater for those most in need.

The quality on offer is highly debatable. The Government are not even sure how many nursery "settings" there will be. We have had that debate before. Will there be 27,000, or 40,000, as the Audit Commission says? The Government are offering unqualified people the opportunity to become inspectors on the basis of three days' training. They have failed to ensure the provision of an adequate number of trained and qualified nursery teachers. At the same time, they have abolished the minimum classroom size and recreation space.

All that affects the quality and standards of nursery education, yet everyone recognises the increasing importance of nursery education—not just in terms of educational fulfilment, but in the longer-term context of, for instance, offending behaviour, unwanted pregnancies and stable job records. The research during the Ypsilanti project shows how successful nursery education is in assisting in that regard.

In its final report of 16 June 1995, the National Commission on Education commented on the issue of larger class sizes, which constantly exercises hon. Members. It stated: It was also certain that the larger classes would mean poorer education for children: the assertion that class sizes do not matter is disingenuous and is contradicted not only by commonsense but by most of the quite extensive research evidence that exists. But, time after time, Ministers tell us that size bears no relation to pupil attainment.

The Government's own preferred authoritative adviser, Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools, noted in his annual report that there were serious resourcing problems in our schools, leading to fewer teachers and larger classes. That in turn led him to comment: There is a need for considerable improvement in provision of books in half of special, a quarter of our secondary, and one in seven primary schools. He went on to remark that there were serious deficiencies in equipment, and that one in five of our secondary schools and one in seven of our primary schools suffered from accommodation shortfalls.

He then drew the remarkable conclusion: Teachers who lack proper resources and who work in poor buildings experience problems which at best frustrate and at worst defeat their best efforts to do a decent job. Yes, indeed. Repeated cuts in local education authority budgets, combined with capping and the Government's failure to deal with changing enrolment patterns, have caused tremendous difficulties to many of our schools. Primary schools have suffered particularly, as the introduction of the national curriculum, changing primary generalists into semi-specialist teachers, has increased the pressures on such schools—as even the chief inspector noted.

While primary schools have struggled generally, those in disadvantaged areas have suffered most, as Mr. Woodhead pointed out. Their problems were compounded by the way in which, under the current Government, section 11 funding was subsumed into the single regeneration budget, and by the removal of Government funds for the reading recovery programme.

Furthermore, while nobody questions the code of practice for special educational needs, there has been a failure to ensure that special educational needs co-ordinators have had the training appropriate to their new-found status. Even now, more than half of special needs co-ordinators do not have appropriate qualifications; nor has the Teacher Training Agency yet ensured that initial teacher training for new teachers guarantees that all newly qualified teachers have an appropriate grounding in special needs to qualify them for their roles in implementing the code of practice. That is in spite of the fact that 20 per cent. of our children have special educational needs.

The end product of all the disjointed Government prevarication and their twisted view of maintained education—a sector that many Conservative Members do not use—is a catalogue of problems that manifest themselves in our secondary schools and beyond. We know that there is a huge disparity between the best and the worst of our schools, and an ever widening gap in pupil achievement. Even the usually pro-Government Mr. Woodhead has noted: The performance of schools serving disadvantaged areas continues to cause serious concerns. I am sure it causes serious concerns to parents in those areas.

The reasons for the difference in performance are obvious. The Government are committed to advantaging the few at the expense of the many, and are oblivious to the damage being done to hopes for economic prosperity and social cohesion by their wilful neglect of so many of our schools.

The Prime Minister's answer is to have a grammar school in every town. That means, by definition, that many secondary moderns will appear in every area. Such a preoccupation with outdated structures ignores the fact that, as a nation, we need raised standards for all children if we are to be a high-tech, high-skill and high-wage economy.

The Conservative party is in thrall to league tables. The Opposition do not have a problem with giving meaningful information to parents. We have a problem with a system of tables that does not take into account what is actually imparted by the schools to the children. The tables compare unlike phenomena in different schools. It would be nonsense to say that the best of the grammar schools, which are so favoured by the Conservative party, can be compared to inner-city comprehensives, with all the socio-economic problems they have to contend with.

As I travel the country, I am struck by the increasing problems in schools. I was amazed when the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) said that he was unaware of the problems of truancy and exclusion, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside. The hon. Member must have been on a long holiday, and he was probably truanting. The number of exclusions has soared to more than 12,000, while research shows that 800,000 pupils truant regularly, some 80,000 on a quasi-permanent basis.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

What about Islington?

Mr. Kilfoyle

The Minister mentions Islington. Is it any wonder that Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, credited the truanting and the excluded with most of London's street crime? The Minister should realise that his party has been in government for the past 17 years while those figures have taken off.

The Prime Minister insists that privilege for the few is preferable to excellence for all. That is the Tory way forward. I know that the Secretary of State does not agree with the Prime Minister in her heart of hearts. Her experience and common sense are being neutered by the No. 10 policy unit. She knows that education is a great co-operative exercise. As the National Commission for Education has said: Competition plays a useful part when its effect is to improve learning for pupils. There is little to be said for stimulating competition which is unfair or enables some schools to flourish only by making it more difficult for others. Those between the ages of 16 and 25 are the product of 17 long years of Tory educational policy and adventurism. Some 800,000 people between 16 and 25 are, as Ministers know, out of work, outside training and outside education. I have travelled the country and spoken to people about the future and their hopes. I have had the experience in my surgeries, which many others have had, of helping mothers with one, two or three young children. Another woman may come along as an adviser or part of the negotiating team, but there is no man present.

At first, that used to bother me greatly because of the social implications, but I began to focus on the children themselves, especially the young boys. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) mentioned the gender gap in school performance, and I thought of the next generation who have no male role model at home and, increasingly, no male role model in primary schools. If they have a male role model, it is somebody involved in crime or drug dealing on the streets.

Their one means of escape is an education system that inculcates the values that I would hope every sensible Member of the House would like to see inculcated. That will happen only if we have a commitment to an education system that lends itself—as we have repeated ad nauseam, some might say—to economic prosperity and social cohesion, so that all our children have the opportunity to avail themselves of the best educational advantages.

6.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Robin Squire)

Once again, the debate has illustrated the gulf between the Government and the Opposition on education matters. We have taken actions to improve standards: they have resisted those actions. We have recognised the need to build up this country's competitiveness: they have, for far too long, been concerned with levelling down, if indeed they have been concerned at all.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends who have spoken have set out what has been achieved. As my right hon. Friend made clear, there is always further to go, but the programme of action that we have carried through has been the most radical and far-reaching on record. It has covered the content of education and the measurement of pupils' performance, the quality of teaching, greater diversity and greater choice for parents, and more effective inspection and accountability.

As has also been made clear during this short debate, those significant improvements have been achieved despite consistent and persistent opposition from the Labour party in the House, many Labour local authorities and the left-wing establishment of the teaching unions.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) had a bit of fun at the start of debate, and what is sauce for the goose has to be sauce for the gander. One might have thought that there had been no comment in the media in the past few days about the latest emanations on education policy from the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).

For instance, where has the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) been this evening? We welcome the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) to the debate, albeit in a silent capacity. I do not know who was the mysterious, well-placed left winger who said: We are under some sort of loyalty test to see at what point we break and complain". But let us not hear too much from the Opposition about alleged or invisible divisions in the Government. We are united, and the Opposition are visibly starting to fall apart. I might also point out that Conservative Members have sat throughout this debate waiting to speak and unable to get in, whereas, on an Opposition day, there have been no more than three Labour Members on the Back Benches for most of the debate.

The hon. Member for Brightside said that selection had failed, and he made that statement as if it needed no explanation. It is an interesting statement, because most other countries seem to believe in selection, and seem to believe that it works. Never mind—the hon. Member suggests that it has failed.

I do not know what he bases that assertion on. He certainly does not base it on the views of the parents and pupils at the 161 selective schools we currently have. If the hon. Gentleman has been talking only to right hon. and hon. Members in the shadow Cabinet, he might have received a biased version, because 16 of the 20 members of the shadow Cabinet went to a grammar school or to a fee-paying school. In typical socialist style, they have enjoyed the education, but then they want to pull up the ladder to stop anybody else sharing it.

Mr. Kilfoyle


Mr. Squire

Of course I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Kilfoyle

Would the Minister seriously have expected people at the age of 11, back in the 1950s and 1960s, to walk out on the only education provided for them? Is he seriously holding them guilty of a choice made, perhaps 30 or 40 years ago, by their parents?

Mr. Squire

I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for attending at age 11 the school that his parents selected, any more than I blame him for keeping his child at a school that has gone fully selective. It is extraordinary that, out of the hundreds of thousands of people who have benefited from a grammar school education, there is a massive concentration of individuals who did not and do not like grammar schools—and they are all in Labour's shadow Cabinet.

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

If grammar schools are so good, perhaps the Minister will explain why, despite, proposals from local authorities of all political persuasions, the Government and previous Conservative Governments have signed order after order to close nearly all the grammar schools in Britain.

Mr. Squire

Local education authorities retain significant responsibility for planning the education they deliver. I am delighted that some far-seeing LEAs have retained their grammar schools.

The hon. Member for Brightside, responding to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson), inadvertently implied that money was going from Calderdale—or any other authority that has had top-slice money in nursery provision—to other parts of the country. The hon. Gentleman, who is extremely knowledgeable in these matters, knows that that is not so. The vouchers that go to Calderdale, as to any other LEA, whether funded by the top slice or the additional millions of pounds that the Government are putting in, are spent within the LEA. Any suggestion that the money is climbing into a train and going down to Lambeth is untrue.

Mr. Blunkett

As the Minister has targeted the issue, perhaps he will confirm that, on the basis of a snapshot decision on four-year-olds already in nursery provision, the standard spending assessment will be adjusted to take the £1,100 per pupil aged four from the providing authorities, to redistribute it with the paper promise of a voucher.

Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman confirms what I just said. He implied in an earlier response that the money travelled around the country.

Mr. Blunkett

indicated dissent.

Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman does not understand, which is even more worrying. I am reaffirming that the money will be spent by parents within the LEA as they see fit.

It is astonishing that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who is a likeable cove in many respects, can sit through two months of nursery education debate yet still repeat the tired and wrong statement that £20 million will be spent on administration. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not true because it has been pointed out to him many times. Not even half that amount will be spent. But I must not confuse the hon. Gentleman with the facts.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boy son) gave another of his brilliant performances, taking us back to the dreaded days of long ago, which may still be with us in Islington. Drawing on his experience as a former head teacher but echoing the comments of Her Majesty's chief inspector, my right hon. Friend made the powerful point that we are essentially talking not about money but about the way a school is organised and that money is spent. Countless independent reports show that that is so. If I can do nothing more than persuade Opposition Members on that point, I will have enjoyed a major success.

My right hon. Friend rightly highlighted the excellence of grant-maintained schools in his constituency—all but one of which are self-governing. We know the quality of education they are delivering and the popularity they enjoy with parents. Such schools are directly threatened by the election of a Labour Government and by the official Opposition's Liberal allies. Those schools would lose 10 per cent. of their budgets and would, unasked, have imposed on them two councillors. As those schools have shown that they know how to operate, why should they be interrupted and interfered with that way?

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) talks to parents at one or more of the schools in his constituency. When they mention funding, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman immediately points out the significant increase under this Government since 1979—anxious as he would be, as a fair man, to ensure that parents have full information. The hon. Gentleman said that any Government enjoying his support would have to return city technology colleges to LEA control. I believe that was a slip, because CTCs have never been under such control but are independent charities.

The hon. Member for Bath rightly emphasised the importance of good morale in teaching. There is no divide on the importance of retaining good teachers and ensuring that their morale is high. The turnover rate quoted by the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) was broadly correct, but 8 per cent. a year is not unreasonable. I do not want one teacher who is still delivering excellent education to leave the profession early, but we must keep the matter in perspective. Teachers who in good, improving schools usually have higher morale. There is an exact link between the two, so the better schools become, the more teacher morale will improve.

I welcomed, as ever, the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), who speaks with additional authority as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education. I liked the tenor and content of my hon. Friend's speech. Governments have responsibility for establishing a proper framework, but much that happens in our schools lies with the head teacher and governors. They can, however, be galvanised by external and informed assistance from LEAs or the Government—and should be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) gave his customary robust reminder of educational realities. I welcomed a number of his home truths. He and others of my hon. Friends reminded the House how impossible is Labour's position when it claims to speak for standards in education.

Everything in which the hon. Member for Brightside claims to believe now is alien to the views that he preached before he took his current job, when he opposed testing. At the conclusion of an education debate in 1987, he said that, as a parent of three primary-aged children, he demanded the right to be able to choose whether they should have to go through the performing hoop of a national test based on a national curriculum imposed by a national Secretary of State. Philip Stephens writes in today's Financial Times that Labour has rewritten every line of the schools policy on which Labour fought the 1992 election. It gets worse. After the 1992 election, for some time we enjoyed the benefit of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) as Labour's education spokesperson. She repeatedly made clear her opposition to the curriculum and regular testing.

There is an historical precedent. In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail. He was not sure where he was going, and nor did he find what he was looking for—but we know that he found something he was not looking for, and called it something else.

Five hundred years later, Labour's leadership set sail, looking for an education policy under Commander Sedgefield, Captain Brightside, first mate Walton and a motley crew of LEAs. They were not sure where they were going. Their intended destination was the land of ancient Labour civilisations—child-centred education, monolithic comprehensives, all-ability teaching and tolerance by Labour-controlled LEAs of mediocre school performance. Whenever Labour's leadership have found one of them, they have been largely deserted by everyone else.

Labour's captain set a new course using stolen charts, and the leadership discovered some truly wondrous Tory education civilisations—regular testing and inspection, the publication of results, greater parental choice, grammar and other specialist schools, and self-governing GM schools. Labour's LEA crew were not looking for any of those. Those were not the destinations for which they had signed up. On the voyage of the Bounty, the officers were dumped overboard by the crew. On this voyage, the entire crew were being dumped overboard by the captain.

Even as the ship headed for home, the crew were silent but mutinous. They did not believe a word of Captain Brightside, and most of them were determined to carry on as they had always done for years—putting LEA control and educational dogma ahead of quality and greater parental choice.

They were not alone. The former ship's purser and deputy commander, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) announced that he wanted egalitarian schools, another of those favourite old civilisations. The able seaman, the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), said of Commander Sedgefield that it ill became the product of an elitist school who had rejected the LEA system for his own offspring to pontificate on teaching methods in comprehensives.

The only diversion on the voyage was the discovery of a stowaway from Bath, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who had crept on board years ago and was now desperately trying to find a way to escape the impending shipwreck.

Was it really a great voyage of discovery to benefit future mankind? Hardly. It was just a paddle around Walworth road pond in a broken-masted old tub with only a lick of paint to suggest that things had really changed. The Labour party is incapable of significant change on education. Only the Conservative Government have consistently stressed the need to improve education standards and have put in place the necessary framework to drive them up still further. I ask the House to reject the Opposition motion.

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

The House divided: Ayes 243, Noes 285

Division No. 140] [7.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Adams, Mrs Irene Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell-Savours, D N
Allen, Graham Canavan, Dennis
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cann, Jamie
Armstrong, Hilary Chidgey, David
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Church, Judith
Ashton, Joe Clapham, Michael
Austin-Walker, John Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barron, Kevin Clelland, David
Battle, John Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bayley, Hugh Coffey, Ann
Bell, Stuart Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Corbett, Robin
Bennett, Andrew F Corbyn, Jeremy
Benton, Joe Corston, Jean
Bermingham, Gerald Cox, Tom
Berry, Roger Cummings, John
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Blunkett, David Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Bradley, Keith Dalyell, Tam
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Darling, Alistair
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Burden, Richard Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)
Caborn, Richard Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Callaghan, Jim Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Litherland, Robert
Denham, John Livingstone, Ken
Dixon, Don Llwyd, Elfyn
Dobson, Frank Loyden, Eddie
Donohoe, Brian H Lynne, Ms Liz
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McAllion, John
Eagle, Ms Angela McAvoy, Thomas
Eastham, Ken McFall, John
Etherington, Bill McKelvey, William
Evans, John (St Helens N) McLeish, Henry
Fatchett, Derek Maclennan, Robert
Faulds, Andrew McNamara, Kevin
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) MacShane, Denis
Fisher, Mark McWilliam, John
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Madden, Max
Foster, Don (Bath) Mandelson, Peter
Foulkes, George Marek, Dr John
Fraser, John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Fyfe, Maria Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Galbraith, Sam Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Galloway, George Martlew, Eric
Gapes, Mike Maxton, John
Garrett, John Meacher, Michael
George, Bruce Meale, Alan
Gerrard, Neil Michael, Alun
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Godman, Dr Norman A Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Godsiff, Roger Milburn, Alan
Graham, Thomas Miller, Andrew
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Grocott, Bruce Morley, Elliot
Hain, Peter Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hall, Mike Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hardy, Peter Mowlam, Marjorie
Harman, Ms Harriet Mudie, George
Harvey, Nick Mullin, Chris
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Murphy, Paul
Henderson, Doug Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Heppell, John O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hinchcliffe, David O'Hara, Edward
Hodge, Margaret Olner, Bill
Hoey, Kate O'Neill, Martin
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Home Robertson, John Parry, Robert
Hoon, Geoffrey Pearson, Ian
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pickthall, Colin
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) Pike, Peter L
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd) Pope, Greg
Hoyle, Doug Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Purchase, Ken
Hutton, John Quin, Ms Joyce
Illsley, Eric Randall, Stuart
Ingram, Adam Reid, Dr John
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Rendel, David
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Jamieson, David Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Janner, Greville Roche, Mrs Barbara
Jenkins, Brian (SE Staff) Rogers, Allan
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Rooker, Jeff
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Rooney, Terry
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Rowlands, Ted
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Salmond, Alex
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Sedgemore, Brian
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sheerman, Barry
Keen, Alan Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Short, Clare
Khabra, Piara S Simpson, Alan
Kilfoyle, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Kirkwood, Archy Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Lewis, Terry Snape, Peter
Liddell, Mrs Helen Soley, Clive
Spearing, Nigel Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Spellar, John Wallace, James
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W) Walley, Joan
Stevenson, George Wareing, Robert N
Stott, Roger Welsh, Andrew
Strang, Dr. Gavin Wicks, Malcolm
Straw, Jack Wigley, Dafydd
Sutcliffe, Gerry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wilson, Brian
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Winnick, David
Timms, Stephen Wise, Audrey
Tipping, Paddy Worthington, Tony
Touhig, Don Young, David (Bolton SE)
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis Tellers for the Ayes:
Tyler, Paul Mrs. Bridget Prentice and Mr. Malcolm Chisholm.
Vaz, Keith
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Conway, Derek
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Alexander, Richard Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Couchman, James
Amess, David Cran, James
Arbuthnot, James Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Ashby, David Day, Stephen
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Deva, Nirj Joseph
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Devlin, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dicks, Terry
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dover, Den
Bates, Michael Duncan, Alan
Batiste, Spencer Duncan Smith, Iain
Beggs, Roy Dunn, Bob
Bellingham, Henry Durant, Sir Anthony
Bendall, Vivian Dykes, Hugh
Beresford, Sir Paul Elletson, Harold
Biffen, Rt Hon John Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Body, Sir Richard Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Boswell, Tim Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Evennett, David
Bowis, John Faber, David
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Fabricant, Michael
Brandreth, Gyles Fenner, Dame Peggy
Brazier, Julian Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bright, Sir Graham Fishburn, Dudley
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Forman, Nigel
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Browning, Mrs Angela Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Bruce, Ian (South Dorset) Forth, Eric
Budgen, Nicholas Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Burns, Simon Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Burt, Alistair Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Butcher, John French, Douglas
Butler, Peter Fry, Sir Peter
Butterfill, John Gale, Roger
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Gallie, Phil
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Gardiner, Sir George
Carrington, Matthew Gill, Christopher
Carttiss, Michael Gillan, Cheryl
Cash, William Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Churchill, Mr Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Clappison, James Gorst, Sir John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Coe, Sebastian Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Colvin, Michael Grylls, Sir Michael
Congdon, David Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hague, Rt Hon William Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Nelson, Anthony
Hampson, Dr Keith Neubert, Sir Michael
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hannam, Sir John Nicholls, Patrick
Hargreaves, Andrew Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Norris, Steve
Hawkins, Nick Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hawksley, Warren Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayes, Jerry Page, Richard
Heald, Oliver Paice, James
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hendry, Charles Patten, Rt Hon John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hicks, Robert Pawsey, James
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Pickles, Eric
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Horam, John Porter, David (Waveney)
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Rathbone, Tim
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Richards, Rod
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Riddick, Graham
Hunter, Andrew Robathan, Andrew
Jack, Michael Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jenkin, Bernard Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jessel, Toby Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Sackville, Tom
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Key, Robert Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, David (Dover)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knapman, Roger Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knox, Sir David Sims, Roger
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Soames, Nicholas
Legg, Barry Speed, Sir Keith
Leigh, Edward Spencer, Sir Derek
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lidington, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Sproat, Iain
Lord, Michael Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Luff, Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stephen, Michael
MacKay, Andrew Stewart, Allan
Maclean, Rt Hon David Streeter, Gary
McLoughlin, Patrick Sumberg, David
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sweeney, Walter
Madel, Sir David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maitland, Lady Olga Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Malone, Gerald Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Marland, Paul Temple-Morris, Peter
Marlow, Tony Thomason, Roy
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mates, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Mills, Iain Tracey, Richard
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Trend, Michael
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Trotter, Neville
Moate, Sir Roger Twinn, Dr Ian
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Viggers, Peter Wilshire, David
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Walden, George Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Wolfson, Mark
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Wood, Timothy
Waterson, Nigel Yeo, Tim
Watts, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Ray Tellers for the Noes:
Whittingdale, John Dr. Liam Fox and Mr. Richard Ottaway.
Widdecombe, Ann

Question accordingly negatived.

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

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

Resolved, That this House welcomes the measures which Her Majesty's Government has introduced to raise educational standards through greater diversity and parental choice, the establishment of a common framework for the curriculum, assessment and regular testing, greater self-government for schools and colleges, and enhanced accountability through inspection and the publication of performance information; and welcomes the increases in achievement and participation which have followed.