HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc780-1
13. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

If he will make a statement on the current level of educational attainment in schools in the inner-London boroughs. [85415]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

In 1998, the attainment of pupils in schools in the inner-London boroughs was below the national average in literacy, numeracy and science at the ages of seven, 11 and 13, and in the achievement of five or more higher grade GCSEs. However, between 1997 and 1998, the improvement in literacy and numeracy tests was twice the national average, and the improvement in higher grade GCSEs was more than three times the national average.

All our policies to raise standards are contributing to urgent and essential improvement in inner-city education. That has been most recently drawn together in the excellence in cities programme announced in March this year.

Mr. Robathan

All of us who live in central or inner London, even if only for part of the week, must be concerned about education standards in those areas. Does the Minister accept—I know that she did not mention this—that the dreadful performance of the education service in Hackney and Islington is partly due to the ridiculous education philosophy put into practice by Labour education authorities in those two boroughs? Does she further accept that it is perhaps not appropriate that someone who was responsible for the dreadful education performance in Islington—the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge)—should now be the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment? Will the Minister give her candid opinion of those who denied selection to other parents, but were prepared to send their children across London to get away from dreadful education services to schools such as the London Oratory in west London?

Ms Morris

I am not sure that the best way in which to tackle vast under-achievement in inner London, and some other urban areas, is to lay blame on actions taken many years ago and on those who were in post more than a decade ago. It is necessary now to accept that things must change and that action must be taken. The hon. Gentleman will know that, in Hackney and Islington, there has not been a failure to support schools in the past two years. However, there was a failure to support schools over a long period. The Conservative Government did nothing to put matters right.

Over the past two years, the Government have speeded-up Ofsted inspections of local authorities. We have made it clear that we will take action without fear or favour where there is under-achievement. We shall retrain teachers to teach better literacy and numeracy. We shall put more money into our schools, we shall have high expectations of them and we shall prioritise them in terms of £350 million in excellence in city initiatives. If the Conservative Government had done only one tenth of those things over the previous 18 years, I probably would not have to tell the House that there is chronic under-achievement in some of the inner-London boroughs.