HC Deb 26 April 2001 vol 367 cc430-1
4. Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

What advice he is taking following his Department's errors over this year's school achievement awards and the Minister of State's letter to schools of 29 March. [157911]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

We have fully investigated the reasons for the error, which should not have happened. As soon as I was aware that there was a problem, I acted quickly to put things right. That included informing schools, individual hon. Members and the House.

Mr. Hawkins

This appalling error was set out in a written answer delivered this week to my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin). Page after page of schools throughout the country were misinformed that they had won school achievement awards or told that they should have received them when they had not done so, as a result of the complete incompetence of the Minister's Department. After her recent answers to my hon. Friend, in which she preened herself about her Government's supposed triumphs, will she now accept that she should be taking advice from the chairman of governors and the head teacher of Blackdown school in my constituency? They say that their staff are demotivated and describe her letter about this appalling mistake as insulting and incompetent. Will she apologise to the 293 schools throughout the country that were misinformed, stop wasting taxpayers' money on advertising and start doing her job?

Ms Morris

Yes, I apologise to the 300 schools that received inaccurate information. I apologised to them in my letter and to hon. Members in a parliamentary answer. The hon. Gentleman could have spoken for longer, and turned over the pages listing the 7,000 schools that received awards that were a true recognition of their great achievements. It is a tragedy that he uses his time in the House to name publicly the school that was wrongly given the award—something that I have not done in the Chamber. It is a shame that he did not take the chance to list all the schools in his constituency and local education authority area that won awards and deserve to be recognised.

I apologise to the 300 schools, but for the very first time, this Government have spent £60 million on giving a cash bonus to teams of teachers and classroom assistants, and to all those who work in schools, to celebrate their success. I have received a great number of letters from special, nursery, infant and secondary schools, which tell me that this is the first time that they have ever been recognised and rewarded in such a manner. I share in their celebration; it is a shame that the hon. Gentleman did not gracefully choose to do so for a little bit of his time today.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

My right hon. Friend will know that this was not a major tragedy, but an unfortunate glitch. I hope that she will continue with the school achievement awards and all the other innovative programmes and policies that are, within the comprehensive ideal, bringing together the ambition to achieve diversity and choice. Will she remember that such diversity and choice need not only a lot of good ideas, but the continuing resources that the Government have pledged to provide? As we approach a general election, will she pledge to the House that we will continue with that commitment of resources?

Ms Morris

My hon. Friend is right: those ideas need to be well resourced, and they will continue to be so. The school achievement award scheme was part of our strategy for reforming teachers' pay. I assure him that, just as we are the first Government to put in place a system that rewards good teachers for teaching well, we will continue to reward teams of teachers, as we have done through the school achievement award.