HL Deb 21 February 1990 vol 516 cc280-2

3.11 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to comply with the annual report of HM Senior Chief Inspector of Schools.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the senior chief inspector's report is a survey of the state of the education service in 1988–89. It has many positive things to say, particularly about progress with the education reforms. The Government are already acting to tackle many of the weaknesses revealed, in particular to raise standards of achievement and reduce teacher shortages. My right honourable friend will of course take into account the report's findings in the future development of the Government's education policies. He looks to the other partners in the education service to consider the messages addressed to them.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, after 10 years of Conservative rule, four Conservative Secretaries of State and all kinds of new legislation imposed upon local authorities without the means of carrying out the job that they are asked to do, does she not think that it is now timely and proper that a greater financial allocation should be made to the education service so that it can carry out the tasks mentioned in the previous Question with regard to special needs, accommodation, shortage of teachers and so on? The list goes on but in view of the time I shall stop there.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my answer is something of a repetition of a previous answer. The value of the report is that it is a tool in the hands of the managers. They must look at and build on the strengths. They must look at and address the weaknesses. It is difficult not to take a political view on this Question, but if one compares the record of the present Government on any of the aspects of service mentioned by the noble Lord with that of the last Labour Government, one sees that this Government's record is favourable. Teachers' pay rose considerably under the present Government; it rose under the Labour Government by only 6 per cent. Spending on schools fell by 11–5 per cent, under Labour and rose under the Conservative Government. Total expenditure on schools in real terms over the period of the Labour Government fell and rose under the Conservative Government. The number of children in full-time nursery education fell under the Labour Government and rose under the Conservative Government.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, the noble Baroness has told us twice today that more is being spent on those matters. That is no doubt entirely right, but does she not realise that we want to know not whether more is being spent but whether enough is being spent to meet essential requirements?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the best point that I can make in response to that question is that it is not just a matter of money. It is very much about the way in which money is deployed and the attitude of everyone working in the education service. All the reforms in the Education Reform Act are designed to achieve the objective of a better education service for our children.

Lord Parry

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that, when the great debate on education was launched during the premiership of my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, he reflected a serious discontent within the education service and that discontent was not political? It was not about which government were spending most on what; it was about whether Britain's education service measured up to the opportunities of the nation at the time. Will the noble Baroness then allow me to say that part of my concern as someone who has spent 32 years in British education, including special education, is that the special education schools attract special budgets, that they are often well supported by the community and that they have a privileged advantage in some cases which they will lose when they go into the main stream?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I accept that this should not be a political debate, bul: the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that I am constantly attracted to the Dispatch Box to answer questions which relate purely to resources. It is a question of how people behave in the education service. It is right that the special needs of children should attract special resources. Those resources are provided by the Government to local education authorities in order to provide the service to our children.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am certainly not in the mood this afternoon for a political wrangle and I shall not be tempted by what the noble Baroness has started. She referred to the document as a management tool which I found extremely intriguing. However, the document states—I shall give the noble Baroness the exact reference; it is to be found in the preface: This is the second annual report from the Senior Chief Inspector to the Secretary of State for Education and Science". If the document is a management tool, does it not at least imply that the Secretary of State should do some of the things referred to in the document?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, again the noble Lord makes an important point and I cannot disagree with him. Perhaps I may draw his attention to a press release on 5th February from the Secretary of State, who on the first page makes some positive comments about the good work going on in our schools. However, on the second page he goes on to say that at the same time the report shows areas in which we have a long way to go. He refers to the inspectorate's concerns about the state of schools, teacher supply and other points. The Secretary of State has noted those points and it is very much the responsibility of his department, in collaboration and partnership with local education authorities and schools, to ensure that the document is used as a management tool in order to achieve a better education for our children.

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