Home Page

Column 1










House of Commons

Tuesday 4 April 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Schools (Opting Out)

1. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schools have voted to opt out to date ; and if he will make a statement.

3. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on his proposed funding of opted- out schools.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : At least 63 schools have begun the legal procedures for seeking grant -maintained status. So far parents have voted at 51 schools. In 38 they have authorised a formal application, and I have already approved four such applications. My proposals for funding grant-maintained schools were set out in a consultation paper on 10 March.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend welcome the confidence shown by the parents of pupils at St. James's Church of England school which has allowed the school to take up a full entry quota for next year? Will he assure the governors of the school that they will receive all the support that they need in view of the mean-mindedness of

Column 2

Bolton council which has threatened to withdraw all but the legal minimum of support services, even though the people of Bolton greeted my right hon. Friend's decision to provide grant- aided status with jubilation?

Mr. Baker : I deplore the absurd and rather threatening statement made some time ago by Bolton's chief education officer that teachers in grant-maintained schools do not have the right experience to serve in LEA schools. That is transparent nonsense. With regard to funding, local authorities will retail some legal responsibilities for certain services to pupils in grant-maintained schools, but when governors become responsible for running schools, they will have the money to provide the basic education service and to buy specialist support either from the local education authority or, if the authority is not willing, from other suppliers.

Mr. Greenway : Bearing in mind the excellent opt principle and its fairness, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will under no circumstances allow grant-maintained schools to be in any way disadvantaged in comparison with local authority schools? Will he take note of what the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said--which contrasts with what his party has said--that Church schools and others should opt out of the local education system?

Mr. Baker : I assure my hon. Friend that the rules about parity of funding are clearly set out in the memorandum that I have already issued. Like my hon. Friend, I was very interested to see the report produced by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). In it the hon. Gentleman praised the status of grant-maintained schools and advocated that that option should be taken up by Church schools. That is clearly a very significant contribution to the debate from a distinguished member of the Labour party. I only hope that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) will listen to him.

Mr. Frank Field : Clearly the Secretary of State for Education and Science did not attend a grant-maintained school because if he had, he might have read the pamphlet more ably. In that pamphlet I advocated that opting out

Column 3

schools should opt in to a federated Church status. If that happens, does the Secretary of State agree that the Education Reform Act 1988 would be radically changed in a way which might be more on keeping with his views, but less in keeping with those of the Prime Minister?

Mr. Baker : No. I think that in his pamphlet the hon. Gentleman urged that Church schools of all denominations should take advantage collectively or individually of grant-maintained status. I am glad that he had the courage to say that. I was a little surprised by the reaction of the Member for Leeds, Central when the pamphlet was published. He said :

"Frank is out of line with party and Church thinking on this."-- but he added, and this must be very reassuring for the hon. Member for Birkenhead- -

"We are not going to kick him for having other views."

Mr. George Howarth : Does the Secretary of State agree that 97.4 per cent. of parents at Ruffwood school in my constituency, who voted against opting out, pretty well tumbled what a fatuous and stupid way that would have been to run their school?

Mr. Baker : The whole purpose of a ballot is that parents have a choice ; some say no and some say yes, and more are saying yes than no. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will find it reassuring that more schools in Labour authorities-- [Interruption.] I have the figures. Indeed, of the 63 schools which have so far embarked on the statutory procedures, 24 are in Labour-controlled local education authority areas, 22 in Conservative, 16 in hung areas and one in an SLD-controlled area. That disposes of the rumour that it is only in the Tory areas that schools wish to opt out.

Mr. Pawsey : Does my right hon. Friend agree that grant-maintained schools will have an impact out of all proportion to their numbers, because they will do a great deal to improve the quality and standard of state education and will be used as benchmarks against which other schools will be judged?

Mr. Baker : I am quite sure my hon. Friend is right. This is one of the reasons why we introduced this new type of school, and I am sure that they will provide a standard of excellence and will be beacons. This is, after all, the very thinking behind the pamphlet issued by the hon. Member for Birkenhead.

Mr. Straw : I, too, have a list, Mr. Speaker--on this occasion supplied by the GMS trust--which shows that of the 49 schools balloted, as of 4 April, only 20 are in Labour-controlled areas and many more in Conservative-controlled areas. [Interruption.] Sorry, 22--two more.

What is the Secretary of State's view of his senior chief inspector's report "Education Standards 1988-89" which shows that plans to reorganise secondary schools appear to have been slowed by uncertainty over the effect of recent legislation, especially that relating to grant-maintained schools? Does the Secretary of State agree with the chief inspector that opting out is paralysing the sensible planning of school provision, wasting money and is undermining education opportunities for a great many young people?

Mr. Baker : It will come as no surprise to the House that my figures are more up-to-date and correct than the hon.

Column 4

Gentleman's. I do not believe that reorganisation plans are being paralysed. It is interesting that some of the schools which decided to vote no are themselves subject to major reorganisation, amounting virtually to closure, and that they have voted in favour of that rather than go for grant-maintained status, which indicates that the essence of this and what the Labour party does not like about it is that grant-maintained status is all about parental choice, and that is what we are seeing.

Schools (Financial Management)

Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the average cost method of allocating resources to schools under the local financial management provisions of the Education Reform Act.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : My right hon. Friend has received some correspondence from authorities and schools expressing concern about the requirement for schemes of local management to provide for average costs, including average salary costs, to be reflected in the formula for distributing resources between schools. Circular 7/88 allows LEAs to devise formulae which safeguard the position of small schools which might otherwise find it difficult to accommodate actual salary costs. I understand that the majority of authorities are satisfied that this flexibility provides a certain measure of protection.

Mr. Coombs : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the consultation processes in schools there is a tremendous and almost universal acceptance of the opportunities put forward by local financial management? Will she also agree, however, that there is some concern at the interaction between the provisions of the school pay and conditions document and the average cost per capita methods of funding different schools, which may in some cases lead to differences of £40,000 between similar schools? Will she therefore consider giving the opportunity of flexibility to certain LEAs in order to be able to vire funds between those schools to avoid those kinds of anomalies?

Mrs. Rumbold : It is true that during the consultative period a large number of authorities agreed that local management of schools will be beneficial. Also, it is misleading at the present time to look simply at one of the cost elements in isolation when considering some of the formulas. It is essential for all authorities to consider the combined effect of all the elements in the formula and not simply the salary costs. On the final question, I do not want to anticipate the statutory approval process but, of course, it may well be possible that there would be some flexibility in individual, exceptional cases, where there are particular difficulties.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : Has my hon. Friend noted that a number of Kent schools have been running under local financial management for some time, two of them in Gravesham? Has she further noted that that is immensely popular with the local schools since it allows them to obtain greater value for the money provided and the ability to make cash purchases which has resulted in the quick delivery of books, and at a discount?

Column 5

Mrs. Rumbold : I am delighted to hear of those experiences in Gravesham in my hon. Friend's constituency. During a recent visit to another authority a head teacher told me, of his own volition, that he had been very much against the idea of local management schemes, but after three years of operating he was entirely in favour of it because he had found so much to his benefit that he had not expected.

Mr. Frank Field : The Minister says that local education authorities are happy that they should determine the formula. Are small schools happy with that?

Mrs. Rumbold : As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is special provision for small schools with fewer than 10 teachers to have their provisions determined by the local education authority within the formula weighted in their favour. Therefore, there is provision within the formula for small schools.

4. Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he plans to issue further advice to education authorities on the criteria to be used in dividing existing education budgets among the schools under their control for the purposes of local financial management.

Mrs. Rumbold : Circular 7/88 sets out the framework for local education authority schemes of local management. My right hon. Friend has no plans to issue further guidance. Officials of the Department's LMS unit are in touch with individual local education authorities and are happy to advise on any particular points of concern which may arise during the preparation of a scheme.

Mr. Stern : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Will she encourage local education authorities as much as possible to use all the flexibility that is available within the current guidelines and, where necessary, advise local authorities on an individual basis of the amount of flexibility that it is available to avoid unnecessary and unacceptable results in the funding of individual schools?

Mrs. Rumbold : Yes. I can reassure my hon. Friend that local authorities have the necessary flexibility to construct a formula for special circumstances--for example to weight resources in favour of individual schools in inner cities, those which serve disadvantaged areas, those which admit a higher than average proportion of pupils from ethnic minorities or those with special educational needs.

Mr. Spearing : Can the Minister confirm that local financial management includes responsibility for the repair and maintenance of buildings? If that is so, is that not rather arbitrary? Could it not put an unfair burden on some schools? What guarantee can the Minister give that her Department will provide local authorities with sufficient funds to ensure that schools are treated equitably in that matter?

Mrs. Rumbold : The local financial management schemes will include some money within the formula for general repairs and maintenance. Where such work can be shown to be capital expenditure, it will fall outside delegation within a local financial management scheme and it will be the local authority's responsibility to allocate resources.

Column 6

Universities (Salaries)

5. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on academic salaries in universities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : My right hon. Friend has received representations from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Association of University Teachers seeking additional funds for pay increases for university staff. He has also had many letters about salary levels in universities and in criticism of the boycott of examination work by lecturers.

Mr. Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that those academics who are refusing, or threatening to refuse, to mark examination papers are behaving in an unacademic, immoral way which is tantamount to blackmail? Does he also agree that some of them may well be in breach of their contractual obligations to their university, and will he advise pusillanimous principals to take the necessary disciplinary measures against them?

Mr. Jackson : My hon. Friend is right. The money offered represents a fair increase in academic pay. The Government have put in extra money and there is no more to come. I hope that all parts of the House join us in condemning any prospect of the rejection of that offer, because that would put students at risk and damage the professional reputation of British university academics.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Does the Minister recognise that university teachers have a justifiable complaint, given that they received a 0.5 per cent. increase last year and have just been offered 6 per cent. for this year? In view of the great Budget surplus of which the Government are so proud, and given that we cannot allow students to suffer, with the prospect of no examinations in the summer, will the Secretary of State and his Ministers take the initiative by pouring oil on troubled waters and offer to talk about more money in return for the lecturers offering to suspend their action and allow this summer's examinations to take place?

Mr. Jackson : The House should appreciate the context and the sequence of events. On 1 December 1986 there was an increase of 16.6 per cent., and on 1 March 1988, an increase of 7.4 per cent. That meant a 24 per cent. increase in dons' pay between 1985 and 1988, at a time when the retail price index rose by only 13 per cent. There is now an offer from 1 March 1989 of the equivalent of 6.5 per cent., with a further 1 per cent. due for discretionary payments from October. That is a very reasonable and generous offer that has involved additional Government resources, and it should be accepted.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : My hon. Friend will acknowledge that Nottingham university is not exactly a hotbed of militant unrest. Nevertheless, whatever may be the rights and wrongs of this particular case, and regardless of whose figures are right, does my hon. Friend acknowledge that, particularly in science and managerial disciplines, we cannot offer the salaries that will ensure the standards that we believe are necessary in higher education in the long term?

Mr. Jackson : Some evidence was provided--it must be said, rather scanty evidence--of recruitment and retention

Column 7

difficulties in some areas in the universities. That was one of the reasons that led the Government to advance proposals for extra money. The key to solving the problem lies in increased differentiation in university pay. That element has been included in the offer we have made.

Mr. Andrew Smith : Does the Minister acknowledge that his letter published in The Independent last Thursday and his advocacy of university teachers moonlighting to make up what he conceded to be a 25 per cent. cut in their relative pay is singularly ill-judged and insulting, and provides incendiary support for the cause of rejecting the ballot offer? Is moonlighting now the policy of the Government throughout public sector higher education, and is it the policy also of the Secretary of State?

Mr. Jackson : I was attempting to meet the argument that there has been a 25 per cent. cut in dons' pay relative to average earnings. I made the rather elementary point, which I hope the hon. Gentleman understands, that pay is not the same as earnings, and that there is reason to believe that the earnings of academics have increased in the same way as the earnings of other people. It is appropriate for the Government to encourage dons to write books and articles, undertake consultancies, and to assume directorships--all of which involve extra earnings.

Assessment Tests

6. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress being made towards implementing assessment tests for school pupils at seven, 11 and 14 years of age.

Mrs. Rumbold : The first step towards implementing the Education Reform Act 1988 is to establish programmes of study--

Mr. Skinner : Mr. Speaker, have you read The Observer

Mr. Speaker : Order. That matter has nothing to do with Education Questions.

Mrs. Rumbold : The first step towards implementing the Education Reform Act 1988 is to establish programmes of study for each of the core and foundation subjects. That process is well under way and programmes of study will be introduced for mathematics and science for seven and 11-year- olds this autumn. Children will be assessed in these subjects on a trial basis in 1991, and from 1992 on a reported basis. Assessment arrangements in other subjects and for those and other key ages will be phased in over succeeding years.

Mr. Bennett : In view of the fact that teachers have always tested children, does my hon. Friend share my astonishment, and that of parents, that some teachers and some teachers' unions oppose those tests? Does she agree that assessment tests will provide a national standard benchmark by which schools and teachers can be judged, which will also help parents to judge the progress of their children and how they can best be helped?

Mrs. Rumbold : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The importance of introducing assessment together with the national curriculum is that it will enable teachers, parents and children to monitor the children's programmes of study within the national curriculum. It is absolutely

Column 8

essential that assessment is introduced. I am surprised to learn that some teachers do not agree with this particular policy since I understand that for many years it has been the practice of the majority of teachers to assess the children in their classes on a monthly basis.

Mr. Grocott : Given the Minister's enthusiasm for this endless formalised testing, despite all evidence to the contrary, will she tell us at what point she will have an assessment of the effectiveness of these tests? Will she give a commitment that if they are discovered to be valueless she will scrap the system?

Mrs. Rumbold : I think it very unlikely that assessment will prove valueless since it is a part of the process of teaching which has been going on in schools throughout the country, as we have been assured endlessly by teachers. So the assessment process that we are introducing, following the introduction of the programmes of study with the national curriculum, will be useful not only to the teachers but to the parents. It seems very unlikely that there will be any occasion for parents to wish that assessment be discontinued.

Mr. Favell : At the moment it is virtually impossible to dismiss an incompetent teacher. What is to be done about teachers whose pupils consistently fail their assessment tests?

Mrs. Rumbold : It is hoped very much that we shall ask for teachers themselves to go through a form of assessment. The introduction of teacher appraisal will help those who have difficulty to reassess themselves and to undertake in-service training to improve their performance with pupils. It is crucial that our children are given the best possible teaching and that the teachers themselves produce the results, through assessment and testing, to which pupils and parents are entitled.

Ms. Armstong : Will the Minister take the opportunity to tell the House if age-related testing is to be used as part of the process of ensuring that all children reach their full potential or if, as many now fear, it is to be used as a totally inadequate way of pitting school against school and child against child? Will she further make it clear that crude test scores will not be published for seven-year-old children because such scores would be both misleading and potentially damaging to children's progress?

Mrs. Rumbold : I find it very sad that the hon. Lady should repeat that kind of misinformation to the general public. The whole purpose of testing and assessment of children is to ensure that all children, throughout their school years, can achieve their potential. This is what the whole of the national curriculum is designed to do. We are putting the programmes of study first and the assessment of those programmes afterwards to discover what children have in the way of understanding and knowledge.

Primary Schools (Staffordshire)

7. Mr. Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much was spent per pupil for primary schools in Staffordshire in the most recent year for which figures are available ; and what was the comparable figure in 1978-79, at constant prices.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John Butcher) : In cash terms,

Column 9

Staffordshire spent £370 per primary pupil in 1978-79 and £980 per primary pupil in 1987-88. At 1987-88 prices those figures are £755 and £980 respectively.

Mr. Knox : Does my hon. Friend agree that these figures show an impressive increase in expenditure per pupil in primary schools in Staffordshire since the present Government came to power? Will he further agree that they provide no evidence at all of alleged cuts in education and staffing by the Government?

Mr. Butcher : I fail to understand how the word "cut" can be used accurately in relation to education budgets. Nationally there has been a 35 per cent. increase in real terms in expenditure per pupil and a not too dissimilar increase in Staffordshire. My hon. Friend is absolutely right : those of us who wish to see improvements in standards of education have put our money where our mouths are and have adequately funded that improvement.

Primary School Teachers

8. Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proportion of primary school teachers' working time has been assigned as non-contact time in each of the last five years.

Mr. Butcher : The 1987 primary school staffing survey showed that there were 22.5 hours of taught lessons in the average pupil's week in maintained primary schools in England. Within that total, teachers had an average of two hours' non-contact time.

Mr. Taylor : The Minister will be aware that the same unpublished staffing survey, which is lodged in the House of Commons Library, makes it clear that fewer than half of all primary school teachers have any non- contact time. In my own area, virtually no teachers have non-contact time. A typical school in Cornwall has been described as three teachers and three classes. What will the Minister do to ensure that resources are provided to give teachers the necessary preparation time, particularly in view of the demands placed on them in the drawing up of preparations for the national curriculum?

Mr. Butcher : Non-contact time within the pupil week is not the whole story. Considerably more non-teaching time is available within the 1,265 hours a year that teachers are required to work, and that can be used to prepare for the national curriculum. Of the 195 days a year on which a teacher is required to work, five may be used for in-service training, and schools may close for two days this year specifically to prepare for the introduction of the curriculum. I know that many representations are being made on the need for further in-service training, but any dispassionate examination of the figures will show that the teaching profession in this country is very well provided for in training.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Will my hon. Friend examine marking periods in the school week, as distinct from non-contact time as set out in the Education Reform Act? Will he do all that he can to ensure that periods are set aside for marking?

Mr. Butcher : As I said earlier, considerable discretionary allocation of time is available to headmasters. Some

Column 10

800 of the 1,265 hours are direct teaching time. I should have thought that the activity to which my hon. Friend refers could be catered for within a well-managed school, provided that headteachers were prepared to use their management discretion appropriately. That, indeed, was one of the conclusions reached in the recent Her Majesty's inspectorate report.

Mr. Flannery : The shortage of teachers is now so serious that the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is examining it very carefully. Has not that shortage, which the Government have created by attacking teachers relentlessly--an attack led from the top on the Front Bench--resulted in the virtual disappearance of

non-class-contact time in primary schools? Not only that, but teachers in the primary sector are now staying behind regularly, for an hour or two every day, because of the pressures imposed upon them. When will the Government realise that to bring back teachers who have left the profession they must increase wages and give teachers back their negotiating rights?

Mr. Butcher : The position described by the hon. Gentleman is simply not reflected in the facts. Primary class contact rates have fallen from 91 per cent. in 1984 to 89 per cent. in 1988. That means that, on average, teachers are spending less time in front of classes.

The question of teacher shortages is complex. We understand that there are geographical and, indeed, subject difficulties, and I hope that some of the action plans introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be supported by the hon. Gentleman, as they are proving effective.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

9. Mr. Patnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the change in the ratio of pupil-teacher numbers over the last five years for which figures are available.

Mr. Butcher : The overall pupil-teacher ratio in maintained nursery, primary and secondary schools has improved from 17.9 in January 1984 to 17 in January 1988. There are now more teachers relative to pupils than ever before.

Mr. Patnick : I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Would he care to comment on the initial teacher training recruitment, which is vital if the trend established under the present Government is to continue?

Mr. Butcher : Yes, I should like to report to the House on initial teacher training, but before I do so let me give the House some new information. We have received a massive response to our recent advertising campaign, and more than 8,000 people have expressed an interest in teaching as a career. Surely that gives the lie to the assertion that those who wish to enter the teaching profession are being deterred by alleged demoralisation in the profession. Recruitment to ITT reached a record in 1988 ; it was up by 5 per cent. on recruitment in 1987. Primary recruitment was up by 12 per cent. Secondary recruitment was down, but by only 250 students ; the underlying trend is still upward.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Of the 8,000 people to whom the Minister referred, how many were interested in

Column 11

teaching science, maths, combined technology and similar subjects? Does he have evidence to show that the Government's recruitment drive is solving the shortage of teachers in those subjects?

Mr. Butcher : I do not have a breakdown of subjects of interest referenced by those 8,000 responses. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures from the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers he will find that there was a higher placement of teachers of maths and science than was the case for teaching in the generality. The fact is that many people are looking for a job in the profession. There are geographical difficulties and differences in standards of living in different regions, and we are aware of them, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would care to talk to his ex-colleagues in the teachers' unions about, for example, regional pay.

Teacher Recruitment

11. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has any plans to provide additional resources for teacher recruitment.

Mr. Kenneth Baker : My Department's action programme includes bursaries, in-service training, the teaching as a career unit and new publicity, which has amounted to over £51 million in the last three years. That programme will continue and will be extended.

Mr. Wallace : Is the Secretary of State willing to accept that there are still acute shortages in subjects such as maths and physics and that in the last two years his bursary scheme has reached target only once in one subject? Does that not represent a failure? Is it not a fact that far more resources are required if people are to be brought into teaching, not least in subjects such as maths and physics, in which there exist important and serious shortages?

Mr. Baker : Last year saw record figures for the intake of trainees into initial teacher training. The number of applications for the autumn of this year show an increase of 10 per cent. over the number last year. I accept, however, that there are difficulties in the subjects to which the hon. Gentleman referred--in maths, physics, technology and chemistry--and that is why I have extended the bursary scheme to chemistry trainee teachers.

Mr. Baldry : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the deciding factor in whether a sufficient number of people come forward is the way in which the profession portrays itself? To that end, does he agree that every teacher should take cognisance of the advice given by June Fisher, president of the National Union of Teachers, that teachers should stop whingeing and moaning and should take a pride in making a success of the Government's education reforms?

Mr. Baker : My hon. Friend is right. Far too many people at the teacher conferences last week were talking down their profession. We want to extend the opportunities for qualified people to become teachers. That is why we are putting forward our proposal for licensed teachers, a proposal which is being widely welcomed by many Labour local education authorities. It is absolutely absurd to believe that people who are

Next Section

  Home Page