1. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he will make a statement on the sums available in the new financial year for capital expenditure on buildings for United Kingdom universities.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell) : Provision for capital expenditure on United Kingdom university buildings forms an integral part of the respective Education Departments' higher education capital programmes.
In the light of the Chancellor's autumn statement, figures have been made available for the resources in England and Scotland for higher education capital in 1993-94. Details of the provision for Wales are being published this afternoon and figures for Northern Ireland will be announced later.
The autumn statement also provided for universities to increase their scope for capital funding by enabling them to borrow on the security of Exchequer -funded assets.
The Government's policy is to try to increase the number of people in higher education, and certain penalties attach to an increase in numbers. I recall, many years ago, when I started my first-year university course, there were 55 in the class. A former colleague told me the other day that he is starting a lecture course next year with 215 in the class, although the lecture theatre still accommodates only about 70 people.
It is possible to use some facilities more efficiently, but there comes a point, with the expansion of higher education, when there must be an expansion in funding, too. Will the Government now accept that need and make substantially more public resources available for that purpose?
Mr. Boswell : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his personal remarks. I apologise to the House for having exchanged only too recently the relative Trappism of the Whip's Office so I have not yet achieved the fluency and elegance which I hope is appropriate to my new Department.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's substantive point is that it is important that higher education is conducted in
Column 278adequate buildings. Much better use is now being made of buildings, as the hon. Gentleman said, and that is right. Where there is a continuing shortage of space, it is open to universities to apply for capital funding for a particular project. We are maintaining the state-funded capital project programme in the coming year, and universities now have the additional benefit of being able to borrow in the commercial market on the security of their existing assets.
Will the hon. Gentleman consider extending the investigation to part-time students? Is he aware that it is my experience, which includes representations made to me by the parents of part-time students, that many students attending colleges and the Open university are suffering severe financial hardship? Is he further aware that many of them are looking after children or members of their families and that many of them are unemployed or in poorly paid part-time jobs? The Government should look into the plight of part-time students on the basis that, if we are talking about expanding education, people other than full-time students are involved.
Mr. Boswell : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. The survey is being carried out broadly on the same basis as before, in relation to full-time students, although we have slightly widened it in some respects. The issue of part-time students is separate. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, but I must remind him that other sources of income, such as employment or even social security benefits are open on occasion to part-time students. Part-time students involve a separate consideration and should not be confused with the current study.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : I also welcome the Minister to his new post and can assure him that he was always extremely fluent behind the scenes. I suggest that one way of getting funds to students as money in their pockets would be to press ahead with making the membership of the students union voluntary. I see no reason why the students at my local university should pay £16,000 for a rent strike and £45,000 for sabbaticals and various other things that they may not wish to have.
Mr. Rooker : In the spirit of welcome for the Minister, may I ask him if his survey will include the case of Neil Bennett, a mature student of Witney, Oxfordshire, whose details I have already sent to the Department? Mr. Bennett faces the imminent decision between continuing to study for his degree and losing his home and furniture, for which
Column 279he has worked eight years, and abandoning his studies, returning to the dole and keeping his home. How can students be expected to work and study under pressures of that kind?
Mr. Boswell : Certain numbers of students always suffer hardship. Indeed, I have two student daughters, one of whom graduated this morning, so I have some personal advisers on student hardship. If the hon. Gentleman has submitted a particular case to the Department, I can assure him that it will be fully and carefully considered.
Mr. Fabricant : Does my hon. Friend realise that when I was at university, which was only a very short while ago, I and my colleagues had to take out loans from banks such as Lloyds and Barclays at very high interest rates? Does he not realise how much I would have welcomed the opportunity to take out student loans issued by the Government at low rates of interest?
Mr. Boswell : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His problem is different from mine ; it just seems to me that it was only a short time ago that I was at university. Certainly, at that time, finance was expensive. Student loans are excellent value for money, because there is no interest other than the rate of inflation, and that is very low at the moment. Many students have used those loans when they have needed and chosen to.
3. Mr. Mackinlay : To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make an official visit to Essex in order to discuss with parents and teachers the future funding and levels of education in the county's schools.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth) : My right hon. Friend hopes in due course to visit all partsof the country, including Essex. I had the opportunity to talk to teachers from schools in Chelmsford and Basildon and county councillors and local education authority officers during my visit to the county earlier this year. The funding of schools and the level of service provided is primarily a matter for the Essex local education authority.
Mr. Mackinlay : What advice will the Secretary of State give to the thousands of parents in Essex who have received letters from their children's headteachers saying that their schools are facing a funding crisis and that they do not have enough resources to fulfil the requirements of the national curriculum, particularly in respect of books, equipment and, in some cases, teachers? Who is to blame? Is it the Conservative-controlled county council or the Secretary of State, and, above all else, what does he intend to do about it?
Mr. Forth : For some reason, Madam Speaker, the good will seems to have evaporated. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that it is, of course, the local education authority which, like all authorities throughout the country, is responsible for making local decisions
Column 280about how resources are allocated to schools and as between primary and secondary schools for those schools which remain within local education authority control. For grant-maintained schools, of which I am delighted to say there are a growing number in Essex, the matter is quite different and has to be treated differently. I am sure that Essex will look to its own resources, make its own decisions and be accountable to parents throughout the county. I am satisfied that the funding of education in Essex is perfectly satisfactory, as it is in the rest of the country.
Mr. Whittingdale : Is my hon. Friend aware that if he comes to Essex he will find the second highest number of grant-maintained schools in any local education authority area? Is he also aware that his own Department's school performance tables show some schools in Essex achieving some of the highest standards in the whole of the country? Will he therefore congratulate both the governors and the teachers of Essex schools on the excellent results they have achieved and on their wisdom in taking maximum advantage of the Government's education reforms?
Mr. Forth : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and join him in rejoicing at the number of schools which, through free parental balloting, have decided to opt for grant-maintained status. It is a very encouraging trend which we hope will continue. The figures that he has given to the House show that it is for local education authorities, heads, governors, teachers and everyone involved to ensure that they get the best possible value for money and that the relationship between resources and results, which is often alleged by some hon. Members, does not exist and probably never will.
4. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what representations he has received regarding the administrative work load on teachers as a result of measures to implement the national curriculum and testing.
Mr. Nicholson : That figure does not surprise me. Although I and, I think, all my colleagues vigorously support the Government's objective of raising standards in schools, will my hon. Friend make a new year resolution to ensure that his Department helps the Government's drive against excessive bureaucracy, regulation, red tape and reams of white paper? Is he aware that the burden of paperwork on teachers is not a six- week wonder but has been reported to me on my school visits throughout my time in the House and is becoming a great concern? One hears of glossy brochures being introduced for the curriculum or testing, but, almost before there is time for teachers to study them, they are withdrawn and replaced by new ones. Will he work hard with his officials to deal with that matter?
Mr. Forth : Of course I share the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed so eloquently about excessive burdens of administration, bureaucracy or paperwork in schools or anywhere else in the public sector. However, I am sure that he will understand that it is very much in
Column 281everyone's interest that we get the definition of the national curriculum correct, that we are able to review it where necessary and that the National Curriculum Council, in particular- -that independent body which we have charged with the very important task of defining the national curriculum--is free to advise teachers, heads and parents on the curriculum, its content and development as it sees fit. I will ensure that the National Curriculum Council is made aware of my hon. Friend's points so that we can get a firm grip on the matters about which he expresses concern.
Mr. Don Foster : Will the Minister convey my welcome to his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education on taking up his new appointment? Will he confirm that among the representations that he has received about this matter have been those from teachers of English who are worried about the rapid introduction of the key stage 3 standard assessment tasks for English? Will he advise the House whether it is likely that he will accede to their requests for a postponement of the introduction of those tests for one year?
Mr. Forth : No. When a difficulty arises it is always tempting for some people to go for a postponement, but that will not help. We are concerned above all to establish a level of quality in education, to define the framework within which it should operate and to give teachers the maximum support to help them define the needs of pupils and to be better able to deal with those needs. We are, of course, most concerned to ensure that those developments take place properly. They are carefully piloted and monitored, and we shall undertake to work with the School Examinations and Assessment Council and others involved to ensure that the assessments and tests are introduced with the maximum effectiveness and the minimum of trouble.
Mr. Allason : Does my hon. Friend recall that there was almost universal hostility from the teaching profession to the national curriculum when it was first introduced? Does he recognise that there is now tremendous support for it in all schools, but that there is also some anxiety about key stage 3, in not only English but technology? Will he at least consider a pilot scheme for a year so that teachers can get hold of the necessary paperwork for the key stage 3 exam?
Mr. Forth : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's very important point. It is remarkable that when we announce radical new measures to improve quality in education the knee-jerk reaction, certainly from members of the Opposition and often from others involved in education, is routine opposition. When they are introduced and prove to be workable, successful and helpful to parents and pupils, fortunately many people are prepared to take a different view and to support them. I hope that that will continue. I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend expresses. We are well aware of them and I give my hon. Friend the undertaking that, wherever possible, we will ensure that such matters are dealt with properly when the new tests are introduced. That has been the case in the past, and it will continue to be so in future.
Column 282a minute ago? Does he also recognise that the burden on teachers is made worse by the constant chopping and changing at the instigation of Ministers?
Will the Minister think again about the problems that have been raised by hon. Members in all parts of the House today because there are genuine concerns among those who know what is happening in the classroom that it will not be possible to go ahead with key stage 3 in English and technology? As there is so much concern throughout the House, will the Minister reconsider his statement on that matter?
Mr. Forth : The hon. Lady must be careful not to eliminate the possibility of review and change where appropriate. When I talk to teachers, as I do often, as do my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my noble Friend the Minister of State, teachers do not say, "Don't change anything in the curriculum." They say, "If there is a justified need for review and for change, please will you do it?" That is the response that we are prepared to give. That is why the National Curriculum Council is currently involved in a review of the primary curriculum to assess the kind of concerns raised by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). Its interim advice will be with us very soon.
I will certainly not give undertakings at this stage, because of allegations of the kind that have been made today, summarily to stop the progress of testing in its tracks. We will take due account of the anxieties that have been expressed, take the advice of the NCC and then press on with proper testing.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Does my hon. Friend agree that the teaching profession has made a magnificent effort to implement the national curriculum and the testing that goes with it because it believes in the national curriculum and sees the high value of the testing?
Mr. Forth : Yes. It is a delight to see my hon. Friend in his usual place, full of vim and vigour as always and expressing his knowledgeable interest in matters educational. My hon. Friend is right and he knows so much about the matter. The teaching profession has responded magnificently to the challenges that we have laid down. Teachers are getting on with the national curriculum ; they are enthusiastic about it and want to see it work. Our job in the Department for Education, like the job of the NCC and the School Examinations and Assessment Council is to work together with the profession to ensure that we all serve the interests of pupils.
Mr. Boswell : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chaired the Council of Ministers of Education on 27 November. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) represented the United Kingdom. The previous day my right hon. Friend, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary
Column 283Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, had appeared before the European Parliament's Committee for Culture, Youth, Education and the Media.
Mr. Foulkes : I am grateful to the Minister and I, too, welcome him to the Dispatch Box. Will he give the House an assurance that at every meeting of the Council of Education Ministers a Scottish Minister will be present to represent the separate, distinct and, in my view, better Scottish education?
Mr. Boswell : It is remarkable that, as I understand it, it has not been normal practice hitherto for Scottish Education Ministers to attend. I understand that it was most successful on this occasion and I very much hope that it will help and happen again in the future.
Mr. Clappison : I also welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. With regard to consultations in Europe, how usual is it for the President of the European Council to meet Members of the European Parliament?
Mr. Boswell : It is certainly not unusual for them to meet. However, it was distinctive on this occasion because the presidency and my right hon. Friend briefed the European Parliament the day before the Council meeting. I am sure that the exchange that evening was successful and fruitful and that it contributed to a very successful tone in the Council discussions the next day.
Mr. Tony Lloyd : Why is it that, after 13 years of this Government, half a dozen Secretaries of State for Education and numerous reforms and Education Acts, Britain still lags a long way behind the rest of western Europe in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who stay in full-time education or vocational training? Why do we have one of the worst trained work forces in western Europe? Will we have the same complacency from the new Minister that we have had from his predecessors over those 13 years?
Mr. Boswell : I have to say that I agree with one of the hon. Gentleman's remarks in which he made a reasonable conjunction between education and training. That conjunction is important, but the hon. Gentleman is way off beam in every other respect. We are expanding the numbers in further education and training much faster than most of our counterparts. We attach the greatest importance to further education and training, and we shall continue to build on such programmes.
Mr. Atkinson : Is my right hon. Friend aware that some urban primary schools, having considered grant-maintained status, have decided against it because they are concerned about the future provision of their special needs and do not believe that grouping is the answer for them? Will he embark on a new information campaign aimed at
Column 284the governors of all primary schools and secondary modern schools, telling them of the distinct advantages of grant- maintained status for their schools and the amazing results that have been achieved by those schools that have opted for grant-maintained status?
Mr. Patten : I am grateful for the opportunity to reassure my hon. Friend that more than two thirds of grant-maintained schools have increased their provision for special educational needs above the level previously provided directly by the local education authority. About 186 primary schools have balloted on whether to become grant maintained. In eight out of 10 cases--exactly the same figure for secondary schools--the result has been a resounding yes.
Mr. Barnes : When that petition for opting out takes place on the ballot, no restriction is placed on the lists of parents' names and the uses of those lists for commercial or other purposes. Should not that matter be examined? Should names be generally used for any purpose other than that for which they were given?
Mr. Patten : I am much more worried about the apparently illicit way in which some local education authorities have got lists of names from schools and used them to incite others to circulate intimidatory literature to stop schools from going grant-maintained. Needless to say, Derbyshire is in the lead.
Mr. Patten : High spending is no guarantee of good examination results. Some authorities obtain good results at much lower cost than others. I have looked at the relationship between the percentage of pupils in each LEA achieving five or more A to C grades at GCSE, and find that some of the highest-spending authorities gain relatively poor results.
Mr. Congdon : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that the publication of school examination results and other research confirms that the level of achievement for schools with children from similar backgrounds is widely different? Is it not time that schools improved their performance, rather than seeking excuses for failure?
Mr. Patten : Indeed, schools in inner-city areas, such as Mulberry school in Tower Hamlets, Stockland Green school in Birmingham and Archbishop Blanche school in Toxteth, Liverpool, have shown that schools can perform well in apparently adverse circumstances. We should all look to those schools as beacons of excellence. I congratulate them, and other schools in those areas should draw lessons from them.
Mr. Eastham : Is the Secretary of State aware that about three years ago a study carried out by York and Sheffield universities concluded that when poverty and social deprivation were taken into consideration the results of most inner-city schools were as good as those of schools anywhere?
Mr. Patten : It seems very odd to me that the Labour party, which historically has liked measuring statistics of poverty, housing need or alleged social deprivation, so much dislikes the Government's pioneering radical measurement of school performance.
Mr. Anthony Coombs : In rejecting the Opposition's apparent obsession with equating spending with standards, does my right hon. Friend agree that time and again reports by Her Majesty's inspectorate have shown that the factors that lead to higher standards are high expectations from teachers and parents and some investment from parents? Does he agree that the investment that parents make in grant-maintained schools through their participation in balloting is likely to lead to such investment and, therefore, higher standards?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is entirely right. I would only add to those factors the leadership qualities of the headteacher, whoever she or he might be. A correlation seems to be emerging in some areas between poor examination performance, high public expenditure and a high level of surplus school places. I shall investigate that. Those three factors linked together seem to point to poor management of public resources and hence bad education of our children.
Mr. Win Griffiths : Does the Secretary of State agree that the publication of school examination results generally reflects the social and economic make-up of England and Wales? His reference to beacon schools in inner-city areas is worth examining in great detail. In deprived areas, where examination results are generally bad, will he make efforts to ensure that proper funding and good advice are available to enable teachers in hard-pressed schools to achieve even better results than at present?
Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman must surely have noticed that I took the trouble a few moments ago to praise three named schools, one in a Liberal-controlled area and two in Labour-controlled areas, which have performed exceptionally well. Even at the season of good will, I find it hard to take the assumption that because a little boy or a little girl comes from a difficult background--perhaps from parents who are not well off and in an area with high unemployment--we should automatically have low expectations. That shows just how out of touch the Labour party is in the 1990s with the aspirations of ordinary working people in Britain.
Mr. Patten : I shall shortly be publishing, LEA by LEA, the assessment results for seven-year-olds and expenditure on primary pupils. Under the parents charter, the comparative tables of school examination results issued this year will be extended next year to include national
Column 286curriculum assessment results, truancy rates and information about what happens to pupils over school leaving age when they go on to their new careers.
School prospectuses are already more informative than ever before, and will include more information from next year. From 1993, parents will begin to receive summary reports of the inspections which will take place every four years in each maintained school.
Lastly, and importantly, parents are now guaranteed a written report on their child at least once a year. Last Friday I made further regulations about these reports to take effect next year--requiring all school-leavers to be given the highly successful national record of achievement as a passport to working life.
Mr. Butler : Does my right hon. Friend accept that in my constituency and throughout Britain the results have been greatly welcomed? I have to say that his Department's mark for accuracy has come out as "could do better", but that has not detracted from the usefulness of the exercise. For the first time eyes have been opened to the relative performance of schools. In addition to the other information that my right hon. Friend proposes to publish, will he consider including results in other public examinations such as British Amateur Gymnastics Association tests for athletics, swimming awards, music examinations, and so on, so that we can get a clear picture of the child in the round at individual schools?
Mr. Patten : We certainly intend to do all that we can to publish more information, which enables parents to make a sound judgment about the schools to which their children go or may go. We hear a lot from the Opposition, and in a few days' time, in an effort to be helpful, I shall publish results of the tests on seven-year-olds for last summer and further information including, for example, public expenditure per head on primary school pupils.
Mr. Hendry : Does my right hon. Friend agree that his welcome announcement that more information is to be made available, including the publication of school prospectuses, shows that the claim that the publication of examination results alone may mean nothing is one which can be fairly squashed? Does he also agree that that shows that socialist claims that parents could not or would not want to understand information about their children's education is nothing more than patronising socialist waffle?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend from Derbyshire is absolutely right. It is very patronising to treat parents in that way. What amazes me is how the Opposition continue to fail to understand the aspirations of ordinary working people. In the 1970s and 1980s, they did not understand the aspirations to home ownership-- [Interruption.] The chattering classes who inhabit the Labour Benches these days do not understand the aspirations of ordinary working people to good education for their children, hence the publication of the league tables.
Mr. Spearing : Will the Secretary of State not review his somewhat arbitrary limit of five O-levels on one occasion as the criterion of performance in any school? What has he to say about the slow-learning pupil for whom I was once responsible, who got one O-level in the summer, two more the next Christmas and two the following summer? That pupil could not possibly have got five O-levels at one time
Column 287at the first attempt. What does the Secretary of State have to say about the performance of that school and that pupil?
Mr. Patten : I would not cast any aspersions on the performance of the teacher involved, and it was probably a triumph for the slow learner. In the White Paper we said that it might be easy for academically gifted children to get a number of O-levels, but that a small number of qualifications may represent a triumph for other boys or girls and for the teachers who help them to get those exam results.
Mr. Dafis : Does the Secretary of State recognise that there might be problems with league tables in relation to the publication of A-level results because the standards set by schools for accepting pupils in A- level classes may vary considerably? Some schools lay down minimum GCSE result requirements while others have a more open policy. Is there not a danger that schools will be discouraged from accepting pupils in A-level classes because they fear that when the results are published they may not be so good? Will the Secretary of State at least consider revising the method of publishing A-level results?
Mr. Patten : I shall treat the hon. Gentleman's question seriously, reflect on it and write to him. It is important to bear in mind that most professional teachers who take on a child who is perhaps a slow learner-- such as the pupil mentioned by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)--or has special educational needs, realise that they represent a considerable professional challenge. I applaud teachers who do such excellent work and the good results produced by teachers who help pupils with special educational needs.
Mr. Hawkins : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the broad welcome by parents for the publication of examination results, we can clearly develop the system further by including such matters as vocational qualifications in years to come, as so many Conservative Members have requested?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is right. I can announce to the House that next year we shall publish results of vocational qualifications. I hope that that will be greeted rather more warmly by the Labour Front Bench than the publication of tables which they condemned on the day of publication but six days later they had done a complete U-turn and were in favour of the tables.
Mr. Pike : Does the Minister accept that many primary school teachers, while recognising the basic objective of the national curriculum, believe that they do not have sufficient time to listen to young children read or to encourage them to read purely for pleasure? Will he ensure that the national curriculum is less rigid and allows for a slightly more flexible approach to reading?
Mr. Forth : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. That is one reason why the National Curriculum Council is conducting its current review. In my experience, some teachers share the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman, while others seem to have been better able to accommodate the demands of the national curriculum--we must balance the one against the other. I do not want us to rush into changes, and we are keeping an open mind as to how much things may have to be changed to accommodate the difficulties mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
Sir Anthony Durant : Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that it is grossly unfair to children that they are not able to obtain good results in the three Rs, which are so important for secondary education and future jobs? Surely that is the purpose of the national curriculum.