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Mr. Hayes: I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my concern that the problem with the drip-feed approach that he describes is that, although it may attract headlines, it is unrelated to need. It is a crude instrument. He criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) because she said that the formula would have to take account of need, but surely he would acknowledge that the Government's approach of handing out money in lump sums does not address the core issue of need.
Mr. Willis: I think that I have already said that. I have never met an hon. Member who supports the current system. I asked for an explanation of the current standard spending assessment system and, because I knew that it would be a leisurely debate, I have the answer with me.
(b) The result of (a) is multiplied by the Area Cost Adjustment for education;
(c) The result of (b) is then multiplied by a scaling factor (1.00000461765062)."
Mr. Jim Cunningham: First, it ill behoves the Opposition's Front-Bench spokesman to talk about SSAs when no one manipulated them more than the Conservative Government. Secondly, every year they were in government we had the hardy annual of finding out whether an area would retain its cost adjustment. We cannot know where we stand when we relate cost adjustments to SSAs.
Mr. Willis: Again, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, while the Labour party was still in opposition, it promised that the system would be made fair and transparent. The Secretary of State should give a commitment to that effect.
Another myth needs to be exposed. It was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon and relates to the amount that the Government are spending on education services. It is thought that such spending is increasing dramatically. However, according to Library figures, the proportion of gross domestic product that is spent on education during this Parliament will be 4.6 per cent., compared with 4.9 per cent. under the Government of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon. We can argue about GDP until the cows come home, but the Government said that they would spend a greater percentage of the country's wealth on education. That is clearly not happening.
Liberal Democrats welcome the £200 million for recruitment and retention which the Secretary of State announced. We also welcome the fact that the Government have understood that there is a problem. However, we want to dissociate ourselves from the right hon. Gentleman's disgraceful attack on dedicated professionals which appeared in the Daily Mail today. When we are in the middle of a sensitive dispute, it does no good whatever to launch a wholesale attack on the teaching unions. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), is in the Chamber and I have a challenge for the Government: rather than bandy words with trade unions about teacher shortages and, in particular, the strike action, they should immediately organise an emergency summit with trade union leaders, local authorities and the Department to set a timetable and resolve the crisis.
According to last week's survey by The Times Educational Supplement and the Secondary Heads Association, there are 10,000 vacancies in our secondary schools, and some 10,000 vacancies in our teacher training colleges have gone unfilled since 1997. That cannot go unchallenged. Indeed, Ministers have acted. They have introduced "golden hellos" and have tried to introduce a grant, which has become a training salary. Baroness Blackstone has said:
The hon. Member for Maidenhead said that there was a problem with the Government's figures on applications for teacher training. I do not want to repeat those. Last week, we had a major spat with the Graduate Teacher Training Registry because it published figures a day early for the Government. It said that the Government asked for their early release so that they would not conflict with the good news in the Budget. It cannot be right that an independent organisation should leak information to the Government ahead of time, but not give it to Conservative Front Benchers, Liberal Democrat Front Benchers or anyone else. The Government so often get it wrong by attempting to manipulate information rather than giving everyone access to it.
There has been a 13 per cent. drop in secondary course applications, despite all the Government's belated actions since 1997. That is having an effect on our schools because of the related shortages. Rather than criticising the teaching unions, we should work with them to redress that balance.
Higher education was--conveniently--almost totally absent from the Budget statement and the Secretary of State's statement today. The Chancellor recognised that we need 2.5 million more employees who are educated to degree level. However, he offered nothing to ease the growing burden of student debt. There is an aversion to mentioning that problem. Indeed, the Select Committee on Education and Employment avoids recognising that debt aversion is relevant. It puts people off going into, and staying in, higher education. The Liberal Democrats are the only party to guarantee students reduced debt and the abolition of tuition fees. I was delighted to hear the hon.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): My hon. Friend will know that many of my constituents are academics who work in Sheffield's two universities--the university of Sheffield, and Sheffield Hallam university. He should also be aware that many of them are writing to me to tell me how poor morale is within the higher education sector. Does he share my concern that the Government's policy is about cramming more bodies into the higher education institutions without dealing with the fundamental pay problems in higher education? The product that they provide will inevitably suffer as more industrial disputes take place and other problems of morale arise.
Mr. Willis: My hon. Friend makes two excellent points. Expansion is pointless without sufficient investment to ensure quality. After the Robbins report in 1963, the sector expanded year after year, but in the 1990s, under the previous Government, there was a year-on-year reduction in real terms in the amount available for each student in higher education. The sad fact is that every year since 1997 there has been a reduction per student in the amount of money for their education.
The Prime Minister recently announced that his ambition was to have 50 per cent. of young people going into higher education. That is meaningless unless we are told where all those people are to come from. At the moment, the demand simply does not exist. Last year, 53 higher education institutions were unable to fill their student places. There were 40,000 unfilled places in our universities. The Government are planning unbridled expansion simply to grab headlines.
I agree with the earlier comments about further education. There was not a word about that sector in the Chancellor's statement. It is as if the Learning and Skills Council has wiped away all further education worries and resolved all the problems. There is a massive problem of recruitment and retention in FE, just as there is in our schools. There is a huge issue surrounding pay, just as there is in higher education, as the Bett committee reported. An even bigger issue in FE is the professionalisation of lecturers. If we do not grapple with those problems, we will see the same sordid results as have occurred in many of our schools, such as young people being sent away and teachers being pulled in from wherever possible to fill staff places.
The Government's policy on lifelong learning began with a huge agenda and was going to revolutionise the world. Under the policy, "learning works", no child, young person or adult who was failing would be allowed to continue to do so. Sadly, the joined-up thinking has not taken place. The schools taskforce said that we