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Mr. Brady: The hon. Lady has waited patiently for me to speak. As this is my first contribution to the debate, I have given her no assurances. I know that she will look forward with great relish, as will the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), to the fruits of the Opposition's policy review.
Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman must understand that the job of Members on both sides of the House is to put questions to Ministers and to scrutinise what they are doing. In his earlier contribution, he showed a greater ability to question the Opposition than the Government.
The Government have been falsely claiming to have increased funds for schools, when money has been sucked into local education authority budgets, leaving schools to implement expensive curriculum changes without help. The Government have been negligently failing to tackle the gross iniquities of the education standard spending assessment. The Government have been leaving drift and neglect in further education. The policy in higher education, which a senior Minister described as a complete disaster, needs to be addressed.
We on the Opposition Benches want to see success in our education system. We want to see good discipline in schools successfully raising standards. We want also to see a fair and effective funding mechanism for students and for universities. In addition, we want to see real steps forward in life long learning. Instead, we encounter fiasco in life long learning, crisis in student finance and a collapse in classroom morale. We will continue to highlight these matters until the Government wake up and take them seriously.
The Parliamentary UnderSecretary of State for Education and Skills (John Healey): I welcome the debate, as do my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. I welcome it as a measure of the agreement, such as it has been on certain issues, across the House today. I welcome it also as a mark of the importance of education to all hon. Members. This is the first full Opposition day debate for a new and able Opposition Front-Bench team.
I welcome the debate as a sign that the Tory party is set to take education more seriously. That is in marked contrast to the manifesto in June, when there was more on farming than schools and more on foot and mouth than universities. There was not a single mention in the document of further education, through which 4 million
The new Leader of the Opposition promised intelligent opposition; I look forward to that in due course. We have had a full debate, in which there were 19 contributions. I shall try to group them and deal with as many as possible but I hope that hon. Members will forgive me and understand if I do not deal with them all. In particular, I will deal with ILAs, which many hon. Members mentioned and for which I have ministerial responsibility.
The hon. Members for Ashford (Mr. Green) and for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who are spokesmen for their parties, talked up the crisis and talked down the measures that we are taking to tackle the problem. Whatever they argue, there are more teachers in schools this year than there have been in any year since 1984. The number of people going into teacher training is 5 per cent. up on last year's figure, which was 8 per cent. up on that of the year before. Crucially, recruitment to initial teacher training courses in shortage subject areas is going up. That is good progress, but it is not good enough; we are conscious that we still need to do more.
Those two hon. Gentlemen mentioned pressure and bureaucracy in schools, as did my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) and the hon. Members for MidDorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds). The Government are acutely aware of the pressures of paperwork in schools, and are therefore acting to simplify the funding systemthe standards fund is an example. We are allowing greater flexibility in how such funds can be spent by schools and, of course, we have agreed to review teachers' work loads in recognition of the fact that we must free up their time to allow them to concentrate on what they do best: teaching and preparing lessons. Some of the pressure on schools comes from initiatives, such as the literacy and numeracy strategy and individual target setting, that are essential and have strong backing from parents and staff. Our job is to make sure that teachers get the support that they need to implement them properly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Ms Ward) spoke about the differences that the level of resources is now making in schools in her constituency. My hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) also spoke on that. I see the same thing in schools in my constituency such as Thrybergh Fullerton Church of England junior school, which I visited on Friday. The fundamental point is that there has been a real-terms increase of £360 per pupil since the year before the election. I am staggered that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said that a significant number of schools in his constituency are getting less money now than in 1997; I challenge him to give me the names of those schools.
The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) spoke from experience, as he always does, about his concern about further education and prioritising resources for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield spoke about the importance of the sector. The hon. Members for
Some £527 million more was earmarked for further education this year via the Learning and Skills Council, and a real-terms increase is due next year too. New initiatives have been announced, such as that on the first 16 centres of vocational excellence, with the target by 2004 of half of all general FE colleges becoming such centres. There are now 47 local learning and skills councils, which will periodically review each college in their areas. Strategic plans are being prepared about the needs of their areas, and budgets will be flexible from April to allow them to reallocate, in consultation with colleges, across their mainstream budgetary provision. I recognise that schools have come first since 1997, but further education is following. Investment and initiatives in the sector are substantial.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield spoke eloquently about the importance of universities. As he argued, they bring innovation and wealth as well as learning to the regions and local areas that they serve. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) said that university and student support was one of his main concerns, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire said that his serious criticism was that the Government have significantly altered the number of youngsters from working-class backgrounds entering higher education. That is one of our reasons for reviewing student funding policy. I am glad that he recognised and welcomed that.
The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) agreed with our objectives but disagreed with our means, although he seemed to disagree more with the content of the Conservative manifesto published in June on university endowments, which he described as a Father Christmas policy. I shall take his constructive comments as representations to the review.
I am pleased that my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, West, for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) and for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins) and the hon. Member for Daventry reminded us of the importance of adult basic skillsan overlooked part of the education and learning system. I say to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) that I shall look at the position of the Henley Community Online centre.
On individual learning accounts, I say first and very clearly that I welcome the questioning in this Chamber on the matter. It is part of the proper role of Parliament that Government policy decisions and actions are scrutinised in this House, but I want to ensure that we get the figures straight and that hon. Members have a proper perspective of the problem. I want the House to be clear about the complaints that we have received, the proportion that relate to abuse and how few relate to fraud.
By the end of July, a full 10 months into the running of the national programme, the ILA centre had dealt with 1.5 million ILA account holders and received 3,096 complaints. Two months later, after one year of the scheme, the figure had doubled to 6,053 complaints. By the end of October, the number had risen to 8,448in a programme of 2.5 million account holders.
There has been a significant increase in complaints since the summer, but that must be set in the context of the scale of the scheme. Only a quarter of those 8,448 complaints were about misuse, mis-selling or potential fraud. Other complaints related to matters such as the operations of the ILA centre, discount for particular courses, the late arrival of ILA packs and even requests to backdate ILA membership.
Those non-compliance complaints relate to 404 registered learning providers. The majority of those have had one or two complaints against them. However, there are currently 84 registered learning providers about which we have had a larger number of complaints and about which we have more serious concerns. In respect of all those, we are already carrying out or considering special investigation action. In each case in which we identify evidence of fraud, we involve the police. To date, there have not been 279 learning providers investigated by the police over alleged fraud: to date, the police have made 30 arrests in England, involving just four learning providers.