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Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her characteristic courtesy in giving me advance sight of her statement. I welcome the extension of city academies and learning support unitstwo Conservative ideas that deserve to flourish under this Government.
The right hon. Lady said that she wanted to help schools, but we already know that she is flexible in her use of language. We read in today's newspapers that she deliberately used different language when she negotiated with the Prime Minister from the language that she used with the Chancellor of the Exchequer before yesterday's statement. I commend her ingenuity but, unfortunately for her, the British people are less easily fooled.
Today, the right hon. Lady has talked the language of believing in the comprehensive principle. Last week, she told the Daily Mail that the comprehensive school was a "worn out vehicle". Could she tell the House which is her real view? Her Back Benchers need to know whether to believe what she says to them in the House or what she says to the Daily Mail. It is this gap between rhetoric and reality that haunts the statement she has just made. She uses words and phrases such as "radical reform", but the reality is that she is travelling ever further down the path of central direction, second-guessing from the centre and nitpicking interference in our schools.
Today's statement will not promote any improvement in what parents worry about. It will not help to solve the crisis in discipline that has seen 130 teachers seriously injured in violent incidents in schools in the past year. The measures that she has announced will not compensate for the Government's consistent undermining of the authority of head teachersan undermining that some of her announcements today will simply make worse.
The statement will not help teachers to spend more time in the classroom teaching; indeed, it will hinder them. The Secretary of State already sends 4,500 pages of guidance and advice to every school every year. Has she estimated how much extra paperwork will be generated by the changes that she has announced today? This is not the real reform that our schools need.
The Secretary of State talks tough about closing schools that miss their targets. She wants to sack teachers who miss their targets, so let me ask her about her targets. What about truancy? In 1998, the Department set a target to cut truancy, and the target was strengthened in 2000. However, this year, the old target was scrapped and replaced with a new one that aims to achieve a reduction 70 per cent. less than the original target. Does she accept that that is an appalling example of double standards? If teachers miss a target, the teacher gets sacked; if Ministers miss a target, the target gets sacked.
The centrepiece of the statement is the introduction of new types of school. Does the right hon. Lady accept that the fact that schools will seek to jump through these new hoops to get the extra money will inevitably lead to a further increase in red tape? What has she got to say to the head teacher, Janet Smith from Lealands high school in Luton? [Interruption.] Labour Back Benchers groan at
What about the practicalities of the Secretary of State's proposals to lever up the best? Many good heads are good precisely because they concentrate on every detail of what happens in their schools. Her proposals would take the best heads out of the school and make them strategic chief executives of half the schools in the area. What evidence does she have that that is the best way to improve all those schools that she would not touch with a bargepole? People will worry that the proposal is a gimmick that will do more harm than good. It will especially concern parents who have children in the schools with the good heads that she is taking away.
What is the logic behind concentrating on 300 schools out of 25,000 to solve the crisis? Would not it be better to focus directly on the failing schools, addressing their problems, rather than concocting this half-baked mess, which heads will not welcome? After the 300 advanced schools, the next tier is the 1,400 schools that will receive the leadership incentive grant. Will the right hon. Lady reassure the House that the distribution of the grant will not be manipulated for party political purposes in exactly the way that the distribution of grant to local education authorities will be?
For a statement that was billed as setting the course for education policy in this Parliament, there are several glaring gaps. There is nothing about reducing exam overload in secondary schools or slimming down the national curriculum. The Secretary of State acceptsindeed, she promotesfurther delay in finding a policy for our universities, where morale is even lower than it is in the school sector among both students and teachers. Does she accept that her dithering over student funding, on which we were promised a decision early in the new year, has contributed to the collapse in morale? She said little about further education, where morale is even lower than it is in the universities. What has she done today to simplify the system in which colleges need to cope with 73 different funding streams? She said nothing about vocational education, which has been a key failure for generations of children in this country.
The statement is a sad waste of an opportunity by the Government. Instead of retreating from the path of dictating to our schools, they have chosen to go further down that route than ever before. When will they learn that micro-management from the centre is not the way to create world-class schools? The right hon. Lady talks about diversity, but it is an imposed diversity: "You can do what you want as long as the Secretary of State approves." That is a sham diversity.
Estelle Morris: Quite honestly, one is left wondering: if the Conservatives are not opposed to spending money in principle, where were their principles during 18 years of Tory Governments? They certainly did not turn that principle into the reality of spending.
I listened in vain to hear whether the Tories support the extra money for schools and are in favour of the direct grant that will provide an extra £50,000 for secondaries and an extra £10,000 for primaries. I listened in vain to find out whether they support the leadership grant, without strings attached, to 1,400 secondary schools. I listened in vain to find out whether they approve of a ladder of improvement, whereby every school is incentivised to achieve at high levels. The truth is that not only do they have no policies, but they have stopped believing in investing in education.
The hon. Gentleman is bothered about the number of pages sent to schools, but I can think of five pages that we could not send to schools that appear in "Conservative Education: Breaking the Link", which was published last week. The document seems to have taken five pages to conclude that there is no clear correlation between spending and results. In principle, the party is not opposed to spending money; in practice, it does not actually spend it; and in reality, it does not believe that it brings about improvements in results. That is what we have got from the hon. Gentleman, and that is why after 18 years of performing according to those rules, he and his party are no longer trusted to run this country's education system.
I turn to a few of the points that the hon. Gentleman made. He must listen carefully and understand a statement that says that the comprehensive principle is right in practicethe belief that every single child matters, that one's ability is not determined by family income and that every child has the right to the highest aspirations in a school system that is geared to meeting them. The hon. Gentleman repeated the view that comprehensive schools, as structured, do not sufficiently deliver that comprehensive principle, and they are a worn-out vehicle for doing so.
The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we believe in the principle. We believe that every child matters, that every school should deliver and that every child, not just a few, should have the right to an education that can deliver for them. That is the challenge that we take on and that is the nature of our higher ambitions and our aspirations. It is also why in 1997 we were right to turn our back on a school system that had failed too many people and delivered for a few, at the expense of too many children and their families, in too many communities.
We have made significant progress, but we are honest enough to admit that we have not made as much progress as we wanted to. If we are to have a vehicle that can deliver even more reform and higher standards, we must improve it.
The hon. Gentleman talked about money with strings and about head teachers not having flexibility. The 3.5 per cent. extra increase in SSA goes to schools with no strings attached, to spend as they wish to meet their development plan. The leadership grant for those schools that are well led, which will be the vast majority, goes to schools to spend as they wish with no strings attached, as is also the case with the schools standards grants. We are not only putting more money into schools, but devolving it to the front line and ensuring that those schools with good leadership can play the accountability system and spend the money as they see fit.
We will work with those schools that do not have the leadership in place and that are not as strong as they should be to raise standards and to guarantee to every parent that money going to those schools will also bring about reform and high standards. The hon. Gentleman is rightmoney without reform does not work. In our good schools, we will put in the money and they can handle the reform. In our under-performing schools, we will put in the money and the support, so that together we can deliver reform.