Previous SectionIndexHome Page

16 Oct 2002 : Column 372—continued

7.2 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): It is a pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who made an excellent speech, as is typical of him. He reminded the House that in all the current crises in education, Ministers were warned; Ministers had notice before they happened. They were warned that the way in

16 Oct 2002 : Column 373

which they introduced AS-levels and the new sixth form curriculum would cause problems. They proceeded regardless. They were warned that the Criminal Records Bureau could not complete the checks in time for schools to open at the beginning of the school term, and they failed to take action. On all the key issues in education, Ministers have had adequate warning, but their response has been less than adequate.

Opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) referred to the measure of the Government being intervention without substance, and he prayed in aid the Minister for School Standards, who used the wonderful metaphor of the doughnut—the education policy with a hole in the centre, even though it has a lot of icing on top. It was a brilliant metaphor, if I may say so, and the hon. Gentleman should take full credit for it. It says everything that it is necessary to say about the Government's approach to education.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford went on to speak about the fiasco of the Criminal Records Bureau checks, and the fact that 100 people had been wrongly accused by the Criminal Records Bureau and thousands are stuck in the system. Even more worryingly, perhaps, there has been no common sense and no consistency in the way in which the Government have dealt with that crisis. There was advice from the Secretary of State one day and contrary advice the next. Schools were left for an unacceptably long period not knowing which way to turn. Ultimately, they were left to make their own decisions and to risk the consequences.

The Minister for School Standards confirmed to me in a written answer today that no guidance was given to the Criminal Records Bureau about the way in which people who have an unbroken record as teachers should be treated. There was no differentiation between those who were applying new, those who had no record of good service in our schools, and those who did have such a record. That, again, was an appalling breach of common sense.

In the debate we heard about the Government's record on truancy and the fact that another target had been missed. Truancy was meant to go down, but it has gone up. We heard about the Government failing to meet their primary school targets. We heard even from the Secretary of State that she stands by the targets, but I think she said that she had no idea how she would reach them. She thought that they were worth while in themselves, but she had no practical suggestions as to how we would move away from the plateau which she accepted we had reached.

Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he agrees with the statement this afternoon by the leader of his party that A-levels are not worth the paper that they are written on?

Mr. Brady: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has bothered to drag himself into the Chamber at this late stage of an education debate to read out a script from his Whips Office. He has done it perfectly well, but what he needs to address, what Ministers need to address, and what the Secretary of State signally failed to deal with earlier is the A-level crisis into which the

16 Oct 2002 : Column 374

Government have plunged the country. What he has failed to deal with, what the Secretary of State has failed to deal with—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. The House must quieten down.

Mr. Brady: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that even at this late stage, Labour Members and Ministers will begin to address seriously the crisis facing tens of thousands of young people in our country. Hon. Members are trying to make silly politics out of a situation that has been created entirely by Ministers.

Mr. Tomlinson, the author of the Tomlinson report, said today:

That is what the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) should be addressing, that is what the Secretary of State failed to address at the beginning of the debate, and that is the shameful record that Ministers ought to be defending.

We heard from the Secretary of State a shockingly complacent catalogue. She believes, apparently, that in the years since she has been a Minister in the Education Department, we have had nothing but success. At a time when we have had a catalogue of errors, crises and mistakes directly attributable to Ministers, she believes that nothing has ever gone wrong. All she is doing today is trying to throw up a smokescreen. On exclusions, she said at the beginning of the debate,XMy views are clear that schools must have the choice". I, on the other hand, have been entirely consistent, as have my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brady: No. The hon. Lady should listen. Having served, as I did, as a member of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, she should know something about the subject. If she, like the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister earlier today, does not understand what the Government have done in relation to exclusions, she should listen.

The Secretary of State referred to the new guidance that has been introduced for appeals panels. She said nothing about the guidance that was introduced in 1999—the guidance that stated that schools must not exclude pupils under any circumstances until a variety of prior alternative strategies have been tried. That guidance said prior alternative strategies must be tried in respect of teachers who were assaulted or threatened, and the Secretary of State was a Minister in the Department for Education and Skills when it was introduced.

The Prime Minister said earlier that independent appeals panels were introduced in 1987 by the then Conservative Government. That is true, but let us consider the facts. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State must start to get a grip and take some responsibility, as her fingerprints are on all these issues, going back to 1997. She has had a ministerial role in the Department

16 Oct 2002 : Column 375

for Education and Skills as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, a Minister of State and Secretary of State. She was a Minister in 1998 when the new Labour Government gave new powers to the appeals panels to reinstate excluded children. For the first time, those decisions were binding on all parties involved.

The relevant measures can be found in section 67 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The Secretary of State and I both served on the Standing Committee that considered the measures, which I am sure are currently her bedtime reading; indeed, I imagine that that is one of the reasons why she has sleepless nights. Section 67(1) states:

Subsection (3) states:

The Government made appeal panel findings binding. Last week, when the Secretary of State bungled into the circumstances surrounding the exclusions at Glyn school, she did not know the law and made a huge mess as a result.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): In my former career as a lecturer, records of achievement were frequently put on my desk. Would the record of achievement of the Tory years be worth the paper that it is written on?

Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman has been present for some of the debate, for which I give him credit, but he does not appear to have gained much from the experience. [Hon. Members: XThat's not surprising."] Opposition Members can say that, but I imagine that the hon. Members for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) have different views, although they may have failed to enlighten their colleagues in their contributions.

Caroline Flint: The hon. Gentleman may recall that we served on the Select Committee on Education and Employment when it produced a report on disaffection. Does he agree with the Committee's finding—and there was consensus throughout the Committee—that unnecessary exclusions could be avoided if schools intervened earlier and used different strategies in relation to disruptive behaviour?

Mr. Brady: I am delighted that the hon. Lady has made such a sensible point. Of course, nobody wants schools to resort to exclusion where it is unnecessary. On the Glyn school, however, in relation to which the Secretary of State ventured to express the view that pupils should not be excluded, we are considering a case in which it is necessary to exclude and inappropriate to require the school to readmit pupils. None the less, we agree that early intervention is right and she makes an entirely sensible point.

Next Section

IndexHome Page