Education Bill

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Mr. Turner: The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough does not have to apologise for his perception about the direction in which the Bill will lead schools. He is right, and that is why I support so much of it. However, I am concerned that the Minister has revealed that only about 10 per cent. of schools will get earned autonomy, which is miserly. I hope that he will tell us how he reached that figure.

That congratulation does not undermine my criticism of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. He criticised the Minister for being vague and woolly—normally a characteristic of his party—but he cannot possibly believe that piling bureaucracy upon bureaucracy, requirement upon requirement, and additional clause upon additional clause will make it easier for teachers, schools and governors to achieve what the Government, the Conservatives and, occasionally, the Liberal Democrats say they want to achieve with the Bill.

The Chairman: Order. May I ask Members to make briefer interventions?

Mr. Willis: Absolutely, Mr. Griffiths, and more pertinent ones.

I know that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight took a seat from the Liberal Democrats at the last election, with which we are still coming to terms, but we are now on to a serious issue. I do not introduce amendments to score points. These are fundamental issues that affect our teachers, and should be addressed in a serious and businesslike way. The Minister's responses have been shameful in their lack of detail. He will live to regret saying that 90 per cent. of schools will be unfit for earned autonomy.

The hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale, West and for Isle of Wight nailed their colours to the mast. The idea that teaching is just about individuals is nonsense. A beacon school or any other school of quality has a corporate body. A good school is not just a collection of individuals, it is a group of people who work together. That is what makes a school special. Once people are treated as competitive individuals in pay and conditions, that essence is lost.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the stresses placed on the teaching profession and heads—especially in the south-east—by the huge cost of living disparities between Surrey and areas such as his? As long as the education profession is fixed so rigidly in national structures, it will be hard for head teachers to overcome that. I echo his concern about the number of schools able to secure earned autonomy, but he should accept that greater flexibility in national pay and conditions is one way of solving the teaching crisis in the south-east.

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Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman makes a sound point, as he has so often done during our proceedings. I agree with the first part. Schools, not just those in the south-east, find it difficult to recruit and retain teachers because of high living and travel costs. The Government have failed to tackle that issue, which affects all public sector workers. Doctors, nurses, emergency service workers, social workers and care workers all suffer because of that problem. All parties have got to get to grips with that. I would welcome a Government White or Green Paper, so we can debate the issues.

The Bill does not address that problem. The Minister has disingenuously said that all schools will receive the same funding. If schools receive only little pots of money for recruitment and retention, the problem of high living costs will not be addressed. The Minister has failed to say that his ambition in London and the south-east is that half the schools will be specialist by the end of this Parliament, and receive £0.5 million extra. What benefits will the schools that do not get earned autonomy receive? It is no good talking about excellence in cities money or city academy money. The private sector is not prepared to put money into schools, as education action zones showed.

Our research has shown that half the lowest achieving schools in Britain receive no money from any of those pots. They are denied it, and the Minister is not addressing that. Overall, schools need more money. They do not want little bits and pieces—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the Under-Secretary of State says that they are getting more money. They will, if the Chancellor happens to have a big pocket one day and gives out money on a three-yearly basis. That is no way of underpinning—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Willis: I am sorry Mr. Griffiths. It is disgraceful.

We are talking about schools getting money through their standard spending assessment and about £4 billion from the Secretary of State's slush fund—I am sorry; I should have said standards fund. How can schools plan when the money can be taken away at any time? If the Minister were serious about giving schools more autonomy, he would ensure that their basic budget was secure and larger, and that they had the freedom to work within it. In that case, some of what is proposed would make sense; it does not do so because the Government do not trust schools and local authorities to use the money in that way.

The Minister said that schools have significant flexibility to use their resources in different ways. I accept that; I accept, too, that from 1988 onwards local financial management of schools gave head teachers greater autonomy to use money and to vire it within various headings. However, if only 10 per cent. will get earned autonomy and they already have significant flexibility, what does the Minister envisage? Nothing in the Bill or regulations gives us any idea about the extra freedoms that schools will be given.

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The Minister said that the schools with earned autonomy could abandon the national pay scales, but he then said, ''Ah, we will have to think about how to get to threshold payments''. The reality is that after the first year, all teachers will be given the threshold money according to earned autonomy, because there will be no scales at that point. It will be extra money that the Secretary of State will provide over and above anything else, unless he wraps it all into standard spending assessment or the new formula.

These are important amendments; I accept that there are differences between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, but I never believed that a Labour Government would be supported by Tory Front-Bench Members on teachers' pay and conditions. It shows how right-wing the Government have become and how all the talk about giving freedom to teachers and raising morale is nothing but hot air. We shall divide the Committee on the amendments.

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman misrepresented some of what I said. I shall not respond to him point by point, but I do not agree with his view, which I sum up as being, ''If it was good enough for the 1950s, it should be good enough for us.'' We must make progress if standards are to rise substantially across the maintained system. It is right for change in secondary education to be led by our best schools as the Bill envisages. As standards rise, more schools will have access to the autonomy that we propose.

What is proposed is completely different from the grant-maintained scheme, especially because there is no additional funding, which was a key aspect of grant-maintained status; the hon. Gentleman well knows the processes by which costs in different areas are addressed through the funding system.

The threshold assessment will be available to teachers; the threshold grant will be available and the pay uplift will be added to the pay that the teacher received when he or she applied. I hope that the Committee will not support the amendment.

Mr. Brady: I want, briefly, to emphasise that although Her Majesty's Opposition do not necessarily consider the autonomy proposed by the Government to be sufficient for schools, we support the principle of autonomy. I shall urge my hon. Friends to oppose the amendments and, in the constructive spirit in which we have approached the Bill, to vote with the Government.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 14.

Division No. 7]

AYES
Laws, Mr. David
Willis, Mr. Phil

NOES

Column Number: 123

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Brady, Mr. Graham
Flint, Caroline
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Grayling, Chris
Heppell, Mr. John
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Purnell, James
Timms, Mr. Stephen
Touhig, Mr. Don
Turner, Mr. Andrew

Question accordingly negatived.

11 am

Mr. Brady: On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. We spent approximately an hour debating the last group of amendments, during which time Back-Bench Members had no opportunity to contribute. I make no criticism whatever of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough; it was important that the Committee direct its attention to the matters in his amendments. Although the Minister and I made brief contributions, we are 24 minutes from adjournment and from the point that the Government's restrictive timetable sets for conclusion of the first 12 clauses, and we have not yet concluded consideration of clause 6. By my count, that leaves 6 clauses and 37 amendments to discuss in 23 minutes.

Throughout our proceedings, the Government have commendably stressed their desire to help the Committee ensure that we have time to consider the Bill adequately. I welcome that. In that context, would it be possible and appropriate to convene a meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee to consider where the knife should fall in our proceedings and whether it is possible to carry out our duty of scrutinising the remaining 6 clauses in the group?

The Chairman: Obviously, it does not fall to me to make such a decision. I would need an indication from Government Members that they are prepared to reconsider the programme resolution. It would not be helpful to take five or 10 minutes for a Programming Sub-Committee meeting, but to make no progress. I would need an indication that it would be worth stopping the debate for a few minutes to try to reach an agreement on providing more time to discuss the items on the agenda.

 
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Prepared 13 December 2001