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Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): Before I start my speech, may I apologise to the House? I am supposed to be at another meeting at the moment and I shall have to attend it when I conclude my remarks, although I shall be back as soon as I can afterwards. The great virtue of that is that it gives me the best incentive to keep my remarks as short as possible.
I especially wanted to speak in the debate because I could not help but feel that Opposition comments in support of the motion demonstrated a collective amnesia about, or airbrushing from, the educational or local government history of funding for education. I felt moved to speak because I was chair of finance for Sandwell metropolitan borough council for five years. The council is a major unitary authority in the black country that is typical of many deprived urban metropolitan borough councils with specific educational problems. I could not help but remember the funding arrangements that existed during the years when the Conservative party was in government.
I have researched a few statistics. Between 1992 and 1997, the collective cuts that Sandwell metropolitan borough council had to endure amounted to £42.9 million. I remember that because the local authority was so concerned about maintaining education in the borough that it tried to minimise the extent of the cuts that would apply to education. However, notwithstanding that specific policy, the fact that education represented 60 per cent. of its total budget meant that it could not make the cuts required to stay within its capping levels without affecting funding for education. Indeed, over that period there was an £18.3 million cut in education spending, an average of about £3 million a year.
Andrew Selous: If the hon. Gentleman is maintaining that the Government's difficulties are minor compared with what happened during the Conservative years, how does he account for the fact that Michael Clapham, who represents heads in east Yorkshire, said:
Mr. Bailey: I cannot comment on Michael Clapham's perspective, but I know that my local authority is not alone in its experience. Between 1992 and 1997, my local authority shared a common experience with nearly every major industrial metropolitan borough authority in the country. I am sure that any head teacher within those authorities would make the same comment and I think that more head teachers would share that view of the situation.
The legacy of the funding policy that we inherited in 1997 was that although standards were rising in Sandwell, they were not rising fast enough. The local authority recognised that there was much more to do. We had a disproportionate number of schools with appalling physical accommodation, including a disproportionately high number of temporary mobile classrooms and a shortage of teachers. I am not whinging specifically on behalf of Sandwell; the experience was common to many local authorities. However, we recognised the challenges that faced us and we managed them.
I contrast that with the situation five or six years on. The national figures given by the Minister demonstrate the huge increase in education funding, which is now a higher proportion of our gross domestic product than when the Tories came into office. I can say for sure that it is paying dividends. Sandwell is one of the authorities involved in the excellence in cities programme and I know that there have been measurable improvements in key areas of our educational performance. Just last year, Sandwell's maths results were up 4 per cent., its science results were up 3 per cent. and its information and communications technology were up 10 per cent., all of which were above national targets. There is no doubt that that is a direct result of the investment in local authorities such as Sandwell.
Sandwell's A* to C GCSE results were up 2 per cent. Five of its secondary schools had their best ever results, two of them in my constituency. The results of Wood Green school, a specialist school benefiting from the range of funding available to such schools, are up 63 per cent., which is above its target of 50 per cent. In addition, virtually every school has improved its physical environment. There is investment in the infrastructure and that, too, is playing a part in improved standards throughout the borough.
The funding arrangement that existed before the arrangements were revised this year discriminated against local authorities such as Sandwell. We recognise that changing them would cause difficulties, but in the interests of both equity and improving the performance of areas that hitherto had suffered from underfunding and underperformance, it was necessary. However, the procedures incorporated into the revised funding arrangements to ensure that all local authorities benefited from a real-terms increase in funding were a fail-safe measure that never existed for authorities such as Sandwell under the Tory Government.
I believe that the Government's proposals for assisting with the budget arrangements of those local authorities that are having difficulties should, in future, play a considerable part in helping those authorities to
The £800 million available as back-stop funding for schools in difficulties will be an enormous help in certain circumstances. We recognise that with the huge range of school funding regimes and the differences in local authority expenditure, it is incredibly difficult to provide a funding arrangement that will effectively protect every single school in the country from difficulties. However, the mechanisms that the Government have proposed will provide flexibility and assistance that I do not remember receiving from the previous Conservative Government when I had to cope with such funding problems.
The Government have handled a difficult situation with some sensitivity. We must recognise that this has been an exceptionally difficult year, with changes to teachers' pension and salary arrangements and a substantial drop in pupil numbers. A number of difficulties came to a head at once, but the Government have listened to local authorities, they have taken steps and they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Out of that will come a more effective, focused funding regime that will help the schools that most need it to raise standards where they most need to.
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): "Education, education, education" and "tough on the causes of crime" are very slick phrases that Labour has used, but the situation now is that the British people simply do not trust a word that the Government say.
I suspect that the Minister for School Standards has to go to another meeting, so I should perhaps first put on record my reason for speaking in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) suggested earlier, representatives from Southend education authority were to meet the Minister at 3.30 this afternoon. There can be no criticism whatever of the Minister for his having to postpone the meeting. My hon. Friends called for this debate today, and it is just one of those things. It is not for me to speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, but I suspect that he was disappointed because, much earlier, he had specifically asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State.
That being said, I say to the Minister for School Standards that I hope that nothing in my speech will sour the tone of our meeting, which I believe has been rescheduled for November. I am very anxious to work with the Government to get the best possible settlement for children in Southend.
James Purnell: In an effort to ingratiate himself with the Government Front Bench, the hon. Gentleman might start by talking about the fantastic examination results that we have just had, where they have come from and whether the extra funding that we provided has made any difference to the results.
Given the amendment to the motion of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, the pattern of the debate is already established. The Opposition, as is our job, are holding the Government to account. The Government and their partners in crime, the Liberal Democrats, want to talk about what happened during the last Conservative Government. They do not want to consider what has been happening in the more recent past, and we are moving on to seven years of Labour government. They can try that, but it will not wash with the general public, who are interested only in what the present Government are doing. In terms of education, they will regret that since 1997 the Government have centralised everything. If I were to be asked to analyse where the money is going, I would say that too much is going on centralisation.
I suppose that the violins will come out now, but teaching used always to be seen as a vocation. Teacher retention was highlighted in a recent survey by the General Teaching Council, which found that across the nation a third of England's teachers are expected to leave teaching within five years. Among the main reasons cited by teachers for their wish to leave the profession are badly behaved pupils, an excessive work load, initiative overload and a target-driven culture. Thirty-four per cent. of teachers expect to leave the profession within the next five years. That says it all. Teachers no longer see their profession as a vocation.
I know that Labour will say, "Look at all the wonderful IT units that Members are being asked to open every week. Look at all the marvellous sports facilities. Trevor Brooking is opening a new sports facility next week at Belfairs school." However, the survey shows that teachers have never left the profession because they felt that they were teaching in a dump. It was never like that. I do not believe that teachers were leaving the profession because of physical circumstances. The situation is much more serious than that. I hold the Government to account because I believe that there has been centralisation.