Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think it was a slip of the tongue but he said that my noble friend Lady Blatch and I said that we spend a smaller proportion of our GNP on education than do Germany and Japan. We spend a larger proportion.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, yes, I am sorry, we spend more than Germany and Japan but that is made up largely of an excessive proportion spent on higher education compared with primary and secondary education. There is evidence to suggest that we need to spend a great deal more on primary education.

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1183

Following the famous Education Act of 1944, this country did not provide a range of educational and training provisions suitable for students with a wide spectrum of interests and capabilities. Grammar schools—I attended one—served the country, and in particular the most able in our nation, very well but little effort was made to develop technical schools properly. Regrettably, secondary modern schools, without any clear rationale or sharply defined objectives for the education provided there, were soon regarded simply as the places to which to relegate children who were not clever enough to go to grammar school.

As a reaction to that unsatisfactory situation came a rapid move to comprehensive education. That was excellent in theory and very effective in some instances but it failed to capitalise upon the talents of the most able or to develop fully those talents of individuals who were better suited to vocational education and training. And in primary education, the move away from didactic teaching to so-called progressive methods and child-centred learning, and the rejection of streaming, has seemed often to swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

Despite the successes which I mentioned earlier, reports of Her Majesty's Inspectorate have shown that in as many as 27 per cent. to 37 per cent. of school lessons, teaching has been judged to be poor. That problem has been particularly prevalent in some disadvantaged areas. As many noble Lords have said, far too many children still fail to acquire the basics of literacy and numeracy by a stage when they should have mastered those skills.

The most crucial factor at the heart of high-quality learning is high-quality, inspirational teaching. Every pupil should be entitled in each lesson to be taught by a teacher with the knowledge, training, competence and commitment to teach it well. We now have a golden opportunity to raise the quality of teaching and to attract into the profession an increasing proportion of able graduates. One can only hope that the Government's recent rejection of the once-hallowed principles of central supplementation of nationally-agreed salary awards will not have a seriously adverse effect upon recruitment.

We trust also that the Teacher Training Agency will be able to implement methods of enhancing the quality of classroom teaching and that reducing class sizes, which I still regard as being important in primary schools, will ultimately be achieved, in particular in deprived urban areas and more especially in schools with a high proportion of children whose mother tongue is not English.

That all primary teachers must be well trained in teaching reading and fundamental numerical skills goes without saying. Perhaps above all, the status of the teaching profession needs to be enhanced in other ways. It is encouraging to learn of renewed efforts to establish a College of Teachers. While such a body, comparable in its objectives to the Royal Colleges in medicine, could do much to enhance the profession's status, expertise and professional development, I make no apology for saying again in this House that the establishment of a General Teaching Council is more

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1184

vital than ever. It should have formal authority to define and oversee educational standards; to suspend or remove the registration of unsatisfactory teachers or those guilty of disciplinary offences; and to fulfil other responsibilities comparable to those of the General Medical Council.

It is surely not beyond the wit of man to formulate a constitution and electoral scheme for such a council, with a substantial number of non-teacher members, which would not allow any single teaching union to become dominant. The Scottish council has proved increasingly effective, and the establishment of such a council in England and Wales is, in my opinion, long overdue.

I am glad that the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, stressed the role of parents. As the national commission said in Learning to Succeed:


    "The first and most important link is with the home. According to pupils who took part in the Commission's survey (a detailed questionnaire exercise) most parents are very supportive of their children's education. When schools exploit fully opportunities to involve parents in a productive way, parents, schools and children all gain. Evidence suggests, however, that these opportunities are often missed or underused. Sometimes this is due to the lack of a clear school policy for parental involvement. Sometimes it results from lack of teacher training or from insufficient non-contact time for teachers to devote to such work. The circumstances of lone-parent families and dual-career families may make it difficult to establish successful links. Parents whose own experience of school was negative are often hard to interest in active school involvement. Schools must nevertheless persevere in their efforts to develop good links with parents".

I trust that the chief inspector and his colleagues will examine such links in much greater depth in future reports, as schools which have not been successful in involving parents can learn from the good practices of those which have.

I turn finally to the pressing and ever-present problems faced by schools in disadvantaged areas, where all too often an anti-education ethos prevails in the local community, where teaching sometimes lacks vigour and inspirational quality, and where teachers and pupils alike become discouraged and sometimes even dismayed by disruptive or violent behaviour. In the face of multiple disadvantage the dice are loaded against educational success.

The National Commission has now embarked upon a major research project entitled "Success against the odds". That involves case studies of the features, problems, strategies and initiatives of schools both in disadvantaged inner cities and rural locations, to see what methods helped them to achieve in the face of perceived adversity. The project involves 12 teams from around the United Kingdom, each consisting of three members—one an educationist, one from the business world, and one involved in the regeneration of disadvantaged areas but coming from outside education.

Both primary and secondary schools are being studied. Each team is carrying out a detailed survey to determine how and why the school has become successful. Head teachers, teaching staff, pupils, parents and governors are all being interviewed. Detailed accounts of each school will be written, describing problems and challenges and the 10 features of success which we define in Learning to Succeed, and issues of

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1185

school policy and resource allocation relevant to those features will also be described. Later this year the report will be launched, I hope, at a high profile national conference. We trust that the lessons learned from that project will ultimately be widely applied.

In discussing those issues vital to the future of British education, I could say much more. All too many school buildings are at present crumbling or inadequate. The chief inspector has pointed out that, for lack of capital expenditure, the delivery of the national curriculum will be constrained in about a quarter of secondary schools. Similar problems arise with resources such as libraries, books and computers.

Surely the time must come when the DFE will lay down minimum standards for class size, as the Scots already do, and for accommodation and resources which local authorities and the Schools Funding Agency must provide. Surely too we need much better guidance on such issues as the training and selection of head teachers. We must do everything possible to overcome those conditions which prevent education from reaching an acceptable standard. Central accountability must be crucial, as all too often in the past no single body has been willing to take responsibility when things go wrong. The nation's children and grandchildren deserve to be helped to learn to succeed.

7.28 p.m.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, if any of your Lordships were to walk along Pall Mall on the left-hand side—and it must be a fairly frequent occurrence to walk along Pall Mall—your Lordships would see at the rear entrance of one of the buildings a large inscription: "This door is alarmed". The door may be alarmed but this Peer is very worried at the example of the misuse of the English language that that inscription, which has been there for some time, portrays and at the various other examples which were quoted to your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk.

Therefore, while it is customary to thank the initiator of a debate, I am somewhat guarded in my thanks to my noble friend Lady Perry because today's debate has, on the whole, increased my worries. Part of that arises from the fact that, to my mind, the single most important thing in the Ofsted report was the suggestion that teachers might be given a few years of peace in which to get used to the important and, to my way of thinking, valuable innovations of the past few years. But with the possibility—and I hope that it is a remote one—of the party opposite taking office, it is quite clear that the schools will get nothing of the kind. The party opposite is obviously determined to turn the clock back to the origin of our current distresses.

When one of those socialist Ministers for Education, in a lamentable series of such persons, the late Anthony Crosland, said in a famous remark that he wished to get rid of every "expletive deleted" grammar school in England, it was clearly taken to mean that what he wanted to get rid of was "expletive deleted" grammar, and the result is that which was illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk.

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1186

In other words, for two decades we had—and this persisted in some quarters—a curious link, but not necessarily a marriage, between socialism (the religion of envy is one way of putting it) and progressive child-centred education methods. I say that they are not necessarily linked because, as my noble friend Lady Cox reminded us, until very recently Russia, which was a good deal more socialist than socialists opposite, did maintain rather high educational standards. I am sorry that my noble friend was unable to stay but I am also rather pleased in a way because, otherwise, I should have had to tell her that when her friend goes back to Moscow with her child to get a better education than he has been receiving in Oxfordshire she will find that there, too, some of the things from which education suffers in our consumer society in the Western world—for example television, computer games and all the nonsense with which we clog up the lives of our children—are gaining ground there. Moreover, the devotion to the reading and knowledge of Russian literature which was a very important and central part of Russia's educational system is, alas, now on the decline according to most observers.

A good deal has been said—and again, the investigations of Professor Prais were cited by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk —about our failures in comparison with countries with which it is more natural to compare ourselves: our more immediate Continental neighbours. They are serious, but, if we are to understand the issues that we face, we should not overestimate the extent to which others' success is being maintained. For example, in France there is now a very considerable degree of discontent among both parents and teachers. After all, it was the classic country in which education was the great moulding force of the nation. I listened to the speech of the right reverend Prelate with great interest. He may have noticed a recent report which stated that French parents are switching their children to Church schools—not the church of the right reverend Prelate; but mostly the majority Church in France, the Roman Catholic Church—because they feel that the state system is letting them down.

In the Western world as a whole there appears to be a reaction against what used to be regarded as intellectual achievement and excellence. There is also a tendency for the teaching profession, not to be criticised or abused in the sense that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, suggested, but not to play the same part in leading society as used to be thought proper.

It may well be (and here, again, I believe that the example of Sri Lanka given to us by the right reverend Prelate is relevant) that what we are seeing is that, whereas the driving force of Western society from the Enlightenment and perhaps from even earlier, the belief in education as the solution to the problems both of the individual and of society, is now held in non-European countries, that belief is to some extent—and I believe that the consumer society and television above all, may be the principal culprits—being neglected in Western European societies.

After our period of, I hope, acclimatising ourselves to changes, we may need to look at where our weaknesses still lie. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1187

Detchant, could not stay, but he knows that I disagree with him on the following point. I believe that the accent placed by the noble Lord's commission—and indeed by other noble Lords—on nursery education as the big panacea is wholly misconceived. If we had limitless resources, why not? But if resources are limited—and even noble Lords opposite admit that that is so—that is not where I would put my money.

Compulsory schooling starts earlier in this country than in most countries of the European Union. Therefore, our children already spend more years at school. The idea that we should improve performance by adding on an extra year at the beginning seems to me to be avoiding the question of why, when our children already spend longer at school, they do not, as Professor Prais has shown, do as well as we should like in some vital respects such as numeracy and literacy.

On the whole, it is possible that within those constraints we have not always used our financial resources to the best advantage. I believe it is true to say that British schools have more computers than the schools of most Continental countries. Indeed, we have spent a great deal of money in that respect. No doubt information technology is the way of the future, but I would rather it remained in the future for the first generations of school children who really need, if it is to be of any use to them, to have something about which they wish to seek information. For that, they really need the grounding in literacy, literature and mathematics, especially mental arithmetic, which is the beginning of all sound learning.

For example, I should have preferred to see such money being spent on something mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant; namely, on the physical buildings of schools. I believe it is wrong to allow or force children to study in buildings that are not weather-proof. Of course it can be done. Indeed, as my noble friend Lady Cox reminded us, it is done in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, it seems to me to be something which, in an advanced country that is not at present under bombardment, we should have been able to avoid.

I would rather see more money spent on school libraries. The ultimate tool of education—IT notwithstanding—is the book. A child who is in a school which has an inadequate library is being denied something which is essential and which should be the core of his education. I think that we can and should see whether within these constraints we could not at times make more enlightened choices. I also feel that we have on the whole been rather unfair to our teachers, in that, whatever the class size may be, unless they can rely upon decent behaviour they cannot fulfil their function as teachers.

As noble Lords will be aware, I tried in vain to prevent Her Majesty's Government from accepting the absurd decision of the absurd Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to abolish corporal punishment. I think it was unfair on our teachers to remove that sanction against their will. The teaching profession was not in favour of that and to me the teaching profession's wishes rank higher than those of a bunch of lawyers unfamiliar with our own scene. We have now—we know that this has

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1188

been brought to the Government's attention by one of the main teaching unions—the situation under the Children Act in which it is all too easy for children with a grudge (children are not little angels) to produce an accusation which can lead, perhaps not to the permanent interruption of a career but to harm to the standing of a teacher. I think, for instance, that magistrates have been far too kind to parents who, when sanctions are taken against their children, revenge themselves, or attempt to revenge themselves, physically on teachers.

If we expect a lot of our teachers, I think they can expect from us the conditions of civilised behaviour in the classroom. Although I subscribe to the praise which my noble friends Lady Perry and Lady Blatch and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have given to the achievements in the past few years, I think those achievements are precarious. I think they need closer examination and, if possible, consideration in the light of consultation with countries which I believe are undergoing some of the same strains. Noble Lords opposite may find it easier to put the clock back in education than I could put it back by disinventing television, but we ought to think about these things. On the whole, as I say, the door may be alarmed but I am worried.

7.44 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke: My Lords, in thanking my noble friend Lady Perry for her stimulating introduction to this wide-ranging debate I have a suggestion to make. Why do we not make tomorrow's Hansard required reading for all trainee teachers? I believe it would form a compendium of professional information, personal expertise and differing opinions eloquently expressed. As it is getting late I shall limit myself to two topics.

John Colet founded St. Paul's School in 1509. He wanted the best education for his pupils. They were of course boys but I shall not digress on that. The key words for Dean Colet were "severity, liberality and breadth". Severity needs a gloss. For John Colet severity meant rigour in studies and discipline in personal behaviour. Those three key words together sum up, as well as any modern mission statement, what a good school should stand for. I talk of schools for there my experience lies, having been a school principal for 25 years and, I have to admit, a teacher for 40.

My first point concerns one particular group of secondary schools—city technology colleges. I declare my interest as a founder trustee of the CTC Trust, started in 1987 by Kenneth Baker, then Secretary of State, with a co-founder in the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. I am also chairman of Landau Forte College in Derby. The CTC Trust network now comprises 15 CTCs, 67 technology colleges and 70 affiliated schools. The original 15 CTCs, of which Landau Forte is second youngest, were set up most often in the deprived inner city areas with which we have been so much concerned today in order to provide a sound, broad education up to the age of 16, and then, for 16 to 18 year-olds, specialist courses within an educational culture which is scientific, technological, vocational and international.

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1189

Pupils are accepted at age 11 not on their background or their academic ability but on their own and their parents' undertaking that they will continue in full-time education or training until they are 18. Moreover they must demonstrate some technological aptitude. CTCs are not elite schools. I can speak for my own college in Derby which has a powerful special needs department to help children with learning difficulties as well as those for whom English is not their family's first language. Of course exceptionally gifted pupils have special needs too which we also address. Everyone who visits Landau Forte comments on its happy and positive atmosphere. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that about 21 per cent. of our 11 to 16 year-olds are entitled to free meals and about another 10 per cent. receive grants for uniform.

In these times, when government funding is so restricted and CTCs are running on tight budgets in line with comparable grant-maintained schools, it is important to remember the amount of private sponsorship CTCs and their allied schools have drawn in. That is money which would not otherwise have gone to state-run education. So far private sector sponsors have contributed over £45 million to setting up and equipping these schools, benefiting over 100,000 pupils so far.

Why do I think well of CTCs? I have four reasons. The original 15 are providing valuable pilot lights. As in all innovative experiments there have been some mistakes but they have pioneered five-term school years which make much more sense than the traditional three-term year with long holidays. The five terms each consist of eight weeks. These are interspersed with four two-week breaks and one summer holiday break of four weeks. Most CTCs also run a longer school day providing supervised study and extra-curricular activities in school out of school hours, away from the distractions of television, siblings or even an empty home because the parents are away at work.

Curriculum innovations include offering the International Baccalaureate—at Kingshurst CTC in Birmingham—and combining GNVQs at various levels with the more traditional GCSEs and A-levels, as we do at Landau Forte. Projects include research; for example, teaching how to analyse, interpret and assess the performance and progress of pupils between key stage 3 (for 11 year-olds) and GCSE.

The CTC Trust is also looking at ways in which Internet and superhighway initiatives can help students and teachers in their work. We also hope to improve our libraries. Current projects include the Royal College of Arts schools technology curriculum project, the Smallpiece school-centred initial teacher training programme and the InterTech Europa programme combining technology and languages in England, France and Germany.

The CTC Trust has issued many publications. The recent paper on moral and spiritual development in secondary schools is, as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, mentioned recently in your Lordships' House, particularly recommended, as indeed is Anyone for Science, written by a formidable husband and wife

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1190

team—Dr. Philip Evans, who is headmaster of Bedford School and a member of the SCAA (School Curriculum and Assessment Authority), and Dr. Sandra Evans, former head of science at St Paul's Girls School.

Building on the pilot work of the 15 original CTCs, in 1993 the trust was designated by the Department for Education the lead non-governmental body to promote the new technology colleges programme and schools specialising in teaching languages.

The Education Act 1993 enabled industry to sponsor schools specialising in maths, science and technology through the appointment of four sponsor governors. All maintained schools, grant-maintained and voluntary aided, and local education authority schools are eligible to apply for technology college status. I hope that I have given some idea of the success of an imaginative partnership between the Department for Education and generous private sector sponsors.

After giving an example of good news I turn to a subject which worries me - museum education. Here too I declare an interest. I am a commissioner of the Museums and Galleries Commission and a member of the steering committee which is producing a national report on museum education. It is another education initiative which I applaud. The much needed report is coming about through the co-operation of the Department for Education and the Department of National Heritage.

I have a number of worries. The current local government reorganisation threatens the very existence of some of our finest museums, as described only yesterday in an article in The Times on the threat to the Yorkshire Museum in York whose collection is particularly rich in Roman, Anglo Saxon, Viking and mediaeval antiquities—all clearly relevant to the teaching of history.

Museums are already well used by primary schools and, to a lesser extent, by college students. But they are not being used anything like enough by secondary schools. The recent loosening of the national curriculum has, I am glad to say, afforded more space in the timetable in key stages 3 and 4. The new emphasis in the national curriculum on the use of primary sources means that museums have just the resources needed for, say, history, social studies and literature, not to mention art, design, science and technology.

I wonder whether SCAA could take over responsibility for liaison on museum education now that there is no longer an HMI inspector with special responsibility. Clearly, Ofsted does not have the time. In the past we were fortunate to have the expertise of Mrs. Hazel Moffatt of the HMI who had responsibility for museum education liaison.

GNVQs are a new challenge for teachers, calling for a much more practical approach. Here again museums are a potential resource. I ask the Department for Education for action to realise the full educational potential of museums. Teachers need help to use museums effectively, perhaps in the form of conference or training grants. In any event, guidance is needed. In initial teacher training emphasis could be placed on

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1191

museum use, with appropriate links and dissemination of good practice. I could give a list of museums which already do well in this regard, but I shall not.

It is not only in the academic curriculum that museums can be so useful. I remember a recent visit I made to Northern Ireland with the Museums and Galleries Commission. We commissioners were struck by a brilliant initiative with the acronym EMU—in this case standing for Education for Mutual Understanding. This is based in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and provides a week's residential course for school children. Two groups are taught together, one from a Catholic and one from a Protestant school. I am particularly pleased to be able to make that point today.

My message to the Department for Education today is twofold: congratulations on its encouragement of science and technology in schools using the experience of the original CTCs to benefit the much wider school population, and a plea to promote museum education. Please support and develop the existing examples of good practice. Remember the words of the great Hollywood philosopher Mae West—too much of a good thing is wonderful.

7.57 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I rise with diffidence to speak in this debate. I am not a teacher and I am not in the education world. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for giving me this opportunity to speak on a subject which has not yet been mentioned except briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I shall come to that.

I wish to make a plea for emotionally disturbed, disintegrated and delinquent children. I have been privileged to work with such children alongside teachers. I have the deepest sympathy with teachers who have a class of 30 children which includes one emotionally disturbed child who can completely upset the whole class and make life difficult both for the teacher and the other children.

I must declare an interest. I am chairman of the board of governors of a school in Kent—the Caldecott Community—which takes deeply disturbed, disintegrated children. I am also governor of an EBD school in Oxfordshire and I am patron of the Hesley Group in the North of England. Therefore, I have a picture of what teachers have to do with these deeply disturbed children.

The Warnock Report, which we all much admired and respected, was enshrined in Part III of the Education Act. That special needs section of the Act recommended that so far as possible and practicable children should be educated in their local schools and live in their own homes. The Act also stated—and I speak from the point of view of the children—that if their homes were so disintegrated and difficult those children could be placed in foster homes. However, some children are so difficult that they cannot be cared for either in their own homes or foster homes. They must be placed in schools run with a high ratio of highly skilled staff where the children can receive education, security, structure and discipline, and a special kind of therapeutic care.

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1192

There is a difficulty about such children. The schools are run by voluntarily organisations, by charities. I admit that those schools are expensive to run, with two members of staff for every child, and with psychiatric and psychological help and all that goes with it. A reasonable building is necessary and an outreach service which deals with the children when they leave school, involving two hostels and social workers to help the children to obtain work outside.

There is this great difficulty. The Education Act was wonderfully taken through your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lady Blatch. She told us that if a child were to be assessed as being in need of special education it would be legal that that child should receive such education; and how right she was. But, alas, that is not happening. I received a letter from an education officer stating that although a child had been deemed to need special education, the child could not receive it because the city treasurer said that there was no money for it. My noble friend Lady Blatch is aware that I know that that is illegal, but that is what happened. As a result, these schools are run by money raised by charity. I pay special tribute to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild who is helping us with money for such a school. Nevertheless, we are not gaining those children because the treasurers of the local authorities say that they cannot afford the cost. I bring this matter to my noble friend's attention. I have given notice that I would raise this very serious issue. The group of children involved is small, but, my goodness, they are disruptive and difficult.

I take up a point raised by my noble friend Lord Beloff to give one example of the difficulties experienced by teachers. At one of the schools of which I am a governor a teacher opened the door of a fourth floor room and saw a small boy standing on the window sill. He had opened the window. Whether he really meant to jump, I do not know. But your Lordships can imagine how the teacher felt. The teacher crept slowly up to the child, and pulled him down. He was a skinny little thing, from Hackney. Of course, the child struggled. He therefore had bruises. Immediately, the teacher having put the child down on the floor, thankfully, and having closed the window, the child said, "You've assaulted me. I'll have you up". The teacher said, "Yes, I had to assault you in order to save you". The child said, "I didn't want to be saved. What did you do that for? You've assaulted me. I wish to charge you". The teacher led the child to a telephone, phoned the local police and said, "Constable, a complaint is coming through". The constable was very clever. He listened to the child and said, "I'm so sorry, sir"—that description upset the child—"but I'm very busy now. I've got four charges to make in the police station. I'll come tomorrow morning". By the morning the child did not want to see the police and it was all over.

I give that as a small example of how difficult it is to deal with those children. However, they must be dealt with; they must be helped. Such treatment is expensive but cost effective in the long run because those are the children who will become the mental patients or criminals of the future. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Blatch is present. She knows that when

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1193

children are assessed for such treatment it is wrong when they do not receive it based on purely financial reasons.

My second point relates to non-school attendance. Under the Education Act the Department for Education issued regulations and guidance—and very good they are too. Nevertheless, the number of children not attending school, or excluded from school, has risen rather than fallen. I have several small friends. They are delinquents; they are breaking and entering. They want to be excluded from school because school time is the best time to break and enter and steal, when the other children do not see them and therefore do not grass on them. They say, too, that the ladies are all out shopping. The small boy to whom I spoke a little while ago had done 45 jobs and had not been at school for two years.

I have great sympathy with the teachers because one difficult child in the class can disrupt it. Nevertheless, our delinquency rate will continue to rise unless we take responsibility for what is being done with the children excluded from school. The council of Barnados ran an extremely good centre which my noble friend Lady Blatch visited. It was for non-school attenders in Birmingham. The children requiring special treatment and care attended, and returned to their original schools after 18 months.

Finally, parents need all the help and co-operation that they can obtain. I often think that there needs to be somebody in schools to whom parents can turn. With all the work that teachers have to do, they do not have the time, or perhaps the skills, to deal with the problems of parents. It is a matter which we must address.

My point relates to a small but difficult group of children. They cause many problems, both when small and as they grow up. It would be cost effective to help those children through the voluntary organisations which are giving a service. I hope that the Minister will understand why I have brought the matter to your Lordships' notice.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for raising this important issue today. If it gives the House any comfort, I assure your Lordships that I have no long-standing dinner invitation tonight and I have every intention of staying for the winding-up speeches.

The National Commission on Education chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton—he obviously has one of those long-standing dinner invitations—reported in 1993 that educational achievement is strongly associated with parental background. Parental education, particularly that of the mother, together with parental interest and participation in their child's schooling, have all been found to be significant factors affecting children's academic achievement.

Also significant are the values to which a school is committed. Where there is a positive school ethos, pupils develop positive attitudes towards school and education and will inevitably achieve more. The school's ethos has a powerful impact on the

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1194

effectiveness of teaching and learning and consequently achievement. Headteachers, teachers and school governors all play crucial roles in developing and communicating their agreed values to their pupils.

The school ethos, therefore, needs evaluating alongside other more measurable outcomes, such as examination results. The Scottish inspectorate has developed "ethos indicators"; Her Majesty's inspectors of schools in England and Wales are charged with reporting on the,


    "spiritual, moral, cultural and social development of pupils".

Ofsted made it quite clear to schools that spiritual and moral development of pupils takes place across the whole curriculum in every subject and in every area of school life, not just in religious education and collective worship. That point was powerfully made by the right reverend Prelate earlier in the debate.

However, where religious education and opportunities for school worship are the Cinderella of the curriculum—under-resourced, underfunded, bottom of the list of priorities—crucial opportunities for spiritual and moral development of pupils are lost. Many schools struggle to appoint qualified teachers of religious education; indeed, in some areas schools have failed to appoint suitable teachers, even after repeated advertisements for vacancies. This situation needs to be addressed immediately, with enhanced funding in this area of the curriculum.

Opportunities for spiritual and moral development, together with relevant Christian teaching, are often lost because of the daily burden of providing it which falls on the headteacher or teacher responsible. May I commend the work of the hundreds of gifted and committed Church leaders and Christian school workers in towns up and down the country who, day in, day out, visit schools to help teachers with RE lessons and who lead daily school assemblies with Christian themes in ways that are relevant and meaningful to today's youth.

I was fortunate to meet such a group, "Walk through the Bible Ministries", and hear about the magnificent work that they are doing in schools. The Government need to give serious consideration to extra funding and resourcing of religious education teachers and teaching and to supporting the Christian groups who currently help many schools deliver meaningful Christian assemblies in schools on a regular basis.

8.12 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I too give warm thanks and congratulations to my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating today's debate. It is appropriate that we should consider the impact of the Government's recent education reforms. This year's annual report from Ofsted states:


    "Schools have welcomed the increase in autonomy brought about by the introduction of local management. It is generally agreed that we need a National Curriculum which defines the essential knowledge, understandings and skills pupils should be taught in each Key Stage ... What is clear is that the reforms, collectively, are improving educational quality ... OFSTED inspections together with academic performance tables show, moreover, that many schools are raising pupils' standards of achievement".

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1195

Despite that, any casual observer analysing exam standards—however imperfect a yardstick some may consider them to be—might be forgiven for imagining that educational achievement is showing a marked decline. It is salutary to reflect upon the questions posed in the first 11-plus exam set by the London School Board in 1893. It was designed for pupils in elementary schools who would have sat in rows at iron-framed desks, 60 to a class—and I emphasise that.

Across all subjects, the 1893 exams were demonstrably more difficult than their 1993 counterparts. For example, the simplest maths question in 1893—albeit aimed at the most able 11 year-olds—was:


    "Multiply six million five hundred and eighty-three thousand and twenty by six thousand three hundred and nine, and divide this product by seven hundred and one (Answer in figures).

By contrast, the hardest calculation required of 1993's above average 11 year-olds—and here I shall not try the patience of your Lordships by reading out the whole question for it is somewhat longwinded—was:


    "Rob says: 'This means there are 225 x 75 worms'. Without using a calculator, work out how many worms there are in the area of grass".

For those noble Lords not of a mathematical bent, the respective answers are 59,247,180 and 16,875. For the record, I did not have to use a calculator to derive those solutions.

That is an indication of the change in standards since 1893. However, statistics demonstrate that since 1945, levels of pupils' achievement have broadly improved. As Professor Jim Campbell of Warwick University put it:


    "The proportion of the population that is illiterate was higher in the 1950s than now. It is our own expectations that are being let down, rather than objective criteria".

Indeed, now that they have access to league tables and inspectors' reports, parents are demanding, quite properly, that their children be given the opportunity to achieve even better results.

At the same time, as mentioned by many noble Lords today, international comparisons suggest that the approaches of our economic rivals to education are engendering much more literate, numerate and motivated young adults than ourselves. Thus, recent research into mathematical skills shows that English nine and 13 year-olds now trail their counterparts in Italy, Korea, Hungary, Taiwan and many other countries.

What lies at the heart of the Ofsted report—and here I echo my noble friend Lady Cox—is the dilemma of how to steepen the curve of improvement in standards, given that it is relatively flat when measured against that of our economic rivals and our own expectations. In my view quite correctly, the report has identified the need to focus on those factors which make one school more effective than another—that enable pupils at individual schools to achieve more than at others—as one of the most pragmatic means of introducing best practice. I am pleased to have heard today of the Government's commitment in that area, if only because all the evidence indicates that effective schools can have a significantly beneficial effect upon the life chances of their pupils.

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1196

In that context the report states:


    "effective schools are well-run schools; where the teaching is purposeful and the teachers' expectations of children high; where progress is monitored systematically; and where parents are involved in a genuine partnership".

As put by Peter Mortimer, the director of the University of London Institute of Education, and reported in The Times of 13th February 1995:


    "At its best, a positive ethos incorporates a self-reinforcing system in which high expectations and enthusiasm lead to positive and constructive attitudes to learning among both staff and pupils".

This, the self-reinforcing system, is the real power of the principle of achievement in our schools.

There is a further imperative that is required to make a school an effective one. We should never lose sight of the fact that the practice of education is not a precise science; rather it is one of the humanities. Thus, while the framework introduced by the recent reforms provides a much needed yardstick against which to measure general levels of attainment, we should not permit this to obscure the fact that, above all, children are human beings in their own right, each with their own individual abilities. As such, they should be allowed to expect both trust and respect from their schools and teachers.

I was talking recently to the headmistress of my local primary in West Sussex—a very happy and effective school—and she told me that it is this trust and respect at all levels and in all relationships that is the most fundamental element of her school ethos. This, after all, is the very essence of social interaction. It is that influence that is fostered as the central foundation underpinning the rest of the school's activities. Not surprisingly, this relationship of mutual trust and respect is extended to parents. The adoption of the principle that the school has a responsibility within the wider community has translated itself into the school being more than just a school. By a perfectly natural process it has become very much part of the life and soul of the community, as important in its own way as the parish church, the village pub or the village shop. I venture to suggest that that should be a role model for all schools.

That leads me to the issue of parental involvement, as opposed to empowerment, in education. To a greater or lesser extent, state schooling has created a climate of dependency. The simple reality is that there is a price that must be paid, an obligation—so eloquently summarised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon—that parents must acquit, not necessarily in monetary terms, but most certainly in terms of time. Schools which fail to recognise the imperative of consistent and proactive involvement of individual parents in the schooling of their children are perhaps as guilty of the sin of omission as those parents who assume that while their offspring are in the care of the education system their responsibilities are in abeyance.

One is aware of the old adage that one can take a horse to water but one cannot make it drink. Equally, the structure of society and working hours do not always make it easy for parents to commit as much time to the schooling of their children as they might wish. However, the benefits of proactive parental participation—particularly at pre-school and primary levels—are well

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1197

known. Not only do children perform better and achieve more, but parents have reported greater self-reliance and self-esteem, thereby becoming more active and socially responsible members of the community. Thus, if only for social reasons, active parental assistance at pre-school and primary level must be encouraged vigorously as the means to effect the genuine partnership to which the Ofsted report refers.

It was freely admitted by the headmistress of my local primary school that, in the absence of such parental involvement, the premises on which the school ethos is based would be compromised and, bluntly, she just would not be able to afford to provide an effective education to her pupils. Clearly the commitment of parents' time to their children's schools can have a considerable financial impact. In playschools this is even more marked. For instance, in 1994 the estimated revenue that was derived from parental sources was £250 million, compared with contributions from public funds of some £10 million. That is no mean achievement, and is an absolutely fundamental role of parents. The challenge is to attempt to broaden the base of this involvement, particularly in those areas of the country, such as inner cities, that suffer social disadvantage.

Finally, pursuing the line of reasoning of a number of noble Lords today, I offer this thought. Only last week we were all reminded vividly of the deleterious effects of a lack of achievement in education. In media reports following the disgraceful incidents that caused the friendly international between Eire and England in Dublin to be abandoned, it was illustrated by a member of the National Football Intelligence Unit that the psychological profile of the average mindless football hooligan is a youth who has been at school, and continues to be in his adult life, an under-achiever. Thus, in a very real sense, those appalling scenes were attributable to a lack of pupil achievement.

This is the real danger that we face. While accepting the oft-stated premise that our schools and teachers should not be drawn into the profession of riot control, they nonetheless have the responsibility to be guardians of morality.

In a broader sense, one of the prime responsibilities of education—one which is too often ignored, or even neglected—is to prepare our children for their adult life, not simply to give them a background of knowledge. Careful and effective schooling, in conjunction with parental involvement, has immense power to shape the future lives of our children. Setting our expectations of attainment at appropriate levels, combined with essential moral guidance, enables individual children and parents to become achievers. This in turn inspires self-esteem and self-confidence and a greater propensity towards social and responsible behaviour.

The corollary to this—to permit our education system to create either non-achievers or under-achievers—is to store up problems for ourselves by engendering in more and more of our children disaffection and dissatisfaction

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1198

with self in particular and with society in general. That is a recipe for ever more anti-social behaviour and thuggery.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Rennell: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating this very interesting debate. I am delighted to see that a few noble Lords are still present. I look forward very much to hearing all the remaining speakers. Like my noble friend Lady Faithfull, I have no qualifications to speak in this debate other than that I have four children under the age of 17.

For pupils and students to achieve in schools, there must be an efficient structure within which those pupils can work—hence the Government's educational reforms, of which I am a supporter. The reforms were much needed; they have been far-reaching; and they are brave. Because so much has been attempted, perhaps too quickly, mistakes have undoubtedly been made. The quality of teachers is the most important element in education. More teacher training reforms should perhaps have been on the agenda 10 or 15 years ago. First efforts towards the new national curriculum were overwhelming and unworkable. The Government should perhaps have been seen to have consulted more widely with head teachers, with ordinary teachers, and with other wise educationists—many of them here in this House. But it is much easier to criticise and destroy than to construct and be positive. I am optimistic concerning our children's education. But of course it will take time.

Grant-maintained schools are performing well. The recently published chief inspector's report states that the differences between LEA-managed schools and grant-maintained schools were insubstantial in most respects. He goes on to say that the standards in GM schools are somewhat higher, in part reflecting the generally more favourable socio-economic circumstances of those schools. I hope that I was not sounding too much like the shadow Chancellor in that expression.

We have heard many times of the importance of parental influence in education. Indeed, grant-maintained schools have been created as a result of that parental influence. Furthermore, through the media, we also know that the excellence of grant-maintained schools is perceived by many well-known parents.

Like my noble friend Lady Perry, I believe that there is confidence in many of the reforms that are taking place: grant-maintained schools; local education authority-managed schools; league tables—although they still need fine tuning; the national curriculum; parental choice, and so on. Dare I even suggest that noble Lords on the other side of the House might accept that some of the reforms have merit?

I mentioned that the reforms have been brave. The Government have taken steps in their education reforms which they believe are in the best interests of this and succeeding generations of children. They are determined to give the children of this country one of the most important things in life (it has been mentioned many

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1199

times before): a good education. It is, after all, very brave and difficult to strive for improvement and change in a field in which so many entrenched ideological doctrines are held by so many different groups: teachers' unions; local education authorities; politicians; and university chancellors.

My greatest concern is the irresponsible attitudes taken by some in one of those groups, the local education authorities. I will not dwell on the deplorable campaign by some Labour-controlled LEAs against the creation of grant-maintained schools—although I have 50 or more examples.

A point which also concerns me very much is the inefficiency, the negligence and the squandering of resources in some Labour councils and LEAs, particularly when they waste educational resources. This squandering of resources was highlighted in the Daily Mail on 3rd February by Mr. Leo McKinstry. Mr. McKinstry was until recently a Labour Party researcher and councillor. Although I have the article here, I shall spare the noble Lords opposite any embarrassment by reading it out. I shall not do so.

But whereas I always take with a pinch of salt what I read in newspapers, I take more seriously the recent findings of the Audit Commission. It reports that it has found scope for saving on the pay bill for local authorities' administrative and clerical staff—a saving of some £500 million. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place has stated that £250 million can also be saved by eliminating surplus school places. He also said that there are some £150 million in unspent school balances available now to fund education services.

Funds allocated to education and associated facilities must be used for those purposes. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will let us know the remedies that are proposed to enable those currently-being-lost resources, as it were, to be used for the benefit of educating our children.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, it is my duty and privilege to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for instituting this debate. I also thank her for making me aware of something that I had not realised until now. Her description of the state of schools in 1979 made me very glad that I was at one of the few schools of that period which had maths, English, history and science as part of the prescribed curriculum. In other words, that school was fortunate to have courses very similar to what is in the national curriculum and now regarded as best practice.

Indeed, there was a great deal of wrestling and dancing in getting right the national curriculum. We have recently established a manageable national curriculum. There is also a degree of testing with regard to the levels of attainment of young people. That is good educational practice. If there are tests and assessments, individual needs are ascertained; and, once ascertained, those individual needs can receive the correct help. It is a pity that the noble Baroness is not in her place at the moment, because the special educational needs code of

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1200

practice is the best example of that. It makes sure that special and individual needs are recorded and taken care of.

Unfortunately, that takes time. Teachers need to spend hours doing it. Taking records of a class of 30 pupils involves a considerable amount of paper shuffling. That is why we are worried when we hear that teachers may be lost through financial considerations. I bring in the point about secondary education, upon which most of the debate has been focused, in order to emphasise that, "Quality don't come cheap in any department". If we want the best, we shall ultimately have to pay for it.

On many occasions the Government have stated that they believe in quality in education. They have taken some steps towards it. But they must be prepared to back up that belief, by whatever means are available. If that means additional taxation, we on these Benches are not frightened of it; we believe that quality comes first. If we want the quality, we have to spend the money. Resources may be limited, but they are needed. If we cannot succeed with our education system in the modern industrialised world, we shall not succeed—full stop. Our whole economic structure is based on the knowledge acquired by our people. One cannot rely on natural resources in the modern world. Saudi Arabia has recently found itself in financial difficulties, even with its natural resources. Even a country with such a small population and a huge amount of oil can find itself with problems.

One of the major problems that we have to face when dealing with education in this country is that we have inherited a culture which is anti-education and anti-training. It is very unfortunate. I do not know its source. The Celtic fringes have often been better served in their attitude towards education. There is an oft quoted remark: the Welsh worship education, the Scots respect it and the English have nothing personal against it.

If we are to encourage people to take up the educational opportunities that are open to them, we must concentrate on discouraging that culture. It is very difficult to do that. There is within all of us the feeling that, "What I did is right because I did it". We may not be used to training. In certain parts of our society, that is undoubtedly true and we do not look towards training as a natural by-product. Our successes in higher education are built round the fact that everybody has assumed that for certain people it is natural to go into higher education. Something similar must be effected for further education.

Further education is one of the most important parts of the educational process. It is not merely a link between compulsory schooling and higher education. It must be more than that. Otherwise, we should only need to have A-level examinations or some reformed version of them—perhaps Scottish higher certificate with A-levels on top of it. That would cover everything. But instilling certain practical skills—possibly "training" is the right term here—might be more appropriate in certain parts of further education. Practical skills need

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1201

to be acquired. We should have access to such education at all times throughout our lives. The 16 to 19 year-old group require basic skills.

However, as we know, technical changes are taking place at an incredibly fast rate in our society. All the information that we have tends to indicate that the rate of change will not slow down; on the contrary, it will increase. Forms of further education and training—whatever term one wishes to use—will become more and more important. My own party suggests that there should be a two-year entitlement in the course of a working life to take time out for, say, part-time or distance learning in order to acquire new skills. That part-time learning should be funded by the state in a certain way. That is one answer. I shall listen to any others. My party's policies, along with everybody else's, are now in the melting pot before the next general election. If we are to encourage people to acquire new skills to make them employable, we must be open to all new angles and all educational opportunities that are available.

I shall restrict my words because of the time. One point that emerges from a discussion of technological change is that we must not be totally wedded to the educational methods of the past. We have heard today a great deal about the decline in written English. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, blamed television for a great deal of that decline. As a dyslexic, I feel vaguely put upon. My learning curve was of necessity different. I acquired most of my information from television. Possibly it is the quality of the television programmes that the noble Lord berates rather than television itself. I see that the noble Lord shakes his head.

However, I have often thought that when pupils are learning plays in schools, the video of a good production of a Shakespeare play—or any other playwright—will convey more information than sitting down and reading the play. Playwrights do not write plays to be read; they write plays to be performed. A video or an audio cassette offers a performance. I suggest that we resist the Luddite tendency within all of us—because no one likes change. We must take on new skills and forms of information. We must develop so that we are open to new ideas.

The hour is late and I shall draw my arguments to a conclusion. The whole debate has made me an even stronger fan of timed debates than I was before; indeed, many noble Lords who were not able to stay to the end will probably agree with me. However, unless we can open ourselves up to new methods of teaching and new structures of training, especially within the further education centres—which may mean putting our hands in our pockets—we shall be left behind. We do not have any real choice if we are to stay competitive within the world economy. The East, the southern hemisphere and the Far East are rapidly catching up with us in terms of economic performance. If we are to stay competitive, we must maintain our levels of skills and training. We do not have any other option.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Peston: My Lords, a few of us are still here. However, I am afraid that, speaking for myself, it is not

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1202

a remark I make with any degree of happiness. I sat here and found a number of the speeches made by noble Lords opposite particularly disagreeable and most unsuited to the sort of education debates we are used to. I hope therefore that they will forgive me if I largely ignore them.

The debate is partly concerned with standards of achievement. Some useful background information on that topic is to be found in the current admirable Social Trends from which some noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Elton, quoted. I shall refer to both the good and the bad sides.

On the good side, Table 3.15 tells us that 30 per cent. of school leavers have one or more A levels and more than 60 per cent. obtain at least one GCSE, whereas only 6 to 7 per cent. have no graded results. That exaggerates the successes for it conceals the fact that many school leavers obtain very few GCSEs. But it is not bad, especially when we look at the progress through time.

In the middle of the 1970s 18 per cent. of school leavers had no GCE or equivalent qualification. But I have a concern when I look at such figures. Are we comparing like with like? I expressed the fear elsewhere that academic standards in higher education have fallen. I have less knowledge of schools. My worry is that assessment, including that by inspectors, is made with reference to average achievement which may fall in absolute terms. I must therefore ask the question: how confident are we that the criteria we use are as strict as they were? Will they, as they should, become stricter in the future? That is not a rhetorical question; it is one to which I should dearly like an answer.

I hope that I am not an old fogey, but I do not believe that spelling is all there is to English. I say that though I am well known to be a crossword puzzle addict and for that spelling is of the essence. I also do not believe that an inability to do sums in pre-decimal coinage is a disaster. But I am struck by the scale of failure in elementary mathematical and writing ability. I am also astounded—a point made peripherally by one of my noble friends—by how little the young people I meet know of our history.

In relation to the problem of mathematical and writing ability, Table 3.25 in Social Trends reports the scale of innumeracy and illiteracy among 20 year-olds. Apparently 40 per cent. have writing and spelling problems; over 20 per cent. have numeracy problems; and nearly 20 per cent. have difficulty with reading, writing and spelling. Table 3.26, which I particularly commend to noble Lords, provides further disturbing evidence of the extent to which 21 year-olds fail the most elementary numeracy and literacy tests. One thing we in your Lordships' House have in common is that we all agree that that is not good enough, either for the individuals concerned and for their roles in society. Also, as was remarked by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, it implies economic failure. Our country requires a fully numerate and literate population. That is good in itself but our prosperity also depends on it.

The noble Baroness and other noble Lords were at pains to emphasise the success of the Government's education policies, as reflected in the achievements of

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1203

pupils and students. Certainly, there have been such achievements. Table 3.14 in Social Trends, as has been referred to, shows the rise in the number of adults with qualifications at or above GCSE grades A to C. Table 3.16 shows the decline in the percentage of school leavers with no GCSE or equivalent qualification, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. However, because of a desire on the part of noble Lords opposite—the first example of more than one to which I shall draw attention—to make political points and to attack so-called progressive methods of education, we were not told that in both the cases I quoted, based on figures in the Government's publication, the improvements since 1979 are simply a continuation of a trend established considerably earlier. That is apparent to anyone who wishes to present a balanced view of these matters. I could add that if I were in the business of political mischief-making, which noble Lords know I never am, the trend is certainly no better than its previous time path and in one of the cases to which I referred it is, if anything, slackening off. What I am trying to say, and here I admonish some noble Lords who have spoken, is that there is no need to denigrate the past in order to claim, rightly or wrongly, that the Government's changes are for the better. It is unnecessary.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page