Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the welcome that he has given to those aspects of the Green Paper that he identified. Because it is a Green Paper, we shall be consulting on much of the detail, including his final point. We shall want to talk to the Churches about those issues.

As regards the timing of the increase in the capital grant to Church schools, subject to consultation and the passage of the necessary legislative procedures, it should be implemented from 1st April 2002. I am especially grateful for the welcome given by the right reverend Prelate to the extension in the number of Church schools. We have read the report by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. We wish to talk further to the Churches about how we might move in that direction.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on what they have achieved thus far in education, and on what they are planning to achieve. Can the noble Baroness say whether the Government have any plans for that important minority of children who do not receive the support and encouragement of their parents in respect of education?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has a chance to read the Green

12 Feb 2001 : Column 42

Paper he will notice a number of proposals within it that are geared to try to help the children whom he has identified. In responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I mentioned the new funding that we are providing for schools in deprived areas where not all children lack the support of their parents. This will provide access to sports facilities, extra music lessons, visits to museums and theatres; in other words, all the enriching activities that are extremely important. The additional help that we want to provide to those young people who come into secondary schools but who are still not reaching the target levels that the Government have set will, again, be an important way to help children who have not been given very much support at home.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on presenting such a radical Green Paper on education. The document is impressive in its scope, but also--at first glance--in the degree of detail that it addresses in relation to some of the most stubborn, long-standing and increasingly difficult issues that face our schools. I welcome the very clear statement that the process will be conducted in partnership with teachers and parents. I particularly welcome the fact that there is such an emphasis on the individual child, as well as on the circumstances of the family and on the home in very disadvantaged communities.

From what my noble friend has said, I believe that the new pupil learning credits will open up tremendous enrichment possibilities for children who would otherwise never go to a theatre, learn a musical instrument or participate in activities that other children take for granted. The Government have taken many steps in that direction; indeed, that is an extremely welcome development.

I have one question for my noble friend, building on what she said about transition between primary and secondary school. This is a time of extreme vulnerability for some children and a time when a good deal can go wrong. Does my noble friend have any further information on what the Government are doing to improve that process and make it easier for primary and secondary schools to work together?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said about the emphasis on the individual child. A great deal of the Green Paper focuses on raising standards, extending diversity and providing greater autonomy for schools. However, the needs of individual pupils must never be ignored. That is why we are considering pupil learning credits and why we are looking at extra provision for the gifted and talented. Indeed, it is why we are considering ways of lifting the national curriculum for those pupils in secondary schools who will benefit from a more vocational form of education and learning, thereby giving them greater opportunities to spend some of the week in their local FE colleges. We want to see much more collaboration between the FE sector and the secondary sector.

12 Feb 2001 : Column 43

As regards the transition from primary to secondary school, it is absolutely vital that the progress we have been making in our primary schools with higher levels of literacy and numeracy, as well as better overall performance in science, is maintained when children make that move into the secondary sector. We expect there to be very good contact between secondary schools and feeder primary schools. We also expect those children who have not done as well as anticipated to be given extra help. They should be identified as a result of information being passed from primary to secondary schools right at the beginning of their secondary careers, so that they can receive the extra help that they need.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Blatch, I welcome many of the ideas in the Green Paper. The ideas of diversity and autonomy have long been at the heart of Conservative education policy. We must rejoice when the sinner repents, even if--as in this case--it is a rather late repentance in the life of this Parliament. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, my concern relates to the 54 per cent of secondary schools that will not be specialist schools.

As the Minister well knows, and as the Government have acknowledged, there is already a crisis in finding sufficient specialist teachers. The creation of so many specialist schools and the huge proportion of secondary schools becoming specialist schools will soak up a very large number of specialist teachers. Inevitably, they will see the attraction of teaching in a school that specialises in their subject. They will be mopped up as they finish initial training, and the good teachers will be instantly recruited by the specialist schools from wherever they worked. Can the noble Baroness say who will be left teaching in the 54 per cent "bog standard" schools? Where will we find the good teachers of history, geography, modern languages and mathematics? As a trustee of a city technology college, I already know that we have difficulties in securing enough technology teachers in specialist areas. Can the Minister say what will happen as regards finding good teachers--the best teachers--for those who may most need them in the other schools?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I shall not repeat what I said in my initial response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about those schools that opt to stay and provide the whole range of the curriculum and do not wish to become specialist schools. I believe that I set out the Government's position in that respect in some detail.

The noble Baroness asked about teachers. There is a great deal of information in the Green Paper about finding new ways to recruit more and better teachers, and about getting teachers into the classroom quickly and retaining them. I do not believe that all teachers, even those teaching the subjects that will be the focus of some specialist schools, will necessarily want to teach in specialist schools. Many of them will be happy to teach in comprehensive schools that decide not to go

12 Feb 2001 : Column 44

down the specialist route. That is certainly the case at present in those areas where there are a number of specialist schools.

The noble Baroness mentioned history and geography, which are not the subject of a specialism. We shall not have schools specialising in either history or geography. We expect all schools to teach those subjects and to teach them well. I believe that the noble Baroness is being unduly pessimistic, especially in the light of the numerous proposals in Chapter 5 of the document about finding ways to increase the number of people who come into secondary school teaching. Those proposals include introducing modules into undergraduate programmes, which will, I hope, encourage more students at that stage in their careers to think about teaching because they find it challenging, exciting and interesting--indeed, something to which they might not have been exposed were this change not introduced.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would be willing to dissociate herself from that extremely unfortunate phrase "bog standard" comprehensive schools which, in the experience of many people present in the Chamber, is injurious to those communities of both pupils and teachers with which so many of us have been involved during our working lives outside this House.

Further, will the noble Baroness admit that the information that we are short of teachers in maths, English, languages, science and technology--that is, the main subjects of the national curriculum--is most disconcerting and worrying, especially when the DfEE's own figures show that there has been a 14 per cent reduction in applications for student teachers in secondary schools, compared with 1997? These declines are particularly severe in maths, modern languages, English and in history and geography where the figure is more than a third. Class sizes are at their highest for the past 25 years. Heaven knows, I am no apologist for the former Conservative government, but that is a pretty startling statistic, as is the one that vacancies are at a 10-year high. I do not think that we can be fobbed off with platitudes about an extra 2,000 teachers in training positions this year.

Does the Minister think that the Liberal Democrat proposal to pay teacher trainees a 15,000 training salary would be of assistance? Has she any ideas as to how the inspection of schools can be conducted rigorously but without discouraging teachers?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page