Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for bringing
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1349
 
to our attention this very important issue. She again demonstrated in her opening remarks her passionate dedication to education and her wide knowledge. It is, as ever, a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

I want to talk about the importance of through learning—lifelong learning, if you like—from pre-school onwards as influencing access to education for 16 to 19 year-olds. There is much of value in the Tomlinson report. I note the vision to ensure that by 19 all young people should be able,

Yes, of course, but education is not simply about new structures. There is a lot of vision and many exciting initiatives in education, which encourage pupils to continue after 16 and, indeed, for life. I shall give two examples later; my noble friend Lord McKenzie gave others. I have taught children and young people from pre-school through to university and I know that, by and large, it is predictable from an early age which young people will succeed in education and will have the motivation to go on to post-16 education. That is sad, but true. So how do we change that?

I am reminded of the need to build strong foundations as I experience the restructuring of my house. Unless the foundations are deep enough and the various beams strong enough, not only will vicious cracks appear, but the whole structure may not last long. So it is with children and learning and motivation to learn. Things will only get better if we put in more effort lower down the education system. The Government's five-year strategy for children and learners aims to give every child the best possible start in life. That commitment to children and their education and welfare has permeated much recent thinking, and many noble Lords here today have contributed to that thinking. Sure Start has of course been a flagship programme, and there is good evidence from the Institute of Education that children who experience three years of high-quality early-years education boost their development at the end of key stage 2 by 10 months. Because Sure Start involves parents, it has an impact on their ability to cope with systems, to use systems, and to support their children. Many children need that support to pursue education at all levels.

The policies set out in Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004 are significant to much that is changing in the area of support for children and families. The commitment to establishing children's trusts, and the requirement for a single children and young people's plan in each local authority, will act as agents for change. Local strategic partnerships of many kinds are being established, including education professionals, which is essential. Some have set up a Parenting Lead, a creative way of looking at parenting in its widest sense, not just in the context of disability or fostering and adoption. Those of us who think that parenting is key to achievement, welfare and happiness, including the pursuit of education, should be encouraged by that. Extended schools can also provide parenting support as
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1350
 
well as involving the community in a school's facilities, including sport. All that should encourage engagement with education in its widest sense.

I do not underestimate the influence of health on achievement. The National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services and the public health White Paper provide a focus on health issues. Research shows that pupils at schools who participate in the National Healthy School Standard appear to be performing better academically. Many factors influence the ability and the motivation to pursue education beyond the age of 16. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth is right; personal skills are important, and young people tell us so.

I also recognise the challenges involved in encouraging some young people to pursue education, and we must not forget those. A recent manifesto from the Children's Society, National Children's Homes, Barnardo's, Save the Children and the NSPCC reminded us that young people in the youth justice system, refugee children, young people in care and other vulnerable groups are just that; vulnerable. Their educational attainment, as well as their physical and emotional welfare, are likely to be suffering and will suffer.

I will focus briefly on two examples of creative work in education. First is the Increased Flexibility Programme, a new initiative instigated by the DfES and managed by the Learning Skills Council. It has been researched by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence, of which I am a trustee. The programme involves day release from school to complete NVQ or vocational GCSEs at college. Some positive outcomes to date, according to participants, include improved confidence, being able to learn in an applied way, autonomy in decision-making and increased intention to participate in post-16 education, which are all excellent results.

Secondly, I want to mention the DfES international strategy for education, skills and children's services. The report Putting the World into World-Class Education is an important document, which is worthy of more attention than we can give it now. Already, schools and colleges are developing initiatives to promote global citizenship, and to help young people to understand social justice, sustainable development, diversity and interdependence. That is one way in which young people can be encouraged to access education in a wide sense. I hope that we will not be limited in our thinking to systems that are relevant simply to the UK. Given encouragement and support, young people could be encouraged to access pre-16 and post-16 international programmes in exciting ways.

In conclusion, does the Minister agree that the future of access to post-16 education lies in the building blocks that we set lower down our system and in initiatives such as those I referred to? Does he recognise that particular challenges exist in vulnerable groups of young people? Does he agree that a global dimension to education might be attractive to young people and important for their development and for our future?
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1351
 

4.6 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing this important subject for debate. I hope that some of your Lordships might have had the opportunity, as I had, of talking to some of the young people who were lobbying outside the House earlier today for more money for colleges.

I welcome the report in one respect, in so far as it encourages more respect for those whose abilities are not academic. For too long the educational establishment—I say this with great respect—has felt that those members of our community were less than important. Of course, they are very important indeed. I will not try to cover all the ground that other noble Lords have covered today—I am speaking simply on one point. The weakness of the report is that it does not set out effectively how more respect for those who are less able can be achieved.

The idea seems to be that you simply introduce vocational skills and say that they are just as good as other sorts of skills, and that then everyone will want vocational skills. I believe that only a limited number of vocations involve really interesting skills that will make interesting courses. Inevitably, many young people in our society will end up doing rather boring activities which will not make appropriate university vocational courses. I do not understand how the proposal will work, but it seems that you have not only the sheep and the goats but also, if I may say so, the rabbits. I am interested particularly in the people at the bottom of the pile.

I want to take the House back to the Education Reform Act 1988. It had such a brilliant definition of a curriculum, already mentioned by one noble Lord. It states:

The introduction of the Tomlinson report states:

Note the order: HE first, then employment, then the more general subject of adult life. Paragraph 30 contains an important quote:

But there is no mention whatever of social skills or family life. Probably, the role of being a parent and bringing up the next generation is one of the most important things that most young people will do.

What I find missing is a clear vision of how such young people who do not have academic potential are going to achieve parity of esteem. I ask myself what are the skills, knowledge and attributes that are going to make 14 to 19 year-olds more able to cope with the opportunities and challenges of adult life. I want to
 
16 Mar 2005 : Column 1352
 
refer to just one: the ability to get on with oneself and with other people, which is sometimes nowadays called life skills or interpersonal skills.

In the report, no mention is made of those skills. But many of the problems in our society today derive from the need that each of us has for some measure of self-respect, linked to respect for others: the need to understand that each of us has a unique role to play in this world.

To achieve that, young people need to understand a number of things: the emotions of others and how to be able to control their own emotions; how to communicate, whether it is in a discussion group, a presentation, a major debate or just a smile. They need to know how to work as a team; to sink sometimes their own perceived interest to that of the group; to lead and to follow; to distinguish between good and evil—or good and bad; to assess risk; to solve problems. They need to understand about responsibility and trust and how to make decisions and the importance of positive attitudes to others and, especially, the responsibilities of family life.

I follow the right reverend Prelate—who is not in his place, alas—in drawing attention to the importance of the RE curriculum in that context. I should also like to draw attention to what is now called in some schools the co-curriculum—that is to say, all the things that happen outside the curriculum: music; art; dance; drama; team games, to which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, will refer later; competitive sports; outdoor activities and adventure; participating in charitable and community activities and projects; challenges undertaken individually or in small groups, such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.

Year after year, those wider but essential forms of education have fallen to the axe of budget cuts; and Tomlinson makes no reference to them—why not? The co-curriculum is not just for fun, although pleasure and, indeed, competition can be important motivations for young people. It is an essential element in the rounded preparation for adult life in the 20th century.

I want to ask the Minister a specific question: what are the Government's plans for reviving the co-curriculum in maintained schools? What are their plans for reviving the youth service and the facilities provided for out-of-school education for 14 to 19 year-olds? Further, what plans do they have to protect those who work in such organisations from false accusations of abuse and litigation, even when there was no negligence, which is at the moment a tremendously strong deterrent to people entering such work or leads them to cease to work in that area?

If the Government do not have a plan today, I ask them to make a commitment to commission a study to see what it would cost to produce a proper co-curriculum either in all schools or in youth services and voluntary organisations running in parallel and working with schools.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page