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Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord gives it that title. What I have said is that the two White Papers have not yet been given titles. The title with the word "nation" was given to the English White Paper. I used the analogy of the rugby competition, for which the Government have no responsibility whatever, where the word "nations" is used for the whole of the island of Ireland, the Principality of Wales, the Kingdom of Scotland, the Kingdom of England and the Republic of France. The noble Lord should accept that there is nothing sinister about that.
Perhaps I may also deal with his fears about our attitude to local government. I fail to recognise his description. Central government recognises the need to foster and support local democracy and does not seek to undermine the legitimacy or public standing of the other as an institution. Ministers and the local authority associations continue to develop constructive relationships. On many occasions Ministers address and speak to the various local authority associations. Those relationships have been fostered over the past few years. Guidelines announced by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in November of last year ensure effective and co-operative relations between central and local government.
In closing, perhaps I may return to the interests of my own department. Over the past 15 years we have achieved a great deal. Even since the late 1980s, when I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, was a member of a local education authority, there has been a transformation. We have moved the education agenda onto the practical issues of standards and choice that are of vital concern to parents, pupils and employers. The national curriculum has been introduced and developed, which was opposed by the party opposite; regular assessment has been introduced for all children at the key stages, again opposed by the party opposite; parents have been given access to information about their children's own performance and the performance of
Further, we have created Ofsted and improved the inspection regime. Schools now expect to be inspected once every four years. The average used to be something of the order of once every 200 years. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, that we are back on track to inspect all schools within that four-year cycle and we have every intention of so doing.
Choice and diversity have also been enhanced. The number of grant-maintained schools has increased from only 10 in January 1990 to more than 1,000 in 1995. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, for repeating the figures in another way. It means that almost one in five secondary children in England are in grant-maintained schools. City technology colleges have also multiplied. Altogether more than 100 specialist technology and language colleges have been established. All these initiatives contribute to raising standards and widening choice.
The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, mentioned our track record. We have seen a transformation since 1979. Then only 24 per cent. of our young people got five high grade GCSEs or the equivalent; now it is 43 per cent. and growing. Twenty-eight per cent. of our young people now achieve two or more A-levels. That is double the figure of 16 years ago. National vocational qualifications now cover 86 per cent. of the working population. Modern apprenticeships have been launched and businesses have been more closely involved in the development of training policy and provision. In the 1970s, when I went to university, only one in eight young people went on to higher education. Now the figure is nearer one in three and almost 50 per cent. of 18 year-olds can expect to experience some higher education at some point in their lives.
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned our record and said that we would stand or fall on it. I was putting the record in perspective and making it quite clear that we have seen dramatic improvements. The noble Lord implied the opposite. If I may continue on the subject of higher education, we now graduate a higher proportion of our young people than almost any other country in Europe.
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