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Lord Peston: Perhaps the noble Lord could clarify his amendment a little further. If I remember correctly, when the noble Lord's party was in power something like the amendment proposed was not his party's policy. Therefore, this is a new development. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us about it. Further, did I understand the noble Lord to say that the point of his amendment was to assess the value of reducing class sizes for this age group? I thought that he said so, but I may have misheard him. If that is the case, does the noble Lord agree that what he needs to relate to class sizes is not performance per se but something which is nowadays called, "value added"; namely, what is achieved as an improvement by lowering class sizes, comparing like with like. Is that what the noble Lord has in mind? If that is so, the noble Lord will, again, have to explain to Members of the Committee why that suggestion was opposed by him and his colleagues only a few years ago when my noble friend the Minister, myself and other noble Lords on this side of the Chamber were pressing for precisely that aim. What has changed other than the Government to cause the noble Lord to put forward such a view at this time?
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: As the noble Lord knows, I have had greatness thrust upon me. Indeed, I cannot be accused of being concerned with the decisions of the previous government as I did not occupy office at the time. However, perhaps I may speak as a practical educationalist. As regards class sizes, I believe that, on the whole, a smaller class allows for better teaching. However, there are many other factors involved. The noble Lord knows, as well as I do, that the nature of the argument going on in education at present is whether or not whole class teaching is better than part class teaching. I am not prepared to comment at present on those particular arguments.
My amendment is designed to place on the national record facts which might help us when making decisions as and when particular issues arise. What I am asking is really very little. I am asking for the results of key stage 1 to be known nationally and not just to the parents of the children in the particular school. I am also asking that we should know the average class size of the various schools performing. The intellectual queries of the noble Lord and mine will be met if those facts are published. We are not deciding policy; we are deciding the little parts of the Meccano set which will make up policy. Indeed, I believe that much of the Bill reflects policy without having the Meccano kit. That is the essence of the amendment.
Lord Peston: I trust that the noble Lord will forgive me for returning to the theme, but it is one of great importance. If we published such results and related them to class sizes and there was no correlation between the two--or indeed if there was a rather perverse correlation that the smaller the class size, the worse the apparent performance--the noble Lord must know as well as I do that that would tell us nothing, unless we actually allowed, as he rightly pointed out, for all the other factors at work. I have in mind, in particular, the fact that if we reduce class sizes (a point I remember making some 20 years ago) in the worst performing schools, it will look as if there is a correlation between small class sizes and bad performance. However, all we are revealing is a sensible government policy; namely, that where schools are not performing well we ought to reduce class sizes in order to help them perform better. It is a common-place remark, although people did not fully understand when I first made it. But I make it again now. In those circumstances, the noble Lord's crude amendment will be unhelpful, not helpful. That is why I asked him to clarify the matter.
I know the noble Lord personally very well. Indeed, I know that he actually wishes to be helpful in the matter. Therefore, my own judgment is that such an amendment will not do what he wants; namely, to assess what we are achieving at this key stage. Either the noble Lord needs an amendment on the lines of "value added"--in other words, comparing like with like--or the suggested amendment will not do.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I rise to express my support for the amendment. I am fascinated by the argument produced by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. If he believes in what he just said, it seems to me that he should help my noble friend by devising a suitable amendment which would bring in the factor of added value as well as the simple matter of class size. Surely it must be better to take decisions in the light of some information than, apparently, in the light of none, which is the alternative if the amendment is rejected? Indeed, we should be moving forward.
I have one further point to make in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said when he first rose to speak. The noble Lord said that he could not understand why this proposal was being put forward now as it was not the policy of the previous government. I believe my noble friend has dealt with that on his own behalf, but I hope that the noble Lord was not suggesting that, because something was not a particular party's policy in the past, it should not be so at the present time. If that was the noble Lord's suggestion--and it was certainly implicit in his remarks--I believe that all Members of the Committee sitting opposite, and those in government, will find themselves in a very peculiar situation.
Baroness Blackstone: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his support in principle. I am sorry, I do apologise to the noble Lord; I should have said the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. Clearly that is a confusion that I should not have made. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for his
In Section 537 of the Education Act 1996 we already have the statutory provisions necessary to enable the Secretary of State to require information from schools on pupil performance and to require the publication of that information in performance tables. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was not on the Front Bench of the previous government, but he is probably pleased to hear that the government he supported enacted a power to enable the Secretary of State to require such performance tables. Like the previous government, this Government are committed to the publication of comparative data on school performance in support of our pledge to raise standards and to provide parents with information on the performance of their local schools. I believe that information is helpful and valuable to parents. It is often, of course, an important benchmark for teachers to gauge how their schools are performing.
We aim to provide as full a picture as possible of pupils' achievements. We have already introduced changes to the secondary tables, to enable parents to see at a glance how each school's performance has improved over time and to reflect better the achievements of pupils across the ability range. We have also delegated the responsibility for publishing primary school performance tables of key stage 2 results to local level, allowing LEAs to provide additional information on the performance of their primary schools beyond the core requirements and to set the results in a local context. I hope that Members of the Committee opposite will be able to support that initiative.
We are committed to the publication of measures of value added by schools--that point was raised by my noble friend Lord Peston--as the necessary data on pupils' prior attainment become available in a suitable form. Of course that takes a little while as we need to measure progress over time. The next step towards this--the publication of information on progress in secondary schools between key stage 3 in 1996 and GCSE results in 1998--will feature in this year's secondary tables. These are significant developments. They need to be planned carefully and introduced step by step, to ensure that we do not place unreasonable demands on schools or increase the burdens on teachers--something we are trying to reduce--or overload parents with too much information which is difficult to digest. I share the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to see more data on school performance becoming publicly available but I wonder whether the time is yet right for national performance tables at key stage 1, so early in children's education.
I refer to what my noble friend Lord Peston said with regard to some of the technical issues. I very much agree with his remarks on that. I say to the noble Lord opposite that I am not sure whether it is my noble friend's job to design new amendments for the Opposition Front Bench to resolve technical problems contained in their amendments.
I shall try to explain briefly why we do not intend to publish information on average class size in individual schools. Such figures were not published under the previous government for exactly the same reasons. Each January every school completes a form--known as the Form 7--one section of which records information on classes as taught. They must record the details of all classes being taught at a given period on the census day. For each class they record the number of pupils, teachers, support staff, the year group, the key stage, and whether it is an "ordinary lesson" or one such as sport, music or drama that may involve non-typical groupings of either larger or smaller numbers of pupils.
The information collected is thus a snapshot of a given moment. Like any such snapshot, there may be occasional anomalies at the detailed level. The figures are robust at national level and at LEA level, as "swings and roundabouts" will level out such anomalies. However, when reporting on individual schools, the figures may be misleading. For example, a school may hire two part-time teachers for one afternoon only and regroup pupils in small groups. To record their average class size at that time would not be a true picture of the whole week.
The schools census should, however, enable us to spot any classes that do not comply with limits. As our limits will cover all ordinary lessons for infant classes, there should be no single-teacher classes over 30 unless they have been brought together for music, sport or similar activities. If we make any limited exceptions to class size limits, of the kind set out in the draft regulations issued for consultation last week, we shall have to record those in the census. I thought it would be helpful to the Committee if I made that clear. The department's statisticians would discuss the practical details with their colleagues in LEAs. In those circumstances and in the light of what I have said about the Government's commitment to good performance indicators and the various steps that we are taking, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Baker of Dorking: I welcome some of the comments that the Minister has made in replying to the amendment. I very much welcome her comments on the importance of comparative figures at different levels as between schools. It ill behoves the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to chide us for modifying our views as regards seven year-olds when the views expressed by his party have not changed marginally since 1987--when I introduced the 1987 Bill--but 180 per cent. The party opposite voted against examinations and tests at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 and the publication of league tables. I welcome the fact that the present Government now accept all of this. I do not gloat over that at all. I believe it is a sensible change of policy on
It is interesting to note that the Minister reminded the House that in 1996 the previous Conservative government gave themselves the power to allow the wider national publication of league tables for seven year-olds. I drew some comfort from the Minister's words as she did not say that she would not use the power but that she would consider so doing in the future. I suspect that that will happen. When the tables are published it will be possible to measure some degree of value added. With the wider extension of nursery education one will be able to measure the performance of a child at various stages. That is, after all, what parents want to know when they decide which schools their children should attend. I welcome this provision. My noble friend who moved the amendment has done us a service by prompting a clear exposition from the Government of their support for this policy. I hope that we shall go a little further and that this provision will be applied to seven year-olds during the lifetime of this Government.
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