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Baroness Young: I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Baker has just said. When he was Secretary of State league tables, testing and assessment were introduced. Those of us who sat on the government Benches in those days remember the hard battles that were fought on all these matters. We are extremely pleased to see the Government's conversion to league tables, testing and assessment.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I, too, welcome the indication given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that local education authorities have been given the power to publish this information if necessary. This is one of the most important stages in the education of children. If they do not make progress at the beginning of their school lives they are more than likely to continue to fall behind. Everyone welcomes value added but it can so easily be used as an excuse for bad performance. At the end of the day what really matters is not the value added, or even the school, but rather whether the child has acquired the skills that it should have acquired at key stage 1. Any information which will contribute positively to that is to be welcomed. It is not an argument about whether one should have larger or smaller class sizes or more teachers. What matters is whether at this important stage the children acquire the fundamental skills of reading, writing and numeracy.
Only the other day I read published evidence that children who drop out of school and quite frequently turn to crime are those who never learned to read. Once again we learn that. The sooner one identifies those children who are in trouble, the better. If one can identify them at the age of seven or eight, so much the better. Parents also require that information. Quite properly, parents are becoming increasingly demanding on the subject.
If the Minister does not feel able to accept the amendment as it stands, I hope that she will accept the spirit in which it is put down. I believe that we are all interested in the same aim. If necessary, perhaps the noble Baroness will bring forward an amendment which will meet some of the technical difficulties that she has identified. They are difficulties to which we shall return as we proceed through the first part of the Bill on class sizes.
Lord Dearing: I welcome the amendment and thank the Minister for her response. I agree that the performance of children at seven is probably the most important indicator of what their educational experience will be. It is right that we should be deeply concerned that parents and governing bodies have the information.
Perhaps I may add to what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. Rather than looking forward to an undertaking that the information will become available during the life of this Parliament, I hope that with value added it will become available in the next two years or so.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I was extremely interested to hear the noble Baroness's very kindly rebuke and advice offered to her noble friend Lord Peston. I understood her to say that it is not her noble friend's job to find new or better amendments--
Baroness Blackstone: I think that there is a misunderstanding. I in no way rebuked my noble friend. The noble Lord opposite suggested that my noble friend should redraft the amendment put down by the Opposition Front Bench. I was suggesting that it was not my noble friend's job to do that. No rebuke was meant in any way to anyone.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I apologise to the Minister if I have misconstrued her. Perhaps I may put it this way. The friendly advice that she offered her noble friend was most interesting. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, took it in the most gentlemanly fashion.
However, the reason for being on my feet now is to express the earnest hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will not in any way be discouraged from offering improvements to the amendments of the Opposition Front Bench. Let me make it clear that I have unqualified admiration for my noble friend Lord Pilkington. Knowing him and admiring him as I do, I have absolutely no doubt that he will be very grateful, as the debate continues, to have advice from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on how his amendment should be improved.
However, I am little puzzled on one point. When the noble Lord, Lord Baker, introduced his Bill (as it then was) in 1987, I do not remember that he used the expression "league tables". I think that that vulgarity
The whole point of the concept that we put forward then--I remember working with my noble friend and others--was that we did not want a league table approach but something a good deal more sensitive. Our views on value added were strongly rejected at that point. I stick to my view. I deplore the concept of league tables for assessing schools. One might say that that is just a matter of taste. But I believe that it is more than that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, the importance is what a school achieves for the individual child. A school can do a great deal for an individual child without appearing in a powerful position in any league printed in the press. That is and remains my concern with the amendment of the noble Lord. It, too, would lead to reinforcement of the league table approach which I hope I am not alone in finding not very helpful when considering education.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Perhaps I may intervene again; I had not expected to do so. The weakness of publishing any information is that someone else will turn it into league tables. However, that should not be a concern of this Committee. What other people do with information is their concern. If good information is published, parents will make good use of it. It must be better to publish information, acknowledging that there may be abuse by some in other places, with other disciplines and other interests. We have to learn to live with that.
When I suggested that there might be some co-operation on amendments to the Bill, I was well aware that the approach was not likely to be looked on favourably. However, that allows me to regret that in all too many of our discussions on legislation our concern is not always to produce the best legislation but to follow the conventions of party divisions, party discussions and party antagonisms. I think that that is a little unfortunate.
Baroness Blackstone: I do not think that there is any party antagonism on this complex issue. I believe that performance tables rather than league tables is the more appropriate term, although it is always nice to have people sitting behind one who support the right football team. In that case there is a genuine league--and Arsenal won and is at the top!
However, perhaps I may pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. We shall want to look at the impact of the wider extension of nursery education. This is important new policy. It is necessary that in future we monitor it, and see what impact it has had. At the same time, we might regret rushing straight into performance tables for schools teaching these very young people. We have to remember that many children at present in this age group will be at school for only two years before the measures come into force. Some of those children
I wish also to support the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Peston. I do not believe that we should introduce performance tables until we have the value added methodology properly worked out and applied to the later key stages, in particular in secondary school. We are still in the process of doing that. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will agree with me that while we must identify and support those children who are in trouble--I could not agree more with her in that respect--performance tables for schools do not identify individual children. Nor should they. It is up to teachers, in the assessment they carry out, to identify children who need extra remedial help. The Government are very much encouraging that.
Baroness Young: Perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive my intervening. She is on to a terribly important point, and one with which we are both in agreement. If I have understood her aright, she is saying that a performance table will not necessarily indicate how well an individual child is doing. That may well be so. However, it will give a clear indication as to how well the school as a whole is doing. I hope that she will consider this point further. The difficulty is that at this early stage a school can hide behind all these problems--language difficulties, bad homes, poor environment. We have heard them for years. I heard them 20 years ago when I was an education Minister. What is required is an answer to those difficulties. Performance tables are a real, public indication as to how well the teaching in a school is going.
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