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National Curriculum

11.42 pm

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in Science) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 309), dated 3rd March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th March, be annulled.

It may also be convenient for the House to consider the following prayer,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in Mathematics) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 308), dated 3rd March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th March, be annulled.

Understandably and rightly, the House has today been preoccupied with the appalling events at the weekend at Hillsborough. The debate on these motions is something of a landmark in post-war education history. As far as I am aware, it is the first occasion on which the curriculum for science and mathematics has been debated in detail in the House since the Education Act 1944. I am glad that the Opposition have helped to secure the debate.

In its manifesto for the last general election, the Labour party called for a clear but flexible core curriculum agreed at national level. If we had won the election, the implementation of that pledge would have involved a process not dissimilar to that of which the orders are a part. There will always be much room for debate over the content and flexibility of any national curriculum, the means of assessment and the resources needed to deliver it. I think that there is now a common appreciation that, through the method of a national curriculum the final broad decisions on the core of what should be taught in schools should be the subject of the political process and the deliberations of the House. I do not resile from that conclusion.

But with the power over the curriculum that has been taken by this House go very important responsibilities--to ensure that we do not act in a destructive or partisan way ; to ensure that we do not treat the curriculum as some party political football ; to ensure that we allow the professionals whose advice is sought a climate of freedom in which to come to their own recommendations ; and to ensure that any differences between that advice and the final decisions by Ministers and this House should be transparent and clear. It is crucial that we do that, for the success of any national curriculum depends upon the confidence of teachers.

Thanks not least to the painstaking work of members of the subject working parties of the National Curriculum Council and of inspectors and trainers, I have been struck, in the very many visits that I have made to schools, by the good will that exists among teachers towards the national curriculum-- much the same as the great good will there was, and remains, for GCSE. I visited five schools in the past week and spoke in detail to the teachers. They all said that they were willing to make a go of the national curriculum, whatever their doubts. There are considerable doubts, some of which I shall raise. There are doubts about the timetable, about the resources, about the methods of assessment and, in the case of the order concerning science, about part of the order itself.

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This debate takes place on two orders--the one relating to maths, and the one relating to science. To secure debates on both, we had to pray against both, but it is our intention to vote only against the one dealing with science--for specific reasons that I will spell out. There have been no substantial representations against the mathematics order in its final form. There was, of course, a vigorous debate from the time of the first working party report in December 1987.

The popular press has alighted on this interesting issue of whether long division and long multiplication without the use of calculators should be taught in schools. In my view--I think that, on this issue, I speak for my colleagues--it is a good idea that children should be able to divide three- digit numbers by two-digit numbers without the use of a calculator, and that they should be able to carry out similar multiplication operations.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : Give us an example.

Mr. Straw : As the hon. Member will know from his own study of the attainment levels under the mathematics national curriculum, that operation does not have to be done in the head. Mentally, one has to be able only to divide two-digit numbers by single digits, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate.

The reason I think that this is a good idea is that long division and long multiplication do give an instinctive idea of mathematical relationships and orders of magnitude. It is important that children should have that facility. But we should not be Luddites about the use of calculators and computers. I have observed the way in which calculators help mathematics and mathematical relationships to come alive for children. They certainly ensure that children can make faster, better and more interesting progress than I observed 30 years or more ago when I was a child.

In mathematics there are considerable challenges ahead. I was struck by the remarks of Professor Howson, reported in The Times Educational Supplement recently :

"no other major developed country appeared to have so few of its 17-year- olds studying mathematics".

The challenge to raise interest and attainment in mathematics is very substantial. When visiting a school last week, in two adjoining classrooms I found that, among children of the same age level--these were 15 and 16-- there was a difference of probably 10 years in the level of attainment.

Let me turn now to the proposals for the science national curriculum, which, appropriately, are in the red document, rather than the blue one. We propose to vote against this order, for two reasons : first, because we believe that it places too little emphasis on curiosity and inquiry ; secondly--and more

important--because it proposes that there should be established for 14 to 16-year-olds a two-tier science curriculum in which some children will devote between 16.6 per cent. and 20 per cent. of their time to a dual subject in science, whilst others will devote only 12.5 per cent. of their time to a single subject. In making this case, we are seeking not to substitute our views for those of the National Curriculum Council, but to substitute the original views of the science working party for those of the National Curriculum Council and the Secretary of State.

The science working party proposed that there should be four profile components--knowledge and understanding, exploration and investigation, communication, and

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science in action. It was concerned to ensure that the science curriculum should develop not only a knowledge of scientific processes and an understanding of those--as it must--but the context in which they have been developed and take place, the historic and social position of science, and of the need properly to communicate the scientific results. Communication in science is not incidental to the process but lies at the very heart of the scientific method. I am sorry to say that that recommendation was rejected by the Secretary of State, in the advice that he gave to the National Curriculum Council in August, and the four profile components were compressed into two. With that compression, much greater weight was given to the acquisition of knowledge, and correspondingly much less weight was given to these other important components. I can give an illustration of that. When knowledge and understanding was part of four-part components, at key stage 4, it would receive 40 per cent. of the weighting, but it is now to receive 70 per cent.

That criticism would not have been enough by itself--although we regret the change--to have caused our opposition to this order. The establishment of a two-tier science curriculum is serious and is the principal reason why we intend to vote against the order. The science working party said that there should be a one-tier, two-subject, dual award at GCSE level for all pupils. It said that for secondary school children, these subjects should receive not less than 16.6 per cent. of curriculum time, and in the fourth and fifth years, the time should not exceed 20 per cent. The National Curriculum Council proposed what is described in the document as model A to implement that.

At the behest of the Secretary of State, the National Curriculum Council proposed a model B for some pupils, which is one subject involving just 12.5 per cent. of the time, and some key attainment targets are omitted from that. They include attainment target No. 2 on the variety of life, attainment target No. 5 on human influences on the earth, attainment target No. 7 on making new materials, and attainment target No. 12--this gave me considerable surprise, given the Secretary of State's interest--on the scientific aspect of information technology, including microelectronics.

The decision to establish this two-tier science was taken against the wishes of the science working party, and those of the overwhelming number of respondents to the National Curriculum Council consulted. This decision led to suspicions that the problem of resources, of shortages of cash and of teachers, may have motivated the Department of Education and Science to go down this road. In December, I wrote to the Secretary of State arguing against the NCC and in favour of the science working party. I conceded : "It may be that there are some children for whom a double science at GCSE would not be appropriate".

The Secretary of State picked that up in his reply. The whole of my letter was devoted to establishing the case for a single-tier, dual-subject science, and I meant only that there may be a tiny handful of children--for example, children who had been statemented, or who were near-statemented, and for whom such a science course was not appropriate. I do not accept that it is appropriate for schools that the House should establish this two -tier

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system of science teaching at secondary level, which can become an escape route out of the difficulties of teacher shortages that many schools now face.

It is either a way round teacher shortages, to which we object, or we object to it for the reasons which the Secretary of State outlined in his reply to me on 6 December 1988. In justifying the two tiers, he said that the provision was there to allow some flexibility for a minority of pupils whose time would be better spent in developing a special talent in, say, modern languages or music. It may be appropriate to provide time for modern languages and music for some pupils, but the way to do that is by introducing far greater flexibility into the foundation subjects rather than in diluting the core.

If we opt for two-tier science, there will be two serious effects. Opportunity and achievement will be restricted beyond 16 years for many pupils, and there will be pressure, especially on girls, not to follow two science subjects at GCSE level, with all the implications for reducing their opportunities later. That is an issue that is developed by Lynda Carr, the principal education officer of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who said :

"We shall find the kind of sex differentiation which the EOC has encountered in complaints from parents : environment studies courses where boys do science and girls do nature or craft courses." All of us know only too well the pressures within schools that act against girls following science courses, especially those which are based on mathematics and physics. Given the propensity of schools and our culture to downgrade science for girls, we should be extremely careful in providing an escape route by which schools can allow that to happen.

I find the view of the Secretary of State and of the Department odd, given that both the predecessor of the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), who is now the Minister for Overseas Development, and the Secretary of State have separately in the past week said that there should be two-subject science for 14 to 16-year- olds and that it should be available to all pupils. The Royal Society of Chemistry recommended 20 per cent. of curriculum time for science. It

"supported the Engineering Council on Double Award Balanced Science, which contained the following : Balanced science courses occupy about 20 per cent. of curriculum time and are appropriate for all students' ".

The Secretary of State, in the Department of Education and Science document 174/87, welcomed the report and the proposition of 20 per cent. of curriculum time for science for all students. In that circumstance, I find it odd that the Secretary of State should have changed his view.

The way in which two-tier science may block opportunities beyond 16 years is spelt out by the NCC. It has said that it is unlikely that the breadth of concepts covered in a single-award science would ever include the foundation knowledge and understanding that is required for all three science disciplines at O-level. In other words, if children are permitted to follow the single subject at 16 years, they will not have an opportunity later to go on to do A-levels. That is because the sort of course that they will have followed up to 16 will not have been of sufficient breadth or depth to enable them to do that.

I have referred to a helpful brief from the Royal Society of Chemistry, which has raised two other issues on which

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I should be grateful for a response from the Secretary of State. One is that the orders do not of themselves ensure balance within the science curriculum. It observes that no guidance is given on the relative weightings to be applied to the 16 attainment targets that contribute to the knowledge and understanding of a profile component. I hope that the Secretary of State will deal with that. It recommended--I should be glad of an observation on this--that the three main sciences of biology, chemistry and physics should be given weightings of at least 30 per cent. each.

This is not the occasion for a major debate on teacher shortages in general, but it must be well known to the House that there are serious shortages that are affecting schools in science and mathematics. Figures published last week by the Clearing House and Graduate Teacher Training Registry show that applications for physics and maths are down by 25 per cent. and 16 per cent. respectively this year, and that last year applications were down 14 per cent. in maths and 17 per cent. in physics. As the appendix to the report of the interim advisory committee makes clear, there has been a massive drop in the number of students taking chemistry courses, when compared with the target set by the Department.

Professor Alan Smithers and Dr. Pamela Robinson of Manchester university have suggested that on an optimistic forecast we could be 4,141 mathematics teachers short by 1995 and on a pessimistic forecast about 12,000 teachers short. The situation is therefore serious, but I have yet to hear any serious strategy for dealing with these shortages from the Secretary of State. If they continue, it will not be possible properly to deliver the national curriculum, as spelt out in the regulations, in any of our schools. It is as serious as that.

I turn now to assessment. Going round schools and talking to teachers, I have found that their greatest anxiety relates to the methods and the scope of the assessment systems that will be put in place to assess and test aspects of the national curriculum. One headmaster told me last week that there is anxiety about the level of bureaucracy that will be required. How much paperwork will be imposed on teachers? There is also anxiety about the technical problems of making assessments that are in any sense meaningful, especially in primary schools, and there is anxiety about the publication of results. I am aware that the contracts for tests have been let and that they are now being validated, but I should be grateful if the Secretary of State could provide us with as much information as he has available about the nature and forms of assessment, especially at seven and 11, and about its relationship with GCSE testing at 16 It is also important that the Secretary of State spells out a little more clearly his view about the publication of test results, especially at seven. The Education Reform Act 1988 laid down that schools should not be forced to publish test results at seven. Our view was that they would provide such a distorted view of schools and individual pupils that they should not be published at all. Opposition Members have never said that crude data on test results at 11, 14 and 16 should not be published. Since we believe in openness in government, both locally and nationally, it follows that we believe that crude data should be available.

However, by itself, the publication of such crude data could lead to false impressions about the progress that schools are making with individual children. While all of us are concerned for our own children--every parent is

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concerned about the absolute level of attainment of the individual child--one does not judge the effectiveness of schools on the aggregate absolute level of attainment reached by those schools, but on the degree of progress that the school is able to make with individual pupils, taking into account the level of attainment of the intake of the school and comparing it with the level of attainment when the children leave the school.

To use a piece of market jargon, we should judge schools by their creation of education value added. A school in a less prosperous area, dealing with children whose absolute attainment may be far less than that of children in a more prosperous area, may be doing far better than the school in a prosperous area, which, even if the teachers were not very competent, could still turn out well.

There is also the problem that has been brought to my attention today, whereby, because of changes in the population, perhaps due to an increase in the birth rate, the intake of a school may change over the years. If all that one is considering is crude test results, the judgment will be that the school has gone down, whereas, because the children have a lower level of attainment at entry, the crude results suggest lower levels of attainment, although the teachers may be working harder.

These are critical issues if the test results are to be used fairly to help schools to raise their attainment, rather than to damn schools in areas of less prosperity and to act as an alibi and a mask for the performance of schools in more prosperous areas.

My final point concerns a suggestion in the Financial Times for 13 April that primary school streaming may be reintroduced as a consequence of the national curriculum. The provenance of that report is fairly obscure, and I shall be grateful if the Secretary of State will say whether that report was fairly based on a reading of the circular. My concern about streaming and mixed ability classes is only that we should go for the system that offers the best teaching, and that we should not hold hard and fast opinions on the matter. The evidence I have received from primary school teachers is that children of all abilities learn best in mixed ability classes. Also, because most primary schools have one or two-form entry, the problems of organising streaming are virtually impossible for them to overcome--unless they are to be provided with many more staff than they currently have.

Even in the days of the 11-plus, there was remarkably little streaming in many primary schools, simply because of the physical problems of organising streaming, let alone the educational disadvantages.

When the Education Reform Bill 1988 passed through this House, the Opposition argued strongly that the national curriculum should apply to all schools, whether private or state, and that it should be a framework and not a straitjacket. We argued that it should be flexible, and that its tests should aim at diagnosing children's strengths and weaknesses and at informing parents of their children's progress. We emphasised that sufficient resources should be available to make all that a reality. We said that, above all, the national curriculum should be a means of providing a better education for all children. It is on that basis that we must judge the two orders. In those terms, one of the orders passes that test and the other fails it.

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12.6 am

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : I thank the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for the tone of his speech. As he said, the debate is something of a landmark, in that the House has not debated the curriculum in our schools--other than in last year's Education Reform Bill--since 1945. Tonight, the House is asked to approve the mathematics and science curriculum for all state-maintained schools with children aged between five and 15.

It is very important that the national curriculum-- I did everything that I could in arranging it to ensure this--does not become a party political matter. That is why I welcome the tone of the hon. Gentleman's speech.

The two strands of the Government's education reform programme are to improve standards and to increase choice. Tonight we are dealing with the main thrust of the policy to improve standards. I am glad that it is widely welcomed throughout the education system. The keystone of our programme is improved standards for all children in all our schools. That keystone has been widely debated. I announced a commitment to introduce the national curriculum about two and a half years ago, and before the last general election I established the two working groups to which the hon. Gentleman referred--one on maths and one on science. We are debating the result of their work tonight. I thank all those people who served on the working groups. I shall reflect for a moment on the time that it takes to produce such documents. Some people thought it an easy matter to write the national curriculum. It has taken much longer than people imagine--two years in respect of two subjects that were thought to be easier to deal with. Difficult matters lie ahead of us in respect of English--even more difficult in respect of the content of the history curriculum. We thought that we were on secure, firm ground in defining maths and science, but it has still taken all that time. I shall spell out the process. The working groups published interim reports after six months' work as a guide for general discussion. They were used as the basis on which to consult a large number of organisations and individuals. The working groups produced final reports on 30 June last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I then commented on the reports and sent them, with our proposals, to the National Curriculum Council. The NCC sent out those proposals for even wider consultation, and after due consideration submitted its proposals to me. That was in November last year. I then published draft orders, which were also sent out for consultation. These are the final orders.

Let me briefly spell out what the documents involve. What we are seeing tonight is the result of a long consultative process. If they flick through the documents, hon. Members will note their precision in setting out 10 levels of attainment for children from the age of five to the age of 16. For the first time, the blueprint contains considerable detail about the attainments that should be expected of children at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16.

The documents come to life in the examples that they give. Rather than merely saying that children should be able to read, write, count and order numbers, the blueprint says, for example, that they should know that if a set of eight pencils is counted the answer is always the same, regardless of how they are arranged. That may seem a

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simple example, but children have to start at that level. Other examples, relating to ages up to 16, deal with very complicated matters. The same applies to science. [ Hon. Members :-- "Give us some examples."] I am tempted to : there are plenty. I am suitably modest when it comes to maths and science.

The specifications for what a child should be able to do at those different ages is revolutionary, and I was glad to note that the hon. Member for Blackburn had no real quarrel with the maths proposals. However, he made a series of important points about the science proposals, and I should like to deal with those.

The important thing about the national curriculum is that children will not be able to drop subjects at the age of 14, as they can now. The three core subjects are English, maths and science ; the seven foundation subjects are history, geography, technology and foreign languages--the four "academic" subjects--and music, art and physical education. I am not saying that music and art are not academic : they are all equally good and equally demanding, as they should be. The general pattern today is that at 14 boys tend to drop foreign languages and girls tend to drop science and technology. All children will now be expected to take science up to the age of 16. That, too, constitutes a revolution in our education system. The latest figures suggest that in year five in a secondary school only about 40 per cent. of pupils are studying biology, fewer than 35 per cent. studying physics, fewer than 30 per cent. studying chemistry and about 30 per cent. studying general science, while 5 per cent. do not take science at all. The national curriculum will not only ensure that those figures rise, but will ensure the study of a balanced science curriculum for all pupils. That is important, because a good many children take biology at 14, 15 and 16 as their one science. Important though that study is, it does not cover the full range of science, taking in chemistry and physics.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Does the Secretary of State accept the criticism voiced by the Royal Society of Chemistry that offering model B encourages premature specialisation?

Mr. Baker : That point was raised in some detail by the hon. Member for Blackburn. It concerns what is known as the 12.5 per cent. option. Schools can now decide whether children should study science for a double award--that is, model A--or for a single award. Model A involves roughly 20 per cent. of curriculum time ; taking one science involves roughly 12.5 per cent., or one period a day.

The hon. Members for Blackburn and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) argue that all children should take a double science to GCSE level at 16. The argument, and that of the Royal Society of Chemistry, is that that would still allow a range of options. That would take up 20 per cent. of school time for all pupils and would cover 17 attainment targets. I acknowledge that that is also proposed by the science working group. However, I took further advice on it, as did the National Curriculum Council. After considering the matter, the NCC recommended that there should be an option at the age of 14 to take a single GCSE in science. That covers 10 attainment targets--more than half the 17 attainment targets for the double option. I

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emphasise that the NCC's decision to make that recommendation was its own independent decision. I agreed with its recommendation. It would be difficult to identify any school in the country where all the pupils study science for 20 per cent. of their time. That is not surprising. Even those head teachers who are most enthusiastic about the 20 per cent. option--the double science--want some flexibility. There is no question of the 12.5 per cent. option being related to problems of teacher supply, which are being effectively tackled. It is a response to the widespread and genuine concern for some flexibility. The 12.5 per cent. option is a balanced course, including the physical sciences. It will involve teaching physics, biology and chemistry.

I should make it clear that I expect that most pupils will study science for 20 per cent. of their time. There will be a strong recommendation to all schools that they should offer a double science to all pupils. I want to make it clear, however, that the 12.5 per cent. single science option is a tremendous improvement on what is available at the moment. It is a massive step forward. A very large number of our children do not study a balanced science curriculum at the ages of 15 and 16. They will now have to take balanced science studies for at least 12.5 per cent. of their time-- for a period a day. It is not just one of the sciences, such as biology or chemistry. It is rounded science. It is not a soft option. We must remember also that all pupils will also be dealing with science-related topics in maths and technology.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Many people would agree with the Secretary of State if his proposals were really directed towards pupils' needs. In timetabling, there are the needs of the pupils and school resources. It would be nice if the timetable reflected pupils' needs, but the danger is that it reflects what is available in schools. Will the Secretary of State give an absolute guarantee that the resources, particularly teachers, will be provided to ensure that the timetable meets the needs of pupils?

Mr. Baker : I shall come to resources and teachers in a moment. Could I complete my remarks on the 12.5 per cent. option? I emphasise that this is not an option that I have thought up and tried to push through. Her Majesty's inspectorate gives strong support to the view that the 12.5 per cent. option represents a worthwhile study of science. The hon. Member for Blackburn often quotes the words of the senior chief inspector, but on this matter the senior chief inspector was quite clearly of the view that the 12.5 per cent. option should be available. The option allows for an average pupil to be able to explain changes of state and the energy changes associated with them ; to be able to explain evaporation, diffusion and dissolving, in terms of simple kinetic theory and to be able to understand the magnetic effect of an electric current and electromagnetic induction. I do not believe that that is a soft option.

As for teacher resources, recruitment to initial teacher training in 1988 was a record 20,180--up by 5 per cent. over 1987. Primary recruitment, at 11,370, was up by 12.5 per cent. Applications for primary training for students who will start their training in September of this year is even better. It is up by 14 per cent. It was because of the

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worrying position on applications for training in the secondary shortage subjects in 1984 and 1985 that I launched my programme. I recognise that there is a problem with the supply of teachers in the shortage subjects. I identified that when I launched my action programme three years ago and set out six main points of attack. The House will know that there are tax-free, non-means-tested bursaries of £1,300 a year for teacher trainees in maths, physics and CDT. This year I have extended the scheme to chemistry trainees and there has been a most welcome increase in the number of applications. The scheme has helped to reverse the decline in the number of applications for those subjects and there is now about 2,400 bursaries.

In-service training is another important element. Part of the problem is the mismatch of skills in the profession itself. It is very important to have an extensive in-service training programme to retrain teachers in other skills. I have devoted £35.5 million over two years to support in-service training in shortage subjects by schools and LEAs. The aim is to tackle the hidden shortage, as it is sometimes called, and to provide support to upgrade the skills of teachers who were inadequately qualified in the shortage subjects. My third point of attack was advertising and publicity. The hon. Member for Blackburn chided me from time to time, and says that my advertising and publicity budget has increased by a modest factor of several hundred per cent. [ Hon. Members :-- "3,000."] That shows the importance of the maths curriculum ; hon. Members can distinguish between hundreds and thousands.

I launched the teaching as a career unit in April 1987 and, for the first time, teaching has a voice in the career market place, aimed at promoting the profession. In the past three years we have had a series of positive and imaginative advertising and publicity campaigns, backed by new booklets --also part of my publicity budget--aimed at the intending teacher. The campaign has been a success. Our recent advertising campaign, which ended just a few weeks ago, has attracted 10,000 responses so far. Responses continue to be received every day and are being processed.

The fourth item of the programme to encourage more people to enter the teaching programme is support for local initiatives. For example, we are helping to fund a course aimed at recruiting people from the ethnic minorities into primary teaching in Newham. By recruiting people who live locally--many of whom will have had teaching experience overseas--we can make a solid contribution to solving the problem of primary teacher supply in that authority.

Mature entrants are another important element. About 4,000 mature entrants a year enter the teaching profession. They are people in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. The fact that many of them have had experience in other walks of life or in bringing up families means that they can greatly enrich the teaching profession. I have supported the development of new courses in the shortage subjects to help attract mature entrants. We have shortened the two-year BEd and part-time PGCE courses. I have also funded a pilot programme of 11 short courses, aimed at mature entrants and with the object of giving them an opportunity to find out in the classroom what teaching is like.

I now come to my proposal for licensed teachers--

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Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Bearing in mind the emergency scheme at the end of the last war and what the Secretary of State has just said about mature entrants, will he now explain why he did not extend and intensify that, rather than proposing that there should be so-called licensed teachers?

Mr. Baker : I have only a small memory of the scheme during the war.

Mr. Spearing : After the war.

Mr. Baker : After the war. I believe that there was a scheme rather similar to the Bevin boys in the war-- [Interruption.] Several of my predecessors have taken initiatives to encourage people to enter teaching. I am not talking just about the proposals under the Attlee Government of the 1940s but about initiatives under successive Conservative and Labour Governments. We are continuing a series of initiatives, all of which must be taken in hand and tried.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Baker : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. This is a short debate and others will wish to speak.

I shall be publishing the details shortly. Some of the criticisms made of the proposals, particularly at the teacher union conferences, were off beam. It is not a way of getting teachers into the classroom on the cheap. It is a way of encouraging people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have had other careers in electronics or other sectors of the business world or the public sector, who want a career change. They will be qualified people who have spent at least two years in higher education. Many such people already enter the teaching profession, but they have to end their professional work and do a year's study in a college. The licensed teacher scheme will mean that, instead of doing a year's study in a college, on a grant, those people will be taken on by an LEA as a salaried teacher and trained on the job. It is important that there should be agreed training programmes extending over two years and then the LEA will decide whether they reach qualified teacher status.

I am surprised that there has been some opposition to that idea, as I have been pressed by many local education authorities, including Labour- controlled authorities, to bring forward the proposal as quickly as possible. Those Labour-controlled authorities planning to take over responsibility for education in London specifically stressed at a collective meeting with me, that they would like the scheme to be introduced as quickly as possible.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Baker : The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way, as I know that he will be speaking in a few moments.

I have also proposed another flexible route leading to qualified teacher status--the proposal for articled teachers. Starting in September 1990, that route into teaching will be open to young graduates and to mature entrants. Those are people who have taken a degree at a university or a polytechnic. At the moment they have to take a PGCE at a college. The proposal is that they will be taken on by a local education authority, paid as a teacher and trained for two years to qualify for a PGCE. I am

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inviting LEAs and higher education institutions to work up schemes to meet conditions that I shall lay down to ensure that trainees receive adequate support and an appropriate lighter teaching load during the period of training.

In the next week or so the inspectors will be publishing a report about teacher training in France. The House will find it interesting, because a great deal of teacher training in France takes place on the job. There is no watering down, as the proposals apply to people with qualifications.

Mr. Straw : The debate is specifically about science and maths and I shall try to stick to that topic and not extend it into a general debate about teacher shortages. Despite what the Secretary of State spelt out, applications for physics and maths fell this year and last year. When does he expect that the shortages in those key subjects will be over?

Mr. Baker : I hope and believe that the combined effects of all the proposals will lead to an adequate staffing in those subjects in the 1990s. A great deal of the problem arises from a mismatch. The proposals for licensed teachers apply to people who could have qualifications and degrees in science subjects, physics, chemistry, technology and computer sciences, and who want to enter the teaching profession. We should welcome those people, as they have a great deal to offer.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : How many?

Mr. Baker : The hon. Gentleman asks, "How many?", but one of the chief unions, which I hope the Opposition Front Bench will not support, did not want anyone at all from those sources. That is reactionary and wrong.

I rebut the charge that the Government are being complacent about teacher shortages, as that is simply not the case.

Mr. Straw : The Secretary of State mentioned the Opposition Front Bench. Our criticism of the two proposals is not that they provide different entry points into teacher training. We have said publicly that we want different entry points into teacher training. We are concerned about the standard of qualification of those teachers at the end of training. We have spent 30 years getting teaching in Britain up to a graduate level of qualification and in our view that is of great importance to the quality of education that is delivered. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the end result of the two alternative routes will be a graduate qualification?

Mr. Baker : Absolutely, there is no doubt about that. There is no question of watering down. I found it a little strange that at one of the large conferences, at which most of the representatives could not have been graduates because they came into the profession some time ago, it was said that this was not the right way to enter the profession. They know the problems, and we are addressing the solutions.

As I said at the outset, I am glad to say that this is not a matter of party political controversy. This is an important day for education because we will be implementing the beginning of the national curriculum. I am glad that an issue which underwent a great deal of controversial debate because it extended over a general

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election has now reached a great measure of consensus and I know that there are other more controversial issues in our education reforms. I commend the orders to the House.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. Both Front Bench spokesmen broadened the debate and I understand the reasons for that. However, I remind the House that we should be debating mathematics and science in the national curriculum.

12.31 am

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : The debate is significant, for the reasons given by the Secretary of State. No doubt in due course we shall discuss English and other subjects. Therefore, it is appropriate to reflect on the two subjects before us and on some of the general difficulties that have occurred in reaching this stage in the replanning of the education syllabus. As the Secretary of State will be aware, one of the concerns passed on to us by those in the teaching profession is that they are in the middle of substantial changes. They have just adapted, usually successfully, to the GCSE and they are now concerned that, to make a good showing in introducing the national curriculum in the autumn they should have the necessary resources. Therefore, it is appropriate that the debate is as much about resources as about content. Without the resources, the ability to deliver the new curriculum will not be achieved.

One of the immediate problems faced by teachers is the difficulty of finding time to prepare for September. From all the evidence and publicity, it seems that the problem of finding free time to prepare for the national curriculum is not insubstantial. Teachers need to allocate some of their non-contact time to prepare for the substantial differences to be introduced into their working lives in the autumn. They are still waiting-- the Secretary of State did not mention this, but I hope that the Minister will--for the advice promised to them on 3 March by the National Curriculum Council in relation to the implementation of the national curriculum. That is especially important in primary schools. As I understand it, that advice has not yet been forthcoming. Although they have the curriculum--the hard core material--they do not yet have advice about its implementation. That is the second important component. If teachers are to prepare their work schedules for September, they need to be given advice fairly early, as many pressures are imposed on them by examinations, and so on.

As the Secretary of State and the Minister are aware, the resource problems in the subjects that we are discussing today are among the most acute in our school system. It would be inappropriate to deal at length with the general problem of teacher shortages. The constituency of the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science is, like my own, in the London region, and she will be aware that the shortage of maths and science teachers is two and a half times worse in London than in the rest of the country. A quarter of shortages in secondary school teachers are in maths and science. That is scarcely a persuasive backdrop to a system that will come into force in less than six months.

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The problem is made worse by a shortage of trainee teachers to fill the gaps. It is no good the Government pretending that there is no problem, because there is, and it will affect a substantial number of schools throughout the land. What will be the effect of such shortages on the curriculum? How will it be possible for the curriculum to be properly taught? The answer is that it will not, and the problem is made worse by the dichotomy in the science curriculum.

A further problem, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), is the lack of Government commitment to do what they said they wanted to do. The Government began by saying that 20 per cent. of the curriculum must be devoted to science, but realised that they could not deliver and resiled from that and considered the model B option of 12.5 per cent. because of a shortage not only of people but of equipment, and a lack of finance. I have asked one or two questions, which revealed that there is a shortage not only of staff but of laboratories and equipment too. On average, there are six laboratories for a school of 1,000 pupils. If the reality is that between 10 and 20 per cent. of secondary school children do more than one science subject for GCSE, if the average in the fourth and fifth year is that each pupil studies just over one science subject, and if we were to obtain the objective of 20 per cent. of the curriculum being science--that is, two subjects per pupil--an increase in resources of 80 per cent. will immediately be needed to teach it. That would involve not only extra laboratories but extra equipment for them, which works out at about £50,000 per school.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, but I did not hear one word of encouragement to the effect that there will be substantial investment in laboratories, equipment or building for our secondary schools this autumn. A teacher recently suggested to me that it was hypocritical for the Government to introduce the national curriculum and to say that schools had to comply with its requirements without giving them the tools to get on with the job. In addition, many primary school teachers are insufficiently qualified to teach maths and science. Figures reveal that only 4 per cent. of primary school teachers have a post-A-level qualification in maths, and only 7 per cent. have a post-A-level qualification in science, compared with 16 per cent. for English, so we do not have the personnel with the specific qualities that are needed to make the new curriculum work effectively.

The Secretary of State's examples of the new schemes with which to bring in new teachers, although good in theory, do not seem to be working in practice. Opposition Members have criticised the bursary scheme and the Minister has admitted--albeit only in the last week or two--that the bursary scheme in sciences and maths was not succeeding.

I am surprised to hear the Secretary of State say that representatives from London boroughs have pleaded with him for the licensed teachers scheme to come into operation. I cannot believe that anybody thinks that people will leave highly paid City jobs to teach permanently in schools. I could understand a scheme of secondment, as practised in other areas, but to imagine that people will change careers for a lower salary seems substantially self-deluding.

There are specific reasons for believing that, although it is not inappropriate to move towards the national

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