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House of Commons

Tuesday 14 December 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


British Waterways Bill


Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Promoters of the British Waterways Bill [Lords] may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the Bill in the present Session and the Petition for the Bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with ;

That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agent for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by him, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session ;

That as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be deemed to have been read for the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) ;

That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the last Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the present session ;

That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the last Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business ;

That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)" were omitted ;

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the last Session.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

Oral Answers to Questions


Higher Education

1. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to encourage universities and other institutes of higher education to accept candidates with qualifications other than A-levels.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell) : The Government have successfully soughto increase and widen participation in higher education. A range of entry routes is now available including GCE A-levels and AS examinations, advanced general national vocational

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qualifications and their precursors and access courses. The Government encourage higher education institutions to give all candidates for admission equal consideration, whatever their entry route.

Mr. Fabricant : Does my hon. Friend accept that while sixth formers now have more choice of examinations than ever before for entry into higher education, universities still press for A-levels? Does he agree that in the United States, where I studied, in France, in Germany and in Japan, people who want to go to university are not forced at the age of 15 or 16 to concentrate on just two or three subjects? Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be advantageous to people aged 15 and 16 if they were able to study a far broader range of subjects?

Mr. Boswell : I am interested in the comments of my hon. Friend, but I do not think that the position is quite as he states it. For example, about 10 per cent. of entrants to degree courses hold the B Tech qualification alone, and entries to engineering courses include 20 per cent. of students who have come from so-called

non-conventional routes. We do not control the universities or their admission policies, although we can issue encouragement to them and we have played our part by developing high-quality vocational and access pathways as alternatives to the A-level route.

Mr. Rooker : What actions are the Government taking in respect of professional institutions that are required to validate and accredit degrees from universities and to accept the quality of the output of degrees, as, in the past year, one institution removed its accreditation from three universities for an engineering course--not because of the quality of output of graduates but because of the qualifications that the students attained before going to university? That issue must be tackled by Ministers from the other side by seeking to put pressure on professional institutions to accept quality of output whatever the input.

Mr. Boswell : The hon. Gentleman raises a characteristically thoughtful point and we are certainly in consultation with the Engineering Council and the providers to look at that problem.

Mr. Alan Howarth : Have not A-levels become not so much a gold standard as a golden calf? Does my right hon. Friend accept that for our cleverest young people A-levels represent an absurdly narrow educational experience while for those less than the cleverest struggling for two years to secure, say, a D or an E grade is like stumbling around in an academic tunnel? Will my right hon. Friend continue to encourage schools and colleges to find better ways to combine breadth with rigour?

Mr. Boswell : The issue is to get all players--not just higher education institutions but employers, parents, teacher and students--to look for appropriate courses and pathways for the students involved. I agree that for some people who embark on A-level courses it may be much better to take part in one of the high-level vocational courses now on offer. I am delighted that such courses are now accepted and practised by some 80,000 people on the general national vocational qualification route. That provides an important pathway to the future that will involve at least a quarter of our young people in three years' time.

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Mr. Bryan Davies : Actions speak louder than words. Have not the Government decisions ensured that whatever qualifications our young people obtain in their examinations in the coming year, opportunities for access to higher education have been reduced by Government funding cuts and all our students will find it tougher to get into higher education next year than they have this year?

Mr. Boswell : I was about to, and I still will, welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Labour Front Bench, but he will have to do better than that. British higher education has the largest graduate output as a percentage of young people in Europe. It has the highest graduate participation we have ever had in this country, and that percentage participation will be sustained on the back of the most generous settlement achieved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the public expenditure survey for the coming year.

Assisted Places

2. Mr. Clappison : To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many pupils benefit from the assisted places scheme.

The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten) : In the academic year 1992-93, the latest year for which information is complete, 28,674 pupils held assisted places in England. I am not responsible for Wales.

Mr. Clappison : Is my right hon. Friend aware that among those 28, 000 pupils are 234 boys at Haberdashers' Aske's school in my constituency? Is he aware how deeply the parents of those boys appreciate the educational opportunity offered by those places, which they could not otherwise afford and which could be filled many times over by full fee-paying parents? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the scheme should continue and should not be denied, as Opposition Members would have it?

Mr. Patten : Haberdashers' Aske's is a fine school with high standards and I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on having such a school. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats want to abolish the assisted places scheme. They also want to abolish grammar schools, performance tables, charitable relief for public schools and, above all else, grant-maintained schools, where today half a million children are being educated. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats simply want to abolish excellence.

Mr. Steinberg : Will the Secretary of State explain why he thinks that the Government should subsidise private education from state funds when the state is strapped for resources in the first place? Is it not just a way of putting state money into private education, as the results achieved by children are no better than they would have achieved in the state sector?

Mr. Patten : There speaks the authentic neanderthal voice of the National Union of Teachers. After the public expenditure settlement a couple of weeks ago, I find the hon. Gentleman's remarks extraordinary. It is important, particularly in areas where there is little choice, for the Government to ensure that children and their parents have a choice. That is why we are committed to the assisted places scheme and will maintain and expand it according to the plans that I have already announced.

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Mr. Dunn : Was not the assisted places scheme introduced over 12 years ago against the direct wishes of the vested interests represented on the Opposition Benches? For children from disadvantaged families in our inner cities it was the best opportunity for a decent education that they could ever have or hope for. Will my right hon. Friend continue to expand the scheme in as many ways as he can achieve?

Mr. Patten : I want to ensure that every hon. Member is aware that it is the Government's policy to ensure that every child has as good a start in life as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who went to a grammar school and was educated at Oxford university. If the assisted places scheme helps others to achieve the same opportunities as the hon. Member for Bolsover, we want to make it available for everybody.

Mr. Skinner rose--

Madam Speaker : No. 3--Mr. Banks.

Stratford School

3. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what steps he intends to take in the light of the examination results at Stratford grant-maintained school.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire) : It is for the governors of the school to take whatever steps are necessary to improve the school's academic performance.

Mr. Banks : I was tempted to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Is the Minister aware that before Stratford school opted out, its exam results were above average in the London borough of Newham, and that since it achieved grant-maintained status it has been below average? The Office for Standards in Education has moved in to inspect it because it is perceived to have failed. Under the legislation, there is no provision for an education association to be imposed to replace those governors. What does the Minister intend to do about Stratford school? Will he simply throw more money at it? Is he aware that the school is touting for pupils in the area? It is a total mess as a result of interference on ideological grounds by his wretched Government playing party politics with the educational needs of the kids in my constituency.

Mr. Squire : Even at a time of charitable Christmas good will to the hon. Gentleman, I find comments about political interference from such a source rather rich. He is right to say that we are awaiting the result of the inspection report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will wish to study that report before determining the next steps to take. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that the school's examination results in the past year were disappointing, but it would be unusual if we were to take excessive action on the basis of one year's examination results-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] I adjudge that there is now complete agreement across the Floor of the Chamber about the excellence of schools and how we should be raising standards. I entirely welcome that. Let there be no doubt that if the hon. Gentleman's question is motivated by a desire to raise standards at that school, he will find the

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same desire on this side of the Chamber. Powers are available, in extremis, to the Secretary of State to cope with the problems that the hon. Gentleman has identified.

Grant-maintained Schools

4. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many schools have applied for grant-maintained status ; and what measures he is taking to speed up the process.

Mr. Patten : One thousand and thirty schools have voted to apply for grant-maintained status, and there are more schools with ballots pending.

Measures in the Education Act 1992 to speed up and ease the transition to grant-maintained status include the need for only one governors' resolution before holding a ballot and a shorter timetable for the subsequent stages of acquiring grant-maintained status. From 1 January 1994, every LEA- maintained school will be required to consider grant-maintained status and report to parents on the outcome of its consideration every year in future.

Mr. Evans : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that the 10 schools at the bottom of the league table are not grant maintained but controlled by Labour authorities? Will he also confirm that the lot opposite do not like competition at any level because when they compete every four years they get stuffed out of sight, and they will continue to get stuffed out of sight while they have rag, tag and bobtail policies?

Mr. Patten : That was a characteristically sub fusc question from my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). I confirm that what he said is absolutely right, both about the schools at the bottom of the performance table--we must try to help them or we shall have to close them down--and about the local education authorities. The 10 worst performing schools are controlled by the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Minister aware that in the war years, when people had to fight to get to those places, my parents were proud that I won a county minor scholarship to Tupton Hall? I was surrounded by people who had been sent there because they had paid. Is the Minister aware that when I went to Oxford I went to the working-class Ruskin college? Is he also aware that, unlike him and many others on the Government Front Bench, I did not go to public schools and, unlike him, was not educated beyond my intelligence?

Mr. Patten : As a matter of fact, neither did I. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should look up the facts and see what sort of school I went to. It was then a grammar school, of which I was proud. It is now a comprehensive school and I hope that it will shortly go grant maintained. I am proud of the education that I got there, as the hon. Gentleman is doubtless proud of the very good education that he got at Tupton Hall grammar school. I am sure that his parents were rightly proud of him, although if they were here I doubt whether they would be proud of his question this afternoon, which showed all the intellectual coherence of Mr. Blobby.

Mr. Oppenheim : Will my right hon. Friend, in his customary warm- hearted way, extend his congratulations

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to Geoff Lennox, who was first chairman and then director of education on left-wing Derbyshire county council, and who dedicated his career to fighting the opting out of schools and the contracting out of services? He has proved that it is never too late to learn--by joining a private sector company dedicated to selling contracted- out services to opted-out schools.

Mr. Patten : Doubtless the experience of working with Derbyshire finally persuaded Mr. Lennox to show common sense. All over the country there is a good and fruitful partnership between state and private sectors. I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituent on his wise choice of future career.

Mr. Win Griffiths : Is it not true that, despite all the Government's efforts to push schools into grant-maintained status, only a small percentage of schools in England and Wales are grant maintained? Is it not also true that, in the past three months, two thirds fewer schools have voted for GM status than in the same three months last year, and that twice as many are now voting not to opt out? Is it not further true that the vast majority of schools have seen through the con trick of GM status and want to remain with local education authorities which are, in the main, Labour controlled? Would it not make more sense to divert the excessive resources in GM schools to all state schools?

Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman is not as well informed as he should be. Since the beginning of the balloting on grant-maintained status, month after month--including the past three months--eight out of every 10 schools have voted yes, and only two against. The hon. Gentleman should concentrate on the considerable educational benefits of grant-maintained schools. The published results in the performance tables last month showed their excellent performance, and I predict that by the time of the next election- -and Labour's fifth defeat in a row--about two thirds of the secondary schools in this country will be grant maintained. This will be an irreversible change.

Mr. Pawsey : Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning local authorities that oppose grant-maintained status not for educational reasons but for political reasons? Will he join me in condemning authorities that do not put the children first and whose first responsibility is to themselves and their own jobs and empires? Will my right hon. Friend go on to say what action he intends to take to promote GM status, not just through governing bodies but through the parents who want it?

Mr. Patten : I think that parents and others are only too well involved. After all, there are the proud parents of the 500,000 children being educated in GM schools. An enraged group of governors and teachers from Lincolnshire came to see me this morning to complain about the attitude of Lincolnshire local education authority to GM schools. They complained in particular about the new and cruel form of 11-plus on which the LEA is insisting--causing maximum stress for the children and having to be taken on Saturday mornings instead of during the school week so that the children being tested for grammar school entry in Lincolnshire do not even notice. New authorities formed by new types of political control in counties such as Lincolnshire should think carefully before putting children under stress in this way.

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5. Ms Hoey : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what measures have been taken to increase the number of children leaving primary schools who can swim.

Mr. Robin Squire : The national curriculum for physical education requires that all pupils should by the age of 11 be able to swim unaided at least 25 metres and demonstrate an understanding of water safety. This requirement becomes effective from August next year.

Ms Hoey : Is the Minister aware that there is great concern not just in the Amateur Swimming Association but among all people who care about young people being able to swim and a fear that there may be some going back on that commitment in Sir Ron Dearing's review of the national curriculum? Will the Minister give a commitment that swimming will remain part of the national curriculum and say what concrete measures will be taken to ensure that all primary schools can afford to get their children to swimming pools, which causes great difficulties in inner-city areas? What resources will be put in and will he ensure that they will be available when needed?

Mr. Squire : The hon. Lady is right to emphasise the importance of swimming. That is why it features in the national curriculum, as it has done since 1992, along with other physical education requirements. There has been significant funding of the national curriculum in recent years. We believe that it should be possible for the minority of schools that do not currently have access to swimming pools to find additional funding from their existing resources.

Mr. Hawkins : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the tragedies in Britain is that small children still die from drowning? It is extremely encouraging that almost 70 per cent. of primary schools now have swimming pools on site and more than 80 per cent. provide swimming training.

Mr. Squire : I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend--

[Interruption.] It sounds as though my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) has struck a chord. I endorse what he said and remind Opposition Members, who may have overlooked the report, that in late 1989 a survey showed that more than 80 per cent. of primary schools had access to swimming facilities of one sort or another. I concur with my hon. Friend's views on the importance of the subject, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey).

Tertiary Education

6. Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will give the global amounts paid for tertiary education in England and Wales for the past three years for eligible students from the European Union ; and if he will give the figures for individual countries.

Mr. Boswell : In 1991-92, total spending by the Department on higher education was in excess of £5,000 million. The amount attributable to students from other European Community member states studying in England and Wales is estimated on the basis of average unit costs at approximately £105 million. The numbers from individual member states are given in Department for

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Education statistical bulletins available in the Library. British nationals studying elsewhere in the European Community enjoy reciprocal rights.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Do they enjoy reciprocal arrangements in all other European Community countries? Is it not a fact that we carry a fair part of the European budget and also subsidise the education of students from some of those countries to the detriment of our own budgetary requirements?

Mr. Boswell : I can confirm that we are obliged, under the Gravier judgment of 1985 by the European Court of Justice, to provide nationals of other European Community member states with access to higher education on the same terms as nationals of the host state. The United Kingdom has implemented that judgment at some cost to its Exchequer. Other EC member states have an obligation to comply with it.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : While welcoming the fact that European students find our institutions so excellent that they wish to come here, may I ask my hon. Friend to ensure that they do not do so at the expense of our mature students? Will he consider the case of one of my constituents, who is over 50 and has been made redundant? He had a 14-year-old child, and he and his wife worked out that they could just, by the skin of their teeth, afford to go to university. When they heard that there was to be a cut of 10 per cent. in the grant and the husband was not eligible for a loan, they realised that that would put an end to his career. Could mature students who are over 50 be included in the loan system now that the grants are to be cut?

Mr. Boswell : My hon. Friend ingeniously introduces an additional issue related to the student support package. It has never been our practice to extend the loan scheme to the over-50s, on the ground that they have a comparatively short career ahead of them to repay their loans. However, I note the point that my hon. Friend made. From the student numbers that we have been able to put through our system and from the fast expansion in the number of mature students--about 150 per cent. in the past eight years--I can assure my hon. Friend that there is ample access to higher education in Britain for Britain's mature and other students, as well as those that we take from other European Community countries.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Rather than moaning about the number of foreign students coming to British institutions, should we not encourage our young people to study in institutions in other countries, particularly Community countries? Is not one barrier to that process the fact that we still teach languages in our schools so incompetently that many young people do not feel able to take advantage of such educational facilities? What steps do the Government intend to take to improve that vital part of our young people's education?

Mr. Boswell : It is rather interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman attacking teachers for their incompetence in delivering modern language teaching. I have not heard much of that in the past. The Government have introduced a requirement under the national curriculum for the teaching of a modern foreign language. We are actively exploring with our European partners the possibility of changes in the higher education programmes of the Community--for example, the Lingua programme--for

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the purpose of exploring the objective that we share, which is to encourage a proper, reciprocal, two-way flow of students. That involves Europeans wishing to study in the United Kingdom and equally our students wishing to study in European institutions.

School Buses (Seat Belts)

7. Mr. Roger Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to advise local education authorities to ensure that children travelling on school buses are wearing seat belts.

Mr. Boswell : In 1991, the Department endorsed a report by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents on school transport safety and arranged for its distribution to all LEAs and schools. The report included a code of good practice, which recommends that children should always wear belts where fitted on school buses and minibuses.

Mr. Evans : As my hon. Friend's advice currently extends only to those buses already fitted with seat belts, does he think that it should be extended further? Does he acknowledge the force of the BUSC campaign, which began in my constituency? Will he advise LEAs to restrict contracts for bus operators to those that guarantee that every one of their buses will be fitted with seat belts and that children will be made to wear them?

Mr. Boswell : My hon. Friend should be aware that it is for LEAs to decide their own policies in these matters. He should also be aware that a high proportion of school buses and coaches--indeed, coaches generally--are not currently fitted with seat belts. In addition, the overall requirements of the construction and use of motor vehicles are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Nevertheless, I shall certainly listen to what BUSC has to say and reflect on it in the light of recent events.

Mr. Battle : Is the Minister aware that only last week there was a tragic accident in Leeds involving a school bus that was taking the children of St. Michaels school on a day trip? The common practice of having three children to two seats was in operation on that bus. Will the Department urgently issue a code of guidance to schools on that practice? Some of us think that three children to two seats is a budget-saving measure rather than a measure to ensure the safety of our children.

Mr. Boswell : About 850,000 of our children either travel on school buses or receive other help with school transport and, sadly, accidents happen from time to time. They are of very different natures and we consider all the circumstances surrounding them. The working party that prepared the RoSPA report on school transport safety found no evidence that the three-to-two concession had caused any accidents. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence to the contrary, perhaps he will bring it to my attention.

Grant-maintained Schools

8. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many primary schools have achieved grant-maintained status.

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Mr. Robin Squire : Some 182 primary schools are now grant maintained or self-governing. A further 93 schools have been approved for self- governing status and we look forward to welcoming them to the sector in January and April next year. There has been a fivefold increase in the number of self-governing primary schools operating since last year's general election and the number continues to grow.

Mr. Gill : Does my hon. Friend agree that if parents genuinely want education to cease being used as a political football they would do well to opt for grant-maintained status? Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that those schools that have taken grant-maintained status enjoy better motivation of both teachers and pupils? By voting for grant- maintained status, parents would ted, earlier this year highlighted improved teacher morale and pupil attendance in grant-maintained schools, and recent exam results show that, comparing comprehensives with comprehensives, grant-maintained schools have significantly better results than local education authority schools.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Why do not Ministers come clean about the trend away from, not towards, grant-maintained schools? Why does not the Minister confirm that only the other day in his constituency a school voted against grant-maintained status ; that, as was said earlier, the number of ballots taking place is going down and not up ; that the number of no votes is going up and not down ; and that parents have now rumbled the fact that, as Stratford shows, grant-maintained status provides neither a better education nor a better way for Ministers to deal with any problems that exist? Ministers should come clean and say that parents have seen what Ministers are still blind to--grant-maintained status does not guarantee education opportunity.

Mr. Squire : Any suggestion that Ministers should come clean from the party that runs Tower Hamlets is a bit rich. As to the hon. Gentleman's comments on individual grant-maintained schools, or non-grant-maintained schools in the case of one vote in my constituency, the words "straws" and "clutching" come to mind. The underlying position remains that, month in, month out, a significant majority of voters vote yes. One's heart goes out at times to parents and governors who are struggling against the organised opposition of Opposition Members and their parties. When they finally have the chance to vote, they vote for freedom, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) said.

Dame Angela Rumbold : Will my hon. Friend reassure parents and some teachers in primary schools in my constituency that the malevolent operation of Labour-controlled Merton council to prevent some primary schools from opting out will be controlled in some way or another?

Mr. Squire : I immediately assure my right hon. Friend that, from 1 January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have enhanced powers, in particular to tackle abuses that might occur in the balloting procedure and to cover information going to parents when they vote, which he will not hesitate to use in the appropriate circumstances.

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Mr. Enright : If grant-maintained status is so attractive, why will not the Government allow schools to vote to opt out of grant-maintained status?

Mr. Squire : That is an entirely theoretical question. In all my journeys around the country visiting grant-maintained schools and talking to their heads I have not found one head who would even consider the option of returning to local education authority control.


9. Mr. Milligan : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what steps are being taken to remove unnecessary bureaucracy in the testing arrangements under the national curriculum following the publication of the Dearing report.

Mr. Patten : We have accepted the Dearing report in full. Testing and marking time for the tests has been halved and there will far less form filling for teachers. The 1994 tests will be much slimmer, but they will remain as fair and as demanding as possible.

Mr. Milligan : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that in my constituency, as elsewhere in the country, there was genuine concern among responsible teachers about the complexity of the original tests, but is he also aware that those same teachers are now delighted that the tests are being slimmed down and will be properly piloted? Will he ensure that teachers continue to be properly consulted and that he brooks no opposition from trade unions, some of which were opposed to any testing at all?

Mr. Patten : I thank my hon. Friend for what he said. He is right about the useful consultations on testing that have gone on and will continue. He will be aware, as I am, that in some counties, including, I believe, Hampshire, it was the local education authority that decided to put complicated tick lists, as they are known in the trade, into schools, which made tasks unnecessarily complicated. They were never laid down by the Government. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, in its handling of its responsibilities since 1 October, has been a model of efficiency. No teacher, deputy head teacher, head teacher or governor could possibly complain that they have not had promptly all the material that they need.

Primary School Standards

10. Mr. David Martin : To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on the progress of his measures to improve standards in primary schools.

Mr. Patten : The national curriculum and testing continue to secure higher standards in primary schools. That is confirmed in the first annual report published by Professor Sutherland, Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools last week, and in a report published by Ofsted today on testing. Both of those highlight the clear improvements brought about by present educational policies. But there is still room for improvement and we are continuing to work to raise standards in all our schools and to encourage higher-quality teaching for all our children at the level that the best already achieve.

Mr. Martin : Does my right hon. Friend accept that most sensible people want to be assured that children in our

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primary schools are properly taught to read and write and to grasp the basic principles of arithmetic? In what specific ways do Government reforms carry these vital objectives forward?

Mr. Patten : They do so in two important ways : by the introduction of the national curriculum and by the introduction of regular testing. In addition, as report after report from the independent inspectorate, Ofsted, shows, teacher expectations need to be as high as possible. In the best of our 20,000 primary schools in England--and England has many good primary schools--teacher expectations are extremely high. All the academic evidence points to the need for enhanced teacher expectation. Children enjoy a challenge and the greater the challenge, the better they perform.

Mr. Litherland : One way to improve primary education is to give adequate funding for proper repairs to schools. Does the Minister accept that it is totally unfair to ask teachers to teach our children in the deplorable conditions that are experienced in inner-city Manchester?

Mr. Patten : I do not want to stir up yet another local education authority, but I have to say that the way in which Manchester local education authority has conducted its repair programme over the years is not necessarily a paragon of virtue to hold up to metropolitan authorities. Adequate funds have flowed to Manchester over the years ; the question is why they have not been properly used.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Bearing in mind the fact that standards in primary schools, as in all types of schools, greatly depend on the quality of teaching and teacher training, may I ask my right hon. Friend to accept the congratulations of the country and of hon. Members in all parts of the House on the fact that we are at last tackling the improvement and reform of teacher training? Will he also take up the question of establishing a staff college for head and senior teachers as a back-up for the reform of teacher training?

Mr. Patten : With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, I wish that we had started our programme of vital education reforms 15 years ago with the reform of teacher training. That is when we should have started, but 15 years later we are getting going on it. My hon. Friend raises an important matter that has been put to me by head teachers who are more articulate and more sensible in discussing these matters than Opposition Members. The concept of a staff college for head teachers, deputy head teachers and aspiring heads and deputy heads is worth considering in discussions between the teaching profession and me. Anything that we can do to enhance the professional standing of teaching is good.

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