Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Welsh: Surely the Secretary of State cannot pretend that parents do not already know how their children are progressing educationally. With all the parent-teacher meetings and constant assessment, parents know exactly how their children are progressing. The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants choice, but it appears that the only choice is to be, "You'll take what the Government give you." If he really wants choice for parents, why does he not ask them whether they want testing? Why does he not ask the professionals in education? Parents know how their children are progressing, and they certainly do not want to return to some of the worst aspects of past systems.

Mr. Forsyth: As I said, we have to put up with a certain amount of hysteria, and we have just heard some of that from the hon. Gentleman. The fact of the matter is that all parents want to ensure that their children are given the best opportunities in school. Testing enables difficulties to be identified at an early stage and remedial action to be taken. That is why we are determined to introduce a system for national testing.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): The Minister has just been emphasising the value that he places on choice. If it is the choice of the parents of the pupils that he has been describing that their children should not be submitted to testing, will that choice be given effect?

Mr. Forsyth: We are proposing a national system of testing that will be externally applied. Whether parents are not prepared to allow their children to take part in the testing is of course a matter for them. I am determined that in every school in Scotland there should be an opportunity for children to be tested. [Interruption.] Is it not amazing? We hear from the Leader of the Opposition and from Opposition spokesmen in England how the Labour party believes in testing and that we must have objective standards. Yet whenever we announce such a measure for north of the border, Labour Members make it clear that old Labour is alive and kicking. There is a belief in the Labour party and among Liberal Democrats north of the border, and indeed in the Scottish National party, that objective standards should not be applied.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): We are asking not about ideology but precision of language. If we on the Opposition Front Bench heard the Minister correctly in his answer to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), he said that testing will not be compulsory. Is that correct?

Mr. Forsyth: It will be a matter of statute that the tests will have to be applied in Scotland's schools. The hon.

4 Jun 1996 : Column 420

and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) asked about parents who felt that their children should not sit the tests, just as there are parents who feel that their children should not sit standard grades or highers. There is always the option not to do so, but that would obviously not be in the child's interest. I would have thought that that was perfectly clear. Will the hon. Member for Hamilton tell me whether the Labour party welcomes the opportunity for testing in Scotland's schools, in line with the rhetoric that we have heard from Labour Members? I would happily give way. There he sits; this is the modern Labour party, all rhetoric--

Mr. George Robertson rose--

Mr. Forsyth: I shall give way.

Mr. Robertson: What is the Secretary of State proposing? He has told us about amendments that are not being tabled today. Is he proposing voluntary compulsory testing or compulsory voluntary testing? He was run out of Scotland the last time he tried this game because Scottish parents do not want the sort of testing about which he is talking to be imposed on the system.

Mr. Forsyth indicated dissent.

Mr. Robertson: He was drummed out of Scotland. On an earlier occasion, an accommodation was reached on testing in Scottish schools to which his successor agreed. That has stood the test of time. Will there be voluntary compulsory testing or will a system be imposed irrespective of parents' wishes?

Mr. Forsyth: I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman thinks that only 6 per cent. of children being tested in secondary schools in Scotland shows that the system has stood the test of time. He has a nerve to lecture me on the success of our education policies. I ask him to read the Leader of the Opposition's speeches and what his party's education spokesman has to say about testing. We have won the argument on testing and it is high time that the hon. Member for Hamilton stopped pretending that it is possible to argue that parents should have objective assessments of their children's standards of attainment south of the border, but that somehow in Scotland they should not. He is in hock to the Educational Institute of Scotland and the teaching unions that dictate his party's policy on such matters.

The hon. Member for Hamilton knows perfectly well what I have said. Tests will be organised externally by the Scottish Qualifications Authority which all children in Scotland will be required to sit. The tests will be marked externally and the results will be reported to the parents. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked a straight question on whether we would insist that children whose parents did not wish them to take the tests would have to do so, and I answered him fairly and squarely that we would not.

Mr. Dalyell: What figures does the Minister have for the external marking of S1 and S2 testing? How much will it cost?

Mr. Forsyth: That will depend on the nature of the tests and the way in which they are implemented. I shall

4 Jun 1996 : Column 421

be consulting on that and I should be grateful for any advice from the hon. Gentleman. However, the costs of not identifying children who have difficulties with the three Rs and addressing those difficulties at an early stage are too high for any society to pay. That is why we are determined to tackle the problem.

The Opposition's education policy is second only to their devolution policy in disarray, impracticality and contradictions. There have been seven reforming Education Acts since 1979--expanding parental choice and diversity of provision. Labour voted against them all.

The Opposition's record in Government was appalling. Under the last Labour Government, spending on education fell by £1.6 billion and spending on universities fell by 12.6 per cent.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am becoming increasingly curious about the following matter. Throughout his speech, the Secretary of State was understandably relying on copious notes. Of course, he is perfectly entitled to all the advice of his civil servants, but he was obviously using those copious notes to make tendentious remarks about Labour party policy. Is it in order for the Secretary of State to use Scottish Office civil servants to produce such a script? If he said that it was produced by central office or his own resources, that would be quite acceptable. I asked about--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. I have been rather tolerant with the hon. Gentleman. It was fairly obvious from the earlier part of his intervention that his point of order was not a matter for the Chair, and it did not get any better as he continued.

Mr. Forsyth: Given his close association with the last Labour Government, I understand why the hon. Gentleman should find it painful for me to read out their record in education. As he interrupted me, I shall repeat those points for his benefit.

Under the last Labour Government, spending on education fell by £1.6 billion and spending on universities, which are dear to the hon. Gentleman's heart, fell by 12.6 per cent. in real terms. The number of full-time students in higher education fell and teachers' pay rose by just 6 per cent. in real terms--just one fifth of the increase under the present Government.

Today, Opposition Members are totally incoherent on education issues, as was witnessed by their response on testing, to which they keep telling us their party is committed. They want to abolish child benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education, or at least the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) wants to do that, but he is not very well informed. He claimed that80 per cent. of the children of unskilled parents leave school at 16. That was true back in the dark ages of the last Labour Government. Today, thanks to the policy of the present Government, fewer than half the children of unskilled parents leave school at 16. However, the hon. Gentleman's blunder could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he came to power and abolished child benefit, those

4 Jun 1996 : Column 422

children would leave education prematurely as they did in the bad old days. What passes for Labour education policy is scribbled on the back of an envelope.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order that all this guff should have been written by Scottish Office civil servants?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is vastly experienced in the House. He knows full well that that is not a point of order for the Chair.

Next Section

IndexHome Page