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Mr. Robertson rose--

Mr. Maxton: If the Minister wants to contradict me, I shall be happy to be contradicted on that point.

Mr. Robertson: I realise that the hon. Gentleman was chairing a Standing Committee when I explained the cycle of inspection of nursery providers. Every provider in the pilot areas will be inspected in the pilot year. When we go national, providers will be inspected as soon as possible, and certainly within 24 months.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): Then what?

Mr. Maxton: My hon. Friend is quite right--then what? What will be the cycle after that to ensure that standards are maintained? What will happen when, for example, two trained nursery teachers start up and run a school, and one--assuming that she is female--becomes pregnant and leaves and they cannot find anybody else so a parent is appointed to stand in? The school will have received its initial inspection, and the next one may not be for God knows how long. It may be 10 years before the school is inspected again. It is fine to say that there will be an initial inspection within 24 months, but that is only part of the story. What happens thereafter?

How many nursery schools are the Government expecting the two inspectors to cover? Presumably, the figure is in the hundreds. If they are to do their job properly, those two inspectors will inspect perhaps one or two schools a week, if that. We are talking about only40 weeks of the year, because inspections will be conducted in term time, so it will be years before each school is inspected again to ensure that standards are being maintained.

Will schools report to the Scottish Office about staff changes so that, when staff have to be replaced or simply change jobs--which they do--it is possible to ensure that their replacements have the right qualifications?

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Will there be any system to ensure such practice, or are we simply to accept that some schools had trained teachers to start with but will no longer have them?

The voucher scheme is a mess--the Government do not know how to run it. They do not have an education policy. The Secretary of State's speech was more about attacking the Labour party than about proposing his own education policy. We need proper nursery education for all our children. It is best provided by local authorities. For a start, they have the resources. Schools are increasingly not full, have been closed or are about to close. Facilities are available for other purposes. In many areas, private schools offering poor accommodation will be set up and good schools will be closed and pulled down, and resources will be wasted.

As the Secretary of State tried to claim, every child has a right to nursery education. It will not be provided and it will not work under a voucher scheme. The Bill is a mess and I am glad that the Opposition will be voting for the reasoned amendment.

9.1 pm

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). I cannot bring his considerable expertise and knowledge to the subject, but I hope that, as someone who has gone through the system and is also a parent with young children, I can contribute.

We have not yet appreciated the fact that the Bill is an example of the Government's failure in many areas of education policy. Part of the Bill corrects the placement requests as a result of the failure of previous legislation. Another part deals with school boards as a result of the failure of what was implemented before. The introduction of nursery vouchers is the result of a failure over 17 years to provide nursery education for all who want it. I therefore consider the Bill to be to a certain extent a failure.

We all make mistakes, but the failures that I have described were all pointed out when the Government introduced the legislation. They were told that there would be problems with placement requests and school boards. I served on the Committee that considered the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 and I remember that we sat night in, night out--we had an all-night sitting--and day in, day out to get the Bill on to the statute book. Nobody wanted it, but it went through.

The Minister used to keep asking us how many schools we thought would opt out. We used to say a handful. My goodness, we were wrong. Not even a handful of schools has opted out. The Minister used to say that school boards would be successful. We said that there might be some trouble finding members for them. My goodness, we did not realise how right we were. People are being co-opted on to them. As hon. Members know from the schools in their constituencies, when the time to appoint members of school boards comes around, headmasters try to force people to stand. We certainly got it right then and the Bill is another example of the failure of the Government's education policy.

I want to talk about something that is not in the Bill--the Secretary of State's announcement about testing. I probably have as much experience as anyone of sitting

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tests. I sat the "qualy" and the 11-plus. I sat the ordinary as the lowers had just finished and I sat the highers. I went to university for seven years and I sat at least 10 examinations every year for seven years, sometimes five or six a week. When I left, I sat a primary examination and then a final fellowship, so I have some experience of what is involved in testing and I want to make a number of points about it.

My strongest point relates to the absolute divisions and failures involved in all examinations. There cannot be an examination without people failing it and that has a devastating effect on them and their families. Others have spoken about the 11-plus and I want to recount my experience as there are fewer of us around who have sat the 11-plus. I remember to this day when the examination results were announced and suddenly our class was split down the middle. Half went off to the high school and the other half were consigned to failure. Children were weeping in the classroom as we were separated off. Our society was divided as half my school friends were considered to be failures.

We had the same experience when my younger brother failed his 11-plus. I remember it to this day. It was like a death in the family and it has been experienced by people everywhere. I should also say that it was a pretty useless test because my brother who failed the 11-plus is now a professor of aeronautical engineering.

Not only are examinations of limited value, but the social division and the devastation that they produce are overwhelming. We should consider what we are doing to children. The purpose of education is not to fail people, but to prepare them to grasp further information later in life so that they can develop their full potential. When we introduce testing, we are introducing the possibility of failure.

I do not understand the point of testing. Of course one can make people pass their examinations and schools can do very well. My school did quite well in the "qualy". For an entire year all we did was prepare ourselves for the examination. We sat examination paper after examination paper, year in, year out. As a result, when I went to high school, having come from the school with the best test results, I was deficient in geography and history--aspects of education that I have never recovered to this day, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart(Mr. Maxton) reminds me every time we talk about history.

Mrs. Fyfe: Not to mention music and art.

Mr. Galbraith: I play the violin very badly and I am not very good at the mouth organ either.

I hope that the Minister understands my point about the downside of testing. Teachers teach for the tests and pupils take them and at the end of the day they may produce someone who has some knowledge and does well in tests, but I have yet to see the proof that such people are better educated.

I remain bitterly opposed to tests at S1 and S2. I cannot see the point of further examinations and further opportunities for failure. Children have enough problems when they have to sit examinations. At university, we sat exams year after year. I remember the stress, the strain and the failures. Let us not burden our children with that. They have enough to do growing up. Let us not have that

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and let us not have the precursor of a qualifying examination such as the old 11-plus that the Government may be considering.

Let me move on to other aspects of failure. I shall deal briefly with the provision relating to placing requests. We all know that it has resulted from the Secretary of State's problems in Balfron. The same problems occur in my constituency, where every school is full and receives numerous placing requests. I receive numerous complaints about it because the schools are bursting at the seams.

One thing that particularly annoys parents who move next to a school in April or May is that they cannot get their child into that school. The child is then put on a bus and driven past the school to another school two or three miles away. What sort of preposterous education policy allows that to happen? The Government have been told about that, as I have written to Ministers about the matter on several occasions. They always replied that there were no problems and that the policy was wonderful--the usual jargon. But there is a problem, and I am glad that--at long last--the Government have recognised that placing requests present problems and are beginning to address them. Every school in my constituency has placing requests. They are excellent schools, and it is a continuing problem for them.

I wish to refer to school boards. We spent night after night in debates on the legislation on school boards, and there was no great enthusiasm for them. We all knew that the boards were being set up to allow schools to opt out, and had no inherent function. We predicted at the time that there would be problems filling the boards. In my area, which is highly middle-class, one would think that there would be huge competition for places on boards. But we must still co-opt individuals on to them. The boards are supposed to provide democracy, but it is nothing of the sort if one is being co-opted or forced by the head teacher on to a board because nobody else will do it. That is the reality, even in the schools in my area. That is another failure on the part of the Government.

I wish to deal with nursery provision. My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart was incorrect when he suggested that nursery education is of benefit only to children from lower-class backgrounds, as it is extremely beneficial to all children. It is not just a case of their knowledge increasing, but it is also beneficial to young children who may be less well integrated.

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