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Mrs. Fyfe: As the Minister admits that the Government have not begun even to think about that yet, would it not have been better to delay the Bill's implementation until they did have answers to that serious point?

Mr. Robertson: I am surprised at the hon. Lady saying that, because she used to be a great fan and advocate of what was going on in former Strathclyde region, and community nurseries' experience there and recent research conducted in that context point clearly to keeping an open mind on educational qualifications. She cannot shout Strathclyde region from the rooftops when it suits her and ignore its advice and experience when it does not.

In a thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) asked about the frequency of inspections of local authority nursery schools and classes. Local authority nursery schools and classes will be inspected in accordance with sampling arrangements that Her Majesty's inspectors use for schools across the board. All Her Majesty's inspectors, not just the extra ones that we have recruited specifically for nurseries, will be competent, and will be used to inspect local authority nursery schools and classes. All new nursery schools and classes will have to complete a profile of education provision as soon as staff are appointed. Her Majesty's inspectors will consider those in setting their inspection priorities and in assessing the need for reinspection.

Mr. Maxton: In my experience, many of the inspectors are ex-secondary school teachers or ex-college of education lecturers. Few of them will have had any experience of nursery education. I am not sure that they are the right people to make true judgments about the quality of nursery education.

Mr. Robertson: That is a terrible slur on the professionalism of Her Majesty's inspectors of schools. Many of them did not come from the rarefied atmosphere of one of Scotland's finest independent schools, but were brought up, like myself, on the hard side of life in the state sector.

The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) asked about the core grant for the Scottish Pre-School Play Association. I join him in paying tribute to playgroups'

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excellent work throughout Scotland. Playgroups will be a major player in the pre-school initiative, which will be a valuable source of places, especially in rural areas where the provider market is not yet fully developed.

We are seeking to deal with the issue the hon. Gentleman raised by putting resources towards funding development officers in support of the initiative. Their primary role will be to support providers in the voluntary and private sectors to achieve the standards necessary for a successful participation in the pre-five initiative. The development officers will be attached to Her Majesty's inspectors, but will work in the field and will cost some £400,000. It is a considerable investment to support the voluntary and private sectors, and will help the SPPA. It should significantly ease the pressure on the SPPA's core grant.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland(Mr. Wallace) raised some issues outwith the voucher initiative, about the Scottish Qualifications Authority. He asked whether it would simplify the public's perception of qualifications and the myriad things that are going on. Bringing together the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council will provide a means of co-ordinating educational pathways in Scotland. Certification of school, work-related and work-based awards will be handled by a single body and, as a result, there will less confusion about the range of provision on offer.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the SVEC's fees being a burden on employers, but in the interests of competitiveness, all employers must invest in the education and training of their staff to optimise efficiency, productivity and output. In the past year, the SVEC was able to reduce its fees by becoming more efficient and it has held those fees level. I expect that the new body will be able to maintain the service being given by the SVEC.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the SEB cutting corners to save money in relation to pre-testing of questions. The SEB's reputation for quality is excellent. That is known and valued throughout the Scottish education system. The SEB's commitment to quality cannot be and is not in doubt, and I am confident that it will ensure that that quality is maintained. We will ensure that the SQA will build on the reputations of both bodies in a variety of areas, but especially in relation to quality, and the Bill makes specific mention of this.

Also in relation to the SQA, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) asked about whether special educational needs provision was adequate. If he is listening, I can tell him that the Bill makes provision for the SQA to take over the functions of SEB and SVEC, including the procedures for special needs candidates. The "Higher Still" initiative shows that improvements in standards and quality are not incompatible with special educational needs. The access level of "Higher Still" qualifications has been widely welcomed by those interested in special educational needs. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the underfunding of the SQA. We expect it to be self-financing, so that question does not arise.

We have also heard much criticism, especially from the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell), about our proposals for national testing, but what she has not admitted is that the atrocious level of testing in Scottish secondary schools has to be improved. When I challenged

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the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in the Scottish Grand Committee to say whether he condoned the low levels of testing, he said nothing. I now ask the hon. Lady whether she condones or condemns the appalling levels of testing at S1 and S2.

Mrs. Liddell: I am interested in the Minister's diversion. He has introduced a proposal for compulsory testing at S1 and S2 in secondary schools. This is not about levels of testing that do or do not exist; it is about compulsory testing being introduced as a qualification, as the Secretary of State said. The Minister would do better to explain exactly what the Government are up to.

Mr. Robertson: I will ask the hon. Lady again: does she approve of a 6 per cent. level for maths, a 7 per cent. level for reading and a 5 per cent. level for writing? Is she happy with that? I shall keep talking while she gets the answer from her colleague.

Mrs. Liddell: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Perhaps he will explain why the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), the former Secretary of State for Scotland, backed down from that position. I am happy to stand by the education record of Labour-controlled local authorities in Scotland because they have saved education from the depredations of the Minister and his right hon. Friend.

Mr. Robertson: So the hon. Lady is now saying that she is happy to defend Tayside region, which achieved0 per cent. in reading, 0 per cent. in writing and 0 per cent. in mathematics, and Central region, which achieved 7 per cent. in reading, 1 per cent. in mathematics and 1 per cent. in writing. Does the hon. Lady think that that is an acceptable level of testing for Scottish parents for the very basics of education? I ask her for a third time--is she defending what is or is not happening in the vital first two years of Scotland's secondary schools?

Mrs. Liddell: Perhaps you could guide me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether this is parliamentary language, but was that not gibberish? Given that this system of testing was introduced by the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, why on earth is the Minister getting himself into such a fankle?

Mr. Robertson: Here we have it. At 3.30 this afternoon, the Opposition were against it, but word got out to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside(Mr. Blunkett) and the right hon. Member for Sedgefield(Mr. Blair)--"Do you realise what the Scottish element of the party has just said--that we are against improving standards in Scotland and against testing? Get the policy changed before the wind-up at 9.30 pm."

Education authorities had the time to improve their performance, but made no tangible progress. The reality is that they will do nothing unless they are compelled to do so. The time has come to take powers to ensure that those authorities can no longer stand in the way of the full implementation of the system of national testing, and the five-to-14 programme of which it is an integral part, which has already proved of immense benefit to teachers, parents and pupils.

The future prosperity of Scotland relies on the performance of our education and training system. The Bill reaffirms our continuing commitment to the training

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system and takes forward proposals to enable our present system, with its high and improving standards, to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Our aim is nothing short of the improvement of Scottish education, improvement in the quality of provision offered to the Scottish people, and an improvement in the standards of education they achieve.

Our aim is an increase in diversity within the system and the ability to take advantage of that by promoting freedom of choice. This Bill is part of our drive to achieve those objectives, and we are confident that the voucher system provides the best means of ensuring the expansion of preschool education. We are confident that our proposals for national testing will raise standards, to keep Scottish education up there with the best.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes 276.


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