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Dr. Pugh: I too am a keen supporter of parenting classes in the secondary school. It is crucial to create a generation of good, knowing parents. It may be regrettable, but it is necessary. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that will require space to be made in the curriculum to make sure that schools do the job properly?

Mr. Allen: I accept that it will require space. That is a difficult judgment, both nationally and for teachers in the classroom, but we need that flexibility. However, if we get it right early on, it will save much grief, effort, time and money. We want to develop people's capabilities so that they become decent human beings rather than let them go their own way, often without any assistance or guidance. We all have a responsibility, particularly in this place, but also at every level in society, to make sure that that approach works.

I welcome the Government's proposals on a flagging-up system to track and help individuals. That is not a Big Brother concept; helping individuals and getting assistance to children and toddlers so that they have the mindset and skills to benefit from their education is not an imposition but a liberation. We are giving people the ability and skills to make the most of their lives. I organised a consultation on promoting social behaviour as a way of undermining antisocial behaviour in my constituency. I spoke to midwives, health visitors and education welfare officers, who told me about parents who refused to allow public officials into their home to give youngsters hearing and sight tests. I make no apology for saying that we must consider whether compulsion should be used in such cases. Allowing a child to go deaf or developing a sight impairment is not a matter of parental choice, and should not happen because parents cannot be bothered or refuse to let in a qualified professional to assist their youngsters at a very early stage.

I was taken by the idea of key workers proposed by Members on both sides of the House and by my hon. Friend the Minister. We have enough public officials at all levels in our constituencies to examine the possibility of ensuring that somebody, somewhere takes responsibility for families identified as requiring assistance early in the process. We need to look at that far more carefully. If we tot up all the health visitors, midwives, police officers, housing officers and everybody else, it may be possible to give responsibility to somebody for one or two families to make sure that we can keep them up to speed and give them the assistance that they need. The early integration of parents in the education system is also important. One of my schools in Nottingham, North holds pre-school planning meetings that bring together parents and child care services before the youngsters start to attend school. Meetings continue to take place once the children are at school. Involving the parents in school is good for the youngsters and allows the parents to start to resurrect their own educational career. We had a debate earlier today in Westminster Hall about further

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education, and it would be perfectly possible for parents to start exploring through school involvement pathways back into education, thus realising the dream that my hon. Friend the Minister described of lifelong learning.

I should like to float a serious proposal about maintaining and developing a young person's values, ethics and social behaviour as a way of countering antisocial behaviour. We need to look at the teaching of social behaviour. I pay tribute to the work that is already being done in primary schools, but if children are not getting those values at home, we may need to consider introducing a mandatory component in the national curriculum, perhaps on an experimental basis in certain areas, so that young people can develop emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to others and use non-violent means of communications. They would thus be in a position to start learning on day one at primary school. If we had that in our national curriculum, my hope and ambition for the Government in a third term might be that we could do for social behaviour what we have done for literacy and numeracy, and kit out young people with the emotional skill set that will enable them to take advantage of their education and the educational opportunities on offer.

I could say a great deal more about the topic, but I am conscious that others wish to come in. In conclusion, if we fail to get youngsters participating in our society, and if as a society we fail to equip them with the skills to make the best of themselves, we will be landing ourselves with an incredibly large social and economic bill. Where we have not intervened properly, the tailback from one youngster who goes wrong—one youngster who goes through the exclusion process, the appeals process, the criminal courts, the police, possibly drug rehabilitation and possibly prison—results in huge expenditure that society has to fork out, which might have been avoided had we spent a minor pot at the earliest opportunity. The earlier we intervene, the less money we need to spend to make decent people in our society.

Against the background of this debate on attendance and behaviour at school, I hope that the Minister—I do not expect a reply even in his winding-up speech—will go away and think about the possibilities of countering the antisocial behaviour that we see every day in our schools with a serious programme of social behaviour, with the Government fully behind it.

4.2 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). As is customary, he raised many good points, and the one on which he finished was extremely important. That is where I shall start.

Education, in terms not just of qualifications achieved, but of school life, shapes the lives of many people, if not everybody. Many years ago, I was chairman of governors of a school in Lancashire, which is where I am from, as my accent suggests. The school had many children with social difficulties and many with learning difficulties. It had a 54 per cent. Muslim population—a point to which I shall return—and a 10 per cent. population of travellers, as they are called these days; originally, the term was Gypsies, then itinerants. That mix taught me a great deal and sharpened the keen interest that I already had in education, possibly because my education was not as extensive as I might have liked.

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These days, it seems, we have more education than ever—children often go to school way beyond the age of 16, and many go to university—yet in some ways the problems have worsened. We have concentrated, rightly, on the number of pupils who become disengaged from the lessons at school. Many of those who go to university become rather disengaged there as well and tend to drop out of their courses, because the course is inappropriate or they do not like university life, or for some other reason. We are not here to discuss university, but there is a lesson to be learned from the drop-out rate from higher education courses.

As the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) said, if we consider the number of people being educated in this country and specifically the top 10 per cent., it is quite impressive, and probably comparable with education standards throughout the world. However, those in the bottom 10 per cent. represent a big problem.

Many changes came about during the 20th century. Although there was better health, better education—or certainly more education—and greater prosperity, there was also a massive increase in crime, which has continued to go up. Much, although not all, of that crime is committed by those in the bottom 10 per cent. to whom the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and I referred, and who might be called "the underclass"—that is an unfortunate term, but I cannot think of a better way to put it. They have been excluded from so much in society, and that starts when they leave school without a proper education. As many as one in three may leave primary school with a low standard of literacy and numeracy, and that continues into secondary school. According to my research, about 33,000 children leave secondary school with no GCSEs at all. I started by saying that qualifications are not everything, but we need to ensure that people leave school with an acceptable degree of literacy and numeracy. If they do not, we will find, if we fast forward a few years, that between 50 and 60 per cent. of the prison population are still illiterate or innumerate, or have very low literacy or numeracy standards.

For the record, I am not saying that having no education is an excuse for crime—of course, many people with poor education do not commit any crime—nor that punishments for people with no education who commit crime should be less severe than those for anybody else. A lack of education is not an excuse for committing crime, but it might be a reason for it, and we must address that.

As the hon. Member for Southport said, it is not only a lack of education that leads to crime or to poor behaviour in schools; much of it is brought about by changes in society. An increasing lack of respect for authority naturally leads to a lack of respect for teachers and an unruly classroom. At one time—I accept that it was quite a few years ago—large classes sizes were never a problem, and classes of 45 to 50 were not at all unusual. They were manageable because there was greater discipline in schools and, I suspect, in the home. Nowadays, such class sizes would be unacceptable and

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unimaginable—not only because of the educational problems and challenges that would be created, but because of behavioural problems. Assaults on teachers were once relatively unheard of, but are now so commonplace that they go almost unreported in the media. According to a recent parliamentary answer, in the last year for which figures are available 110 assaults that the Health and Safety Executive describes as serious—that is, resulting in the teacher taking more than three days off work to recover—were committed. That is a frightening statistic.

That change in society's attitudes has led to a great deal of truancy—or "bunking-off", as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) described it. That means that children miss lessons, reducing their ability to learn and taking them on the downward spiral that might be an excuse or a reason for them to commit crime. Whether they truant because they are being bullied, or are disengaged with what is going on at school, or are bored—they are not necessarily stupid, but may be quite bright—the common factor is that they can see no point in school. Far too many parents these days feel the same, and some cause a great deal of disruption by taking their children away on unnecessary holidays during term-time. That is not helpful, but perhaps it suggests the lack of respect for authority that is prevalent in society today.

I appreciate that I am about to tread on dangerous ground, but a reason for lack of respect was brought home to me at the school where I was chairman of governors. I hope that my remarks will be taken in the spirit in which they are meant. Fifty-four per cent. of the school's population were Muslim and the attitude was different. All the children in that population had a stable family background, yet in one class, every child from the indigenous population came from a broken home. I do not want to make moral judgments other than to say that that cannot help behaviour and discipline.

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