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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Education and Inspections Bill

Education and Inspections Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Frank Cook, Mr. Christopher Chope
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Cawsey, Mr. Ian (Brigg and Goole) (Lab)
Chaytor, Mr. David (Bury, North) (Lab)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Evennett, Mr. David (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hayes, Mr. John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
Hillier, Meg (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
Hope, Phil (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills)
Knight, Jim (Minister for Schools)
Leigh, Mr. Edward (Gainsborough) (Con)
Moffatt, Laura (Crawley) (Lab)
Morden, Jessica (Newport, East) (Lab)
Mulholland, Greg (Leeds, North-West) (LD)
Shaw, Jonathan (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab)
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
Snelgrove, Anne (South Swindon) (Lab)
Teather, Sarah (Brent, East) (LD)
Wilson, Mr. Rob (Reading, East) (Con)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Standing Committee E

Tuesday 9 May 2006


[Part II]

[Frank Cook in the Chair]

Education and Inspections Bill

8 pm
On resuming
Mr. Gibb: I was pleased to hear the Under-Secretary say that he shares our aspiration to increase opportunities for the study of science. I was therefore surprised by some of what he said in response to the amendments. In particular, he implied that amendment No. 81 would remove the entitlement to study for a double award of science, which it would not. It would not delete anything from the Bill; it would simply add a new subsection (5A) to proposed section 85 of the Education Act 2002, creating an entitlement to study biology, chemistry and physics separately. It is therefore an addition to existing entitlements.
When the hon. Gentleman said that pupils could do either one science plus the additional science or the three GCSEs, he skipped over the fact that those options are available to students only if the governing body says that the school can provide that entitlement. My hon. Friends and I strongly believe that all pupils in secondary schools should be entitled to study three separate sciences. We will wish to press amendment No. 81 to a Division when we reach that point.
Finally, the Under-Secretary denied that creationism is in the national curriculum, but I have a copy of the OCR gateway science suite biology B syllabus. Under the heading “Assessable learning outcomes Higher Tier only: high demand” it states:
“Explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation).”
Creation is now in this country’s science curriculum.
Phil Hope: Let me make it clear that creationism is not being taught under the OCR syllabus or the awarding body as a scientific explanation of evolution or of how we all got here or how the world began. The hon. Gentleman can point to the document as much as he likes, but that is not the case; he misrepresents what is in it.
Mr. Gibb: I read from the document. It states:
“Explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time”.
It is not necessarily saying that creationism is true, but it is making it a debating point. That is all that I am saying. It means that creationism will be discussed and analysed in the science curriculum rather than in the religious education curriculum, which is where it belongs, as a result of the OCR biology B gateway science suite. That is not an appropriate place in the curriculum.
Mr. Clappison: Has my hon. Friend considered that there might be a simple misunderstanding on the part of the Under-Secretary, which could be put right if my hon. Friend were to reread the title of the document? There could then be no doubt about what appears in the OCR document.
Mr. Gibb: Yes. It is the OCR GCSE biology B gateway science suite. I am not making a big thing of it, but creationism ought to be in the religious component of the curriculum rather than thescience section. I look forward to voting on amendment No. 81.
Amendment negatived.
Amendment proposed: No. 81, in clause 61, page 43, line 14, at end insert—
‘(5A) A pupil in the fourth key stage is entitled, if he so elects, to follow a course of study in science that leads to separate qualifications in—
(a) biology,
(b) chemistry, and
(c) physics.'.—[Mr. Gibb.]
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 13.
Division No. 29]
Clappison, Mr. James
Evennett, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Mulholland, Greg
Teather, Sarah
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Chaytor, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Gwynne, Andrew
Hillier, Meg
Hope, Phil
Knight, Jim
Moffatt, Laura
Morden, Jessica
Shaw, Jonathan
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Snelgrove, Anne
Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 258, in clause 61, page 43, line 24, at end insert—
‘(8) In relation to the teaching of each core subject for the fourth key stage, a maintained school shall make provision for—
(a) accelerated or enriched course of study designed to stretch higher ability pupils within the school;
(b) courses of study for pupils of lower ability designed to reduce differences between the attainment of lower and average ability pupils.
(9) The National Curriculum for England may specify programmes of study in relation to the courses of study under subsection (8).'.
The amendment provides for accelerated or enriched courses of study that are designed to stretch higher ability pupils, and courses of study for pupils of lower ability that are designed to reduce differences between attainment levels of lower and average ability pupils. The amendment was inspired by the White Paper, which stated on page 9 that there will be
“targeted one-to-one tuition in English and maths in the schools with the most underperforming pupils, to help those falling behind to catch up with their peers”
“more stretching lessons and opportunities for gifted and talented pupils”.
The amendment therefore reflects commitments both parties have made to extend the use of setting. Labour’s 1997 manifesto stated:
“We must modernise comprehensive schools. Children are not all of the same ability, nor do they learn at the same speed. That means ‘setting’ children in classes to maximise progress”.
That sentiment was also expressed in the 1997 White Paper, “Excellence in Schools”, which stated:
“Setting should be the norm in secondary schools.”
Despite that commitment and widespread support among parents for setting, the proportion of lessons set by ability has hardly increased since 1997—from about 37 per cent. of lessons to 40 per cent. of lessons, which means that 60 per cent. of academic lessons in comprehensive schools take place in mixed-ability classes. In English 49 per cent. and in history and geography about 65 per cent. of classes are mixed ability. Even in maths, which has the most setting of all subjects, one in 10 lessons take place in mixed-ability classes.
The resistance to setting is ideological. There is a deep strand of opinion within the education establishment that setting is anti-egalitarian. The leading academic opposed to ability grouping is the American Robert Slavin, who says that
“decisions about whether or not to ability group must be made on bases other than likely effects on achievement. Given the antidemocratic, antiegalitarian nature of ability grouping, the burden of proof should be on those who would group rather than those who favour heterogeneous grouping, and in the absence of evidence that grouping is beneficial, it is hard to justify continuation of the practice.”
Another argument advanced to explain why only60 per cent. of lessons take place in mixed-ability classes is that many secondary schools, particularly those in rural areas, are too small to enable setting in all subjects, but that is false. To have a minimum level of setting—set one and set two—all that is needed is a two-form entry. Although each of the sets will contain a wide range of abilities, the range will be half that of a single mixed-ability group at that school.
Most secondary schools have four or five forms in each year. Last week I visited a comprehensive school in Milton Keynes that has a five-form entry, and from next year it will have setting in every academic subject. I asked the assistant head, who is in charge of timetabling, how it was possible to do that for all subjects. I told him that some schools had told me that they could not set in, for example, the humanities, because the complexities of the timetable made that impossible unless extra teachers were employed. He said that that was nonsense—that what had to be done was to divide the timetable and all the sets into four blocks. He lost me on the mathematics of it all; suffice it to say that all the subjects will be set by ability. Therefore, if an average size comprehensive school does not set all its academic subjects by ability, it is either engaged in poor timetabling techniques or it is maintaining mixed-ability teaching for ideological reasons.
My view is that if we genuinely want to create a more equal society, we shall do so by raising the quality of education for all and one of the key ways to achieve that, particularly in schools with the most demanding challenges, is to eliminate mixed-ability teaching in academic subjects, stretching the most able and giving the least able the time and space to learn. As children develop, particularly those who are late developers or for whom the subject suddenly clicks, they can move up the sets.
The next line of argument is whether the research shows that setting raises educational attainment. I believe that it does, but the problem with so much educational research is that it is bedevilled by non-scientific methodologies and is usually agenda-driven—in other words, it is carried out by people who have already reached a conclusion and design their studies to demonstrate it. Science-based research with control group methodologies makes that much more difficult, but such research is rare in the field of education.
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