Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
DORKING CH, RT
BLUNKETT MP, RT
CLARKE MP AND
8 MARCH 2010
Q1 Chair: I welcome four former
Secretaries of State for Education, which is shorthand, as there
have been slight changes in the name of the Department: David
Blunkett, Charles Clarke, Lord Baker and Baroness Morris. Thank
you very much for responding to our invitation. As you know, this
Committee, over the last period, has been looking at some of the
major reforms and threads in education policy, and you have had
the synopses of those reports on the influence of testing and
assessment, and the influence of changes in the National Curriculum,
followed by the school accountability report. We wrapped that
round with the training of teachers. I keep referring to that
as my Baker to Balls box set, which has now leaked out into the
media, but never mind. The general view is that there have been
some long-term trends in English education, and we thought, what
better group of people to invite in than the four of you? We had
to be reasonably selective, as it would be ridiculous if we had
six or seven. We could have had Baroness Shephard, Ruth Kelly
and others in front of us, but we thought you were a pretty fair
selection. Could I start with you, Lord Baker? You know what we
have been up to andsometimes quite unfairlyeverything
is laid at your door in terms of the Education Reform Act 1988.
In one sense, school accountability was not your big thing, was
it, but you were very concerned about the national curriculum,
testing and assessment? Is that a fair reflection?
Lord Baker: Yes.
The last time I appeared before this Committee was when I announced
that we were going to have a national curriculum in 1986they
never had me back. It was announced before your Committee, because
I thought the Committee was important. Certainly the National
Curriculum was probably one of the biggest changes that I introduced.
It had all started with Jim Callaghan in his famous Ruskin speech.
He wanted to set it in hand, but the Department was totally opposed
to it. Shirley Williams, as Secretary of State, argued against
it very strongly, on the grounds that it was not the job of politicians
to get involved in the vineyard of education"Take
your big clumsy boots out"and very little was done.
When Keith Joseph took over, he set up some curriculum studies
that were quite interesting, but did not progress very far. There
was a general feeling that a national curriculum was needed. I
think a national curriculum was needed for the very simple reason
that if you looked at the curriculum in schools before the Bill,
you found that good schools had good curriculums, mediocre schools
had mediocre curriculums, and poor schools had poor curriculums.
You had a great inconsistency over the country, so when children
moved from Newcastle to Portsmouth, they could not slot easily
into the framework of education. They were all doing different
things; some schools had done dinosaurs three times and very little
else. There was therefore a strong movement for a national curriculum,
and that was why the National Curriculum was established. I think
that nowI have strong views on thisit needs modification
in certain ways, but the framework of a national curriculum is
still needed in our country for those reasons. I am strongly in
support of testing. Before 1988, there was only one test in British
educationthe GCSE at 16. That was most remarkable. It was
unique in the world that there was only one testapart from
the 11-plus, but that was for a minority of schools. I would strongly
support the general framework of a national curriculum, testing
and league tables.
Q2 Chair: So, in a fashion, Callaghan
had made this speech and Keith Joseph was interested in the curriculum.
There was a trend towards talking about a national curriculum
at that time.
Lord Baker: Yes. I think it is
legitimate for the state to be decidingbecause virtually
every state does itwhat the framework of education should
be for its children. What I never attempted to do was to tell
teachers how to teach it or how they should do it. I don't think
that that is the job of the Secretary of State for Education,
any more than the Secretary of State for Health should tell surgeons
how to operate. It is up to teachers to decide how it should be
done. The professionalism of teachers decides it, but it is legitimate
to establish a framework.
Q3 Chair: Did you have a battle
at that time? Looking at some of the stuff, you had a kind of
Adonis of his day in Stuart Sexton, didn't you? He took a rather
different view of the National Curriculum from you.
Lord Baker: There were a few noises
off, but you have to cope with that. It was very interesting setting
up the National Curriculum. I had to set up groups to cover the
subjects. I thought that some, like maths, would be easy. I said,
"They must agree about maths," but I found that armies
were marching across the maths plain: those who were in favour
of using calculators and those who weren't; those who were in
favour of learning tables by heart; and those who were in favour
of doing calculus before 16, and those against. I discovered that
passion raged over maths. I knew that passion would rage over
history and over English, so in English I appointed the most right-wing
team I could discover, because I wanted a bit of rigourI
wanted punctuation and grammar and all thatand they came
up with the wettest thing you could imagine. I had to appoint
another one to firm them up. It was a real battle to get the framework
of the curriculum established at certain times.
Mr Blunkett: Who says that education
Lord Baker: It is not entirely
Q4 Chair: Ken, I want to nail
you on that a bit. There was a debate. Someone said to me that
there is a Times article on Michael Gove's view of the
National Curriculum that very much reflects a battle that you
had with Stuart Sexton at that time.
Lord Baker: Yes. I was also in
favour of learning poetry by heart in primary school, so that
was inserted into the National Curriculum, and I was very much
in favour of a timeline in history. I did not want youngsters
to be thrown into classes and told, "Imagine that you're
living in a mediaeval village and the plague has broken out. How
do you cope with it?" because you cannot do that without
background knowledge of the social structure of a mediaeval village,
the political structure of the country around, the relationships
of the various people and their relative wealth and prosperity.
You have to have information; you have to have facts.
Q5 Chair: Can I hold you there
for a moment, Ken, and turn to David? David, when you came in,
in 1997, was the curriculum a big issue for you?
Mr Blunkett: There had been a
substantial development of the curriculum by that time. The arguments
were already13 years agoabout slowing it down. There
was a very strong rearguard from Ofsted about not changing the
National Curriculum very much, so when we came to the review for
2000, very modest changes were madespecifically, the decision
to introduce citizenship into the curriculum, which Ken Baker
was strongly in favour of, because he served on the working group.
I was very grateful to him for that so that we would have a consensus.
I can't see how you can update and reshape what is done in your
school system as a whole if you don't have a national curriculum.
If you have a national curriculum, is it determined by the Department
or some revamped QCDA? Michael Goveyou mentioned this,
so I will pick up on itsaid in The Times on Saturday,
"We want to rewrite the whole thing. We're going to start
as soon as we get in." I can't see how you can rewrite the
whole thing and then leave it to schools to determine what curriculum
they follow. This is not new, by the way. We're all full of contradictions.
We want schools to have the freedom to determine their own direction
and to determine their own phonics, so long as they teach phonics.
We want to pick up on them when they don't teach the phonics that
we like, like Ken's history lessons and the way we teach poetry.
So all Education Secretaries, or Children and Schools Secretaries,
have these contradictions inside their head.
Q6 Chair: When you came into office,
David, what did you see as the great challenges? The Government
had been elected on the triple education pledge, and you had a
Prime Minister who was very keen on education generally. What
were your priorities, out of the things that we have been discussing
over these past two or three years? Was the National Curriculum
at the top? Was it targets for literacy and numeracy? What was
top of your priorities?
Mr Blunkett: Two contradictory
things. The first was to reinforce what we had accepted, which
was that schools manage schools and that, therefore, school leadership
and quality teaching was the prime issue. Nothing else can trump
it, because that's where the difference is made. At the same time,
we wanted to say that because so many schools, particularly in
the primary sector at the time, were failing to teach even the
most modest tools for continuing learningfour schools in
my constituency alone didn't get more than one in five children
aged 11 through Level 4we would need to have a dramatic
change. Implementing the literacy and numeracy strategiesEstelle
and Charles both played a part in that stage before going on to
be Secretaries of Statewas the prime concern. To do that,
we needed some levers to pull. Gillian Shephard, in her book Shephard's
WatchI think it's page 153, because I like quoting
itsays that she came in after John Patten and found there
were no levers to pull at all. We've moved from one extreme to
the other, as we often do. We've moved from having to take levers
to going back to wanting to have no levers again. I know we'll
move back again once people have discovered, a" la Michael
Gove, that you do need levers to pull if you want to change what's
happening in the classroom.
Q7 Chair: But before Lord Baker
was Secretary of Statecertainly around that timeI
remember from reading some of the autobiographies of leading politicians
of the time, particularly Labour politicians, that they did not
want to be Secretary of State for Education, because education
was dealt with in local government and Education was a small Department
and not a high priority in the Cabinet.
Mr Blunkett: I very much wanted
to be Education and Employment Secretary. I thought that being
Education Secretary was profound in terms of the impact it could
have on the future of our country, not just in terms of young
people's own ability to fulfil their capabilities, but in terms
of our social and economic well-being. I still do think that.
I believe that the progress that Ken made, both in the local management
of schools and the curriculum, set a foundation on which we were
able to build and to bring about further reforms, which is how
building blocks occur. Charles and Estelle were able to build
on things that I had done, as were subsequent Secretaries of State.
That is how it works. In other words, there is no day zero where
you wave a magic wand and it's done.
Q8 Chair: No, that's true,
David. Chronologically, you come next, Estelle, don't you? What
is your view? There is a view, if you look at this issue reasonably
historically, that there was a time when Education was a small
Department and local government delivered education. That has
changed, partly because of Ministers in the 1980s, significantly
Lord Baker. So, to some extent, power was wrested away from local
government and given to a much larger, centralised Education Department,
was it not?
Baroness Morris: To some extent,
that is true. However, you have to look at the context. The nation's
aspiration for education had changed as well. Although teachers
have always wanted high standards for all their children and they
go to work every day wanting all their children to succeed, what
we knew in terms of what the economy needed was that we did not
need every child to leave education with a bunch of GCSEs, A-levels
and a degree. I do not think that you can look at this issue without
looking at the pressure that was coming on to the politics from
other parts of society. The economy needs more skilled people
and we need more people to be studying beyond 18. Married with
that, of course, was the increasing amount of knowledge that we
had about the consequences of children leaving school with no
qualifications, in terms of the juvenile justice system, health
and the rest of it. So, when we are talking about this issue,
Education was a hugely important Department. I never had any doubt
but that it was important. And the pressure, certainly from the
Prime Minister and indeed the rest of Whitehall, was that education
mattered. However, I do not think that you can therefore say that
it was about centralising education policy making. I think that
that centralisation did happen, but it was in response to things
that were happening in wider society and in response to demands
from more parents who were far more critical of public services
and from far more parents from a much broader background who wanted
their kids to do well. That is sort of the demand side on Ministers,
in terms of education policy. The only other thing that I would
say about that context is that it was not just education that
was, I suppose, breaking away from local authorities. I think
that there was a politics at the timecertainly very heavily
so under Mrs Thatcher, with rate capping and the rest of it, and
that continued somewhat under Tony Blairabout a lack of
faith in the ability of local authorities to deliver. So, for
both those reasons, I think that your conclusion is absolutely
right, and that by the time that we got to the Department in 1997,
things were quite centralised. May I just say one more thing?
I think that there is a line of development that it is important
to get, because it runs into some of your reports. Ken said that
he felt that it was the politicians' job to talk about what was
in the National Curriculum, and I would not disagree with that.
In a democracy, that is absolutely right; in a totalitarian state,
it is absolutely wrong. I think that the community is entitled,
through its politicians, to have a debate about the knowledge
that we want to transfer from one generation to another. I think
that that is absolutely key. However, Ken then went on to say
that it was not his job to tell teachers how to teach. I think
that by the time we came to power in 1997, one of the reasons
why we were less concerned with the curriculum was that we were
more concerned with teaching and learning in the classroom. If
you look at our early policies, from 1997 right the way onwards,
what we learned was that just telling teachers what to teach did
not, by itself, raise standards for every child. We really had
to say, "Well, we have now said what you are teaching under
the accountability mechanism," but once you have got all
that information from Ken's accountability mechanism, you have
to do something about it, if you really want to have those levers
of change. I think that shift under usthat's a phrase that
runs through your reportsto concentrating much more on
what happened in the classroom, was probably one of the most significant
shifts when Labour came to power in 1997.
Q9 Chair: But Charles, what's
your take on this? Were you tempted then or do you think we as
a Government in 1997 moved to quality of teaching and learning
in the classroom as the priority, as Estelle said? Was that going
to be delivered by investment in teachers' higher pay or more
rugged inspection? What's your particular view?
Mr Clarke: Just a preliminary
point first, Mr Sheerman. You'll recall that Fred Mulley, Jim
Callaghan's Education Secretary, said that the only power he had
as Education Secretary was over air raid sheltersthat was
a rather obscure reference to some piece of law. Just to reinforce
that, I'm glad that Ken Baker referred to the Ruskin speech as
a key element in the whole process. I think the reason why this
process has gone forward was because of a big discussion in the
Labour party in response to Ken Baker's initiatives in Government,
when I think Jack Straw was the shadow Education SecretaryNeil
Kinnock as leader had been very involved in educationas
to whether we were to go along with these fundamental proposals
or not. The decision was takenfor Labour it was a big decisionthat
we would, broadly speaking, go along with the decisions, although
there were various arguments as we went around. That meant that
by the time we got to 1997, we were in the position that you described
in discussion with David Blunkett. On the local authority point,
just to say again that there had been a process of key changes,
one of the most significant of which was the Labour Government's
decision to establish the Manpower Services Commission and to
take post-16 education away from local authorities. Then the polytechnics
and FE came away from local authorities
Lord Baker: I did that.
Mr Clarke: I know you did, but
Labour set up the MSC in the first place. I am trying to point
to a process all the way down the line of moving away from the
idea that local education authorities could run things in this
way. That led to the process. My priorities were twofold, although
I'd say that neither was completely successful. First, I thought
it was extremely important to discuss the way in which subjects
were taught. In fact, when I was Secretary of State, I gave responsibilities
for subjects to Ministers and developed the principle of subject
advisersfor example in mathematics and other areasto
try to get a coalition between the teachers, the technology, which
was moving forward as well in those areas, and the assessment
forms, to try really to revitalise education. One of my contributions
was to fund the National Poetry Archive, which the poet laureate
Andrew Motion wanted to establish, to try and bring poetry directly
into the classroom. My answer for secondary education, in particular,
was to try and enthuse the teachers by reference to their subjects:
for example, to try to encourage maths teachers who wanted to
teach but also wanted to do maths and to move that forward. I
thought that enthusiasm was far and away the most powerful mechanism
to do itmore important even than inspection. There were
certain inspection aspects that were important, but enthusiasm
was also important, although I wouldn't say we fully achieved
that. The second dimension that comes through your documents is
the involvement of parents. I think that the fact that school
was a secret garden that parents weren't really supposed to know
about was a core problemI would say that it remains a serious
problem to this day . I used to hate that NUT bumper sticker that
you used to see saying, "If you can read this, thank a teacher".
I don't know if you remember it, but it was a big theme and I
Mr Blunkett: So much so you didn't
go to its conference. You were a wise man, I thought.
Mr Clarke: Quite so. But why?
Because for most children their parents or carers and their teachers
both play roles in educating them from a young age. That needs
to be recognised far more than it is. We tried to make some changes
in that direction. For example, recommendations on making parents
able to have fuller access to the curriculum that their children
are doing and so on remain, for me, an important element. Fundamentally,
however, I was an enthuser rather than an enforcer in my approach
to trying to improve educational standards.
Chair: I'm going to call on my colleague,
Paul Holmes, to carry on some questioning.
Q10 Paul Holmes: Thanks. I should
like to return to the National Curriculum, which has already been
touched on. Last April, this Committee produced a report on the
National Curriculum, probably one of the key recommendations of
which was that it should be slimmed down, should be a minimum
entitlement and should not take up 100% of the time in any subject,
to return more flexibility to schools and teachers. Indeed, there
has been some slimming down of the National Curriculum. When it
was first introduced, I was the head of a history department.
It was incredibly detailed and massively over-prescriptive. There
were rows and volumes of ring binders telling me exactly what
I had to do every lesson, every day, every week from 11 to 18.
Does anybody want to comment on that?
Lord Baker: When the curriculum
had to be fashioned, I had to start somewhere. I entirely agree
that it was over-prescriptive and too long, but I knew perfectly
well it would be whittled down. Being a realistic politician,
I knew that it was a beginning. For example, we had history and
foreign languages up to 16. They were dropped by Ken Clarke later
because it was too much to do. The biggest regret I have about
the formation of the National Curriculum is that I did not extend
the teaching day by one period. I wanted to do that, but had just
settled the teachers' strike. One settlement of the teachers'
strike was the number of hours in the contract that a teacher
was allowed to teach each year. I would have had to open up the
whole negotiation on that again and could not do it. If there
had been one more teaching period, it would have relieved you
to some extent, although not entirely because it was over-prescriptive,
I agree. Coming to your report, I think what is needed now is
a fundamental overhaul of the curriculum, particularly at the
age of 14. There is still a very strong argument for a National
Curriculum of quite a prescriptive nature up to 14, but at that
point there is a watershed. I have come to the conclusion that
14 is the watershed in education. I would like to see the transfer
age moved from 11 to 14. Two years ago, Ron Dearing and I started
to send around documents on a new type of college for 14-19. There
have been several interesting changes under Labour. The literacy
and numeracy initiative that David took was very important. The
big change is the 14-19 curriculum, which I think can now transform
English education. If you are going to have a 14-19 curriculum,
which was one of the great discoveries of the Labour Government
under Mike Tomlinson four or five years ago, you have to have
institutions that can deliver it. That means you have to have
colleges and schools that can teach at 14 specialisms such as
engineering or the building trade alongside the GCSE subjects.
I suspect that that will be the biggest change over the next five
to 10 years in English education. I think it will transform everything
in English education and lead to an enormous improvement, because
alongside the vocational and technical specialism subjects such
as engineering, you will learn maths for engineering and English
for the building trade. That has never been achieved in the English
education system. We commissioned research at Exeter, which I
have left with you, to show how all the initiatives in English
education in the past have failed and how we hope that this time
we will succeed. This is a fundamental change to the curriculum.
Baroness Morris: Yes, on Ken's
point, I wanted to say something more general about the curriculum
that Paul mentioned. I think that is right about 14-19. As long
as we've got this system whereby the National Curriculum finishes
at 16 and yet we talk about a cohesive 14-19 strategy, it will
never work. I would say two things. I think GCSEs ought to be
at 14. I see no reason for an exam at 16. It used to be called
a school leaving exam and in fact some people still call it that.
On the one hand, we are saying that it's the biggest exam you've
ever done, yet it comes two years through a cohesive four-year
programme when we are trying to give the message to children and
young people that they need to stay in learning. I think one way
in which we could really ratchet up the pace of learning is to
do the National Curriculum exams at the age of 14, at the end
of either year 8 or year 9. I would want to look at the details.
If we did that, it would free us and open up 14-19 so that children
could learn in one or more institutions, but not have to make
key decisions twice. At the moment, we want them to make a key
decision at 14 and a key decision at 16. We are finding ourselves
putting into play all sorts of partnerships and relationships
to make that cohesive, whereas the question we ought to ask is,
what is stopping it being cohesive? I feel strongly that it is
GCSEs at 16. I would abolish them and, although I am not sure
it's doable, I would have 5-14 and 14-19. There is no reason to
change schools now at 11, because we used to do that for the 11-plus.
Can I just say one thing about the curriculum in general? It's
all right saying we ought to thin down the curriculum, but that
means every one of us giving up our favourite subject, or our
favourite bit of a subject, which we demand that children be taught.
My favourite thing is listening to the "Today" programme
when somebody is on about some woe in society or some problem
with the youth of today. You can time these things on your watch;
you can give them a minute and a half before someone says, "Why
don't the schools teach this?" Too often, politicians respond
by saying, "We will get the schools to teach it" or
"We'll advise the schools to teach it." I could be persuaded,
maybe, that we ought to go for a slimmer curriculum, but don't
pretend that that doesn't leave really tough decisions. I think
it means a change of approach from politicians, the media and
parents, because once you take that lever away from national government,
it no longer rests with them. The last thing I would say is that
I experienced this when I gave schools the decision about whether
to teach modern foreign languages in Key Stage 4. That's exactly
what you're recommending. I freed things up, trusted the teachers,
trusted the head teachers and said, "You do exactly what
you want." Ever since, there's been nothing but complaints
that children no longer have to do a modern foreign language.
That was the right decision, and it will be proven right in time,
but the decision that I took in 2001-02 had consequences. So it's
easy to say we'll free things up and slim them down, but it really
creates a different curriculum, and I would want to see the agreement
about what was in the freed-up curriculum before I came to a final
Mr Blunkett: Very briefly, this
is a very interesting part of the discussion; it reveals the contradictions.
As with Estelle and languages, I regret not maintaining history
as a mandatory subject post-14, yet other people would
Baroness Morris: That's because
you like history, David.
Mr Blunkett: That is because I
like history. I think it's really important and we learn lessons
Lord Baker: And the only other
country in Europe that drops history at 14 is Albania.
Mr Blunkett: Right. I shall reflect
on that in due course. The point I was going to make was about
the early part of the discussion initiated by the question. We
actually address the curriculum as though it is the curriculum
that was overloaded, rather than the curriculum we have. We address
the curriculum in a world where we have fewer teaching hours than
we did when I was a child, and Ken Baker has referred to that.
I didn't leave school until four o'clock, and that was taken for
granted. We now have extended days to compensate for that, but
I gather the Secretary of State is cutting some of the cash for
that, so we perhaps won't have so many extended days in future.
The point I really want to make is that in every sphere, if you're
going to examinewhether it's at 14 rather than 16 or whether
it's A-levels, which are the most rigid part of the curriculum,
by the way, for those who are great enthusiasts for themyou
have to have an assurance that the young people who are being
assessed, tested or examined have actually covered that area;
you just have to. If you don't want that and you don't want children
across the country to have a pretty good grasp, wherever they
are, of what we need to do, and you want to go back to the free-for-all
that led schools to let children down so very badly, let's do
it, but let's do it with our eyes wide open.
Mr Clarke: Two or three things.
First, I agree 100% on 14-19. The biggest failure over this period
of the Labour Government is that we didn't finally implement the
Tomlinson proposals on 14-19. We should have done that just before
the 2005 general election, shortly after I left office, for a
variety of reasons. Actually, that was largely associated with
what David has just said about people's attachment to A-levels.
We should have gone for it, difficult though that was. I have
to say to Ken that there were also issues on the Conservative
side of the fence; it was not as though there was a consensus
on this. People were making direct arguments based on ignorance.
Secondly, on 14-19, I found it very difficult to sort out the
financing issues between local education authorities funding schools
and other institutions funding post-16 institutions, and that
has not been tackled. It is very tough to tackle. The key pointthis
is why I agree with what Ken saysis the relationship between
work and education. I believed, and continue to believe, that
we should have a phase from 14-19 where work is a continuous part
of what children experience. There are many examples that I could
give of people on pre-apprenticeships moving to apprenticeships
and so on. But children with a great deal of academic ability
should also be doing more work experience in schools. Work experience
is a fly-by-night operationit is not done properly and
it is not carried through effectively. Actually, in a proper 14-19
diploma framework, there are many opportunities that have a virtue
of saying not that education is a matter for the schools, but
that it is a matter for all of us, including employers, that would
be extremely interesting and worthwhile. The fourth point, or
the third point, ratherI told you maths wasn't my special
subjectrelates to the question of teaching and training.
With all respect to Ken, I am very sad about the way the Baker
days developed. It was correctly done for training, but I still
don't believe to this day that there is any reason why you can't
do a lot of teacher training outside the school terms and operate
on that basis. David set up a tremendous institutionthe
national centre for educating head teachersand I remember
talking to heads there and asking why we have to spend so much
on training because we have to get in cover and why there can't
be a routine whereby teachers routinely do training, as happens
in many other walks of life, either at weekends or even after
Baroness Morris: But
Mr Clarke: I know that there is
some, but there should be far more. The truth is that at the end
of the day we did not succeed in really grappling with the problem
of teacher professionalism in that area, for a variety of reasons,
and it goes right back to the disputes and strikes in schools
in the '80s. They are all difficult to resolve and all problematic,
but at the end of the day you will not get what you need until
you get a greater commitment from teachers both to teach and to
train themselves to teach better. That has been a massive constraint
on development in any of these areas.
Q11 Mr Carswell: I have a couple
of questions for you, Lord Baker. I have a very different view,
so I would be fascinated to find out a bit more about why you
hold your view. You justified the National Curriculum with the
need for consistency. The reason you gave, when pressed, was the
need for that consistency and the idea of transportability. I
find it very difficult to believe that mums and dads around the
country were screaming out for harmonisation because little Johnny
was finding it too difficult when he went from one school to another.
We visited Canada, where there are different curriculums in different
provinces and very high rates of labour mobility between them.
Folk adapt, and there are many aspects of life in which the state
doesn't define the terms of interoperability and we are capable
of managing ourselves. At the same time, when you have centralisation,
you get difference, but paradoxically it is arbitrary difference.
Surely creating standardisation is just an excuse for big Government
that suppresses difference, innovation and dynamism. Surely it
is a sledgehammer to miss a nut to say that interoperability demands
Lord Baker: I don't think that
has been the consequence of the National Curriculum. You must
appreciate that I also introduced technology colleges and devolving
budgets to local schools so that they could run themselves. They
then said, "We'll give them breakfast, and then we'll teach
till 6 o'clock." They had considerable flexibility to adapt
the National Curriculum. I still think, however, that there is
a need for a framework. I remember Bill Bennett, a former US Education
Secretary, bemoaning the fact that he couldn't do that in America
and was very depressed about it. If you speak to those in the
American education system, time and again they will say that they
are lacking a framework. The French Minister, Monsieur Cheve"nement,
was much more amusing. He has now disappeared from the scene,
but he was a highly cultivated and cultured man. He wasn't left-wing:
he was a Jacobin. He said one day, "I'm going to write the
French National Curriculum this weekend myself." That is
prescriptive, and I wouldn't favour that.
Mr Carswell: And one country invented
the internet and the other didn't.
Lord Baker: Well, one man invented
the internet. I think you needn't be so afraid of being prescriptive
in the National Curriculum, because it is immensely flexible and
can be developed. I would like to see it developed in all sorts
of ways post-14. If you accept 14 as a watershed, you'll get all
the flexibility you want.
Q12 Mr Carswell: But it did, with
respect, put in place the architecture of central control. When
you set it up, did you envisage the kind of quangos presiding
over it that we have today? I was interested to hear that you
wanted right-wing maths, whatever that happens to be. Some people
would say that the architecture
Lord Baker: I didn't say that
Mr Carswell: Some people would say that
the architecture of central control is inherently leftist, and
that, far from ridding the curriculum and the schools of a loony
left agenda, you put in place the architecture of central control
that has been subject to capture by the leftist educational establishment.
How do you respond to that?
Lord Baker: I really don't think
that that has happened. It is not for me to apologise for the
moderate nature of the Ministers around me today, but I just don't
think that that has happened.
Lord Baker: I can see your concern
about central control, but I don't think that I was a centralist.
The only way I was a centralist was in relation to the National
Curriculum, and you are quite right to identify that. If you want
to look at it in political terms, I feel that socialism is about
the hub of the wheel and that conservatism is about the rim of
the wheel. What I was trying to do was to extend as much power
as possible to the rim of the wheel.
Q13 Mr Carswell: So the National
Curriculum was about localism?
Lord Baker: Schools are left to
run their own budgets. That's tremendous localism. I can tell
you that I found about 50 schools in the curriculum doing peace
studies. As a Tory, do you think that that is a good idea in a
school? That's what local organisation in the curriculum means,
and as a Tory you'd welcome that, would you?
Chair: We must now suspend the sitting
for a Division, but I want us to resume as soon as we are quorate.
Sitting suspended for a Division in
Chair: That was a nice little natural
break. Shall we have a competition to see if anyone who voted
knows what we voted on? There are no offers. I just remind you
of last week when we had free votes and everyone looked like lost
sheep, asking which pen to go into.
Q14 Mr Carswell: We were in the
middle of talking about how the National Curriculum was decentralist.
If we did not have a National Curriculum, Lord Baker, would there
really not still be a core body of knowledge that every schoolchild
would know? There are lots of things that we don't have state
determination of. We don't have a state menu but miraculously,
when I go into a supermarket, the same range of breakfast cereals
is available in almost any part of the country.
Mr Blunkett: But you are not examined
on your diet.
Q15 Mr Carswell: With respect,
Mr Blunkett, this is a serious point about consumer choice. If
you have institutions that answer outwardly to people, rather
than inwardly and upwardly to officials, the paradox is that you
quite often get standardisation, because people essentially want
the same things, particularly for their children. If you didn't
have a state-determined National Curriculum, or if you allowed
schools to opt out of the National Curriculum, would you not still
in effect have an organic National Curriculum that was determined
by parents and schools rather than officials?
Lord Baker: What in the Carswell
system would be the broad body of knowledge you would expect children
Mr Carswell: For many years we didn't
have a National Curriculum, but that broad body of knowledge was
Lord Baker: With great respect,
we have had a National Curriculum and curriculum studies since
the middle of the 19th century. Read the research paper that I
sent you. At Exeter University, they tell you all about it. There
was a series of National Curriculums, but for when the school
leaving age was 12, you must remember. It was only 14 in 1918.
So the National Curriculum existed up until 1914. There was a
broad body, basically for the generality of schools. There is
a whole literature on this. There is a very good report by the
Q16 Mr Carswell: By the Select
Lord Baker: No, no, no; better
than that. There was a very good policy paper before Christmas
by Civitas on the development of the National Curriculum from
which everybody could learn a lot. Such a body of knowledge existed.
I do not know what your body would be when you say there is a
broad agreement on what people should know. All I can say is that
I came across schools where dinosaurs were being taught for the
third time because the teacher was not up to teaching anything
else. Do you think knowing about dinosaurs would be in your broad
body of knowledge?
Q17 Mr Carswell: I hope that we
would know about dinosaurs. I will not make the obvious pun. It
has become commonplace for people to say that we need a National
Curriculum, but it needs to be slimmed down. It has become a cliche
to say that. You said that you thought that if you had a National
Curriculum it would inevitably be whittled down. Is the opposite
not the case? If you create a National Curriculum, it then becomes
a question of what to put in it. There is this ratcheting up of
pressure. PoliticiansTory onesoften say we have
to have proper British history, whatever that is. Sometimes left-wing
politicians demand certain things. An event will happen that will
lead people to demand some sort of addition to the curriculum.
Is there not a danger that, far from slimming down the National
Curriculum, by having one you are always going to have this ratcheting
Lord Baker: It will only ratchet
up if subjects are added. Citizenship was added, and now public
health and PHS are going to be added as well, which means that
there is a squeeze on the rest of the curriculum. Since 1987 or
1988, the teaching day in most schools has extended. I remember
what David said. I went to a Church of England primary school
and we never left school before 4 or 4.30. When you drive around
England today, you will find children wandering around the streets
at about 2.30 or 3. Quite a lot has changed. Many schools have
decided themselves, using the powers that they got in independence,
to extend the teaching day and do very much more. To believe that
there is great prescription from the centre is something of an
illusion in English education.
Chair: Does anyone else want to come
in on that?
Mr Clarke: I should like to add
one point. Of course I agree with what Ken Baker said, but there
is also a self-censoring approach of the school worldof
the professioneven when freedoms are given. When Estelle
was Secretary of State, significant freedoms were given to schools
of the kind that Kenneth described. There was the so-called freedom
to innovate, and various things of that kind. What was so striking
was that, even on the variation of the time starting the school
day, there was not a great coming forward of people saying that
they wanted to do this. A set of cultures had evolved that was
extremely conservative and inflexible. I think Ken Baker is telling
the truth when he says that this Government, too, were trying
in various respects to give more powers to local schools to enable
them to take on certain areas. The question is a more deeply cultural
point than the formal control mechanisms or the formal financing
Q18 Mr Carswell: Baroness Morris,
I have a slightly different question and it is more to do with
how the state institutions that oversee the curriculum are made
properly accountable. I was not an MP then, but I remember watching
on television the fiasco over A-levels, the Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority, and the reduction in A-level grades, and
thinking that you were being unfairly treated because you as the
Minister were being asked to make and justify decisions when the
quango had failed to deliver public policy properly. Do you think
that these quangos are properly accountable to Parliament and
Ministers? Do you think that the old method of accountability
by these institutions for what is a very important area of public
policy works? Do you not think that Ministers are sometimes forced
either to decide to play it safe and, in effect, be a mouthpiece
for the quango apparatus, or to take them on and therefore be
put in this difficult and invidious position?
Baroness Morris: I think it's
an important and difficult question. Ofsted has it easier in that
it is accountable to Parliament. Its annual report goes to Parliament,
and I think that that works quite well. I have not thought as
to whether that might be possible with more quangos. I never ever
felt that I was there to speak on behalf of the quango. Sometimes
the issue was that something I personally wanted to do wasn't
the recommendation of the quango, and then you would have to go
into long negotiations. But in terms of, for example, the A-levels,
that is just life and that is politics, and that is the position
we find ourselves in. Much as we devolve power to other people,
we remain accountable as the elected politicians. I, too, thought
it wasn't fair on many occasions during those difficult few weeks,
but I think I learned to accept that. David has talked about this
in the past as well. There is a line of thought that says, if
we devolve it, it's got to be a deal, and if we say it's QCA that's
checking the A-levels and looking at the syllabuses, society as
a whole has to realise that and stop demanding of politicians
that they do something about it; otherwise, they will go in and
control quangos. I think it is a messy relationship, and one thing
that's come out in your Select Committee reportsnot this
one, but in previous onesis that the relationship between
civil servants and the education quangos is not quite right. I
found, during those A-level difficulties, that I'd got a whole
Department that was mirroring what went on at the QCA, and had
people who were sitting through the meetings. What they were doing
there, and how this had happened, given that they were there,
I think was always a bit of a mystery to me. So I think it's a
bit of an uneasy relationship, but do we want to bring them back
into the centre? No. It's as simple as that. Did I, as a politician,
want to lose all influence? No, I didn't. The truth is that when
it works, it works, but when it goes wrong, it's a really big
thing that goes wrong. I think that's the problem.
Mr Clarke: You could always give
a role to the Select Committees. The Treasury Committee in the
1997-2001 Parliament, of which I was a member, agreed during the
Parliament to have a formal set of hearings into every non-departmental
body that was under the Treasury's remit, into the Treasury itself,
and also the international organisationsthe International
Monetary Fund, and so onalthough there was no apparent
need. We set up a sub-committee of the Treasury Committee to do
this, and the effect was accountability and an opening up of issues,
which gave opportunities to both the quangos and parliamentarians
to develop a process to set up accountability. It was interesting
and an innovation. I think what many of those organisations need
is regular, consistent, predictable parliamentary and public accountability.
Q19 Mr Carswell: So it would be
like a confirmation hearing to appoint the head, and perhaps an
Mr Clarke: I was also in favour
of confirmation hearings for certain key roles. I wouldn't say
necessarily for the heads of all organisations, but I argued that
in Parliament for the Governor of the Bank of England, for example,
and there are issues here as well. It wasn't simply for the formality;
it was for having a formal set of hearings of whatever length
the Select Committee decided into all the non-departmental bodies.
That is quite a formidable piece of work. When I was Secretary
of State, there was a large number. I cannot remember what it
was, but it was about 20 or 25 organisations that you would have
been talking about to do it over a four-year period.