From Baker to Balls: the foundations of the education system - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 40-43)


8 MARCH 2010

  Q40 Mr Stuart: My crude proxy, though, is the number of NEETs. Even before we got to the credit crunch, the number of people who were left without employment, education or training was unchanged, and of course it is now higher than it was in 1997. It seems to me that with a Labour Government who genuinely committed resources in a bid to tackle disadvantage—to close the gap and ensure that opportunity was there for all, and not just for those in the leafy suburbs—if that NEETs number is correct, it does not look like change for those at the bottom has been delivered.

  Mr Blunkett: That would be true, except that nobody over the age of 16 has experienced any of the changes that Charles, Estelle and I brought in.

  Baroness Morris: I think that it is immeasurably better. I am not complacent and I too could pick out things that we could have done better, and the statistics do not show the improvement that we would have hoped for. However, to add to what David has said, at the end of the day everything has to be judged by the improvement in teacher quality in the classroom. Nothing else will actually bring about transformation, or whatever word you want to use. The teacher matters and I think that so many of our policies supported that, from the National College for School Leadership to the national professional qualification for headship and professional development for teachers. For me, the biggest change is that when you go into schools now—I left teaching in 1992—teachers talk about teaching and learning. They have a language and a structure so that they can talk about their jobs, which is utterly transformed from when I left teaching in 1992. All the initiatives that have brought that about, from literacy and numeracy initiatives onwards, have done that, I think. I would just throw back two statistics: the fact that London, with all the problems we know London has, is now the highest-achieving region for 16-year-olds with five GCSEs, including English and maths, and the fact that Tower Hamlets is the most improved local authority. Something in those statistics tells us that we have delivered for children from less affluent backgrounds too. If we had not done so, those statistics would not be true. If I was you and if I was challenging somebody from a different political party, of course I could find statistics to use. But do I sleep easy at night, thinking that the time that I spent in the Department—seven years, or whatever—was well spent and did improvements happen? Yes, it was well spent, and there is improvement. I defy anybody to go into most of our schools and not feel and sense the utter professionalism and higher-quality teaching and school leadership that is there.

  Q41 Chair: So it's not just money, it is a change in the culture of the school.

  Baroness Morris: Absolutely. When I taught, there was no professional development. To be honest—I'm going to talk about myself, Paul, and not about you—the staff room conversations weren't about pedagogy. They were about kids, they weren't about pedagogy and there is a bit of a difference. Over the past 10 to 15 years, just the sheer professionalism of teachers has improved, although I know there are still some who are not good enough. Charles was absolutely right: professional development needs to be at the centre of what we do, but I'm with David on this—I'm old-school Labour on this. It is standards not structures, and if ever we've gone wrong over the past 13 years, it was when we started to believe again that it was about structures not standards. I do believe that standards are higher now because professionalism is higher.

  Q42 Chair: Shall we peep into structures now?

  Mr Clarke: There are pluses and minuses. For the pluses, I agree with everything that David and Estelle have said about quality. Secondly, the fabric of schools, the investment in schools and what has actually taken place is enormous—a lot of money. The number of people working in schools—teaching assistants—and the number of teachers helping students significantly transforms the actual environment. I'm glad that Estelle mentioned London. When I lived in the London borough of Hackney, there were real questions about which secondary schools were any good in the borough of Hackney; now we have a multiplicity of choice, which is incredible. The London initiative has been extraordinary. The higher proportion of people going to university, and the higher proportion of people from poorer backgrounds going to university is completely different, as is the relationship and the quality of education for children with special educational needs, which is much greater. Standards generally, as David statistically illustrates, are going up right across the range. That is a fantastic record that I would defend with absolute strength. Anybody who tries to knock it back is seriously mistaken. Things we didn't do that we should have done are the minuses. I have mentioned already Tomlinson, 14-19—we should have done that and didn't do it. In big terms, we have done nothing like enough to change the relationship, particularly after age 14, between work and education. There is a set of issues—a big agenda that has to be looked at. Thirdly, there is a bit of an improvement for parents, but nothing like as much as we could have and should have done. That is a big thing that we could have led on. Estelle is right about teaching quality, but I would have liked to see far more on subject-led teaching and all the aspects I talked about there. The final point is on NEETs. The social exclusion unit was a big, big aspect of Labour, right from the very beginning. It went to schools, it went to housing and to many, many different aspects. We have to say that we were right to go for it, but the problems in fighting social exclusion have been more intractable than I certainly expected. I would have expected over a 10 to 13-year period that we would have done better. I think we have done fantastically well in many ways, and there have been big improvements, but there are still important socially excluded groups, and the NEETs are an example. We have to ask ourselves—it is not a question of us not putting enough money in—whether we did the right things and could have done it better. If I was in your position, Graham, I'd be saying, "Okay, you didn't do as well on the NEETs as you needed to, what are the policies that now need to be done—whether those are IDS policies or whatever—for the whole thing?" That is a good discussion to have. However, do not say that the whole panoply of enormous achievements and transformation has not been very important on that one basis.

  Chair: I think we ought to give Lord Baker a view on this.

  Lord Baker: Even with the prospect of an election only a few days away, I wouldn't dissent roughly from what has been said. I think I was very grateful in 1997 that an incoming Labour Government broadly accepted the changes that were in place. The initial reaction in the 1980s was to virtually vote against everything I did. They changed their views, and I think that was a good idea and was for the better. I applauded very much the initiative that David took on literacy and numeracy; I thought it was very imaginative, and I think there have been improvements. There is no question about that. I think we have to recognise that the sheer difficulty of teaching young children today is much greater than it was 20 years ago. The collapse of parental authority has changed things, and the relationship of the pupils to teachers is different. The demands that are made on teachers now are infinitely greater in terms of managing their classes than when I was at school, or even when I was Secretary of State for Education. That should be recognised. It is a very difficult task. I welcome what has been said about the quality of teaching. The great opportunity in the recession is to attract into the teaching profession people of higher scholastic attainment, which I think will be very, very important indeed. I would only say this: when you are talking about what's gone wrong in the English education system, focus on those years 12-14. That is when most goes wrong in education. That is when youngsters at the local comprehensive are totally fed up with what the school is doing, they do not think it is relevant or interesting and they want to leave. That is why I think that Tomlinson 14-19 is the answer to a lot of our problems. If youngsters can be given motivation to stay on at school and learn something—training and skills, as well as academic subjects—from 14, a lot of the problems with secondary education will disappear, because you improve the quality in the schools they leave. They will have huge improvements in GCSE at 16 when they leave their schools and you will give them quality training and education, supported by a university. You will have a transformation in our society.

  Q43 Mr Stuart: Could I follow up on that point, Lord Baker? I wonder about creating another artificial line at 19. A lot of people, perhaps particularly those who haven't done very well at school up to the age of 16, need a longer period. When we visited Holland recently looking at NEETs, we found that there were a lot of programmes from 16-20. Is there a danger that in some sense we need to look holistically all the way into modern adulthood, which is probably not 19, but is probably more into the 20s?

  Lord Baker: Let's get 14-19 established first. One step at a time. You are not only speaking to four former Secretaries of State for Education but also to three former Home Secretaries. I think that I may say on behalf of us all that we all found the job of Secretary of State for Education infinitely more interesting and rewarding than the job of Home Secretary. A Home Secretary can't change much—it's too big a boat to turn round. Every night when you put your head on your pillow, you hope that one of the people you are responsible for isn't going to destroy your career. That is the position. Being Home Secretary is not a creative job. Secretary of State for Education is creative; you can actually change things for the better and see some results. Do I speak for all of us in that?

  Mr Blunkett: You do indeed.

  Mr Clarke: Not in my case, no. I am more optimistic about the capacity of the Home Secretary to change things than you are, but maybe that is naive optimism.

  Chair: Members of the Committee would love to ask more questions. I think they will be very frustrated, but we promised you 7 o'clock at the latest. We had a Division and have gone on a little bit longer than that, but I found it, and I am sure the rest of our team found it, absolutely fascinating.

  Mr Blunkett: Thank you very much, Chairman. There is only one problem—none of the four of us will get another go at doing it.

  Chair: You never know. Thank you very much.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 6 April 2010