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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I am delighted to be able to give him the reassurance that he needs. It is a most important question and I am delighted to be able to answer it in the way I hope he would expect.

Lord Hughes: My Lords, the Minister referred to an overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Does that indicate in a referendum anything different from a simple majority of those taking part in it?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the terms of the referendum still have to be determined. The noble Lord will be as aware as I am that in referenda the question is as important in obtaining a result as anything else. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to wait until, we hope, a position is reached where a referendum can be undertaken.


4.38 p.m.

Debate resumed.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, although it seems some time ago, I am grateful to my noble friend for opening the debate on education so very well. The qualifications, experience and wise counsel of my noble friend are well known and highly respected by so many both inside and outside this House. She adds greatly to our debates.

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The level of education achievement of our young people is rising. Look at the trend in qualifications. The proportion of 17 year-olds achieving two or more GCE A levels has doubled over the past 15 years, rising from 14 per cent. to 28 per cent. and at the end of compulsory schooling in 1993 41 per cent. of 15 year-old pupils gained five or more GCSE grades A-starred to C compared with almost 33 per cent. in 1989.

These are real achievements by thousands of individual young people and we should be proud of them. But the Government are not complacent in the face of the ever-present need for a highly qualified workforce. Standards must continue to rise if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. At the same time, these qualifications must represent real achievement, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently announced a comprehensive package of measures to underpin standards of GCSEs.

Educational achievement can be demonstrated in many ways. It is not limited to traditional academic forms. The Government recognise that fact and have put in place a framework of qualifications for all types of student from the age of 14. Job-related national vocational qualifications and broad general national vocational qualifications now stand alongside GCSEs and GCE A levels to offer a richer menu of options to our young people in schools and colleges.

General national vocational qualifications are the latest arrival on the scene and are proving popular with students. There has been an impressive take-up: almost one quarter of a million students have signed up since the first courses began in 1992. The Government are matching this personal commitment by thousands of our young people by making available £23 million of new money to support development of those new qualifications.

Before the age of 16, we are also tackling the problem of how to challenge and motivate not just academic but all pupils through the Part 1 GNVQ for 14 to 16 year-olds. Pupils will study for that qualification alongside a core academic curriculum and will be able to broaden their experience of different kinds of study before important decisions have to be made at 16. It is a new development and we are conscious of the need to guarantee standards in that crucial stage of the education system. That is why we are setting up a full and careful pilot from September of this year to see how Part 1 operates in schools of all kinds.

The new focus on achievement is most obvious in performance tables. After three years they are now an important part of the information revolution that has been brought about in education, helping parents and young people to make informed choices. The regular publication of information about achievement is helping to change the culture in our schools and colleges. Expectations are rising. The 1994 table shows that almost 60 per cent. of schools have increased their score of GCSEs grades A-starred to C between 1993 and 1994.

There are those who see the publication of actual results as an unfair concentration on raw data, but the Government do not see it that way—and neither do

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parents or employers. Schools and colleges take the tables seriously as they allow direct comparisons between local institutions and with local and national averages. They must also be seen as part of a bank of information, which combines to give a comprehensive account of the performance of each school—for example, annual reports to parents, school inspection reports, and annual governors' meetings. Those who consider that raw data to be unfair should see that it would be a greater injustice to try to keep the results out of the public domain in some way. In the real world, we are all interested in actual outcomes. The popularity of performance tables cannot be challenged and, in due course, we shall extend their coverage to include the results of the national curriculum assessments of 11 year-olds when those tests, which take place for the first time this year, are bedded down.

Nevertheless, we continue to look at ways of making the tables more helpful to parents and others. One idea on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed to consult is a kind of improvement index which looks at one year's results for an institution as compared with another year for the same school or college. We know that a number of local authorities are interested in such measures. There may be a place for something similar in the national tables.

I have said that we need to know actual performance and the school and college tables provide, and will continue to provide, that information. However, we must also recognise the need to reflect on the value added by schools and colleges. That is rather different from simple improvement. Perhaps everyone agrees on the principle of value added, but there is a wide range of views about exactly what that term means in the context of education. What we are looking for here are reliable measures of what schools and colleges add to the knowledge and understanding of a particular pupil or student from one age to another. The Government believe that such measures must be based firmly on the differences in actual achievements as measured by national tests and examinations.

At the national level the indicators must be simple to collect, so as not to add to the administrative burden on schools and colleges. Above all, value-added indicators must be easy to understand for parents, employers, Ministers, and others interested in our educational system, making sure that ultimately it is serving our young people. The principle and practice of measuring achievement matters equally in further education. Universities are also interested in developing performance indicators, and will be publishing a report later this year.

Noble Lords will be aware that we now have national targets for education and training. Indeed, my noble friend referred to them. They, too, can act as a spur for individual achievement within the national context. One target is for 80 per cent. of young people to reach the equivalent of five good GCSEs or an intermediate GNVQ. In 1994, 64 per cent. had reached that target. Schools and colleges have a crucial role to play in that process and we encourage them to participate in their own target-setting exercises to help to raise the achievement of their pupils and students. As a nation,

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we cannot afford to set our ambitions in that area at too modest a level. The targets are being reviewed to see whether they are keeping pace with international competitiveness.

The emphasis on raising achievement is essential. We have put a great effort into laying out a framework within which our children can show what they can do. I refer, of course, to the national curriculum, now revised to strip away bureaucracy and excessive content. There will now be more time for teachers, especially in primary schools, to teach the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Rigorous tests at the ages of seven, 11, and 14 will ensure that the focus on pupil achievement is to the fore. I cannot emphasise too much the importance of those basic skills, especially reading—the cornerstone of all learning. No child should pass the age of seven not able to read, unless there is a good reason, such as a particular learning difficulty. Certainly no child should pass the age of 11 unable to read. Rigorous testing will expose positive achievement, but it will also expose areas of weakness. Building on children's strengths and addressing their weaknesses will be more focused and is, of course, a job for the teacher.

At the same time, the Government have set up the new inspection regime under the Office for Standards in Education. This has started well, and by the end of this school year about half of all secondary and a significant minority of primary schools will have been inspected by independent teams. We can see already that that process, by which every school in the country can expect an independent inspection on a regular basis, is stimulating schools to improve.

Inspections cover all aspects of school life, not least pupil achievement. In his recent annual report, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector highlighted the need to continue to strive to raise standards in that area. There are still too many pupils being taught badly, with around one-fifth of all lessons judged to be below an adequate standard. How can our children raise their personal levels of achievement in that situation? We must all do more to help: teachers, governors, local authorities, parents and the Government. I welcome Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's proposed action to promote effective teaching.

The Government are concerned with achievement in all schools. We are therefore promoting measures designed to improve school effectiveness—measures such as financial benchmarking, advice to governors, and a register of consultants able to help schools with serious weaknesses.

One area in which Ofsted has identified weaknesses is in planning. The Department for Education and the inspectorate are organising a series of regional conferences to provide practical help to schools and local authorities in that area.

However, we all know that there are some schools which are failing to provide properly for their pupils. The new inspection arrangements introduced by this Government clearly identify such schools. If a school itself or the local authority cannot improve matters, my right honourable friend can appoint an education association to bring about the necessary improvements

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in the state of the school concerned. This is more evidence of our genuine commitment to raising achievement even in the most difficult of circumstances.

There are those who doubt that commitment and complain about rising class sizes as a constraint on pupil achievement. I am glad of the opportunity to deal with this criticism today. First, the facts. Since 1990 there have been slight increases in average class size: from 25.9 to 26.9 pupils in primary schools, and 20.3 to 21.4 in secondary schools. That is hardly the massive deterioration that some would have us believe.

The pupil:teacher ratio is actually better than in 1979. Moreover, it is the case that while pupil numbers are rising, so are the numbers of teachers (by 1,300 full-time equivalents in 1994), and support staff (by nearly 5,000 full-time equivalents).

Many people believe that smaller classes must automatically lead to pupils achieving more. I have to tell your Lordships that there is no evidence from inspections or research in this country that proves that alleged causal link. Of course, it may be that if one were to reduce average class sizes from, say, 27 to below 20, an effect would be noticed, but we do not know that for sure, and the costs would be prohibitively high. What we do know is that more significant influences on pupil achievement are the quality of the teacher, the quality of the teaching, and the techniques employed.

We are all aware that some commentators are observing that the age of the information super-highway is upon us and we are concerned to ensure that our schools and colleges can play a full part in that process. Again, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has announced that the Department for Education will issue a consultation paper in the spring which will address the opportunities for access to high quality teaching, training and materials presented by the convergence of information, telecommunications, broadcasting technologies and broad band networking.

It has been said that education is no longer a secret garden. Our reforms have increased the role of parents, creating an environment where a virtuous cycle of rising achievement, built on active parental support, can be developed. At the same time, parental power has been enhanced by greater access to information, not least through the Parent's Charter which was updated last year. It was distributed to all parents in the most cost-effective way—to every household in the country—but such is the interest in our reforms that the DFE has still received, in addition to that, requests for over 50,000 more copies.

We now have a greater diversity of schools for parents to consider for their children's education. The very existence of over 1,000 grant-maintained schools has put LEAs on their mettle to raise standards. That new type of school is popular with parents and, it would seem, with a number of the Opposition Front and Back Benchers in another place. We now see grant-maintained schools producing better results than comparable LEA schools. We look forward to universal acceptance of choice in education by all political parties.

We recognised the diversity of educational achievement through the introduction of the CTCs, now with over 13,000 pupils across the ability range. And

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the CTCs have been the model for the specialist schools initiative. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently announced new money for that programme—£15 million in 1995-96, rising to £25 million in 1997-98, allowing for over 200 specialist schools within three years. Building on the success of nearly 70 new technology colleges that initiative is being opened up to all maintained secondary schools which will be eligible to apply for designation. At the same time, we are broadening the programme to encompass not just technology, science and mathematics, but also to allow schools to specialise in modern foreign languages.

This is perhaps the point to acknowledge the constraints of finite resources. In a tough public expenditure round, the Government have given priority to education. The DFE and Ofsted budget is rising by over 4 per cent. in cash terms in 1995-96 to almost £11 billion. That is a 1 per cent. increase in real terms. Total local authority spending allowed for education is over £17 billion, a 1.1 per cent. cash increase over the equivalent figure for 1994-95. The total expenditure on education in 1994-95 is over £28 billion.

Of course, noble Lords will be aware of the current debate over the adequacy of that provision, but education cannot be immune from economic reality. To help, LEAs can cut their costs on their central bureaucracies and surplus places. Many schools can help themselves. HMCI pointed out in his recent report that some schools—it is some schools—are carrying forward large sums of money from one year to the next without any clear idea of how that money is to be used. I quote from paragraph 20 of the report:

    "Although there may be good reasons for individual schools to carry forward large sums of money from one year to the next, some schools do so without any clear idea of how this money is to be used".

It is clear that local authorities and schools can mitigate the effects of a tough settlement by drawing on reserves and balances.

I include teachers' pay in this. The Government have accepted in full the pay increase of 2.7 per cent. recommended by the School Teachers' Review Body. But that award has to be met from within existing funding. It is a fair settlement. The average teacher's pay, following the 1st April pay award, will be about £22,200, but the Government are determined to control public spending to help reduce the PSBR. We all have to contribute to that, and as I have said, education, representing such a large part of public expenditure, cannot be immune. Whatever the merits of the arguments being deployed on that issue, the breadth of the debate and the number of people taking part highlight how much parents and governors are now involved in education at the local level. That is a new phenomenon, and it must be a good thing for education in this country.

In the current debate on educational expenditure we should remember the comment in the recent HMCI report that, in overall terms, the provision of resources is satisfactory. And we should also note that, in international terms, education in this country is by no

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means a poor relation. OECD figures show that the UK government invest more in education than many of our main competitors. Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is higher here than in Germany or Japan.

One of the most dramatic changes we have witnessed in education over the past 15 years is the increase in post-school participation. The figures are impressive: a 55 per cent. increase in 16 year-olds' participation in full-time post-compulsory education over the past 10 years. Now, most of our young people aged 16-19 stay on in full or part-time education and training. Indeed, the UK participation rate of 94 per cent. of 16 year-olds in some form of education or training puts us well up with our major competitor countries. That expansion has been assisted by the Government's creation of the new further education sector independent of local authority control.

In higher education we have already virtually reached the target of one in three projected in the 1991 White Paper. Some 30 per cent. of young people now enter full-time HE, compared with only 12 per cent. in 1979. Part-time participation is up, too. These students are part of an efficient HE system with lower drop-out rates and shorter courses than elsewhere. By 1991, our graduation rate had become the highest in the European Union.

For students in colleges, quality pull from customers rather than governmental push from the centre is helping to sharpen the focus on individual achievement, but government still have a role to play by setting in place arrangements to reinforce employers' influence on the further education sector. The White Paper Competitiveness: Helping Business to Win did just that. The strong relationship between further education colleges, TECs and the business community will help to ensure that students acquire the skills and qualifications needed by employers.

A great strength of our HE system is its diversity. A wide range of institutions now exists dedicated to different missions, and entrants to HE now come from a much wider range of the population with a wider variety of entry qualifications. Universities are responding to that through devising new course structures often built on a modular pattern and increasingly with opportunities for credit and transfer. Institutions have responded well to the increased freedom given to them by the Government by identifying and meeting a wide range of demand from students and employers.

No doubt we shall hear during the course of the debate that more resources are the answer to good education. The level of expenditure on education is very important and this Government's record on according priority to education bears favourable comparison with any previous opposition government. However, it is simply wrong to believe that more money is equal to higher educational achievement. One needs to look no further than the ILEA which spent at a much higher level than most parts of the country and produced some of the worst educational results.

Our children's education is the single most important task for us all, starting with parents. We have put in place the national curriculum, regular assessment and

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testing, systematic inspections, a rich menu of qualifications in schools, FE and HE to develop the skills and talents of all our children. A rich combination of academic, cultural, art and music, physical challenges and the spiritual dimension through RE is provided through that framework. On a good education depends a wholesome, healthy and successful economy. Its importance cannot be understated.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris:: My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject. The young people of this country are, as has just been said, its greatest asset because, as Goldsmith put it in The Deserted Village:

    "Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,

    Where wealth accumulates, and men decay".

Yet one can only wonder at the sagacity of a government who announced recently their intention to appoint an image-maker to change the public perception of teachers. This functionary, we are informed, will rejoice in the style and title of "The Chief Contractor", an ominous dignity suggesting that he can run the system down faster than anybody else. A DFE spokeswoman is quoted as saying:

    "The main job will be to improve the image, present teachers as the experts and help recruit dedicated professionals".

One cannot but remember Quem Iupiter vult perdere, dementat prius—whom God wishes to destroy, he first sends mad.

There are so many more important and more difficult things which urgently need to be done than to appoint a chief contractor. Let it be conceded among us that it is difficult to measure educational achievement. Examination results alone will not do it; the concept of "value added" is complex and is open to subjective judgment; so are school reports or "student profiles"; and probably nothing can measure spiritual, emotional or cultural development. Teachers can often recognise it, but you cannot mark it out of 10. Yet some measure or measures of achievement there must be, and some instruments are better than others.

Plainly, the school performance tables devised by the Government so far are blunt and misleading instruments. We have had tables based on examination results alone. But teachers and, above all, parents need to know far more about any school than its GCSE results. The Government have published truancy rates, but those told us very little about any school, especially as so many teenagers go to school, sign in, and then walk straight out again, or stay in the building but do not attend lessons. But the first prize for a really crass list must surely go to Ofsted's array of 52 improving schools published this month. In Ofsted's table "improvement" means a 10 per cent. improvement in A to C grades at GCSE over three years: nothing more, nothing less. A socially deprived child from an ethnic minority whose first language is not English, in an inner city school, who reaches a shining grade D against all the odds, is not recognised as contributing to a school's "improvement". Yet, as Choice and Diversity puts it,

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    "pupils with only a few GCSEs may have derived far more from school than those with two 'A' levels".

The crudity and incompleteness of the table has been exposed by Mr. Charles Bell's analysis of it for the pressure group Article 26. We shall need to study it carefully, but it seems clear that in 20 of the HMCI's "improving" schools the percentage of pupils who got no GCSEs or who got fewer than five GCSEs actually increased. And in the worst of them the number of pupils who got no GCSEs increased by 11 percentage points and those with fewer than five GCSEs increased by three percentage points. It does indeed look as if Ofsted identified these 52 schools simply on the basis of a computer search which looked for a difference of 10 or more in two figures, the 1992 and 1994 figures, for pupils scoring more than five grade C GCSEs. This is not a serious, responsible statement about improvement.

An improving school should be achieving improvements right across the ability range for all pupils and it should surely also be sustaining those improvements year after year, which some schools in the HMCI's list were not. Any teacher will tell you that "improving" a highly intelligent child from a highly-motivated middle-class family in a class with others of the same ability is dead easy. They need very little teaching. The real teaching achievement is to enable and empower a depressed child, conditioned to failure by below average ability, to achieve more than anyone ever thought possible. That requires expert teaching, and it is jolly hard.

We must look at the whole picture. The new vocational qualifications are a good thing. It is good that most LEAs registered a significant rise in the number of pupils passing at least five GCSEs with grade C or better. But in the vast majority of LEAs the numbers failing to achieve any GCSEs at all also rose last year. Only 20 out of 109 English LEAs registered an improvement in the number of school-leavers with at least one GCSE last year. The most serious deteriorations were in Kensington and Chelsea, almost doubling from 6.6 per cent. to 12.3 per cent.; Rotherham, rising from 6.1 per cent. to 10.1 per cent.; and Newcastle, which rose from 14.1 per cent. to 17.5 per cent.; while the national average rose from 7 per cent. to 7.7 per cent.

The reason is simple. If DFE publishes, and trumpets, the "Five Cs" table, and implies that schools who score well on that table are good schools, then teachers and headteachers (whose money depends on these things) will see to it that they score as well as they can, by shifting resources into that area of work, to the detriment of the less able pupils. Just as, in this country, the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer, so, by such tables, the ablest will do better and the least able will do worse. Mr. Bell pointed to,

    "an increasing polarisation of achievement induced by the publication of performance tables".

If the Government are interested in telling the truth, and the whole truth, even about the GCSE results, there are two things they should do. They should seriously consider Article 26's suggestion about publishing two further pieces of information now: first, the GCSE

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average pupil score indexing all the GCSE grade achievements of all pupils, alongside the current three partial indexes of GCSE achievement; and, secondly, the percentage of pupils in each school who are entitled to free school meals, since this is a very sensitive index of real poverty, and does, I believe, correlate very closely with academic achievement. It would distinguish between schools which improve their examination results by selecting academically capable pupils from those which are improving provision for all pupils, regardless of background.

I must allow that establishing the facts and trends, telling the truth, in this area is very difficult. But the Government have no one to blame but themselves. Introducing the national curriculum and its many, many changes between 1988 and 1995 not only cost some £744 million and alienated the entire teaching profession; it also made statistical analysis very difficult. I am relieved to learn that the DFE has realised at last that it is incapable of solving the performance table problem alone and that SCAA is commissioning research from Professor Carol Fitzgibbon of Newcastle University, though even she cannot promise to report before December 1996.

At all events, the DFE and the Secretary of State have enough trouble. Precisely when we desperately need to create partnership between parents, teachers, schools, governors and government, we find ourselves in a Mexican standoff over the local government "cuts". It is quite different from the wearisome battles of earlier year. Until 1995 it was the local authorities or the teachers' unions who tried annually to convince Whitehall that there was not enough money to preclude sacking staff. Now parents and school governors have joined the campaign, and there are serious threats of rebellion and illegal activity in some, though not all, areas of the country.

In Derbyshire, Conservative councillors voted with their Labour colleagues to make a special appeal to the Secretary of State over the £23.5 million cut in their education budget, which threatens 400 teaching posts, and may put some schools on a three-day week. In Warwickshire, governors in 92 schools have pledged to set illegal budgets, rather than sack 250 teachers, and they are being backed by a specially formed pressure group of parents, Fight Against Cuts in Education. In Oxfordshire, more than 3,000 demonstrators, including teachers on strike, school governors, and children, lobbied county councillors discussing cuts of over £23 million. And in Cambridgeshire, a 16th century charity trust had to step in with £70,000 to help children, in school, who had special educational needs.

We on these Benches deplore all forms of violence, including violence in language. But we must confess to a certain rueful respect for that chairman of an education committee who wrote to the Chancellor, describing him as "smug, complacent and stupid". He challenged the Chancellor to find savings to fund the award within 72 hours, and said,

    "otherwise we will know that you are what we see, a blather of lard in the melting pot of hot water generated by the sweat you create doing nothing, knowing nothing and thinking you know everything".

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Tut! Tut! But the irony is that these strong words come not from some loud-mouthed lama of the loony Left, but from none other than Mr. Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the education committee in Trafford, the flagship Conservative council in Greater Manchester.

He, and the governors, and the teachers and the parents, are angry as never before because they care about the quality of the education their children receive, and they know that achievement in our schools is threatened as never before. The Secretary of State has acknowledged the difficulty. She has invited local authorities to make a case to her for special help. She is reported as saying, "I promise I will listen very carefully to what they have to say". As the honourable and knowledgeable person I know her to be, I am sure she will. But my advice to her is that, armed with that information, she should go back to her Cabinet colleagues, and bang the table, and swing her handbag until she gets justice for our schools.

The Government are yet again in a crisis of confrontation; this time with teachers, governors, local authorities and parents. What a waste! The Labour Party is totally committed, in print, to partnership in education because it works.

Last week I read the annual report of Parent Network. On an income of £266,000, mostly from trusts and the DOH, it does splendid and extensive work teaching parenting skills and encouraging links between parents and schools. That is partnership. Other organisations, like the City Literary Institute, do excellent work providing teachers who can teach and accredit parents. There are only a few hundred such teachers in this country, and, as sure as fate, they will be high on the list for the axe next year. Yet think what they do for parents in the ethnic minorities, many of whom cannot read English sufficiently well to help their children read. One such woman said to a teacher:

    "It hurts me in my heart when my child brings home a book".

Those teachers should not have to spend (as they do) nearly 50 per cent. of their time looking for funds, from charities, from jumble sales, to do their vital work.

The need is great. As Milton said:

    "The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed".

And what a flock! At the end of BBC Education's "Read and Write Together" week, last Saturday, viewers and listeners were invited to ring a special line if they wanted help with their children's reading and writing. Nearly 340,000 calls were received. Officials at the DFE will have to dig deep into their pockets to find the extra Read and Write Together packs to send out—340,000! It is staggering that so many should ring. It is staggering that so many should need this help. It is staggering that all they are going to get is leaflets.

5.13 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, for introducing the debate, although I cannot share all her views. In particular, I find her attitude towards LEAs quite foreign to my experience. I was a member of my county's education committee for several years and I have been a school governor for 10 years. Perhaps I

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should declare that as an interest, but I am sure that I do not need to tell your Lordships that it is a non-pecuniary one.

In the course of those 10 years spent close to my county's educational life I have been extremely impressed by the initiatives which the county has started and brought to a successful conclusion to improve standards. In case your Lordships may have heard of it, I mention the Reading Recovery Programme, which is an absolute pathmaker in this country, and our new Reading for Younger Pupils Programme, which is not just for those who have fallen behind but for pupils as they come into our schools. LEAs do understand the importance of achievement and of literacy. It is rather unfortunate that they tend to be swept aside in certain people's criticisms of the past as though they no longer have a useful part to play in the present and in the future.

I found it strange also that governors were not mentioned in the list of people or organisations referred to in the Motion for the debate who play a part in achieving standards. The considerable burden of time which now accrues to everybody on school governing boards is not always recognised by those who are not school governors. There is also responsibility to such an extent that it is becoming more, rather than less, difficult to find people to serve in that very demanding role.

Governors lack somewhere to turn when things get really difficult. We should consider what resources we could make available to them. Sometimes those resources must be outwith the local education authority's gift. My local education authority puts a great deal of effort into training governors. But sometimes there may be disputes to which the local education authority, for good or ill, is a party. Therefore, the governors need an independent source of advice. They are trying to do a good job; they are listening to what they are told; they are taking an interest in school plans and all the matters which the two noble Baronesses on the Conservative Benches mentioned.

During the past 10 years I have witnessed and been involved with a number of events which bear upon the role and importance of schools in achieving higher standards of education. Perhaps I may refer to the reforms of the examination system, which is the only measure, unsatisfactory though it may be, of performance in schools. It was not a bad idea to start thinking about how that measure should be structured. But what sensible person would have started with the 16-plus examination, which is right in the middle of the education process? One might have started at the beginning or by altering A-levels and asking universities what they require. But no, the process started in the middle. Later, along came the national curriculum, which I always supported, and the testing of seven, 11, 14 and 16 year-olds. For a long time there was confusion as to whether that was the same as GCSEs or different. That was followed by seemingly interminable arguments and counter-instructions about who would test what and, above all, how at each stage.

The process has not stopped even today. The Minister referred to stripping away excess requirements in the national curriculum. GCSE English is part of the core curriculum. The 1994 cohort of examinees was the first

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for which the written/oral coursework was reduced to 40 per cent. of the total of English language marks and 30 per cent. of the total of English literature marks. Now consultation is taking place which may result in an increase in the maximum percentage of coursework in both those syllabuses, which will first be examined in 1998.

It is very difficult for schools, when told one thing for one set of cohorts and another for another set, with a very quick turnover, to cope in the way that they would wish. At present the possible reform of A-levels is being discussed.

Secondly, there has been a constant stream of instructions, often printed on the sort of glossy paper which few schools or local education authorities could afford. Often those instructions arrive late. For example, when the 14-plus curriculum for English was introduced into secondary schools, it did not arrive on the desks of teachers until about June of the year in which it had to be introduced in September—and yet anybody who knows about schools will know that the main order for books for the following year goes in in May. That was not in accord with ordinary school practice. Every now and again those instructions are recalled or reissued, and they have covered an enormous range of subjects.

Thirdly, teachers have been subjected to an unprecedented torrent of abuse, often orchestrated and stimulated by the Government. I should stress that I was particularly glad to hear a very different tone of voice from the Minister when she spoke in today's debate. It is very much time that teachers were accorded the respect that they deserve. If there is something wrong with their training, I take leave to point out that that is a part of the education system in which the Government control what is going on; and, indeed, have always done so. Therefore, one might have thought again that a different approach would be taken to the training of teachers rather than slamming them once they got into schools.

Some of those criticisms appear to be what one might call "totally uninfected" by any actual contact with teachers or schools, which of course display the variety inherent in all humans and in all human institutions. When one considers the pressure under which teachers have been placed, it seems to me that we ought to be commending them for their part in the increased performance of schools at examinations which has been recorded with such pride by previous speakers. It was very difficult in a period of enormous upheaval, when teacher morale certainly did sink to a severe low two or three years ago, for teachers to keep their sense of proportion and, above all, their pupils' interests always in the forefront of their attention when they had to make such rapid changes under such difficult circumstances.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Morris, I have to ask whether we should be concentrating so much on achievement in exams. Large numbers of young people still leave school without any qualifications. What about the introduction of trained-on-the-job-only teachers? Will that contribute to high pupil achievement? Does competition between schools for pupils really assist under-achievers? The rapidly growing number of exclusions suggests that it does not.

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Do growing class sizes augur well for future achievements? The noble Baroness suggested that they were irrelevant. I cannot believe that anyone who has sat in a school and watched a teacher trying to teach, single-handedly, a class of over 30 five, six or seven year-olds could be in any doubt whatever that their achievements depend to some extent on the size of the class.

Who—and this is a curious point—is interested in addressing the under-achievement of boys? I do not refer to girls; I refer to boys. For years I have been banging the drum for women and their access to education. However, today it is not women who are under-achieving; it is boys. That is something to which we should pay attention. It is precisely the sort of thing that LEAs are well placed to take a lead in. An individual LEA, looking at its exam results and knowing the head teachers in the schools, is very well placed to put together programmes which will assist in redressing that balance and ensuring that our young men are as well qualified as they ought to be.

Various speakers mentioned CDT. However, everything is not rosy in that area. Even well-supported schools like those in my county are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for the very expensive new machinery which is required today and to keep on updating such equipment, for example, for computer-aided design and so on. The Government may be correct in their self-congratulatory mood, but I suggest that for many of the things that I have mentioned the jury is still out.

I spoke about where we might have started to improve the education system. I would have directed some of my money at the younger age group. I believe that I would have done a great deal more to improve nursery education and to broaden its accessibility to the ordinary young child. To me, it was a disgrace that in my own county we had only eight nursery classes up until very recently. We then began to bring into our schools rising-fives, and now we are helping to fund rising-rising-fives. I hope that noble Lords are managing to follow the technical language. I mean that the children coming into many of our schools are getting younger and younger; indeed, some of them are only just over four years old. In addition, last year we funded five new nursery classes and we intend to fund five more during the forthcoming year. I believe that there are many other local authorities which take nursery education very seriously.

Not so very long ago it would have been true to say that nursery education was more available in the north of England than in the south and more available in urban than in non-urban areas. I do not want to make the kind of generalisation which I am not quite fitted to make, but that was my impression. In other words, local authorities at present, and in the past, have actually led the way in the provision of nursery education, although it is not a statutory obligation upon them: they have seen the need.

Recently the Prime Minister trumpeted his commitment to improve education. A friend of mine inquired about how that policy was going and received

22 Feb 1995 : Column 1154

a quite interesting letter, one paragraph of which said, more or less, that studies were going on but that nothing had been ruled in and nothing had been ruled out; that no decisions had been taken; and that a statement would be made soon. I hate to take away from Mr. Major's very understandable triumph in Ireland, but it sometimes seems to me that on some subjects he is rather like the Duke of Plaza Toro in that he prefers to lead his regiment from behind: "He [finds] it less exciting".

Other speakers briefly mentioned money. Money is not the cure of all the problems which face any human activity. I do not believe that there is anyone on either side of the House who would claim that it is. However, there is no doubt that it can make a difference. I certainly was educated at a public school, and I dare say that there is perhaps a preponderance—if everyone were present—of Members of the House who were educated in the private sector. One has to consider the balance of cash which goes into the public and into the private sector.

My good education authority spends approximately £3,400 per annum on a secondary school pupil—that is the ball park figure. One would not get very far if one was trying to purchase any form of private education, even day-school education, with £3,500 per year. That difference regarding the money which goes into education in the private sector is seen every time one visits a private school. One sees the quality of the equipment with which teachers are delivering a curriculum to a body of pupils which, on the whole, is extremely well motivated and very well supported by parents.

I should like to see the same emphasis—indeed, greater emphasis—placed upon the education of those to whom the noble Lord, Lord Morris, drew our attention as is placed upon the education of those who are, in any event, privileged in the field of education because of their privileged background.

I believe that we ought to be enabling equal choice and access for all to high quality education, irrespective of financial resources or, indeed, even the IQ of the pupil or child. A Rowntree Trust report recently laid stress on the role of education in bridging the increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

We have in the past—we have continued it to this day—made a commitment to increase the amount of money which goes to education. I believe that that was a commitment which was well understood by the electorate and which has been maintained in subsequent shadow Budgets and so on. What do we look for in the future? We look for well motivated pupils and students. Dare I say that the prospect of a job at the end of their education might be one thing which could motivate them rather well? We look to parents who really support their kids. We look to teachers who are well trained, decently paid and enabled to continue to update their craft and who strive to assist their pupils to achieve their best in every way that the individual pupil can. We look to schools which are well maintained and well equipped. We look for governors who understand and accept and are able to perform their tasks. We look for local authorities still able to provide their expertise and in

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particular to deal with the day to day problems of education; and we look for governments who give education truly the priority it deserves.

5.31 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for placing this subject before your Lordships' House and for the able way in which she introduced it. I join with her, and also with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who has just spoken, in expressing appreciation to those who are working within the educational system, both to staff and to governors.

In speaking of governors I recognise that many of my clergy are governors of schools. Indeed I suppose the majority of them chair at least one governing body. This afternoon the intervention I should like to make is perhaps of a rather more exploratory nature. In making this intervention I must make it clear that, although I am mandated by the Churches to speak on behalf of them in educational matters, this afternoon I make a private contribution to the debate.

I remember 30 years ago being in Sri Lanka and being accosted by those in education there who were talking about the system then in place in this country. They painted a picture of unwilling youngsters, misbehaving classes and stressed staff. They asked me how people in England could show so little regard for education. I had to say that I could not understand it either but that nevertheless the picture they painted was largely an accurate one and contrasted of course strikingly with the way in which education was viewed in Asia. I wonder whether 30 years on very much has changed. The eager, enthusiastic youngsters of primary schools become the reluctant, rebellious young people of secondary schools. I exaggerate to make the point. I am well aware that there are schools which could not be included under that heading. Nevertheless I believe it to be a general picture.

I quote from Mr. John Abbott, the director of Education 2000, who asked in an address to the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry,

    "Why is it, I am often asked, after years of conventional teaching do so many young people appear to have little personal initiative, seem so unwilling to accept responsibility ... after all, at the age of eleven so many of them left their primary schools alert, excited, inquisitive"?

The clue, he suggests,

    "is in the word teaching. Good primary schools encourage children to want to learn, to explore relationships, to treat the world as their expanding oyster ... the child becomes excited—and motivated.

    Secondary schools have been saddled with the artificiality of single subject disciplines, each with a heavy load of content—the teacher takes control, the pupil does as he is told ... 'it is the only way to cover the syllabus'.

    The integrated view of knowledge is easily lost ... very many pupils lose interest, they do as they are told because ... 'teacher knows best' ... not because they any longer feel responsible. A vital attribute—that of responsibility—is destroyed; many never recover—learning is associated with failure, and this bugs them for all time".

A number of his hearers at the CBI conference recognised themselves in the picture painted there. Indeed I dare to say that some of our best achievers have managed to achieve in spite of the educational system rather than because of it. I suggest that the word

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"achievement" might be translated by what young people learn. What they learn, as has already been said in your Lordships' House, is, in part but certainly not in whole, measured by examination achievement. What they learn begins in the first place in the home.

I shall return to schools later but I wish to begin with the notion of parents as first educators. It is from parents that children learn how to speak and learn their language. It is from good parents that children learn curiosity. There are marvellous educational methods in the very simplest of operations such as sorting clothes for the washing machine or buying food in the supermarket. From all of this attention and learning in the very early years children gain self-worth. The point has already been made —I reiterate it—that at the base of all learning is a sense of self-worth and self-esteem and if that is lacking learning does not take place.

I would therefore dare to suggest that we need to place emphasis on parents not just as first educators but as educators throughout the period of their children's learning. Do not let nursery schools become a way of drawing our attention away from what I believe to be the absolutely crucial role of parents, particularly in these early years. If I had control of resources—which I do not—I would allocate substantial resources to this area of the first years in a child's life. We recently had in your Lordships' House a debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Many of your Lordships made contributions on the theme of the enormous significance of parents as educators of their children.

The schools, of course, pick up the theme of learning, which I believe to be a natural activity. The capacity of the brain to learn is extraordinary: for example, the way we pick up a language in the early years and the way we learn to be social beings. All this demonstrates the enormous capacity of the brain to learn. It is the task of schools to harness that activity and I believe also to allow young people steadily, through the years of schooling, to take increasing responsibility for their own learning. If there is a weakness in the present system, I believe it is precisely at this point that it does not encourage that sense of responsibility which, once accepted, continues throughout life. We are well aware as we move into the new world that we are all required to be learners throughout life.

Of course there are basic competencies that have to be acquired at primary school such as numeracy, literacy, calculation and communication, but primary schools do more than this. They encourage exploration, they excite and they motivate. I would argue, as other noble Lords have already argued, that the resources necessary at primary level to achieve this effectively need to be larger than they are at the moment. However, I would dare to suggest—I realise this will be a highly unpopular suggestion—that the corollary of that is that resources at secondary level may need to be smaller. If we are encouraging young people to take responsibility, they do not need teachers in the same way as they do in those early stages. The figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, earlier illustrated the discrepancy between primary and secondary education. Perhaps if those figures were reversed that would be a more proper application of resources.

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The problem of secondary schools is, of course, that they feel they must cover the subjects. As I have already said, they must get through the syllabus. But I would suggest that perhaps in the new age the task of teachers will not be so much to impart knowledge as to encourage young people to think for themselves. I shall have more to say in a moment about knowledge acquisition. But I would dare to suggest that there are other ways of acquiring knowledge than simply sitting at the feet of a teacher and hearing the teacher speak.

My own experience of education has been in the higher education sector. I always felt when lecturing that I was wasting my time. Those who sat at my feet could just as well have acquired the information from elsewhere. However, I felt that when I was working with them in seminars or on essays they had prepared I was doing something profoundly important because I was helping to stimulate and encourage them.

The system we have now begins with the parent as early educator in a one-to-one or two-to-one situation. It finishes in universities with a large number of students and a very much smaller number of teachers. In universities today the system might be described as "go off and find out for yourself". In between we have a system which does not encourage that steady independence and control of one's own learning which ought to lead towards the situation that we have in universities.

If we followed that line we would need not only reallocation of resources but also a change of attitudes. That is very difficult to bring about. How might that be driven? The one thing that was missing from the introduction to the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was an emphasis on the community. I felt that she spoke too much of education as institution bound. I am told that 80 per cent. of what we learn is acquired in the community as a whole, not in our educational institutions. Therefore, we need to see the community as a primary educator and as a driver of what happens in education.

We are well aware that the future will require young people who are flexible, collaborative, innovative and continuously learning. It is not at once evident that the present examination system encourages all those attitudes. But a community which is obviously concerned about the future will function in that way and will help schools to enable youngsters to learn some of those skills. When members of a community—parents, business people and a whole variety of people—participate in schools, attitudes begin to change.

The other driver of change, and perhaps the most important one, is technology. I was most interested in what the Minister had to say earlier and her emphasis on information technology. Of all the changes in knowledge acquisition that have taken place over the centuries, the introduction of information technology is the greatest since the arrival of printing. One would suspect, therefore, that changes in education would be as great as that which followed the arrival of books.

That is not merely a matter of the skills required to handle a keyboard or a visual display unit, it is also a question of the way in which young people are able to

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use IT to obtain the knowledge that they need. CD-Roms are available on an immense array of subjects. That releases the teacher from being the knowledge provider to undertake the far more important role of inspirer. That has been the traditional role of teachers throughout the ages. I believe that teachers have to give young people not so much knowledge as inspiration. Sometimes we have a model of teachers as knocking into unwilling heads the information that pupils need. I do not believe that that is a proper model. The teacher should be a stimulator, enabler and, above all, inspirer. I suggest that those two drivers may bring about the kind of changes which in future our world will inevitably require.

I shall not speak at any length about Church schools. I point out simply that it needs to be remembered that one third of the schools in our educational system are Church schools and among many of those which are highly sought after.

I should like briefly to mention the matter of values. It is in such schools that value systems are not only taught but are embodied in the life of the school and in the curriculum. The subject of values in the curriculum is one to which we shall have to return.

I should like to speak at slightly greater length about another area which I believe to be of enormous significance. That is the interior life of the spirit. It was alluded to most marvellously a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. I am grateful for what he said.

What matters is how we are motivated and what inspires us. That is what will enable us to learn and to achieve. The first dimension of the Education Act 1988 was that of spiritual education. That embraces a wide variety of activities. I have in mind religious education. That provides young people with ideas which they can relate to themselves about interior motivation and the life of the spirit. I believe that collective worship has a central part to play. But I also believe that there is a whole range of other activities such as poetry, literature, drama, music and art which stimulate young people's interior life.

Last month the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York gave an address at the northern educational conference which he entitled "Maps and Dreams". The maps were the ways in which we relate various kinds of knowledge to other knowledge, which is connected to the neural networks in our brains which enable such relationships to take place. He also spoke of dreams and the ways in which we are fired up, excited and motivated. We are not functional entities. We are not machines which can somehow be fed so that the right functions come out at the end. We are people who feel, achieve and suffer. Any educational system has to come to terms with that truth.

The creation of wealth is not merely the acquisition of money. It is a much wider concept. It is something in which all share and in which all find fulfilment. In that sense the interior life of the spirit has a great deal to contribute towards the creation of wealth. As we look at this matter of education, we need to pay great attention to the life of the spirit and to spiritual education.

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The prophet Joel painted a picture of a society renewed by the dreams of its older people and the visions of its younger people. Perhaps our teaching staff may be regarded as the older people dreaming dreams which they communicate to the younger people, who then have visions which they will embody in the society of the future.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am among the many who are grateful to the noble Baroness for the terms of the Motion before us, dismayed as we are by so much that is appalling in our education system.

Of course, it would be nice to think that the bitter complaints we hear spring only from that familiar masochistic urge to denigrate ourselves. And certainly, as some of your Lordships have already said, many of us have had little to complain about—we in the lucky 15 per cent. who were well served, perhaps through a grammar school scholarship.

But for the remaining 85 per cent., education in this country has indeed long been deeply unsatisfactory—and is judged internationally to be so still. Earlier this very month the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warned against the danger of falling standards in some of the German Lander by citing specifically the atrocious performance of British 14 year-olds in reading, writing and sums.

Work last year by Professor S. J. Prais and others in the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, compared us with France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. They showed England to be seriously inferior, not only in the key areas of literacy and maths, but also in classroom organisation and management, as well as in teacher skills and educational methodology. All this, moreover, strictly comparing like with like, matching inner city schools, class sizes, ethnic minorities, social deprivation and single parent families.

It is essential that we increasingly study and respond to such international comparisons, both so that we can try to catch up with our continental neighbours with whom our youngsters will be competing for jobs, but also to have an external check on our own progress at home, where there may be some danger of misreading grade inflation in public examinations with genuinely improved achievement.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Mr Chris Woodhead, has recently made it clear that in his view our educational failure is (in part at least) to be attributed to an influential minority of the teaching profession. Professor Prais of the National Institute has no doubt about it and says he has little hope,

    "that substantial improvements will be made without a fundamental rethinking of teaching methods".

A generation ago it was thought that the answer was to make teaching an all-graduate profession. Well, it now virtually is, my Lords. But as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, noted in another connection in this Chamber, on 1st February, a lower second,

    "from the University of Loamshire [is no] guarantee of high intellectual preformance".—[Official Report, 1/2/95, col. 1554.]

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Of course, if all graduate teachers had what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, on the same occasion (at col. 1531 of the Official Report) called the,

    "articulateness, both on paper and in speech",

together with the,

    "critical methods of thought",

associated with an Oxbridge degree, it might be a different story. Our current problems may indeed be related to the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, went on to give: the proportion of Oxford graduates becoming school teachers has fallen from 30 per cent. 50 years ago to only 2 per cent. today.

But in the Motion before us we are rightly urged to look beyond the teaching profession: to parents, for example, and, I would certainly add, to school governors and school inspectors (both in short supply, where, arguably, they are most needed—for inner city primary schools). And we should take account too—and I am the first, I think, to mention this today—of the views of employers, who look to our education system for properly equipped recruits.

A few months ago, Sir Ron Dearing completed what he called,

    "the largest formal consultation exercise in education",

ever mounted in this country. It was striking that three groups consulted (parents, governors and employers) spoke with one voice, insisting on rigorous standards in English and maths, whereas the fourth group—the teachers—had sharply different priorities. More than half of the thousands of teachers responding demanded less emphasis,

    "on correctness, standard English, and grammar".

Yet it is known that deficiencies in such areas trap the least affluent in continued deprivation and hamper them in their attempts to find work. Let me quote from material submitted by three major employers. The first reads as follows:

    "It is a great surprise and disappointment to us to find our young employees are so hopelessly deficient in their command of English".

The second speaks of failure to recruit junior staff,

    "who can speak and write English clearly and correctly".

The third concludes sadly that,

    "the teaching of English in present-day schools produces a very limited command of the English language".

Job applicants,

    "do not appreciate the value of shades of meaning, and ... show weakness in work which requires accurate description, or careful arrangement of detail".

The tenor of such complaints may be depressingly familiar, but these are not from the evidence to Sir Ron Dearing last year. They were submitted by Messrs. Lever Brothers, Vickers, and Boots respectively to Sir Peter Newbolt's Board of Education inquiry 75 years ago. They were reprinted some 50 years later when the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, (then Sir Alan) noted with dismay that his committee on the same issue was receiving from employers the same sort of complaint—often virtually word for word. He further noted that many contemporary teachers (that is, teachers of the early 1970s) were reluctant to treat English lessons as the occasion for,

    "direct instruction in the skills of reading and writing".

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Rather they had absorbed fashionable educational theory and,

    "prefer English to be an instrument of social change".

For them,

    "the ideal of 'bridging the social gap' by sharing a common culture is unacceptable ... as implying the superiority of 'middle class culture'."

No wonder that in 1976 the then Prime Minister felt it necessary to take a personal initiative and thus was launched at Ruskin College, Oxford the Great Debate—for which to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, we remain indebted.

Another dozen years and several Secretaries of State later, another committee was set up in 1988 to look yet again at the teaching of English. Its chairman, the eminent mathematician, Sir John Kingman, was astonished to find teachers of English belligerently asserting that,

    "any notion of correct or incorrect use of language is an affront to personal liberty".

The Kingman Committee's work was immediately followed by a working party charged with manipulating its findings into curricular form for teacher use within the emergent national curriculum. Since the resultant English Order survives to the present day and will in effect be still operational until the much sounder Dearing curriculum starts to be implemented in August this year, I hope I may be allowed to quote from it. I should add, however, (to adapt the warning used with television reports from disaster scenes) that your Lordships may find some of what follows disturbing. Teachers are told that they should never treat "non-standard" as "substandard" but should recognise "the damage to self esteem" that can be caused by "correction". (And this last word "correction" is put in quotation marks, in apology perhaps, or even contempt).

But in case not all teachers are au courant with the politically correct marginalising of standard English as just one dialect among many that are equally valid, the document explains the position in grim detail. It presents the examples, "we was", "he ain't done it", "she come here yesterday" and "they never saw nobody", and goes on to remark,

    "All these are grammatical and rule governed ... but the rules are different",

different, that is, from those observed in some other varieties of English.

Recently in this Chamber (at col. 1493 of the Official Report of 1st February) the noble Lord, Lord Pym, referred to English as,

    "one of our most valuable national assets",

and as,

    "gradually becoming the language of the world".

Is there not a cruel irony that, when children around the world, from Antwerp to Osaka, are vigorously perfecting their command of standard English, its teaching here is regarded by some of the most influential teachers as a class-based intrusion and, to quote Kingman again,

    "an affront to personal liberty"?

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How different from the corresponding curricular document issued to teachers in France. There, so far from thinking it desirable to shield disadvantaged groups and ethnic minorities, the standard language is forthrightly prescribed as:

    "le premier instrument de la liberté et la réussite",

that is, of success, as the curriculum goes on to say:

    "in social as well as occupational life; in particular for those children whose dialect at home or among friends is far removed from the standard language of school".

The contrast with a still fashionable orthodoxy in this country could not be more stark, nor the lesson for us more clear.

6.1 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lady Perry very much for introducing the debate today and going right to the heart of the educational debate, which, above all, is about standards. Her speech was so clear in setting out the difficulties of the past and the great efforts which have been made to raise standards that it will be something worth studying at length when one has more time to read it.

I take as my starting point this afternoon my memory of speaking at the Second Reading, when the education Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House in 1988. I started then by saying that the backdrop to the Bill was the real concern about standards, those standards quoted—as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, has just said—by Professor Prais which showed that the average or less than average pupil in this country was something like two years behind his equivalent in either Germany or Japan, as well as in France. Those are alarming figures and, of course, as we know, the real sufferers at the end of the day are the children themselves, growing into adults, unable to compete adequately for jobs, not only in this country but in the world.

My noble friend Lady Perry set out clearly the important steps which the Government have taken to try to set those matters right: the national curriculum; testing and assessment; examinations; regular inspections of schools —Ofsted must inspect every four years. As we know, previously primary schools were lucky to be inspected once in 240 years. Further steps include giving a much greater choice, variety and diversity of schools. I was interested to hear from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon not only about Church schools, but also of the great importance which parents attach to those schools and the great demand for them because they set a real standard in the spiritual and moral side of life and discipline, as well as in academic attainment.

In a moment I shall say something more about grant maintained schools. I am, of course, absolutely delighted that the party opposite has decided that they are now a good thing, considering how hard the Opposition fought against them only a short time ago. I am pleased to think that they have undergone a conversion and recognise how valuable the schools are.

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