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Baroness Young: My Lords, I now discover that noble Lords opposite are against them. Is that right? Perhaps they will clarify the point. We are never quite sure who in the Labour Party is speaking on the matter and whether they are for or against. However, one point on which we all agree is how valuable it is to have the choice of where you would like to send your child to school, and to be able to exercise that choice.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I shall think of an answer to that too. The importance of all those mattersthe national curriculum and testing and assessmentis to try to meet the real issues which the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, identified and also the concern which we all feel about helping the least able and the average child. The fact is that they all have to study the same curriculum. It is extremely disappointing to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, said about the English curriculum, because I very much share his view that it is no help to any children to bring them up to think that if you speak ungrammatically and write without grammar or punctuation you will help yourself in the world into which you are going.
The object of all the reforms is to help all the children to set a standard in which all may benefit, and to set a series of objective measures. I would be the first to recognise that we have a long way to go, but we have made a great many improvements, as the recent Ofsted report shows. Even if there are failures which we all regret, we must hope that as year succeeds year, standards will rise, provided we keep on the course that we have set ourselves. Also the work of the teacher training agency, set up to raise standards of teachersone of the criticisms in the Ofsted report is that a great deal of teaching of reading is not as good as it should beis one way in which we shall help that.
It is also encouraging that the NVQs are developing well. As some noble Lords may know, I serve as a non-executive director on the board of Marks and Spencer. I was interested to hear how many of their staff have now decided to take NVQs, not just the young staff coming in at the beginning but older people who realise quite suddenly that it is a qualification that they can achieve which will help them towards promotion. In five years' time we shall have the first national results, all schools will be inspected by Ofsted and we shall have a real measure of where we are going.
Those are important matters and I say to those who have been critical todaythe noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomasthat all those reforms were fought line by line, by the parties opposite. Many of us recall sitting up all night over them. It is
As regards teachers, I should like to pay my tribute to what they have done. As my noble friend Lady Perry said, standards have been rising and that is a measure of the success of teachers. Good teachers produce good standards. I very much regret the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, when she suggested that those of us speaking on these Benches somehow abused teachers and that that abuse was stimulated by the Government. I do not believe that that is a fair comment. What we have all said is that the majority of teachers do an extremely good job in a very difficult world today, far more difficult than when I was at school. If a minority do not do so well, we want to improve standards for the benefit of the children quite apart from anyone else. I believe that we shall.
I was very interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon had to say about the role of parents. One provision which the various Acts of Parliament have introduced is the role of parents as elected parent governors. It has given parents the right to know through publication what the school results are, and to be informed about schools so that they may make a sensible choice for their particular child. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the importance of the role of the parent in the early years simply cannot be overestimated.
I agree, too, about governors and the greatly increased powers that they now have, especially as regards the local management of schools. They have a very responsible job. I am afraid that sometimes they have extremely difficult decisions to take. That is what responsibility is all about. I am, again, very pleased to say that, of the employees of the two companies on whose boards I serve, hundreds are school governors up and down the country. The employees of banks in particular can be very valuable to schools, bringing with them, as they do, financial expertise.
The criticisms today have centered, as one might have expected, on the subject of money. If we look at what has happened in education since 1979, teachers' pay has risen by 59 per cent.that is in real termsand spending per pupil has risen by 50 per cent., also in real terms. The present Government are spending half as much again as the last Labour Government did in 1979. As has already been pointed out, we spend more of our GDP on education than either Germany or Japan. Of course, we might all like to spend more on education, but it is worth while to have a look at what is happening in local authorities before we accept the belief that there is simply not enough money.
If local authorities are concerned at their inability to pay for education, the remedy is to a large extent in their own hands. And if schools are concerned that the local authorities are not paying enough, the remedy is to a
There has been a very interesting example described in the local paper in Oxfordshire. One councillor wrote inI notice that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, quoted Oxfordshire when he spoke about parentsindicating that not only had the numbers of teachers gone up by 100 the year before, but that another 100 had been added during the past year, and that did not include others who could not be taken into account in September. So the idea that the whole of the education service is in a kind of collapse is quite untrue. I believe that the money to fund the teachers' pay settlement is there; what is missing is the will to do something about it.
I should like to say a word about what schools could do. There are now 1,000 schools that have grant-maintained status. Other schools could opt out of local authority control and become grant maintained. Those that are still controlled by local authorities have local management funds, under which something like 90 per cent. of the budget is apparently in their hands, while the remaining 10 per cent. is kept back by the authority for central services. By simple logic, if they are to be better funded, they should opt out and claim that 10 per cent. as well. They could then decide for themselves whether or not the central services give them value for money. The truth of the matter is that there are countless examples to illustrate that they do not give value for money. In school after school that was visited by representatives of the funding agency, there are accounts of dramatic improvements in the maintenance of buildings and grounds at half of what the cost had been under local authority control. So there again is another issue in which schools could help themselves.
In conclusion, we have come a very long way in setting a framework to raise standards. That is something that we all want to see. Of course, we have a long way to go. The idea that you can raise standards overnight and get an instant result by Act of Parliament is ridiculous. You cannot. It takes a long time and a lot of patience. But I believe that the whole framework of the national curriculum, of testing, assessment, measuring, performance tables and league tables does matter. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who seems to be against all these things. They may not measure everything, but examinations measure something. They represent one of the few accurate objective measures that we have. When
What will not take us anywhere was what I felt was a slightly patronising attitude taken by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, when he said that poor children, children from the ethnic minorities and from one-parent families (the noble Lord gave a list) obviously cannot do so well. If we start off by thinking that they cannot do so well, that is in itself a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why should such children do well in Germany, France and other places? They do well there because there is a culture that expects everybody to do well. That is the culture that we have to introduce into this country. If we have that culture, then we shall succeed. What really matters at the end of the dayhere I believe that we are all agreedis what happens to our children. In my opinion, education is the most important subject that there is. Not only do all the individuals who are growing up matter, but they are growing up into a highly competitive world where they will live most of their lives, in the 21st century. It is very important that we should get this matter right. We must struggle continuously to improve the situation. We have made great improvements already, and I confidently expect those improvements to continue.
Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend has done a great service to the House by raising this issue in this form today. All of us in the parliamentary process are under a compulsion to cry up our own wares and to cry down our opponents. But even were that not the case I would start my contribution by welcoming the many signs in the chief inspector's annual report that the painful turmoil that our schools have undergone in recent years is beginning to have a good effect. The political temptation is to do that and then do no more. But we are not an entirely political House, and I am not an entirely political person. Noble Lords will therefore please understand that I pay a full, welcoming and genuine tribute to whathad the phrase not already been withered by recent historyI would have called the green shoots of success which the chief inspector reports to us.
My second temptation is an academic and personal one. The Motion invites us to consider the role of parents, teachers and schools together. I chaired the committee of inquiry into discipline in schools which reported to the Government in 1989 and I could speak with enthusiasm about the need for home-school links and in great detail about the skills and abilities needed by our teachers in their enormously important task. But I could not do so in an acceptable period of time. So I merely state that the report remains highly relevant and is available from HMSO under reference ISBN 0 11 270 665 7.
One aspect of the Motion chimes very closely with the report and deserves close attention. The importance of pupil achievement is very great, and not only in ways your Lordships may most readily recognise. Many noble Lords may feel that the importance of achievement relates to pupils' careers after they leave school and to the economic wellbeing of our country. I accept absolutely both premises. We must recognise the great importance of pupils' achievement within schools and as a contribution to the social wellbeing of our country. Before too many of your Lordships decide that social wellbeing is an abstract, namby-pamby concept and slide away to the bar, let me make it clear that this issue has a direct linkage to public order and to the criminal justice system. The fruit of ineffective schooling is not simply placid ignorance. It starts with disruption in the classroom, continues with truancy, and finishes up all too often in criminal offending.
Table 3.16 of the 1995 edition of Social Trends shows, from 1975-76 to 1991-92sadly, the latest year for which figures are givena continuous reduction in the numbers of pupils leaving school with no GCSE passes at any grade. Those are the people of whom the noble Lord, Lord Morris, spoke earlier. That is good news. Nevertheless, from Table 3.15 we see that in 1991-92 nearly 23,000 boys and about 18,700 girlsover 41,000 pupils in allleft without a single grade. That may amount to only 7 per cent. of school leavers in that year but it represents a lot of children. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, pointed out, there was a small increase in the number last year.
We have to recognise that there will have been good and acceptable reasons for many of those pupils' failures. But we also need to recogniseI warmly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, saidthat academic achievements are emphatically not the only valid or valuable achievements of which children are capable, achievements which schools can and should help them to attain and whose efforts in so doing should be commended.
The figure is nonetheless dauntingly large. Following that, one is drawn irresistibly to Table 1 in the second annex to the chief inspector's report. It shows that at key stage 4, 17 per cent. of lessons in all schools were unsatisfactory or poor, as were 19 per cent. in key stage 3, 20 per cent. in key stage 1 and a massive 26 per cent. in key stage 2. The figures in Table 8, which relate to the quality of teaching, are even more disturbing.
Therefore, the chief inspector is right to look to improvements in initial teacher training for a long-term remedy and right to suggest that the number of teachers having insufficient knowledge of the subjects they are trying to teach is so great in some areas that recruitment to the profession must be much more rigorously controlled. That must surely be already under way, given his very encouraging report on initial teacher training. My right honourable friend and her department deserve congratulation.
But perfect subject knowledge of itself does not produce even competent teaching. The cleverest man who ever taught me presided over a bear garden for two years and then "retired hurt". The best qualified man with whom I ever taught as a colleague suffered a
However dramatically good the quality of our ITT may become, we must remember that a teacher's career can last for up to 40 years. As my noble friend Lady Young said, getting improvement is a slow business. It will be a very long time before all the new brooms have swept their way through the system. In so doing, I hope that they will acquire some of the wisdom and skill so well represented among the very many good teachers in post.
Furthermore, the world does not stand still. It changes all the time, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out. So, in some respects, does the task of preparing children for it. There is therefore a large and crucially important job to be done in in-service training, both for the old hands and for the new. We should encourage my right honourable friend not just to keep up her admirable work on ITT but to extend that effort urgently to INSET.
I said that the result of ineffective schooling is not simply placid ignorance, but that it starts with disruption in the classroom, continues with truancy and finishes up, quite possibly, in court. There is evidence to bear that out and link it to your Lordships' earlier discussions of nursery education.
In a lecture given last year to the RSA, Professor David Farrington made the connection linking low IQ and low school attainment to delinquency and suggested possible remedies. He pointed to the Perry pre-school projectno connection with the firm next door, I believein Michigan, targeted on 120 disadvantaged black children, randomly allocated to the experiment and to a control group. Those in the experiment followed a daily pre-school programme, designed to provide intellectual stimulation and increase cognitive ability for two years at ages three and four. They had weekly home visits. The results were very striking. Those who completed the programme,
Professor Farrington reported that a later study of the same group showed that at age 19 those in the experimental group were more likely to be employed, more likely to have graduated from high school, more likely to have received college or vocational training and less likely to have been arrested. Overall, the
I repeat that in some respects the world changes and with it the teacher's task; but not in all respects. One novelty in the report, which flows from amendments made in this House, is its reference to spiritual values. Those do not change and it is important that they are not neglected. We must, of course, recognise that much of the most valuable spiritual teaching is done outside any curriculum and much of it outside any classroom. I am glad to see that the right reverend Prelate nods his head. However, a good deal is contained within the two specifically religious components of the school day; the daily act of worship in assembly and religious education lessons.
That reluctance is very understandable. A teacher who has neither the training nor the conviction to lead such worship should not under any circumstances be required to do so. More damage could be done by an agnostic teacher conducting an assembly of children in what he or she believes to be the paths of religious righteousness than by countless purely administrative assemblies. But it remains a great pity and a matter for concern that our current teaching force apparently lacks sufficient members to meet that statutory requirement and that there is neither access to sufficient outside resources to meet it nor the initiative to tap them. Can we ask that in preparing his next report the chief inspector examines the extent to which clergy of different denominations, and other qualified people, have been available and approached. I would expect that in a number of cases the mere making of the necessary inquiries would establish the connections needed to start this sort of fruitful outside participation.
But significant numbers of schools should not be forced to recruit outsiders in order to meet the obligations. The present position reflects a clear shortage of specialist RE staff. My noble friend will be familiar with the depressing contents of the Ofsted report on religious education and collective worship in 1992-93, published last year. After telling us that RE was badly managed in most primary schools and insufficiently supported by INSET, the report shows, in
I gladly acknowledge that the target intake figures in all subjects are set to rise over the subsequent two years. But RE will still be at the bottom of the heap then, as it is now. Nor is that all, as the RE Council for England and Wales made clear in its aptly named report Time for RE & Teachers to Match in 1993. It shows a far larger proportion of RE teaching being done by teachers with no qualification of any kind in that subject than is the case for any other subject. The figures for England showed 50 per cent. of RE teachers with no RE qualification and only a quarter with relevant degrees. In mathematics, still regarded as a critical subject, those proportions were almost exactly reversed.
Time does not permit me to show your Lordships just how serious the situation is. Suffice it to say that in language constantlyand often unconsciouslyenriched by biblical imagery, your Lordships have frequently agreed, and later with votes confirmed, that a sound foundation of religious knowledge is an essential part of the education of a British child. That view is shared by another place. Parliament also accepts the importance of securing our children's spiritual development.
Teaching the basic facts of Old Testament history and New Testament revelation is an invaluable medium in which to foster the spiritual development of the vast majority of our children, just as teaching about the principal beliefs and practices of other religions is an invaluable medium in which to teach them an appreciation of, and respect for, their contemporaries who subscribe to them, and vice versa. Properly taught, that subject can contribute crucially to the happiness and stability of our country in the coming difficult years. We have a duty to our successors that it should be taught well. It is a tragedy that Ofsted should have to tell us that it is not being done well. Can my noble friend tell us what is to be done to put that right?
I close as I started by recognising and welcoming the significant advances signalled by the chief inspector and welcomed by my noble friend. I repeat that recognition and welcome. But I ask my right honourable friend, through my noble friend, three things: first, to put resources into the recognition of the importance of RE; secondly, to put into INSET the same vigour and enthusiasm that so successfully went into ITT; and, thirdly, to read the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and act on itit weren't 'arf marvellous work!
However, had the noble Baroness intercepted my correspondence yesterday she would have found a facsimile letter sent to me late yesterday afternoon by the Director of Education for Dyfedspelt Dyfed, pronounced "Dovey", but the director is not making dove-like noises. He certainly does not share the appreciation that is clearly felt by the noble Baroness and some of her noble friends with everything that has happened in the past 10 years. In fact, addressing himself to the question, quite strangely, he says, first, that the Dyfed education authority welcomes the principle of the provision of greater information being made available to parents and the public provided it is comprehensive, relevant, intelligible and purposeful. I shall come back to that. I do not want to base my speech on that of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry; I wish to make my own contribution.
For the past 20 years in this House, in various debates on education, I have occasionally quoted the contention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, that education was any two people sitting on a log. The contention comes close to some of the things said by the right reverend Prelate and, indeed, picks up certain comments made around the House. I believe that one of the finest speeches made in this House tonightthis is no detraction from the speeches of other noble Lords was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, standing as she did so close to recent experience within the educational framework.
The point being made by Ralph Waldo Emerson was that education is the affecting of two minds and, in the best teaching situation, the teacher learns as much as the taught. The right reverend Prelate was right to point out that originally the teaching was done by the parent. Then into the situationwhen the parent could perhaps not afford the time, but could afford to hire someone elsecame a second figure standing in locum and acting on behalf of the parent in the education of the child. A long time ago E.H.Carr said that it was the duty of the parent, and therefore he supposed of the teacher, to help to determine the direction in which society developed. It is from that point that I want to start addressing this question.
I have said before in this House that every one of the reports that I have read on education during my many years of service made the point that the greatest influence on the education of a child is the attitude of the parents to the school in which that child is taught. Deeply fundamentaland, in a democracy, savagely importantit is essential that the schools, the pupils and the teachers are backed by the parents. We know that a great number of our school population do not have the benefit of the backing of two parents because of the growth of single parent families, for reasons into which we cannot delve tonight. Many also have parents who do not understand the system; do not have the qualifications, the vocabulary, the language and
I make no point about those who buy education for their children. The way in which people dispose of their money in relation to their ambitions for their family is their business. My point is that it is possible in this House to isolate ourselves from events that are happening; to congratulate ourselves on the small things that we do and not to realise that things are going wrong even now. New things are going wrong with the education system, which your Lordships are devoted to changing and to which I have devoted my life to serving. Things are going wrong and we are missing that fact.
Let me give an example. Some noble Lords will have seen that accompanying me this week in this House have been two young people. They are 17 year-old students who, in 10 weeks' time will be taking their advanced level exams. They are interested in history because they have some aspirations to know about politics; and what a relief that some young people are still interested in the politics of democracy in this country at this time. Because they are interested they have been with me. One of them is with me tonight. Chris Rogers is the deputy head boy of his school in Haverfordwest. Whether I am supposed to mention him or not, I am doing so. I have also had with me a young lady, Susan Parnell-Davis, who is being educated at Amersham in Buckinghamshire. They will pay tribute to the quality of the teaching that they are receiving and to the fact that their schools are doing their utmost to teach them. They make no criticism of the way in which they are taught.
But is it not interesting that at the Sir Thomas Picton School in Haverfordwest the sixth form is now nudging on 200 pupils? In the school in Amersham, the number is 400 sixth form pupils in a school of 800. When I was at the county intermediate school at Pembroke Dock, all those light years ago, the school had less than 300 pupils and I was in the sixth form, which never got above 20 pupils. I remember discussions with two political friends, R.H.S. Crossman and Desmond Donnelly. One went to Eton and was never taught in classes which had more than 12 pupils. The other went to school at Bembridge in the Isle of Wight and was never taught in classes of more than 20 pupils. I was taught in classes of 32 pupils until I went into the sixth form where the group was 14 strong. It is only then that a young mind begins to realise its own capacities and to take real advantage of the teaching system, and perhaps change the direction of the ambitions that he or she has inside them. If the grammar of that is wrong I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. I only taught English!
The system is developing. It is not enough to say that more people are staying on in sixth form education. We have to ask why they are staying on. There is one very good reason, and that is that they want education; and thank God for that. But some are staying on because they have nowhere else to go because there is no employment. In the rural areas of Wales where I have
I am not being critical here in a party political sense. Let us put all the items into the balance when we weigh up this matter. Meanwhile, the teachers within the system consist of the good and, very occasionally, the bad. In the whole of my teaching life I came across a few who crucified themselves because they were so bad. As the noble Lord who debated education in this House with me 20 years ago said, they have fallen out of the system. The system broke them because if you are not a good teacher it sometimes becomes intolerable when you have minds better than your own wanting to be helped by you.
We have problems. The head teachers of schools are presiding over boot sales and members of staff are now being recognised for their contributions towards raising funds. It is also a fact that staffing ratios in schools are now being affected by the amount of money which the headmaster has to recruit new staff.
Perhaps I may put that in detail. Any headmaster who wishes to set up a special unit or who wishes to bring a particular ability into his staff room has to look at how much an experienced teacher of 36 to 40 years of age, male or female, will cost him. In place of employing a suitably qualified teacher he can employ two or three young people who may make it and who may be excellent, but who do not have much experience.
In such circumstances, none of us can be self-congratulatory. With the greatest possible sympathy, I take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He said that the painful turmoil of the past years is beginning to abate. The noble Lord may very well be right in the particular circumstances to which he addressed himself. But there is still very great disillusionment in the classrooms. The noble Baroness was quite right to anticipate that I would react to what she said in this way. There is a great deal of disillusionment in the staff rooms in people who have found it impossible in the circumstances to continue to apply their great knowledge and ability, and the desire to inspire and inform.
While we still grant the right of pride in achievement, it is certainly not enough to quote figures that imply that the classroom ratios are improving even in specific cases. Far too often the better the teacher the faster that teacher gravitates out of the system. If you are a good teacher and you are required to manage a school without management training, you can still find yourself running a primary school in Pembrokeshire and be drawn down by the business of doing someone else's work while your expertise in education is trapped in doing all the things that a head teacher has to do without having been trained to do so.
The Statement about Northern Ireland has delayed us a little. I also have to attend an important committee meeting which I hope will not be before the debate ends. If I have to leave, I hope I shall be back.
This country cannot afford a disillusioned teaching force and a disintegrating classroom system, which still continues in certain places. Take your plaudits for what you have done and give us credit for what we support you in, but do not think that the problem is in any way solved.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Perry upon the splendidly comprehensive way in which she introduced a topic which is so important and so timely. My noble friend drew attention to many of the improvements that we can appreciate, but she also drew attention to continuing concern. Indeed, there is wide-ranging concern among many people, including teachers, parents, employers and indeed pupils and students, over continuing deep-rooted problems in our education system.
I shall focus on two of those problems because they influence all other aspects of educational attainment. I refer to the disturbing numbers of young people failing to achieve essential competencies in literacy and numeracy. I must of course first emphasise that there are many good schools, both primary and secondary, and many dedicated teachers who continue to maintain high standards in all spheres of education. I pay tribute to them for their achievements, and they are all the more significant given the trends which are reflected in declining standards elsewhere. The challenge confronting the education system today is to enable all schools, teachers and pupils to attain standards comparable to the best achieved in equivalent schools with similar pupils.
Research has shown that it is not funding which is the all-important factor in school attainment; nor is it the socio-economic or ethnic background of pupils. It is the quality of the school itself: the leadership of the head, teacher expectations of pupils, teaching methods, the setting of homework, and discipline. Often, less well-funded schools achieve better results for their pupils, and consequently a better start in life for them, than those which receive more resources.
So I wish to draw attention to the need for a rational, research- and evidence-based analysis of school effectiveness in enabling pupils to realise their potential through achieving the essential skills in literacy and numeracy. However, I must first declare an interest and offer an apology. I should mention that I am a member of the board of the Teacher Training Agency. I serve on
I now turn to the problem of the under-achievement of too many pupils in too many of our schools. There is a growing volume of evidence showing an increasing number of pupils unable to read at the age of seven, and many transferring from primary to secondary schools at the age of 11 still deficient in reading abilities. That is a very grave situation. If children cannot read, their whole education is stunted. Moreover, they often become frustrated, bored, humiliated and alienated from school. The importance of self-esteem was rightly emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. An inability to read is a significant factor in low self-esteem and in under-achievement.
Research by Martin Turner has shown a significant and continuing increase in the number of pupils who cannot read by the age of seven. A study by Jenifer Chew has found that many 16 to 17 year-old students studying A-level English, who had obtained so-called "good" gradesthat is, grades A to Cin their GCSE English were much less competent in spelling than a sample of Zulu-speaking South African school children, studying in classes with a pupil:teacher ratio of more than 40 to one. We can make what we want of those figures, but Mrs. Chew makes this comment:
That is a damning indictment, not only of our education system, which has failed so many of our 16 year-olds, born and bred in Britain, by not enabling them to write their own language comprehensively; it is also a serious indictment of an examination system which has given so many of them a false confidence arising from good results despite their manifest lack of ability in basic spelling, punctuation and powers of verbal expression. I shall place a copy of Mrs. Chew's research in your Lordships' Library and I dare to suggest that any noble Lord who looks at it will be as shocked as I was.
I know that comparisons are invidious, and international comparisons are especially difficult because there are many variables which cannot be taken into account. But comparisons can be revealing and sometimes show a human dimension behind the statistics. Therefore, perhaps I may invite your Lordships to compare the writing of English by British pupils with letters written in English by 12 year-old Armenian pupils in the war-torn city of Stepanakert, the capital of the bombarded, beleaguered, besieged enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Perhaps I may explain. I was delighted when a primary school in South London offered to establish a relationship with children in Karabakh, and I took a package of friendly letters and photographs from children in Streatham to their counterparts in Karabakh. These were received with great joy by pupils in School No. 8, Stepanakert, a bombed-out, blackened building, half of it still gutted by fire. The pupils were sitting huddled in one of the repaired classrooms, with no heat and virtually no teaching materials. But within one hour, those 12 year-old Armenian children had each written an individual letter to individual British pupils, in superb English, with excellent spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Those Armenian children had spent months in 1992 living underground in cellars and basements, under constant bombardment, with no light, heat, ventilation or sanitation. A study of their physical condition 18 months ago showed that, on average, the children of Nagorno-Karabakh were in worse physical condition than the children of Bosnia. Yet, despite having suffered the tragedies of war, interrupted schooling and studying in a school which is little more than a ruin, those 12 year-olds could each write personal letters to British children in English. All those children speak and write Armenian, which is a unique language, with a unique script. They also speak and write Russian. English is their third language and their third script, yet they can write as follows. I quote from one letter: