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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I shall come to that. On such occasions, I feel the need of a rearview mirror at the Dispatch Box. In fact, I feel the need of a rearview mirror whenever my noble friend Lord Beloff speaks.
The present is also apposite to the Labour Party because so much of what Labour Peers have said concerns the present. When the noble Lord, Lord Peston, launched into his speech, I thought that I would have to cut out of mine the rude bits about the Labour Party, but in the end the noble Lord made a political speech just as much as his colleagues had done. He was eloquent and erudite, but he did not spend much time looking backand I understand whybecause the Labour Party does not have much of a record on which to look back.
Looking back at our record must cause Labour Peers pain because of all the words that they have had to eat and all the words they have yet to eatand doubtless will. Looking forward also causes them problems because they have no policy. If any of them essayed anything on what Labour Party policy might be, it could only be in the expectation of being contradicted the next day. Nonetheless, it has been depressing not to have had more contributions from the Opposition Benches. I hope that the next time we debate education we shall be able to have a broader contribution from that side of the House.
I should like to answer some of the points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, about the education settlement. As I have said in the House before, it was a tough settlement, but very few councils have yet to set their budgets. Every year we
Let us consider what some have said this year. Cheshire, which has a 0.4 per cent. reduction in its education SSA, has said that it will find the cash fully to fund the teachers' pay rise, as has Birmingham, which has a 0.3 per cent. cut, and Leicestershire, with its 0.9 per cent. increase. Let us look at those which are crying the loudest: Devonshire has a 2.1. per cent. increase, and Somerset has a 2.5 per cent. increase. One has to take with a very large pinch of salt what local authorities are saying at the moment. Let us take two of the LEAs that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Cambridgeshire has a 2 per cent. increase in its education SSA, while Trafford has a 4.4 per cent. increase. One has to wait and see what those local authorities actually do. I am sure that most will be able to live within the budgets that they have been given.
As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, our funding of education has increased by 50 per cent. per pupil in real terms over 15 years. One hard year does not break that trend. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, quibbled about whether that was an increase, but an increase in real terms is an increase in real termsand it is more than the Labour Party achieved when it was last in office.
To get back to the future, many of the advances that we have made are still in their early stages. It will take many years for their benefits fully to come through. In looking at particular areas, I would choose, first, the empowerment of parents. Many noble Lords have mentioned the importance to education of parents. That is something upon which I believe all sides of the House agree. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, agrees with me. He made a major point of that in his speech. My noble friend Lady Brigstocke mentioned it in relation to CTCs.
We welcome the current involvement of school governors in the discussion on education funding. It shows just how far our reforms have gone in increasing the consciousness and participation of people in their local schools. They may not agree with us at the moment, but the party opposite would never have given them the opportunity to disagree.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said that 340,000 parents had rung in to say that they would be interested in additional help with reading for their children. That is not a bad thing; it is a wonderful thing. Does not the noble Lord realise that wherever parents send their children to school they care about such things? They are always looking for ways in which to support their children. The fact that 340,000 parents are prepared to pick up a telephone is a great deal better than it would have been 10 years ago.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Why is it that these parents have to ring the BBC? Why can they not go to their schools, go past the gate, talk to the staff and get the answers that they want?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I hope that they will do that too. Another thing that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, appeared to run down was the amount of money which parents raise for their schools. My noble friend Lord Northesk quoted £250 million. I have no means of ascertaining whether that is true, but it seems a reasonable figure. Parents raise money for their children's schools when they believe in those schools. Let us look at the amount of money which Oxford and Harvard Universities can raise. They raise it because they are successful. The more successful the schools are, the more money they will raise from parents, and a very good thing that is too.
Of equal importance is a school's link with its community. That to our minds is what true accountability is. It is not through some remote LEA, but directly with the community, the parents and the pupils that the schools serve. Governors clearly play an important part in that process. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, praised the role of LEAs. So shall I. LEAs are now no longer controllers of what happens in educationa role which they often performed rather badlythey are now enablers. They have become one of a school's best friends and best helpers. I do not wish to mince words when I say that they are doing a great deal to support their local schools, and I welcome that. That has been due almost entirely to the local management of schools initiative giving the power over schools' governance and finance to the people most directly involved with it.
Baroness David: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. Surely the local management of schools was a local government initiative in the first place. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will agree that Cambridgeshire was at the forefront of that movement.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not deny what the noble Baroness says. I am saying merely that it has been supported, promulgated and put into effect by this Government. In general, that has had an enormously good effect on the schools which have the power to handle their own finances. I agree that there are difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Parry, outlined some of them, but, in general, it has made schools much more efficient and effective and has enabled them to be innovative in a way we have not seen before. Of course innovation is the raw material of progress.
Another area of immense importance in increasing achievement is information: making information available to parents so that they can take the decision about their children's schooling. Inspection reports are
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, I did not criticise HMCI over successful schools; it was about a list of 52 so-called improving schools. I was challenging the definition of "improvement" and saying that that concept should not apply merely to a few GCSE passes at special grades but to the whole achievement of a school, year on year.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, if the noble Lord restricts his praise to people who improve in every respect, he will not get much opportunity to praise anyone. A 10 per cent. improvement in the five A to C grades at GCSE is indeed an improvement worthy of praise.
Part of the importance of information is to enable measurement. Measurement is of great value for the nation, for schools and for pupilsnot in everything, of course, but it counts for a great deal. The school performance tables form a very important part of that. Raw results are child-centred. They are what counts for the childwhat qualifications or achievements he or she carries away from education. The tables provide a benchmark for schools. They can see what other similar schools are achieving. As we have seen from the contributions of my noble friend Lady Cox and others, international comparisons play a similar role for us as a nation. They show us what is possible. Once one knows something is possible, it becomes worth spending a lot of effort in getting there.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to a report by Article 26. I have not seen the original report but I have seen some extracts from it. We welcome the report and we welcome the publicity which it has given to a column in the performance tables showing the number of pupils achieving one GCSE or better. That is an enormously important piece of information for parents when they are looking at a schoolwhat are the chances that my child will emerge with no qualifications? We very much welcome Article 26 having drawn some attention to it, in contrast to the general run of the media who, as the noble Lord says, concentrate exclusively on the five A to C grades. It is equally important that we look at what is happening at the lower end.
I slightly quibble with the content of the Article 26 press release because it draws attention to a small decrease in the percentage of people achieving one GCSE or better in the current year. That comes at the end of a long upward trend. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, pointed out, the position has been improving gradually. There is still a great deal of variability between one local authority and another. The best appear to achieve about a 3.5 per cent. rate of pupils achieving nothing. We shall put a great deal of effort into helping the rest of the school system improvethe results schools are getting for what one might call the lowest 20 or 25 per cent. of the achievement range. As my noble friends Lord Northesk and Lord Elton pointed out, it is extremely important from a social point of view
Our emphasis on people at that end of the education spectrum is well known. Our policies on special educational needs have been widely praised across both sides of the House, and I think deservedly so. My noble friend Lady Faithfull drew attention to the particular problems of what she called the delinquent disintegrated. We have, from September last year, put into place a whole new set of policies designed to make sure that people who come into that category receive a proper education. Ofsted is in the process of making sure that that is happening. Local education authorities have a duty to do that. They have a duty to provide education that is set out in statements. It is foolish and destructive of them to do anything else. It is an absolute duty and there is no reason why they should avoid it.
At this point perhaps I may mention the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has been involved in the launch of something called "The learning for life pack" to support the teaching and learning of young people with profound multiple disabilities. The Government support all such initiatives to help people at the lower end of the achievement spectrum. When we look at what happens in other countries, it is quite clear that we can effect a very large improvement in our performance in this areaor rather we can continue to effect such an improvement.
Many noble Lords referred to teachers. We would agree with them that teachers are the key to improvement in our education system. Research, of which I am a great addict, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will know, lists the key features for future school improvement as school culture, teaching styles, teacher training, involvement with parents, strong leadership, discipline, direction, high expectations, monitoring progress and pupil responsibilities. All those depend on teachers. It is clear that teachers can achieve excellence in all those areas, because many are achieving that excellence. Our focus must be on spreading that good practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, said, and there is great scope to do so. We shall concentrate on that.
We see great opportunities lying ahead. That is one of the principal reasons why we established the Teacher Training Agency which, with my noble friend Lady Cox aboard, will be giving impetus, focus and status to teacher education. I am sure that in time the party opposite will come to welcome it, as it has the rest of our innovations.
We are giving particular emphasis at the moment to the training of head teachers and, as my noble friend Lord Elton asked, to insetting to the continuing in-service training of teachers. We see those as being extremely promising pathways for continuing school improvement.
I should like to answer the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to some extent on class sizes. If he refers to the latest issue of the Oxford Review of Education, which he perhaps has there, he will find a very thorough survey of all the research which has been done in the UK, the US and elsewhere in Europe on class sizes. The
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