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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has just said. It is not for this House to pass defective legislation, however well intentioned it may be. The noble Baroness has put the record straight, and it is right that she should have done so. There have been other similar episodes. I remember, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Renton, does, the misfortunes which attended the Bail (Amendment) Bill where the argument was that if we agreed to any amendment the Bill would be killed. As a result of that, the Procedure Committee laid it down that it is unacceptable to use that argument, as it clearly is, because if we got into that way of approach with Private Members' Bills from the other place we would in reality have a unicameral legislature which applied only to Private Members' Bills from the other place, which would be manifestly absurd.

This House has discharged its constitutional responsibilities very well. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, was right, if I may say so, with the amendment that he introduced. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has handled the Bill with considerable skill, and we are all in her debt and that of those associated with her.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, from the Front Bench I wish to say how grateful we must all be to my noble friend for her persistence in providing this

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House with every opportunity to do a job which should have been done in the other place before we received the Bill. The sad fact is that until late in the day we had assumed—we now know wrongly—that as a result of all the work done in the other place in haste (it only left the other place in the third week of July) the interests affected by the Bill had ensured that they had produced a satisfactory piece of legislation.

The irony is that some people down the other end were talking about the passage of the Bill. Well, it only passed from one House to the other. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, was right when he said that we should all recognise that this is a revising Chamber, and that if there is a revising job to do, we have to do it. Sadly, there are casualties when this House is determined to do its job. I echo what my noble friend said. Our job was to do our level best to improve the Bill and get it out of this place, with the faint hope—there is a hope—that there is a device, as my noble friend said—I prefer to use the term "procedures"—or procedures which can still be used, given good will. As I understand it, the Bill, as it stands, has no opponents.

The Bill has been improved. We know that the outside bodies which worked to assist parliamentarians here are the same as those which worked to assist parliamentarians down the Corridor. Given the maximum of good will and no opposition, I still believe that the Leader of the House and Mr. John McFall, the Bill's promoter, could find common ground. There would be no casualties if the Bill was passed, but there may be casualties if the Bill is held up.

The House expresses its warm appreciation to my noble friend and to those who insisted, courteously, upon their right to improve the Bill. When he replies the Minister should be aware that he would be doing the House a great service if he were to recognise the spirit in which these exchanges have taken place and, in whatever way he can and in whatever way his officials can, convey to the other place the fact that we would be delighted if, even at this late stage, an opportunity were found to pass the Bill into law.

Lord Monson: My Lords, perhaps I too may congratulate the noble Baroness on her skill in piloting the Bill through the House, and thank her for her great courtesy, sensitivity and willingness to listen. The aims of the Bill in its present revised form are admirable. I hope and trust that it will reach the statute book before long, whether it be this Session or the next.

Striking a rather different note, I am afraid, I had not intended to let this occasion pass without expressing my dismay at remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on Second Reading (Hansard, col. 882) when I was not present, when she appeared to imply that the Government were neutral on the issue not just on the merits of field sports, which is a reasonable enough position to take, but on the continuation of the traditional right of country people to pursue their traditional sports, which is a very different matter.

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I realise that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was not speaking in her personal capacity but in her ministerial capacity. Nonetheless, as she is not present it would be unfair for me to continue this point today, but I shall return to it on another occasion.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the Government are sympathetic to the aims of the measure. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asked me about certain devices in another place. From my junior position, I am unable to comment and do not have knowledge of those devices.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: We are right behind you!

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, this will be drawn to the attention of my right honourable friends.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Primary Education

12.28 p.m.

Lord Tope rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to increase resources to enable primary schools to improve the quality of education.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to start by thanking all noble Lords who have indicated a wish to speak in this brief debate. Friday is a difficult day for many, and the fact that we have so many distinguished speakers is an indication of the importance of the subject to your Lordships' House. In view of other current news this week, I should start by declaring my own interests. For the past nine-and-a-half years I have been leader of a local education authority. Perhaps more important in the context of this debate, I am a governor of a junior school in the ward that I represent on that LEA. Perhaps most important of all, I am married to a primary school teacher, although I hasten to add that she will disclaim all responsibility for anything I say this morning.

I need not spend valuable time speaking of the importance of good primary education. It is the time in school life when children often have their closest relationship with their teachers, and when teachers can, perhaps, have their greatest formative influence. It is also the time when most parents probably have their closest relationship with a local school and with their children's teacher. We all recognise the importance of a good start. That is why we are here this morning.

My Question refers deliberately to the quality of education. It is quality which is of most concern to everyone. I do not believe that quality can be improved merely by increasing resources. Throwing money at a problem seldom resolves it. More money alone does not turn a bad teacher into a good one. Scarce resources need to be targeted and monitored properly to achieve the greatest effect.

However, I do not believe that we can improve or even maintain the quality of education without more resources. The Government will say that they have been

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putting more resources into education and particularly into primary education. But I wish to look at the facts. The figures recently obtained from the Department for Education and Employment by the honourable Member for Bath show that in one year alone, between January 1994 and January 1995, the number of primary schoolchildren in classes of over 40 increased by 30 per cent. to over 18,000. The number in classes of over 35 increased by 11,000 to over 100,000 in just one year. Last January there were a staggering 1.15 million primary schoolchildren in classes of over 30.

But those shameful figures are out of date; they relate to last January. Since then we have the education spending cuts of this year: an average cut of £50 for each and every primary school pupil in the country. We have had the Government's refusal to fund the teachers' pay award, which this year many schools have had to fund themselves. The figures for class sizes which are to be published next January will show an even more disgraceful picture.

The Government say that class sizes make no difference. Parents do not believe that, teachers do not believe that, and school governors do not believe it. Indeed, anyone who knows anything about primary school teaching knows that that cannot be true. It is self-evident that the more children there are in a class the less individual time and attention a teacher can give them. Indeed, primary school teachers have told me that one additional child over about 25 in the class seems equivalent to two or three more simply in terms of classroom noise levels.

But we do not have to take the subjective view of teachers, governors and parents. Mr. Duncan Graham, the former chairman and chief executive of the National Curriculum Council, said only last month that the national curriculum in primary schools was designed for classes of 25. He went on to say:

    "The further you go beyond 30 the greater the difficulties become. Beyond 35 I would question whether you really are getting any kind of value for money".

Well over 1 million primary school children are now taught in classes of over 30. Do the Government really believe that that is any kind of value for money?

The Government are always keen to blame someone else, never to accept the responsibility themselves. They claim that LEAs are keeping too much in the centre which should be devolved to schools. Where is the evidence for this? The opposite is true now. In recent years most LEAs, my own included, have done everything possible to protect schools' budgets. The cuts in the education budget have fallen primarily on central education departments rather than on schools. As a result, the staff lost are the inspectors, the advisory teachers and the education welfare officers—the much needed school support staff. All those people were dismissed by the Prime Minister as being wasteful administrators.

Yet those people are missed most by primary schools. Generally, primary schools are small, with few staff, and are usually too small to have their own infrastructure and support services. Their governors need such support from the LEA if they are to be able to cope with all the

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responsibilities now placed upon them. The teachers need that support to give them the time to do the job for which they have been trained, which is teaching. We should be increasing those resources so that teachers do not lose vital contact time with pupils because they have to respond to government bureaucracy.

The other ploy used by the Government is to claim that LEAs and schools are sitting on large reserves which they refuse to use. Reserves can be used only once. They postpone the problem; they do not solve it. The House of Commons Select Committee on Education recognised that in its fifth report, published last week, when it reported that last year local government reserves fell by over £850 million, with a larger fall expected this year, and that school reserves fell by £100 million in that year. At paragraph 19, the Select Committee concluded:

    "We believe it would not be possible for all local authorities and schools to draw upon reserves in future years in the way that a number of authorities managed in 1995-96".

I hope that today the Minister will assure us that the Government now recognise and share that view.

So much more needs to be said about primary education and the resources that are needed, not least those needed for special needs, which is extremely important. Resources are also needed for more and better teacher training and for the repair and maintenance of buildings and equipment. But time is against me and I hope that other noble Lords will cover those important topics later in the debate.

In conclusion, I wish to turn to the future, to four weeks today when local authorities will know just how painful the cuts in their budgets must be next year. All of us wish the Secretary of State well in her much leaked quest to win more resources for education. But the additional £800 million that she is allegedly seeking will not be enough even to achieve a standstill on this year's lamentable position, let alone to start repairing the years of neglect under this Government. Welcome though the additional money for education will be, such additional money as there may be for education must not come at the expense of other hard pressed local government services. If the Government mean their commitment to education, it must be new and not recycled money.

I do not expect the Minister in her reply to comment on the forthcoming budget or to reveal the Chancellor's secrets. Indeed, I understand that the Cabinet has not yet decided what those secrets are to be. Nor do I expect her to comment on the revenue support grant settlement two days later. But I hope that she will help with one particular issue which is causing increasing concern among those LEAs, my own included, which come under the common funding formula.

The CFF relates, of course, to secondary schools but there is a real fear that the proposals currently under consideration to move to a formula-based approach are likely to have the effect of shifting significant resources from primary to secondary schools. That would be entirely contrary to the general belief, supported by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and, I believe, by the Government, that primary schools

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should be the priority. The Minister can allay that anxiety today by giving an assurance that, whatever is finally decided, it will not have the effect of shifting resources away from primary education. Will she give us that assurance today?

The Government say that education is their top priority but they seem more determined to achieve tax cuts than to invest in education. The Labour Party states that education is its top priority. It is committed to maximum class sizes of 30 in primary schools, but it will not say how or when that is to be achieved. Instead, it seems more interested in competing with the Conservatives as being the party of lowest tax.

Only we, the Liberal Democrats, say that education is our top priority and demonstrate our belief in that investment by being prepared, if necessary, to increase tax to pay for it. Some say that that commitment is brave and others that it is foolhardy. But at least it is honest.

12.38 p.m.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for giving the House this opportunity to discuss primary school education. It is the most important aspect of education because it lays the foundation for all subsequent learning.

As the Question focuses on resources, I expect that some of your Lordships will follow the noble Lord in concentrating on funding and financial resources. But the most important resource is the quality of teaching and the professionalism of the teaching staff. Therefore, in my contribution I wish to raise three issues. The first is to indicate why there is cause for concern about the levels of achievement of many pupils in the primary sector. Secondly, as a member of the board of the Teacher Training Agency, I wish to outline some of the initiatives under-taken by the TTA in its first year of operation to address the need to ensure that all teachers, including primary school teachers, are adequately prepared to fulfil their professional responsibilities. Thirdly, I wish to offer some additional suggestions and policy recommendations, not as a member of the TTA, but on the basis of my experience and on research undertaken by my colleague Dr. John Marks.

However, before highlighting causes of concern, I should like to pay a sincere tribute to many staff in many primary schools who give high quality education to their pupils in a happy environment with stimulating effective teaching and learning, reflected in high levels of attainment. Only yesterday, I had the great privilege of visiting Little Thurrock County Primary School. I came away inspired by the enthusiasm of the pupils, the commitment of teachers and the combination of achievement with happiness.

But, moving from the specific to the general, it needs to be pointed out that there does not seem to be any specific correlation between levels of financial resources and happy, effective schools. What has been shown again and again by research to be significant is the quality of leadership and of the professionalism of the teachers—their subject knowledge and pedagogical skills, such as classroom management. So it is that research has shown that schools in the same catchment

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area, with pupils from similar backgrounds and with similar levels of funding, may vary very dramatically in the quality of education offered to their pupils.

A particular area of concern in primary education must be the decline in effective teaching of literacy and numeracy. The research of Martin Turner has shown a disturbing fall in the number of children who can read by the age of seven and there are indications of increasing numbers of pupils leaving primary schools and entering secondary education with inadequate reading ability. If children cannot read, they cannot make any significant progress with the rest of their education. Ofsted's inspections to date have shown, with reference to English, that across all key stages standards of achievement are unsatisfactory or poor in one-fifth of our schools; that there are persistent weaknesses in teachers' knowledge and expertise about formal aspects of language, particularly grammar and syntax; that the quality of teaching at key stages 1 and 2 is unsatisfactory or poor in 23 per cent. of lessons; and that in both Key Stages 1 and 2, inadequate knowledge of the English language and appropriate literature are serious handicaps for some teachers.

In mathematics, there are concerns about standards of achievement in relation to pupils' capabilities in about one-third of primary schools. The quality of teaching has been found to be unsatisfactory or poor in 28 per cent. of lessons at key stage 1 and 30 per cent. of lessons at key stage 2 while teachers' command of mathematics is not adequate for the work they are required to teach in one-quarter of our schools at key stage 2. Such findings are very disturbing as, without basic mathematical understanding and skills, essential learning in many other subjects such as science and IT will inevitably be seriously impaired.

Other research, such as that undertaken by Professor Reynolds at the University of Newcastle, has shown serious problems, with excessive use of teaching primary school pupils in small groups instead of teaching a whole class at the same time in a more traditional way. Reference to that research may be found in an article in the Independent of 29th September this year under the heading "'Chaotic' Teaching methods attacked".

It is in the context of such research findings and Ofsted reports that the claim by Her Majesty's chief inspector for schools, Chris Woodhead, that perhaps up to 15,000 teachers may be professionally inadequate needs to be taken very seriously. That is why, despite good and dedicated work being done by many teachers in many schools, the overall picture demonstrates the need for urgent remedial measures to bring all schools up to the level of the best. I refer once again to Ofsted's findings. Forty seven of the first 2,400 primary schools inspected have failed. The features which often characterise failing schools include under-achievement by pupils, a high proportion of poor or unsatisfactory teaching, and ineffective leadership. The question of resources does not feature in a positive correlation across the board by any means.

That brings me to the role of the TTA and its endeavours to promote the professionalism and competence of teachers. Time only permits me to give

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a few examples but in doing so I should like to express appreciation of the staff of the TTA who have worked phenomenally hard, in the first year of operation, to achieve clarity of objectives and to establish a programme which should address many of the problems which I have just identified.

I shall give the House five examples of TTA's current initiatives. The first is endeavouring to ensure that all teachers have necessary subject knowledge to underpin the subjects they teach. That applies to newly qualified teachers and will form part of the evaluation of initial teacher training courses; it will also apply to those who have been teaching for some time. For example, the TTA proposes to use in-service training to target subject co-ordinators in primary schools and key stage 2 teachers with poor subject knowledge, especially in mathematics, science, literacy and technology.

The second initiative is to set national standards as bench-marks for competent professional practice. A review of current provision of continuing professional development shows massive problems with mis-targeted and ad hoc training and funds being used in ways which have little impact on classroom practice. The TTA believes that the cornerstone of continuing professional development should be the establishment of standards of excellence for all teachers, from those newly qualified to head teachers.

The third initiative is to increase diversity of opportunities for access to initial teacher training in order to encourage into the profession a wider range of people who will help to remedy acute shortages of teachers in key subjects such as mathematics, science, RE, sports and music. In the fourth initiative, the TTA is promoting more direct involvement of primary schools in initial teacher training through partnerships between schools and higher education institutions with school-centred initial teacher training groups to help bridge the gap between theory and practice and to provide more appropriate, practical and apprenticeship-type experience for student teachers.

I turn now to the last initiative. The recent decline in pupils' achievements in key subject areas may well be associated with inappropriate teaching methods or classroom organisation such as the widespread move away from phonics teaching of reading or using small groups and discovery methods instead of teaching a whole class at the same time. By promoting research, the TTA hopes to establish best teaching practice and to encourage all teachers to ensure that their teaching is based on the most effective and proven methods. The initial priorities are effective teaching of literacy and numeracy as these are fundamental to all other forms of learning.

I wish to make two additional and brief points independent of my position on the board of the TTA. First, I should like to see the principles of openness and accountability which currently apply to secondary schools also apply to primary schools. I believe that it is in the interests of pupils, parents and local communities for schools to make publicly available information about their pupils' attainment—such as reading and arithmetic scores at the ages of 7 and 11,

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school by school. They would serve as bench-marks to indicate effectiveness of teaching; they would pick up problems at an early enough stage for remedial action to be taken; and they would enable parents to make the most appropriate choice of school for their children. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government will publish such information as soon as possible.

I conclude with an unashamedly anecdotal story which illustrates two points; first, that we in the United Kingdom do not always compare favourably with pupils' attainment in other countries and that we should be asking ourselves why; and, secondly, that it may not be appropriate immediately to resort to the phrase "financial resources" as a reason for our under-achievement. Some of your Lordships may be aware that I have frequently visited the little war-torn enclave of Nagorny Karabakh where 150,000 Armenians have been fighting a desperate war for the right to survive in their ancient homeland. The capital city of Stepanakert was subjected to sustained bombardment at the height of the war, pounded by 400 rockets every day. Children spent months in basements and cellars and there is probably no family which has not lost at least one member.

I happened to be speaking in Streatham and a teacher who heard me asked whether I would establish a link scheme with a school in Stepanakert. I duly took a parcel of letters and gifts kindly provided by British children to 12 year-old pupils in School No. 8—a typical Karabakh school—blackened, and gutted by bombing and fire, with no windows, no electricity and no light or heat. The temperature was minus 10 degrees and pupils were sitting wrapped in coats, scarves and gloves. However, within one hour of my arrival with the parcel from the Streatham primary school each of those pupils in Stepanakert had written—individually and with no help from their teachers—a letter to one of the British pupils. The letters were written in beautiful English with better spelling than would be found in many a British school. Yet all those Karabakh children read and write Armenian; they all read and write Russian. English is their third language and their third script. I could not help asking myself how many British children aged 12 could read and write fluently with accurate spelling in a third language and a third script, however well resourced our schools might be.

I offer that vignette as a tribute to the courage of those Armenian children and their teachers who maintain high educational standards in the midst of extreme adversity and as a challenge to us in this country to ensure that we use our not inconsiderable resources to enable all our children to achieve their full potential in every primary school throughout the land.

12.50 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I begin by declaring my interests as a member of Lancashire County Council and Education Authority, as the chair of the Association of County Councils and as a member of the Consultative Council on Local

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Government Finance. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on initiating a debate on this vitally important issue.

I wish to concentrate on two aspects of the need for increasing resources for primary education. Parents, governors and teachers understand that this year's settlement for education was inadequate. Concern has centred on school budgets but other areas are also under pressure such as special education, the Youth Service, adult education and discretionary awards.

Although there are worries about many aspects of resource levels for primary education, I wish to concentrate on one aspect in particular; namely, the case for reducing class sizes in primary schools. I thank the National Foundation for Educational Research for the work it has done in this field and the advice it has made available to me. Research evidence shows that reviewers of work on class sizes suggested that the effect of reducing class size was greatest for younger children, especially those who are low achievers or who come from socially or economically disadvantaged groups. I refer in particular to the STAR (student-teacher achievement ratio) research that has been done in America. I acknowledge that that research deals with class sizes of between 13 to 17 pupils and 22 to 25 pupils. I wish to draw attention to the findings of that research. The results were consistent. In reading and mathematics pupils in smaller classes performed significantly better and teacher aids did not redress the difference. The results showed a special advantage for ethnic minorities. Those differences continued four years after the original experiment. A similar study was established in Indiana.

There has been too little research into the reasons why small classes resulted in better achievement in the experiment. Much of the research undertaken was started late in the STAR programme. However, teachers of the experimental classes have identified the following benefits of small classes. They found that smaller classes were quieter, with fewer student interruptions. Students in smaller classes showed more appreciation for one another and a greater desire to participate in classroom activities. Potential disciplinary problems could be identified and resolved more quickly. More learning activities took place, and students participated more often in them. Teachers had more time to monitor students' on-task behaviour and were able to provide quicker and more thorough feedback to students, to reteach concepts as needed and to provide in-depth instruction. Greater individualisation of instruction in the smaller classes significantly reduced the need for reteaching and greater interaction among students helped them understand one another and increased their desire to help one another.

It is particularly important to consider that the greatest effect on learning is achieved when numbers are reduced to below 20 pupils in a class. That argument has been used in your Lordships' House by the Minister's predecessor that to make any noticeable or appreciable difference to the quality of education it is necessary to reduce class sizes to below 20.

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However, parents believe that the ideal level is difficult to attain, and they accept that the position may continue to worsen. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has demonstrated, in the past three years the provision for primary school education has worsened. The OECD figures in Education at a Glance 1992 show that within the UK the children of Scotland have a maximum class size of 33 pupils to one teacher. The maximums in other countries vary. In Denmark it is 28 to one—the average being 19 to one—in Finland the maximum is 25 to one in the first two years; in Spain it is 25 to one in the primary years; and in Portugal it is 30 to one and 20 to one respectively (the ratio of 20 to one occurs where handicapped pupils are integrated in the class).

I wish to refer to special educational needs. Approximately 20 per cent. of children are estimated at some time to have special educational needs. Approximately 2 per cent. of these have the most serious and severe special educational needs. Some 18 per cent. of the children with special educational needs are not statemented and are not protected in terms of the resources that are available to them. It is also the case that the concentration of children with special educational needs is not evenly distributed. I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I believe it is invidious to make league table comparisons between one primary school where 45 per cent. of its children may have non-statemented special educational needs and another where 10 per cent. of its children have such needs.

It is quite obvious that at all stages special educational needs of pupils place even greater emphasis on the need for additional teacher support and time, especially in the case of very young children. For teaching to be effective and for learning to be effective it is necessary for the teacher to learn about individual pupils and their problems. Not all children live in homes that are free of problems and difficulties. Many of our teachers find that to enable a child to learn properly they must establish links with the child's home and they have to spend time listening to the child.

Another argument that is used is that resource levels and class sizes are not important but that the quality of the teacher is the most important factor. I readily agree that the quality of the teacher is the most important factor, but effective learning necessitates periods of individual assistance for individual children. There must be a reason why,

    "Teachers in independent schools teach on average about 60 per cent. of the number of pupils taught by teachers in the maintained sector",

according to the Oxford Review of Education 1994. I ask your Lordships to question whether it is credible that parents are paying for—and schools are providing—an unnecessary and extravagant level of teacher resource for their children's education in the independent sector. I cannot believe that that is the case. We must begin to reverse the trend of larger class sizes and establish a situation where all our children can learn, study, develop and grow in their primary school years, with a smaller number of pupils in classes.

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Reference was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, to the need to improve the quality of the teaching profession. It is quite clear from research done in the late 1970s and early 1980s that many people had been recruited into the teaching profession who did not even have the equivalent of a GCSE O-level in mathematics. The solution is not to describe the problem but rather to consider effective means for rectifying that shortfall. I know from my experience in Lancashire that curriculum co-ordinators constitute one of the most effective ways of ensuring that teachers' professional skills are developed and enhanced. But that is a resource. Effective curriculum co-ordination involves supply teacher cover so that teachers can be absent from their own schools to work with a mentor in another school.

Teachers have to combat the fact that in society fewer people read and fewer people write and we live in a rapidly changing world. We must not castigate the teaching profession; we must understand its difficulties. Comparisons and league tables will not solve the problems in our education service. I remember a farmer explaining to me, when we were talking about a rural primary school's needs, that he had never found that you fattened a pig by weighing it.

It is critically important that we listen to the parents in this country. We can discuss research and we can bandy figures about, but at the end of the day the parents know that in a class of 40 their child will not get the attention it needs compared with a child in a class of 20 or 25. I support the view put in the Question.

1 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for enabling this short debate to take place. I hardly need declare my own stake in the educational system, or at least that of the Churches. The Church of England has 4,653 primary schools in the maintained sector, and the Roman Catholic Church, with which I am happy to say we now work in close partnership at all levels, has a further 1,874 primary schools. That is a substantial stake, into which the Churches together put immense resources, not only in terms of finance but also in terms of personal commitment, individual gifts, and so forth.

Our concern is not simply with regard to our own schools but with regard to the resourcing of the system as a whole. At all levels education is dependent on collaboration and co-operation between various groups. For it to be effective that co-operation has to be substantial and based on trust. That is particularly so in primary education.

In all education the first group to be considered is the children themselves, for whom the system exists and without whose goodwill it could not operate.

For many years a major player in this country has been, and probably always will be, the Government. The Government merit some congratulations. They have shown great commitment to education over the past years. They have raised the frequency of school inspections, given schools greater control over the

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budgets allocated to them, reviewed the national curriculum and raised the profile of religious education and worship in our schools.

The ability of the other groups involved in education to contribute to the benefit of the whole is affected by financial resources or the lack of them. The first of those groups is the local education authority. In my own county of Suffolk the LEA is widely admired in all quarters, irrespective of the political party which happens to be in control at any time. Its guidance and support has been crucial for teachers and governors alike in this period of great change, as has my own LEA's spirit of consultation and partnership with the local community. I have no doubt that that reflects what other local education authorities are achieving. However, at a time when the LEA needs to give even greater support to schools it faces a situation in which those resources are far more stretched.

The second group is the teachers. Teaching, thank God, is still a vocation. Most of those who teach do so because they believe in what they are doing and in the goodwill and happiness of their pupils, and in increasing their confidence and knowledge. Because teachers regard teaching as a vocation, the teaching profession today still works well beyond the call of duty in terms of time given and effort involved. Anyone who visits a primary school, which is the subject of our debate today, will recognise how true that is. In the past year the work involved in changes to the curriculum has imposed great strain on the teaching profession, and teachers have shown great diligence and professional expertise. However, it is a matter of concern to see how great that strain is and the high fallout rate of teachers leaving the profession because of stress.

Then there are the parents. Primary schools are particularly dependent upon parents for support, not only in the classroom but at all levels, and not only in respect of their own children but for the school as a whole. Sometimes the fund-raising efforts in which parents are inevitably involved are not for ancillary equipment but for what most would regard as essential equipment.

The final group is the governors. The governors are volunteers to a woman and a man. They are public spirited people who give a great deal of time and effort to the wellbeing of the school which they serve. I note how often today governors find themselves in the front line when difficult decisions have to be made. They can be opposed or criticised by teachers and/or by parents when having to make difficult decisions, particularly about staffing reductions. We need to bear them in mind for the voluntary work that they do for the wellbeing of society and of children. I stand alongside them in their difficulties.

The problems which the primary school sector faces are many. I want to cite three. The first is the need for adequate resourcing of the changes in the national curriculum. I do not want to expand on that point.

The second problem is the maintaining of adequate staffing levels of sufficient quality to do the job which our schools and teachers have been given. I have been

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interested in the exchange that has taken place on the size of classes and what the optimum size should be. Such observations as I have made on this subject lead me to believe that if the national curriculum is to work effectively the optimum class size should not be more than 25. However, in fact many classes are well above that figure, as has been mentioned.

Perhaps I may put in a word for small local rural schools. Many in my own diocese are in that category. In a small school it is inevitable that some classes will have a wide age range among the children within them. It is not uncommon for classes to span key stages, which leads to greater complexity in the teaching process.

The third area of concern is the maintenance and improving of school buildings. Many are old; and even those which were built post-war were built to a poor standard and are inadequate to meet the demands of the modern curriculum.

Perhaps I may make an aside on the question of the funding formulas. The historic formulas used to determine school budgets are seen by many primary school teachers as favouring the secondary sector. If there were any suggestion that they should favour the secondary sector even more that would be immensely unpopular and unjust. The balance of funding between the primary and secondary sectors needs to be addressed, but not by switching the current limited resources between the two. New funding has to be found to raise the level of resourcing per primary school.

Many people will be surprised at how much time a bishop spends in schools. I frequently visit the many schools in my diocese, addressing assemblies, going round classrooms, meeting teachers, governors and children. It is an experience which I always find of immense value. I say as an aside that what appears to be most popular in schools is when I go along with my suitcase and dress up in episcopal fancy dress for them! Apart from that, the joy that is often felt in our primary schools is substantial, the goodwill and commitment that exist are as great as they ever were.

As regards the improvements that have been made in our educational system, there have been welcome reforms; but it must now be recognised that the full benefit of those will only be felt in primary schools if the level of resources is found to enable the governors and teachers effectively to undertake the tasks which we give them, for our children. If that cannot be achieved, then we shall continue to see the bricks in the foundations of education being made without straw.

1.10 p.m.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for providing this occasion to discuss our primary schools. While it is commonplace to stress the vital role of education in any society, we in Britain have too often been inclined to focus at the top end: on the quality of our universities, of the graduates they produce and of the research they cultivate. This has had the costly effect of our neglecting the lower levels of education on which, of course, universities themselves depend to supply each new generation of their undergraduates.

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Happily, through the debates in recent years that led to the Education Act 1988 and the establishment of a national curriculum, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, the Office for Standards in Education and, more recently, the Teacher Training Agency, the focus has increasingly shifted to where it truly belongs, to the schooling of the under-16s and especially to primary education—to the crucial first four or five years of schooling. These are the years in which children should learn to read and write and handle numbers. They are also the years in which children should learn good behaviour, to know right from wrong, to respect others, to admire kindness and shun cruelty, to take personal pride in their appearance and in their achievement.

In none of these respects can we be satisfied with current outcomes of primary education, and thanks to widespread awareness of public inspection and of international comparisons, we are also more conscious in this country of our educational shortcomings than at any time, certainly within my own lifetime.

We have at last started taking real action, but we must be prepared for a very long haul with no simple quick solutions. We have started targeting failing schools, but that will not be enough. We now have in place a wider range of educational provision and are developing a culture of parental choice. But that will not be enough. It is high time we got rid of the large numbers of inadequate teachers that Ofsted tells us about this very day. But even that will not be enough.

Nor, I feel, is it enough to call for more resources. It is true that I find the sharp difference between the per capita expenditure at primary level and that at secondary level impossible to justify, but in all schools this per capita expenditure has increased with phenomenal steepness during the past 50 years without producing the results we need.

On 1st November we were warned of what amounts to a crisis in the teaching of basic maths in our schools. The joint report by the London Mathematical Society and associated bodies was not, however, complaining about a lack of resources: indeed, schools' failure to teach the elements of this crucial subject seems in part at least rather to be attributable to the over-provision of resources in the shape of calculators and computers which lead to the neglect of skills such as mental arithmetic and tables. Maths, we are told moreover, has been thoroughly undermined by teachers "imbued with trendy theories".

To move, for a moment, from purely primary education, on that same day, 1st November, the press carried reports of the recommendation to close Hackney Downs school. The failure here does not seem, at more than £6,000 per pupil, to have resulted from lack of resources either. Nor yet to that other focus of attention: large class sizes. Indeed, during the crucial period of the final opportunity for improvement, the school has had the good fortune of a pupil-teacher ratio of eight to one. No; what we read in the excerpts from the team's report published in the press is of teachers writing the words "very good" and even "excellent" on what the report describes as illiterate work,

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    "scrawled, inaccurate and obviously rushed",

in a school characterised by "poor teaching", "weak management" and the "uncontrolled behaviour" of pupils.

The pupils there are now to be transferred to Homerton school, but whether or not this has superior resources despite the complaints there of crime and bullying, one thing seems to me to be perfectly clear: Hackney Downs school and those like it have had resources beyond the dreams of the little Manx Cronk y Voddy school at which I received my early education—and incomparably superior financial and physical resources to those endured by the primary schools which serve the millions in South Africa's black townships.

I mention these because my wife and I visited one such mean and graceless township in September this year: Mamelodi, east of Pretoria. We were totally uplifted by the bearing of the hundreds of little boys and girls we saw and talked to. Their alertly interested eyes, their neat and clean uniformed dress—all of this was more redolent of prep school children in leafy Surrey than of youngsters who trudged to school along ill-kept, dusty and dispiriting streets from homes that ranged from humble four-roomed cubes to no-roomed galvanised hovels. Their enthusiasm for education was manifest, as was their well-disciplined behaviour, both in class and on the streets. When we later talked to the Provincial Minister of Education in Johannesburg, she unhesitatingly put it all down to family support for schooling and parental determination that their children should achieve a better deal than they themselves had had.

We should ponder the lesson of such examples. What our primary schools most need is something that money cannot buy: a total transformation in our national educational culture, and if resources come into it, they are primarily a matter of moral and aspirational resources. We need to write a determined and enthusiastic contract between teachers, parents and pupils; this contract needs to speak with confidence of our will to make the best possible use of the most precious resources we could possibly have: our children themselves.

Now, we all know of cases where just such a contract is already established. We all know of individual schools up and down the country; yes, and far beyond. The most impressive models I happen to have seen personally have been in the schools of Gibraltar. The models, the examples, the good practice exist, but we must find ways of publicising and spreading good practice of this kind.

None of this is to deny, of course, the need for adequate tax-derived finance. But it is deeply misleading and a dangerous diversion from more fundamental issues to give the impression that our educational deficiencies can be made good with mere money.

1.20 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

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To the question of whether or not we have enough resources in our educational system, the answer will always be no. The real question is: can we resolve the difficulty and can we find enough resources to meet certain problems within a certain time? I suggest that at the moment, if we have the will, we can. But we do not have the will. It is for us to make our own individual judgments as to whether it is a matter of screwing up political courage and facing certain economic realities. But the fact remains that more resources could be found. As a society we could put more economic resources into our schools and that would lead in turn to other types of resources being available.

By education, we mean instilling forms of knowledge into people via others. Therefore the first consideration is the teachers themselves and the ways in which they are prepared to provide information for their pupils. A teacher's state of mind must therefore be considered. Teachers must not be undermined; their position must be supported. In a society in which, increasingly, the pay packet determines status, we must look long and hard at the professional position of our teachers. Teaching may be a vocation for certain people, but very few can undertake a vocation when they cannot eat. We must always bear that in mind.

I shall concentrate for a few moments on the area of special educational needs. It is necessarily one in which class sizes are vitally important, especially when taking into account types of disability that are hidden. It will come as no surprise to many in this Chamber if I direct my remarks primarily to the issue of dyslexia. I must declare an interest as vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association. It is a non-pecuniary position. Indeed, if it were paid I think I should be entitled to overtime by this stage.

For dyslexics, class size is vitally important since the problem is very difficult to spot. We do not train our teachers across the board to spot this difficulty. With a problem such as this, all that one can realistically hope to do is get most teachers to understand what the problem is. Then, one will also hopefully get them to understand that they do not have enough expertise to go in and blunder around with the problem because they are inappropriately trained. In dyslexia, as in many other types of disability, the learning curve is different. Giving such people more, and harder, work does not help. It makes the problem worse. To overload somebody whose motor-neurones are differently connected—in their learning curve they have difficulty with fine detail, number sequencing, etc, and in certain situations with interpreting written symbols—in all disciplines in this type of environment or to give the wrong type of help, no matter how good-naturedly, can be destructive.

Thus, it is vitally important to have teachers trained to do the job properly. At the moment, teacher training is something of a curate's egg. It is good in parts. Unfortunately, this particular curate does not get a very good meal out of it, because the parts that are good to eat are not a majority. We do not have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with this type of environment.

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Also, if we consider that a figure approaching 10 per cent. of the population has this problem to a degree, and something like 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. of the population will need specific help because of it, there is a real difficulty. Class size is vitally important. If a child with this disability or one of a similar type is placed in a classroom situation—there is so much evidence to support this view that I do not need to back it up here—his first instinct will be to try to survive within the classroom situation by doing one of two things. First, he may keep quiet, smile happily and hope that the teacher will not pick on him and give him a hard time. The classroom environment is not primarily very friendly, owing to the presence of other children round him. His other mode of survival is to become disruptive. While he is being disruptive, the class cannot function properly round him and therefore he is not exposed to the ridicule of his peers.

If we give the correct type of training in this sphere—and there are many others where there are similar types of problem, with names which sound vaguely similar but which refer to very different difficulties; for instance, dysphasia—to enable the difficulty to be spotted, we should be able to eliminate major problems in the classroom. If the class is very large, with one pupil sitting quietly at the back not wanting to be noticed and one person trying to cause trouble, there is immediately a situation where one is ignored and another has all the attention in the world, though not for learning problems, and the people about them suffer.

Streaming cannot be done effectively in primary schools. It just cannot happen. Many are too small to allow for that. Pupils must be in classes of a manageable size where problems can be spotted. One thing we do know about teaching methods is that they vary with the individual child. There is no correct teaching method, even without any particular problems. Everybody has a different learning curve. Unless we address the correct training to deal with these types of difficulty, we shall not be fair to the children with those individual problems. We shall also be damaging those in the classroom who do not suffer from them.

1.28 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the gap. I heard about this timely debate only yesterday on my return from the United States. On the subject of resources to improve the quality of education in primary schools, I want to make one point only. It relates to the importance of raising the reading standards of all primary schoolchildren from the very earliest age.

Dramatic and relevant research has been done on this subject in the United States. Evidently from birth to the age of six, children, without anyone realising it, receive approximately 3,000 hours of pre-literacy training. That comes about from the mother or the father reading to the child, and even from parents watching children's programmes such as "Sesame Street" with them, and even putting magnetic numbers or letters on the fridge. In contrast, an inner-city child can receive as little as 20 to 200 hours of this kind of personal help which we

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call pre-literacy training. These figures refer to the United States. I believe that they are near enough to the UK experience to make it worth taking note of them.

I am particularly interested in a pilot programme run by the Waterford Institute in Provo, Utah. It gives each child in kindergarten—that is, five year-olds— 15 minutes on the computer on a very special focused programme, one that is focused to teach early learning skills. Findings in one school in Provo are indeed dramatic. The activities of the kindergarten tested were five: whether the child can recite the alphabet from memory; recognise 23 or more capital letters; match sounds with 20 or more capital letters; recite at least 10 nursery rhymes and songs; and, lastly, understand basic print concepts— that is, where to begin to read, in which direction to read, to circle a word or to circle a letter.

In 1994 measurement was taken of a class of five year-olds and the lower performing children. Those would be the weakest pupils, probably with special educational needs that have not been identified. One class was tested and the eight children who were performing worst and were clearly the least academic could do 15.6 per cent. of those activities. In 1995 the results with the same teacher teaching the kindergarten of that year showed that 87.5 per cent. of those lowest performing children could do those activities because they had used the software programme on the computer.

I commend the use of such a software programme for our kindergarten five year-olds. It will need initial investment, but if in this country the weakest five year-olds can be given a head start, they will have a much better chance of keeping up in the later stages of their schooling.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I have listened to the whole of this debate and, in the very few minutes before the winding-up speeches, I should like to say how extremely refreshing it was for me to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, who is certainly a member of the educational establishment. I do not think that I have ever heard a member of that establishment hit quite so many educational nails on the head in the time available, as he did. The disadvantage of hearing his speech is that I may be tempted to send him my maiden speech of some six years ago. But perhaps we can discuss that later.

To me, however, the ace in this debate was served by my noble friend Lady Cox. I recommend particularly to the Liberal and Social Democrat Front Benches that they refresh their memories on what she said and the story that she told of the children in Ngorno Karabakh. I have read some, if not all, of the letters to which she referred, written by children of 12 years-old in their third alphabet. When we consider the war torn and entirely resource-free class-rooms in which those children learned their skills, we must be very careful before we espouse the resource argument too fully. I might also add that my understanding is that those children are all taught in classes which are very much larger than 30.

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Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, mentioned the low academic quality of some of the intake to the teaching profession which, unfortunately, took place in the 1970s and more particularly in the 1980s. I hope that it is not entirely inappropriate for me to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether the question of "Mum's Army" has indeed been so ridiculed as to be entirely dismissed by the education establishment in this country. I should have thought that we have many experienced mothers who have looked after children successfully and who have a background of good A-levels and good degrees, especially in the shortage subjects.

Having listened to the whole debate this afternoon, I should have thought that that was an issue that the Government would do well to revive and resist the blandishments of the educational establishment.

1.34 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for providing us with the opportunity, even on a Friday in November, to discuss this difficult but vitally important question.

It is our duty to achieve, if we can, the greatest measure of justice and equity for the children of the United Kingdom and at the very heart of this debate has been the perception that there lies some unjustified disparity between the funding of children at the primary and secondary stages of education. Local management of schools has revealed many important issues about the funding of schools, because so much more information is now available. The House of Commons Education Committee reports HC45, I and II, have studied the question in great detail, to our infinite profit. The broad thrust of its reports is that the disparity between primary and secondary funding is too great and cannot be justified.

As we all know, the amount of money available for expenditure on particular items in a primary or secondary school is determined first by the Government, through public expenditure control and the standard spending assessment system; secondly, by the local authorities setting their budgets and LMS formulae; and, thirdly, by the schools themselves in the way in which they use their resources.

But the trouble begins when we realise that the total SSA for each part of the service is closely based on past spending patterns; and past expenditure on primary and secondary schools by LEAs obviously has a strong influence on the starting point for SSA distribution. Forecasting population trends is a notoriously difficult exercise and one would need the combined skills of the proto-Isaiah and Mystic Meg to be able to prophesy shifts in birth rate, family mobility and parent choice in such a way as to ensure fair funding for primary schools in every part of the United Kingdom. So the disparity remains a central problem and, as the Education Committee's first conclusion makes clear, creates difficulty in ensuring that:

    "the relative needs"—

I stress the word "needs"—

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    "of pupils [are] properly taken into account in assessing the levels of funding for each sector".

I hope that the noble Baroness, in answering this debate, will demonstrate to us how the Government propose to assess relative needs and build them into a formula which will be fair to the primary schools.

In its report, the committee makes a, to my mind, unanswerable case for a change on the question of class size and the staffing issues involved. I have been profoundly unimpressed with such pieces of research as have come my way which purport to prove that, except in exceptional circumstances, class size does not correlate with achievement. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, wisely said, common sense tells us that the one must affect the other. That fact is supported by all those parents who can afford independent schools and wish to have them for their offspring and who invariably say that class size and individual attention were one of the determinants in their choice.

That relates closely to the committee's Conclusion 13, in which it states:

    "In the light of evidence received, we are satisfied that there is insufficient monitoring and support time available to staff in primary schools ... To achieve the staffing flexibility required ... it is necessary to work towards a common pupil:teacher ratio across the full range of primary and secondary school pupils of statutory age".
Although we on this side of the House heartily concur and agree, we realise that that could cost an appreciable amount of money, particularly in the primary sector. That is why we support so strongly the alleviation of the disparity between primary and secondary schools.

All 31 of the committee's recommendations seem sensible and practical. So it is with a considerable sense of disappointment that one reads the Government's response, which, despite its smooth platitudes and specious side-steps, produces very little in the way of intellectual argument and seems complacently contented with the status quo. Without going through it in detail, it seems fair to say that the Government consider nearly all these matters to be an LEA responsibility and note that LEA decisions to shift expenditure will "eventually" be reflected in changed SSA sub-block; or, to put it another way, the Government's mechanism for funding will reflect LEA decisions which, over the past few years, have reduced the differential between primary and secondary sectors to some extent.

There is some obvious truth in that. But it has been reliably estimated that it could take as long as three years for the LEA decision to be reflected in the SSA sub-block, during which time the situation and the decisions may change two or three times and be complicated by new, related decisions, so that, in Shakespeare's phrase, "chaos is come again".

And, looming over the whole problem like a thunder cloud is the presence of that great arcane mystery, the common funding formula. Many well-informed people seem to be convinced that the operation of the CFF will be bound to take money away from primary schools. The concern centres on the consultation document on the top slice and the problems associated with splitting

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the ordinary, special and support costs in proportions of 86:9:5 and the financial disadvantage that that is thought to bring to local authorities.

Just what impact that would have on the present perceived disparity between primary and secondary funding seems impossible to compute and, indeed, I must confess that I—like many others—find the common funding formula and its implications totally incomprehensible. I hope that the noble Baroness, if she does nothing else in reply to this debate, can bring some light to this matter and explain to the House, and through it to a baffled world beyond, how on earth the system will work and how it will impact upon the primary school. I realise that the noble Baroness may have to take a little advice in order to say anything at all about the problem and I shall be perfectly satisfied if the department writes to me in due course. It is an important point.

The degree of complexity in the funding business between secondary and primary schools is utterly unparalleled in the education history of this country. It can be contemplated by large primary schools in cities. But in small, rural primary schools—and there are many of them—the complexity and inflexibility of the funding process and its constant, restless process of change, creates problems of such an order that time which should be devoted to teaching has to be surrendered to administration.

I spoke recently to a head teacher of a village primary school with small numbers, high standards and a wide catchment area. His greatest perpetual problem was staffing. If a dozen or so children in one year go on to secondary education, but only half a dozen come to school for the first time (and such figures are often not known until very close to the beginning of the school year), he faces a cut of around £5,000. The job of one staff member is instantly at risk in a school which may have a total staff as small as three. That cannot be lifted out of any reserves because there are no reserves. All possible resources have to be given to staffing. Fortunately, he has built up an excellent parent teacher association, but he relies totally on its ability, its charity, to raise at least £1,000 a year. He must have it.

Is it not, to say the least, unbecoming that teachers and parents have to resort to such wheezes as an auction of promises, a harvest festival sale, or the children themselves in villages miles away from their school getting up a pathetic little stall on a pavement and trying to sell Coca Cola to tourists to fund 0.5 of a teacher for another risky year? Last year, because there were no reserves in that school, the parents painted the school themselves, top to bottom. And because the school could not afford a television set, one father trained for and ran a half marathon simply to pull in the money through sponsorship.

Yet that head teacher is in some ways lucky. Very few inner city primary schools can boast a cohort of such supportive parents. What is not realised in the hallowed halls of the DFEE is that the paperwork now required from a small primary school has the same weight as that from a school five times its size. So it has to be done in the holidays, or at weekends, or at night.

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I hope that the noble Baroness, in her reply, will be able to explain to the House why such complexity, such opaqueness and such inflexibility and perpetual change are essential to primary school funding, because I can assure her that many of those at the sharp end, at the chalk face, whose profession and whose desire is simply to teach children, are sick and tired of it.

1.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, this has been a most stimulating debate on a very important issue and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for the opportunity to look at funding for and standards in primary schools. My noble friend Lord Henley regrets that he is unable to be here today to speak. I am happy to take his place. I only hope that I can do justice to the excellent contributions in the short time available to me. If at the end of the day I do not answer everybody's questions, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, in particular, I shall read Hansard carefully and ensure that everybody receives a written reply.

This Government have an excellent record in the funding of education and in raising standards in our schools. This Government are committed to high quality education. We have massively increased resources and introduced wide-ranging and fundamental reforms. Spending per pupil in nursery, primary and secondary schools has risen in real terms by almost 50 per cent. since 1979. Spending on teachers has risen by some 50 per cent.; on support staff by over 135 per cent.; on books and equipment by 55 per cent.; and on repairs and maintenance by 15 per cent.

Our funding bears international comparison. We spend a higher proportion of GDP on education than do Germany or Japan. In his most recent annual report for 1993-94 Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools said:

    "In overall terms the provision of resources is satisfactory".

Public expenditure on education, as on other services, must be commensurate with what the country can afford. Your Lordships will agree that a responsible government must consider the effect of public spending on the economy as a whole. This year's settlement was necessarily a tough one. Even so, the Government increased provision for spending on schools by over 1 per cent. The right reverend Prelate mentioned total capital allocations for county and voluntary controlled schools. This year they amounted to £426 million, a rise of 6 per cent.

We have made it plain to local authorities that we look to them to give priority to front-line services in schools. They can and should look at ways of cutting their costs. They still spend millions on running their central bureaucracies. A report from the Audit Commission earlier this year found that authorities had scope across their services as a whole for saving £500 million on the payroll for their administrative and clerical staff. As part of their discretion and use of funds it is also for local authorities to decide on the balance of funding between primary schooling and other parts of the eduction service. In recent years local authorities have chosen to reduce the disparity in funding between

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primary and secondary schools. Ministers welcome the active consideration of relative needs which that displays.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked about the common funding formula, as did several other noble Lords. The common funding formula is for secondary schools. That will remain the case in 1996-97. Any extension beyond that will have to take careful account of the position of primary schools.

The noble Lord also made much of class sizes, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Morris, and my noble friend Lady Brigstocke. But in fact, fewer than 30 per cent. of primary pupils were in classes of over 30 in January 1995 compared with more than 35 per cent. in 1979; 108,000 primary pupils were in classes of 36 and over, which compares with more than double that number—220,000—in 1979 before the work that we have done. Research also shows that intervention to improve teaching standards is much more important than class sizes.

Funding for next year is under consideration as part of the present public expenditure survey. I cannot predict the outcome of that consideration. What I can say is that Ministers have listened carefully and will take account of all the views expressed; and the Prime Minister indicated that education will be at the top of the Government's priorities as the economy delivers further growth.

Our solid record contrasts with the vague promises made by the opposition parties. The Liberal Democrats say that they will spend an extra £2 billion on education and will be happy to pay for that with an additional 1p on the basic rate of income tax. Yet when he visited the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election, the Liberal Democrats education spokesman, Don Foster, was forced to concede that his party's education proposals alone would require an extra 2.5p on the basic rate if they were to be implemented immediately.

However, money does not provide the whole story, as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, pointed out. It is necessary to have the right structures in place so that our professionals can deliver the quality of education at all levels to which they and we are committed. The Government's policy has been to build on those structures a policy which, as the chief inspector of schools has confirmed, is raising the quality of education. At the heart of this policy to raise standards lies the national curriculum and its assessment arrangements.

My noble friend Lady Brigstocke referred to the importance of pre-school training. That is why the Government are introducing for the first time an opportunity for nursery education for all four year-olds from April 1997 with pilots starting next year. I agree with noble Lords that it is particularly important in primary schools that we put emphasis firmly on the basis of literacy and numeracy. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, pointed that out, particularly in the matter of mathematics. But the national curriculum is doing that. Independent Ofsted inspections show that its introduction has already improved the teaching of

3 Nov 1995 : Column 1567

mathematics, especially in the early years where it is particularly important. That is better evidence than the personal opinions of some people.

In English, for example, there is now more emphasis on grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as on the need for pupils to be taught written and spoken standard English. The standards expected of primary pupils have been raised. And because we have reduced the content of the primary curriculum outside English and mathematics, primary teachers will now have more time to devote to teaching and the essentials of reading, writing and arithmetic.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, drew attention to the scope for improvement in primary school standards. But in English key stage 1, if 18 per cent. of the lessons were poor, 28 per cent. were found to be good or very good. It is important to remember the good findings alongside the warnings in the chief inspector's report.

There is no point in establishing national standards through the national curriculum if there is no means of measuring how far pupils match up. Rigorous and regular assessment of pupils' progress provides a litmus test of whether standards nationally are rising or falling so that parents can hold schools to account and so that teachers and parents can tell how individual pupils are faring. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, on the influence that parents should have. The Government's policies are directed to giving more information to parents and making schools more responsive to parents. While talking about parents, my noble friend Lord Pearson mentioned the "Mums' Army". Parents are always very useful but that is no substitute for trained teachers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, suggested that we should require primary schools to provide information about pupils' attainments. The principles of openness and accountability are very important. That is why all maintained schools are required to publish the national curriculum results of seven year-olds in reading, writing and mathematics and of 11 year-olds in English, mathematics and science in their school prospectuses and in the governors' annual reports. We are seeing the

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benefits of these reforms. More than 43 per cent. of 15 year-olds achieved five or more GCSEs at grade C or better in 1994. That compares with 33 per cent. in 1989. I could give the House many more figures but I am mindful of the time. I shall not give them at this stage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked about special needs. The code of practice for special educational needs will ensure systematic attention to the position of these pupils. This statementing process ensures that resources are deployed in response to their needs. As the national curriculum continues to bed down, we can expect to see standards at all levels continue to improve. Within four years nearly 25,000 schools will have been inspected. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for complimenting the Government on bringing in this testing and inspection. More than 19,000 of the schools to be inspected will be primary schools. Under the old, more ad hoc arrangements, there would have been a gap of close to two centuries between full-scale primary inspections.

The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, drew attention to the matter of Hackney Downs. Where schools do not improve, more radical action must be taken. In the case of Hackney Downs school, that meant the establishment of an education association. As your Lordships will be aware, that association has recommended that the school should close. The Secretary of State has told the school and Hackney LEA that she is minded to agree with its recommendations.

The Government have set new requirements for primary teacher training courses—many noble Lords have mentioned the standard of teaching—which require students to spend more time in schools learning from and working alongside effective teachers. I am well aware that I have been allowed only 11 minutes to speak and so I shall have to stop. The time was very short. I believe that there are one or two points which I have not covered. As I said at the beginning, I shall read Hansard very carefully and make sure that every matter that was raised is dealt with in the appropriate manner.

        House adjourned at four minutes before two o'clock.

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