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Baroness David: My Lords, I was on the Front Bench at that time. What we opposed was the prescriptive nature of the national curriculum.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for correcting me on that particular matter, but I did not notice the sort of support that we should have been getting on the general subject of a national curriculum. I accept that the precise design of the national curriculum was not as it might be at the beginning. That was why we asked Sir Ron Dearing to review it, and that was why we came forward with further changes to the national curriculum late last year. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, spoke about the need for stability. I should like to make quite clear that there is now a moratorium on any further substantial changes in the national curriculum. That moratorium will last for some five years and, I believe, will allow schools the stability that they feel they require.

As noble Lords opposite will be aware--and, again, as opposed by them--we introduced the regular assessment of children at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 that is now in place. Last year we had a more or less complete operation of those tests. Again, I believe that that was opposed by the party opposite, but I hope that it is now accepted.

Performance tables were published last year. They are now well bedded in and have proved to be extraordinarily popular. Indeed, one only has to look at the amount of coverage that they receive in newspapers to realise just how effective they have been and how popular they are. Again, they were opposed by the party opposite but now, I hope, are accepted. I believe it was a Mr. John Rae, not a noted supporter of this Government, who said that he believed that the performance tables had probably done more than anything--more than any other reform--to improve standards in our schools.

Perhaps I may touch on a few points relating to performance tables. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, asked about the inclusion of added value and whether a review was under way to look into added value in the performance tables. I can tell the House that it is not a review as such, but we have asked some academics at Newcastle University to conduct research into possible ways in which added value might be included. I would only be happy to go down the line of including added value in the performance tables if I felt that they would still maintain their simplicity; that they would still be user friendly; and that they would still serve their purpose of encouraging schools to improve their standards. Moreover, we have seen yet further

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improvement through the creation of the Office for Standards in Education. I believe that we now have very effective measures for dealing with the failing or poorly performing schools.

I believe that wider diversity and choice--and I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for stressing the importance of wider choice in terms of improving and increasing parental involvement--are surely desirable in their own right. However, I also believe that they have a beneficial effect on quality. Education cannot reach the highest quality unless it caters for special needs and talents.

I turn now to our steps to increase diversity of provision; for example, by encouraging the formation of city technology colleges. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Brigstocke for bringing to the debate her expertise on the matter. The formation of city technology colleges and the other specialist schools have helped children with certain special talents or aptitudes to get the best education for themselves as individuals.

Enhancing choice also plays its part in raising standards. Where there is choice, there is competition. A monopoly of supply in any service presents a threat to efficiency and to standards. I do not believe that education is exempt from that general rule. There is also the widening of choice, for example, through the expansion of the grant-maintained provision--again, that was opposed by the party opposite; but I dare say that now, with increasing numbers of Members opposite making use of grant-maintained schools, we shall see a change of policy on that front in due course--and through the assisted places scheme. We believe that that helps to stimulate yet higher standards in schools generally.

Similarly, we have not neglected further education and the vocational training for those who leave school at the age of 16. Again, that has been very much strengthened by the merger of the two departments into the Department for Education and Employment. I believe that it brings a new rigour to all the post-16 qualifications and, in particular, it brings a greater comparability and a shared status between the two--that is, the vocational and the academic strands. That is what we seek to achieve.

Perhaps I may briefly say a few words about the role of local authorities. I was saddened by the somewhat negative approach of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to our attitudes to all local education authorities. Like many other speakers, I have served in my time as a member of an LEA. We accept that LEAs have an important role to play, even in the areas where there are grant-maintained schools. We accept that they have a role in planning the supply of school places, either alone or in areas where there are significant numbers of grant-maintained schools, in conjunction with the Funding Agency for Schools.

We also accept that local authorities help to promote higher standards in those schools that they continue to maintain. We also accept that they provide a number of services for pupils in both LEA schools and grant-maintained schools--such as educational

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psychology, educational welfare services and the home-school transport. Further, they provide education, as has been referred to, for pupils not in schools for one reason or another.

Clearly the role of the LEAs has already changed over time. No doubt it will continue to change with changing circumstances. It would not be useful to speculate on that aspect. However, I can assure the noble Lord--and, indeed, the LEAs--that they do have an important role to play and that we and Ofsted are helping them to play that role effectively. I certainly reject the implied criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Morris.

I turn briefly to the question of funding and the levels of funding. First, I should like to refer back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, in an earlier debate last year. Although I was unable to respond to the debate on that occasion--my noble friend Lady Miller did so--as I remember it, the noble Lord made it quite clear that merely pouring more money into education was not necessarily the solution and that, if there was a solution whereby one merely poured more money into it, the problems that there are or might be in education would have been solved many years ago.

However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that we have spent a great deal on education and have not under-resourced it, as he would put it, over the past few years. Indeed, we see an extra £878 million going to schools in 1996-97. I reject the allegations from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that that is not a real increase. That is a 4.5 per cent. increase in funds available from the taxpayer to the LEAs. How the LEAs manage their own budgets in such a way that the increase reaches the schools is obviously a matter for them. But I am sure that some will manage to do so.

We have also seen spending per pupil in the primary and secondary schools increase since 1979 by some 48 per cent. Spending per pupil on equipment rose by 55 per cent.; spending per pupil on repairs and maintenance rose by 15 per cent.; and spending per pupil on support staff rose by about 138 per cent. Therefore, I believe that one can say that the allegations that we have seriously underfunded education over the years are simply not true.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, also based many of his arguments on a somewhat odd report from the World Economic Forum, The World Competitiveness Report, that tried to imply that the United Kingdom was way at the bottom of the pile in terms of educational achievement. I have to tell the noble Lord that the method adopted by that report is not exactly the best way to compare the supply of skills across countries. It is based on incomplete and disparate statistics and arrives at some pretty curious results. Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example. I should point out to the noble Lord that the top two countries on availability of skilled people in the 1995 report turned out to be the Republic of Ireland and the Philippines. That almost certainly reflects the poor demand for skilled people in those economies, rather than an inherently better education and training system.

It is also noteworthy that Japan stands in 22nd place, some two places below the United Kingdom. As part of the commitment that we made in the competitiveness

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White Paper, I can say that the skills audit is currently carrying out a more detailed and robust examination of how the skills of the UK workforce compare with those of our colleagues and competitors in France, Germany, the United States and Singapore.

I see that my time is rapidly drawing to an end. However, there are just one or two points that I wish to address briefly. I was somewhat alarmed by the sceptical approach taken by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky on nursery education. That is certainly something that I hope to discuss with him in due course. I trust that my noble friend will take part in the proceedings on the Bill when I have the pleasure to introduce it to your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, attacked the proposal from the other side. That probably means that I am somewhere in the middle and, as a result, I hope that we have got it about right. But those arguments are best left for the Second Reading and Committee stage of the Bill.

The last principal point I wish to address is on the question of voluntary-aided schools, the opt-out and the proposals that the Government put out for consultation. We are accused by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, of ignoring the advice of bishops. I have heard worse sins in my time but no doubt ignoring the advice of bishops is a pretty major one. I assure the noble Lord that we did not ignore the advice of the bishops. We issued that paper for consultation. The noble Lord knows exactly what consultation is. As the right reverend Prelate made absolutely clear, we then did consult. We consulted the bishops. There was no U-turn. We took account of what they said and acted accordingly.

I have to say in passing that I was somewhat surprised by the comments of one of the bishops. I have to say to the right reverend Prelate that I do not think it was a bishop from the established Church of this country but another bishop who made it clear that, in his words, grant-maintained schools were contrary to the teachings of Christ. Obviously my knowledge of Biblical matters is not as great as that of some right reverend Prelates but I am certainly not aware of that passage in the Gospels. But if someone can bring it to my attention I should be more than happy.

As I hope I have made clear, high quality education is crucial to both individual and national interests for all of us. But we need to be quite clear on just how high quality education is to be achieved or, more specifically, who is going to achieve it. The answer must be those closest to the point of delivery--the staff and governors of individual schools, colleges and universities. External agencies like funding bodies, local authorities and my department can obviously help, but the key responsibilities must lie with the institutions themselves. We believe in giving institutions power to match those particular responsibilities. That is why increasing institutional autonomy has been such an important part of our education reforms, and that is why we believe that the grant-maintained sector has given so much to so many and now covers something of the order of 20 per cent. of all secondary children.

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I fear that I am beginning to trespass on the time of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. Let me briefly end. Education policy is attracting more attention, within this House, within Parliament as a whole and within the country at large, than it has done for many years. Whatever the reasons for that, I very much welcome it. We need debate and we have had a jolly good debate this afternoon. We need constructive discussion of how best to meet the needs of children and young people. We need information and evidence on the effectiveness of different approaches. This Government have absolutely no reason to fear such discussion--least of all the focus it brings to the issue of quality in education. Quality has been the touchstone of our policies throughout the last 16 years and it will continue to be so for the next 16 years.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, slightly to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this debate. I am most grateful to all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have taken part. I specially enjoyed the distinguished maiden speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire--though from a fellow member of the professoriate I would have expected no less--and from my noble friend Lady Hayman. If she is a retread, who wants a new tyre? I even enjoyed the characteristically clear and courteous speech of the Minister. I did not agree with much of it of course, but it was informative, helpful and thoughtful and I am grateful to him for it. All of us want high quality education for all our children and that is the heart of the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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