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Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords; and again no to the accusation that we are complacent. Nothing could be further from the truth. If one looks at the reality, there are no magic wands to wave which could instantly cure the serious problems that face all merchant fleets around the world that are competing with fleets operating to lower standards.

We must address the matter through proper port state control, attack sub-standard shipping and ensure that it is not welcome in our ports. We inspect 30 per cent. of all foreign vessels that trade to our ports. We have only to look at the figures to realise that. On the government assistance for training scheme no candidate has ever been turned down for lack of capacity. Beyond that, the development of certificated seafarers' scheme has also helped to take seafarers on to their second certificate of competency. We realise the value of a strong merchant fleet and do not wish to pursue some of our European neighbours into an ever-increasing spiral of subsidy. We want targeted efficient measures and proper training.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, to that specific end, will the noble Viscount consider convening a meeting of the Chamber of Shipping, of the relevant unions, of the training colleges and other interested organisations to consider the serious shortfall in availability of cadets and to consider what all of them, including the Government, can do to improve the situation?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I meet those bodies on a regular basis and we discuss the issues. I am certainly prepared to call any additional meetings that they might wish to propose in order to consider the issues on a group basis. It is important that we produce properly qualified merchant navy officers, not only for the direct seafaring trades, but also for the associated, shore-based industries, on which the country has built such a reputation.

Educational Standards: Ofsted Report

3.25 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said on Monday, every school should study the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of all the nation's schools set out in the Ofsted report referred to. The schools should set

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improvement targets and choose the most effective teaching methods to deliver them. It is clear that the reforms collectively are improving educational quality but further action will be taken.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I hope that I live long enough to share the optimism that he has ventured to express. Meanwhile, however, after years of apparently tolerating a wide range of educational modalities and fashions (some of them pretty daft ones), is it not time to give a firm steer to all schools towards: first, whole class-teaching; secondly, tackling the teaching of reading and literacy through the matching of sounds to symbols (in accordance with the basic phonemic structure of English orthography); and, thirdly, the teaching of maths by means of tables and mental arithmetic, possibly with the banishment of pocket calculators in the early years of schooling?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to refer to the report. One should make the point that it came forward with positive evidence and showed that much good is happening in the schools. As regards the noble Lord's point, I can assure him that Her Majesty's chief inspector stressed in the report the importance of phonics. Paragraph 9 on page 9 states:

    "The place and purpose of teaching phonics, however, rarely features strongly in school reading policies. Consequently, the teaching of phonic skills is not as thorough as it should be and is often used mainly for those who are showing signs of reading failure rather than as an established part of a well-structured reading programme for all pupils".
The report said much the same about the teaching of mathematics. I can assure the noble Lord that we are looking at the testing and assessment arrangements for Key Stage 2, age 11. We are considering suggesting that those are done without the use of calculators. As regards whole-class teaching, the chief inspector also made clear that he felt that the inspection evidence showed that whole-class teaching, which is well suited to the efficient communication of new knowledge and understanding, figures significantly in seven-tenths of all lessons judged to be good.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, is the Minister aware that hard on the heels of the report comes the report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research which highlights an alarming and widening gap in maths performance between children in Britain and their counterparts on the Continent? Is it not a fact that despite having been in school for 18 months longer than their Swiss counterparts, our 11 year-olds are lagging behind them in mathematical achievement by as much as two years? How does the Minister account for that?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not accept the validity of some of those comparisons. International comparisons are always difficult to make, particularly if they are to be fair between the different countries. Those comments were somewhat simplistic in comparing purely arithmetic without looking at some other aspects of maths. However, as the chief inspector's report makes

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clear, there are signs of concern in some schools and a degree of returning to traditional forms of education could only be for the benefit of most pupils.

Lord Moyne: My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied that the current Reith lecturer's views will be helpful as regards standards of English?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not sure that it is for me to comment on her own particular views. I have not yet heard her lectures; I believe that the first was broadcast only last night.

We take the teaching of English very seriously. That is why my right honourable friend made it quite clear, in an announcement earlier this year, that she would be setting up 20 literacy and numeracy centres aimed at improving the teaching of English.

Baroness David: My Lords, there clearly are some inadequate teachers. What are the Government planning to do about them? Will they improve on the amount of money that will go to in-service training; or are some inadequate teachers to be got rid of?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we want to improve the training of all teachers where possible. The Teacher Training Agency will be looking at just that. As the noble Baroness will recognise, there are some teachers who quite obviously should not be in the teaching profession. It is a matter for the schools and for LEAs--so long as they do not have some rather ridiculous "no redundancies" policy, as I understand some LEAs do--to sack those teachers who are inadequate and unable to deliver the right service to the pupils they are supposed to be teaching.

Baroness Young: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the establishment of Ofsted has enabled us to judge far more accurately what is happening in schools? Its establishment was, I recall, fought vigorously by the party opposite when the legislation was passing through this House. Will my noble friend further agree that it now enables us to identify those schools that are weak, and also under-performing teachers, so that we can attempt to improve standards?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to the importance of inspection, and of Ofsted. We now hope to be able to inspect schools about once every four years--as opposed to roughly once every 200 years in the past!

My noble friend is also correct to point out that Ofsted and the inspection regime were opposed by the party opposite, as was the national curriculum, the greater choice offered to parents, testing and performance tables--which we are now extending to primary schools--and the provision of greater information to parents.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, bearing in mind that the recent report refers largely to the primary sector, are the Government preparing to suggest increased funding--even targeted funding--for

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that sector? Or do they simply intend to require local authorities to transfer funding from the secondary to the primary sector?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I suspect that the noble Baroness has not read the report, which makes it quite clear that the problem in any sector, primary or secondary, is not a lack of resources. The problem very often is inadequate teaching. That can be addressed by the schools themselves.

Defamation Bill [H.L.]

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the law of defamation and to amend the law of limitation with respect to actions for defamation and malicious falsehood. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.-- (The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

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