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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I support the amendment strongly. It gets close to the nub of the matter in this part of the Bill and I took an interest in it at Committee stage, as I do now. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, said that my noble friend's amendment diminishes the importance of the size of classes. Perhaps we shall come to that when the Minister moves her amendment, if she is particularly concerned about it.
To publish annual performance tables of this key stage is an essential feature of the state school system. People cannot choose without information and the teaching profession in the area cannot tell how they are getting on without the information. It seems to me that parents, teaching staff and everyone else are perfectly capable of making distinctions between the possibilities there are for schools and what their problems are. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, shakes his head, but where it has been done it has proved to be the case. I know the party he represents does not like it--it is a historical matter--but the facts are that it is enormously helpful to everyone concerned. I support the amendment.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I support the proposal to reduce class sizes where possible, but I also maintain that it is the quality of teaching that is important. The Government have said that they have put aside a certain amount of money to assist in the reduction of class sizes. But I understand that it takes two or three years to train a teacher. When the Minister answers the question, can she say from where the additional teachers will come? If it takes so long to train teachers, it will take some time to find them.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I see the Minister rising and I am tempted to let her answer first because I would certainly not claim her ingenuity in explaining to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, why I cannot support what he believes to be such obviously sensible amendments.
I say that for a number of reasons. First, I welcome his clear statement, accepting that smaller classes are desirable and make a difference. Having sat on the Bench I still sit on during the lifetime of the previous government, that was far from clear to me when the other Benches were reversed and the noble Lord's colleagues sat where the Minister now sits. It is far from clear to me that they believed that smaller class sizes made any difference at all, whether at infant or later ages. So I welcome one part of his statement: the clear recognition that class sizes make a difference.
The noble Lord went on to say that they were not a universal panacea. I do not think that any of us who are advocates of smaller class sizes would say that that is the be-all and end-all to better education for children. Of course it is not. A bad teacher will not necessarily be a good teacher in a smaller class and a good teacher will probably be better than a bad teacher in a large class. But there is no doubt that a good teacher will be an even better teacher in a smaller class where such teachers can give greater attention to the children.
We are therefore now talking about the publication of performance tables, more usually known as league tables because once they are published at national level that is what they inevitably become. They become league tables like performance tables at any other stage which are published.
There seems to be confusion about whether the information is available and, if it is, whether it is secret. The information is available, it is made available to parents and teachers. So judgments can be made. Where it is not available in published form anyway is at national level. I continue to have misgivings about league tables that are published. I will have even greater misgivings should we ever reach the stage of publishing crude league tables at key stage one. I do not think that we will do that. I read the Minister's reply when we had a debate on this at Committee stage. I thought that she answered the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, very well. I recognise that he was at a disadvantage at the time because the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, had just run out of the Chamber with his notes. We all felt for him on that occasion.
Added value or value added are the buzz words. That is important. If this kind of information is to be able to make a valid statement about the effect of reducing class sizes we need properly to be able to compare the situation as it is now with the situation as it develops as class sizes become smaller. We are not in a position to do that. I argue that a better comparison which is fairer to schools would be between the improvement at the base line when they start and when they have reached key stage one. So I do not doubt that in the fullness of time the Government will move towards publishing such information at a national level, but I hope that, as and when it comes, it will not come in the crude form we have known in the past and will take account of the important differences.
However, it is also linked to the publication of information about class sizes. Again, I read the Minister's reply and I do not want to steal what I suspect she will say. Publishing class size numbers is all right at a national level overall. It is probably all right at the LEA level, although with some small LEAs of which I have experience even that can be distorted. However, publishing it at individual school level can be misleading. Facts and information are useful. Misinformation and misinterpretation of facts are very dangerous. That would be my concern if the two are linked in this way.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I was interested in the final comment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. This is not about scoring points or proving people wrong. The Government have linked class sizes with performance. That is the whole rationale for what the Government are doing because they believe that reducing class sizes to 30 will improve education.
There is a great debate going on about class sizes and I repeat something that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, as regards a poor teacher with a small class and a good teacher with a large class. Very often the better deal for the child educationally will be with the good teacher, whatever the size of the class. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, a good teacher with a small class can achieve that much more. Nevertheless, there is poor scientific evidence on the point and a great deal of debate on what is important.
One of the factors to which I give great weight is the ability of head teachers to make a judgment about where, if they had more money, they would spend it in their schools. The chances are that in many primary schools the head teachers would spend it on keeping class sizes down. But there would be some occasions when they would spend the money in another way where it would be more beneficial educationally. One of the factors I support is giving that choice to head teachers. The rigidity of the Government's policy means that priorities of both the LEA and the schools will be pre-empted by the Government without any flexibility whatever.
I find it difficult to understand what the arguments can be against obtaining the very information that will inform people about the effect of class sizes in our schools. If one has such information, bringing together the size of the class and the achievement of the school, it will be possible to make real, scientific judgments as to the effect of the policy. I cannot believe that the Government are not interested in seeing and evaluating the effectiveness of their policy.
I want to leave one fact on the table as a contribution to this extremely confused debate as to whether it is a beneficial policy; that is, the statistics that went with the Inner London Education Authority. It spent the most on children in schools. It was the highest spender in the whole country. It had the most generous pupil:teacher ratios in primary and in secondary schools and yet produced the worst education in the country. That is irrefutable; it is part of the record.
There is a good deal of confusion around the issue and, over time, this amendment would provide this Government and other governments with information that is important in order to make a real evaluation as to the effect of the application of the policy on class sizes.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I shall have to try to be ingenious again. When we last had the opportunity to debate the issues raised by this amendment in Committee, it was clear that there was a fair amount of common ground between us in several key areas. I believe that there still is.
We all share agreement on the need to make information publicly available, which enables comparisons to be made of the performance of our schools so as to enable us to inform the debate on standards in schools and to raise those standards right across the board. That is something about which there is common agreement.
We can also agree that the way forward in improving the data provided in school performance tables, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, is the introduction of measures of value-added by schools from one stage to another or possibly at the beginning of the stage through to the end of it. That is the only fair and just way of assessing the quality of what schools are providing in terms of the performance of pupils.
I believe also that we agree that the development of those value-added measures is complex and depends on suitable data on a pupil's prior attainment coming on stream. Research shows that prior attainment is the single most influential factor on performance in later years. I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said: that is, that we cannot use class size as a universal panacea. The Government are not doing that. There are many other factors which affect the quality of what is being provided. I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said about the quality of teachers. That is of enormous importance and is perhaps the most important factor of all. However, he raised the question of where the teachers would come from. The one area where we can be confident is as regards infant school teachers. Applications for teaching at that level are buoyant and courses for infant school teaching are over-subscribed. I do not believe therefore that there will be a problem in the recruitment of additional teachers at that stage.
I know that we also agree on the importance of early years schooling on the future development, both educational and personal, of the individual pupil and on the importance of reducing class sizes in those early years. I should like to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said in that regard. He is absolutely right. There is a great deal of evidence to support his position. However, the arguments against the amendment still stand.
We have also delegated the responsibility for publishing Key Stage 2 results in primary performance tables to individual LEAs, enabling them to provide additional data on primary school performance and to set the results in a local context, which is also important. We have encouraged LEAs to publish Key Stage 1 results alongside the Key Stage 2 results where they can obtain the data without adding to the bureaucratic burdens on schools, of which we must also be aware and take seriously. It is a significant point. There is always the risk, in introducing changes on this scale, that we shall place unreasonable demands on schools in checking or providing the necessary data for publication. We want to reduce the existing burdens overall. It is essential that we plan these developments carefully, taking all these issues into account and, wherever possible, balance any increases in burdens in one area with reductions elsewhere. I am sure that all noble Lords will share that objective.
For those reasons I remain unpersuaded that the time is right to introduce a full set of national performance tables at Key Stage 1. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and her noble friend Lord Pilkington both said that we need more scientific evidence. As a social scientist, I do not dispute that. But it is important that the kind of evidence we collect is genuinely helpful rather than misleading. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was offering more knowledge as a way to truth. I agree that that is a desirable objective. But to go back to my elementary statistics, statistical data must be both valid and reliable for it to be useful; otherwise it will lead to misinterpretation and a failure to understand exactly what the data is showing.
I do not in any way want to suggest that the Government do not agree with the publication of such performance tables. However, we must wait until we can base the related data requirements on the lessons learnt from the work that we are already doing on the later key stages. I explained to your Lordships during Committee that the collection of statistics on class sizes is not straightforward. It is based currently on a snapshot of the position in schools on a single day at the time of the annual schools' census. Nor do I believe that linking average class sizes with Key Stage 1 results in the way proposed will necessarily be helpful when assessing performance of schools at this stage or conversely, in assessing the effect on performance of reducing class sizes.
As the noble Lord knows, there is not one, but a number of factors at work. To link achievement to just one of those would be giving an incomplete picture. Therefore I accept that there is a need to do further work in this area. I accept that at some point we should be able to publish performance tables. I accept also that it is important to evaluate new policies of this kind; and that we shall do. But I do not believe that the amendment as drafted would be helpful to parents. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will agree to withdraw it.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, she very kindly gave me an answer to my question on infant schools, but what about the other schools in the education system? Where will the teachers be found to bring their class sizes down to at least 30?
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