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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I am afraid I do not accept what he says. I know that the noble Lord is very attached to the scheme he introduced as Secretary of State for Education and Science some time ago. That scheme took a tiny number of bright pupils out of local state schools and put them into private schools. The scheme involved very, very small numbers. It did nothing for the 98 per cent.--or, rather, the 99 per cent.--of pupils left behind in the schools from which those pupils had been removed. This Government are determined to make it possible for all children in comprehensive schools in our inner cities to get the education they deserve. It is not a question of plucking out small numbers.
The noble Lord used the strong words "ideological bigotry" in relation to the abolition of the scheme. It may be appropriate to say that the introduction of that scheme was ideologically motivated. I would not want to accuse the noble Lord of "bigotry" because I think that such language is unnecessarily strong and even a little abusive.
This programme is about developing opportunities for children in their own neighbourhoods, in their own schools. It is about local schools being of really high quality. I am amazed that noble Lords opposite are not welcoming that.
Lord Sheppard of Liverpool: My Lords, first, does my noble friend agree that schools in areas such as I knew in east London in the 1950s and 1960s suffered considerably because the brightest children in the neighbourhood were siphoned off to selective schools? Will this scheme help the brightest children to play a part in the leadership of their own schools while they receive additional help?
Secondly, with reference to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, does my noble friend agree that with regard to priority areas, "priority" needs to mean priority and not trying to spread the butter too widely over everything, and that schools in priority areas have needs that are different not only in scale, but in kind?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the leadership that able, committed, motivated and bright pupils can provide in a local comprehensive school. We all know from countless pieces of research the role of peer group pressure and the role that pupils who really want to get on can play in encouraging others. The ethos of a school can be changed by those young people staying in their local areas and working with their teachers to ensure that their school is a success rather than a failure.
I accept what my noble friend says about the great needs of priority areas. We know that many inner-city schools have lacked the resources they need to do the excellent job they all have to do, as required by the Government. One of the really important outcomes of today's announcement is that they will have both the extra funding to help them to do that and, just as importantly, they will be linked with schools which have demonstrated by their success that they can achieve things that some other schools do not. This Statement is about trying to raise quality and standards in all our inner-city schools through such a mechanism.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister what I think are two rather practical questions. However, perhaps I may begin with a short statement about the enormity of the problem she faces. As I am sure the noble Baroness knows, there are about 160 very despised secondary modern schools left in England. They score better overall than 700 comprehensives, mostly in the inner cities--that is, better than one-quarter of our comprehensives--and in maths and science, they score better than 900 of our comprehensives--that is, better than one-third.
My first practical question is this. In view of the enormity of that failure in inner-city areas, does the Minister really think that simply bringing in someone from another school, holding a summer school or possibly introducing a Saturday morning school will help? The noble Baroness has been in the academic world almost as long as I have, and she knows as well as I do that it is continuous good teaching from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. that helps both those who are low achievers and those who are high achievers. Does she not agree that the Statement is merely rhetoric when faced with the reality of the figures I have quoted? That is my first question. I put it without ideology but as a former teacher.
I come to my second practical question. The noble Baroness knows, and has said, that the culture of the inner cities, particularly in families which have not received higher education, is often, sadly, against learning. Yet she believes she can persuade the children of those families, who are wholly different from those at private schools, to spend their summer holidays on university courses. I can assure the Minister that that has been tried, that some such children go, but that many do not. To expect such pupils to attend school on a Saturday morning when their friends are taking their girlfriends to the cinema is demanding a lot, even from a middle-class child. In other words, has the Minister faced the total reality of the failure of the inner-city comprehensives? I agree that that reality is terrible. I ask that because these measures will not achieve what she hopes.
As regards summer schools, reality flies in the face of what he said. The Government have set up a number of such schools. Some of them started last year for pupils to develop literacy and numeracy skills. Large numbers of pupils attended from disadvantaged families in the inner cities. The noble Lord is being grotesquely unfair to many of the parents who want their children to do well. As yet some of them may not have understood the importance of learning, but many of them have. We should give them the tools to make it possible for their own children to succeed just as well as those children who attend private schools.
Lord Bridges: My Lords, it would appear that the Statement is not universally popular in all quarters. Therefore, perhaps I may give a particular welcome to that part of it which announces the establishment of summer schools for 16 and 17 year-olds to be taught foreign languages. That follows a recommendation of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Community in which we commented on the inability of many young university students to take courses in foreign universities because they felt that they did not have the linguistic capacity to cope with them. Therefore, I welcome this step which appears to be in the right direction.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for his comment about summer schools for 16 and 17 year-olds. The ability of such students to learn or improve their foreign languages is just one example of how children from the inner cities can be helped. Many children from more privileged backgrounds are sent abroad and gain the opportunity to improve their language skills by that means. Some pupils cannot afford that. However, it is very desirable, where possible, for inner city comprehensive schools to try to arrange exchanges, but I appreciate that it is sometimes difficult. The summer schools can be an important way of supporting learning of this kind.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for fleshing out what we already know from Radio 4 and other sources. It is very unfortunate that the media will have no interest whatever in the exchanges in this Chamber and probably those in another place. Therefore, our function is not to form public opinion, but to have some effect on government, which I hope the noble Baroness will allow us to do.
As regards mentors, the noble Baroness touches on a subject which is close to my heart as chairman of the DIVERT Trust, which provides mentors for children in difficulty in schools. I suspect that the philosophy of the noble Baroness or of her Government is different from ours. I would like to know a good deal more. The noble Baroness has often told us that her Government are engaged in joined-up government and joined-up thinking. One thing that clearly needs to be joined up is the part of a child's life which is lived at school and the part lived outside school. The mentors are described as "learning mentors". Does that mean that they are concerned only with the academic life of the children? If so, that will greatly inhibit their work. If that is the case, will they have formal links with the mentors from the voluntary sector who are looking after the other aspects of the lives of those children?
The noble Baroness is injecting a new creature entirely into the culture of every school in question. That will have considerable effects on the social and other structures within the schools. Can she tell us where these learning mentors will fit in? We read in the main report that they are based in the schools, but will they be in the staff-room? Will they be answerable to heads of department, the deputy head or the head of the school? What status will they have not only in the eyes of other teachers but, most importantly, in the eyes of the children themselves? They will be an invaluable source of feedback on the way in which a school is working. Will that be capitalised on and will the opinions be fed to the school and the local education authority and, if so, how?
Finally, the paper which is the precursor of the Statement says that each secondary school pupil in the areas will have access to learning mentors. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell us how many pupils there will be and what the ratio will be as between the pupils and the 800 mentors. It is beginning to look as though the Government are providing a very small number at a cost--I am sorry to hear--of £200 million to the other schools. As I understand it, £150 million is being provided as new money. If I misunderstood the noble Baroness I am sure that she will be glad to have the opportunity to put that right. It appears that £200 million will come from the general educational programme. I am very relieved to see the noble Baroness shake her head.
As a mentor at heart I cannot refrain from welcoming this approach, provided that it is properly thought through and that it is introduced in the schools in a way that is amicable to their culture.
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