|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that our traditional seaside towns still provide extremely good value for money both to British visitors and to visitors from abroad? However, does he further agree that many are showing signs of wear and tear from their glory days? What plans do the Government have to give specific help to the seaside towns?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord is referring in particular to Blackpool. He will be pleased to know, if he does not know already, that there are local schemes in Scarborough and Blackpool which go further than the existing voluntary schemes and which will achieve some of the benefits that have been identified in more universal schemes. I congratulate Scarborough and Blackpool on what they are doing and I hope that other seaside towns will follow their example.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, we believe that the selection of children by schools on the basis of ability is not in the best interests of children, is divisive and restricts parental choice. We want an education system that benefits the many, not the few, and for all children in all schools to receive good quality education.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept from me that we support very strongly the right of the Prime Minister and his ministerial and parliamentary colleagues to make choices for their own children to attend schools which select on the
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have already said that the Government believe that a non-selective system is one that is likely to serve the needs of all children. I do not believe that there is any support for a move towards a selective system. The noble Baroness's own government in 1996 produced a White Paper which sought to expand grammar school provision. They sent out a consultation document which pursued the idea of a grammar school in every town. That produced over 600 responses. Only 2 per cent supported the proposal and 69 per cent strongly opposed giving schools greater freedom to select pupils. I am answering the noble Baroness's question. Most parents do not wish to have the opportunity to send their children to schools which select by ability. Nor does the Prime Minister send his children to a school which selects by ability; it is a comprehensive school.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with what appears to me to be the case; namely, that more grammar schools became comprehensives during the period in which the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Secretary of State for Education than at any other comparable period? If so, what deductions does my noble friend draw?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Perhaps I may confirm the statistics. Between 1970 and 1974 when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Secretary of State for Education and Science--that was, I believe, her position at the time--she approved 91 per cent of secondary reorganisation plans submitted to her, more than any other Minister before or since. In answer to my noble friend, I deduce from that that the Conservative Party has not been the defender of grammar schools that the noble Baroness claims it to be.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I was there at the time. In using the expression, "Watch my lips", the Secretary of State was parodying the famous phrase coined by Mr George Bush. There may be noble Lords who do not remember it. My right honourable friend did not say that the policy was a joke; indeed, he made it absolutely clear at the time, and has done since, that there should be no more grammar schools. He made clear in many media interviews both before and after the general election that there would be no more
Lord Tope: My Lords, does the Minister agree that all that needs to be said on this matter was said yesterday in a one-and-a-half-hour debate on an amendment and will no doubt be repeated at similar length this afternoon when she repeats a Statement? Therefore, rather than reiterate well known entrenched views and statements, can the Minister tell the House what lessons the Government have learnt from their handling of this issue?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that this is a total distraction. However, the distraction has not been introduced by me but by the Opposition, who wish to take up parliamentary time on this matter. We believe that if we are to consider education we should debate the important questions of how to raise standards in schools, improve quality and narrow the gap between those young people who are extremely successful in our schools and those who fail. Regrettably, that gap was not narrowed under the previous administration.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the average performance of the top quarter of pupils at comprehensive schools is just as good as that achieved at grammar schools? Is that not proof that comprehensives are at least as effective as grammar schools in providing a first-class education?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can confirm that. I provide my noble friend and the House with the statistics. The average performance of the top 24 per cent of pupils in maintained comprehensive schools is slightly higher than that in grammar schools. The percentage of pupils in grammar schools who achieve five-plus grades A to C at GCSE and GNVQ is 95.4 per cent. The figure for a similar level of achievement in comprehensive schools is 100 per cent. That demonstrates without doubt that comprehensive schools are doing extremely well.
Lord Carter: My Lords, after the first debate my noble friend Lady Blackstone will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on selection in education. That will be followed by my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham who, again with the leave of the House, will repeat a Statement on inherited SERPS.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Baroness Whitaker set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall to two-and-a-half hours.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for an opportunity to open a debate on this subject at this time. There is a growing campaign to influence the World Education Forum in Dakar next month to agree programmes to deliver primary education for all children by 2015. That is not a new target. In 1990 at the predecessor World Conference on Education all 155 member governments promised to ensure a good basic education for all children by the end of the decade. When target dates move, sometimes the reason is greater realism, which at least would be evidence of commitment, but sometimes the reason is lack of political will. That is why a campaign is important now.
When we consider why education is so important in developing countries we usually think of primary education. Primary education is now acknowledged to be key to development. Those 130 million children who are not in primary school will miss out on a fundamental human right, but their countries will be deprived of the springboard which literacy gives to capability, income generation, better awareness of health, hygiene and nutrition and democratic participation, all of which are necessary prerequisites for economic growth.
The Department for International Development has significantly increased the proportion of funds that go to primary education, including new bilateral commitments of over £300 million, which is welcome. Is it enough if we look at the benefits? From Adam Smith on, people have lamented the lack of expenditure on this most valuable of public goods. To quote a more modern source,
The starkest of the indices of poverty--infant mortality--has a close correlation with the lack of primary education enrolment. I am indebted to Amartya Sen, in his brilliant book, Development as Freedom, for a comparison between the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and poor states in the much richer India, which shows that where the adult literacy rate is higher in those African countries, even with their poverty, infant mortality is lower. So it is particularly tragic that in some African countries such as Kenya--I was there last November--educational standards are dropping.
Amartya Sen draws particular attention to the gain from sending girls--two-thirds of the 130 million--to primary school, not only because their right to education is often not equally regarded but because of the value of women as agents of economic development and raisers of families, whose planning, health and nutrition depend so much on their mothers' knowledge; as economic decision makers and income generators in their own right; and as drivers to ensure that the community values school for children.
The World Bank agrees with him in ascribing a higher social return on investing in girl's primary education. A child's chance of survival can be increased by as much as half if the mother has been to primary school. Following this precept, the Government of Bangladesh instituted scholarship schemes to bring girls' attendance up to that of boys. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said,
But education needs time, as well as far more abundant resources of its own. When I visited DfID-funded projects in Mali for a small NGO whose board I am on--SoS Sahel--there was a striking difference between villages with piped water and those without. In those with standpipes, the children went to school. In the others, not only did the children have no time to play--and a village where the children do not play is a poignant sight--but the girls fetched water and did housework, and the boys worked all day in the fields. Sadly, education in Mali was not then compulsory. But in one village, a small amount of intermediate technology had enabled the women to grind millet mechanically rather than pound it laboriously by hand. This is what they did with the time they saved: some of the women made extra food for sale; some went to adult literacy classes; some learnt to produce a business plan for the cultivation and sale of produce; and, as a matter of fact, their husbands told me that the women had time to make more demands on them, which they appreciated. Even more significantly, the women also gave their daughters time: they sent them to school. In that region of Mali at that time one quarter of the boys went to primary school but only 16 per cent of the girls. It was the first year, I was told, that the whole year's enrolment stayed at school until the end of the year.
So provision for education needs to be kept in equilibrium with other necessary technical development. And it is fundamentally undermined by the catastrophes, natural and man-made, which sweep across countries which have so few defences. Oxfam, whose work and ideas make such a notable contribution to development--the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, will speak further about that--tells us that in Zambia a high proportion of teachers has died from AIDS, and in Angola and Sudan education expenditure has fallen by one-third since their lingering wars began.
To prioritise primary education does not alter the need for more targeted investment in secondary and adult education, including human rights education, tertiary, technical and vocational education and in
Before I conclude this rapid tour d'horizon I should like to make a more general point about the inseparable companion of education--research. The unique capacity of the international institutions can influence research towards much greater responsiveness to the needs of poor countries. If, for instance, a malaria vaccine or better crop productivity is to claim a share of resources commensurate with need, the international community needs to be more active, including in respect of intellectual property rights whose exercise can penalise developing countries. It is long-term finance that is needed for global public goods like humanitarian research, not loans from the World Bank; and research capacity needs to be developed in the countries themselves.
In conclusion, the World Bank annual report on the state of the world's poor last year said that progress in education had stalled. Since then, my right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development have succeeded in a splendid campaign to relieve the debt of the most heavily indebted poor countries. Is it not time for another campaign: to earmark money saved in debt relief for education, particularly primary education; to persuade donor countries to increase bilateral aid; to influence the international community to fund more appropriate long-term research; and to enable governments themselves to deliver the promise that all children will have a basic education? The effect would not only be humanitarian. Social stability, greater chances of peace and economic development follow from universal education. Indeed, they cannot arrive in its absence. I look forward to the contributions to the debate. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for introducing a debate on such an interesting subject. Education is the means to improve life for the many illiterate people in the world. The majority are the female population: the women and girls.
Today in The Times there is a detailed report of a scam whereby people from the UK are being asked to send money to help children to receive education in Uganda. Investigation has revealed that the money is not being put to the use for which it is sought. It is all very unfortunate and those who have been conned in this way will be badly hurt by the experience.
For the past 10 years, I have been the chairman of PLAN International UK, a child-sponsorship-based charity working to the benefit of children and their communities for long- term sustainable development. In the UK, our donors give more than £14 million a year and internationally PLAN raises more than £160 million a year. Twenty-seven per cent of the budget is spent on education.
Often, our donors are not well off, but they give because they feel that others have greater needs. It is important that donors can feel confident that the money is being put to good use and that the agencies to which they are entrusting their donations have a presence on the ground in the development country and a strict audit of expenditure.
Money is necessary, but quality and practicality of the education programme are also essential. There needs to be a long-term commitment and that will work well only if it meets the needs of the local community. I want to read a comment on Niger by Dr Sathya, the PLAN learning adviser, himself an Indian. He writes:
I myself in Tanzania saw a child sitting beside a hole in the ground with a small yoghurt mug on the end of a long stick waiting for enough water to seep in so that he could dip one cupful out and put it in a bucket and then return to the same task again. In a nearby village, I saw where we had installed a water supply for these people--indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, mentioned a similar experience--where the child with a touch of a hand could fill a bucket with water. That child had all those extra hours to go for education.
The same applies to fuel. If people can be helped to grow trees which will provide fuel, they do not have to walk miles through areas denuded of forestation in order to find fuel with which to cook food.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, mentioned the conference in Senegal. PLAN is running a project in Senegal where less than half the population is literate. Again, we are faced with an intractable problem in rural areas and are trying to set school hours which fit in with the children. We are undertaking a scheme in collaboration with the Senegalese Ministry of Education and two local NGOs. It is going well because the teacher, who is a young graduate volunteer, is hosted by the local community and lives with them. He is teaching a combination of traditional subjects combined with literacy, and it is working well. We must examine such practical plans if we want to create educational opportunities.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for introducing this important subject. I declare an initial interest; it is my connection with the Council for Education in the Commonwealth. Forty years ago, I was one of its founders as an all-party organisation and I am still connected with it.
In the limited time at our disposal, I want to emphasise two aspects. The first is the fundamental importance of the education aid budget within the overall development strategy. I should be grateful for some reassurance on that from the Government as I find it difficult to disentangle the figures. Will they confirm that the proportion of education aid as against our overall aid budget has not reduced in recent years?
My second and more pertinent point--I shall be a little more critical than the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker--relates to the need for a better mix of expenditure within the educational aid budget. All the emphasis in UK policy is on basic education. I agree with the noble Baroness that the needs are real and obviously there is an issue of priority; she emphasised the education of girls who will be tomorrow's mothers. However, it is important that a proper balance is maintained in our support for education in developing countries. Primary education takes place in local
In my view, we are better placed to help in terms of technical, vocational and higher education. Recently, UNESCO and the World Bank issued a report making a case for higher education development support and for a better balance in support of education in developing countries. I should like to use the opportunity of this debate to ask the Government to give some fresh consideration to that particular point.
It is most unfortunate that Britain's policy of full-cost fees for students from abroad and the reduction in the number of publicly funded scholarships under the aid programme have taken such a serious toll of students from the poorest countries. The number of students from the European Union, whom, very properly in my view, we treat as equals under our memberships obligations, has increased more than 10 times in United Kingdom universities since 1979, whereas the number from the poorest Commonwealth countries has declined by 49 per cent during that period. Moreover, some of the scholarship schemes introduced to mitigate the effects of full-cost fees have been cut back severely under DfID's Technical Co-operation Training Programme. They have been reduced from about 12,000 places 10 years ago to approximately 1,500 now. The Government should look carefully at those very serious figures.
DfID's 1999 departmental report published in March last year talks with legitimate pride but, perhaps I may add, just a little dogmatically, of concentrating its resources on primary schools and gender inequality. Of the 26 paragraphs in the annual report on education, only two deal with what are described--perhaps I am over-sensitive to the language but I sensed a certain disdain--as "more conventional scholarship schemes". They included such schemes as the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan.
Education is one of the essential cements that hold the Commonwealth together and give it meaning in the modern world. Yet the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan has been allowed to shrink and only eight or nine of the 54 countries now give awards. However, I believe that there is still a lot of life in it. The University of the South Pacific in Fiji, for example, now funds a fellowship for the first time. I pay tribute to the United Kingdom Government, who still play a full part by providing 200 to 300 places. Research into that scheme shows that approximately 30 of the former Commonwealth scholars or fellows have gone on to be vice-chancellors in universities in their own countries. Others have become Ministers and leaders of public life. It is a rich harvest, but one which at present is at some risk from our priorities and our own aid policy in this field.
I should like to plead with DfID to give a wider and more imaginative impulse to its policy of educational aid, battling not only against poverty and illiteracy but encouraging an educated leadership, capable of sustaining decent civil societies in their independent countries. I believe that DfID has achievements to trumpet, but it does not make enough of them; for example, with regard to books. DfID's reference to them is confined to worthy remarks about the battle against illiteracy, but there is nothing about the success of Book Aid, for example, which DfID assists with a grant of £200,000. When I was first involved with Book Aid some years ago, its annual income was £123,000; today it is £1.5 million from a variety of sources. It is promoting local publishing in Africa and fruitful partnerships with NGOs.
This is supposed to be joined-up government. Valuable educational work is being done, partly by DfID, partly by the FCO, and partly by NGOs with encouragement from various government departments; for example, in training journalists around the world in the skills of unbiased reporting. Both the BBC World Service Trust and the Thomson Foundation, of which I am a trustee, carry out good work in this area with funding from, among others, DfID. The BBC World Service on an FCO vote is now the world leader with 151 million listeners and a most powerful educational force.
There will shortly be a major conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in Canada. I should like to plead with the Government to give an imaginative lead at that conference. Perhaps they will seek a Commonwealth education charter or perhaps go on to create a Commonwealth education council, as they did in the business field at the South African CHOGM a year or so ago. But in a Commonwealth where 85 per cent of the citizens--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page