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Noble Lords: Yes!

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, I am open to advice on how to use it. I fear that I would not stand a chance among the 110,000 students who link up to the OU's online teaching at home.

At this time of year in particular I meet hundreds and hundreds of graduates at weekend degree ceremonies. Many of them are very young and they get through their studies in record time and many are more mature and their studies take them a long time. There are housewives, men with full-time jobs, people with homes to look after, people with children to bring up and people who have to take time off to look after elderly relatives. Many come to me on the platform and whisper, "It took me six years to get here, but I did it in the end and this is my proudest day". It is a most moving experience for all of us who take part in those ceremonies.

I associate myself with so many of them because I too was a slow starter. It took me five parliamentary elections and 16 years to reach the other place. My best friend said that I could have qualified as a brain surgeon in that time and my second-best friend said, "She ought to pack it in". But I do not complain. Being here and being Chancellor of the Open University are both great privileges.

I conclude by rejoicing in the success of that university and the learning society that I believe that it is helping to create. I do so by inviting today's policy makers to show some of the vision that made that possible some years ago.

3.50 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has given us the opportunity to debate the learning society. I, too, admire her stamina in taking part in three debates in two days.

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It is my great honour and privilege to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on her outstanding maiden speech, full of the wisdom and order which, if I may say so, we have come to expect of her over the years. The noble Baroness's reputation and skill go before her. She is a most welcome, elegant and dynamic addition not only to this House but to the women Peers' room--with or without computer! She is a hard act either to precede or to follow.

Today I shall focus on the role of families and schools in setting the foundation for a learning society, as I believe that they are key agencies. As others have done, I shall argue that an holistic approach to education is necessary. Levels of adult illiteracy have remained constant and high in this country for the past 20 years. If we think that literacy is one of the symbols of a learning society, clearly new approaches are needed.

I believe that those approaches must put people, not topics of instruction, at the centre of learning. It is about creating a "can do" society rather than a "cannot do" one; and "can do" societies need structures which enable and encourage people to be confident learners.

I do not believe that an emphasis on more academic targets, important though they are, necessarily encourages lifelong learning. Indeed, they may set up unpleasant associations with learning at an early age unless other support is involved. Learning is not only about getting to grips with helping individuals to pass exams or reach academic targets; learning has many strands. It is about motivation to learn, enthusiasm to continue to learn, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said, and to enjoy learning. It is not just intellectual; it is about creativity and curiosity. It encompasses the arts and sport. It includes manual as well as academic skills, and appreciation of other cultures and languages. It involved what some psychologists have called "emotional intelligence", which is valuable in itself and which also supports other kinds of learning.

Children can be taught to challenge constructively rather than merely conform and be satisfied with passive rote learning. Children are curious. What happens to that curiosity as they grow up? Do we forget that the processes of learning are often more interesting and valuable than the outcomes?

The diverse strands of learning must, I believe, inter-relate if we are to deliver a context for holistic and sustained learning. Unifying the strands means that policy-makers from different disciplines must also inter-relate. There are instances of those relationships; for example, between the Departments of Health, Education and Employment, and of Culture, Media and Sport. I am trying to avoid using the term "joined-up".

I was at Lord's Cricket Ground last week where rain, hail and wind greeted the first day of the cricket season. The Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, was launching an initiative where major sports bodies contribute at least 5 per cent of their TV income towards developing grass-roots sports

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facilities and activities. Chris Smith talked about investment and commitment being necessary to make a difference to development and achievement in sport.

I believe that the same is true in creating a learning society; that is, we need both investment and commitment. The investment and commitment must come from national policy-makers, local policy-makers, communities, institutions and individuals; not just in joined-up thinking but in joined-up strategies which place people at the centre of policy, and not policy at the centre of people. This surely begins with families and particularly with parents. Poverty, and what Sir Keith Joseph some years ago called "the cycle of deprivation", must be addressed vigorously if children are to develop and maintain learning strategies. It is well known that language development, self-confidence and a particular view of the world and self are formed in the early years. It is well known that children who are talked to, read to, played with and stimulated are more likely to want to extend their learning in many directions and for life. Indeed, parents need confidence to parent effectively.

Government support for families, with the children's tax credit, increased child benefit and so forth, is helpful; so are new projects, such as the Supporting Families report, the Sure Start programme mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the National Family and Parenting Institute set up as a focal point for policy and research. Organisations are carrying out important parent training programmes. Those, too, are important and could be a valuable part of the school curriculum. Parenting may come naturally to some, but it is difficult task for which many people are ill prepared. The fact that more than one-third of children between the ages of two and eight do not have bedtime stories read to them is a matter of concern.

Schools of course have a vital part to play in creating and fostering a learning society. The Campaign for Learning suggests that school structures and approaches need to change in order to focus on giving pupils confidence that they have the ability to learn, encouraging self-esteem, and developing capacity for learning as key tasks for teachers. Learning and teaching are not just about gathering or giving information. They are about developing motivation and the tools to seek information and to make use of it.

The recent Green Paper on schools omits discussion of what is called the National Healthy Schools Standard. That has helped schools and parents to develop healthy atmospheres and good relationships in schools, as well as healthy approaches to exercise, diet and the environment. We know that healthy children make better learners as well being able to make informed decisions about their own health. It is this kind of multidimensional approach which inspires people to become involved, to enjoy working as creative teams and to want to carry on learning.

Children who are shown respect and understanding make better learners, too. Some children are victims of discrimination or low expectation due to their race,

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special needs, gender or sexual orientation. Some carry deep disenchantment of school processes, which may distract from enthusiasm for learning.

National policy has improved class sizes in primary schools, endorsed pre-school education for four year-olds whose parents want it, set up a scheme of learning mentors, provided extra assistance for those whose first language is not English, and has introduced the successful literacy and numeracy hours.

There are of course concerns and these relate largely to secondary schools. A substantial number of children go backwards when they go to secondary school. In a challenging report called Education Futures, the Royal Society of Arts--I declare an interest as a Fellow--has reported the thoughts of several educationists. Reva Klein, in a chapter entitled "Lost at School", talks about children in secondary schools becoming "invisible" unless they are destructive or outstanding. She points out that

    "the interconnected nature of subjects that allows children to see and make links and get excited by them",

when in primary school later disappears. There are new plans for improving performance in secondary schools. Perhaps the Minister can reassure us that this will not just be about more academic targets, but about humanising schools and supporting the teachers and pupils in them.

The Goodison Group has held seminars where expert witnesses reflect on learning. It suggests that people need to be convinced that learning is valuable, but also that it pays off in economic, intellectual and emotional terms. Professional development for teachers is essential. That should be about enhancing the role of the teacher, especially at middle management level, about mobilising resources both inside and outside the school, managing the boundary between schools and community, and spreading good practice. It is not about putting more burdens on teachers, but about rethinking the nature and structure of teaching as a profession.

Schools and families are not the only source of education for young people. Theatres, art galleries, museums and sports clubs have outreach programmes. I emphasise the multifaceted nature of learning. There are startling examples, both nationally and internationally, of how a learning society should be encouraged. I wish that we could take greater note of those practices and research. The "learning society" is a complex notion, but I believe that if we are prepared to invest and commit creatively and imaginatively, it can become a reality.

4.1 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I shall attempt in this debate to make a connection between the learning society and the concept of global citizenship. I extend my warm thanks to my noble friend Lady Prashar for giving the House this opportunity and allowing me to bring a global perspective to this important subject which is, after all, as broad as the www itself.

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It is often said that globalisation shrinks the world and makes learning more accessible and the world, theoretically, more understandable. Ultimately, with more awareness it should also be a safer place in which to live, although I shall not pursue that aspect today. I shall simply argue, with the general election in mind, that the Government are making good progress in this subject but could still do better. While they have embarked on a somewhat utopian journey towards lifelong learning and new communications skills, I do not believe that they have yet fully confronted the pressing demands of global citizenship or the urgency of learning about other cultures and religions. I do not need to spell out why this is important to the harmony of our society; that is clear from other debates to be held today.

The Department for International Development White Papers of 1997 and 2000 recognised the importance of increased understanding of other cultures alongside the more commonly accepted need for international development. In previous debates I have acknowledged the growing commitment of both governments in this decade to spreading greater awareness of international issues. It can even be said that international development is an election issue because of its implications for our society and the sheer number of votes which issues such as fair trade and debt relief can now command.

The most recent example referred to in the other place today is the campaign against the pharmaceutical companies which supply AIDS drugs. That is one in which the Chancellor has played a part by offering tax concessions, and we shall hear more about that from the Government. I hope that we shall also hear from the Conservative Party, which traditionally has had more impact on multi-nationals but has yet to announce its position on the matter. However, it has moved a long way from the anti-social decade of the 1980s.

Within the national curriculum, too, there have been significant developments. There must now be,

    "knowledge and understanding of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural heritages of Britain's diverse society".

Those words come from the statement on values, aims and purposes for the national curriculum of 2000. That theme is summarised in the phrase "global citizenship" which is close to the heart of today's politically correct education. "Active citizenship" is also one of the aims of lifelong learning spelt out in the post-Lisbon European Commission staff working paper last year.

Citizenship education, therefore, has come rapidly up the agenda and from 2002 it will become a statutory subject at secondary level, with recognition of the global dimension. I have welcomed this very gradual advance by Ministers before, although I believe that the rhetoric is well ahead of the classroom and the workplace, as was implied by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. In the daily context of formal education, the global dimension has been kept very

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firmly in the sub-culture of cross-curricular work--the no-go areas of the curriculum where teachers were once allowed to use their initiative.

Today, I am concerned not only with global awareness but with learning about the many cultures within our society. One can find out a lot on the Internet these days. Yesterday I contacted one of today's great gateways: the Campaign for Learning. This eminent quango belongs to the burgeoning school of government-friendly wordsmiths and instant service providers with the motto "I will always fax you 18 pages when you want only one". I recognise that it is behind much of the rhetoric of today but there is no doubt that inside that armoury it carries out valuable educational functions. I noticed that, apart from its more down-to-earth task of spreading e-learning through websites, citizenship and the notion of "democratic learning schools", which is new to me, are encouragingly high on the agenda. I hope that the Government will explain what those concepts mean before they become too orthodox.

Gateways cannot disguise the yawning gap between various branches of government. Whatever the talk of debt relief, global fair trade and ethical foreign policy, which has been inspired largely by the supporters of NGOs, I am still not satisfied that the educationists in this Government, with the honourable exception of those present, have a genuinely international outlook. It is not just citizenship but current affairs and Europe. For example, we still have a terrible record in modern languages. It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, is not here to make that point. We assume that mastery of the Internet somehow exempts us from any other language but English. If we cannot find the teachers, perhaps the BBC World Service will help with its excellent record of foreign language broadcasting and many skilled staff. Insularity cannot be justified today, especially with our membership of the Commonwealth, most of whose citizens must learn a host of languages in their own countries whereas we get by with only one. And how many of us have actually read the Koran?

Yet our talents already lie in our midst. How many times have we sat in a London bus listening to our own citizens speak Russian, Urdu, Swahili or even Spanish without being able to make out a word? The Secondary Heads Association warned in its policy statement on the international dimension in education in 1999:

    "The 'island mentality' is deep-seated within our culture. While an understanding of cultural history and norms is central to our well-being, such an aspiration often results in insularity. In short we are not natural international citizens. Current and future students will be members of an international community. This will require an understanding of different cultures and communities far beyond that which has been our current practice".

This is a serious agenda which I believe is the task of a learning society--a responsibility to learn more about the world to which we belong, and through the medium of our own citizens. I know that the Government are alert to this, but they must keep at it and make more use of non-governmental organisations and institutions like the British Council and the Commonwealth.

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The current issue of the Development Education Journal focuses on the role of politicians, which is novel, and contains a lot of useful European examples from which we can learn.

From my experience of working with aid agencies, I believe that there is no substitute for overseas experience as a means of sharing knowledge and skills at both the giving and receiving ends. Where our parents went out to serve and administer, we go out mainly to see and learn. When we come back from war-torn areas like the southern Sudan, as I recently have, and remember our own recent European history we learn not to draw too many conclusions. Strong minorities, whether they be Dinkas, Sikhs or Anglo-Saxon football supporters, are a part of every society, and the contribution of other cultures, as is often stated in this House, is always to be celebrated.

I looked up "lifelong learning" in Commons Hansard and found 1,298 references to it already this year, not all of them uttered by Ministers. I did not look up Lords Hansard, but I suspect that there have been fewer references to it in this Chamber. Obviously, IT is the motor behind most of the new learning initiatives. Life skills in IT have provided the biggest opportunity that any government could wish for, of literally spreading the word to schools, colleges, adult groups of all kinds and, most recently, even to small rural communities, as has been mentioned. I have seen the benefits in country towns in west Dorset where I am a school governor. I know less able students and disabled people who have literally been rehabilitated by their laptops, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, will be, if that is possible.

In education and employment, I know of many examples of Internet conferences, exchanges and training programmes which are helping young people to enter or progress in the job market. I hope the Minister will reassure me--I think she will--that global citizenship, which incidentally is a growing source of employment too, will have an increasing share of their timetable.

So what should policy-makers do during the next period of government? First, I would like to see the DfEE further develop its present partnership with the Department for International Development in promoting the concept of global citizenship throughout formal education. This partnership has been manifested most recently in a joint paper with the Development Education Association called Global Perspectives to the Curriculum, which demonstrates the breadth of opportunity across the whole spectrum of education.

Secondly, I will expect the DfID to expand its programme of development education and its support for appropriate education programmes. I am quite seriously looking forward to a third DfID White Paper on education which could involve DfEE more closely and become a new monument to joined-up government. Several other ministries already have an input in this subject: the DTI through the ethical trading initiative; the FCO through the British Council and human rights initiatives; the Home Office through

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immigration and race relations; the DCMS through broadcasting; and even the DETR through its interest in sustainable development. I gather that the MoD is to develop a learning culture throughout the Armed Forces. So there is no end to it. If there is ever a case for holistic government, this is it. But, of course, the Treasury presides over all, and the learning society, fashionable as it is at the moment, will probably have to wait in the queue like everyone else.

4.12 p.m.

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I too am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for initiating the debate. I am more than happy to declare my own relevant interests, which include being chair of the General Teaching Council and Chancellor of the University of Sunderland.

I would also very much like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on a wonderful maiden speech. We were doubly blessed, not only by the quality of her delivery--she has forgotten very little in the past 14 years, if I may say so--but also for reminding us of the birth pains of the Open University, which, to an extent, underlines much of what I should like to address in the next few minutes.

The past four years of political life have been marked by any number of transformations, but surely none more remarkable than the way in which education in the very broadest sense has at last taken its place at the heart of government thinking. I should add "its rightful and timely place", a place it had for too long been denied by successive governments who seemed all but oblivious to the linkage between the quality of our education system and the impact of that system on our collective national future; literally generations of lawmakers seemingly content to see unequal opportunities harden into unequal outcomes.

This Government, and most particularly this Prime Minister, were elected on a commitment to make education their number one national priority. To their credit, they seem intent on delivering on that promise. Spending on education is now growing almost three times faster than it was under the previous government. But I am sure your Lordships, most particularly noble Lords opposite, will be glad to hear that I do not intend to engage in an extended eulogy on the achievements of this administration, impressive as they undoubtedly are.

Instead, I want to argue that if Britain is genuinely to become a learning society, with all that that implies, there is not the slightest room for any let up in our efforts to deliver a world-class educational opportunity for every man, woman and child in this country. There can be no return to the bad old days, the days when--to borrow a rather dispiriting phrase--it was perfectly acceptable to see state education as "a poor service for poor people".

The daily realities of global competition leave no excuse for apathy or ignorance of the overwhelming importance of a superb education. As I have argued in this Chamber before, like it or not, we inhabit a post-industrial economy. In a world where market value

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can collapse with the click of a mouse and thousands of jobs can disappear virtually overnight, then surely, more than ever, we need a workforce with high-quality transferable skills, skills that will enable us to ride out the crests and the troughs of an increasingly turbulent global economy.

Yet there are still those who seek to go back, whose sense of security lies in the past, and who, brick by brick, would dismantle much of the work of the past four years. I can only hope that that form of negativity is consigned where it rightfully belongs; that is, to the dustbin of history. For in reality we are only scratching the surface of the learning revolution, let alone understanding what, when fully developed, it might come to look like. We are only just beginning to address the benefits that might be gained from giving back to our teachers their pride, their confidence and their self-esteem; in short, all those qualities which, to their eternal shame, the previous government were so instrumental in destroying.

How ironic it is that any mature society, having come to terms with the notion that beating learning into a child was possibly not the best way to achieve results, wilfully sets about trying the same dunce's cap treatment on its teaching profession.

One of the central tasks of the General Teaching Council is to offer that profession the sense that it really is a profession, one that can justifiably stand alongside doctors, engineers, accountants and any number of others. It is vital that we at last give teachers a sense that they can and should be constructively involved in the shaping of their own professional destiny. They have much to be proud of. A great deal has been achieved already in raising standards of attainment. But the human price has been high. Much of that has been at the cost of teachers' personal sense of trust and professional fulfilment.

I think it is true to say that the positive impact of information and communications technology in schools and colleges is beginning at last to make itself felt. Yet we still have a long way to go before we can claim to be harnessing even a fraction of the potential that ICT possesses to revolutionise the manner in which we teach and learn. We seem to be as bad at taking ICT on board as we were to embrace the fantastic opportunity that the Open University offered in the 1960s. As I see the matter, the problems we now face relate far more to the "how", than the "if". How do we shift investment policy in ICT from creeping incrementalism to radical step change? Or, to put it another way, how are we to "frame" the need to equip an education service for the present rather than the previous century? How do we ensure that the "proliferation" of initiatives relating to ICT that have emerged from various government departments deliver a high-quality coherent strategy, a strategy that produces far more than the sum of its parts? How do we move away from the increasingly irrelevant political imperative to value increases in "computer-pupil" ratios above all else when what we urgently need is far better ongoing support and training for teachers and the development of a world-class content

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to inspire them? Because without it, the National Grid for Learning, and many other initiatives may well be doomed to failure.

If we are to have the remotest chance of remaining a competitive nation on a global stage we have to invest massively, if necessary, in training and education for the skills-based industries of the future. The very idea that we can scrimp and save on that obligation, or cut taxes while sustaining the necessary investment, is, frankly, an extravagant fantasy. It is a rather old fantasy, one, I am sad to say, which has been on display in this House as well as in another place since time immemorial. Similarly, I believe that the idea that we can achieve a successful and sustainable society while offering some 20 per cent of the population the opportunity of a first-class education, leaving the remainder to sink or swim as best they can, is now as economically indefensible as it always was morally.

During the past few years I have had the opportunity to visit literally scores of schools all over the country. Likewise, I have spoken to innumerable groups of business leaders on the subject of education. Everywhere I go I ask my audience, whoever they may be, if they can offer any formula whatever for the future of a successful Britain that is not in every respect built upon a first-class education system. I have to tell your Lordships that as yet not one single person in three and-a-half years has responded to that challenge.

I am constantly amazed by the tenacity and flexibility of the teachers I meet. I have yet to come across a chief executive of any private sector enterprise--or public sector for that matter--who would be expected to deliver half of what the average head teacher achieves with such meagre resources. CEOs of all companies have finance directors, human resource departments, operations managers and, where relevant, research departments. Head teachers have only the good-will and the patience of their increasingly over-stretched and under-rewarded colleagues. But while the imperative for a step change in educational provision is increasingly becoming a commonplace in the rhetoric of politicians, educationists and indeed business people, we have yet to attach it to a "funding model" that makes it even remotely possible.

I genuinely applaud this Government's increased investment of 540 per pupil since 1997. That is a significant increase when judged by the small, incremental increases of the past 20 years. But it is still not remotely sufficient. There is no point in acknowledging our desperate need for a world-class education system unless we are prepared fully to face the financial implications. We have to stop pretending that we can drift into this new century in a spirit of resigned complacency; that same spirit in which we economically drifted through most of the last. From Beijing to Bombay, the learning societies of the 21st century are racing ahead. They are pouring hard earned and often extremely scarce resources into their effort because they know that there is no other future for their own populations. If we do not respond, and respond quickly, decisively and courageously, we will be left by the wayside--a nation vanquished in the one

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area in which, for some 150 years, we were entitled to believe that we led, or at least equalled, the very best in the world.

The noble Baroness has offered us a deceptively innocent title for this important debate. The ambition it refers to is, in reality, fundamental to our national future. The role of policymakers in achieving it is equally fundamental. As I see it, those policymakers are confronted with three essential challenges: first, in the course of the coming election--whenever that may be--unambiguously to set out for the nation the price our children and our grandchildren will pay should we fail to secure an effective and thoroughly competitive "learning society"; secondly, unstintingly to invest in the professional development and therefore the confidence of this nation's teachers, without whom there can be no "learning society"; and, finally, to make real the Prime Minister's declared ambition that every school in our state system offers the resources and opportunities of the very best of the independent sector. This, like the creation of the "learning society" itself, cannot remain a warm aspiration because in today's world both have become an inescapable economic and social necessity.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for initiating the debate. Noble Lords have covered many subjects and they have addressed those involved in the learning society. I shall address my remarks to a group of people mentioned by my noble friend Lord Dholakia. I refer to the prison society and to those defined in a government document as "non-learners".

A significant group within the "non-learners" is the dyslexic population. I draw attention to this one disability group because of its size. It undoubtedly presents the greatest number of problems in terms of a truly learning society. It is reckoned that 4 per cent of the population have dyslexia to a sufficiently high degree to have a noticeable difficulty. A further 6 per cent have it to a lesser extent. If someone has had a bad educational experience and comes from a background where learning and the initial school experience are undervalued, one will probably find that those effects are greater. Where adults have dropped out of the system, it is almost guaranteed that they will have much greater problems.

It is reckoned that 81 per cent of the prison population have a major problem with literacy. The most conservative estimate of those with noticeable and detectable dyslexia is 17.5 per cent. That is probably not the true percentage as one cannot put a gun to people's heads--yet anyway--to make them have an assessment. That 17.5 per cent is three to four times the level one would expect.

I draw attention to this issue because of the positive moves the Government have made. Noble Lords may think that it is a slightly odd way of approaching the subject to say, "Here is a problem group and you have done some positive things", but I do so because in some of their documents the Government make

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commitments to getting people up to certain levels and they refer to assessments. But this group has different learning patterns, different learning needs and different continuing learning needs. People in this group have had worse initial experiences of education. They present totally different problems. If they are merely placed back in situations similar to the ones they have come from, they will fail again and may become even less acceptable in terms of the learning process.

The Government describe themselves as being positively bullish. Government departments probably need such assertiveness and drive to fight their way through the Whitehall jungle in order to get the money to do something. But if we constantly drive forward, we shall be in danger of leaving behind people who do not figure in the statistics. I look to the Minister to reassure me on this issue. If we do not have properly trained staff to assess people in order to give them the help that is appropriate to their situation, we shall make matters worse.

Having said, "Hello, but help!", I should like to set out what I think those problems are. We are dealing with people who have a different learning process. They have problems with short-term memory. They tend to have difficulties with time management. Those problems are difficult to deal with. Where someone in the outside world has a disorganised life--perhaps because he is long-term unemployed--it is extremely difficult to bring him back into the learning process. When we were debating the new one-stop shop for the social security system I bored the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, almost rigid at times by asking whether people would be sufficiently trained to deal with this problem. The noble Baroness said that they would, but I still did not accept that the Government had totally taken on board the idea that it would be incredibly difficult to deal with the problem.

No one test fits all types of dyslexics. It is a blanket term. It is probably one of the widest terms used when referring to disability. We sit here discussing the problem. Indeed, work done under the previous government--it was under the previous government--has meant that in the education system, particularly the school system, dyslexia is a recognised problem. We are only starting to get it recognised in the outside work environment. Although progress is being made in adult education, it is probably not an ingrained as it should be. We are dealing with a difficult situation. When it comes to passing on basic skills, if we insist on teaching in the wrong way we shall fail.

Let us be perfectly honest. Dyslexia is a disability. It does not go away. Some dyslexics who come into this non-learner category will simply not be able to reach the required level. It is like saying to someone who is confined to a wheelchair, "Get up and walk". He or she cannot do it. That aspect must be brought into the system of assessment and tuition. Although people may not be able to reach the literacy level, there may be ways around that in order to achieve employment and so on.

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In the prison situation we have an opportunity to create proper tuition. We have the staff there. That is one positive aspect of a very negative situation. We can ensure that people receive the right kind of tuition if they have the right assessment. That cannot be done initially by a computer program or through a screening process. One must explain to people who may have written themselves off as stupid, at least in academic terms, that they have real problems. When that has been explained to them, I have known adult dyslexics who feel that they have had the weight of the world removed from their shoulders. However, an adult dyslexic who is functioning quite well with a low-level job might say, "I simply do not want to go back into that environment where I am learning again and failing again. I shall simply stay out of it". Explaining the problem to people may well prevent much anti-social behaviour. However, I know it is odd to suggest that saying, "Don't worry, you cannot do it because of", will stop half the problem.

We must also concentrate on getting these people accepted and understood by those around them and those who are dealing with them. Government bureaucracy, especially low level bureaucracy, must be made more aware. If someone said to those in a government office, "I am dyslexic. Will you fill out the form for me?", I should like to think that most people would turn around and say, "Yes, of course". That would involve reading out the questions, explaining the answers and then writing them down. It is not a big deal and may well save man hours if the right information is then gathered. I wonder how many census forms will be filled in badly because of this problem. Even with the assistance of my wife, I had enough difficulty trying to explain that my name and my title are different. What other mundane problems have been overlooked in the process?

If we are to address this problem, we must ensure that all assessment processes build in systems that take it into account and that when it comes to instructions being issued from the top level of the machine down to the bottom, that governments of any and all colours say to organisations, "Thou shalt do it this way and in a sympathetic manner". That is most important. The processes must be opened up to ensure that if someone does not conform to normal learning processes, that person then receives help to allow them to achieve, using other methods.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, mentioned her laptop computer and how she needed a little help in learning how to use it. I should like to say, first, that we are glad to see the noble Baroness in this House. Secondly, if the noble Baroness does succeed in finding good advice, I should be more than grateful if she would pass it on.

The new learning society will provide some answers, but it has been pointed out to me that the new habit of chatting via e-mail is a social nightmare for a dyslexic, who finds spelling difficult. We must try to adapt the way we work in order to address this problem.

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All new government initiatives must bear these issues in mind because it is at the lower end of the spectrum where the real problems are to be found. If someone has already been trained in how to learn, they will have no difficulty doing it again if the training systems are accessible. However, getting people into the habit of learning presents a much more fundamental problem.

I hope that the noble Baroness, whom I know has been active in this field, will be able to assure me that these concerns are being addressed, because if they are not, there is a danger that we shall create that horrible thing--an underclass with a slightly harder core to it.

4.32 p.m.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I wish to speak in particular on the subject of family learning and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for providing such a wide canvas on which we can display our individual niche interests.

To the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, I offer my congratulations on her ability to maintain silence on matters of policy for 14 years. I cannot claim such a distinguished achievement for myself--rather the contrary. Perhaps I may also offer my thanks to the noble Baroness for her service to the Open University. That is an institution of genuine world-class renown, which is reflected by the extent to which overseas countries are using it. I shall also offer the noble Baroness a little advice. I, too, have been given the perk of a free laptop computer because, perhaps like the noble Baroness, I no longer have a secretary. That in itself is a valuable learning experience for life. So I did what a good chairman of an institution called the University for Industry, a junior sister organisation to the Open University, should do: I called and asked, "Please may I have a course in how to use this computer?". I shall give the noble Baroness the telephone number when we have finished the debate. I have been given a course and I shall let the noble Baroness know how I get on.

In a few months' time it will be four years since the committee appointed by the previous government to advise on the future of higher education submitted its report. That report was entitled Higher Education in the Learning Society. The title was chosen with some care and deliberation because we saw that the big issue for this country was the creation of a learning society. The terms of reference confined the committee members to that element in society which succeeds best in learning and is therefore best equipped to become a member of the learning society for life.

I wish to concentrate on those at the other end of the spectrum. A great achievement of the Conservative government, starting in 1988, was their effort to achieve huge growth in higher education. We needed that big catch-up operation. It is good that the present Government have continued that expansion and placed renewed emphasis on further education. Furthermore, they have created the University for Industry, a flagship institution which has demonstrated its commitment to the creation of a

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learning society and lifelong learning. I am glad to say that the UFI is up and running, and perhaps I may point out to the noble Baroness, who mentioned that we are a culturally diverse society, that I understand that the number from the ethnic minority communities participating in the university's programmes is twice that which one would expect from the proportion in the population.

My noble friend Lord Sandwich said that he had puzzled over how to define the learning society and lifelong learning. He mentioned that he had found a thousand or more definitions. I, too, puzzled over this, but I found only one definition--possibly because I did not consult the Internet. It came from a committee chaired by Professor Bob Fryer when he was chairman of the National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning. I shall not read it out, but two parts particularly struck me.

He highlighted the realisation that we must harness new technology and that we must set up learning centres in order to open up this new form of learning. They should be as transforming as was the public library in the 19th century. I believe that this is something that this Government have gone about with a will and have done well. It is not enough merely to have the kit, it must also be "Mum and Dad friendly". It should be accessible to those mums and dads who shook off the dust of education when they left school, vowing, "That is the end of that". There was no hope of lifelong learning.

If we are to have a truly inclusive learning society, then we must think anew. In essence, we no longer have 20 per cent of our youngsters leaving school and continually replenishing the 20 per cent of our adult society that cannot find a plumber in the Yellow Pages. That is very much a social problem as much as it is one of education and we need to look at it in social terms. We need to succeed in involving parents in their support of schools.

I wish to exemplify my concern about this issue by giving the House a little information about my home city of Hull. For five years, the city was at the bottom of the league table for GCSE grades A-C passes. It is a city where 75 per cent of the homes are in the lowest community charge category. It is a city which has twice the national level of unemployment. It is a city which, unhappily, is ranked fifteenth from bottom in 254 communities for the level of deprivation.

Given the seriousness of its schools' performance and the recognition that that needed to be improved, the education authority--which came out well in its 1999 Ofsted inspection--arranged that each of the 16 secondary schools would write to all the parents of its pupils, inviting them in to talk about how they could lift the deplorable level of average performance in those schools. Each secondary school has between 500 and 700 pupils and therefore 1,000 or more parents. In spite of writing to each individual parent and in spite of support offered by the local newspaper, which has conducted a big campaign to lift educational standards, the average turnout was 50 parents per

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school--and sometimes as few as 12. Is it surprising that those children, living in a city of deprivation, are not performing better at school?

We shall not succeed in cracking the problem unless we see it not only as a problem for schools, but as a problem for society and, in particular, for families. Families are failing these children. Schools are not failing them at all. They are not bad teachers in Hull; they are not bad schools; they are not bad kids. We have a big problem.

It has been suggested in the debate that we need new ideas--not top-down ideas but top-up support for bottom-down ideas. I have looked around. Hull has got some ideas--for example, "Achievement in Excellence", under which kids from the city, with the support of the two universities, can go on a short course when they are about 13 for the local university and are promised a place. Great. But it is not really attacking the parenting problem.

I looked a bit wider. Cumbria has a CREDITS scheme for Community Renewal Education Delivering Information Technology in Schools. Family community renewal using the school is a success. East Leeds has been mentioned. Yes, Leeds is going about it. I particularly like "Dads and Lads in Computing" because it is 90 per cent mums who are coming into the initiatives. "Keeping up with the Kids" is another Leeds initiative. Great. Kent has big areas of deprivation in its coastal towns. It has the "University for Children" scheme, aimed particularly at areas of deprivation and getting pupils in years six and seven to come in with families. There are family learning days and weekends when dads can come. Good stuff.

If this is to happen and there is to be a flourishing of local ideas, one should say to the Government, "Look, you have done a good job in creating this learning society, but look at the family issue. Make it easy. Provide funding for local initiatives. Develop the scheme that you have introduced already of providing free computers for those who cannot afford to buy them so that the kids and dad and mum can get into the game. Encourage bottom-up ideas and share them around". This is so important.

I congratulate noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches on what they have said about prisons. Parents in prison cannot engage. I could not believe it when it was said that while prisoners can, in the run-up to release, go and see about jobs and getting work, they cannot engage in education. For goodness sake, they must become learners. They need it more than most if they are not going to go back to prison within a couple of years, as most of them do. The only way to prevent that is to get them set up as learners in civvy street and at home.

I hope that the new Chief Inspector of Adult Education will be as vigorous as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons about education. I congratulate the department on setting up a joint unit with the Prison Service and getting the scheme going. It has received some 50 million. Let us have more.

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If we are going to help children to come into the learning society we must realise that this is not a problem that we can leave to the teachers; they desperately need our help. We need very new thinking in regard to the engagement of parents in these areas of deprivation and for getting them into education themselves. They would thereby be equipped to help their children and would realise how much education means to their children's lives.

4.43 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for introducing this stimulating debate. I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on her splendid maiden speech. I join in her praise for the achievements of the Open University. It is very much an exemplar of what we need in terms of continuing education.

Three themes have run through the debate. The first is: what do we mean by a learning society? The second is: is Britain a learning society? The third is: what can national policymakers do about it?

The first theme first--what do we mean by a learning society?--has been translated into meaning "lifelong learning" and that we never shut the door on learning more. For all of us there is always the opportunity to go a little further and to learn a little more from the cradle to the grave. This, in itself, is an important end.

Education can be, if you like, a consumer good because it adds to consumer satisfaction. As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar said, it helps a person to exploit his or her full potential for a satisfying life. Indeed, it provides ways of finding more satisfaction in life. It is an important end in itself.

It is also, of course, important from the economy point of view, a point raised by a number of speakers, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Puttnam. In today's globalising economy--and I belong to a ghastly group in Europe called the Globalising Learning Economy Group--technology, knowledge and capital are all mobile; the labour force is not mobile. This country's gross national product, therefore, depends very much upon the skills, knowledge and experience of our labour force.

In a world in which knowledge is changing so fast, if our labour force does not update its skills and its knowledge, it will create two great dangers. One danger is that we will tend to end up with the low value-added jobs instead of the high value-added jobs. However, there is an even bigger danger. If we do not understand what is going on, we cannot use leading-edge knowledge. We have all got a laptop; most of us just about manage to master Word and do very little else with it. There are all kinds of things we could do if we were better at it. If we all did the training and, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has done, signed up with the UFI, we would be able to use properly our Excel

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spreadsheets and our address lists instead of experimenting from time to time, as one does, to try and run off a list of addresses.

Exactly the same happens with technology. If firms are not employing research scientists who are at the leading edge, it is no good. We cannot buy in technology from elsewhere and use it because in our firms we do not have anyone who can understand it and receive it. We have to have those points of reception. If we do not understand it, then it is useless and we cannot use it. So the notion that we do not have to worry about technology because we can always buy it in is not correct; we have to grow from underneath people who can understand these matters.

So, from the point of view of a consumer good, it is a good thing in itself to have more education and to understand more; and, from the point of view of the economy, it is important that we participate in continuing learning. We must go on always learning and learning more.

Turning to the second theme--is Britain a learning society?--I think that it is becoming a learning society. I do not think that it was. One of the issues about which I feel very strongly is the kind of world in which I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when I went to a grammar school. If you did not pass the 11-plus, doors were closed on what you could do; if you did not sit GCSEs, doors were closed; if you did not sit A-levels, you could not go on to university. Constantly, it was a closing-door education system.

Now, thank heaven, over the course of the past 30 years, we have begun to create an open-door education system and the Open University has done a vast amount to help. But we need to go on still further. It is an academically-based education system. A-level is the gold standard and, whether you like it or not, vocational education is regarded as being a second-class education. It is vital for our country that there is parity between vocational and non-vocational courses. Above all, it is vital that we open up opportunities for those who lose out in the early phases for one reason or another--whether because of family background, dyslexia, illness or whatever--so that they can always make up the grade.

I think that we are improving. There are still too many closed doors in our system but I think that we are improving in terms of an open-door education system. The Government have taken many initiatives to improve it--Sure Start, the Early Years programme, the numeracy and literacy standards, the New Deal for the young unemployed, the Connexions service, the establishment of the Learning and Skills Council, the bringing together of further education and the technology and enterprise councils, the Learn Direct initiative and the University for Industry--and I welcome all of them.

But one is left asking some questions. Why, for example, did the Government leave it so late to begin putting resources into the system? It is a real indictment of this Government that during their term of office spending on education has been 4.6 per cent of GDP, whereas during the Major years it was

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5 per cent. Yet this was the Government who said, "Education, education, education"--and, God only knows, we do need education, education, education. But why wait two years before starting spending some of that money instead of, as the Liberal Democrats asked them to do, immediately putting money into the system?

Why have the Government not adopted the recommendations of their own National Skills Task Force which would entitle every adult in this country to free tuition if he or she were working for the first time to obtain a level 2 qualification, the equivalent of a GCSE? Why have they not accepted the recommendation of the CBI that there should be a level playing field between all vocational and academic qualifications, with everyone aged 16 to 24 being entitled to free tuition up to level 3, the equivalent of A-level? Why have the Government been so slow in introducing individual learning accounts? Why are they not available for those over 18? Why do not the Government begin to use individual learning accounts as a way to help open up the continuing learning process to a much greater degree than they have so far? Why do they insist on setting up separate local learning and skills councils instead of using the existing regional development agencies to develop "bottom up" initiatives which, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, are so important. These questions remain in relation to what the Government have done in this area.

I want to raise a further question which has not been dealt with in the debate. All these initiatives are on the supply side of education. Yes, we are opening doors and saying to people, "Come through, come through a little further". But what if people do not come through? There is considerable evidence that Britain's problems lie on the demand side. We have far too many people who do not care about education and training, either for themselves as individuals or within their working environment. For example, almost one-third of the managers and proprietors of small businesses have no qualification equivalent to GCSE; 27 per cent of those who run small and medium-sized businesses have no formal education or training qualification whatever.

Added to that is the dispiriting finding, quoted in the final report of the National Skills Task Force, that 50 per cent of adults who left school or college over 10 years ago and who have not since participated in learning activities say that they want nothing further to do with learning. The task force says in its report:

    "This lack of demand for, indeed resistance to, learning is likely to present as much of a barrier to raising skill levels of such adults as their own lack of basic skills".

That is the challenge for the Government. How do we get through to those who have no skills at all but who do not particularly want to learn?

I put forward some ideas that may be worth considering. Should we be looking at an equivalent to the French system in terms of a general remissible training levy, which it is claimed has been extremely successful in instilling a training culture among firms in France? It was rejected by the majority of members

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of the National Skills Task Force, who were worried about the bureaucracy that it might impose on small and medium-sized businesses. The Liberal Democrats' answer is to move on a voluntary basis and to suggest that national training organisations can introduce a training levy where they want to. But given the lack of training among small and medium-sized businesses, ought we perhaps to be thinking about that?

Should we be tackling the problem from the other end and insisting that those who set themselves up in a trade, be it as a plumber or a motor mechanic, should have qualifications? The Liberal Democrats want to re-establish the grade of master craftsman--a person who satisfies minimum standards of workmanship. People could set themselves up and to some extent be acknowledged by training standards officers as possessing that qualification. In Germany, France and America, a person cannot practise as a plumber or an electrician without such a qualification. Why are people in this country allowed to set themselves up without it? Why is the biggest problem with which the Consumers' Association is asked to deal that of cowboy plumbers?

I have two further ideas. It is important that we try to "grow our own" within the public sector. Are we doing enough to encourage school meals assistants and so forth to think about acquiring educational qualifications? That is an important point.

The debate has emphasised the need for Britain, in this modern world of globalisation, to become a learning society. As I have indicated, I am not convinced that we have moved far enough in that direction. But it is important that the measures undertaken are from the bottom up. If we look at other countries, we see that such measures have been successful. As a number of speakers have mentioned, it is important to garner the community and to get people to acknowledge what their peers are doing. It is important to examine measures on the demand side, not merely on the supply side.

4.56 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to engage in another debate about education; however, I think we all agree that time constraints will inhibit any attempt to do full justice to such an important debate.

I want to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who opened the debate with an excellent speech. Among the many key points that she made, the importance of teaching people how to learn resonated with me as a fundamental prerequisite for all learning. A further point that I picked up among many others was the importance of removing obstacles to learning.

I, too, welcomed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. We have all looked forward to hearing her maiden speech. The noble Baroness came to this House following a most distinguished career as a constituency Member of Parliament and as Speaker of the House of Commons. Having heard her excellent speech, I know that I speak for everyone in the House when I say how much we look forward to hearing from

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her on many occasions to come. My noble friend Lady Carnegy, who is not in her place, came and whispered in my ear--as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, knows, she has an involvement with the Open University--how much the noble Baroness is revered by everyone at the university including many of the students. Just as the noble Baroness feels privileged to be chancellor of the Open University and a Member of this House, we regard it as a privilege to have her with us as a friend and colleague.

The first time I can recall the expression "a learning society" being used in relation to public policy was when Gillian Shephard, the then Secretary of State for Education, used it during a "Campaign for Learning" in the spring of 1996, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. The words used by the chairman of the Campaign for Learning, Sir Christopher Ball, are as pertinent today as they were then. He said:

    "In the 21st Century those individuals who do not practice life-long learning will not find work; those organisations which do not become learning organisations will not survive; those schools, colleges and universities which do not put their students first will not recruit".

Such is the complexity of the world in which we live that flexibility within the labour market and a requirement to train and to retrain throughout one's working life will be the normal experience for most people. Even within a more stable and professional career, such is the speed of technological advances that the need to keep abreast of new techniques and new technology is equally pressing.

Companies, whether large, medium or small, must give priority to education and training. Much progress has been made by industry and commerce in developing dynamic ladders of opportunity for the education and training of their staff. However, progress is patchy. Manufacturing industry, for example, is in serious decline and scope for engaging new technology and more modern working practices with all the required capital investment and the provision of training programmes is simply beyond many manufacturing companies. Their energies are debilitated keeping their heads above water in order to survive.

Having said that, medium and small-sized companies are coming to realise that a successful future depends upon their willingness to invest in education and training and a readiness to adapt to changing market conditions. Globalisation, a much abused word, is a fact of life. Today, we see a more rapid movement of people, goods and services, as well as capital, between countries--even between continents--than ever before.

The effects of those changes--of the global economy and increasingly world-wide competition--is forcing enterprises to adapt to change. Traditional secure jobs are disappearing fast, and an increase in self-employment, flexible employment and innovative working practices is happening on an unprecedented scale. The result of all this poses a fundamental shift of many social and political certainties. Therefore, the

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imperative is for people to become more personally responsible, more adaptable to change through education and training. The challenge for the policy makers is to balance the creation of opportunities without being over-prescriptive or too interventionist.

There should be encouragement for greater personal investment in life-long learning, and for employers to develop a vested interest in a well-trained and well-motivated workforce. Although I have linked education with training in my contribution so far, I also wish to put on record the importance of learning for its own sake--for enjoyment and for self-fulfilment. In a very interesting article in today's Daily Telegraph, Anthony Smith, who is the president of Magdalen College Oxford, refers to learning in order to maintain the practice of scholarship and the pursuit of new learning. All of this is also important.

I also support the importance of informal learning, which is a great tradition in this country. As I represented the subject in this House when I was a Minister, I should like to pick up on the theme advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the importance of education in prisons. Having been an education Minister before becoming a Home Office Minister, I must say that I regard that as almost an essential pre-requisite to enable people to understand the points made by the noble Lord. At this point, I should like to pay tribute to those working in the voluntary sector. I believe that they are almost more effective in the field of prison education than the professionals. That is often because of the nature of the relationship between the volunteer and the prisoner.

I was deeply depressed by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I believe that the tone of the debate changed very dramatically at that point. On behalf of my colleagues who served in the education department with both energy and aspiration, I can tell the noble Lord that I took personally the scathing criticisms that he made about the time when I was serving in government. Much was achieved; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to his involvement in many of those achievements. I should point out that the introduction--

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