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Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Indeed, there has been welcome progress and there is a great deal in the report that is very pleasing. But what will the Government do about the great deal that is less pleasing? for example, I refer to the 25 per cent of FE colleges that are found to be unsatisfactory, the significant disparity between boys' and girls' achievement in maintained schoolsoddly enough, not matched in the independent sectorand the sad lack of achievement by Afro-Caribbean children (puzzlingly only after about the age of nine or 10) as compared with all other groups.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord, as always, makes some very important points. I shall try to deal with them briefly although each one of them could give rise to a debate. The noble Lord's remarks are absolutely right. Of the children who transfer to secondary school, a quarter of pupils, mostly boys, do not reach the required standards in literacy and numeracy. Those areas need to be tackled. We are considering carefully how we support boys in that regard. Boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly susceptible to low achievement. Much work is being carried out on that matter.
As regards ethnic minorities, we have just begun consultation on a new strategy to determine how we can more successfully support children from ethnic minorities. That includes considering the role of Saturday schools that have been successful for many ethnic minority communities and also the excellent work that Ofsted has already done on identifying the factors that make a difference to the attainment of children from ethnic minorities in both primary and secondary schools. I urge noble Lords to examine that strategy.
We accept that more needs to be done to ensure that the needs of students in further education are met, particularly those of average and less able students. A strategy is under way to try to develop that further.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the Chief Inspector of Schools about the absolutely vital importance to be attached to leadership in schools? If so, what steps are in hand to enhance the abilities of those already in post as head teachers and those who will come into post over the next five to 10 years?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with the chief inspector and the noble Lord that leadership has been identified as the fundamental principle behind school achievement. Every noble Lord who has had the privilege of visiting our schools will know from his own experience that that is true.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the national leadership college in Nottingham is doing an excellent job? Unfortunately, it has been going for only about 12 to 18 months, but the progress that it has made in that time is remarkable. Does she agree that it will go further if we can give it more assistance?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree. I hope that, by talking about extra assistance, my noble friend is not asking me to commit more money, which I am not allowed to do. We had hoped that the identification and support for school leadership would prove a success in a short time, and I believe that that is the case. It is reflected in the chief inspector's report.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the problem of Afro-Caribbean, or in this case Afro-American, boys doing less well than girls in schools has been effectively addressed in Washington in the United States? By introducing male mentors into primary schools, the situation has successfully been turned around.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. That is one reason why we have introduced mentors into our schools, and they have had a dramatic effect. There is no doubt that, for many of our pupils, the absence of a suitable role model can be a factor in their educational attainment. We are looking to increase our provision on the subject through the Excellence in Cities programme and our work to raise the attainment of particular groups of children.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I want to press the Minister on the further education issue. She said that the Government were developing a strategy. However, one of the chief inspector's criticisms was of the absence of any kind of joined-up strategic thinking at local level. Will she tell us a little more about precisely what is being done at that level?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I would be glad to tell the House about that. From April this year, strategic area reviews are taking place, led by the local LSCs. They will look at the breadth, range and accessibility of provision in further education. There will be increased capital investment, which is important, and they will look to ensure that provision meets the needs of the 16 to 19 year-old learners.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the issue of children with ethnic background is oversimplified? The report points out rather well some specific difficulties among children from ethnic minorities. For example, children with an Asian background outstrip many children of the indigenous population. What research is going on to investigate why Afro-Caribbean children in particular do not perform so well in our schools?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. There are huge differences between different groups. Within the Asian community, for example, children from an Indian background will be more successful than children from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, who do less well than many of their Afro-Caribbean counterparts. As has been said, in the Afro- Caribbean population it is the transfer to secondary school with which boys in particular have difficulties.
Within our work, we are looking carefully at what I would describe for our purposes as working-class white boys, a group who themselves do not do so well in school. One critical factor is that, for the first time, we will have information over the next year about the background of children in orderand only in orderto be able to track educational attainment in a more successful way. We already know quite a lot about the different groups of children and their underachievement. Translating that into finding specific and new ways to support those children is the key, and we are engaged on that.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Government do not currently issue in advance detailed guidance to the public on measures that they might take if they become victims of a chemical or biological attack.
The response to chemical or biological incidents, accidental or otherwise, depends on a number of factors. The emergency services are best placed to decide the appropriate response, taking into account the relevant factors. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in publishing his Statement on Monday 3rd March, and in his moving of the order renewing Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, made it clear that the Government would establish a dedicated website. Whatever information is useful to the public will be posted on it.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The whole question has had a lot of national media attention this week. As the leader of a large local authority adjacent to London, I ask whether he will make more resources available to local government. He talked about the emergency services, but local government will be the main emergency service. We are told that we might have to expect 20,000 people an hour coming out of London, but no provision or plan has been made for that. Although I do not want to be alarmist, we need to know more about what might happen. Will the Minister give us more information?
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