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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, would it not be a good ideaand prudentto remind the Irish Government of the disastrous intervention of a previous Irish Government who wrecked the Sunningdale agreement and destroyed the possibility of stable devolution in Northern Ireland for all time?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if and when we have a communication from the Irish Government on the issue the subject of the Question on the Order Paper, we will respond appropriately. I cannot speculate on what that response would be or on the wider issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the concerns about this issue are much exaggerated? Can he confirm that, in the past, persons living in Northern IrelandI can remember at least one instancehave been appointed as full members of the Senate in Dublin? There seemed to be no objections to that at the time.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, appointments to the Senate by the Taoiseach have indeed been made in the past. Indeed, there is a member from Northern Ireland in the Senate at the moment. That is why I referred to the committee of the Oireachtas and not simply to the Dail. It is true that this has happened for a number of years; it is true that an extension of the practice is the subject of a recommendation by the Committee on the Constitution chaired by Mr Brian Lenihanthe subject of the Question; and it is true, I believe, that the matter has not been the subject of very great controversy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The Statement is as follows:
"On testing, we support the testing regime that we have established. We believe that it ensures that teachers and parents can track the progress of every single child. It helps identify those pupils who need extra support as well as those who need to be stretched.
"Targets show what we need to achieve, provide clear focus and provide an important means of measuring progress and improvement. Every organisation that wishes to succeed sets itself goals and targets and again we confirm that approach in our document.
"Following our conference of primary head teachers, we have taken a number of the sensible suggestions made by primary heads to modify the application of some of these principles. I refer to four points in particular.
"First, in future the target setting process will begin with schools themselves at key stage 2 and local education authority targets will be set afterwards. Schools will set targets based on what they know about individual children's ability but also on high aspirations for the value they themselves as schools can add. We want schools to aim to add more value each year and to look at the performance of other schools in similar circumstances.
"Secondly, I have listened to concerns about testing at key stage 1. I believe that robust assessment is a vital learning and teaching tool and that most teachers support that strongly. I do not accept that the sort of tests and tasks that children are set at key stage 1 are too stressful for children to do, but we shall look at the ways these targets and tests are used and we shall trial an approach in which tests and tasks underpin teacher assessment rather than being reported separately.
"As well as outlining these changes which I have indicated, the document I published today also sets out how we shall support schools in taking more control of their own improvement and providing children with a broad and rich curriculum".
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss the points raised by the Secretary of State for Education in another place. However, we have to draw attention to the fact that this Government, once again, have treated Parliament with contempt in that they continue to make important announcements of this nature through the media and at conferences rather than through Statements to both Houses in the conventional and appropriate manner. It was only pressure and a PNQ in another place which led them to tell Parliament anything.
Today the Secretary of State, Charles Clarke, in a speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers, launched Excellence and Enjoymenta Strategy for Primary Schools and claimed that it was the most significant reorganisation of primary schools in 10 years. Is it not in fact rather an acknowledgement of the continued failure of the Government to improve standards in primary schools, and of the increased stress that their addiction to tests, targets and tables has placed upon teachers and young children?
Does the noble Baroness agree that despite the Prime Minister's assertion to have "plainly succeeded pretty much with education", the Secretary of State's department is in considerable difficulty which is entirely of its own making?
This new strategy does nothing to deal with the key issues that affect schools at the moment. It has no impact on the school funding crisis that we discussed only last week. It does nothing to comfort the head teachers faced with yo-yoing budget cuts and the loss of thousands of teachers and assistants through redundancy because of those cuts.
The Secretary of State is keeping targets, tables and tests. Can the Minister explain what is the difference between yesterday's 3Ts and today's? Last month the Secretary of State told the conference of the NASUWT,
If the Secretary of State is genuinely interested in disposing of these national targets, will he go so far as to abandon all national targetsfor secondary schools, for colleges, and the 50 per cent university admission targetsthat have had such an invidious effect on our education system? Will he allow schools the independence to set their own targets to raise standards and not impose the destructive regime of national target setting?
Today's announcement is merely a convenient way for the Government to shift the burden for their own failures. The real problems for schools lie in the Secretary of State's infatuation with a regime of central control and command that instructs teachers on a daily basis, via reams of extra and unnecessary paperwork, how to reach the Government's national targets.
Is it not shocking that a Government that came to power in 1997 with, as one of their key objectives, "Education, Education, Education" should six years later have so completely lost the confidence of head teachers, teachers and parents and become so fixated with statistics and targets as to have lost sight of the primary purposeteaching our children?
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, in regretting the fact that the Government were not of their own accord going to make a Statement to Parliament and that it had, to some extent, to be squeezed out of them.
While saying all that I welcome the content of the Statement. As the Minister will know, as I have put repeated questions to her, for a very long time we on these Benches have suggested that the testing regime was not totally necessary and that in particular the standard aptitude tests (SATs) for seven year-olds put unnecessary pressure on them. Tests have been used as a diagnostic tool and teachers will need to continue using them. Any good teacher would use them. However, the imposition of the national tests was totally unnecessary and, as I say, places undue pressure on children. We are absolutely delighted that the Government have now accepted the wisdom of the argument that we have put forward for some time and are thinking of modifying the system although it is not clear to me exactly what modifications they propose. I should like, if possible, to have a little more detail from the Minister on that issue.
In relation to the tests for 11 year-olds, my understanding is that the tests will continue but that here again the targets will be set by individual schools. We welcome that. It is clear that in some schools, where reaching the targets is extremely difficult, not only pupils but also teachers are put under extreme pressure. We welcome enormously the fact that the Government recognise the need to differentiate between schools and
We should also recognise that in the one area to date in which the targets are set by the individual schoolsthe science curriculumschools have achieved extremely highly. That indicates that leaving professionals to make up their own minds on targets achieves what we want to achieve, which is the raising of standards generally.
We welcome the step very much. Will the Minister tell us a little more about the performance tables and the whole question of taking other factors into account? As she knows very well, the crude performance tables that have been published are very misleading and can result in some schools in particular areas being dubbed "sink schools" quite unnecessarily. Will the performance indicators take into account the wider aspects of the school? Are we continuing with value added tables, or has it been decided to stop them?
Finally, I welcome the move in relation to special educational needs. Schools with disproportionate numbers of students with special educational needs have felt a great deal of pressure and despair about ever meeting the targets that Ministers have set until now. The news is extremely good, but the Minister could tell us a little more about what is planned in relation to such children.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I begin by saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that we produced a written Statement in another place at 9.30 this morning, in accordance with what I understand is parliamentary procedure. It is always a delight for me to discuss the issues in this House, so I am personally very grateful for the opportunity, however it has been given.
I do not accept that we are in any sense building on an education department in difficulty. We have had robust debates in the House about the issues of school funding. I believe that I have been as clear as possible, and that my right honourable friend has done all that he can to work closely with local authorities to make sure that we resolve the difficulties. I do not underestimate those difficulties, but believe that we have found some way through them.
We are not abandoning anything. In our conferences, we have had the opportunity to talk with more than 2,000 primary head teachers, which I am sure that noble Lords would admire and applaud. We discussed with them what more we can do in the context of recognising the value of targets, testing and tablesthe three Ts, as they have become known today. In that process, we have not lost any confidence with head teachers. Indeed, I believe that they have enjoyed the opportunity and have built on it in terms of their relationship with us.
We are looking to enhance the structures that we have. It is the job of government, particularly in education, which is our priority, to make sure that we build on what we have learned and make the system better, year on year. I do not accept the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, about bureaucracy. I accept that we have work to do on what we have already started, in terms of the unit that we have set up to work directly with head teachers to ensure that all the documentation that schools receive is relevant. On our timely Education Act, noble Lords said that some of the documentation was absolutely critical for schools to receive. I understand their points, but we need to establish an important balance.
I want to deal specifically with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, but address those of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, about the detail as well. I shall briefly say what we are trying to do in the key areas. For key stage 2for 11 year-oldswe have said that in future we want schools to set their targets. Noble Lords will know that, for a long time, schools have been working with us on that, but have also developed their own system to make sure that they work with their own children, to assess the children's development and growth and therefore where they will have got to by 11. We want that to be stretching; we make no bones about that. We want targets to be designed by the school to get the very best that they can for their pupils. That will then form the basis on which the local education authority targets will be developed.
For key stage 1, noble Lords who have had the experience of watching seven year-olds undertake the tests will know that the way in which schools run them is extremely competent. Part of the test can be taken at any time between the start of the January term and just before the end of the summer term. During the whole of May, two or three of the tests take place. They are designed in a way that fits with what children learn on a general day-to-day basis. That has worked extremely well for the children. I commend our teachers, who have ensured that.
Anyone who has looked at how we assess a test will see the teacher assessment and the test. We recognise that we need to develop that in a more rounded way, so that the teachers build the tests into an overall assessment. That is what we want to trial, to see whether that approach gives better information to parents and a more rounded view of pupils, both of which I believe that noble Lords will accept.
In terms of our tablesperformance tables, as we would call themwe are introducing for the first time value added tables at primary level. That is very important. We are consulting more widely. As information gets more sophisticated, and as we are able to do more with the information that we receive, it is important that we use it to develop the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about recognising the achievement of schools. We would all support that, and we want to do it.
Crucially, we are trying to ensure that the idea of special educational needs is not about excluding children from celebrating their achievement. We must get better at celebrating all children's achievement, which requires us to look very carefully at how we measure the achievement of every child and celebrate it in the most appropriate way. We must also celebrate inclusion in our schools, with which I am sure that all noble Lords would agree.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am among those who have welcomed in recent years the focus on literacy and numeracy in primary schools but, like others, I have been concerned that this concentration has or may have diverted attention from some other aspects of education, notably music. Am I right in inferring from the Statement that, as a result of today's announcement, schools would be able to devote more time and resources to restoring music to the rightful place that it had in primary schools, noting the extent to which music is a language to which children who are not good at maths or English may well respond and become less disaffected in their schooling as a consequence?
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