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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I was listening to Evelyn Glennie on the radio this morning talking about the value of music as a tool with which children could reach parts of the curriculum, whether science, history, geography or the arts. I endorse that. I have said in the House many times that there is one curriculum in primary schools, and that it is enriched. I hope that the document that noble Lords will have a chance to read during the course of today and tomorrow will demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that we develop that enriched curriculum, and that we make sure that music, PE and sport, geography, history, modern foreign languages and all other subjects are part of that curriculum.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, would agree that we also want to enhance the opportunities to learn literacy and numeracy skills through other curriculum subjects. It is quite possible to write about football or a piece of music, or to use some of the work of schools, whether through an allotment or geography trips, to make mathematical calculations and so on. We want to develop breadth and depth, which I am sure will be welcomed.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, listening to young carers this morning talking of their experience in school brought home to me the necessity for teachers to have space and time to think about their students. One boy in particular said that his headmaster always asked him how he was and how his father was doing, his father having mental health problems.
My impression is that what the department is putting forward in the paper will enable teachers to be a little less stressed in what they are doing. The value-added tables might begin to identify the special quality of a caring school; one which is inclusive and thinks about children not just as products but about their needs and how they fit into their families. Am I right in that impression?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I hope that is true within this document and also within other actions that we have taken. The noble Earl rightly spoke of the value of teachers in being able to talk to pupils. Some of the work we have done in developing the workforce of the future relates to recognising the role of teachers and other adults in schools who can perform some of the pastoral work. For example, we have provided the opportunity for someone to develop the role of being co-ordinator of that work. Pastoral work in schools is critical. However, as regards this document and the wider issues we have discussed, I agree with the noble Earl.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the modification of the testing procedures. I am bound to say that it sounded as though the tests were becoming more rather than less elaborate. They are therefore somewhat more complex and of less value in enabling comparisons to be made. Can she give me reassurance on that basic point?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am sorry if I gave the noble Lord that impression. It was not what I intended. I was describing the position around key stage 1. There is already quite a lot of flexibility in the delivery of the tests as regards whether the teacher would like to take them with the whole class or with particular groups. We are looking at that approach to see whether it can be developed.
We do not want to make the tests more complex, but head teachers have raised, for instance, the disparity in ages between children. Some children take the tests when they are six and others at age seven. We are looking to see whether within the flexibility one needs to be addressing the age, development and so forth of the child. We want to look at how to deliver the tests but not to make them more complex.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, will the Minister agree that outcomes for children in tests, particularly key stage 1, must greatly depend on their experience in the first five years of their life in the family and in pre- and nursery school? How do the Government propose
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, that must be a queue from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for me to talk at length about Sure Start. I shall not do so on this occasion, but point out that the development of early years' education is an important part of the Government's work. Noble Lords who have had the privilege of looking at the EPPE research will know that we can conclusively demonstrate the value of that early start in terms of breaking them out of the cycles of poverty, if they are disadvantaged and also poor, and ensuring that they have a good, sure start in life.
There is no desire on the part of the Government, and I am sure no noble Lord, to see trauma as going alongside key stage 1 and the testing. The purpose behind this is for us to be able to see what more we need to do to support our children. That has to be the ultimate objective and why it is important to have that. It is why we know that the schools which were doing badly a few years ago are now the average school. We have been able to move upwards and onwards with the ability of our children to learn and develop and to avoid, as is now the case, 7 million adults who do not have the literacy and numeracy skills of the average 11 year-old.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I listened with interest to the Minister when she told us that a Statement was made in another place at 9.30 this morning. Given that I, too, heard Evelyn Glennie on the radio, I know that the Minister of State for Education was on Radio 4 before 9.30 this morning telling us precisely what the noble Baroness told us in the Statement. Is it therefore the case that Parliament was not put first?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am clear that we put a written Statement before another place this morning at 9.30, which is parliamentary procedure. I do not believe that the statements that were made and the discussions that took place this morning in any way detracted from that. Indeed, the conversations and debates around the primary strategy have been taking place in campuses all over the country with primary head teachers and on local, national and regional radio and television stations for some time.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement that the Minister has read, particularly the emphasis on reducing the number of tests. However, I want to ask the Minister about the thought that the tests are significant for parents. The tables of test results are only comparative information. Parents face what is relevant only in their own area and the tables can tell them only what is measured as better or worse by them. Parents could obtain far better information, which is already in the public domain, in the form of Ofsted reports. Those are narrative and
Cannot we get away from the simplicities and distortions of ranking schools in a linear waybetter and worse? Will we not be stuck with that if we simply go for more complex tables, including value-added tables? Parents need rounded information rather than comparative judgments.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, and that is precisely what we state within the document that we are looking to achieve. Hence, we shall say whether alongside the information in tables we should add the headline information for Ofsted or do a comparator with other schools in similar circumstances.
Value-added tables move us in the right direction. It is not our intention to make them more complicated; it is our intention to give better information. However, we must also always keep in mind that for many parents the ability to delve in and find the right kind of information about schools is not easily done. Therefore, it is critical that we give parents more information. It may be too simplistic at present, but it will continually improve in terms of being rounded. The Government have always made it clear that in addition to looking at the tables they should look at the Ofsted reports.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, plans have changed in primary schools during the past 10 years. Following on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, is there any real reason why the Government should not trust primary school teachers to teach children and assess in their own way how they are progressing? Cannot the comparison between schools, which parents need, be based on what the inspectorate says and not on the result of structures within the schools, as proposed by the Government?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, in making that point, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, does not recognise the value of literacy and numeracy strategies as they have been seen by teachers in primary schools. I believe that most primary school teachers would say that those strategies have been an extremely useful tool that they have modifiedand that is appropriateto fit their children and circumstances. They have provided them with the core need to ensure that children achieve to the right level.
Within the document, we propose to try to support teachers in that way across the curriculum. We want to give them more support not in terms of the specifics of the teaching but in terms of the way in which lessons are taught across geography, history and other subjects. That is the way the Government want to take this forward.
We trust teachers. We trust them to modify, use and develop the ways in which they teach, but it is our responsibility to obtain the highest possible standards for all our children if they are to achieve in later life.
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