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Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for his reassurances that my amendment is unnecessary. When my copy of Hansard arrives tomorrow I shall read what he said with great care to confirm that he is quite correct, although I am sure that he is. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 144B, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 144C and 144D. The emphasis here is to assert educational opportunities rather than to be bogged down with educational performance. Indeed, the amendment seeks to take out the provision to allow LEAs to impose targets on schools. Clause 99 re-enacts provisions in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 for England because the Children Act has repealed this previous legislation.
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The Bill re-enacts the requirement for schools and local education authorities to set challenging annual targets for pupil performance and to submit those to the Secretary of State. The Explanatory Notes state in paragraph 189:
"This is a continuing power which is needed because the existing requirement contained in regulations relating to education development plans will cease to have effect when the repeals of sections 6 and 7 of SSFA 1998 effected by the Children Act 2004 come into force".
However, no pupil targets are set by LEAs in Wales, so why is this needed in England? As a Welsh Peer, I thoroughly approve of the situation in Wales in that regard. Target setting should be a collaborative exercise beginning with the pupil and his or her teacher. From individual pupil-teacher targets, those for teacher-head teacher, head teacher-governing body, governing body-LEA and LEA-government can then follow. Any target-setting exercise should be based on a mature understanding of current achievement and a realistic set of aspirations about what can be achieved in the future. With all their emphasis on personalised learning it is very disappointing that the Government have chosen to reintroduce the top down imposition of LEA level targets.
Amendments Nos. 144B, 144C and 144D will no doubt be criticised as completely unworkableas, indeed, they would be. But that is exactly what very many head teachers feel about imposed targets. Real achievement by schools and local education authorities is obscured by pointless debates about whether arbitrary government or LEA targets have been achieved. Parents and teachers are better informed of pupils' strengths and weaknesses by teacher assessment. That assessment provides valuable information rather than a simple label that tells no one very much. I beg to move.
Lord Filkin: This is the first of a number of important groups of amendments about targets. Clause 99 maintains the current statutory accountability regime whereby the Secretary of State requires local education authorities, through regulations, to set annual targets for the educational performance of pupils for whom they are responsible and to notify those targets to her for England.
The requirement for LEAs to set targets for pupils' educational performance has provided a powerful stimulus for the improvements in educational standards at both primary and secondary level since 1997. We believe it is essential to include a power in this Bill for local education authorities to set and submit educational targets for the attainment and attendance of pupils in their area. These targets have helped us to deliver the impressive rise in standards that we have seen over the past seven years. Primary schools are now performing better than ever. We have halved the number of schools where fewer than 65 per cent of 11 year-olds achieve level 4 in English or maths and we have doubled the number of schools where more than 80 per cent of pupils achieve level 4.
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In addition, over half of all 14 year-olds are now achieving level 6 in mathsabove the expected level for their age. London is now the fastest improving region in the country for GCSE results, and maintained schools in London are now performing for the first time above the average for all maintained schools. Such rapid improvement would not have been achieved without the challenge of specific and focused targets related to performance outcomes.
However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that targets should be a collaborative and bottom up process. I reassure him that what he asserts is not the case. The clause will not change the bottom up process for setting targets that we have now introduced for both schools and local education authorities for the good reasons that he set out. Schools will continue to set their targets first with local education authorities setting their targets after they have had proper debate with the schools in their area on whether they think the targets are sufficiently challenging and ambitious, and whether they are realistic. That is how the process should work. We will not go back to top down target setting, nor will we impose unrealistic or unachievable targets on local education authorities.
We recognise that for targets to have relevance and be a powerful tool for helping to drive school improvement, they must be owned by schools and local education authorities and they must be realistic as well as challenging. However, they must be capable of being challenged; that must be part of the process of setting targets. I hope the Committee understands what I mean by that. Local authorities and government must have the power to ask schools and local authorities respectively whether targets are sufficiently ambitious and clear and whether that is as far as they should be going in that respect; otherwise, there is the danger of complacency setting in within the system and, as a consequence, children will lose out if the relevant school or local authority does not do as much as it could do.
Targets have been a powerful tool for school improvement. Head teacher associations, schools, local government associations and chief education officers have all welcomed the changes we have made to the target setting arrangements over the past year. Therefore, I am delighted to give the reassurance that the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, sought in that respect.
The national targets are ambitious. We make no apology for maintaining our commitment to them. We will not give up on ambitions for children, but that has to be the product of debate between local authorities and their schools, and between central government and a limited number of local authorities where, at least on first look, it seems that there is a question about whether they are being ambitious enough. Our five-year strategy sets out our aims for primary and secondary education. We want the best in the basics of reading, writing and maths for every primary age child.
Amendments Nos. 144C, 144D and 144E would replace the requirement for LEAs to set targets for educational performance with the vaguer notion of
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opportunities. Of course, we all want children to enjoy a rich mix of opportunities throughout their education. Every Child Matters shows the Government's commitment. Schools should offer an enriched curriculum that stretches and engages the children and prepares them better for adult life. Services and learning should be designed around the needs of the individual child. However, we should not prescribe those opportunities through targets. That should in general be for the local education authority and schools to determine. Therefore, it is slightly surprising to see an amendment that would appear to want to prescribe how they do thatin other words, to specify inputsrather than focus on the standards of education.
The children and young people's plan will be the strategic, overarching plan for all services for children and young people, which will address the local authorities' wider responsibilities, including how they would provide educational opportunities for all children and young people in their area.
As to why targets are set in England and not in Wales, I am afraid it is the standard answer, on which I would have expected support from the Liberal Democrat Benches. We believe in devolution, and that means that sometimes people will do things differently. I will say no more. I hope that has been helpful.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I was particularly pleased to hear what the Minister said on devolution. It is interesting to observe that two different systems are operating and in the past 18 months the results in Wales have overtaken England. Perhaps this can be achieved in two different ways by two different recipes. We have a probing amendment here on which we want to test the Government. I acknowledge what the Minister said, with his examples on level 4 targets reaching 80 per cent of achievement, which is to be welcomed.
One of the main thrusts of Amendment No. 144B was to look particularly at educational opportunities in relation to the alternative of educational performance. Obviously, there is room for both in the education system. We are particularly concerned about the motivation of children and that they have interest in a variety of subjects, some of them outside the school curriculum, which would motivate them to perform rather better, whereas a prescribed educational performance method would switch off some children.
I am glad to hear the Minister say that it is not totally a top-down situation, and that the LEAs and schools will be involved in the target-setting procedure. We need to examine what the Minister has said, and evaluate it in relation to what I have just said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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