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Lord Hanningfield: From these Benches there is no denying that we believe in targets. We were the ones who first promoted them. But I believe it is time for the Secretary of State to abdicate any involvement in them. I am entering a complicated area, but most local authorities have what is called a public sector agreement. In Essex, it is worth around £25 million. It contains education targets, and every large local authority has education targets set by the Secretary of State. Not one local authority in the whole country, however excellent, will achieve them because the targets are set too high.
I repeat what I said earlier: these days, targets should very much be set by schools and by local education authorities. There are plenty of ways in which local authorities are challenged. At present, they are reviewed by Ofsted and, in future, there will be joint reviews in which they can be challenged. Schools have Ofsted inspections and local authorities have comprehensive performance assessments. That is where the targets should be challenged. Of course, there will be differences between the targets set in Cornwall and Durham or Essex and Lancashire because of the different nature of the schools. Therefore, there will be differences around the country.
I was disappointed to hear the Minister say that he wants the heavy hand of the Secretary of State still to be involved. We all accept that targets should be set, and there are now many more ways to ensure that that happens through all the other processes.
Baroness Walmsley: I was reassured to hear from the Minister that the intervention of the Secretary of State will be what I should perhaps describe as a last resort and that the process will be consultative. But, ultimately, the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to impose changes on targets that have been agreed between the schools and the LEAs and aggregated together to achieve the LEAs' targets.
I think it is right that it is done in that way. The schools should agree targets which balance the challenging and the achievable. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, there is no point in having unachievable targets; that does not motivate anyone. But if the Government have confidence in the strength of the system in which schools set targets, they are agreed with the LEAs, they challenge the schools but they are achievable, then there really should be no need for the Secretary of State to intervene at all. It suggests that the Government think that the system may well fail.
I agree that there will be differences in different parts of the country. That is only right because the background of children in different parts of the country will be different. But I still believe that the intervention of the Secretary of State is
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inappropriate if the system described by the Minister is as robust as he says. Does the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, want to intervene?
Lord Dearing: I thank the noble Baroness. I am surprised that that doubt exists. This is the first time that I have risen to give unqualified support to the Government's position. I come from Hull and my title is Lord Dearing of Kingston-upon-Hull. I fear that in my city the aspirations of the local authority are not as high as they should be. For years we have plodded along at the bottom of the league table. It is fair in those circumstances for a Secretary of State to say, if it was justified and if he felt that the aspirations were not there, "Chums, we should aim to do better for the children of this city. Come on, let's discuss this". I hope that there would be agreement to aim for a higher figure.
Let me put that another way. As a nation we must lift our standards as a whole to allow all our children to earn a decent living. The challenge will be increasing and enormous. The Government can say that standards must be raised, but unless there is articulation of what government see as necessary aspirations and the work that the local authority puts into its schools, they will be paddling in the air with no water underneath. For the first time I find myself giving unqualified support to the Government's rationale, provided that a "bottom-up" process will be discussed between reasonable people. If the Government set an unreasonable target, the results will not happen. There must be reasoned thinking. I thank the noble Baroness for inviting me to comment.
Baroness Walmsley: I could see that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, was itching to intervene. I would agree with him that if the LEAs only were setting the targets, it might be necessary for the Secretary of State to challenge them. But if those targets came from the schools and were aggregated into the local authority targets, it would become much less necessary, because every school that I know wants the best for its children. The teaching force, the assistants and all the non-teaching staff work towards that. We must trust the schools to be able to set challenging but achievable targets. If those elements were put together, the LEAs would provide the context. The Secretary of State should provide the context and the resources for schools to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, wishes to challenge me, too.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: The noble Baroness is doubly kind to the Cross-Benchers. I must support the line offered by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in support of the Government, by sharing my experience of having to declare the first "failing school" in England. In that school there was, effectively, a collusion of ignorance and lack of aspiration between the local authority, the school and those who were responsible for the governance of the school. Such situations are, happily, not common, but in that case the difficulty was not simply in the school; it went right through the system. Other local authorities have been
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in difficulties since then, but that case seared my experience; we should be cautious before striking the provision from the Bill.
"( ) provide for reviews, to be carried out at such intervals as may be prescribed, of the effectiveness and suitability of such targets in relation to the National Curriculum and other assessment arrangements for England made under Part 6 of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32)"
The noble Baroness said: The amendment seeks to probe the Government further on their position regarding testing and assessment in Englandthat is, to enable a review of the national curriculum and assessment system, similar to that which took place in Wales.
For many teachers, a number of government initiatives have had a positive effect on professional lives. In primary schools, standards in the core subjects have never been higher and examination results in secondary schools show that many young people are succeeding. The Government in England must properly acknowledge the major developments which have taken place in reforming assessment in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The review of assessment in Wales, conducted by Professor Richard Daugherty and his team, whereby SATs and targets are being removed, is a model from which the DfES should learn. An independent review of testing and assessment of children in England could be commissioned by the Government and I hope that they will consider that. Such a review should encourage and support assessment for learning and could examine the role of summative assessment.
There is strong evidence in secondary schools that teachers lack time for reflection and professional space for talking with and learning from colleagues. My experience in schools is many years old, but I remember that such was the case, even then. Many young people in years seven and eight believe that the curriculum does not encourage variety, enjoyment and engagement. We all accept that there is an intrinsic relationship between pupil behaviour and inappropriate curriculum.
The national curriculum and assessment system does not facilitate easily the preparation of pupils for adult life in a diverse society and in a global context. Nor does it encourage the meeting of specific needs, such as those of minority ethnic pupils and those from socially and economically deprived backgrounds. The curriculum must provide schools with the confidence to tackle discrimination, including racism, sexism and homophobic bullying.
The current structure of key stages 2 and 3 does not encourage curriculum continuity between primary and secondary schoolsa matter of great concern to both
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primary and secondary school staffnor is there a recognition in the two key stages of the different ways that primary and secondary schools are organised. In addition, the piecemeal reduction in the number of statutory subject orders for post-14s has not achieved the aim of all young people being offered a broad and balanced curriculum and of tackling effectively the vocational and occupational skills deficit. The plight of modern foreign languages, which was discussed at Question Time today, and technology for post-14s, is an example of the urgency with which the 14 to 19 curriculum has to be tackled.
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