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Baroness Sharples: My Lords, the noble Baroness talks about 294 support staff. What do they all do?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, they are involved in all the administrative and other services to support officers and to ensure that there is proper delivery. Those two services—what the front-line police officers do and what the civilian employees do to support them—are very well integrated and deliver very high quality results in a number of constabularies.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, proportionately, there has been much more gun crime in Nottinghamshire for the chief constable to deal with than there has been, say, in Greater Manchester, and that it therefore needs further money to enable it to address such very serious organised crime?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that gun crime in Nottinghamshire
 
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is a concern, but I cannot agree that it is far worse than anywhere else in the country. I will say that Nottinghamshire has made inroads into the problem. The figures show that it has been able to address the issue with good results.

Murder has been one of the issues very much at the forefront of the Chief Constable's mind in terms of the latest figures from the force's Operation Stealth, targeted at drugs and firearms since August 2002. Gun crime is down from 2003 to 2004 by 28 per cent—that is Notts police's own figure—1,150 people were arrested, 70 per cent with a positive outcome; offenders are now serving a total of 876 years in gaol; 145 firearm offenders have been dealt with; 356 firearms and 6,200 rounds of ammunition have been seized. There have been seizures of £8.5 million worth of class A drugs, £1.2 million-worth of class B drugs and £950,000 of cash and vehicles. That is not failure; it is doing better than before. Is it good enough? No. Should it be better? Absolutely.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motions in the names of the Baroness Sharp of Guildford and the Lord Garden set down for today shall each be limited to two and a half hours.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order 47 having been dispensed with, Bill read a third time, and passed.

Education: Tomlinson Report

Baroness Sharp of Guildford rose to call attention to the Government's response to the Tomlinson report and to ways in which more 16 to 19 year-olds can be encouraged to participate in education and training; and to move for Papers.

(9) The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Tomlinson report on education for 14 to 19 year-olds was published in October last year. It proposes fundamental reforms to upper secondary education in this country. Those reforms are far-reaching and of great significance, yet no Statement was made in this House about the Tomlinson report; nor, when in February this year the Government published a White paper replying to that report, did we get a Statement or a chance to debate the issues.
 
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It is for that reason that I have chosen today to offer a debate to the House. It is appropriate that we debate this report of very considerable significance. One of our educational leaders in this country, John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, described it as having missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

Why do we need to look at reform of 14-to-19 education? As everyone knows, the Government boast of the increase in the number of young people gaining GCSEs at grades A to C, the equivalent of the old O-level. Some 53 per cent now get five good A to C GCSEs. In the old days, when O-level was introduced, it was assumed that it was appropriate only to those in the top 20 per cent of the intelligence quotient. Now, we have 53 per cent gaining that qualification. We must remember that, although 53 per cent gain five good GCSEs at grades A to C, 47 per cent do not. Of that 47 per cent, some gain lesser qualifications at GCSE, and others—a hard core of about 5 per cent of pupils—gain no qualifications at all.

When preparing for the debate, I looked up a volume—some of your Lordships may remember it—that was published just before the Government came to power in 1997. The author was Helena Kennedy, and the book was called Learning Works. It was about the further education sector. In the introduction are some words that we should remember when considering the provision of education for this group of children:

Although we may be proud of the achievements at GCSE, our participation rates in education and training at age 17 are low by international comparison. With 75 per cent of our 17 year-olds in education or training of some sort, we are 24th out of 28 OECD countries. Why? It is partly because of the poor school experience of some of those children. Many of the 47 per cent who fail to get their five A to Cs are bored by the 14-plus curriculum and demotivated from learning. GCSEs and A-levels were, as I said, geared to the academic curriculum, the top 20 per cent. Although they have been broadened, the academic still dominates. Is that suitable for the whole range of the population?

In the UK, England and Wales have traditionally failed to offer a coherent vocational route. As a consequence, vocational education has remained a second-class option. At a time when only 10 per cent of the age group went on to university—back in the 1960s and 1970s—apprenticeships and HNDs provided an alternative route into management and especially into the engineering and construction industries. However, now that 45 per cent of the age group go on at some point or other into further and higher education, we still lack people who are qualified technically and practically in those skills. There is a fantastic skills shortage in many areas. It is for that reason that we need to provide a coherent framework of education that embraces the vocational and the academic.
 
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In any case, there are many who have been discontented even with what we have. As your Lordships will know, businesses complain about the lack of ability among school leavers to speak or write good English, about failures at spelling and about the lack of ability in basic numeracy. Others, including many universities, see A-levels as offering too narrow a curriculum in sixth forms. We are the only country in the world where 17 and 18 year-olds staying on in education are encouraged to narrow their studies to two or three subjects, a trend that has been exacerbated by the tendency to widen the offering and add subjects such as psychology and international relations that, at one time, were seen as specialised university subjects not suitable for school study. Yet, at the same time, A-levels are not seen to be challenging pupils enough. Twenty-three per cent of those taking A-levels get A grades, making it difficult for the universities to distinguish the really bright from the bright.

Finally, we are an over-examined nation. Young people these days face SATS—externally moderated examinations—at 14, 16, 17 and 18. Is that really necessary? What are the effects on the narrowing of curricula? We have a narrow curriculum and just not enough time for other activities outside it in the community and creative sphere. There is too much teaching to the test. As the National Audit Office reminded us recently, it costs £610 million to administer those examinations.

So the Tomlinson report gave us a broad review. What did it recommend? It was, above all, an attempt to create a unified framework of achievement and qualifications post-14, based on four levels of a diploma or a graduation certificate. Everyone, or nearly everyone, who left school would take with them a diploma recording their achievements while at school, including sport and community service, work experience and skills, as well as academic achievements. The idea was that an advanced, or level 4, diploma, whether achieved by academic or vocational route, would have equal standing and provide the gateway to further, degree-level study.

The diplomas were to incorporate all existing exams, including GCSEs, A-levels, vocational courses and apprenticeships, in a common framework, with specific, age-related exams essentially to be phased out. There was to be a compulsory core of functional literacy, numeracy and ICT; an extended essay or practical project; and optional modules based on GCSE/A-level subject courses or vocational or specialist areas. Successful completion of courses was to be rewarded with credits that could be accumulated and stored and put towards the completion of a particular level of diploma. Pupils were to take courses and exams when they were ready for them, rather than at a set age, and were encouraged to mix and match vocational and academic courses.

None of that was to happen overnight. Proposals for phasing out A-levels and GCSEs ran through to 2014. It was matter of phasing in the new and phasing out the old. All levels of the diploma, except the advanced level, were to be assessed mainly by teachers rather than by exam boards, although a good deal of training for assessors was proposed. Electronic transcripts setting out pupil achievements in all courses and other activities would
 
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also be available for the A-level equivalent exams. An extended essay or research project would be required, and more testing questions also were to be a feature of that level.

The key feature of all the proposals was the unified framework that would provide a coherent career progression, whichever route was chosen. Modular credit accumulation would allow the mixing of different routes and allow those who wished or needed to take longer to achieve a certain level to be able to do so, even to be able to move out of the system for a while and re-enter it, retaining the credits from the courses that they had completed.

So what have the Government proposed? The headlines were grabbed by the fact that the Government decided to retain, rather than to phase out, GCSEs and A-levels. The Tomlinson report had proposed their phasing out by merger with the new diploma framework. The diploma framework is being introduced only for the vocational or work-based learning areas. Following Tomlinson, a number of specialised learning lines, such as health and social care, engineering, construction and the built environment, will be introduced. Initially, eight such learning lines, and eventually 14, will be introduced. The diplomas will have three levels rather than the four proposed by Tomlinson. His entry level, which would have given those with less learning a chance to leave school with some sort of record of what they did, is not to be pursued. The Government are proposing three levels. The foundation level is equivalent to the current NVQ level 1, which is basic introductory knowledge plus functional maths, English and ICT. Level 2 is equivalent to five good GCSEs, GNVQs, Modern Apprenticeship or BTEC at that level, with compulsory functional maths and English, achieving A to C in those subjects. Level 3 is equivalent to the current A-levels, BTEC or advanced Modern Apprenticeships. The specialist lines are aligned to the new sector skills councils, and the industry is to have a large say in training requirements.

Vocational education is to be delivered in schools alongside colleges and private training providers, and schools are to be encouraged to develop centres of vocational excellence. It is envisaged that schools and colleges will co-operate in providing different lines of specialist training, with the initial phase, the "young apprentice", beginning at 14, and allowing for work-based experience also to start at that age.

From her evidence in the Select Committee on 2 March, it is clear that the Secretary of State envisages a situation where different schools, colleges and training providers specialise in offering different diploma subjects along different lines, and that pupils who pursue a mixed curriculum of academic and vocational subjects may well be expected to travel around different campuses.

There will also be a general diploma framework to cover the GCSE route. As originally envisaged, this will acknowledge achievements in sports and community service, as well as academic achievements. Essentially, the Government have designated the diploma as the qualification for vocational training while retaining the GCSE/A-level brand for academic studies. Although, as the White Paper stresses, both will be valid routes into
 
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higher education, and there will be room for flexibility and mixing options from the two routes, and for movement from one route to another, this decision effectively retains, and even reinforces, the divide between the academic and vocational routes. That is why there is a good deal of disappointment. Creating a single qualification framework is seen as bridging that divide and getting away from the two-tier structure.

The Government have provided two ladders, one academic and one vocational. We on these Benches have long argued for a framework that we call the "climbing frame to learning", and moving up and across is an essential part of that. The problem is that, while these two ladders may be wide at the bottom, and even overlap a bit, as you go up them it becomes increasingly difficult to step from one to the other.

We should never underestimate the ability of the English to turn diversity into hierarchy. We have a wide diversity of institutions that serve the 14 to 19 year-old age group, and a wide diversity of students. The crucial factor is to find a way of fitting one into the other.

After much discussion, careful consideration and consultation, Mike Tomlinson put forward proposals that we on these Benches thought were not perfect, but were well worth developing and building on. Above all, we welcome the open framework that mirrored our proposals for this "climbing frame for learning", holding open doors and encouraging the learner always to try to climb a little further up that framework.

We believe that the key to making such a framework work is the adoption of some sort of modular credit-based system, where the student could accumulate, store and reactivate credit. It provides the basic level playing-field on which to build parity, at least in terms of credit units, if not of esteem—although esteem may well follow from that. Most importantly, it provides an incentive for the individual to make the effort to reach a little higher. Credits gained, for example, on a work-based training course, can be topped up by the individual by taking, of his or her own volition, an evening class or an e-learning course. It is worth doing this if there is some tangible qualification at the end.

I do not think the Government's proposals provide a satisfactory framework at present. There is too much in their thinking that seems to me to hark back to the world of the 1950s and 1960s, of a neat division of society between the academic, the technical and the secondary modern—a world in which we all knew, and were expected to know, our allotted places. We are moving on from that world. If we accept the Government's response as the beginnings of a new dialogue, rather than as the end of the affair, perhaps, when we have finished, we can get them facing forwards rather than backwards. I beg to move for Papers.


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