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Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for initiating this
 
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important debate. In 1991 my noble friend Lord Moser—then Sir Claus—in his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, castigated what he saw as the major failures of the British education system and called for the establishment of a Royal Commission. That call was echoed a few months later in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan.

It was rejected by the Major Government at the time, but, happily, Sir Claus Moser—as he then was—was able to persuade his friend Paul Hamlyn, subsequently Lord Hamlyn, to fund from his foundation a national commission on education, in which I was privileged to share. We published our report in 1993—12 years ago. I want to pay tribute to those who assisted in the commission's work; notably my vice-chairman John Raisman, my noble friend Lord Moser, Sir John Cassels, our director, and many other commissioners including the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.

We promulgated seven items in our vision—which I commend to your Lordships' House—and seven goals. We strongly recommended that the educational provision in the UK should be co-ordinated and planned as a single whole from age 14 to 18 or 19 and even, at times, beyond. We recommended a new general education diploma leading to an ordinary level qualification at about age 16 and an advanced level qualification at 18 to 19 to replace GSCEs, A-levels, BTEC, GNVQs and so on. All courses were to be provided on a modular basis.

At once your Lordships will ask how that proposal differed from GSCEs and A-levels. We of course recognised that it was important that in the national curriculum there should be five core areas within which there should be a wide choice of specific subjects. Those areas were languages; mathematics; natural science and technology; expressive arts, including physical education; and the humanities, including social science.

As for the requirements for the diploma, we recommended that at ordinary level the student must obtain at least the minimum total number of credit points prescribed, including the minimum number of credit points prescribed in subjects within the compulsory core. For the award of a diploma at advanced level, we recommended that the student must obtain at least the minimum number of credit points prescribed in a nominated major area of study; but in addition, the minimum total number of credit points—as we promoted it—prescribed in subjects from at least three core areas not within the major area of study.

Your Lordships will recognise some resemblance to the International Baccalaureate. I have to say to noble Lords who have mentioned it today that two of my grandchildren, educated at an international school in Switzerland, both passed the International Baccalaureate and had no difficulty in obtaining entrance to Durham University, where each of them achieved good degrees. The fact that they had not taken A-levels was no disadvantage to them.

In passing I would mention that, building on our report and its recommendations, my noble friend Lord Dearing in his subsequent report a few years
 
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later also strongly commended a baccalaureate. He apologises that he cannot contribute to the debate because he is undertaking a task in Berlin on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

One of the principles underlying our proposals was that there should be, as my noble friend Lady Warnock has said, a mechanism whereby there would be parity of esteem between the academic and vocational qualifications. That mechanism must allow a fast-track means for those intending to go up the academic ladder, but at the same time it must include the possibility that youngsters could take a combination of academic and vocational subjects; and the issue of breadth is fundamental.

Among the evidence that we took—we obtained 250 written submissions from many organisations, including universities, and took oral evidence at 50 hearings over a 12-month period—there was almost universal acceptance by virtually but not quite all the universities that A-levels had passed their sell-by date. There was a strong recommendation to the effect that they were so narrow that early specialisation was resulting in graduates in the arts who were scientifically illiterate and graduates in science who knew little of the arts and humanities. That was one of the reasons why we felt that breadth should be encouraged.

We did not expect, or intend, that the process of the education diploma should end at the age of 18 or 19. One of our most important recommendations was that those who entered work at 16 plus, and those who continued in work beyond 18 or 19, should have the opportunity of acquiring points towards the diploma through credit accumulation and transfer so that they would achieve additional qualifications of an academic or vocational nature through their occupational life. That is a crucial issue that is not fully covered in the White Paper.

There are many good things in the White Paper, but the attempt to cobble a new educational structure on to the existing framework of GCEs and A-levels is an error. I believe that the Government should think about it again very seriously. It is important to the future of our country. In the National Commission on Education report, one of our visions was that,

I mention to my noble friend Lord Northbourne that he will see a lot about social skills and interpersonal relationships in the National Commission on Education report. We also made clear that in the United Kingdom much higher achievement in education and training is needed to match world standards. I believe that if the Government pursue what is in the White Paper without reconsideration they will have lost a golden opportunity to improve education in the UK.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: My Lords, we are deeply in debt to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for keeping these important matters before us and for giving us this opportunity to discuss in such a free way the proposals of the Tomlinson report and the White Paper that responds to it.
 
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I live in the London Borough of Islington. I do not confess that in too many places as I might get a groan in response, but this is a safe place from that point of view. I am a governor and trustee of the Central Foundation School for Boys and the Central Foundation School for Girls. In the few years that I have been associated with those beleaguered schools in a very difficult social setting at the southern end of the borough of Islington there has been an improvement in morale, the investment of funds and examination results. I want to put that on the record and I would be delighted to respond on it. Financial support has been increased and the schools have become special schools: the boys' school specialises in business and enterprise and the girls' school specialises in the performing arts. We have been able to bring professional people from the City of London in to act as mentors and to enter into relationships with some of our young people. Local offices have also been involved in a healthy to-ing and fro-ing.

I welcome the fact that pupils aged 16 and above are given financial inducements to continue their education. It seems to me that that is a very important consideration. When I go into the schools, I rejoice at the way in which provision is made for the teaching, in the classroom or outside it, of children with special educational needs, as well as the teaching of the normal core curriculum subjects. There has been a terrific sea change and I record it with great pleasure. So I give credit where credit is due. All that has been happening while Tomlinson and his colleagues were deliberating and while those who responded in the White Paper were thinking.

I picked out in the report the notion of a unified framework within which the proposals being put forward could happen. I regret that it has not figured more in the debate. I thought it was an ingenious idea that showed great imagination. It also showed realism because a proper time was envisaged for transitional arrangements to take us to full implementation. I liked the way that there was so much crossover and flexibility at the different levels so that a pupil could buy in and out of different strata and put together something coherent that worked around him. I liked the realistic way that it related the world of learning to the world of work. The only thing missing was an adequate definition of "education". The words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth—"human flourishing"—seem as good a definition as any to me, as do "spiritual, moral, social and cultural development". I distrust acronyms that have a "k" in them.

I do not want to rake over old ground and ideological battles long won, but I am encouraged to do so by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. In the 1950s and 1960s, we lived in a world that told us where we belonged. I passed the 11-plus examination but my brother, my only sibling, who was a year younger than me, did not. He went to the secondary modern school and he knew his place all right. Although it was a good secondary modern school and he was a very good student, every pupil in the school knew that he was
 
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only there because he had failed an exam. My brother could sniff out from a mile away patronising proposals to marginalise pupils who do not perform well in our educational system. I wish he were alive now to help me apply his nose to the proposals in Tomlinson and the White Paper.

We must separate less able pupils from those with vocational orientations because they are not the same and we have less able pupils. The unified framework offers honest ways that, if we worked at it, could give everybody a sense of achieving what they were capable of and could equip them for the world of work. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and fear that the separation of GCSEs and A-levels from other possibilities will diminish them and I would like some reassurance from the Minister on that when he sums up the debate.

I rejoice at what Tomlinson has put before us. There is much that is good in the White Paper but there is a conceptual flaw at its heart. I would love to think that we could go on working on that to see if we can bring forward something better at the end of the day.


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