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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, on introducing this important and timely debate. I endorse the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, on the importance of science as part of the curriculum, and the difficulties that the teaching of science currently faces. She may be interested to know that, during the summer, the Select Committee on Science and Technology will be considering science education and the scarcity of teachers in that area.

I want to take up the general issue, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, of education in schools, but I, too, do not want to address the White Paper. My noble friend Lady Walmsley, who will be winding up on these Benches, will put forward our
 
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views on it. However, I cannot hide the fact that I regard the White Paper as a thoroughly muddled document. As the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, indicated, it is relatively self-contradictory even between the introduction and the rest of the text. We on these Benches consider many of its proposals to be ill conceived.

I want to concentrate on another report, published last week and mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard. It is from the National Audit Office and is entitled, Improving poorly performing schools in England. Last week's headlines, particularly in the tabloids, highlighted 1 million children in failing schools. It was yet another rod with which to reinforce the failure of our current education system, grabbed with gusto by our Conservative Opposition and also, I suspect, by the No. 10 policy unit.

However, when one reads the small print of the report, one sees that the story is not totally one of failure. The number of primary schools in special measures or judged to have serious weakness last year—those judged by Ofsted to be failing—is 375 out of a total population of schools of 20,000. That is rather less than 1.5 per cent. Among them is the primary school at which I am a governor. It was rated to have serious weaknesses because it had been searching for more than a year for a new head teacher. Of course, one of the issues highlighted by the NAO report is the scarcity of people putting themselves forward to be head teachers. Again, I endorse the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, that the plethora of initiatives and the pressure on heads is such that many able deputy heads say, "Not on your nellie do I want to take on the job of being a head these days". There is great difficulty in finding new head teachers.

I am pleased to say that I became a member of the board at the same time as the new head joined the school, and it is now moving forward and out of serious measures. But there is almost a catch-22 situation. Why was it regarded as having serious weaknesses? It was because it had a failure of leadership. Why did it have a failure of leadership? It was because it did not have a head. Given the natural turnover in a dynamic system—education is a system because there is a whole range of schools—having 1.5 per cent not up to scratch is not extraordinary. Putting it the other way around, 98.5 per cent are either satisfactory—and I agree with the Government that there are too many coasting schools which need to be better—good or excellent. Therefore, as regards primary schools, the report is one to celebrate—it is one of success rather than one of failure. In addition, it is worth noting that not only were 98.5 per cent of the schools judged to be satisfactory, good or excellent, but the number of failing primaries halved between 2001 and 2004.

The story that emerges with secondary schools is not so good. Here, the proportion in special measures amounts to 5 per cent, a much more significant number. And in the category of underperforming schools—where the DfES looks at the value-added
 
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measures which can be seen in today's league tables by examining the intake of a school and judging whether the GCSE results measure up to what may be expected from that intake—the number of those judged to be performing poorly has increased to 23 per cent, or one in four. That emphasises that there is something seriously wrong with our secondary school system. Is GCSE achievement the right measure? If the GCSE itself is a big turn-off to some secondary school pupils, it is inevitable that we will end up by registering such poor performances. The good news is that, as with primaries, the schools that go into special measures manage to move out relatively quickly and fewer schools are being put into special measures than before.

Although there is much to celebrate in our schools and teachers, there is something shameful in other statistics that underpin our concern on all sides with the education system. In the country as a whole, 20 per cent—or one in five—of our adult population is judged to be functionally illiterate and innumerate. That is to say that they cannot read well enough to find something like a plumber in the Yellow Pages and cannot check bills or credit card statements. We also know that approximately 10 per cent of those leaving primary school are not reading or coping with figures well enough to be able to manage the secondary school curriculum. Sadly, many of them proceed on the margins of school through key stages 3 and 4 and usually drop out of key stage 4 in secondary school. This 10 per cent form the core of what is known as the NEET group—not in education, employment or training—which somehow disappears from the educational radar at 16.

We also need to remember that we have a rather larger proportion of young people dropping out of education and training at 16 and 17 than most other advanced industrialised countries. Yes, 53 per cent achieve five grades A to C at GCSE—although, as today's league tables indicate, not all of that 53 per cent get a maths or English GCSE—and many of them now stay in education or training through to 18 and go on to university. But the reverse of that coin is that 47 per cent do not achieve five grades A to C at GCSE, and, perhaps even more shaming, four in every 10 school leavers have no proper qualification in English or maths.

I now return to the NEET group—the 10 per cent who fail primary and go on to fail secondary. Sadly, for all the efforts of the numeracy and literacy strategies, that figure has not changed in 20 years. Disproportionately, those children come from disadvantaged homes with low incomes, poor housing, a high prevalence of marriage breakdown and a moving population of adults in their lives as new boyfriends and girlfriends come and go. Some have been abused either physically or sexually. Some have been picked up by social services and put into care and are what we now call looked-after children. Research into the mental health of children shows that 20 per cent of children have mental health problems but fewer than half get any help with those problems. Ninety per
 
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cent of young offenders have a mental health problem when they are children, and most of those problems are apparent by the age of seven.

I should like to pick up on that point. In my school I am the foundation stage governor, and I have spent some time talking to the foundation stage teachers. It is clear that we can identify by the age of seven those who are going to be the problem children—those who will form this 10 per cent who go on to fail through school, the NEET group. The Government are right to put resources into early years education and to attempt, through children's trusts, to ensure that all agencies are brought together. The problem is that these efforts are not carried through strongly enough into primary schools. Teachers can identify future problem children but still struggle for two to three years to gain recognition of those special educational needs, receive the extra money which that brings and get the extra pairs of hands into the classroom.

The NAO report highlighted the fact that the extra money provided for schools in special measures was less than £500 per pupil. While spurring schools on to achieve ever higher SATs and GCSE results and naming and shaming if they do not may be a way of improving educational performance, it poses the continual problem of creating educational apartheid and, above all, of ignoring the needs of the educational underclass in our schools. It causes many of the problems of poor performance and poor behaviour.

We need to put in place two essential reforms. The first is a real attempt to help primary schools with disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged and difficult pupils and to ensure that no pupil leaves a primary school without competence in the three Rs. Secondly, we need to reform the secondary school curriculum so that it engages and motivates the typical teenager. Sadly, the White Paper contributes to neither of those developments.

12.16 pm

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for initiating this important and timely debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth should be speaking at this point as he is the chair of the Church of England's board of education and our lead bishop on this subject, but, as most noble Lords know, he has had to be off ill for the past six months. I am very glad to report that next week he will have his last round of chemotherapy and that he very much hopes to be back in your Lordships' House within a couple of months.

Meanwhile, it is important that there should be a Church of England voice in this debate because the Church of England, through its 4,700 schools, is deeply committed to the educational life of this country, not in a narrow sense of making good members of the Church of England but on the basis of a clear and strong Christian faith, wanting to make a contribution to the educational development of children in the community as a whole. It is fundamental to the Church of England's philosophy on education that we are there to serve the community as a whole.
 
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Although the Government's White Paper makes many important points, I suppose that a key thrust is the greater emphasis on variety and choice, particularly parental choice. The Church of England has strongly believed in variety and choice throughout its long history in education. At the moment we have some voluntary aided schools and some voluntary controlled schools. We have worked very closely with the Government in recent years to make our contribution to new academies. Eight Church of England academies have opened and 25 are under discussion.

The White Paper suggests that in addition to traditional Church of England schools, it is open to a diocese to set up a trust in which a new kind of school would be founded. It would not be a Church of England school but, again, a school serving the community as a whole. It would of course be inclusive. I know that many dioceses will be open to working with the Government if the conditions in their area are appropriate to see what kind of schools might be developed under this new kind of trust.

An extraordinary change has taken place during the past 40 years in the Church of England's attitude to its role in education. When I was first ordained, Church schools were felt by Church members, including most clergy, as something of a burden, a bit of a drag and something that we ought to get out of as quickly as possible. The situation could not be more different now. We feel proud of our schools. We believe that they make a huge contribution to the educational life of this country. In recent years, that is significantly due to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the report that bears his name, which recommended that the Church of England should fund 100 new secondary schools. Although we have one in four primary schools in the country, we have only about one in 20 secondary schools. I am glad to say that the Church of England has responded to the initiative of the noble Lord and opened 44 new secondary schools, if we include the eight academies. We will work with the Government, where appropriate, to see whether schools should be refounded under the new trust system.

It is obvious that we live in a multi-faith society. Church of England schools are now regarded by most people as faith schools alongside other faith schools. It has always seemed to me only consistent and fair to argue that if the Church of England and other Christian denominations are allowed to set up faith schools, other religions should be allowed to do so as well. Like most members of the Church of England, I firmly support the liberality in our society for Hindus or Muslims to have their own schools—with one proviso, to which I shall come in a moment. However, in view of the current emphasis in the White Paper on greater variety and greater choice, I wonder whether there is room for even more experimentation with what we may call joint-faith schools—two faiths getting together to see what they might do. Here, I express a personal interest. I am a trustee of a small group seeking to set up a genuine multi-faith school.
 
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People may say, "Are not all state schools multi-faith schools?". They are in the sense that they have pupils from different denominations and different religions and teach RE from a variety of different standpoints, but the kind of school that we have in mind is one in which religion is taken very seriously. The pupils will get a serious education in their own religion, whether it is Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity, but they will do so in the context of pupils of other religions taking their own religion equally seriously. I am glad to say that a great deal of interest has been shown in that idea. We have had a number of bites, but we are still looking for a local authority to be a partner with whom we can pioneer that new kind of school.

I said that I had one proviso or question mark in my mind about multi-faith schools—whether they are Church of England schools or faith schools of any other kind. That is that what goes on in there must be education, not propaganda. That is a crucial matter not only of the curriculum but of how the curriculum is taught. However attached people are to their religion, they must be taught to look at their religion from a historical and critical point of view as well as a respectful one and to be open to the possibility of their vision of the world being enlarged and enriched by other perspectives. It is fundamental that schools are in the business of education, not propaganda. The Church of England has always recognised that and that needs to be so for other faith schools of any kind.

Religious education is one aspect of faith schools. There is no doubt that some religious education is very good. Not long ago, I read that the fastest-growing subject at A-level is religious studies. So clearly some schools are taking it very seriously indeed.

All noble Lords are aware that there is dissatisfaction with religious education from a number of points of view. Non-Christian communities feel that the Church of England is unfairly privileged in the field. Christians feel that everything is taught except Christianity. Opinion polls indicate that 50 per cent of the people of this country—perhaps the figure is not quite as high as that—have no clue of the meaning of Easter. We want children to leave school able to read and write. They should also have a basic knowledge of what is fundamental to our cultural heritage; that is, the religion that has formed and shaped the whole way in which our society operates.

That leads on to the great variety in quality in the different kinds of schools. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, emphasised, some schools are very good. The majority of schools are good, and we want to celebrate that fact, but there is no doubt that schools vary enormously. I might go into a primary school for, let us say, an assembly, and the children are so quiet and good that it almost brings tears to your eyes. I visit other schools where perhaps 40 per cent of the children have special needs and all one can do is admire the heroic work of the teachers who are achieving something in that environment.
 
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As the White Paper emphasises, leadership, including the leadership of the head, is key. I reiterate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, about the current difficulty of appointing heads for schools. In London, 50 per cent of headship appointments had to be re-advertised. That must be a very worrying indication which the Government need to take seriously. There can be no improvement in our worst performing schools unless they have heads of real quality who are very strongly supported. I do not know what can be done to ensure that the right heads are in those schools.

Education is not just about achieving certain educational standards, as the noble Baroness rightly emphasised; it is about creating an ethos in which children are formed, nurtured and shaped for the future. I reiterate the importance of citizenship education. We have recently heard from the Chancellor about Britishness. For me, it is not a question of waving flags or putting flags in gardens. It is about all of us, including children, deeply appreciating and rejoicing in the institutions that we have in this country—our liberty under the rule of law, democratic government and the kind of values that make all of this possible. If we are thinking about the ethos of a school and forming citizens for the future, we may realise that citizenship education is a vital part of the school curriculum and is related to the whole issue of school morale .

The Church of England is delighted to be able to make a continuing contribution to the education of children in this country. We will work as closely as possible with the Government in a number of ways to achieve the highest possible standards not only in educational attainment but in achieving the right ethos in our schools.

12.29 pm


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