|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Puttnam: My Lords, may I add my thanks to those of earlier speakers to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for making today's refreshing debate possible. I have to confess to being a long-time admirer of the noble Baroness and I know that I speak for many others on these Benches when I say that she is a significant and welcome addition to the membership of this House.
First of all, I shall set out where I think we have got to in achieving an objective that we all share, that of creating a world-class educational opportunity for all our young people. Eight and a half years ago, with no previous experience and enormous apprehension, I went to work with the Department for Education and Skills. My principal role was to get out and about and to discover at first hand the principal day-to-day concerns of the teaching profession, and to attempt accurately to relay the voice of the staff room back to the department. Some 400 school visits later, I can say without any fear of informed contradiction that nothing short of a transformation has taken place in the classroom, and indeed staff room, of mostI emphasise mostof the schools in England.
Are there still problems? Of course there are. Have we moved as far or as quickly as I would have hoped? Of course we have not. It was interesting to find many of those disappointments and anxieties reflected in the forthcoming education White Paper. I am sure that Members of this House look forward to Second Reading and the chance to both praise and, if necessary, criticise whatever Bill eventually reaches us.
19 Jan 2006 : Column 800
But please believe me when I assure noble Lords that, certainly when viewed from the more apolitical chalk face, a transformation there has been. I thought that the noble Baroness, in introducing the debate, went quite a long way in generously acknowledging that fact. Time does not permit me to go into as much detail as I wish, so in the hope that you will accept my assertion, I will focus on just two moving targets, which I think deserve rather more debate and discussion than they would appear at present to be receiving.
First is the overhastyin my judgmentand politically driven abandonment of last year's Tomlinson report. You will remember that these were the recommendations covering the future of education from 14 to 19. The recommendations sent a clear signal that the future lay in the adoption of the IB or a comprehensive diploma or bac in substitution for our present system of A-levels. To anyone who had taken the trouble to study the challenges that are likely to face the young people of this country over the next 10 or 20 years, the logic underpinning the Tomlinson recommendations was compelling. Sadly, it proved even more irresistibly compelling to score a few opportunistic political points in the run-up to the election. Both major parties, I am afraid, have to accept a level of blame in this respect. As ever, opportunism won out over principle, and Tomlinson was quietly shelved, at what may well prove to be great cost to a generation of young people.
The important point here is that the report was shelved, not binned, and certainly not intellectually discredited. When the Minister comes to reply, it is my sincerest hope that he might offer some encouragement regarding the possibility of a rethink, and that this time the Government will refuse to be blown off course by any kind of rent-a-crowd media hysteria.
Personally, I would lay a dime to a dollar that the gold standard we were last year being urged to cling to will within 20 yearsjust one generationhave turned to dross. If we fail to act, the following scenario becomes all too likely: the most forward-thinking and adventurous schools will slowly just peel away from the A-level syllabus, offering instead their customised version of the IB. Any number of university admissions officers, when pressed, will already tell you that they are finding IB students an increasingly attractive proposition, certainly from the perspective of teaching and learning. The likely result will be that the best schools will become ever more successful, through offering their students the curriculum and therefore the learning skills that most employers and increasing numbers of people in higher education are already actively seeking. That could turn very rapidly into a two-tier system; if you like, a form of selection into HE, but this time with knobs on.
Needless to say, there are no problem-free options. If we are to return to nurturing the type of scholarship demanded by the IB, our teaching professionals need to have far higher levels of subject-based professional development, certainly sufficient to ensure that their knowledge and skills are continually updated. At
19 Jan 2006 : Column 801
present, that is far from being the case, as was touched on by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin. Currently, something less than 8 per cent of teaching professionals have any form of higher degree, and over 50 per cent confirm that they have received no subject-based in-service training in the past five years. Surely in most subjects that cannot be remotely acceptable. It is also a pretty dismal reflection on our progress in education since the James report in 1971, which recommended:
I cannot be the only person to have noticed that, 35 years later, many of those are concepts that have been enthusiastically taken on board by the commercial private sector but have failed to take root in the very sector at which they were specifically aimed. In fairness, a number of schemes and initiatives are attempting to address the issue, but most of them fall somewhat short of what is really needed.
Everything that I learnt during my years as chairman of the General Teaching Council and in countless discussions in staff rooms up and down the country leads me to believe that, to maintain the high standards expected by parents and young people, continuing professional development must be part of each and every teacher's contractual entitlement. Whichever way we choose to go with the curriculum, the quality of teaching, as has been said by any number of noble Lords this afternoon, will continue to be defined by the knowledge, the training and the professional development of the individual practitioner. Devolving responsibility for training to individual schools was not in itself a bad idea, but sadly it has not worked. There has been too much fragmentation, too many one-day or even half-day courses, many of them cancelled at the last minute due to lack of adequate staff cover. This is too serious an issue for the haphazard, make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach that has proved to be the norm.
In his response I very much hope that the Minister will agree that the time has come for a new and comprehensive approach to subject-based professional developmenta rather more committed approach, and one that can this time be endorsed by the entire profession.
I wonder whether the Minister agrees that the success or otherwise of this country will be determined not on the playing fields of Eton but in the classroom of every single schoolprimary and secondaryup and down the country. This belief has now become something of a commonplace, but what does not seem to have been fully absorbed is the very real financial implication of this challenge. Significantly greater resources will have to be poured into education if we are to remain a genuinely first-class nation. It does not matter which party is in government; that will continue to be the case. As the Prime Minister once memorably put it, much has been done, but much, much more has to be done. I confess that the second "much" is mine, but it is that additional "much" that will be essential if education in this country is to really be a success story.
19 Jan 2006 : Column 802
We have heard some wonderful speeches this afternoon, but the speech of my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton was quite remarkable. In it, she took us into that school in the Bronx, and invited us to see what magic looks and feels like. I looked around the Chamber when she was describing the potency and power of the school orchestra, and every noble Lord in the Chamber was nodding. We all know that to be the case; we all know that if you go into a school with a wonderful orchestra or a wonderful choir, that school will be successful. Why? We could easily spend another debate discussing that. This form of education is labour-intensive, capital-intensive and time-intensive. It requires real money. I very much hope that this Government, my Government, have the courage to understand that they must go the extra mile if they want to have the education service that we all dream of.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I add my grateful thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for this debate. As someone with very poor education, I have found it fascinating for the past couple of hours to hear experts from various parts of the education system of this country.
When Labour won the election in 1997, many people, myself included, were both excited and delighted that the Prime Minster spoke so movingly in a visionary way about the new Government's determination to place education at the very top of the many social and domestic issues that they were addressing. In fact, it was clear to the whole world that he considered education to be a priority issue.
Since coming to power, the Government have fulfilled their pledge to bring fairness and opportunity to the nation's children. From time to time, some of the proposals and subsequent changes have met with criticism and opposition, but that is the nature of our society. If we agree and give support to proposals, it is our right to do so. If there are those who, either as individuals or through political activity, disagree, that is equally acceptable.
Where I part company from some of the loud voices who seem to oppose almost everything that the Government propose is when that opposition is for opposition's sake, not on the merits of any particular suggestion. I draw the distinction between simply opposing and legitimate debateargument, compromise or accommodationbecause the major task of seeking improvement in our schools and in places of further education should have at its heart the real needs of our children and young people. I have no doubt that everyone in this House will agree that the educational needs of our young must be paramount.
My contribution to the debate is to comment on two parts of the White Paper. First, there is the question of parental involvement; secondly, I have a brief comment on the policy Building Schools for the Future. It is my firm belief that children are more likely to achieve higher standards where there is real encouragement in the home. I am more than aware of
19 Jan 2006 : Column 803
the difficulties that face families who are poorly housed and living in overcrowded conditions. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, of some of those problems, and from other noble Lords in this debate. Having lived on a housing estate and represented such families as a councillor and seen the lack of parental interest, I know just how difficult it is to get people to take some part in their children's educational needs.
I was very encouraged by the Government's aspirations in the White Paper published last October. It illustrates very clearly the role that parents could play in driving improvement in schools. It deals with the rights of parents to receive termlyI had not heard that word before I read the White Paper, but it is all educationinformation on the school's progress together with the opportunity to have face-to-face discussion with schools. Schools will be expected to use home-school agreements to agree concrete commitments about how schools and parents can work together. Parents who want to complain about any concerns that they have will have the right to complain to Ofsted.
There will be a requirement for all governing bodies to seek and respond to the views of parents, with an encouragement for them to establish parent councils. Tailored information will be provided to parents when their child starts primary school and when their child moves from primary to secondary education. The whole of chapter 5 is well worth studying. Whatever political arguments may or may not take place on a number of related issues, the role of the parent is crucial to a child's progress on the ladder of education.
I welcome the initiatives that can assist parents in playing a part in the education of their children. I just wish that there was a greater effort to foster their necessary involvement. I have a real concernit has been mentioned beforethat, in many homes, guidance at a young age is simply not there. Of course, there are countless thousands if not millions of parents who recognise the need for early at-home support. My concern is for those who do not have the active involvement of their parents. Outside the debates on whether to select, we should all ask the Government to give more attention to the guidance given to parents in many of our communities, which would help to encourage a more constructive entry into education.
Having had a very limited education myself, I literally thank God for having had parents who, although they themselves had few educational opportunities, fulfilled an educational role for me, my late brother and my younger sister. They taught us to read before we started school. It was an investment that helped all three of us. My mother gave us great encouragement. She said, "You can have the light on all night, provided you are reading". It was a thing that stayed in your mindher coming in saying, "Are you asleep yet?", and us saying "No!"whether that was Richmal Crompton, Arthur Ransome or many other authors who inspired and gave such encouragement to us as children. I wish that we could do more to get parents involved.
19 Jan 2006 : Column 804
Times are different now, and many parents are hard-pushed to pay the rent or mortgage. There is the ease with which some parents can switch the television on. There should be no blame attached to them. The society that we have created does not help those who must struggle against the enormous odds they encounter on some housing estates which I knowareas ridden with crime and deprivation. We cannot blame people for lacking the initiative and gumption to do a bit more about their own children's education. Yet no debate on education should lose sight of the real and desperate problems which some parents have to face. To become more involved in their children's schools is an option not easily available to them. That is why I welcome the Government's co-ordinated approach, and its attempts to improve areas through the urban renewal and Elevate regeneration programmes.
My second point, which I will touch on briefly, is government policy via Building Schools for the Future. I should declare an interest in that I have been appointed by Lancashire County Council to chair the staffing commission that is dealing with such requirements for the Burnley element of the Lancashire project. I would like to remind your Lordships that the Department for Education and Skills has approved £170 million of capital investment to replace 11 secondary schools in Burnley and Pendle, with eight new schoolssix in Burnley and two in Pendle. That project is recognised as a pathfinder authority and has secured new build for all work, so could be seen as some sort of pilot scheme. Anyway, people up in Lancashire are getting on with it and that government approach, recognising the need for real and proper investment in Burnley and Pendle, is much to be welcomed.
The project has received, and will continue to receive, support from the Burnley and Pendle borough councils, the Burnley Action Partnership, strategic partnerships and many other local community groups. When the go-ahead was obtained, Janet Newton, the project director for Lancashire County Council, said in a message to the people of Burnley and Pendle:
While the big political guns continue to make a lot of noise, I hope that we can all recognise the exciting future that awaits pupils because of government policies that demonstrate, by action, the real care and concern that they have for the educational needs of the nation's children.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|