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6 Dec 2007 : Column 1863

Sad though those figures are, they reveal a more unacceptable problem; that of social disadvantage. Clever children from the poorest backgrounds fall progressively behind less clever children from higher socio-economic backgrounds. By the end of compulsory schooling, at key stage 4, children eligible for free school meals are on average 40 per cent behind their contemporaries. That is unacceptable in any society and policy must address that issue not only for the sake of the future economy but, above all, for the sake of social justice.

The stakes for young people are high. Research has shown that five good GCSEs generate a financial return between 23 per cent and 27.5 per cent. Getting only one to four good GCSEs contributes less than half that financial return. For grades D or below, the return is zero. This is where life chances are won or lost for the majority of children, yet the difference between the best and worst schools is stark. The top 200 state schools get 95 per cent of their pupils five good GCSEs, while in the poorest schools, it is just four per cent.

There is wide recognition that we have far too many schools where standards are below expectation. Ofsted reported that of the secondary schools inspected in the autumn and spring of 2006-07, 51 per cent were judged below the standard of good and 10 per cent were inadequate. Parents in more socially deprived areas may well despair of finding the ideal school for their child. The challenge to the Government is how to respond to that failure—a failure to which their own well intentioned policies have contributed.

The simple, sad truth is that there are not enough good schools to satisfy the parental desire to find one. The extent of parental desperation was shown in a recent poll in which just under half of parents with children at secondary school admitted that they would be prepared to use any underhand tactic to get their child into the right school. Those tactics include embellishing their religious beliefs, renting accommodation near the school or using an alternative address at which they have no intention of living.

For far too long, the debate in this country has been about the endless zero-sum-gain distribution of who gets the good school places. The real question is not about admissions policies, it is how we increase the total number of good school places so that no parent has to be disappointed. It is therefore to be warmly welcomed that the Conservative Party is taking as a model for policy the experience of Sweden’s past 15 years—another country with high educational outcomes. This system allows new high-quality, non-selective state schools to be created, free from any political control. All parents have the power to take the child out of the state school with which they are dissatisfied and apply to one of these new independent schools. The schools are free and the money follows the pupil from the former school to the new school on entry.

The Swedish experience demonstrates that thousands of children from the poorest areas have escaped from underperforming local schools to be given a chance in

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life. Crucially, this degree of parental choice and parental involvement has brought about a rise in standards in all state schools. In Britain, the new academies, just like their predecessors—the city technology colleges of the late Lord Joseph’s vision—have often been able to demonstrate the same lifting of standards and life chances for children from all walks of life. I freely acknowledge the wisdom of this Government in establishing these new independent academies within the state system, but it is sad that the Government have allowed so many restrictions on the setting up of these schools that the policy has not flourished as widely as it should.

The Conservative Green Paper promises 220,000 new school places in schools which would enjoy a great degree of freedom. That number would meet the demand from every parent who lost their appeal for the school of first choice in the most deprived boroughs. As in Sweden, the money would follow the pupil, but more than that, the Green Paper promises a premium for pupils from the most deprived backgrounds, so helping to ensure that they get first choice of the best schools and best teaching. To implement this policy as quickly as possible, the current obstacles of centralised bureaucracy and planning rules which prevent new schools being established would be removed. Parents, charities, philanthropists and existing school federations would be encouraged to set up such schools in areas where they were most needed.

Good discipline is a necessary condition of learning, and it must be a priority of government to restore the authority and status of heads and teachers, to enable them to exercise their proper role. When pupils can with impunity defy and insult teachers—even sometimes with physical violence—discipline has vanished, and learning is unlikely if not impossible. I reflect sometimes on my small, four foot 11 inch high mother, who was a phenomenally successful secondary school teacher, telling me, “You just walk in and expect the children to behave. When they see that—they do!”. I wonder if the training of teachers today gives that sort of confidence to new teachers.

I therefore welcome the Conservative Party’s commitment to shifting the balance of power in the classroom back in favour of the teacher, and in the school, back in favour of the head. This will mean greater freedom for teachers in exercising their authority, recognition by government of the professionalism of teachers and an inspection system which enhances the role of the teacher, and disseminates widely those factors which enhance pupils’ achievement.

In recent years there has been too much inspection which has demoralised the profession through naming and shaming bad teachers and failing schools. I have said in this House before that telling people they are bad and shaming them publicly does not make them better and it demoralises their high-performing colleagues. If the authority of teachers in their classrooms is to be restored, and if inspection is to truly bear on standards, inspectors must look for the growth potential and work with teachers to build on the best of practice even in the most difficult and underperforming schools.

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The Green Paper promises improvements in Ofsted’s methods with more detailed inspections for schools where attainment is poor, and lighter inspection regimes for those schools where the outcomes are good. I welcome this, as I believe teachers will, too. Discipline, however, depends also on interesting, even inspiring, teaching which engages the pupil from the moment a lesson begins. If children are bored, and the teaching is lacklustre, discipline can quickly become a problem. The expertise of the teacher in her or his subject is central to their ability to engage the imagination and motivation of the pupils. Well qualified teachers, up to date and confident in their subject, are the surest guarantee of good discipline and successful learning. The shortage of teachers in the sciences and in many other key subjects is therefore a matter of concern where government action is clearly needed.

It is not only what goes on in the classroom which establishes a climate of good discipline in a school. I recently visited the new Petchey Academy in Hackney, where the children are seated for lunch at small tables, with one child in charge as host, serving the others politely from well arranged serving dishes. Total order and discipline are taken for granted. This in an area where many of the children have never experienced a family meal seated at table. The overall effect was most inspiring, and the efforts of the children to make me as a visitor part of their lunchtime conversation was a tribute to the climate the principal and staff had established.

Teachers are the most important ingredient of educational standards, and policy must be directed towards raising the morale, motivation and thence performance of the profession, which has been so severely dented by the climate of central control and loss of autonomy under this Government. There seems to be a belief among politicians and the press that the education establishment is somehow opposed to traditional teaching methods and a strong curriculum. With my experience in recent years, I have no idea where this idea stems from. The teachers I meet, the union leaders and the schools I visit are wedded to traditional methods—indeed, it is salutary to remember that the much-quoted success of synthetic phonics in two Scottish authorities was an initiative from the teachers themselves, not driven by any politician. Perhaps it is the long-ago memories of the 1960s and ’70s, when a fundamental error was indeed made by education enthusiasts who believed that innovative and non-traditional methods which were made to succeed by a handful of exceptional teachers and heads, could be also made to work on a national scale.

In the report of the Conservative policy commission on public services, of which I was co-chair with my right honourable friend Stephen Dorrell, we recommend a new partnership with the teaching profession, in which senior professionals have a part in developing policy and an input in determining the criteria for their own accountability to the public. We also recommend the establishment of a royal college of teachers, on the model of the royal colleges in the medical profession. This would be, we suggest, a body to give recognition to a cadre

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of senior members of the profession, still in practice, who demonstrate both academic achievement and clinical insight.

Such measures would be more than symbolic, important though the symbolism would be. They would provide Ministers with a body of professional expertise on which to draw, and a link between politicians and the teaching profession which has been sadly lacking in recent years. It is striking that the country which enjoys consistently the highest standards of pupil attainment is Finland, where teachers have a high social status and the brightest and best of the nation’s graduates enter the teaching profession. No, my Lords, they are not better paid than our teachers, they are simply selected to the course of training by the most rigorous academic standards. While in this country we too often accept applicants with very modest academic attainment to train as teachers, in Finland entry to the courses is highly competitive, and only those with the highest qualifications gain entry.

The teaching profession has no wish to return to the long-ago days of low accountability and a lack of rigour in method and content which characterised some of the 1960s and ’70s here and in the US. We have today a profession of which we should be proud, with high professional standards, and solid academic achievement in the subjects taught. It is now widely recognised that the traditional methods of teaching, with which teachers are themselves most comfortable, achieve the highest outcomes in pupil attainment. High expectations, close monitoring of progress at classroom and school level and firm discipline all achieve results dear to the hearts of teachers as well as to parents and the general public. It is these principles to which the Conservatives have committed themselves. I beg to move for Papers.

2.58 pm

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for securing the debate and also for attracting such distinguished company. I will leave the detailed response in the capable hands of the Minister, tempted though I am to make some reflections of my own. In part, the noble Baroness’s vision is somewhat stark, to say the least. The debate’s title begs some questions: what do we mean by “equality of opportunity”? What do we mean by school standards and by good schools? Do we have a common understanding or just individual assumptions?

I would argue that the Government have developed several strategies to do what the noble Baroness seeks. Clearly one aspect of achievement and of being a good school is academic progress. It is unquestionable that standards have risen over the past 10 years. Funding per pupil has doubled; there are record numbers of adults in the classroom, a number of strategies to combat underperformance, more personalised learning and so on. The number of teachers and support staff is at its highest for 25 years. Ofsted has said that today’s teachers are the best generation ever. I have to say that observing some of the teaching in the school where I am a governor confirms that claim.

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Of course, challenges remain, but this Government have set themselves firmly on course to improve the lot of children and to improve schools. This is apparent in their development of the Every Child Matters agenda, their concern about child poverty, the Children and Young Persons Bill and a Children’s plan for the next 10 years, in addition to school initiatives. I wonder where in the history of government anyone has tried to support children more, and I think that credit is due here.

Since 1997, the number of schools where fewer than 25 per cent of pupils achieve five or more GCSEs has been reduced from 616 to 26. Primary standards are at a high level. In 2007, 80 per cent of 11 year-olds achieved the target level four or above in English and 77 per cent in maths. In 1997, less than two-thirds of 11 year-olds achieved this standard in either subject. I am sure that the Minister will give many more indicators of success. But schools cannot do it all. A member of the party opposite in another place accused the Government of blaming parents. I do not see it like this. Parents have to be supported and the Government's family policies show that this is being done but parents also need to be held to account for setting aspirations and boundaries for their children. Learning and appropriate behaviour and expectations start in the home. Sadly, this is sometimes missing and schools have a great deal to do in making up for such a deficit. This is one of the reasons personal, social and health education is so important and I will return to that subject in a moment.

I want now to look at what I think a good school should do. This was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. It should foster and encourage an atmosphere where learning can take place and where social skills are developed. For some children, schools provide the nurturing environment which their home does not. A good school develops a love of learning, ignites aspirations, curiosity and good communications skills. It is not just about academic achievement and league tables. A good school fosters physical activity, music, art and culture. Indeed, I argue that academic achievement in some schools, including the one where I am a governor, is not possible without the preconditions of nurturing, developing social skills and having boundaries. A good school does not allow bullying. It has clear values and a positive ethos. It encourages staff to develop and be ambitious. It involves pupils in decisions about the school, perhaps through a school council. It has concern for the personal, social, moral and health education of its pupils.

On this last issue, may I ask the Minister when personal, social and health education will become statutory in schools? When will citizenship be statutory in primary schools? When will we really consider well-being and the social and emotional aspects of learning worthy of high importance? Earlier this week, I worked with the Parliamentary Education Unit and a group of primary school teachers to begin developing materials about Parliament for use in primary schools. It was an exciting day and promises useful results. One of the things which struck me was the teachers' wish to link

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such work on Parliament to the wider issues of citizenship and PSHE and their vision of being able to translate this into geography, maths, history and English issues. Personal, social and health education and citizenship, as well as being important in their own right, give rise to wider learning.

PSHE is not just about topics such as nutrition, safety, drugs and sex education, it is about how people conduct their lives and how they develop core self-worth, which enables them to have a positive regard for others. It is about encouraging self-respect, which encourages respect for others and for the environment in its broadest sense. It is about enabling young people to feel in charge of their lives and not wafted between contradictory forces.

The school where I am a governor, which my noble friend the Minister has visited, has a strong programme of personal, social and health education, with a deliberate emphasis on fostering self-esteem in pupils so that they are confident, esteem others, communicate and learn the rules of behaviour. Each class sets its own rules and pupils monitor these themselves. Inspectors have remarked on the calm atmosphere in the school, the self-discipline of the pupils and their care for others and the environment. The school I am talking about is not an easy one. Most pupils receive free school meals, some do not speak English on entry and parents are difficult to engage. Nevertheless, the levels that pupils reach in academic achievement tests are in some cases quite remarkable. Some children move from a very low base of behaviour and achievement to good levels. I note in today’s primary school league tables for London that the English results in my school are higher than those in some schools which are above it in the league tables generally. I find that quite remarkable. I am certain that this happens because of innovative, inspiring teaching but also because of the positive ethos developed by personal, social and health education across the curriculum, and by the involvement of pupils in initiatives such as the healthy schools standard, the Sport England active mark, the UNICEF rights respecting school programme and many local and national awards.

The school’s strong policy on PSHE includes the aims of increasing self-esteem, finding ways of resolving conflict, exploring values, offering opportunity and guidance on how to learn. I believe that such aspects of learning enable children and young people to go on learning and to be self-respecting and respect others.

Yet I hear that four schools in the north-east have recently dropped PSHE in favour of something called “financial management”. Research at Manchester University indicates that PSHE in schools is being significantly reduced. Yes, efforts are being made to train teachers and a new specialist association has been set up, but there are 26,000 schools and we are training 2,000 teachers a year to deliver PSHE. Some of those trained will change job, retire, or have breaks from teaching. At this rate it will take 50 years to train teachers in PSHE, by which time the turnover will have caught up with the training. This important area of the curriculum should not be left to chance. Can the Minister offer any words of hope?

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I have ended on a plea, but I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for providing a forum to make that plea and for enabling me to reflect on the positive achievements made by this Government for children and for schools.

3.07 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this important subject. I add my congratulations to hers to all the schools, children and teachers who work so hard and do so well. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said about what makes a good school. There can be no more important subject than discussing how we might help every child to achieve his or her potential, but in doing so we need to reflect on what is a good school. To me a good school is not just one that shows academic achievement; it is one that turns out children who are caring, kind, tolerant, sensitive and enthusiastic about life and learning and who will turn out to be well balanced, good citizens for this country, enjoying themselves and making a good contribution to their communities.

In that context, talking about school structures and school standards is a bit like taking a journey from London to Glasgow but starting in Birmingham. On Tuesday, I spoke at a conference on how to achieve the best for children in the run-up to the publication of the Children’s Plan, which we all look forward to with such enthusiasm. The agenda divided the work into four headings: prevention through universal and targeted services; personalisation, tailoring services to help a child to reach its full potential; positive childhood, helping a child to be healthy, safe and happy; and working with families, finding out what support they need. I took issue with this, not because I did not agree with the headings but because I thought that they were the wrong way round. If a child is not healthy, happy and safe, he or she will not learn.

Family support must come first. The people who are most influential in the life of a child are, of course, the parents, if only because they spend more time with the child than anybody else and have a keener interest in that child’s success than any professional ever could, however good. Parenting is very difficult, but we have nine months’ notice of it. We really have no excuse for not helping parents. Of course, helping parents is very cost-effective, because the vast majority of parents have more than one child. If you help one parent, you usually help several children. Child development is absolutely crucial to future learning and lifetime happiness. It is a complex issue and we do not learn about it in schools. Parents can often benefit from the assistance of highly trained professionals. I saw that last week when I visited TreeHouse—I think that the board is chaired by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones—which is a school for very special children who are on the autism spectrum. I have never seen a better example of family engagement, personalised learning and multidisciplinary working. I would like to send a bouquet of Christmas roses to all the staff, parents and children at TreeHouse.

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I can understand why the organisers of the conference that I was at put prevention first. Prevention is better than cure, so early identification is the key. Parents are the key to early identification. The early years are not just the best time to address issues but the most cost-effective time. That is the time that benefits the child most so that it does not lose any time before its special needs are addressed. Then what? What if a special need is identified that is preventing that child from reaching its full potential and from benefiting from the education available to it? I can tell noble Lords what happens if the needs are not addressed and it will come as no surprise. If the needs are not addressed in the classroom, children will become disruptive and they will behave badly. They might be excluded from school or get into crime. That costs us all a great deal of money in the end. So we need integrated services that put the child at the centre and listen to its voice and that of its parents or carers.

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