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We need to do that not just for the sake of the children with special needs, but also for the sake of the other children in the class whose education is disrupted if that child is creating mayhem and distracting the teacher’s attention. It is for every child. How do we get there? It is not through an enormous, expensive, risky database. I am glad that the Minister for Children has announced that the ContactPoint database has been postponed, given all the recent scandals about lost data. We get there through changing the mindset of professionals and through good leadership. It is about the training for understanding other disciplines and when and how to involve them and interact with them. That is what I saw at TreeHouse. It has the advantage, because proximity helps: you see other professionals working together with your little charges. That is why children’s centres and Sure Start schemes, which this Government introduced, are a very good idea, as are extended schools, which give professionals the opportunity to work in that way.

Parents do not care what letters you have after your name. They just want you to work effectively together to help their child. They do not want to have to keep giving the same information over and over again, which is why a certain amount of record keeping and the common assessment framework are not only necessary but desirable. Parents do not want to be stigmatised. That is why we must start with a universal service that has no stigma and which has the potential to reach every mother in the land.

I am not talking about the obstetrician or midwife who delivers the baby; I am talking about the health visitor, who should have a much bigger and longer role—in particular they should stay on longer in the case of those families in most difficulty. I am not just talking about “yummy mummies” groups, but about those hard-to-reach families who are suspicious of authority. Parents learn from and feel supported by one another. Health visitors are in a very good position, with their professional knowledge, to facilitate groups of parents who can support and learn from one another and from the professional expertise of the health visitor. This must not be the nanny state taking over and knowing what is best for your child. It has to be voluntary and wanted,

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enabling and empowering parents rather than taking over from them. That may involve helping them to train and to get a job, thereby helping to alleviate child poverty, which this Government have done a great deal about.

I now turn to school structures. You only have to look at any school to which the parents have made a conscious choice to send their child, for academic, religious or selection reasons, to see how important parental involvement and commitment are. The schools that succeed are those where the parents are really involved. Many elements make a good school, and I hark back to what I said earlier about it not just being about academic results. Today’s league tables are worrying, because they are still there. I notice in the TES this week that the high master of St Paul’s said that he believed that league tables played mainly to the media’s desire to publish rankings rather than having any benefit for schools themselves and that they are the worst thing to have happened to education. I agree with him.

I worry about the impression of how Ofsted inspects and how it rates a school. Schools will say, “If we are not being measured on it, we won’t do it, because we do not have time”. It is important that Ofsted makes it clear that it takes into account all those measures that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, was talking about. Children will thrive in schools that have good leadership and good teaching, good facilities and buildings—I wish that they all had those—an appropriate level of testing that is supportive and in the interests of the child and not the Government, the involvement of the community and accountability to it, and a supportive system of monitoring how well public money is being spent. Most of all, there is putting the individual child at the centre and ensuring that the resources are sufficient for that child. My noble friend Lady Sharp will say a little more about the pupil premium. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has scrutinised Lib Dem policy on that and agrees with it. Your Lordships’ House will hear more about that when my noble friend Lady Sharp stands up in a few minutes.

3.17 pm

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this debate. It has been a privilege to listen to her and to the other two noble Baronesses who have spoken.

I will begin with a question. It is not my question but one posed by Mr Brown at this autumn’s Labour Party conference. He asked:

By way of response, Mr Brown shared with the conference what he had learnt from a visit to a school in Hackney, where he sat next to a six year-old called Max. Mr Brown said:

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He continued:

Brilliant. Let us do it and do it fast. Could the Minister in his reply indicate what timetable the Government have in mind? Can the scheme be extended right away to those in secondary schools, including those who are soon to leave, who are illiterate, innumerate, whom we have failed, and who—I quote the Prime Minster again—

I have one point to add. The cause of the problem—reading or sums—needs to be expertly diagnosed. Either every primary school should have a specially trained teacher to identify the cause of, and the best teaching approach to respond to, the needs of the child, or the local authority should provide that expert diagnostic service.

Reference has been made to the league tables. There is one thing that we could be doing before Mr Brown’s proposals are implemented. I have in mind the league tables for key stages 1 and 2. The placards that I saw when I walked into the House today demonstrate the weight and influence that league tables carry in public opinion. I agree that SATs have done good, because they focused our minds on achievement. Goodness knows, we needed to improve it and still need to improve it, but inevitably SATs can lead to teachers concentrating on the near borderline children who have a chance of reaching the required standard, to the detriment of those who have no chance. Those are the children who are damaged. To avoid the damage caused by the present SATs and league tables, at least at primary level, we should either drop SATs completely until Mr Brown’s policy has been fully implemented or restrict the information on them to value added, which is the whole purpose of education. We can monitor national and sub-national standards by sampling, using SATs-like tests.

In the highly competitive business of education—competition by schools for pupils and reputation and to avoid the risk of closure through inadequate performance—the league tables produced from the SATs and public examinations inevitably have a powerful effect. While they have had an effect on things that are tested, they are not necessarily the same thing as preparing children for life. Therefore, they need to be rethought. An example that perplexed and troubled me when I was carrying out the review on languages was the influence of the SATs on head teachers who perceive languages as difficult and especially demanding in the levels of marking that apply to them. What has happened since languages became an entitlement as opposed to a requirement is that the proportion of pupils taking languages has fallen from 80 per cent to below 50 per cent. SATs have a powerful influence, as any head teacher will tell you.

My third point is on managing the transition from primary to secondary school, in which those who are furthest behind are in danger of being left behind for

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good. They move from the good shepherd of the primary school—a small school where they are known—to the anonym of the large secondary without a good shepherd. They get lost, give up, become disruptive and are destined to fail.

We should do three things, which I ask to be considered—I am not expert enough to be sure. First, secondary schools should be accountable to the inspectorate for using effectively the information on each child that they get from primary schools, incorporating that information into the plans for teaching that child, especially for children who fall behind. Secondly, the secondary school should continue a similar arrangement to that at primary schools where there is a good shepherd who knows the child inside out. Thirdly, there should be setting by ability. Again, I quote Mr Brown, this time from his Mansion House speech on 26 June. He said:

I would add, to the child’s chances—

My final point is one that I raised in a debate last month. Mr Brown said, and I think that this Prime Minister of ours gets a lot of things right:

As I said in that debate over a month ago, commission after commission has lamented the way in which we have neglected the development of technology and skills in education. Not only have we thereby failed, in particular, young people whose talents and potential lie in doing things rather than through books, but we have been at a competitive disadvantage. Germany, which has been an exemplar held up to us committees of inquiry, has retained a large and successful manufacturing sector. Look at what has happened to ours. In that area, we have been playing catch-up, but we have never done it. What the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, said last December is what the Samuelson commission on technical education said in 1883; namely, that we have advanced but our competitors have advanced faster still. We are in fact 10 years behind the leaders. The Financial Times said in an editorial in 1990:

The Building Schools for the Future policy gives us a once-in-50-years chance to provide specially built colleges equipped to the best standards, with continually updated equipment, within the framework of the Government’s policies for academies and trust schools promoted by universities, FE colleges and business working in partnership. These colleges would be vehicles for delivering the highly technical parts of the suite of special diplomas that the Government are introducing. They would prepare pupils to enter higher education for a technology-oriented degree or to progress through an apprenticeship. I am not talking about a narrow technical education alone; I am talking about an education with a particular focus, matching that of the best in the world—not just in Europe, but in the Far East, for

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example, from where we may have much to learn. I say again that I am not just talking about an education in technology, because I believe, for example, that the arts are for every child and young person. I invite the Government and the other two main parties to reflect with an open mind on that issue against two criteria: how best to develop the potential of every teenager and how best to remedy some of the most serious defects in the British economy. I believe that such colleges have a contribution to make to both.

3.26 pm

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for initiating the debate. I shall not engage with the broad perspectives of the Green Paper, but I can reassure her that if she were to walk into a classroom in which I was a pupil I would certainly behave myself very well.

I shall focus on the words “action plan” in the Motion. I believe that many things need to be done and I will perhaps come back to the volume of those at the end of my remarks. However, there are one or two points that I wish to be taken into account by any such action plan, whichever of the political parties is responsible for drawing it up.

The first point is the place of language in primary schools. My remarks come from my own link with a number of primary schools in some of the more difficult areas of this city and, indeed, further north, where there is a particular problem that I hope the Government will address. I commend the Government on the whole prospect of Every Child a Reader, which I think is magnificent because it is essential and at the heart of education. However, a number of our primary schools face a particular difficulty that I do not see being diminished across the piece—in fact, it is growing in some areas. That problem is trying to teach the skills of spoken and written English and reading in schools where a very high proportion of pupils do not have English as their first language, and in which English very often is not the first language of the home, if it is spoken there at all.

There are serious issues here about the ability and opportunity of such children to learn to speak the language in the ways that are naturally available to most of the community. For example, one can go to such schools and find they employ translators on parents’ evenings. I am not critical of that fact. It has to be dealt with and communication with parents, as has been properly emphasised, is fundamental. However, it points to the fact—of which teachers are well aware—that English is sometimes not the first language in many homes and may not be spoken at all. Indeed, there is little conversation in any language in some homes, let alone English. Because of volume factors in certain parts of large cities, English may not be the first language of the playground. Again, the natural opportunities to exercise the skills that all children have the capacity to imbibe are equally reduced, to say the least.

Some localities have significant and sometimes quite sudden rises in immigrant communities. Again, I am not being judgmental; this is a fact we must take account of. It poses a particular problem for schools, as for other public services, and a particular problem

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for the teaching of reading, writing and speaking English. I want the Government to look at how many schools are particularly affected by this—I am sure that the information is fairly easily available through local authorities and Ofsted—to see whether there is a specific need or problem and then, ideally, target the resources to meet that need. I am well aware of the Every Child a Reader programme and see it having great impact, but there is an additional twist to it. The importance of language does not need stressing: without the basic skills of language, most of the rest of education will be inadequate and, in some cases, even pointless.

While I am on language, I welcome the Government’s positive response to the report and recommendations of my noble friend Lord Dearing. I would love to be able to welcome the Government’s commitment of additional funds to implement some of his recommendations, and hope that the Minister might be able to give us the opportunity to do that soon. May we expect an announcement on the implementation of those recommendations in due course?

The third area on my short checklist is music in schools; I declare an interest as chairman of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. I welcome the Government’s recent initiative and proposals for music in schools, and particularly for the enhancement of the ability to sing within the school and school communities. This is magnificent, and perhaps at last a sign that we are prepared to take music education more seriously than we have in the past. The intention is to improve the ability and opportunity for many children, who have not had it hitherto, to sing well and in groups and communities. I hope that this is the beginning of a more serious engagement with music in schools, and that it will extend to increasing the opportunity for more children to master a musical instrument through the education we provide in the public sector.

The final point on my list for action is more difficult to deliver consistently. The Government must take account, as must those parties who would draw up their own plans, of the constant refrain from huge numbers of teachers and head teachers who find themselves overwhelmed by central initiatives and the paper that goes with them. Whenever one visits schools, that is the constant story. Either they misperceive government intention, in which case the Government and the department should be taking steps to make their intentions plain, or this is a reality. I suspect that it is a reality born of good intentions—but remember what Bernard Shaw said about good intentions: the way to hell is paved with them. I suspect it comes from something we all understand. Ministers and their departments feel the need to be seen to be doing something. Inevitably, therefore, they do. I simply ask them to begin to prioritise, to reduce the number of initiatives. I ask the Minister to take perhaps a little time over Christmas to reflect on the fact that there is such a thing as creative inactivity in this area. Doing something is not always better than not doing something—although, of course, I would expect my own modest list of things to do to be exceptions to such a self-denying ordinance.

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3.35 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for calling this debate today. I am proud to say that standards in education have been one of the key objectives of this Government since they came to office in 1997. I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Adonis will be responding to this debate as I know that school standards have been a passion of his during his time in this House and I hope that he will draw attention to the many things the Government have put in place since the previous Prime Minister’s call for “education, education, education”.

Today I would like to focus my attention on just one borough—the London Borough of Lambeth. I have taken a great interest in that borough and I am sure noble Lords who know London will know why. In 1997 there were no outstanding schools in Lambeth; today there are 16 outstanding schools—one of the highest figures for any London borough. In 1997 there were 14 failing schools and currently there are no failing schools. On the basis of improvement, one Lambeth school is now recognised as the sixth best nationally—St Andrews CE. On the basis of value-added education, another Lambeth school is recognised as the eighth best nationally—Kingswood Primary School in West Norwood. In 1997 there were no schools with post-16 provision. Today every Lambeth school either has or has plans for sixth form provision. There were no new secondary schools built in Lambeth for 40 years until the Lambeth Academy was opened in 2001. The Elmgreen School in West Norwood was opened this year; it is the country’s only parent-promoter school. Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton will open next year and there is work towards another secondary school for Brixton under the BSF. All this is because of investment in schools by this Government.

I am pleased that in Lambeth the children of African heritage are now out-performing national standards. Black African heritage pupils form the largest ethnic group there—23.6 per cent. Although recent national research shows that black heritage pupils still lag far behind the average achievement of the majority of their peers, the pupils in Lambeth were consistently the highest achievers at both key stage 2 and GCSE in Lambeth schools between 2000 and 2005.

These improvements have taken place since 1997. All this has been despite having 150 languages spoken in Lambeth schools, something schools outside London are only now starting to cope with and are finding very challenging. But Lambeth is forging ahead despite having had this situation for many years now and I feel that the Government should be proud. I am sure the Minister will agree with me that these successes have been achieved not simply because of the investment and leadership of this Government but by the teachers, the parents and the pupils themselves.

I am old-fashioned when it comes to education. I was educated in the Caribbean during the days of empire. Discipline, respect for your teachers, the three Rs, a map of the world still covered in pink—that is how I can summarise my education in Grenada. People were taught in that old-fashioned way. My

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generation were better at mental arithmetic, and better at grammar and how to structure sentences. What I attained at my old-fashioned school equipped me well for the rest of my life.

Even in the Caribbean, we have to realise that we must move forward. The Caribbean’s reputation for good schooling has been growing because respect for teachers and respect for elders is still an important facet of raising children. Many black parents still prefer to send their children—and their sons in particular—to schools there.

Attainment in education is one of the key ingredients to equality of opportunity. Children from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds, including many who are black or from other ethnic minorities, need, more than their wealthier peers, to have an excellent education in English, maths and science. I would go further and ask: why should not children from these backgrounds enjoy the benefit of learning other languages?

I believe it is probably a retrograde step that modern languages are no longer compulsory for pupils to GCSE level. In a high-skill service economy in a global world, where communication is vital, those at the bottom need, more than most, to have as many communications tools at their disposal as possible. I would like to see all children in the state sector, not just those in top public schools, have the benefit of understanding the English language through a basic understanding of Latin, but I guess that might make me seem irretrievably out of date.

Discipline is another ingredient of high school standards. That was the hallmark of my education. Sadly, today we have allowed discipline to be eroded in schools and we even allow pupils to sue their teachers.

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