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The most important ingredient is, however, aspiration; and, despite being a black woman in the Caribbean during that era, aspiration is what we were encouraged to have by the bucketful. Higher education was our goal—that must be the standard set for educational aspiration—and nurturing a desire to go on to study and equip oneself with knowledge at the age when education stops being compulsory. Here parents and teachers play a pivotal role; without that twin support, all the government initiatives will come to nothing.

The Minister is a fellow of an Oxford college, and so I am sure that he will be aware of an initiative run by his alma mater in conjunction with the National Black Boys Can Association. This grand scheme was launched at St Anne's College in October this year and it flourishes. It is a very small and organic step-by-step programme to breathe educational aspiration into young black boys. I commend the scheme to your Lordships. By engaging with the boys’ attainment in the key subjects up to GCSE, through the discipline of attending events and lectures and through opening their eyes to the limitless potential, schemes such as the NBBCA hold the key to the future. Only by making a good education a “must have” and doing away with the culture that it is cool or hip to fail will standards of all boys’ education in this country rise.

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I know that the noble Lord was instrumental in the academy school in Lambeth. I note too how our leading universities, Oxford and Cambridge, are reported to rebuff my noble friend’s invitation to foster links with academies. I have some sympathy with those universities’ reasoning, and I trust that the Minister will not be unduly hard with them. I hope that my noble friend, in seeking to raise standards in schools, will not limit the horizons of our leading universities to one academy in their locality. I want to see our leading universities spreading their outreach to all schools in all parts of the UK so that all children, like those on Oxford's NBBCA scheme, have the chance to participate in the best education this county has to offer.

We cannot save all the children, but we will save the majority of our children if we remember that they are only children and that they need to be guided.

3.45 pm

Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, I join in the thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this debate. Many of your Lordships have spoken most eloquently and knowledgeably. I would like to speak on one small piece of the education jigsaw, where I have had the opportunity to see for myself what can be done to improve a child’s education.

The first duty of any Government undertaking the education process must be to enable young children to read, write and do arithmetic. These are the basic building blocks without which nothing else can be learnt. We have recently seen new figures that, yet again, show the UK slipping down the education league tables in all too many areas, with reading being one of the worst.

You only have to talk to university teachers who will tell you that they have to offer remedial lessons in literacy—and that is to the educational elite—or to employers to know that many application forms for jobs are simply illiterate. This is a crime. If children do not read, they cannot learn and their life chances are blighted. If they do not read well, they are blind to the greatest repository of literature and ideas and beauty in the world—the English language.

It is a disgrace that educationists have sold a generation short. They have patronised, experimented and excused where they should have inspired. I know the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, agrees with much of this, but he is hobbled by opposition within government, within the trade unions and within the educational establishment. The old methods worked—they should never have been abandoned.

Almost every study shows that synthetic phonics is the most effective way to teach youngsters to read. So why has it been marginalised? And why, incredibly, have the Government now declared war on private and voluntary nursery providers which use phonics systems, harassing them with price controls and interfering codes of practice and downgrading their professional qualifications and standings?

According to regulations promulgated by Mrs Hughes, a friend of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, from 2015 Montessori teachers with specialist qualifications and

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experts in phonics systems will not be allowed to run nursery schools. This is sheer madness. Voluntary nursery education, one of the best achieving parts of the education sector, is being nationalised by stealth. Of course, the noble Lord will say that phonics have now been reinforced. I hope so, but I have to say, “About time, too”.

Sadly, Her Majesty’s Government’s reaction to this failure to teach children to read is to deal with the symptoms and not the cause. It is not a higher school leaving age we need; it is better schools and better teaching methods. Her Majesty’s Government tinker about the edges instead of tackling the real cause of the problem. They should ensure that teacher training colleges teach systems which enable children to learn. What is the point of literacy hours if the failed methods which made those hours necessary in the first place are then used?

If modern methods were better than traditional ones, literacy would have improved. The contrary has been the case. Since new methods were introduced, there has been a steady deterioration in the standard of literacy in this country. Traditional methods have evolved with time and are now so effective that the majority of children thought to be dyslexic can be taught to read without having to resort to specialists. Most of those children are just badly taught, with dyslexia used as an excuse for inadequate teaching methods. Mr Ed Balls is to be congratulated on the assistance for dyslexic children announced yesterday, but much of the problem of dyslexia could be cured by teaching reading using synthetic phonics.

I referred earlier to first-hand experience. My wife, on a voluntary basis and in spite of none of the help that might have been expected, has successfully taught a small group of primary school children thought to be dyslexic or to have attention deficit disorder, or both, to read simply by using traditional methods. A new enthusiasm for learning has been generated as those pupils discover success, achieving an objective through work and endeavour. That has improved almost all aspects of their lives. That is not an isolated experience, as private and voluntary schools, currently under siege by government directives and regulations, could tell you.

Where traditional methods have been introduced on a broader scale, even in the Probation Service, the same positive results have been achieved. It has been consistently proved that children thought to have serious reading difficulties can learn to read and, in so doing, improve both their behaviour and their prospects out of all recognition.

I ask the Minister to get a grip, to ask those teachers still using the old method—there are still far too many of them—to adapt or to have them removed from the education system. The evidence shows that children whose teaching is based on sight reading and “look see” have a one in four chance of failing, while with phonics, less than 5 per cent run that risk. Surely the West Dumbartonshire project, referred to briefly by my noble friend Lady Perry, which eliminated a

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28 per cent functional illiteracy rate in just eight years, is proof, even to the most condescendingly smug professional subscriber to the Times Educational Supplement.

I concentrate on reading because it is so fundamental, but equality of opportunity depends on being exposed to the best and being asked the most in every subject of the curriculum, in every manner of good behaviour and in every exertion of body, spirit and soul.

3.53 pm

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this debate. It is very timely, because we have the document, Every Child A Reader, in our hands. It is a very interesting document and shows that we are concentrating on the right end of the education system: the early years. However, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Dearing that the transition from primary to secondary school is equally important and that many of the considerations that apply to the very early years must apply again when children change schools at that stage.

We seem to be for ever hearing the dire news of how low our school standards are compared with other European countries. Worse, in my view, are the low standards in state schools compared with independent schools. The gap is widening in many cases and we should work hard to narrow or eliminate it. Equally, we have news of new initiatives and new money to remedy the situation. Any solution will take time. We need to remember that we cannot change things overnight.

I should like to ask the Minister some questions. Is the practice of allowing children to take tests when they are ready under way? That is the ladder system proposed in connection with modern languages by my noble friend Lord Dearing. I think that the Minister will say that it is. Will it be extended to other school subjects? It is used in music, but other subjects, especially mathematics and science, would benefit enormously from such a system. Talented, interested, competitive and ambitious children should be allowed to take tests, not at a time governed by age, but when their teachers judge that they are ready. That system would be more complicated. It also involves trusting teachers to advance a child up the ladder and to judge whether a child is capable of taking a test or whether he ought to wait a year and take the test at an older age than the supposed proper one. We all know that children develop at different times. The difference in development goes on through the child’s life. Equally, we know that there are children who are very talented in particular or in all directions. For those children it is a torment that they are held back, doing repetitive work over and over again, to take the test at the proper time. I know that the Minister is in favour of the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Dearing but I would love to hear what he thinks of extending the practice. Children are competitive. They like competing against themselves as well as other people. If they have exciting targets, they work much better, with more enthusiasm, and enjoy themselves more.

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I declare an interest as president of the British Dyslexia Association. I share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, for old-fashioned teaching methods in reading. One of the reasons that I think that this is a good and proven system of teaching is that it makes it easier to detect early signs of dyslexia. We cannot deny that it exists. It is a neurological condition that applies to reading and, in certain cases, to mathematics. If we teach reading the old-fashioned way, it becomes easier for teachers to know who is finding progress difficult. Those children need to be taught by specialists. As much as I admire the Every Child A Reader programme, it is not necessary to talk about one-to-one teaching for children who are falling behind. If the child is found to be dyslexic—many of those who fall behind will be so found—it is essential that they be taught, not necessarily one to one, by teachers specially trained to teach dyslexic children to overcome their difficulties.

As I have said before in this House, this is one of the areas in which, disgracefully, the private sector is racing ahead of the state schools. Will the Minister say how far we have got in ensuring that, especially in the first year at school and then again as a check-up in the first year of secondary school, every child is watched to see whether they have dyslexia or whether they have the same neurological problems with numbers as other children have with words? If they have such problems, they should have access to a specialist teacher. It is no good their being taught one to one by someone who does not know the technique of teaching dyslexic children. They will be worse off than before, because, as I said, the failure will be even more acute when they do not make progress. If they are taught strategies for overcoming their dyslexia, they will make enormous progress and their behaviour and their pleasure in learning will be equally enhanced.

Finally, I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Sutherland about the importance of music in schools. This is particularly true of singing, as it is cheap. No one has to go out and buy anything to be able to sing; they can simply do it, so long as someone is there to enthuse them. Here I put in one very nostalgic word for the old-fashioned schools programmes on the BBC, which used to be marvellous for getting people to sing together. I hope that the Government will put every kind of pressure on smaller radio companies—not necessarily only in connection with education, but largely with that—to put on the same kind of programmes that would help children to sing together in schools and would be an enormous help to some primary school teachers who are very unsure of themselves where music is concerned, having had no training themselves. One can do wonders with the radio.

4.02 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, there are shades of, “Are we sitting comfortably?”. I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing a very useful and interesting debate. I declare an interest both as a governor of a small state primary school in Guildford, which is close to the

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bottom of the local league tables, and as a member of the Guildford High School local council—the school is close to the top of the national league tables. I therefore get a picture of both ends of the scale.

The debate today has been about two things: first, making opportunity more equal; and, secondly, raising school standards so that we have good schools everywhere for everyone. A very interesting report, called Reducing Inequalities: Realising the Talents of All, was sponsored by the National Children’s Bureau, the Institute of Education and the National Family and Parenting Institute, and published in September this year. It revealed that, by the age of three, children from poorer homes are six months behind those from more advantaged homes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, the gap increases as the child gets older. By the age of 16, those on free school meals are on average 40 per cent behind their counterparts in terms of achievement.

All this research reinforces what countless volumes of research over the years have said and what we all know in our bones: social class is the strongest factor influencing educational performance. Therefore, the question raised by this debate is what, if anything, can we do about this? Can the education system, per se, offset the effects of social disadvantage, rather than reinforcing them, as—I think we must accept—some aspects of the present system do?

Where there is parental choice, middle-class parents flock to middle-class schools, filling the waiting lists and leaving no places for the less well-informed, less well-motivated and less knowledgeable families from the neighbourhood. Where schools are able to select their pupils, as Sutton Trust research has shown so clearly, these trends are exacerbated, since the schools are anxious to be high on league tables. Given the choice, they will obviously opt for pupils who are likely to do well and bring credit to the school. We have now moved to a situation in which we have the banning of interviews, banding systems and the like, in order to arrive at a fair admissions system. None of these systems seems to work that well; we end up with the same problems. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, mentioned, a very large number of parents still fail to get their children into their first choice of school.

For some years, we Liberal Democrats have been pondering what we might do about these issues. We have ended up coming at it in a different way. In some senses the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the Conservative policy group have arrived at the same place. We have argued that those from disadvantaged homes need more resources spent on them. They need smaller classes and more specialist help. If we did as the Netherlands and Finland have done for some time, and these children carried extra funding with them from their earliest years, schools would, rather than shunning them, be encouraged to take a fair mix from all kinds of different homes. We call this the pupil premium and we believe that it would help to solve not only the admissions problem but quite a number of the problems we have seen. It picks up on what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was saying.

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It goes back to when the Prime Minister said that we should spend on every state school pupil as much as is spent on private school pupils. I am not sure he knew quite how much private schools cost these days; his children are too small. It would mean spending in the region of £9,000 to £10,000 per year on every state secondary school pupil, whereas we spend around £4,000 on every pupil. It would mean more than doubling what we spend. If we had those resources and used them correctly, we could achieve a great deal.

Let me pick up on some of the points that have been made about how we could use them. At three years old, disadvantaged youngsters are six months behind their more advantaged counterparts. Why? There may be no books in the home, they may not be read to by their parents; they may not even be talked to by their parents. It relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland: many parents speak a different language at home, while pupils are expected to speak and write English at school. They may not be encouraged to play creatively. They must catch up with all this in nursery school. They have to learn how to play and how to talk before they can learn to read.

In any reception class in a primary school that covers an area with a reasonably diverse social mix the teacher will be able to point to several youngsters who lag behind others for these very reasons. What we know, because it has been tried and tested, is that providing these children at the ages of five, six and seven with the extra help of a trained adult, who reads to them and talks to them, helps them to catch up. I am absolutely delighted that the Government are picking up Reading Recovery and Every Child A Reader. Some noble Lords may know that I have been banging the drum about this for two or three years because I have been education spokesperson for some time. It costs an extra £2,000 per pupil, but as I once said to the Minister, surely £2,000 spent at the age of six is infinitely better value than £60,000—the cost when a young person is in a young offender institution—spent at 16. As I say, I am delighted that the Government are picking that up, but we must use it creatively. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, is right. It is no good just giving extra reading help. If there are underlying problems, they need to be recognised.

That brings me to my next point. The report published in September is extremely interesting because it highlights, among other things, the importance of emotional well-being. It shows that performance in schools and in later life depends on the ability of the child to cope with stressful situations and not just on his or her ability to read and write. The lives of quite a few children outside school are chaotic and turbulent. For them, the school represents an oasis of stability. But, from time to time, some of them cannot avoid letting their internal anger and unhappiness get the better of them, and they become abusive and disruptive pupils. Something like 10 per cent of young people in schools suffer from some sort of mental illness and depression. They need help, but at present do not get it. Again—this is another bee in my bonnet—it is vital that all schools

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have access to trained counsellors who are able to diagnose what is wrong with these children, to help them overcome their problems and to help them cope with stress and anger management. If they can do this, the children’s education will benefit.

There is a considerable worry about the results that we have seen. It seems amazing to me. I believe that we have one of the best teaching professions we have ever had. The Government have put a great deal of money into schools. As a school governor, I see that coming through, and standards have increased. Yet, when we look at these PISA studies and the poll study on reading, science and maths, we are falling down the league tables. Why? Other countries are moving up fast. There is also a certain quirkiness about how these studies are done and there is bound to be some moving around.

A couple of weeks back, I raised a very important issue at Question Time. It came from the Cambridge Primary Review; namely, whether we are testing too much. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, raised that issue in her introduction. It is interesting that the poll study found that children were not reading because they were no longer getting pleasure from reading. Fewer children enjoyed reading or had books at home. Most disturbing was the fact that performance had dipped particularly among those children who were the better readers. There are dangers that, as a result of too much testing and bureaucracy, we are squeezing out the creativity and the fun from school. It is vital to put that back.

4.13 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to thank my noble friend Lady Perry of Southwark for giving us the opportunity to discuss such an important issue. Her speech was deeply impressive and I think that we can all agree that we have had an excellent debate. As always, I was fascinated by the thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. He shares the views of my noble friends Lord Pilkington of Oxenford and Lord Baker of Dorking, who I know are driven by a desire to see children receive the appropriate education and to see vocational education rightfully recognised and valued. I had to say that there because I could not fit it in anywhere else in my speech.

My noble friend Lady Perry is rightly held in high regard for her expertise in education, so it was hardly surprising that she was asked to co-chair our Public Services Improvement Policy Group. My noble friend is to be congratulated on the 18 months she committed to such an exhaustive and exhausting examination of the education system. My noble friend’s report highlighted, as she did today, the inequality of access to high-quality public services. Ofsted has reported that the gap between the outcomes for those with advantages in life and those with the least is not reducing quickly enough. The evidence linking disadvantage and educational performance is clear and disheartening. We heard from my noble friend how fewer than 20 per cent of children eligible for free school meals secure five good GCSE passes including mathematics and English.

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