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I am delighted that Sir Jim Rose's excellent report on the primary curriculum is reflected in the Bill, with appropriate provisions for reform. I am equally pleased that the Macdonald review's recommendations on personal, social, health and economic education are provided for, making it a foundation subject at key stages 3 and 4, as well as an area of learning at key stages 1 and 2 in primary schools. However, much of what I will say later focuses on a concession made in another place that in my view damages these commitments.
The Bill's introduction of a registration scheme for home education, following Graham Badman's report, and the clauses dealing with alternative provision following Alan Steer's report, also seem eminently sensible, if a little overdue. Lastly, it provides for special educational needs courses, recommended in the report of Brian Lamb of the RNID. I congratulate the Government on setting up this series of independent inquiries by eminent experts, on accepting the arguments for reform and on bringing forward a Bill to implement them. It is a useful model for future legislation, perhaps not just in the education sector. I am surprised by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, given that so much of what lies behind the Bill comes from independent experts who have studied many of the issues in great depth.
Finally in welcoming the Bill, I strongly support the clauses that seek to increase the involvement of parents. Again, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that I am sure she would agree that if the poor standards that she wants to see addressed are to be addressed, we must involve parents more. A successful educational system must take parents seriously, work in partnership with them and engage them in all sorts of ways.
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I also welcome the decision in Clause 4 to allow for some personalisation of home-school agreements, although I am perplexed about how this will work in practice without creating enormous amounts of extra work for teachers. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on this when she winds up. Lastly, the surveys seeking parents' views and testing their levels of satisfaction are also to be welcomed. It is important that they should be undertaken with a high level of professionalism if they are going to be both valid and reliable, and the response rates will need to be high. I welcome the decision to enforce the publication of the results of these surveys, and to seek plans from local authorities to deal with any dissatisfaction expressed in them. It is a valuable way of testing parents' views, giving them a say and then getting a proper response from the LEAs and others to what they have said.
I turn now to the issue of PSHE, which includes sex and relationship education, becoming a mandatory subject, as set out in Clause 11. I was very glad to hear the right reverend Prelate supporting these provisions. As a parent and a grandparent, as well as someone with a long-standing interest in children and young people and their education, I believe that this is a huge step forward. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said, many organisations have called for this for many years, as have teachers, parents and young people themselves. There is now substantial research literature which demonstrates the value of teaching in these areas.
There is also a great deal of research evidence on the value of sex and relationship education. The pressures on young people through misleading messages about sex in the media have undoubtedly worsened. They need to learn how to resist unwanted advances, how to go for help when they need it, and who to talk to. They need to be clear about what is and is not appropriate behaviour and to be encouraged to be critical of those who overstep the boundaries. Sexually transmitted infections have become a greater risk; and there are still far too many teenage pregnancies, as I am sure noble Lords will agree. Both are reduced, according to the research, by good teaching in sex and relationship education.
The Bill introduces compulsory teaching of SRE that is accurate, balanced, appropriate to the age, religion and cultural backgrounds of pupils, and that is done in ways that provide equality, encourage acceptance of diversity, and emphasise rights and responsibilities. All these were all examined in the pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Its report described the provision and the removal of the parental right to withdraw children over the age of 15 as,
Its report also said that the Bill does not prevent faith schools from teaching the tenets of their faith as long
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Why, then, did the Government amend the Bill so that, while religious schools are still required to teach SRE, they may teach it in ways that reflect the religious character of the school? I fear that this is an opt-out clause which will in practice exempt them from having to teach SRE in the way that all other maintained schools must teach it. The Bill is now drafted in such a way that the right of religious schools to teach SRE in ways that reflect their religion overrides the human rights-based principles that the Bill had otherwise embraced.
The real danger is that faith schools will teach the subject in a narrower and more subjective way. For example, contraception, safe sex or different sexualities may not be addressed in an accurate and open-minded way. As a result, some children will not benefit from the comprehensive and objective teaching that others will get.
I am sorry not to be able to support the Government wholeheartedly in all aspects of the Bill, as I should like to have done. It seems to me that the Government had it right when they introduced the Bill in another place, and that this amendment has damaged what is an otherwise thoughtful and progressive measure. I anticipate that the Minister may argue that the amendment merely clarifies the position of religious schools. I do not think that is a legitimate interpretation, because the amendment clearly overrides what has gone before and the specifications about reflecting a range of perspectives, encouraging the acceptance of diversity and so on.
I should perhaps end by apologising to the House for going into such detail at Second Reading. I do so only because I fear that time will run out because of the election and that the Bill will not proceed to Committee; but the Government still have time to think again.
Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone: My Lords, I am extremely pleased to follow the noble Baroness, because I do not intend to speak on PSHE, although I am confident that the next speaker will discuss the subject. I regard this question as far above my pay grade. My daughter is a gynaecologist. I spent far too many years in another place discussing this ad infinitum. I have a common-sense view and I am unable to embrace the emotion that so many feel, so my predecessor and my successor will no doubt make up for my inadequacies.
I start in a positive mode. Indeed, one of the reasons why I so enjoy being in this place is that, for the most part, I am able to participate in debates in which I feel a great positive sense. I am afraid that I will not be able to fulfil that pleasurable experience in most of my remarks today, because essentially I think that the Bill is monstrously bureaucratic and irrelevant. However, I can start being positive, which I want to do, by saying that I share the welcome for the improved approach to special educational needs. This is an important subject. Few who have been a constituency Member of Parliament-and there are fewer here this
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One of my first experiences in my early 20s, when I worked for the Child Poverty Action Group, was giving evidence to the Court inquiry, led by that great paediatrician. His report, with the Committee on Child Health Services, was called Fit for the Future and was published in 1976, which just shows how old we all are. I went around many of those long-stay subnormality hospitals and saw the way in which children, because of a disability, were deprived of any sensible education or an education such that people in the mainstream would receive, provided by the education authorities. Over the years, there has been a great transformation in services for children with special educational needs. However, for some parents, the end of those appalling long-stay hospitals has not solved their problem. There is still a real need for services for which you do not have to fight. I am among those who have a real reservation about the presumption that children with special educational needs are better educated in the mainstream. My experience, both professionally and as a Member of Parliament, has been that many special schools can enable young people with special needs and vulnerability to become confident young people and to do much better. However, I welcome the new development.
The same cannot be said of the sections on home education, which seem to have maximised ill will. Even the Select Committee commented on how poorly the Government had handled it. Many of us have been bombarded with mail from people involved in home education-50,000 families who, for the most part, were educating their children at home because they were so angry with what the local authorities provided. Parent surveys are unlikely to be to be enormously helpful. Parents educating their children at home for the most part can tell the Government all too clearly what their worries are. Personally, I have reservations about home education as a course of action, but I do not for a moment challenge the passionate commitment of those who have pursued that course. This seems to be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There seems to be maximum alienation, especially when the Government say that this is about supporting people involved in home education when it is blatantly obvious that they are getting no more financial or practical support in any way. There also seems to be an ambiguity as to whether the Government are really talking about safeguarding children or about the quality of education.
I will move on quickly from Clause 26. The Government claimed that "education, education, education" would be their mantra, so we are in a fairly worrying place, given that this is their ninth piece of legislation in 13 years. The Minister described the inputs. A Prime Minister for whom I worked, Mrs Thatcher, was always saying, "You should look at the outputs, not the inputs". Certainly in this regard outputs seem to be a long way from the world-class
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Many years ago, I used to work in a child guidance clinic in Brixton and Peckham. The one passport to the future was being literate and numerate. I used to work with many West Indian parents. Characteristically, the school would buy steel drums because it had many West Indian children-of all the patronising steps to take, although it was well meant. The parents used to say to me, "Mrs Bottomley, we know that we want our children to read and write, know their tables and be able to sing 'God save the Queen'". They were not great aspirations, but that was then the mismatch between what was being provided and what was wished for by parents, without massive, costly, bureaucratic parent surveys.
The challenge faces us all. Levels of abuse and violence in schools remain unacceptably high. More than 1,000 pupils every day are suspended or expelled for physical assaults, verbal abuse and threatening behaviour on both pupils and teachers. I hope that the Government will look seriously at the provision of PRUs. The difficulty that heads have in excluding pupils, which most feel has been increased since the Government have been in power, needs to be considered. Time and again, parents complain that children are unable to study and work because of the disruptive effects of other pupils. Of course, we know that those are the pupils most likely to cause delinquency and crime and to have all sorts of behavioural problems.
The cost of jailing a young offender is estimated to amount to £100,000 a year. The young people whom we are talking about are ill prepared for this complex, information-led society. They are a reproach to us all. We must find a balance as to how to educate them within our maintained system.
The recent CPS report suggested that more than one in five 14 year-old boys has a reading age of nine or less. Where are those inputs going? It suggested that 63 per cent of white working-class boys and 54 per cent of black working-class boys are unable to read and write properly at 14. Youngsters from disadvantaged homes are five times more likely to fail to get five good GCSE grades than those from affluent backgrounds. That is not good enough and I do not believe that the contents of the Bill do anything to tackle those issues.
It may be ironic that this, International Women's Day, is a time when we can all reflect that girls are faring very much better than boys at school. In 2009, the figures for key stage 2-that is, seven to 11-show that girls outperform boys in most subjects. Indeed, they do so in all subjects except mathematics, and that is by only one percentage point. I do not believe that the measures in the Bill will do anything to tackle the cycle of deprivation that all of us recognise has been so critical in disadvantage and difficulty.
Many years ago, when the noble Baroness was working for the Inner London Education Authority and I was working for Professor Sir Michael Rutter at
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The key factors in Sir Michael's work were very simple and very interesting. I commend Fifteen Thousand Hours to the Government-and to the Opposition, in full hope that they will be able to act on it before the year is out. The factors were: the quantity of student artwork on display, the number of active roles and responsibilities given to pupils, pupils and teachers engaging together in extracurricular activities, energetic lessons where time wasting is minimised and where high performance is expected from the outset, regular and consistent homework, high grading standards, students receiving immediate and positive reactions to performance and the use of punishment associated with poor behaviour and attendance. It takes a lot to convince me that we have moved much further forward in the intervening years.
I want to say a little about some of the other measures in the Bill. In my opinion, the pupil and parent guarantees are an irrelevant gimmick, which will result in absolute misery. The idea, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, that those will be personalised for each child and each parent is ludicrous. That is creating unrealistic expectations. Already, nearly half the parents across the country are disappointed with the secondary school that their child is going to. Those parents and pupil guarantees-guarantees, no less-create artificial expectations that will lead to disenchantment, alienation, rage and frustration on the part of the right reverend Prelate's son-in-law, who will say: "Those people at Westminster have really joined the funny farm altogether now and have no idea what it is like for me at the front line". Accompanying the pupil and parent guarantees is a 79-page document with 407 numbered paragraphs. That is ridiculous. We want good teachers delivering education to the children of this country.
I support home-school contracts, but I entirely agree with the view of the shadow Secretary of State that the time to sign the home-school contract is when the child is being admitted to the school. Any parent knows that, thereafter, you scarcely read the bits of paper. It is like marriage and a few other things. At the moment of signing, you take it very seriously and look at what is being expected of you. To take it further than that is ludicrous.
I know that noble Lords have already been generous to me about time, but I really wanted to contrast Sir Jim Rose's report with the 1967 Plowden report on children and their primary schools. We must recognise the degree to which this is a wasted opportunity. The Government should have considered the way in which the Plowden report was approached, the number of
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The school report card is another gimmick; it is an initiative that I cannot see delivering anything approaching the results promised for it. The national curriculum and the league tables, which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, introduced, to me were an important step in improving education. When, many thousands of years ago, my children were young and you went to a secondary school and asked about exam results, you would have your head fiercely bitten off. You were told that asking about exam results was imposing middle-class values, that that is not what education is about and that you were not entitled to know the exam results. Many of us of that generation, desperately seeking to keep our children in maintained schools in London, will have had a similar experience. So the league tables and the national curriculum had a part to play, but I think that we are all agreed that it is time to move on. The A* to C preoccupation means an excessive focus on the C to D pupils, but what about getting the B pupils to A*? Because they are not measured, they do not have the same recognition. There is more to do about how you report back to parents. The school report cards will be opaque and inadequate. Children want far more information.
I wish that I could speak at great length on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on media reporting in family court proceedings. This is a critically important subject, to which all of us should give a great deal of attention. Children who have been traumatised and who have had their privacy invaded and destroyed because of the appalling circumstances in which they live should not have this experience compounded by the process in the family court. I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will speak about this at great length.
Two weeks ago, there was a debate on teaching excellence led by my noble friend Lady Shephard. Many spoke about brilliant teachers. The noble Lords, Lord Parekh and Lord Puttnam, talked about Sir Andrew Motion, who said that when his English teacher, Mr Way, started teaching,
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said much about the degree to which the Government do not trust teachers any more and that all is red tape and regulation. Above all, if we want to transform education, we need teachers who are committed. The right reverend Prelate's son-in-law must stay. I am afraid that this Bill will do nothing to make that better.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I declare several relevant interests, first as a parent with two children still at school, also as a school governor of a school with a religious character, and as a foundation governor of a maintained school. Professionally, I have also taught, both in the voluntary aided sector and the state sector, working with both mainstream children and with children with special needs. In parenthesis, perhaps I may say how I strongly I agree with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, about children with special needs. I hold a chair at
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Before turning to the education provisions in the Bill, which will form the main part of my remarks, I express a general anxiety about the lack of scrutiny which this Bill received in another place and the danger that a truncated process in your Lordships' House may well lead to a defective and flawed piece of legislation reaching the statute book. If it cannot be given adequate time for proper consideration before a general election, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the Government should not expect to see the Bill glide effortlessly on to the statute book. The Secretary of State, Mr Ed Balls, has said that he hopes this Bill will enable Britain to achieve its ambition of creating a world-class education system, a statement reiterated by the Minister today. Mr Balls has argued for,
If that philosophical approach were made manifest in every provision of the Bill, it would be hard to quarrel with its provisions. As currently drafted, however, the Bill errs on the side of bureaucratic centralised interference in education, eroding both the rights of parents and the status of teachers. This is a great pity because under the stewardship of earlier education Ministers, most notably the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, the Government did much that was positive, particularly through the creation of the academies.
I cannot believe that the cocktail of additional, stultifying bureaucratic provisions, pupil and parent guarantees, home-school agreements, parental surveys, school improvement partners and draconian regulation for home education, all of which have been alluded to in the debate so far, will do more than generate more paperwork and headaches for teachers and parents alike. Every teacher I know feels ground down by a calculating and target-led approach which would do justice to Thomas Gradgrind. We over-examine, over-assess and over-centralise. The professionalism of teachers has been compromised and their ability to innovate has been submerged in an unending tide of bureaucratic control.
It would be more helpful if, instead of costly legislation, the Government were more focused on the size, for instance, of primary schools. Figures today reveal that 460,000 of those under 11-one in eight of children-are in classes of more than 30 and 210 teachers lead classes of more than 41. In so many respects, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone, has said, this is a missed opportunities Bill. It is a great pity that the Government did not try to build consensus with the Official Opposition. It strikes me that one of the best pieces of legislation in the 20th century was the Education Act 1944, which was agreed by both sides. RA Butler was Secretary of State at the time and Chuter Ede, a Labour Member, was his PPS. That was one of the great pieces of legislation, enabling vast numbers of people, including people like myself from relatively underprivileged backgrounds, to have the
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