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House of Lords

Thursday, 18 October 2012.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Scotland

Question

11.06 am

Asked By Lord McAvoy

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote the benefits of Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, this Government firmly believe that Scotland is, and will always remain, better off within the United Kingdom. In June, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced a programme of cross-government work to inform and support the debate on Scotland’s future. This work will report from early 2013 and will produce detailed evidence and analysis to assess the benefits of Scotland remaining in the UK to both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and welcome the content of his Answer. Does he agree that the campaign for remaining within the union, which the Labour Party supports fully, needs to be a positive case put to the Scottish people, emphasising the social and economic benefits of remaining within the United Kingdom, and not a negative case as that would be counterproductive? Will he accept my assurance that the Labour Party will stand four-square with all unionist parties in Scotland in this referendum campaign?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, those are very welcome words from the noble Lord, speaking on behalf of the Labour Party. I think it is well understood in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom that while political parties may have many differences on many different issues, we are completely united in our belief that the United Kingdom is the best way to preserve peace and prosperity for all the people of these islands. The noble Lord is also entirely correct when he says that this campaign needs to be a positive one. It should be. There is a very positive case for keeping the United Kingdom together in terms of our position in the world, the protection of our citizens and the economic benefits to all the people of the UK.

Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, I have a deep concern about whether the Electoral Commission, which will play a big part in this forthcoming referendum, will be up to the job. Will the noble Lord ensure that the appropriate Ministers meet the Electoral Commission to ensure that it is capable of dealing with the problems that this referendum will throw up?

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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to voice his concern, but I am glad to say that the Electoral Commission has, over the past few years, learnt a lot from both running referendums and overseeing various elections. Both Governments—the UK Government here at Westminster and the Scottish Government—have agreed that the Electoral Commission should play its normal role, as for all other referendums. It is well understood by Ministers that this is a key referendum for the future of this country and it is important that we should get it right.

Lord Stephen: My Lords, is my noble friend the Leader of the House aware that, although there is very broad cross-party support for the campaign to maintain the United Kingdom—that very much includes the Liberal Democrats—there has been considerable concern about the role of the Electoral Commission and the question that will be put to the people of Scotland? For example, when the question that is currently supported by Alex Salmond and the SNP is tested by opinion poll, it generally gets a significant advantage—some are saying up to a 7% advantage—compared with a more neutral or balanced question. That is of concern to every one of us here. Will the UK Government make sure that the Electoral Commission plays a full and active role in ensuring that the referendum is not rigged or manipulated by the SNP and that the referendum question and all aspects of the running of the referendum are handled and set in a fair, open and transparent way that is published and understood not only by the people of Scotland but by those in the whole of the United Kingdom who have a deep interest in the outcome of this important vote?

Lord Strathclyde: I entirely agree with my noble friend. This is extremely well understood by politicians on both sides of the border. The Electoral Commission has an absolute mandate to do precisely as he suggested—to report and to lay that report in the Scottish Parliament, and of course it will be available here as well.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: Does the noble Lord agree that independence is a moving feast, as reflected in the concern shown on all sides of the House about the question? I regard Scotland as an independent country at the moment but I am happy to renew my marriage vows with England. The key question is: does Scotland want to leave the UK? The matter must be closely focused on that single issue. Otherwise it will be lost in a mass of spin from Alex Salmond.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, we have up to two years of debate before we get to a referendum and I am sure that many people and organisations will make the point that the noble Lord has raised. Independence is not for Christmas; it is for life. Of course, the benefits of the United Kingdom need to be well understood before we get to a referendum.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, can my noble friend deal with the anxiety about the question? It is now going to be decided by the Scottish Parliament,

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which means Alex Salmond in consultation with the Electoral Commission. Would a way of ensuring that the referendum is fairly conducted be to say that the Section 30 order, which transfers the power to the Scottish Parliament, will not be brought before either House of Parliament until Alex Salmond has published his draft Bill setting out the question and the rules for the conduct of the referendum and the franchise?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the Section 30 order will be published next week, and both Houses of Parliament will debate and, it is hoped, pass it in due course. I cannot see that there is any great advantage in seeing Mr Salmond’s Bill before we pass the Section 30 order. After all, it can be amended in the Scottish Parliament. However, we understand that we will get the publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation, which will include their view of what the question should be, and that should be available in the next few weeks.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: I understand perfectly that this issue has to be handled sensitively without there appearing to be any attempts at bullying or cajoling the Scottish Parliament in deciding what to do. If the draft Section 30 order is published next week, it will be left entirely up to the Scottish Parliament to decide what to do. That is really going too far. Does the noble Lord agree that there ought to be a period of reflection before the Section 30 order is laid before us so that we have at least some idea of what the Scottish Parliament has in mind?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there will be a period of reflection but it will not be very long because we want the Scottish Parliament to get on with it and to set the date and pass the necessary legislation so that we can clear the air in Scotland and get a decisive result at the referendum.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, the agreement says “intelligibility” when it comes to the question, and that begs a question in itself. Can we please make sure that the question is not merely intelligible but that it is not loaded and is entirely unbiased? I do not think that this House or any other should contemplate passing the order unless we are satisfied in that regard.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, that is precisely the role of the Electoral Commission—to look at the question, to test the various words in it and then to report to the Scottish Parliament as to its intelligibility.

Slavery

Question

11.15 am

Asked By Baroness Hamwee

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, to coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, to raise awareness among relevant agencies and the general public of the possibility that individuals they encounter may be the subject of modern slavery.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, I am sure the House will be aware that today is Anti-Slavery

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Day, which is an important day. However, human trafficking is not just a one-day issue. As the activity of the interdepartmental ministerial group on human trafficking shows, the Government are not complacent, and cannot be in the light of today’s report. The Government are committed to tackling this issue on a continuing basis.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I welcome the publication of the report, which shows that increasing numbers are being detected. That may of course be because increasing numbers are being reported. There is a widespread view among people that trafficking does not happen in their neighbourhood. What advice do the Government give if one suspects that a man working in a restaurant or a young woman working in a nail bar is the victim of trafficking?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: They should report any suspicions of trafficking to the authorities: either the police or their own local authority. There is a lot of cross-agency working to tackle this issue. I think the noble Baroness is correct: this is an increasing problem and one that will need increasing effort to try to contain.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, 17,000 Royal Naval sailors died suppressing the slave trade. Indeed, in 1966, as a midshipman I was on a small coastal minesweeper that arrested a slaver. I am sure that the Minister would like to make sure that this fact is known globally as well as within certain parts of our own community. In celebrating Anti-Slavery Day, perhaps he would wish well the celebration this weekend of the 207th anniversary of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord gives me a tall order but one on which I am happy to oblige. Of course, we celebrate Trafalgar and indeed Lord Nelson’s contribution to that victory. This country has been at the fore in seeking to tackle slavery, but our history has different shades on this issue. It is very important that we recognise it as a global problem today. That is why we are working abroad in India and the Asian sub-continent to help to make sure that modern slavery still does not happen in these times.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that in the negotiations on the repatriation of some elements of the European Union directives on joint home affairs and justice issues, our Parliament and our Government will give special consideration to making sure that all the orders affecting slavery or trafficking will be very carefully considered before they are repatriated? The straightforward reason is that all the evidence on trafficking is that it is Europe-wide, indeed worldwide, and is not restricted to this nation.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My noble friend is right to point out that this is a Europe-wide issue, which is why co-operation is directed Europe-wide. There is a directive to which we are fully signed up, and we will

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work together with our European colleagues to make sure that we tackle this crime, which is pan-European and in which this country has a vested interest in trying to repress.

Baroness Corston: Will the Minister accept that nearly 20 years ago, when I was a Member of the other place, I had a constituency case involving a young woman who had been brought into this country allegedly as a servant by a wealthy family? She had been kept for two years as a slave. I do not believe that it was an isolated incident. What measures do the Government take to ensure that families who bring servants into this country from overseas are treating them as employees and not as slaves?

A noble Lord: Good question.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I heard a voice say, “A good question”, and it is indeed a good question. It is an abuse that is a form of slavery, which this Government cannot tolerate. Let us be clear; this is not an easy area. Those involved in trafficking can be cunning and deceitful, and there is widespread use of false documents and fraudulent job offers. We need to be clever in the way in which we handle the issue, which is why we are using information and intelligence to catch these people and why cross-agency interaction is so important.

Baroness Young of Hornsey: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether his department has any intention of introducing independent monitoring to make sure that the cutting of red tape in small businesses and commercial organisations does not impact on the progress that we have made so far in cutting down trafficking and slavery?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am the Minister in the Home Office responsible for the red tape challenge, so I will bear that point in mind. It is a challenge within the Home Office because, in essence, we are a regulatory department. We would want to do nothing that made the risk of human trafficking the greater.

Lord Whitty: In view of that context and the figures on trafficking for labour in the paper this morning, will the Minister please assure us that there will be no further restriction on the role or resources of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, and indeed that its scope will be improved by extending it into other sectors?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I do not know whether I can say that there will be no change to the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. The noble Lord will know that forestry workers have already been taken out of scope. Indeed, the reforms of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which fall more under my previous brief than the current one, pose a new challenge to the organisation to focus on areas with the greatest risks, and this is one of them.

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Police: Strike Action

Question

11.22 am

Asked by Lord Blair of Boughton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decision by the Police Federation of England and Wales to ballot their members on whether the legal prohibition on police officers taking strike action should be repealed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, the Home Secretary has been clear that police officers cannot strike, and that is not going to change. As a civil emergency service it is vital that the service is able to discharge its duty to protect the public and to keep the peace at times of serious national and local disorder.

Lord Blair of Boughton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, with which I agree. However, I am more concerned to know how we got to this place. I should point out to the House for the avoidance of doubt that this Question was laid down before the imbroglio concerning the Chief Whip in the other place came either to my notice or to public notice. My supplementary question is in three brief parts. First, in 93 years this is the first time that the Police Federation has balloted its members: does the noble Lord believe that that indicates a breakdown in trust between the Police Service of all ranks in England and Wales and the Government? Secondly, whether he believes that or not, does he accept, as I do, that a substantial number of police officers believe that there is a breakdown in trust? Thirdly, what are the Government going to do about it?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The Government do not underestimate the strength of feeling among officers at the moment. The Home Secretary and the policing Minister regularly meet with representatives of the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association and members of the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss ways of tackling this issue. We are looking of ways in which we can ensure a greater input from officers of all ranks in policing matters. We will continue to engage with police officers and staff to ensure that their opinions help shape future policing policies.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, does the Minister accept that whatever the outcome of the ballot, it will be a fair and valid expression of the views of Police Federation members, and particularly so if the turnout is higher than in the forthcoming ballots for police and crime commissioners? Can he also give an assurance that any government response to the outcome of the likely Police Federation ballot will not be given by the Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons for fear that he uses the kind of language he normally reserves for addressing on-duty police officers?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am sorry about and rather disappointed by that question. The relationship between government and police is clearly very important, and we are aware of the difficulties at this particular time. I think we all recognise that this is a period of

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change for the police. The Government want to engage in particular with the Police Federation, because it is holding the ballot, and with all sections of the police force to see a new era for policing that brings the police fully into the modern era.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, where there is an obligation on a service not to strike, is it not important to have respected mechanisms in place for fixing the terms of service for that particular service? Could the Minister direct attention to that aspect for the Police Federation to consider rather than striking? I think it would be much more constructive to look at whether better arrangements could be made for the adjustment of terms of service than perhaps exist at the present time.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Yes, there is a tribunal which considers these matters and, indeed, there are issues before it at the moment. I think that today is the first day on which it is taking evidence. There is a mechanism in place for resolving these issues, but there is also an argument which I think the Government should not be afraid of putting to the police force. The Tom Winsor proposals give the police an opportunity to improve their flexibility of working, for improving pay scales so that there is a better step up from constable to sergeant, and making sure in many ways that the pay structure for the police force, which was set up 30 years ago, is fit for purpose today.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, when the right to strike was removed in 1919, it followed large-scale disorder on the streets of the United Kingdom and by implication recognised the very special position that the police service was in. Does the Minister agree that the special case for the police—the X factor if you like—should always be borne in mind when the Home Secretary is deciding issues concerning the police?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My answer to that is yes.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, in view of the line unfortunately taken by the Front Bench opposite, would it not be a good idea if all parts of this House sent out a clear message that the inability of the police to strike, far from being an oddity compared with others, is an essential part of the relationship between the police of this country and the public? Is that not the essence of this matter, whatever the purpose of the ballot might be?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank my noble friend for a positive contribution which takes the debate forward. As I think I have expressed, the Government are anxious to make sure that the relationship is a good one. We are not alone in our relationship with special groups of people. The Prison Service and the armed services also have prohibitions on striking. We recognise the importance of our relationship with the police service.

Baroness Doocey: My Lords—

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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): I think we should hear from my noble friend Lady Doocey. The Labour Benches have had two.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord McNally: I think that noble Lords will find that I have given a fair run around the House. It is fair to hear from my noble friend Lady Doocey.

Baroness Doocey: My Lords, do the Government accept that when they reform provisions for long-term sickness, a distinction must be made for police officers who have been injured in the line of duty so that they are not unfairly penalised?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That extends the Question a little further than my brief. We recognise that the retirement age for the police will remain at 60, even under the renewed proposals; it will not be made the same as for others. Everybody realises that it is a stressful job that can involve physical hazards. I appreciate the supplementary question, but I am sorry that I cannot comment in detail on it.


Fire Services: Funding

Question

11.30 am

Asked By Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks arising from proposals to reduce funding for fire services outside London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, single-purpose fire and rescue authorities outside London have had a change in their revenue spending power of minus 2.2% in 2011-12 and minus 0.5% in 2012-13. Many fire and rescue authorities are making sensible savings without impacting on the quality or breadth of the services offered to their communities. It is for each fire and rescue authority to determine the operational activities of its service through its integrated risk management plan, which is subject to consultation with the local community.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I thank the Minister for that reply. Has she had a chance to study the letter sent to her by Members from all parts of your Lordships’ House, and also the letter sent to her department yesterday by the six chief fire officers of the metropolitan areas, in which they stated that current proposals would lead to the loss of 2,500 front-line firefighters and 100 fire engines, and to the closure of 60 stations? In an area such as Merseyside, this would lead to a

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33% cut, when it has already made cuts of up to £20 million and lost 500 firefighters in recent years. Given the terrible tragedies that can be wreaked by fire, and the inherent risks to public safety that may ensue, would it not be sensible, before this becomes an issue of antagonism, public debate and concern, for the Government to commission an independent risk assessment so that we can be clear about the implications of these proposals?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as I indicated, once the Government have made decisions on funding, it is up to each fire authority to deal with the standard of service that it provides. It is worth noting, thankfully, that the number of fires has gone down, largely due to the work carried out by fire authorities. Given that, the response need may be slightly different.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Would my noble friend be agreeable to meeting the Secretary of State in an all-party delegation on this matter? I ask because I do not believe that, following previous value-for-money changes in metropolitan fire services, the proposal before us is the right solution. We need to discuss it calmly and I hope that the Minister will persuade her Secretary of State to receive such a delegation.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the noble Baroness will understand that I am perfectly prepared to pass on her request, but I know that the fire Minister is already in close discussions with the metropolitan fire and rescue services and is listening very carefully to what they are saying.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I understood the Minister to say that London had been protected from the recent round of cuts over the past two years. I also understand that this was due to the Olympics. Will she confirm that there will now be fairness in the distribution of reductions in budgets, particularly in view of the fact that a number of senior firefighters believe that there is now a danger to the delivery of the national resilience policy because of the unevenness of the impact of the cuts across the country?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, there are different views about the impact of the reductions. Depending on where you are in the country, you may have a different view. The best thing that can happen—which is happening—is that the consultations should continue until decisions are made on the next spending allocations.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, does the Minister understand that little that she has said up to now today will strengthen the morale of authorities such as the Greater Manchester fire and rescue service, which serves courageously in very high-risk and deprived areas, is often under attack while on call and feels that it is being disproportionately hit by unfair cuts? Is not the fairest way a flat-rate cut for all fire authorities and not to allow 84.2% of the cuts to fall on the metropolitan authorities?

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Baroness Hanham: To answer the right reverend Prelate’s initial comments, of course we all recognise the very valuable service that the fire authorities carry out. I indicated earlier that I thought that the reduction in the number of fires is due to the expertise of the fire service, and it is to be greatly welcomed. I acknowledge that there are really bad exceptions to that and that the fire service then carries out a heroic and very valuable role. Local authorities, including fire and rescue authorities, were asked to respond to a consultation on how the baseline distribution should be set in 2013-14. I cannot pre-empt the future settlement position and, as I said earlier, there is not a settled view among firefighters on whether it should be based on a flat-rate cut or on other methods.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: The Minister will be aware, because we have debated it extensively, that we are about to embark on a new business rate retention scheme as well as a poll tax mark 2. Is not the reality of the business rate scheme that it will further entrench the inequalities and inadequacies in funding and could do so for up to seven years if the Government have their way on how the system will work?

Baroness Hanham: Yes, my Lords, the business rate retention scheme will have some effect on the fire and rescue authorities and their direct levers for growth. We have therefore proposed that single-purpose fire and rescue authorities should keep 2% of the local share of business rates.

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

First Reading

11.37 am

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

11.38 am

Tabled By Lord Strathclyde

That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 23 October to allow the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

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Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.38 am

Tabled By Lord Strathclyde

That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Perry of Southwark set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of Baroness Hooper to two hours.

Lord Newby:My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.


Education: Development of Excellence

Motion to Take Note

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Perry of Southwark

That this House takes note of the measures that develop excellence in education.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, it is a great privilege to open this debate on excellence in education, and I look forward with great pleasure to hearing the speeches from so many noble Lords today.

I know that all in this House share my passion for raising the standards in our schools so that every child can develop his or her own talents, and every Government have tried to achieve this goal. I pay tribute to the previous Government for having made education a priority during their time in office, and I acknowledge their heritage, not least in the creation of the best generation of young teachers that we have ever had and in the development of the early academies—just as, I hope, they are equally generous in acknowledging the heritage of their predecessors.

Today, I should like to address the measures which this coalition Government have put in place to achieve the elusive goals of every school a good school and an education system that allows Britain to win in the global race of the future. The themes of the Government’s actions in education, as in all aspects of policy, are a radical shift away from overweening state interference, a belief in the power of every individual to contribute to the public good, and a passion for excellence. For education, this means trust in the professionals in our schools and colleges, raising aspirations for all and thereby enabling achievement by the provision of structures within which students can aspire to succeed—and can compete for success in the fields where their talents lie.

I want to make clear that, for me, excellence is defined not just by academic attainment. There is far more to good education than exam results and far more to exam results than achievement in academic subjects alone. Vocational exams are every bit as valuable for those who choose that route; I will return to that

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issue later. Adult life, whether in employment, family life or friendships, asks of a social, emotional and spiritual richness. Good schools work to foster those skills, based on a strong framework of moral and ethical values that inform every aspect of the school’s life, both inside and outside the classroom.

Last week, I attended the opening of a new learning centre in a sixth-form college. I congratulated the young people and their principal on their new facility. Of course good buildings and equipment are aids to learning and it was good to see young people enjoying the fine facilities on offer, but excellence does not reside in those facilities alone. In every education debate that we have had in this Chamber over many years, there has been unanimous agreement that teachers are the one factor on which the quality of education rests. The question that this Government have addressed is what we can do to bear on the quality of teachers.

It is a source of sadness to me that the approach to improving achievement in recent times has been to regulate, dictate, control from the centre, inspect with the aim of finding fault, create league tables of examination results and punish where failure is discovered. This approach, although I am sure it is made with the best of intentions, simply has not worked. The message of this approach to schools and teachers is to work only to the regulator’s requirement, to seek the easiest way to achieve good grades in the league tables and to work with the children who will add to their league table scores while allowing the weaker students to be ignored and the brightest to go unstretched. While, happily, many schools refused to follow that route, the result has been to cause the biggest gap between the high-achieving pupils and schools and the lowest achievers that we have ever seen in our history.

The coalition Government have tackled this question by looking at what teachers—those key factors in quality—need from government to allow them to succeed. Overwhelmingly, the answer is that schools and teachers need freedom to exercise their professional competence and judgment. In short, they need trust. Some years ago, I attended an international conference about educational quality. Delegates from many countries whose international performance was in many cases far from outstanding enthusiastically told stories of curriculum change, investment in new buildings, legislation, regulation and so on. Finally, it came to the turn of the delegate from Finland, whose students score at the top of every international league table. “Well”, he said, “we do not have many of those things. You see, we just trust the teachers”. It was a lesson I never forgot.

We spend a great deal of money on educating the dedicated young men and women who choose to serve as teachers in our schools and colleges. Many of them are among the brightest and best of their generation. This Government have done absolutely the right thing in pursuing policies that trust them to perform at the highest level. Setting schools free through the academies programme has been an act of faith, trusting schools and teachers to make the right choices for the young people in their care. That faith has been fully justified. Not only do we have over 500 sponsored academies, with sponsorship from every kind of charitable and

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business organisation as well as from churches and religious bodies, but we now have almost 2,000 academies from schools that have converted. This is a massive endorsement of the programme from the wider community and from the profession itself.

Most important, though, is the level of achievement that these academies have given to the young people who attend them. Through strong leadership, gifted teaching and high standards of discipline, achievement has been raised far beyond expectation. Other speakers today will give examples of the amazing success of the schools that were failing their pupils in every way but were turned into high-scoring, high-achieving academies in the space of a very few years. These are stories of life-changing opportunities for young people, raising their aspirations, giving them both academic success and all the self-confidence that gives, and pride in their school uniform, respect for the rules of discipline and loyalty to their school and its values. These are priceless gifts indeed.

Another significant and exciting development has been the creation of free schools: schools set up by local communities and groups involving parents, business, universities and professionals that meet the needs and aspirations of a community for high-quality education. About 80 of those schools have opened in less than two years, with many others approved to open in the next year.

The key result of those reforms, the biggest and most radical for generations, is that the Government have put the professionals in the driving seat, allowing them freedom from government micromanagement, taking the punitive, fault-finding inspections off their backs and allowing them to respond to the needs and interests of the children in their care. Of course, their freedom is balanced by proper accountability. They are accountable to their governing bodies, their students and their community but accountable, above all, to their own high professional standards.

It remains the proper role of government to provide the structures within which schools and teachers can work to ensure that their pupils will achieve. The framework of both the curriculum and examinations is under careful review, and the reforms that have so far been announced will begin to restore the world-class reputation which this country once enjoyed and which it has so sadly lost in recent years. The English baccalaureate certificate will set new demanding standards in maths, English, two sciences, a foreign language and a humanities subject. The pull of the curriculum which these new qualifications will provide will mean a huge increase in the number of pupils studying subjects such as geography, history and triple sciences. In 2010, only 23% of pupils were studying what in anyone’s terms are those basic subjects. That will rise to 47% next year. It is an achievement of which the Government can be proud.

In Ofqual’s review of the curriculum, it is my hope that the importance of religious education will also be recognised, and perhaps restored to the core of those qualifications. At a time when the understanding of other religions is so necessary and when knowledge of

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the established religion of our country is being alarmingly lost, the argument for good RE for all young people seems to me strong.

Single final exams, requiring students to master each subject with confidence, will replace the modular structure. A modular structure has encouraged spoon feeding and teaching to the test. One-off final exams offer freedom for teachers in methods and approach in ways that modular structures made impossible. Equally, they allow students to explore a subject in greater depth. The exams will discriminate appropriately between the highest achievers and those of more modest achievement, just as every other aspect of life does, from sport to show business to promotions at work and even in politics. We need to identify our stars if we are to compete in the world of the future.

The majority of 16 year-olds are capable of performing in those core subjects to the new demanding standard, and I have every confidence that with the freedom to work to their own professional methods, teachers will rise to the challenge of the new examinations. However, not all young people are motivated by academic study, and it is important to ensure that the substantial minority who do not wish to or are incapable of pursuing academic qualifications have satisfying alternatives. As a country, we have in the past not done enough in our education provision to provide for the nearly 60% who do not go on to university, and our economy has paid the price for that failure. Tough employer-approved vocational exams will replace the jungle of qualifications of varying value that are currently available.

I am also a huge supporter of the university technical colleges pioneered by my noble friend Lord Baker—I am pleased that he is speaking later in this debate. Maintaining the study of core subjects to age 16, they will provide high-quality industry-sponsored technical courses to inspire young people who are uninspired by a wholly academic programme. Five UTCs are already open, with 28 more approved. Within the next two years, I hope that at least 40 of those pioneering colleges will be open. Similarly, 16 studio schools are already open and another 16 approved. These cater to young people in the 14 to 19 year-old age range who learn in more practical ways. They offer work experience, sometimes paid, and a tough curriculum combining academic and vocational subjects. It is no surprise that those schools have proved to be both popular and successful in the early years of their life.

Many vocationally motivated young people are every bit as intelligent as their academically minded contemporaries, and their skills are vital to the economy of the future as well as to the fulfilment of their own aspirations. The growth of university technical colleges and studio schools under this Government has at last addressed the issue of a rigorous, satisfying vocational route for the many young people whose talents lie in that direction.

The primary years are perhaps the most important in any child’s education. They provide the basic skills that open the world of learning and the attitude to learning that he or she will take through the next long years. It is simply a national shame that in recent years one in three children have left primary school without

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an adequate ability to read, write and add up. More than 40,000 leave primary school at the age of 11 with a reading age of only seven. It is therefore much to be welcomed that the Government have put forward consultation proposals for a core primary curriculum that proposes rigorous high standards in the key areas of maths, English and science, with a much welcome requirement for a foreign language at key stage 2. Outside this core, teachers will have much greater freedom to follow their own professional skill. Very rapidly, we can look to a primary education that gives 11 year-olds the skills and attitudes they need if they are to succeed in their secondary years.

I cannot fail to speak also of the world of higher education, where this country punches so far above its weight. With centuries of academic freedom to their credit, our great universities take their place in the top few in the world. After the United States, no other country features in the top ranks of the international league as we do. It cannot be too strongly urged that nothing—no, nothing—is done to diminish the academic freedom that has fuelled this success. Our leading universities must be free to choose the brightest and best of each generation of young people. The competition for their genius is keen and our competitors recognise that success in this highly competitive global economy depends on them. Trusting the professional academics to spot talent wherever it can be found must be a priority for any Government.

There is much to be done. We have fallen so very far behind our competitors in the world and failed many of the generations of young people who are now out in the world without the basic skills needed to allow them to find a satisfactory place in adult life and work. The great task has begun, however, and the pace of change in this Government’s policies is amazingly rapid. I commend our Government for all that they are doing. I beg to move.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, but perhaps at this point I may remind your Lordships that this is a timed debate and it would be much appreciated if Back-Benchers could keep their remarks to the four minutes allocated.

11.53 am

Baroness Morris of Yardley: I will try to do so. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for bringing this debate to the House. From the number of speakers, your Lordships can see what a popular debate it is; the only consequence is that we have very few minutes in which to express our views. I want to concentrate on one aspect and illustrate it with a number of examples, and to begin by sharing some of the noble Baroness’s words. She paid tribute to the high standards that we have and the improvement that has been made in our education system. She put that down in large amount to the very hard work of school leaders and teachers. I join her in thanking and applauding them. I have not always shared her analysis of where we are now or how we have got here, but perhaps that will wait for a later debate.

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The point I want to start on is that where we have had success and raised standards—on almost every indicator, we are performing better than a decade ago—it is because we have identified what works and enabled schools to copy that behaviour. That spreading of good practice has rarely been invented in Whitehall; it has usually been found in our best schools. Whitehall at its best has created the structures and means of spreading that to other schools. I pay tribute to both Governments, as through a whole array of measures—Excellence in Cities; federations and chains; heads working in both good and underperforming schools—we have managed to do that.

I want to concentrate on two or three examples where the actions of this Government are deterring schools from doing what we know works and will raise standards. The first example is in sport and art, and all those subjects which are not in the English baccalaureate. I do not want to make an argument against the English baccalaureate. I do not need to be persuaded that the subjects within that assessment and examination are ones which children should know and learn, and be confident in. Our nation and each of those children need them for the future. However, the consequence of that policy is that up and down the country schools are dropping subjects that are not in that group. The noble Baroness mentioned the consequences of targets and league tables: teachers teach to the test and concentrate on those children who can deliver the results. That is what is happening with the English baccalaureate. I cannot have a definition of a successful education system that is not rich in sport, art, music, creativity and all the subjects that are not part of the English baccalaureate.

My second example is the pupil premium. It is an excellent initiative, and I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on bringing it to government, but they must have been as worried as I was to see the recent research that states that schools are not spending the resource on the interventions that are proven to have the greatest impact on school achievement.

In both those cases, and in vocational education, which I think I can confidently leave to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the Government are taking actions that are defensible in their own right, but the consequences are that some schools are not doing the things they ought to do.

I know from my experience as a Minister that Governments are bound to have priorities. That is the nature of government and is where Governments put their energy and resources, but the Government have to understand that in having priorities there are implications and consequences. Two years into this Government, some of those consequences are coming to fruition: there is too little emphasis on art, creativity and music, and professional autonomy is not balanced by the obligation to use teacher interventions that work with children. Getting that balance right is crucial to delivering an education system that encourages and delivers excellence for all our students.

11.57 am

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on introducing this important debate. I am sure we all want the outcomes she described,

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but we may not all believe in the same methods to achieve them. To my mind, there are two requirements before an excellent education can be achieved: the first is excellent teachers and the second is eager children who have been prepared through their experiences in the early years to be able to make the most of their education. Notice that I did not say anything about structures, and notice also that I did not mention the idea proposed by Mr James O’Shaughnessy of Policy Exchange, the Prime Minister’s former policy chief, that we should allow for-profit companies to take over schools which only recently were considered satisfactory. There is no place for the profit motive in state schooling during the compulsory years. Money is too tight to siphon some of it out of the classroom and into the dividend cheque. To quote one of my noble friend’s colleagues, “No. No. No”. I hope that the Secretary of State is not tempted to go down that path.

My second requirement is a little more controversial than it might sound. We have heard a lot recently about ensuring that children are school ready. On the contrary, I think we should ensure that schools are ready for children and should take account of research when we are considering how best to help our children benefit from their schooling. Work by Dr David Whitebread and Dr Sue Bingham of the University of Cambridge was published only yesterday by the Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators, an organisation dedicated to raising the standards of those who work with very young children in all settings. They brought together various studies to question whether the earlier-is-better approach to early years provision is the best way forward. They have concluded that it is not. I should clarify that they are not against provision for two year-olds. It is the date when formal teaching commences that is in question. For example, in 2007 Suggate et al looked at a large sample of children, some of whom started to learn to read at five and others at seven. They discovered that by the age of 10, those who started at seven had not only caught up but had better comprehension of the text.

Another piece of evidence comes from what we know about summer-born children. We know they are disadvantaged in our system, both academically and socially, in that they are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with special educational needs. Research shows that birth date differences even up quite quickly in countries where children do not start formal learning until they are seven. Surely this indicates the damage that can be done to children who are only four for the majority of their year in the reception class. It is alluring to believe that early reading and early academic success are beneficial, but Kern and Friedman in 2009 discovered that early reading often leads to less life-long educational attainment, worse midlife adjustment and worse mortality. This aligned with the findings of the famous HighScope project.

Subjecting children too early to a lot of direct instruction forces them to use parts of the brain that are immature and this can be damaging. It has also been shown that if children are asked to learn things by rote or repetition, they can do it, but they are using the lower, less sophisticated limbic parts of the brain. Later, when asked to do tasks that need the more

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complex parts of the cerebral cortex, they have a tendency to use the lower parts instead. We need a social pedagogy model rather than an inflexible, time-limited, curriculum model. Can the Minister assure me that the roll-out of early years provision for two year-olds will take account of this and other research?

12.01 pm

Lord Broers: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on calling this debate and on her outstanding opening speech. I find myself unusually in full support of the Government’s proposals—at least those of Mr Gove that I read about in the Timesyesterday about post-16 education. I have long called for an end to the extreme specialisation required by the A-level system as it is used in the majority of cases. This has left many scientists and engineers with little practice in expressing themselves literally or orally, and their intellects without the key benefits that learning at least a second language provides. On the other side of CP Snow’s cultural divide, it has left those who opt for the arts and humanities insufficiently numerate and without a knowledge of how the increasingly technological world around them functions.

We have been alone in the developed world in allowing—even encouraging—such specialisation. It has meant that our students possess more advanced knowledge in their specialisation than, for example, American students when they leave school, but find much later that they lack the complementary skills needed to be effective in the real world—either to be able to persuade others of their position or to understand the complexities of the modern world. They then have to acquire these skills when their minds are less agile. Our society has almost encouraged this. Many still hold to the vision of the back-room scientist or engineer, who is extremely clever but lacks the overall vision or ability to lead. We still hear our leaders and politicians almost boasting about their lack of technical understanding and their inability to distinguish between megawatts and gigawatts.

I brought this up many times since joining this House. Six years ago, in the opening paragraph of the summary of recommendations of the report of the Science and Technology Select Committee on science teaching in schools—an inquiry that I chaired—we called on the Government to replace A-levels over the long term with a broader-based syllabus for post-16 students. The Labour Government’s response was to encourage people to expand the availability of the international baccalaureate diploma, but in reality little happened. The proposals of Mr Gove, therefore, are very welcome, although I know that they will receive some resistance from those academics who take a narrow view and are interested only in students excelling in their specialities and do not want them distracted by other topics. This issue extends into higher education and it has long been my position that more universities should follow MIT in having a compulsory humanities, arts and social science component in their science and engineering degrees. Things seem at last to be on the move, and I strongly support the proposals for a broader-based syllabus for post-16 students.

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12.04 pm

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for this debate. The recent Church School of the Future review highlights the Church of England’s aspiration for the 1 million pupils in our schools to experience excellent education. The Manchester diocese educates more children in these schools than any other diocese. We entirely support the noble Baroness’s emphasis on not narrowing our understanding or means of achieving excellence. I offer your Lordships an example.

The Resurrection Church of England primary school in downtown Manchester has an inspirational head teacher who is deeply concerned about the low standard of writing in her pupils. She addressed this by encouraging each year 6 pupil to write to a VIP, including the heads of the Armed Forces and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their carefully written and illustrated letters invariably elicit responses. As a result, these pupils have an annual visit to Carrington to meet Sir Alex Ferguson and the United team; they have an annual residential visit to an RAF base where they sit in a Tornado; and each year they visit Lambeth Palace for a picnic and then go on to see the London sites and visit the National Gallery. There, they choose a picture on which to base the choreography of the Resurrection school dance, which is a stunning and moving performance that they give for visitors. Last year, they chose Titian’s “Noli me Tangere” and this year they chose Caravaggio’s “The Supper at Emmaus”. Most of these children will never have been in an aeroplane, a Tube train, a palace, let alone have lunch in one, or seen anything like the masterpieces in the National Gallery.

The Resurrection school in Manchester is a supreme example of providing an excellent education with a Christian ethos by imaginatively looking beyond the narrow confines of leagues tables and resisting the utilitarian tendency to see the goal of education as simply league tables and economically viable and employable young people. In achieving that, as the school undoubtedly does in its numeracy and literary skills, Maureen Hogarth, the head teacher, and her staff also achieve excellence in these children’s holistic education by broadening it to include social, moral, cultural and spiritual development. In so doing, they inspire confidence and accomplishment in pupils who have all kinds of abilities and come from many different backgrounds, some of them deeply deprived.

I also want from these Benches to endorse strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said about not including religious education in the English baccalaureate or the newly announced EBCs. I fear that religious education will languish on the sidelines even though it is said to be compulsory. That will deprive pupils of the ability to understand and engage meaningfully with issues of faith, which undeniably play a vital part in the lives of 75% of the world’s population. It really is very unwise to try to sidestep that important subject.

Finally, as the bishop of a diocese that contains the highest concentration of university population in Europe, I completely endorse the noble Baroness’s views about maintaining the high place in the world of British universities, including, of course, the excellent University of Manchester.

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12.08 pm

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of two educational charities and I draw no remuneration from them. I wish to speak only about technical education, an area in which all parties have failed over the past 150 years. The reason for that is that the classic curriculum written by Thomas Arnold in 1840 has dominated English education and has been reinforced by the EBacc. As a result, technical, hands-on and practical learning has been eliminated from English schools.

We had technical colleges in 1945, alongside grammar schools. They were in shabby buildings and were closed by snobbery because everyone wanted to be the school on the hill and not the school involved with dirty jobs and greasy rags. It was a huge mistake. Germany did not make that mistake. It still has a tripartite system, which is one of the reasons why Angela’s ruling the roost. It is not the only one, but one of them.

Four years ago, Ron Dearing and I said that we must recreate these technical colleges and make them better. The university technical colleges are for 14 to 18 year-olds. We believe strongly that 14 is the right age to transfer, not 11—11 is too soon, 16 is too late. We have already discovered that if you treat 14 year-olds as adults, they come to college in business dress. They are given a laptop or an iPad. They start working with their hands for 40% of the working week. They turn up, truancy disappears, bloody-mindedness disappears—referral pupils come to these colleges and they attend.

Each college is supported by a university, so university lecturers, undergraduates and postgraduates go in and talk to the youngsters as part of the university outreach programme, thus introducing them to the richness of university life. We get local employers to create the lessons. Rolls-Royce created eight weeks of lessons on making piston pumps and trained the school staff who had to deliver those lessons. Network Rail created eight weeks of lessons on engineering and level crossing gates. The colleges are filming them, they liked them so much. The National Grid has produced eight weeks of lessons on electrical transmission. More than 400 companies are supporting the 33 schools that have been approved. Thirty-three have been approved, five are open.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and Michael Gove for their support for these university technical colleges. They are the most successful free schools that have been started so far. I invite my noble friend to up the game a bit and get more established as soon as possible. There are 3,200 secondary schools in this country. There is no reason why one in 10 should not be a university technical college, giving a total of 320. It may be thought that that is ambitious but that was the number of colleges we had in 1945, and our country needs them.

This week the Royal Academy of Engineering produced a report saying that we are short of 100,000 engineers and 1 million technicians. The university technical colleges are the only schools and colleges in our country that are producing these young men and women below the age of 18. Therefore, I strongly recommend them. I am glad that this initiative has all-party support. In fact, it started under the previous Labour Government

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with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Stephen Twigg supports it and I know that the Liberals support it as well.

As regards the EBacc, I have set up a committee to establish a TechBacc and we will publish our proposals before Christmas. Therefore, this initiative is no longer an experiment; it is a movement. It is encouraging to find youngsters with a very broad band of abilities coming to these colleges. We are agents of social mobility. In the college at Hackney that I visited which has been open for seven weeks, 54% of the students get free school meals—that is a very high proportion indeed—and 80% are black and Asian. I met two pupils who had been expelled from their previous schools and their records were three inches thick. One of the girls was already on the school council and has decided that she wants to go on to college. These bodies are engaging the disengaged but also responding to the needs of our economy.

I repeat that my noble friend Lord Hill is very supportive of these colleges. I say to him that I have some help for him from on high. The right reverend Prelate will remember that the psalm that was read last Sunday was Psalm 90, which ends:

“Prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handywork”.

Therefore, I say to Ministers, “Prosper thou our handiwork”.

12.13 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for bringing forward this debate. Having listened to it so far, I respect the need for standardisation and competition in education. However, having been engaged since the 1960s in seeking an education that takes on board the diversity of the UK, I can only say that the changes to enable black children, especially black boys, to succeed still continue to be a nightmare for parents, teachers and students. Unless a determined effort is made to unlearn the Aryan myth of white superiority, we will be standing here saying the same things yet again.

I ask the House to realise one more time that for the descendants of the enslaved African, education is the only means of achieving upward mobility. The quest for education has been described fully in an autobiography entitled Up From Slavery by Booker T Washington. It is still relevant today. Although, since its abolition, slavery has been long gone, the Aryan myth of white supremacy is alive and well, as we read every day in our newspapers It is sometimes conscious, but at other times unconscious, due to conditioning. Black adults have had to learn how to deal with this myth. Some Aryans, to their credit, have unlearnt the stereotypical view of colour. Others have not, and this directly affects the children in our schools. Teachers cannot do this alone.

Much has been done by the UK to distance itself from racism by producing many reports—Scarman, MacPherson and so on. Laws have also been put in place, including the Race Relations Act, and there have been many publications from the black community, including From Slavery to Freedom by Vidya Anand, and Gus John’s agenda for education. It does well to

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refer back to Bernard Coard, who suggested how the black child was made educationally subnormal in the education system. Much of that has gone but the well-being of the black child is still an experience that has a long way to go.

However, black British children in schools need equal treatment to be seen as the norm. The measures required are obvious. A case for unlearning racism has been made over and over again. Then and only then will we recognise that the black British child needs education, and that is everyone’s responsibility if we are to have peace in our country. There is a real need for booster groups for each and every school—an organisation of black and white adults who are committed to the survival of their brothers and sisters. Experience has shown that such groups’ presence in schools has an unbelievably positive impact as a source of influence for behaviour modification.

I realise that I have reached my time limit but, before I sit down, I should like to say that it is not all doom and gloom. I want noble Lords to know that Diane Abbott has held regular boostings, especially for young black boys, and now for the girls. Noble Lords will find that those who have had schooling but with extra lessons have done extremely well in this country. They have been achieving eight or 10 A* grades in their examination results. We have seen an increase in the number of children heading for Oxford or Cambridge. For that I should like to say a big thank you, but there is a lot more to be done.

12.18 pm

Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for securing this important debate on education, which allows us to discuss how we can nurture and inspire future generations to aspire.

My mum always used to say, “Education is your passport to life. Go to school and learn to the best of your ability because you can use that gift of education to change the lives of others”. That is why we must make sure that we give all children every opportunity to secure that special gift of education to reach their full potential. However, not all children get that opportunity, especially if they are at a disadvantage and cannot learn at the same pace as others in the class. So there is a need for creative ways to assist these children in order to make them feel included and for them to achieve their best.

One way to assist those with learning and communication difficulties, emotional and behavioural problems, as well as ADHD, is through the use of music. Research has shown that music can produce exceptional results in learning. Children with autism can also significantly benefit from learning through music. Research has shown that if a child is taught a poem without music, they forget it by the following week, but if they learn the poem musically, they remember each word perfectly a week later.

However, music should be available not only for children with learning difficulties; it should be part of all children’s cultural well-being. Research evidence has shown that a quality music education can improve academic attainment in areas such as numeracy, literacy and language.

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Sadly, because of money restraints, not all schools view music as a priority, and the responsibility has fallen to many charitable organisations to bridge this gap. Organisations such as the World Heart Beat Music Academy provide musical experiences for children and young people of all social and cultural backgrounds. It gives them a sense of purpose. One young person who has benefited from the academy said, “If it wasn’t for playing music, I wouldn’t be alive. I used to carry a knife a few years ago, but music changed all that. Playing an instrument is my protection now—I just don’t need any knives or weapons on me”. Another commented, “It’s all about gangs these days. You can see the difference between those who do music and those who don’t. We have something to take our minds off things. Instead of going out on the streets and selling drugs and stuff, we have music”. Learning and playing music with others enables young people to feel that they are a part of something—something that nobody can take away from them.

In the current global economic situation, where the widening “have” and “have not” gap has marginalised young people who can see no way out of their disadvantage and isolation, the power of music can transform their lives. The Henley review stated:

“There remains a great deal of patchiness in provision of Cultural Education across England”.

So I ask my noble friend whether the Government will encourage all schools to make adequate provision for music a priority, especially where children are in need of this type of stimulant for their mind, body and soul, and, most importantly, for their well-being, to help them to go out into the world and make a difference to society—for good.

12.22 pm

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry, not least on an excellent and insightful opening speech, in which she laid out the whole agenda for us. Her reward is already with her—she has had a rich cornucopia of responses and I am sure that that will continue throughout the debate.

In his inspiring, if at times fanciful, play about Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons”, Robert Bolt inserts the following exchange between More and his ambitious young supporter and—dare I say?—almost political adviser, Rich. More has just become Lord Chancellor, with all the power, pomp and patronage that that implied. Rich effectively fronts up and says, “Well, what’s in it for me?”. More looks at him carefully and says, “I think you should become a teacher”. Rich does not think that that is much of an answer for a bright young man like him with a big future ahead of him and a patron like the Lord Chancellor. He says, “Why, why, why?”. More’s response in the play—fanciful, I agree—is, “If you do that and if you do it well, you will know it, your pupils will know it and God will know it”.

You do not have to be a member of the Bishops’ Benches or even a twice-on-Sunday, card-carrying Christian believer to get the point. Teaching is a profession and a calling. This is something we have

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lost in our community. Whatever the reasons—and there are many—we have lost the sense of the noble calling of being a teacher and the instantiation into our education system of that delicate relationship between teacher and pupil. Standards in education will improve only as teachers are given the status and support that they appropriately should have.

Of course it is fanciful what More says—it is not always quite like that. As a supply teacher I once went to a school and was instructed, “Keep them quiet for six weeks”—not much of a vision of teaching. I have to say, however, that I did teach them some mathematics which would have been helpful in the Department for Transport recently. I used to say, “Show all your workings and make sure that your addition is correct”, and they got the message.

I turn to the role of the teacher and the way in which it has been interfered with. Most of us interfere. I own up to doing so as a former chief inspector of schools. There is a risk that we will all interfere. So let us have a division of labour: the teachers teach and the politicians, advisers, specialists, theorists and academics—and I am one—should facilitate that role. We need to ensure that that division remains in place.

I am encouraged by the policies of the previous Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, paid tribute to the quality of the intake to the profession. We are in a position of facilitating, at least at that level. However, the facilitation should go well beyond that. It includes support in terms of freeing-up the teacher from an overintrusive national curriculum. I worry about religious education and sport education. There are ways of dealing with that, but that is for another occasion. An overintrusive national curriculum is a great danger and a constraint on this delicate relationship. However, we are moving in the right direction and there are good signs that the review of the national curriculum will produce helpful results. We have been here before, however, and everyone with a lobby interest queues up at the door of the office of the national curriculum and says, “Insert this”.

Ministers must resist that. There are temptations, as you grow in influence and power, to continue meddling and to think that you know best. Ministers: do not do this. There is good progress so far, but we will be watching. Make sure that the teachers have the facility and support to do what they do best.

12.27 pm

Lord Harris of Peckham: My Lords, I have some experience of the subject having run 13 academies last year and 19 this year. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for talking me into sponsoring CTCs 20 years ago; the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for helping me to get eight failing schools through local authorities; and the noble Lord, Lord Hill, for giving us 10 schools in the past two years and six new schools for next September. We now have 19 schools, and we had 3,200 parents applying for our schools this year. Up until today, we have had 28,000 applicants for 3,200 places. In less than two years, four schools have gone from failing to outstanding; and of the last 10 schools, Ofsted reports have rated nine out of 10 as outstanding, including

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three at the new grades which were outstanding in every department. So we do know a bit about how to run schools.

We think that education is the most important thing in children’s lives. Some 73% of children in our schools are black, and 54% receive free meals. We do not pick out all the best children, we pick a mixture. We can change a school round very quickly. How do we do it? We do it by getting a good principal, who has the backing of all of us in the team, and good teachers. We also set standards for the teachers of what we expect. We expect all six of the schools that we took over last month to be outstanding within three years. That is the target that we set for all our schools. We like not only results but motivation and sport, which our schools support strongly.

Let me give some figures. Our exam results for maths and English over the past three years have gone up from 31% to 71%—a massive improvement—and the percentage of those achieving five A to C grades has increased from 49% to 96%. In our Croydon academy of 400 sixth-formers—the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, agreed that we could put five schools together—90% got qualifications enabling them to go to university and 85% did go to university. However, the problem we have—the problem that all Governments have—is getting local authorities to agree to failing schools being changed. Parents actually think that failing schools are good. A year later, parents still think they are good. To give an idea of this, we have a school in Beckenham—a classy area—which on average took in 50 children a year and had 50 come in from outside. The school had a total intake of 200 pupils. We have had this school for just one year. Last Thursday we had 2,000 parents there. Last year, instead of 100 children coming in, we took 200 from the local community. So we did not have children thrown in. It is fantastic that parents realise what makes a good education, and realise it quickly. What happened to that school? It went from 36% of pupils achieving five A to Cs in English and maths to 52%. These are the same children and we have changed them in less than two terms.

I know that we do not have much time but I would like to mention quickly that we also took over a school at Eltham Green where, five years ago, a lot of the children were murderers—some of the people involved in the Stephen Lawrence murder went to that school. We had the school for one year under contract from Greenwich council and it went from a 28% pass rate to a 73% pass rate in just one year. This year, our target for that school is 75%

I hope that we have another debate soon but I would like to finish by explaining to the House how we improve our schools and what we do. I would like to explain why I am thankful to the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Hill, for giving us the opportunity to become teaching colleges for teachers, which is very important, and also teaching colleges for heads and vice-principals of the future. One matter which is dear to my heart is that we are going to open within the next 12 months a school for 130 children who have been expelled—excluded children—not only to teach them English and maths but to teach them a trade.

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12.32 pm

Lord Lloyd-Webber: I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on introducing this very important debate. I would like to share an idea which I hope may be of some value in encouraging young people to pursue careers in the vital areas of industry that this country needs if we are to prosper and which may not appear to be as glamorous as some others.

The catalyst for this idea comes from the Architectural Angel awards, which are an annual event that are now held in the Palace Theatre in London in association with English Heritage. The awards recognise the unsung people who set about raising money in order to save or restore historic buildings and who have no support from anywhere other than from themselves. I am pleased to say that the awards have hit a spot. This year we have Clare Balding presenting them, with Graham Norton and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. The awards recognise individuals who, completely on their own, have achieved something in an area that is of enormous value to the nation but is not sung about.

My idea—I stress that this is not formed in any detail—is why do the Government not support an awards ceremony that recognises exceptional achievement by young people in industry in its widest sense, whether it be craftsmen, plumbers, technicians, you name it? My idea is that the awards would be presented in a West End theatre in exactly the same way as the Oscars or the Olivier awards, with categories to be decided and nominees in each category. I believe the awards would receive national TV coverage, generate sponsorship and provide public recognition of trades vital to this country but which do not get shouted about. If the idea has any merit or appeals to anyone, I would be delighted to offer, say, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane or the London Palladium as a venue to host the event.

On a slightly different note—which I feel I have to raise because the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, spoke so brilliantly about music in education—would it not be a good idea if we celebrated the success of the music policy at Highbury Grove school, which I am sure many noble Lords will have read about, which shows that music can make a vital difference?

I end by referring to something that I have mentioned in the House before but which is perhaps appropriate in the 50thanniversary year of the Beatles: that funding arts education should be regarded by the Government as a serious investment and not as an item for cutting.

12.35 pm

Lord Lingfield: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for instigating this important debate. She has, of course, spent a considerable part of her life helping to improve education standards.

I want to talk about a sector of education which is too often the Cinderella of our education services—further education. I declare an interest in that I am currently chairing a government review into certain aspects of further education. Its initial report came out—not without controversy—earlier this year and I hope that the final report will come out by the end of this month. It would be wrong of me, therefore, to pre-empt

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the conclusions and aspirations of that report. However, there are a couple of important matters which struck me forcefully during our work which I want to mention today.

During the past nine months I have visited many outstanding further education institutions, both in the private and public sector. I have seen much to enthuse me and I have met many wonderful practitioners who are inspiring and work extraordinarily hard. I pay tribute to them. I pay tribute, too, to my honourable friend John Hayes, who was until recently the Minister of State for Further Education. He was much admired in that role and, of course, in his previous shadow role.

Further education has one extraordinarily important and worrying task. Colleges and other providers tell me that government statistics suggest that some 28% of young people who were 16 or 17 when they left school are functionally innumerate. This means that they have the arithmetical skills of the average nine year-old. Some 15% also are illiterate. This means that too often colleges of further education have to be the remedial department of their local primary and secondary schools. This is a shocking circumstance and FE has to pick up the pieces far too often. Too often also it diverts them from their primary task of equipping young people with the workplace skills which will enable them to found their careers.

This is not for one moment to denigrate the enormously important work which goes on in the teaching of basic skills in our further education colleges but merely to hope that the reforms which the Government are putting into place, and which my noble friend Lady Perry has described extraordinarily well, will in the end make it unnecessary for further education lecturers in further education colleges to teach what are basically kindergarten skills to 16 year-olds. We seriously need to improve upon that.

Schools have to play their part—and, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Perry, some of them do not do very well at the moment—if we are to provide this country with the technically accomplished workforce which will enable it to outperform its competitors in a deep and difficult economic environment.

12.39 pm

Lord Bichard: My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for instigating this debate, but in doing so perhaps I may also pay tribute to her huge commitment over many years to the cause of education. We are all grateful for that.

There is one thing on which we all agree: we want to see excellence in education. But, as ever, life becomes more difficult when we seek to define exactly what we mean by excellence. Does it mean that the graduates of our system are proficient in the core academic subjects? Does it mean that we have a credible, fair and reliable way of assessing their merits, and of course an outstanding teaching force as well? Does it mean that we enable every pupil to realise their particular talent and therefore to realise their life potential? Do we prepare young people for the world of work and to play a responsible

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part in their community as citizens and as parents? Does it mean that we are preparing young people for a lifetime of learning? Or, sometimes, does it just mean that we protect some of the most vulnerable young people in our society from harm, providing a place of safety in what for them is a very unsafe world? Rather inconveniently, perhaps, it means all of these things, so that if we fail in any of them, we really do not have an excellent education system at all.

Like many noble Lords, I believe that excellence in education is about all of these things, and I worry a little that at the moment we are in danger of being perceived as focusing too much on one element, that of the traditional core academic subjects. I want to draw upon two bodies of evidence to justify that concern. One is well researched and the other is a bit more anecdotal. The register of interests discloses that I am an adviser to a company called the Ten group on professional support services which provides online support to 20% of all schools in this country by answering questions which are posed by school leaders. In any week, Ten receives 150 or so questions from school leaders, so it is in a good position to know what schools are interested in and concerned about, and how their priorities are changing. What has been happening over the past few months? Ten has had far fewer requests about issues such as pupils’ health and well-being and child protection. It has seen a 68% decrease in requests for information about community cohesion, and a significant reduction in requests about extended services and activities to engage the local community. And—hear this—it has seen a huge increase in requests for information about inspection, such that they now account for 12% of all the requests made this year as compared with just 4% last year. For me, these are interesting and slightly worrying trends that suggest not only a narrowing definition of excellence and the purpose of education, but also an unhealthy preoccupation with external regulation.

My anecdote comes from having recently presented prizes at what is by any standards an outstanding school that specialises in the visual and creative arts. I am not going to name the school, but its work in those fields is as good as I have ever seen. By the way, last year it managed to get 12 pupils into Oxford and Cambridge and, as important for me, three pupils into Central Saint Martins College. My worry when I spoke to the staff and my worry when I ran a little seminar on design for senior students was that time and time again I was challenged about whether the Government are really behind the creative subjects, and time and time again I said, “They must be, because the creative industries are such an important part of our economy”.

We are in danger of people misunderstanding the signals, so we need to be careful to value all aspects of education in our public statements, and I would say especially the creative arts.

12.43 pm

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, apart from congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, I should like to congratulate the Government on their safeguarding of design in the primary school curriculum and on

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their support for Sir John Sorrell’s Saturday schools to encourage design experience. Design is a sure but not widely understood means of developing general excellence in education because it fosters many key proficiencies, not only the traditional ones of literacy and numeracy, but the ones we particularly need now for the success of our economy—the capability to realise a plan, innovate, collaborate and recognise what the user wants. I also congratulate the Government on commissioning Darren Henley’s excellent reports on musical and cultural education, which drew attention to the mysterious capacity of skill in one creative activity to stimulate confidence and achievement in another.

As for secondary education, I understand the need for a focus on core subjects, but a narrow grouping will not fit our children for the modern world. As a matter of fact, it betrays one of our mainstream British traditions, which is that although Britain is no longer the workshop of the world for all sorts of reasons, and nor is there scope now for the classically educated colonial developers of the world, we have always been and could remain the designers of the world. I am thinking of our inventors from Richard Arkwright to John Logie Baird, Ada Lovelace and Sir Jonathan Ive, to name only a very few, and of our pioneering architects, such as Inigo Jones, who brought Palladio’s designs for homes back to England, thus transforming our domestic architecture. Indeed the Palladian tradition emigrated to Britain with Inigo Jones and later the architecture of the Scottish enlightenment, at least as much a triumph of architecture and design as it is of philosophy and literature. Design was an integral part of that classical tradition.

But we have tended to neglect design in our ideas of the grand English educational tradition, unlike some of our European neighbours. Like technology, it does not figure in Thomas Arnold of Rugby School’s curriculum, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, pointed out. Indeed, most of our inventors were outside the classically educated élite tradition, and came from the non-conformist strand of our culture or from Scotland. But design excellence is nevertheless a dimension of our distinctive variant of European history. We have still a reputation for producing the most innovative designers and the best institutions for teaching design, but this is now vulnerable to intensive investment abroad in courses and institutions. To nurture and preserve our adult attainment, we need to maintain a stream of school participation and the explicit valuing of design as a discipline.

In sum, we are selling ourselves short if we do not include design in formal classical education, and that is quite apart from its close connection with economic growth.

12.47 pm

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on bringing forward this hugely important debate. I like the idea put forward by my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber for an awards ceremony. I would actually go further and say that we should have an Olympics for business, including—most importantly—the creative industries that contribute so much to our economy.

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I want to concentrate on the purpose of education. Excellence is of no merit without a purpose. That purpose must be to sufficiently prepare students for work, given that they are likely to seek numerous different jobs, possibly in different countries, during their working lives. In my experience as an employer as well as an employee both here and in the United States, I appreciate that standards matter. I recently had the opportunity to look at some student draft A-level papers, and I was appalled. An ability to articulate their points and to apply basic grammar and coherence to what they were trying to say was absent. Too few pupils from state schools are prepared for work, not through lack of will on the part of teachers, but the fallout from years of so-called “progressive” education lauded by the liberal left. The result has been anything but liberating for the students. Social mobility has fallen and aspiration among so many young has remained just an aspiration. The left, which views everything through the prism of politics, constantly attacks private education when it is clear that students from the private sector are invariably better prepared for university and better prepared for life. Why? In addition to teachers being free to make more demands upon the pupils in order to unleash their potential, there is one simple word: confidence. I speak from personal experience. Even though I received an okay academic education at a state school, my confidence to apply to university, let alone to Oxbridge, was wanting. This problem has not changed much in 40 years—which is a damning indictment of progressive education.

In an article in the periodical Standpoint, a teacher wrote recently:

“The saddest thing about working in a school like this is watching the deterioration of the 11-year-old pupils who arrive in year seven. Many, particularly those from good primary schools, are polite, well-behaved and hardworking when they start secondary school. All this will have changed by the end of the year, once they have had time to absorb the mores of their new environment. Five years down the line in year 11, many can’t even be relied upon to bring a pen to their GCSE examinations”.

Social mobility will not happen as long as too many young people cannot compete for university places without social engineering, and thereafter will not be picked for jobs anyway because they do not have the requisite skills and right attitude to compete with better prepared students. Telling them they have done well at school and higher education and awarding them degrees will not help if they cannot communicate effectively and present themselves with confidence among their peers. They will not get the jobs they have been led to believe they deserve.

In independent schools, pupils are in general at school for longer each day and spend more hours learning both curricular and extracurricular subjects. They are not free to roam the streets at lunchtime and are subject to real and consistent discipline, which gives them clear boundaries for what is acceptable in a civilised society. Good manners are not an option, and both they and their teachers are expected to care about their appearance. State schools should follow suit. Lack of resources is a poor excuse. Some private schools manage very well with less.

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In meetings in the City of London, I am with young professionals who are smartly dressed, savvy and well mannered, and who speak confidently in two or three languages. Mostly they are not British; they are from other European countries, from the US and, increasingly, from India.

How do we tackle what I call the confidence and presentational skills deficit and help more children prepare for life in a very tough world? I am hugely encouraged by the Springboard Bursary Foundation, the objective of which is to add a powerful, ambitious and innovative approach to the provision of fully funded bursary places at independent and state boarding schools for disadvantaged children. The aim is to have a profound effect on social mobility and the ethos of the boarding sector. I know that some have an inbuilt prejudice against boarding schools—usually people who have never been to or visited one. Boarding schools have a hugely important role to perform in giving some pupils continuity, consistency and security in their pastoral care. This is vital if these vulnerable young people are going to gain the confidence to compete with their peer group as they grow up. The emphasis is—quite rightly—on academic and social aspiration.

In conclusion, I have one short message for the Secretary of State for Education—just keep going.

12.52 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, we all carry a degree of baggage to these debates on education. Whenever I get involved in one, I am aware that I have a great deal of knowledge, and strong opinions, about education, but not always about the same areas of education. I shall limit myself to aspects concerning what I call the hidden disabilities, and to the changes that are coming within the education system.

In a recent conversation, my noble friend Lady Walmsley told me that she was a little fed up with people being frightened by everything. Within the lobby of School Action and Action Plus, there is a process for identifying needs outside the statementing system. This seems to be disappearing. This is a process by which you get extra help to people who are not going to be put into that very specific legal category of a statement. They are very worried because they have not heard what will replace that form of assistance.

As they have not managed to extract an answer from civil servants before now, I hope that the Minister will give us at least the start of that discussion and tell us where we have got to. We are talking about people with dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and other conditions that are recognised disabilities. The Equality Act states that we must help them and that if we do not there are sanctions; there is a duty there. Will my noble friend identify the process that the Government are minded to bring in, or tell us whether they are still discussing the process? If he does, he will remove some of the fear factor and the panic that is going on, and probably provoke a more coherent answer. If the Government are not doing this, they will simply end up in the courts somewhere—and I do not think that anybody wants that.

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Some government publications refer to enhancing the ability of teachers to secure good discipline. I encourage my noble friend to take a good, hard look at teacher training, both initial and in-service, to spot these hidden disabilities. I am appealing to the selfish gene of the teaching profession. As a dyslexic, you have two very basic survival strategies if you are not receiving the help that you need and are struggling in the classroom. Either you keep your head down, say nothing and hide in the middle of the classroom; or you disrupt the back. A teacher needs to identify that person and give them appropriate help. Often, the biggest thing you can do is to say: “You are dyslexic. Your learning pattern is different. You are not stupid or a write-off”. In doing that, you will solve part of the problem. The teacher will be able to teach and the people around the pupil will be able to learn. You are helping not just that one person at the back, but the people around them as well.

I also have examples concerning autism, which is more complicated. It was described to me as being a four-dimensional spectrum. There are different types of problems in the higher end. People may not be picked up by the health and education care plans. Whatever we think about special schools, most of these people, most of the time, will be in mainstream classrooms. There are just not enough special schools—and in many cases those with disabilities should not be there. We need to know something about how to integrate these people, and inform the rest of the class about them. I heard of a case—apparently this is quite common—of somebody who does not like being touched and who lashes out because it is painful to them when somebody touches them. Unless you have an idea about how to deal with these problems, you are always going to have trouble in the classroom. By giving this knowledge to teachers, you will enhance their ability to teach—and surely we are all agreed that that would be a great step forward.

12.57 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there is too much to say and too little time to say it. We have had 25 wonderful years in UK education, ever since my noble friend Lord Baker became Secretary of State for Education. My noble friend Lord Harris illustrated what momentum we have now. The credit is shared equally between our party and the party opposite; both of us should be proud of what we have achieved. Of course, there have been some idiocies and setbacks in between, but we are human. However, there is still a lot to do and I will mention a few things to which we should pay attention.

The first is the continuous professional development of teachers and the spread of good practice. We have never managed to get that right. We now have an organisation called the Teacher Development Trust, which is immensely impressive. It sprang out of nowhere—a young Teach First in its own particular area. I really hope that we will support it. It is the best hope I have seen of getting this issue right.

Secondly, we must bear down on Ofqual. Allowing GCSEs to become norm references in the covert way that it did was destructive for all our young people and for the system as a whole. The examinations need immediate and radical reform.

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Thirdly, we must deal with the myth of class sizes. About the only thing that is established from educational research is that class size, starting at the current level of around 30, makes no difference. Possibly the most inefficient way imaginable to spend money in the educational system is to use it to reduce class sizes. We should take advantage of this in dealing with the coming bulge in the number of primary-level children. We should let class sizes float up by a couple. It will make very little difference to educational achievement, and it will give schools a lot of money which they can spend on improving education. If we are going to have evidence-based education, that is the place to start.

Next, we should pick up the initiative that Peter Lampl is taking on, which is bringing independent schools back into the state system. The book written by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, chronicles how Labour Party policies gave great strength to the independent sector in the middle years of the previous century, and we are all aware of the great strides that he made in laying the foundations for that to be reversed. We now have a once in a generation chance to do something swift and radical, which will bring half the best independent schools back into the state sector—not on the terms that they are suggesting, but not on the terms that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, suggests either. We need compromise and a really radical and committed approach. It is surely the goal of all of us that we should get back to a much more balanced system. We can wait 100 years and hope that it will happen slowly, or we can do something now, when the conditions are right.

I hope that I will manage to persuade my noble friend to do something about the quality of the information that is available. People grouse about league tables. The problem is not league tables; it is that we have only league tables. There is much less information than there should be, and what we have is not of a good enough quality. If we want information on the all-round quality of schools, we need an annual inspector’s letter to tell it to us; it will never come out of figures. If we want accurate figures and to know what progress kids are making in schools, we need proper baseline assessments, not cobbled-together assessments based on very inadequate key stage 2 examinations. I really hope that the Government will make progress on that.

We must continue to encourage the foundation of new academies and free schools. They really offer opportunity. Last night I was at a presentation for a new free school. The enthusiastic parents were all from the black community. They are the ones who really know that they have been getting a raw deal from the state system. They are the ones who want long hours and real education, and there is no way of offering it to them if not through new schools.

1.02 pm

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for giving us the opportunity to participate in this important debate. Excellence in schools should mean excellence for all students, from kindergarten through to when the child leaves school and even beyond. It should not be about the excellence

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of a small group, but about recognising and developing each individual student’s potential, of stimulating their interest in the world and teaching them the benefits and joy of learning to learn.

We should be developing an educational system to fulfil that goal of good education for all children. However, this Government’s new education policy needs to be understood within the context of not only the recently announced changes or the budgetary cuts that are affecting resources and putting a strain on teaching, particularly outside the core subjects, but the austerity programme as a whole. For example, cuts to libraries and cuts to the arts mean a reduction in museum visits and outreach programmes and, not least, the level of hardship that many parents now face means that they often do not have the time to support at home their children’s education. It is disgraceful that the increasingly necessary breakfast clubs should be so reliant on the private company Kellogg’s, FareShare and other food charities.

With my interest in the arts, I am worried about their fragile position within secondary education. Huge concern has been expressed by the arts community over the arts not being a core subject within the proposed English baccalaureate certificate, as Darren Henley’s report, Cultural Education in England, recommended earlier this year. However, this is predictable for a system that is not designed to be inclusive in the first place. The EBC will favour those who are good at exams at the expense, once again, of everyone else. This is potentially a return to the bad old days of an educational system almost entirely geared to that one exam in each subject. The new system could be even worse because it does not allow for resits. I am worried about the proposed loss of the modular structure which suits many students, including children with dyslexia and others who are not good at exams, but allows for the in-depth pursuit of individual projects.

The Government are doing one good thing, stating that only one exam board should be responsible for a subject. But what is the thinking behind the new EBC? This brings us back to excellence but excellence in the very narrow sense. The EBC is designed surely to provide an exclusive pool of talent of perceived excellence required by future employers. Chris Keates of the NASUWT gets it right when she says that this new system is,

“entirely driven by political ideology rather than a genuine desire on the part of the Coalition Government to reform the examination system in the best interests of children and young people”.

We should not be educating our children for their future employers’ sake, but for their own sake. The two things are not identical.

I would like to see these proposals scrapped before their intended introduction in 2017, but if that is not to be the case, I hope very much that Labour will make a firm commitment to reverse these measures when they come to power and pledge to improve our secondary education system in a better direction.

1.05 pm

Lord Bates: My Lords, it is an honour to take part in this debate. As it has gone on, I have felt less like taking part and more like taking notes, because the

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quality of the discussion has been so tremendous. We have had the privilege of hearing from former Secretaries of State for Education and former Chief Inspectors of Schools, and I applaud the marvellous way in which the debate was secured and introduced by my noble friend Lady Perry.

Where can I make a contribution here? I speak from personal experience of having been educated in what would today be categorised as a failing inner-city comprehensive, and I will focus on that aspect. We know that there is a great difference in performance and outcomes between the most materially poor parts of society and the most materially affluent parts. According to the Sutton Trust, 18% of free-school-meal pupils achieve five GCSEs, including English and maths, compared to 61% of those who do not qualify for free school meals.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is fond of making the analogy that there are more pupils graduating with three straight As at A-level from Eton College than from a cohort of 80,000 free-school-meal pupils each year. These statistics tell us to focus on a core problem. Yes, we need to continue to push the boundaries of excellence at the top but we need to raise the bar at the bottom, and we have done. I share my noble friend Lord Lucas’s critique that we have gone through 25 years of progressively improving educational standards in this country. My noble friend Lord Baker deserves a great deal of credit for initiating that period of change. During that time, there have been huge changes in teacher training, the quality of teaching and the fabric of the school environment. Having been involved in setting up one of the flagship city technology colleges 20 years ago in Gateshead, I know what a difference having an excellent fabric makes.

We have focused on tackling the problem in many ways, but going back to my experience of a failing inner-city comprehensive, the dimension that we still wrestle with in inner cities to this day is the level of expectations. The one difference between the top public school and the inner-city comprehensive is still the level of expectations—not so much of the teachers, although that is a factor, but of the parents and the pupils—as to how they are going to achieve and excel in life. There is still a deeply grained mentality that academia is “not for the likes of us”, and if we are going to bring about lasting change in this country, that needs to be tackled head-on.

At my school, you would think that what we were in business for was to produce professional footballers, and we did phenomenally well at that. But if that same expectation was put into the maths classroom or the chemistry lab, we would deliver outstanding scientists, mathematicians and business leaders. I urge my noble friend to think about the role of great expectations in education.

1.10 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I found the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, a breath of fresh air. It brought some reality to our debate by identifying the problem of inequality of expectation in Britain. I am

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very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is no longer in her place, because, having listened to her, I thought that I should make a different speech from the one that I was proposing. She talked about the problem of the difference in confidence between public schools and private schools and the rest. Well, it is a zero-sum game: people with all the facilities and all the privilege will be more confident, and that is what their parents are buying. Let us face it, with the apartheid that exists in our educational system, people have an incentive if not to pull up the drawbridge then to want to get the greatest return on their investment in private education. That is perhaps not a very polite thing to say, but I challenge anybody to say what is wrong with that analysis.

Some years ago, as a member of the Franco-British Council, I was on a sub-committee dealing with forward planning of seminars, or colloques, as they were called. We were looking around the table for ideas and this French chap said, “I propose we have a colloque on the education of the elite”. The British representatives around the table nearly dived under it—“The education of the elite? How can you say such a thing?”. I was thinking about this. Did they react in that way because what they were talking about was not something that they recognised? Oh, no, it was not that; it was their embarrassment that anybody had said that that was what they were talking about—the education of the elite.

Here we are today in the House of Lords. A look at the figures shows that 79% of the Conservative Benches in the House of Lords went to public school. The figure for the Liberal Democrats is 54%, 34% for Labour and 76% of the Cross-Benchers—I am not saying that that is true of the people here today, but it is the overall statistic from the Sutton Trust. That makes us very unrepresentative of the British people, 7% of whom went to public schools. The noble Baroness who introduced the debate is therefore very representative of the House of Lords in having been to a public school, but that majority is not representative of the British people.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, touched on how different we are from Germany in so many ways, and this is one of them. It is our caste system in Britain. When we think about what happens in India, we think, “Oh, that’s India. It’s quite exotic and totally different”, but, statistically, our position in Britain and that of the Brahmins are very similar, which is one of the reasons why our society is not as dynamic as some others. I agree that there are many modern societies which we would not want to give a second thought to; for example, China. I am not advocating anything like that, but I am advocating the system in some of the more modern European economies. It is not sufficient to say, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has done, that we should look just to the excellence of our universities without looking at the excellence of our economy as a whole; for example, compared with Germany.

Finally, I point out the very interesting report published today. The Milburn report, commissioned by the Government, makes some very damning criticisms of the Government’s policy. Scrapping the EMA was a “very bad mistake”, it states. At a time when we are looking forward to the school leaving age going up to

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17 next year and to 18 in 2015, what will be the position of those youngsters, particularly black youth? I really think that there is a bit too much self-congratulation in the analysis in this Chamber today.

1.15 pm

Baroness Wheatcroft: My Lords, perhaps I could begin by saying that I am a proud product of the state system. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on initiating this debate and covering so much ground in her opening speech. A lot has been said about the improvements being made to our education system. Increasing choice and raising standards are both crucial, and I applaud the remarkable progress being made.

However, I shall devote my remarks to the need to empower teachers. Children are all different. Nature and nurture ensure that, by the time the education system gets hold of them, they have varied talents and abilities and varied personalities. Some are confident and raring to go—that is in the inner cities as well as elsewhere—and some, and one would be too many, are already cowed into submission or consumed with anger by their circumstances. As their school careers progress, these traits can be exaggerated. Some children are pre-programmed to fail. Caring teachers can rescue them.

The best teachers are those who treat their charges as individuals and have the real desire to nurture them and to bring out what is best in them. That is why, whatever the demands of the curriculum, there has to be time, and place, for attention to be paid to the children as individuals. There are various blueprints for doing this. Secondary schools, where I think they have learnt in part from the public system, operate a house system which seems to work particularly well in assigning a degree of pastoral care to pupils. Thanks to the Lord Speaker’s Peers in Schools programme, I have been lucky enough to visit schools where children from very different backgrounds are thriving thanks to structures which build relationships between teachers and pupils that go far beyond exam marks.

A teacher attending to a child in the round can transform a life. He or she can detect problems that children suffer—we have heard about the difficulties, for instance, with autism and dyslexia. The right teacher can ascertain where a child’s real interests lie and encourage them to make the most of their talents. This is, of course, what parents do, but some parents are unwilling or just unable to do so. Teachers often truly are in loco parentis. We need to ensure that they are trained and encouraged to carry out that role to the full. My noble friend Lady Perry talked of the need for trust. Well, we have to trust our teachers to put a comforting arm around a sobbing child, to administer medicine to a poorly child and to demonstrate humanity. A few may abuse their position, which should never be tolerated—in the current climate, in the wake of the Savile affair and so on, opinions are obviously going to be influenced again—but we must not overreact and impose undue restrictions on our teachers.

When teachers try to impose order on disorderly pupils, they, too, deserve our support. Too often, we hear of teachers who have confronted the most appalling, violent behaviour in the classroom, and it is they who

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end up being disciplined. Too often, school governors are fearful of what the media and disruptive parents might say, but teachers need our support.

We should recognise the extraordinary contribution made by some teachers who throw themselves into extracurricular activities such as weekend sports matches and school plays and who build a school into a thriving community. Those who give so much of themselves should surely be rewarded, if not financially then when it comes to promotion.

1.19 pm

Lord Rees of Ludlow: My Lords, my comments will be slanted towards science but I do not downplay equally well-grounded concerns about other subjects. Sadly, some citizens cannot tell a proton from a protein, but it is equally sad if they do not know their nation’s history, cannot write clearly, cannot speak a second language and cannot find North Korea or Syria on a map. But there is no gainsaying that an ever-growing fraction of jobs needs specific skills, at levels ranging from basic technical competence through to the level expected of professional scientists, medics and engineers.

The very young have a natural interest in science—whether focused on space, dinosaurs or tadpoles—and an affinity for computers that far surpasses that of their elders. The challenge is to sustain these interests through and beyond the primary school stage. I am impressed by the dedication and initiative of the best science teachers but the sad thing is that there are not enough to go round. More than two-thirds of primary schools do not have a single teacher with a science qualification. Many pupils are not exposed to a maths or physics graduate even in secondary school. Therefore, it is of little surprise that the natural enthusiasm of the young all too often gets stifled rather than stimulated.

We should aspire towards the situation in Finland, but that is a long-term goal. More immediately, it is important to reduce the fraction of young teachers who drop out; to expand and facilitate mid-career transfers into the profession from, for instance, industry, universities or the Armed Forces; and to enable experienced teachers of other subjects to mug up enough maths and physics to compensate for the special shortage of graduates in those key subjects. There is a huge educational upside from the well-guided use of computers and the web. That can amplify the reach of the best teachers.

Good teachers not only cover the curriculum but need to organise practicals and field trips, and offer bright pupils the kind of enrichment offered by participation in maths and physics olympiads. But realistically it will take years before all young people of high potential receive the academic nourishment and support that gives them a fair chance of access to high-quality university courses. During those years, a huge amount of potential talent will remain unfulfilled.

So how can we enhance opportunities with the present teaching force? I think that universities can do more. They can offer summer courses, encourage graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to spend time in schools and make their barriers to entry less rigid. We could have a flexible credit system, allowing transfers between institutions. Universities could reserve some

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fraction of their places for people who have not come directly from school but have intermitted, done a foundation degree, got further educational qualifications or suchlike.

There is a lot we can learn from US universities, quite apart from the educational breadth that the noble Lord, Lord Broers, mentioned. There is a trend to extol the Ivy League, but a more relevant model for Britain is the Californian state system. Its three-level structure of colleges embodies an enviable combination of excellence, outreach and flexibility—or did, at least, until the Californian budget crisis. A substantial fraction of those who attend the elite universities in the system, such as Berkeley, have come not directly from high school but via a lower-tier institution. To give a fair chance to those unlucky in their secondary-school years—the issue that Alan Milburn addressed—our tertiary education should evolve towards a more diverse and flexible ecology, with a blurring between higher and further education, and more involvement with schools.

1.24 pm

Lord Cormack: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. Like others, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on her excellent speech. We have heard some splendid and very moving speeches. I refer particularly to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Baker. In the brief time at my disposal, I should like just to talk of four things in four minutes that would develop excellence in education.

The first is the teaching of history, which has not yet been touched upon save briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Rees. I believe that every child leaving school in this country should, at the very least, have a chronological knowledge of the history of his or her own country without missing out great chunks. This does not happen at the moment and we should put that right.

Secondly, I was very moved by what my noble friend Lord Baker said when he quoted the psalm:

“Prosper thou the work of our hands”.

For some 25 years, I have run a scheme called the William Morris Craft Fellowship, which we give to marvellous young craftsmen and women to broaden their knowledge and give them a greater ability to manage heritage building projects. I very much liked what my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber said. I would like craftsmen and women to be more prominent in the public eye and the work that they do to be more appreciated so that, in our schools, young people feel challenged to take up the crafts and believe that, if they follow a craft career, they are not having second best but are in fact doing something that will contribute to future generations’ enjoyment.

Thirdly, I very much believe that we do not give our young people the opportunity to emerge into the world when they leave school as proper citizens. I would like citizenship education to play a real part in the curriculum and not just be a sort of reluctant add-on extra. At the moment, a group of us in this House are working towards getting a citizenship certificate

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that all young people would take. That would concentrate their thoughts on community participation and awaken their instincts—they all have them—of loyalty and responsibility. We would then have a generation of children coming out of our schools who felt that they belonged to a community and had obligations to that community. We really ought to face this one. A group of us had a meeting with Nick Hurd in the Cabinet Office just before the House rose in July but we are trying to further this. I hope that those Members of your Lordships’ House who did not know of this initiative and would like to take part in it will let me know.

Finally, I take up the points made by my noble friend Lady Perry when she talked about our universities, how excellent the very best of them are and how vital it is that we nurture them. I will say one thing about the visa situation. It is far better that someone who is not entitled to be here comes into this country than that we shut out a future Nobel Prize winner. We ought to take away visas from the general immigration statistics. I really hope that if nothing else comes out of this debate, my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford will promise to talk to those responsible in Government to try and bring some sense and balance to what at the moment is a chaotic and unsatisfactory situation.

My four minutes are up. This debate has illustrated the need for more general debates in this House. Now that we are not going to have the nonsense of debating its abolition, let us have more general debates when we can talk about the issues that really interest and concern our fellow citizens.

1.28 pm

Lord Lexden: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Perry has rightly received many plaudits and I want of course to be connected with them. In my four minutes, I will make brief reference to the independent sector of education, with which I was closely associated for over six years as general secretary of the Independent Schools Council. My view is somewhat different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall.

As is well known, much excellence resides in our country’s independent schools. Sadly, the excellent education which so many of our independent schools provide is beyond the reach of most families in our land. Social mobility is a notable casualty of this tragic state of affairs. There are those who say that the state should help to equip families on modest incomes with the means to pay for places at independent schools. Admission, it is argued, should be decided by ability, not income. At the Independent Schools Council, I was involved in promoting an ambitious scheme to achieve open access. The cause has recently been taken up again by a large group of far-sighted independent heads committed to greater social mobility and supported by the excellent Sutton Trust, rightly praised by my noble friend Lord Lucas.

A Minister of Education said that he saw,

“no reason to use public money to subsidise the transfer of boys from one system to the other on a basis of selection in which nobody knows what would be just or why”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 16/6/1961; col. 898.).

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The Minister in question was the Conservative Sir David, later Viscount, Eccles, speaking in 1961. No one so far has succeeded in finding criteria for a wider access scheme to the excellence of independent schools that is capable of commanding widespread public and political support. The most successful attempt, the Conservatives’ assisted places scheme, was always strongly opposed in some quarters. At its height, some 40,000 pupils benefited. It is greatly to the credit of independent schools that roughly the same number of children have free or subsidised places today as a result of the fee assistance that they provide through means-tested bursaries totalling more than £284 million.

Useful progress can be made through small-scale state-supported schemes, such as the provision of places in boarding schools for certain children in care who would be suited to them. There is growing support, as your Lordships’ House noted recently, for arrangements backed by charities and the Government that would increase the availability of such places significantly. However, as things stand today, the reality is that if independent schools are to spread the excellence for which so many of them are so well known, they will need to put themselves into a closer relationship than ever before with maintained schools, as my noble friend Lord Lucas made clear with his customary passion.

The steady growth of the academies programme and the introduction of free schools under this Government provide hugely important new opportunities for independent schools. Progress in exploiting them has not been as rapid as some might have wished. Thirty-three independent schools are now sponsoring or co-sponsoring academies. According to the ISC, another 18 sponsorships are under negotiation and a further 85 are possible in the next few years. Many parents throughout our country will hope that the pace of change can be quickened. The results of change can be impressive. Within a year of Wellington College sponsoring Wellington Academy, the percentage of pupils gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE rose from 43% to 98%. As the Master of Wellington College, my friend Dr Anthony Seldon, said:

“Academies work, and the partnership with an independent school provides extensive opportunities for both schools to learn way beyond the academic”.

There has been much reference recently to the famous Tory phrase “One Nation”, first used not by Disraeli but by Stanley Baldwin, a great social reformer, in 1924. Everyone in our country recognises that we are still far from making a reality of Baldwin’s vision in our education system, but surely there is no other basis for the lasting success of all our schools.

1.33 pm

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I think I must restrain myself and not follow directly some of the comments that have just been made. I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and agreeing with what she said about the quality of teachers and how crucial it is that we continue to try to improve it. It is also important that we do all that we can to respect teachers and the whole of the teaching profession. I wonder where all this discussion about

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giving teachers more freedom sits with the Secretary of State’s apparent desire to prescribe the history curriculum in every detail. Perhaps we should remember what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said about the need for a division of labour.

I am not sure that I am quite as optimistic as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about the new examination system. I am not against a baccalaureate, but we are going to have a British bacc, a technical bacc, an A-bacc, new vocational qualifications, and I wonder whether we will have a totally cohesive and comprehensive system.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, when he says that we should look at young people from the age of 14 to 18, or maybe 19. I appreciate his work on technical opportunities, and in particular the need for parity of esteem for those types of qualifications. We need a holistic approach to qualifications and opportunities for young people between the ages of 14 and 18 or 19. I believe that we can achieve that only by a credit accumulation system, which would include modular elements, as has been suggested. That is the only way to get real parity between academic and vocational achievements. It would also allow for acknowledgement of the work in arts, music and sport that others have mentioned.

I am surprised that there has not been more mention of the need to concentrate a great deal of resources on early years education. If we are talking about long-term excellence, we must concentrate a great deal of attention there. I am also surprised that mention has not been made of the Open University, which is a world leader and something which this country should be proud of and to which our other universities should look to in the support that it gives students, its course material, openness and approachability. Others could learn from that.

In a very limited debate, there is a lot that everyone wants to say, so I will confine my other remarks to one aspect: a word that has been mentioned many times today—aspiration. Much of what is said about how we want to raise and realise the aspirations of children, young people and adults no one would question, and I fully support that objective. However, if we are really going to provide opportunity for all, we must find better strategies to deal with those who are non-aspirational: the families, parents and children who feel incapable, threatened, insecure or alienated from education. That is a real problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, talked about the influence of her mother. All teachers know that if you have motivated parents, it is much easier for the child to succeed. Unfortunately, some parents do not have a good experience of education. There are many reasons for that. We know that levels of illiteracy and innumeracy are far too high. Some are very fearful of any formal environment, some find their responsibilities overwhelming, and some do not want themselves or their children to be taken out of their comfort zone to an alien world of education that they find threatening. Sometimes, unfortunately, teachers accept that and do not have expectations for some children from families with difficulties.

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The Government’s approach—some of the cuts that are being introduced hitting early years and the support for those families, and doing things such as not ring-fencing the pupil premium—will make the situation worse. We have the very real challenge of making opportunities a reality for those children and helping them to break through to make the progress that they could.

1.38 pm

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on initiating this debate and on her excellent speech. In her wide-ranging speech, she referred to the importance of vocational education, as have other noble Lords, and that is what I want to concentrate on in the first part of my speech this afternoon.

I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, talked about parity of esteem, because it is a phrase that seems to have disappeared over the past few years. I accept that everyone says that we must have an excellent vocational system, but I am very concerned that some measures in place at the moment make parity of esteem difficult or, worse, might unwittingly encourage actions that meet performance table measures but militate against excellence. For example, the new Ofsted framework no longer includes a grade for the quality of post-16 education. Some reports might include just a one-line descriptor of what is happening in a school’s sixth form. Parents look at Ofsted reports, and if a school is deemed to be outstanding at the pre-sixth form level, that is wonderful, but parents need guidance when they are trying to compare what is on offer in their local area. They need a comprehensive report.

More worryingly, Ofsted judges colleges by a different yardstick to schools: their success rates—that is, the number of students who start and subsequently achieve a qualification. However, they rarely comment on that for schools and academy sixth forms. There is also inequality in judgments across post-16 providers because there is no common methodology for assessing student outcomes. Given that the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, said in 2010 that the Government would introduce clear comparison measures between providers of 16-18 education, can the Minister please update the House on the progress of this important aim?

I want to address briefly the announcement earlier this week about what has been called revisions to A-levels. I prefer to see it as the broadening of the academic qualification at 18. I was, for 10 years, a governor at Impington Village College, a comprehensive community college in Cambridgeshire, which was one of the first state schools to introduce the international baccalaureate. Indeed, two of my children did the IB.

I have long regretted the narrowness of the A-level curriculum and endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, that we need a much broader system. The strength of the IB is that if you are a scientist you must continue with English language and at least one humanities subject, while if you are a humanities student you must continue with maths and science right the way through. It provides an excellent

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pre-university qualification, part of which, to pick up comments from other noble Lords, includes a module on students’ own community service. Many people do not know that the international baccalaureate programme offers education from early years right the way through to 18, and at different levels. It is not just a top-strand academic qualification. I hope that in the revisions which the Secretary of State announced earlier this week, we really will look at broadening sixth-form or 16-18 entitlement, whether academic or vocational.

I want to pick up on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about class sizes not mattering. At Impington Village College some years ago, we took the view that we would alter class sizes. Some students really needed very small classes to be able to progress. They were often those who came from backgrounds without educational support. The more able students who had parental support did just as well in much larger classes. The point is that the schools have to be able to have that flexibility.

Finally, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, that there are already a number of craft awards. There are not just the William Morris fellowships that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned. John Hayes announced earlier this year the new national craft skills awards, while the Royal Television Society has craft and design awards. The UK’s skills show in November is going to showcase the best of this country’s craft and technician students. It would be lovely to have more celebrities supporting them. If that means a glitzy ceremony in London bringing them all together, I am all for it.

1.43 pm

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, you must be weary. I shall make only one short but important point. I want to draw attention to an area of education in which I believe there is a serious and lamentable lack of excellence in our education system today. Ofsted tells us that in most of our secondary schools personal, social, health and economic education is being badly taught or not taught at all. Ofsted reports tell us that PSHE teaching in most secondary schools is very much a Cinderella subject. It is mostly taught, if taught at all, by teachers with no specialist qualification in the subject, given little or no curriculum time and edged out by examination subjects. In contrast, Ofsted tells us that PSHE in primary schools is, on the whole, well or at least satisfactorily taught.

Most young people of secondary school age are keen to understand more about the responsibility and challenges they are going to encounter in adult life, not least the challenges of parenthood. These issues need to be explored interactively but under guidance as part of every secondary school’s PSHE education programme and as part of the adolescent’s preparation for life. Ministers justify the status quo by quoting an Ofsted figure for all schools. That figure shows that in 74% of all schools, Ofsted considers that PSHE teaching is “satisfactory” or better than satisfactory. Does that figure contradict that report saying that it is bad in secondary schools? I am no statistician, but it seems that if you add together the large number of satisfactory primary schools with the much smaller number of

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secondary schools, which are unsatisfactory, you are bound to get a confusing and misleading answer. The Ofsted reports on secondary schools make the picture absolutely clear; most secondary schools are failing their pupils in this area.

In my view, it is irresponsible not to prepare adolescents adequately for the challenges and opportunities of adult life in a way that is excellent. It is irresponsible to leave them to rely mainly on soap operas for the knowledge they need and irresponsible of us not to encourage and support them in exploring what the future holds for them. Will the Government please look seriously at the possibility of setting up or sponsoring, at one of the major teacher training establishments, a pilot project to establish and develop specialist teaching skills in this area?

1.47 pm

Lord Framlingham: My Lords I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for introducing this debate on what is an absolutely vital subject for our country. Our education starts on the day we are born and continues in one form or another until the day we die, but our more formal education starts when we learn to read—and the quicker and better this is done, the better chance we have throughout our education and our life. I want to speak about one issue that, at no extra cost, could transform our education system and the lives of thousands of children. I refer to teaching by the “cat sat on the mat” method, a phrase I plan to use throughout my remarks. The term of phonics for this method of teaching may be understood by many; conversely, it will not be understood by many. We should have a method that is understood by everyone. Keeping it simple and, in a way, repetitive is at the very heart of what I want to say.

“The cat sat on the mat” is not the only way to teach children to read but it is undoubtedly the best. All our children deserve nothing but the best and it naturally follows that the best should be the only way to give every child the best possible start. I understand the Government’s reluctance to give direct instruction from the centre to individual schools but the size of the problem surrounding learning to read demands that something be done immediately. A start has, I know, been made: Nick Gibb, who was until recently Schools Minister, did an excellent job and he believes firmly in “the cat sat on the mat”. Yet that start is not dynamic enough and time is not on our side.

There is rightly much talk and concern about child poverty, family break-ups, free school meals, equal opportunity and so on. There are no reasons why every single child should not be taught to read the best way and given the same start as everyone else. Over 20 years ago, when I was a Member of Parliament, two ladies came to my constituency surgery. They ran a private school specialising in remedial teaching at the primary stage. They came to beg me to persuade my local authority to use, as they did, only “the cat sat on the mat” in all schools. They brought tapes and booklets of their method and told me that, using that method, they were able to take children from a reading age of five to a reading age of to nine in two terms. Most importantly, they told me—this is hard to believe—that

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the local authority sent children to them to be brought up to speed by their method but would not use it in its own schools. Needless to say, I had a meeting with the chief education officer, and I am afraid that I got the muddled response that I have been hearing ever since, and which I hope will not be the Minister’s response today since it has led to our present problems.

The doubters say that there is more than one way to teach reading. That is true, but all use less effective methods. They say that circumstances may vary from child to child and school to school. This is true too, but the best method is the best, regardless of circumstances. They say that we must leave it to individual heads and teachers to decide. Why, when it is clearly not delivering the best chances for all our pupils? “The cat sat on the mat” may be rather more demanding of teachers, but the joy when the child takes off and enters the world of books is incredibly satisfying for teachers and pupils alike.

A wise man once said that all great issues are essentially very simple but we make them complicated when we do not want to face them. This is simple, costs nothing and would change the lives of thousands of children at once. I urge the Minister to do all he possibly can to persuade every primary school in the country to use the “cat sat on the mat” method as a matter of the greatest possible urgency.

1.51 pm

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on securing a debate on this very important topic which has such crucial relevance not only for the well-being of children but for so many aspects of our social and economic life. We have had an excellent debate, and I hope colleagues will accept in advance my apologies for not being able to do full justice in the limited time I have to the many knowledgeable contributions that we have heard today demonstrating the tremendous expertise across the House and the commitment to ensuring excellence for our children.

It has been said that much has been achieved in raising standards over the past 15 years, but how we achieve excellence for all children depends on our definition of excellence in education as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, reminded us. Exam results are crucial, but indicate only how well or otherwise a cohort of children has done. They do not tell us how far each child has achieved excellence or reached his or her potential, and that is primarily what we should strive for in excellence: the outcome for each child and whether it is the best that could have been achieved. Here I have great sympathy with the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty.

It is important that we look at the Government’s record on this in the round. As we have emphasised around the House today, one of the key factors in achieving good outcomes for children is the quality of teaching, and therefore I applaud the Government’s decision to build on the measures introduced by my Government to achieve the best cadre of teachers ever. Raising the quality of new entrants, expanding the Teach First programme and focusing on continued

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professional development, which was rightly emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are welcome measures that will continue to have a positive effect on student attainment.

However, in respect of other government changes, the jury is out on whether they will improve outcomes for all children. Cutting all schools loose as academies and free schools, supposedly accountable directly to the Secretary of State, with no local accountability to parents or communities, will not necessarily raise standards for all. Indeed, I can see no evidence for the article of faith that is the Government’s mantra; namely, that we only have to set all schools and head teachers free in order to raise standards. If that were the case, we would have had a world-class education system decades ago when schools were left pretty much to their own devices. Instead, we had a two-tier system with excellence for a few, the rest written off as second class and a long tail of underachievement, the legacy of which is still with us today. The Government have not produced any evidence to support their changes, so we will have to wait and see whether the focus on the EBacc without an equally strong commitment to vocational and technical education—which was called for by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Taylor—moving from modular GCSEs to linear courses of study, raising the thresholds on grades and returning to an outdated history curriculum will improve outcomes for all children.

However, there is one thread running through the Government’s measures that causes me concern; namely, that they are wholly focused on schools and what goes on in the classroom. Yet we know that the factors influencing attainment go beyond and start well before school. So far, we have not seen any priority given to effective measures to address the barriers to learning for disadvantaged children or giving all children the good start before school that is essential to their future development. Indeed, other government policies have seriously diminished the prospects of excellence for many of these children and young people, and I want to consider briefly two significant groups of children and how they stand now in relation to the totality of government actions.

The first group is disadvantaged children. The Government, and Nick Clegg in particular, have made much of the pupil premium as the measure which ensures additional help for disadvantaged pupils, including those with a disability or from black or minority ethic communities, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lady Howells reminded us. Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector, found that over half of schools said the pupil premium was having little or no impact on these pupils. Few schools could say how they were spending the money and, as my noble friend Lady Morris said, were not spending it on proven interventions for individual children. Leaving aside the fact that the pupil premium was not new money in the first place, the failure of most schools to use the fund to accelerate the progress of disadvantaged children must be of concern. Will the Minister say what action the Government are taking to ensure that all schools spend the money in the way intended and show demonstrable progress for these young people?

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