HC Deb 06 December 1976 vol 922 cc12-4
11. Mr. Michael Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will consult employers about the standards of literacy and numeracy required of school leavers.

Mr. Barry Jones

The Confederation of British Industry is participating in the current round of informal discussions which I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science are holding. Employers in Wales will have ample opportunity to make known their views on standards of literacy and numeracy as on other aspects of education as the national debate proceeds.

Mr. Roberts

I do not accept the unfounded and exaggerated criticisms of our schools, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that many employers regard the standard of school leavers as one of their major problems? In the interests of the children, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that employers are consulted widely not only through the CBI but through other employer organisations?

Mr. Barry Jones

I can give the assurance that everyone who is interested in the education service will be widely consulted.

Mr. Roderick

When my hon. Friend consults employers, will he ask them to define numeracy and literacy? Will he also ask others to define these terms? If he does so, he may find some interesting answers. We are told that standards of education have declined, but will my hon. Friend examine O-level and CSE Grade 1 results over the past 10 years? If they are taken as a measure, he will find that standards have improved.

Mr. Barry Jones

I agree with my hon. Friend's latter point. Standards in some directions have improved considerably. It would be difficult to make precise definitions. I say to my hon. Friend and everyone else that the Department is not being defensive. We admit that there are problems. However, the problems vary, and it is our aim to find out where they lie. We shall do so in collaboration with all those who take part in the education survey.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is it not a fact that in Wales 30 per cent. of the children leave school without O-levels and CSEs, as against 20 per cent. in England? Does the hon. Gentleman know why that is so?

Mr. Barry Jones

I think that in this instance the hon. Gentleman has his statistics wrong. In fact, there is no valid statistical evidence to justify some of the wilder allegations now being made.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman draw the attention of the CBI in Wales to the appallingly low figures for training and apprenticeships for young people in Wales, and press it, in the interests of the standard of education of Welsh employees, to ensure that greater time is made available for day release courses for employees in Wales?

Mr. Barry Jones

I think that the point is well made. We are also undertaking research in Wales in respect of a further survey of reading standards both in English and in Welsh. Testing is likely to take place in 1978. It will cost about £18,000.

Mr. Grist

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that from figures supplied by him and his right hon. Friend in the Department of Education and Science it is nevertheless clear that the number of O-level passes in Wales represents a lower percentage than that in England? How does the hon. Gentleman explain that?

Mr. Barry Jones

The hon. Gentleman throws statistics across the Floor of the House. I can tell him that about one-fifth of our pupils are securing the former pass grade at O-level and a further 36 per cent. achieve other GCE and CSE grades.