HC Deb 07 December 1976 vol 922 cc209-10
2. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress she has made with her consultations designed to raise standards in schools.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster-General (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

My speech on 25th November 1976 in the debate on the Address outlined the progress made and my plans for the future.

Mr. Gardiner

Will the right hon. Lady accept that there is some disturbing evidence that the attainments of our school leavers compare badly in many respects with those of equivalent age groups in some Continental countries? Will the right hon. Lady extend the scope of her inquiry to see what it is in their systems that makes them apparently better able than we are to bring out the best in children?

Mrs. Williams

I shall be interested to see the evidence that the hon. Gentleman has for his statement, but as a fairly extensive reader of the international education Press I can tell him that, among other things, the United States, France and Germany have all recently expressed concern about literacy and numeracy. This is nothing to do uniquely with this country.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is always room for improvement in any education system but that it does not do the cause of the so-called improvers any good grossly to exaggerate things which are wrong within an education system which honourable people are trying to set right? It is a grave disservice to the British education system to noise it abroad that all kinds of things are wrong with it when it is going through a natural process of growth and has improved on a grand scale during the time we have been alive.

Mrs. Williams

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his statement and in particular for his reminder that the demands upon education constantly grow very rapidly. I think I can also point out that a number of the stories that appear in the newspapers deal with people who must have left school between 10 and 15 years ago, at a time when there was virtually no comprehensive education of any sort.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As the right hon. Lady is rightly conducting widespread consultations and discussions on the question of standards, would it not be appropriate if she included in her list of people to be consulted the official Opposition, who have done pioneering work in this field for nearly three years? If she extended such an invitation, it would certainly be favourably received.

Mrs. Williams

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, since the purpose of the consultation is to include representatives of the local authorities, teachers' organisations, parents and both sides of industry, there will be many occasions for those who do not share my political views to be represented. I take note, however, of what the hon. Gentleman said.