HC Deb 15 February 1977 vol 926 cc238-40
10. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she plans to take action in the light of the Bullock Report on literacy "A Language for Life".

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The recommendations of the Bullock Report were mainly directed towards local authorities and teachers, but my Department and Her Majesty's Inspectorate, have been able to take action on a number of aspects. In particular, the Department has allocated resources to the adult literacy campaign; the Assessment of Performance Unit has used the report as a starting point in its approach to a new monitoring system; and Her Majesty's inspectors have held many conferences and courses on matters covered by the report.

Mr. Marshall

Is the right hon. Lady aware that part of the problem of unemployment lies in the fact that on the one hand there is a shortage of skilled workers and, on the other, there are reports from employers at the standard of literacy among both adults and school leavers? How far is the Secretary of State planning to extend this work on literacy?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Bullock Report does not subscribe to the view that standards of literacy have fallen over the last 10 years; on the contrary, it indicates that there is no evidence for that proposition. Nevertheless, it is my Department's responsibility to do all that it can to raise the standards of literacy and numeracy, because the requirements placed on school leavers at present are greater than they ever were.

Mr. Flannery

In view of the fact that on Thursday the House is to debate an Opposition motion with an eye to a drastic lowering of standards will the right hon. Lady reiterate—and I gave evidence to the Bullock Committee on this matter—that standards of reading have not fallen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I note the part of the House from which that cry comes. Will my right hon. Friend emphasise the fact that standards are rising, although there are pockets of resistance—and a major pocket of resistance comes from the Opposition Benches—that teachers are doing a good job, and that our children are learning more than ever?

Mrs. Williams

My hon. Friend is right to point to what in some quarters of the House is a desire to show that standards are falling even when the evidence does not support that view. I find that attitude unhelpful in solving our education problems. One of the Opposition's most experienced spokesmen in education, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), recently said that the evidence does not show that standards in education have fallen.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the right hon. Lady realise that Her Majesty's Government have established some kind of record for delay in this respect, since Lord Bullock has had time to write and publish a second report before the House has had time to debate the first one? If she is serious about raising standards, will she give the House an opportunity to debate the Bullock Report, in Government time, without further delay?

Mrs. Williams

I shall convey those views to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I am sure that on Thursday Opposition Members will have every opportunity to deploy their views.