HC Deb 21 July 1977 vol 935 cc1857-79
Mr. Speaker

Mrs. Williams—statement.

Mr. Pym

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw to your attention and that of the House the length of the statement which the Secretary of State for Education and Science is about to make. Through the courtesies of the House, we have received a copy of what the right hon. Lady is about to say, and it is important, but it runs to five pages of foolscap. If there is a policy change in Government education strategy requiring a statement of this length, surely we should have a day's debate so that we may consider what the right hon. Lady has to say, in exactly the same way as the Government gave us a day yesterday to discuss their change in economic policy.

A Green Paper has been published relating to the statement. Surely it was not necessary for the statement to cover five foolscap pages. Would it not have been more appropriate if the statement were about one and half pages long and if we had had a debate on the subject later? It is an abuse of the practice of making statements in the House for, in effect, a speech to be made on a change of policy under the guise of a statement. It is an immensely unsatisfactory way of dealing with a matter as important as this.

Mr. Speaker

The Lord President.

Mr. Skinner

Further to the point of order—

Mr. Speaker

What the Lord President is about to say is further to the point of order. There are mysteries in this place. The Lord President.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

I am willing to give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Speaker

Very well, if the right hon. Gentleman gives way. He indicated that he wished to speak.

Mr. Skinner

Before my right hon. Friend answers the question of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), I want him to take into account the fact that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The point of order must be put through me to whomsoever the hon. Gentleman wants to hear it.

Mr. Skinner

Yes. We are being very finicky today.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that it is the month of July, but even the hon. Gentleman must observe normal courtesies.

Mr. Skinner


I wonder whether my right hon. Friend, before he answers the question, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye in relation to the point of order, will take into account the fact that the Opposition often raise questions about the failure to make documents available on time, their length, and so on. Although in general I sympathise with that view, will my right hon. Friend undertake to examine the fact that the two-faced people on the Opposition Benches never raise the question when Common Market documents are not available. That has to be left to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Benches below the Gangway. Even when the documents arrive, some of them are out of date. The EEC is changing policy almost every day of the week—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman's point has been made.

Mr. Foot

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that it would be unwise for the House to pass judgment on my right hon. Friend's statement before it has heard it. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will find that it is a very good statement. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) is one of the few Members who have had the opportunity of seeing how long the statement is.

We try all the time, as I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman did in similar circumstances, to ensure that statements made to the House are kept as brief as possible, because they eat into the time of debates. We try persistently to do that. Also, we always seek to ensure that the questions put from the Opposition Front. Bench may be abbreviated. I am sure that we shall have a fine example of that this afternoon from the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson).

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

With permission, I should like, Mr. Speaker, to make a statement about education in schools in England and Wales, on which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I are today presenting a Green Paper.

The Green Paper assesses the present stage of development of our schools and makes proposals and recommendations for their future development. Substantial progress has been made towards full comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education, and the Government are determined to press ahead to complete this process so that secondary education shall be equally available to all children over the full range of ability. Having secured that aim, the Government look to a period of stability in organisation and of improvement in educational standards.

The Green Paper points to the need for positive discrimination to help those most in need; those handicapped in different ways, including the disadvantages of a deprived environment; the ethnic minorities; travelling children and others. Special measures are needed, both to help the pupils themselves and to encourage the recruitment of teachers with those attributes that can be of special value to disadvantaged children.

It also underlines the importance of offering equal educational opportunities to girls as well as boys. The curriculum needs to reflect this, from the study of science to training in parenthood and domestic responsibilities.

The Green Paper recognises that schools benefit in many ways from building close links with the community and that the groups most deeply involved with a school must always be the teachers and the parents. The Taylor Report, to be published in September, will have more to say on this subject. Meanwhile, a circular on a matter of special importance —the information which is available to parents about their children's schools—is already out for consultation and comment and should be issued early in the new school year.

It must be our concern, together with our partners in the school education system in England and Wales—the local education authorities and the teachers— that the school curriculum should match the aptitudes and aspirations of boys and girls and of their parents for them as well as responding to national needs. The Government reject any idea of a central control of the curriculum but they believe that all those with responsibility for the schools should consider whether these needs are now properly met.

We therefore propose to ask each local education authority to consult the local representatives of the teachers and parents, employers and trades unions in carrying out a review of their curricular arrangements. This review and a joint study of what it reveals will precede the preparation of any curricular advice that we might then issue to local education authorities.

The Green Paper also deals with the accountability of schools and the need for a soundly based means of assessment for the educational system as a whole, for the schools, and for individual pupils. The assessment of the school system as a whole rests with Her Majesty's Inspectorate, which is moving towards quantitative analyses of what is done, for example, through the current surveys of primary and secondary schools, which complement the inspectors' traditional methods.

Secondly, local education authorities need to be able to identify schools' problems in performance and to take remedial action. But "league tables" based on standardised tests in isolation can be seriously misleading as they neglect many important factors, such as the school catchment area, the school's own objectives, and external factors.

Thirdly, the assessment of individual pupils is a continuous process in which the teachers' own competence and knowledge are of prime importance. The development of diagnostic tests and greater consistency of practice in their use will be encouraged by the education departments, but the Government reject the view that universal national testing of "basic literacy and numeracy" is desirable.

The Green Paper proposes further study of the concept of a leaving certificate for all pupils and it stresses the need for high standards of professional accuracy in record-keeping of pupils' progress. The keeping of records should be included in the review of curricular arrangements.

Any plans for improving the curriculum and raising standards must depend in large part on the full understanding and support of the teaching profession and on the quality of its members. We are concerned to improve the quality and relevance of initial training in a number of ways. First, we shall set higher minimum standards for entry and we shall require a qualification in English and in mathematics. We also aim to continue the recruitment to teaching of mature people who can bring useful experience of the outside world into the profession, as well as more teachers from ethnic minorities. We are seeking ways of improving the college curriculum and the professional relevance of the training process.

As the number of newly qualified teachers entering the schools falls we intend to consult our partners regarding better arrangements for the induction period for newly qualified teachers entering the schools. They need support in a number of ways. The arrangements might involve some reduction in new teachers' work load, and experienced members of staff could be given special responsibility for overseeing their work and progress.

I intend to consult the local authority associations and the teachers about these proposals and about other possible developments, for example, whether new teachers might be given an interim status when they complete their training and receive fully qualified status upon the satisfactory completion of probation. The Green Paper also envisages a major initiative in in-service training. This would build upon the wide variety of provision already made and would aim to include the development of specialist centres on Mr. Stokes: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State to read a little more slowly? It is very hard to follow her.a regional or national level.

I now turn to an aspect of our proposals with which I should like to deal in slightly more detail. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] I am taking one minute for each 1 million children in our schools. I do not think that that is too much.

Mr. Stokes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State to read a little more slowly? It is very hard to follow her.

Mrs. Williams

I always try to please all members of the Opposition, but sometimes it is a little difficult.

The Green Paper points to the need for employing authorities to develop more systematic approaches to the recruitment, training and deployment of their teachers during the period of declining pupil numbers. This changed situation will give scope for authorities to give more positive attention to the career development of their teachers and to consider, for example, whether their present arrangements are such as to secure the best appointments to headships. I am confident that they will wish to proceed in the closest consultation with the teachers' representatives in all these matters. Various aspects of all these matters may need to be reviewed.

I, for my part, pledge my willingness to join sympathetically in any discussions, especially where action on my part might be required. The overwhelming majority of teachers give devoted and efficient service throughout their careers. A difficult problem is posed by the small minority whose performance falls below an acceptable level of efficiency, for a variety of reasons—for example, from the effects of stress. Any cases of this nature will raise sensitive personal issues and I expect authorities to offer the fullest consultation to the teachers' associations in working out procedures for dealing with them which clearly satisfy the requirements of fair practice.

The Green Paper proposes the further development of links both nationally and locally between schools and productive industry and of more direct contacts between those working in schools and in industry to increase understanding on both sides. In particular, the Green Paper emphasises the need for a much wider development of careers education to widen the scope and expectations of boys and girls in their career plans and to take fuller advantage of the contributions which employers and trade unionists can make.

The curriculum interpreted in its widest sense should be more outward looking. It should place more emphasis on preparation for adult life in an internationally oriented, democratic and industrial society. Parents, local industry and the community at large all have an essential part to play in helping schools to meet these needs.

There can be no end to debate on the education of our children, but there are times for self-examination and for the setting down of new objectives and new ways of reaching them. I believe that this is such a time and I look forward with confidence to the continued progress of our schools along the lines we have set out in the Green Paper.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May I say to the right hon. Lady—I say it with regret—that, having had the opportunity briefly to look at her Green Paper and to hear her précis, I find it a rather disappointing document? Although we have no objection of course to her statement, our objection is to the lack of a debate on this document. I agree with her that one minute for 1 million children is not nearly enough.

We welcome the emphasis on higher standards and better qualified teachers, as these are themes that have been long stressed by the Opposition, but we are dismayed by the lack of positive proposals to improve the education service. If the Secretary of State is really serious about raising standards in schools, she has just told us that she intends to reject the most effective practical way of doing that—that is, to reintroduce the national standards of literacy and numeracy which were foolishly abolished by a previous Labour Government in 1966.

Why, since she has also just paid lip-service to parents, are there no proposals in this document to increase parental influence and freedom of choice? Why, since she has already received the Taylor Report, are there no proposals in this document for the appointment of parental governors? Although the right hon. Lady has been courageous in this document in admitting that comprehensive schools are not perfect, why are there no proposals for their improvement and why is there silence on their size, on the vital questions of setting and streaming and, above all, on mixed ability teaching? Surely her efforts would be much better concentrated on those questions than on pursuing this mindless vendetta against the grammar schools. Above all, why is there a deafening silence about that which concerns parents most of all, namely discipline in schools and moral and religious education in the schools?

So may I express to the right hon. Lady the Opposition's fear—it is a genuine fear —that, far from being a watershed in our educational history, this inadequate Green Paper will be another missed opportunity that the Government have failed to take?

Mrs. Williams

I know that the hon. Gentleman did not have long to read the Green Paper, but I am amazed that he missed so much of it. In respect of the improvement of the teaching profession, we are proposing a graduate profession; we are proposing special bridging courses for mature teachers and for those from ethnic minorities; we are proposing higher requirements in English and maths on entry to the profession; we are proposing a new induction year; we are proposing advanced in-service training. The Conservative Administration who were in power for four years, when the present Leader of the Opposition was the Secretary of State for Education and Science, did none of these things. I do not think that the Opposition are in much of a position to complain.

With regard to parents, we have issued for the first time from the DES a requirement for information about State schools. The great majority of our parents have their children at State schools. The Opposition concern themselves largely with those who do not attend the maintained sector.

For the first time we have involved parents in consultation about education policy and the curriculum and all the other aspects of it. This has not happened before. My predecessor asked for a report on the government and management of schools. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am not at liberty to announce to the House the conclusions set out in a report that has not yet been published, and the House of Commons would profoundly resent it if I did anything of the sort.

Finally, with regard to what the hon. Gentleman said about comprehensive schools, we are proposing a review of the curricula. We are proposing new approaches on asessment. We are proposing new approaches to the transfer from primary to secondary education. We believe, as the Opposition do not, that we can make of our reorganised comprehensive schools an outstandingly successful and non-divisive educational system. That is what the Government are committed to.

Mr. Roderick

My right hon. Friend said that she would be setting higher requirements in English and mathematics for students wishing to enter teacher training colleges. As a mathematician, I beg her not to go ahead with such a scheme because so many students have poor facilities for mathematics at present and she would debar many good teachers from entering the profession merely because they have a blind spot in mathematics. It would be much better to impose on the teachers of mathematics the condition that mathematics teachers should have a qualification in mathematics.

Mrs. Williams

Obviously notice would have to be given of the requirement. The Government are embarking first upon courses to enable mathematics teachers to retrain—that is, those who are not specialised—so that for the first time we can begin to provide schools with those who are trained in mathematics. I agree that there are now many pupils without an understanding of or liking for mathematics, but one of the reasons for this is that many mathematics teachers are not qualified in maths. We are trying to remedy that situation as quickly as possible.

Mr. Freud

My right hon. and hon. Friends welcome the Secretary of State's eminently sensible statement. I echo the comment made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and express our deep regret that we cannot have a fuller debate on it.

May I raise a few topics? I am sorry that the right hon. Lady made no mention of nursery education in rural areas. Will she look into and give support for play buses such as we have in Cambridgeshire, which are enormously successful? Will she also look into an extension of the system of works experience for those in the last two or three years of secondary education? Finally, in view of the greater co-operation that there is to be between her Department and the teachers, I wonder whether the Secretary of State would seek to reduce the number of teachers' unions.

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will see that there is in the Green Paper a short section on nursery education—although the Green Paper is primarily about schools. However, we are hoping to issue a joint circular with the Department of Health and Social Security about the under-fives. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, one of the problems in the past has been the division of responsibility for the under-fives between day nurseries and nursery schools, which are the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Security and of the Department of Education and Science respectively.

As regards pay buses, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Miss Jackson), who is responsible for nursery school education, has been looking into the whole question of school transport and will certainly pay close attention to this. I shall look at the matter of play buses, to which the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) referred.

We are looking for closer links between schools and further education colleges for pupils during their last three years at school. Pupils should be told about the courses available and encouraged to visit the colleges. Careffs education should start at the age of 13 and we have indicated that work experience and observations are an appropriate part of the latter years at school.

No doubt the hon. Member for Isle of Ely will offer his conciliatory services in the matter of teachers' unions, but I feel that the matter is rather beyond my capacity.

Mr. Flannery

I have not read the document so I shall confine my comments to what I have heard today. Did the Secretary of State refer to what amounts to the sacking of any incompetent teachers? There are many incompetent doctors, engineers and it has even been rumoured, hon. Members, but I shall not develop that theme. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that at this time, when there are 20,000 new, young, qualified teachers, some of whom have not yet received their certificates because they have not had a chance to work for a probationary year in some areas, a witch-hunt against teachers could be unleashed if we were not careful and if we did not deal with the matter in a sensitive way?

On the subject of curricula, did I hear aright when the right hon. Lady said that parents and industrialists would be invited to help form curricula, there having been a generalised discussion, and that the policy would be formulated by the local education authorities on the basis of such discussions?

Mrs. Williams

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to paragraph 6.36 of the Green Paper, which mentions that a small minority of teachers should probably not be in the profession. It goes on: In none of these respects is the teaching profession unique; much the same could be said of other professions. We are proposing that where a teacher finds it difficult to continue teaching—and examples of extreme stress among teachers have been brought to our attention by the teachers' associations—there should be reasonable regulations for early retirement. We are working on these regulations with the teachers' associations to enable such teachers to leave the profession if they wish. In the document my hon. Friend will find all the regulations that we have been discussing with the teachers' associations, and I do not think that these would release a witch hunt, because that is something that we have no desire to have.

In the course of discussions at regional conferences and since, in discussions with employers and trade unions, we have talked about links between schools, industry and the community, the transition to work, and work observation and experience. Our discussions about the curricula review will be held with local authorities and teachers. It is when the matter goes beyond the curricula that discussions with the wider community in the shape of parents and industry should be involved.

Sir T. Kitson

Is the Secretary of State considering in the Green Paper whether to set up again a working party on school transport? Now that school transport is being withdrawn in a number of areas, the roads and the conditions that we are asking pupils to face in walking to school are worse than when the working party last met. The right hon. Lady mentioned pay buses. What is the position there?

Can something be done about getting children to school in difficult areas?

Mrs. Williams

Last year there were discussions on this matter following which my Department put to the local authorities certain proposals designed to bring about a more satisfactory system of school transport. Those proposals were not acceptable, primarily because some parents would have had to pay more to enable others to pay less. My Department is still exploring this with the local authorities to discover whether we can amend the proposals to achieve a more satisfactory result than the present one, which is, in fact, a gamble.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

The Secretary of State quite rightly emphasised the importance of in-service training. What further powers does she propose to take to deal with those reactionary local authorities, like Hampshire, which are mostly Tory controlled and which have a bad record of in-service training?

Mrs. Williams

I have been advocating wherever I can the importance of in-service training. The change in the school population, with a fall in the number of pupils of primary age and a rise in the secondary age group, has made it not only desirable but essential that we should improve the quality of education. If the present unsatisfactory position continues, I shall have to explore other ways of ensuring that this vital training takes place.

Mr. Forman

Since at short notice one can ask only impressionistic questions, may I ask whether the Secretary of State is satisfied that the net result of the Green Paper will be to give more vocational emphasis to the school system and to put more emphasis at the younger end of the school system rather than the older end? Will it give parents more say and influence over a matter that is of deep concern to them?

Mrs. Williams

I hope so, because that was certainly intended to be the case. The hon. Gentleman spoke of a more vocational flavour and that is one of the main things that we want to obtain. We need to infuse into our children a greater sense of the society in which they are being brought up and in which they will participate. That should be so even for children who will not be taking vocational courses and who will be going on to higher education. They should be made much more aware of the importance of industry and its significance within the economy than they are now.

Miss Joan Lestor

Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend has said about the issue of the joint curriculum and the references in the Green Paper to play groups, would she confirm whether she sees play groups as a permanent feature of the under-fives service in this country or as a pro tem one pending the expansion of nursery education? Has my right hon. Friend taken into account the fact that, since nursery education is not compulsory, her hopes for expansion, as outlined in the document, must rest on the attitude of local authorities? What is she doing to ensure that they will fulfil her hopes in this direction?

Mrs. Williams

An allocation for nursery building for 1978-79 will be announced next week. The amount is not as big as we should wish, but we shall be able to continue with the expansion of the nursery programme, particularly in the inner cities and conurbations. That will take the lion's share of the available cash and we shall not be able to expand nursery education as rapidly as we should like in the less stressful areas. I am trying to work with the Department of Health and Social Security to see that provision is made for the under-fives as a whole and particularly for hard-pressed families who resort to child minders because the times of nursery schools do not meet their needs.

I see the pre-school play group movement as a useful voluntary addition, but it cannot replace the necessity for a systematic programme of provision for the under-fives.

Dr. Hampson

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Prime Minister's speech, like the Green Paper, stressed the contribution that education can make to the productive capacity of the country? Yet there are only two pages on this subject within the 50 pages of the Green Paper. The right hon. Lady has talked about proposals. The Green Paper, in this area, proposes nothing and talks only about possibilities. It says that the Government are encouraged by-—not encouraging—the development of link schemes. Are not link schemes particularly vulnerable because of the cut-backs in local authority expenditure and are they not suffering acutely? The Green Paper calls for liaison between schools and universities as a possibility for further study, but the grants system is loaded in favour of advanced and degree courses against OND and technical courses. The Green Paper maintains an artificial division between the school and post-school sectors, and unless the right hon. Lady is prepared to grapple with this specific type of problem, I am afraid that the profession will regard this Green Paper as of limited value.

Mrs. Williams

Probably the hon. Gentleman has had time only to look at one part of the document. Perhaps I can refer him to one or two of the direct associations and to what we have said about industry. We have said that the curriculum should reflect the industrial needs of this country, that teachers should be given preference if they have had experience in the world outside of education. We have said that there should be a special programme for mature students entering education who have experience in industry and elsewhere. We have also said that there should be the fostering of closer links between schools and local firms—with trade union interests as well as with employers. We have said that there should be an encouragement of the link programmes which, for example, Essex, Leicestershire and other councils undertake. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that in our system of education the direct control of the schools is a matter for the local education authorities. Within the powers that exist in the Department of Education and Science we are undertaking in all possible directions the building of these much closer links, which we believe to be essential

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall allow questions and answers to run for a few minutes more, but I must say that long questions and answers will limit the number of hon. Members who can be called.

Mr. Tom Ellis

Can my right hon. Friend say whether her Green Paper reflects, at least in part, advice given by the various main teacher unions and, if the advice was not the same in all cases —as might appear to be the case from public pronouncements since some unions appear to be more concerned with the quantitative aspects, such as pupil-teacher ratios, and other unions with qualitative aspects—can she confirm that the Green Paper comes down heavily on the side of those unions believing that the qualitative aspect is the more important, given the present position of our educational arrangements?

Mrs. Williams

We have had many consultations with the teachers' associations on this matter. There is no doubt about that. A good deal of the Green Paper reflects their thinking, although in parts it does not. We have to put the greater emphasis on the qualitative aspect now for the very good reason that the population in our schools is falling and in future years the number of dependants that each individual child will have to bear as he comes of age will be considerably greater than in the past. That means that each child must be educated to the limits of his willingness and capacity.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland has not seen fit to promote the "Great Debate" in Scotland, despite the equal amount of public concern about declining educational standards and deprivation of freedom of choice? Since we understand that the Green Paper must exclude Scotland, is this another example of a relaxation of collective Cabinet responsibility? Will the right hon. Lady lend a hand in shaking the Secretary of State for Scotland out of his complacency about Scottish education?

Mrs. Williams

There are many roads to truth. As I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has chosen the path, which has also been adopted before in England, of various commissions being set up to look at particular aspects of the educational system. This is a rich tradition in England, too, with Crowther, Plowden and others. That has been my right hon. Friend's choice of the best way to look at the educational system in Scotland.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity first to nail the obscurantist proposition of the Opposition Front Bench that concentration on the fact of selective schools with a narrowly-based academic criteria has nothing to do with the issue of improving the curriculum for the majority of schoolchildren in this country? With regard to producing a more constructive proposition to that end, will she define more clearly the nature of discussion with the local authorities? Will she accept that those groups which have the right to participate with local authorities and discuss the curriculum and make representations about it ought also to have the right to participate on the school governing bodies which control the schools.

Mrs. Williams

I can confirm that my hon. Friend is right about what he said in the first part of his question. As to the second part, I believe that the curriculum review is an essential part of the success of a comprehensive system. As individual areas go comprehensive, we sometimes find—not always—that there are grave curriculum weaknesses in the successor schools to the secondary modern schools. In some cases no teacher is able to teach science to 0-level or no teacher is adequately able to teach modern languages because the schools were deprived, in the curriculum sense, when they were secondary modern schools. It is part of the concept of comprehensive reorganisation that the content of the school curriculum should reflect equality of opportunity and choice as well as the name outside the school gates.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

If the right hon. Lady is concerned with the standard of teacher training may I ask her to be good enough to restore the cut of 50 places which she has suddenly and quite inexplicably imposed on St. Martin's Teacher Training College, Lancaster, which is one of the finest teacher training colleges in the country? Secondly, she will be aware that there have been difficulties with reorganisation in the Lancaster area. Does she appreciate that the local elections seem to show that most people would like to preserve the status quo but, being law-abiding, they are attempting to implement the law as it stands? Does she further appreciate that people in Lancaster have now come forward with a scheme for the possible amalgamation of the girls' and boys' grammar schools, making one 11-18 school? Since this will require further study, may I ask the Secretary of State whether she will allow extra time for this study?

Mrs. Williams

Dealing with the first point raised by the hon. Lady, I do not think that I can re-open the college of education settlement, which was reached with a great deal of difficulty and care. As to the second point, we shall certainly look at any proposal for genuine secondary reorganisation. However, I could not promise now to give the extra time. I would have to be persuaded that the authority needed it.

Dr. Bray

My right hon. Friend has undertaken a lot of important follow-up work from this report. In view of the great difficulty many young people are facing in making the transition from school to work, will she give priority to this problem? The Government have undertaken many detailed innovations, following the report "Young People at Work", to deal with problems where the interface with the schools has not been very well worked out. Can my right hon. Friend give priorty to this in the next few months?

Mrs. Williams

I assure my hon. Friend that this is one of the things about which we feel strongly. The Departments of Education and Science and Employment are working closely together on this question of transition. I regard this as one of the more unsatisfactory aspects of the educational system. We are attempting to improve it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask your indulgence, while in no way seeking to usurp your function? Because of the extraordinary situation concerning this Green Paper and the fact that we shall be dispersing for the recess without an opportunity to debate it, may I ask you to allow questions to run on for a little longer so that those hon. Members who wish to may have their say? Otherwise, we shall have a situation in which the only people who cannot take part in the "Great Debate" are those in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman might belong to the A-stream, but that is a difficult one. He must leave this matter to my discretion.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

With regard to the section in the Green Paper entitled "Welsh in the curriculum of the Schools of Wales" and the call for clear language policies, formulated by authorities in consultation with parents and teachers, may I ask the right hon. Lady to assist in achieving such an objective by ensuring that her right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales issues clear guidelines to authorities about the form that consultations should take and the amount of regard that should be given to them by the authorities concerned? Is she aware that the general complaint on the part of parents and teachers alike is that the consultative machinery is inadequate and that insufficient attention is paid to their views?

Mrs. Williams

I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is embarking upon specific consultations about the Welsh language in Wales. In addition to that, he is prepared to consider making additional grants for bilingual education, if he has powers to do so. We shall be discussing with the local authorities in Wales the whole question of the role of the Welsh language in Welsh schools.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us accept her stress upon the importance of additional work experience and work observation in the curriculum and the suggestion that it should be internationally oriented, outward looking and should include some careers counselling? Will she also accept that this is bound to lead to further overcrowding of the curiculum, which will put more pressure of minority subjects which, alas, includes all modern languages, and will make it more difficult to get a common curriculum throughout the country? Does she accept that this will not be achieved until it is recognised that school education is for everyone the foundation of subsequent learning, how ever it be undertaken—perhaps at the workplace—and is not the end of learning leading on to work, after which learning is never undertaken again?

Mrs. Williams

My hon. Friend is an outstanding apostle of the concept of continuing education. I say to him at once that that must be the goal of any progressive system of education, although we are a long way from that. I recognise what he said about there being a certain conflict between the overcrowding of the curriculum and the need for the curriculum to reflect modern needs. I believe that he recognises that in some teaching of existing subject matter it would be possible to bring in more relevant, practical and more contemporary examples, for instance, in geography, history and maths. That is one of the way in which we might be able to square this circle.

Mr. Speaker

If hon. Members will cooperate with me and ask very brief questions, I may be able to call every hon. Member who was standing originally. However, if anyone asks a long question, someone else will be cut out.

Mr. Stokes

Will the Secretary of State assure us that the special treatment for immigrant children that is mentioned in the report will not be at the expense of British children, as there are considerable fears about this?

Mrs. Williams

There are, of course, some positive measures taken for immigrant children through section 11 of the urban programme. I believe that it is right and proper that additional sums should be made available to children, British or otherwise, who are handicapped in any way. It is a plank of our policy that there should be positive discrimination for disadvantaged children wherever they come from.

Mr. Newens

While concern about the standards of education is to be heartily welcomed and is, in some respects, long overdue, is my right hon. Friend aware that this objective cannot be attained while resources devoted to education are being reduced? Therefore, will she agree that it is necessary to reverse some of the cuts that are being demanded by the Opposition and made by Conservative-controlled councils throughout the country? This is the only way we can attain the objectives that we seek in this document.

Mrs. Williams

There are some changes that can be made without additional resources, but many cannot. The document recognises the importance of moving towards an improvement in teacher-pupil ratios as soon as we can. Many local authorities do a great deal for education, but there are others that do less than I would wish.

Mr. Durant

While welcoming the steps towards offering career guidance at the age of 13, may I ask the Secretary of State whether she is convinced that this is early enough? Will the Government make special provisions for more teachers of careers guidance, which has a very low priority in a lot of schools?

Mrs. Williams

In a sense it is never early enough to start careers guidance, but 13 is a practical limit at which to start. The Secretary of State for Employment has announced that there will be additional careers officers in the careers service and the Green Paper will endeavour to support an increase in the number of careers teachers in order to complement this.

Mr. Arnold Shaw

Will my right hon. Friend agree that teachers have played a leading part in any advances in the curriculum? Will she assure us that in any partnership with industry or any organisations along the lines suggested parents will play a larger part? Can we be assured that this will be a reality in future and not simply an election gimmick?

Mrs. Williams

It is a reality already. We have already tried to bring parents in, but one of the great problems is that there are no clear representative organisations of parents as there are of teachers, local authorities and other bodies. Therefore, consultation is not as satisfactory as it is with highly organised associations. We are doing everything we can to inform parents better, to give them access to the schools and to encourage them to engage in the management and organisation of the schools. We recognise that the modern generation of parents is better educated and therefore expects to be involved with the education of its children in the State sector.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

The Secretary of State will expect me to endorse warmly what she has said about the relationship between schools and industry, and I do so. But in one respect this Green Paper is absolutely astonishing. From cover to cover it contains not one mention of the word "computer". Have her advisers not told her what is happening in Japan and some other countries where there is education of the whole society in computer literacy? If we do not do this, much of the other education in relation to industry and industrial needs will be almost irrelevant.

Mrs. Williams

Although the Green Paper does not mention the word "computer", it often mentions the word "numeracy". While this is not a particularly attractive word, it means, in effect, having the same kind of under standing.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The paucity of the section on special treatment of the ethnic minorities seems to be in marked contrast to the prolixity of the rest of the document. Why is there no indication in the review of section 11 of the special needs of Asian children as distinct from those of West Indians? Also, why is there no mention of teaching a language in the home to ensure that when a child enters a school he or she is on the same level as indigenous children?

Mrs. Williams

At no point does the document mention either West Indians or Asians. It says "ethnic minorities" and this includes Asians as well as West Indians. In addition, we have only recently sent out a draft circular for consultation on the whole subject of positive discrimination for ethnic minorities. This asks how many ethnic minority teachers there are and how many ethnic minority children are in institutions for the educationally subnormal. We have included the Asian community in this consultation document as well as the West Indian community. This is the first time this has been done and I would have thought that my hon. Friend with his interest in this matter would welcome it rather than criticise.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State should suggest that hon. Members on this side of the House are interested only in children who attend private schools. We take that very bady coming from her. Will she explain why the Green Paper stresses the special needs of minority groups but does not mention one minority category—that of the academically able? Will she provide positive opportunities for these children to reach their full potential within or without the comprehensive system? Will the Department also give attention to the problems of mixed ability teaching, truancy and the question of homework, which seems to have different settings around the country?

Mrs. Williams

It is never easy to please Parliament. The hon. Member has called for a good deal more to be done and others have said that there is too much in the document. There will be a paper next week on the exceptionally gifted child, preceding the international conference in November which will cover the whole range of educational systems, from the United States to the Soviet Union, and in which we shall participate. There is to be a meeting about comprehensive schools to consider questions of size, the style of teaching and streaming and so on. In many ways this will be a more detailed study than the Green Paper could ever be and the hon. Member will have every opportunity to see the working papers of that meeting.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend consider increasing the educational maintenance allowance to ensure that children are not denied a sixth-form education because of their poverty?

Mrs. Williams

My hon. Friend has been a great champion of the educational maintenance allowance. We are looking at this very closely in conjunction with the Manpower Services Commission grants for the employment field. I should point out that the Green Paper is not meant to be about the post-16 period, which raises a different set of considerations. It is meant to be about the compulsory school period. Discussions about the 16-19 period will include other Departments as well as mine.

Dr. Boyson

Is the Secretary of State aware that many people will feel that there is very little positive in this document? Instead of being something which has ended a year of so-called discussions, it seems to be something which starts more discussion. It contains more suggestions than definitions. While welcoming the Government's belated and half-hearted conversion about the disaster of child-centred progressive education, which we have been advocating for some time, may I suggest that the Secretary of State allows some time for self-examination and stability in schools?

There is no self-examination and stability allowed by the Labour party's doctrine and dogma on comprehensive schools, regarding Birmingham, the Mary Datchelor School or St. Marylebone Grammar School for example. Some of us feel that within this document there are statements, alongside many others Blade on other occasions, which indicate the beginning of a vendetta, not just against grammar schools, but against the sixth-forms of comprehensive schools, which is shown in the traditional approach to the sixth-form.

Mrs. Williams

I must say that the hon. Gentleman's idea of a positive approach to education has always seemed to me to go negatively back a generation. I cannot see how advocating children leaving school at 14, rigid examinations and rigid selection could conceivably be described as a suitable education system for the kind of society this country now is. I have never understood that aspect of the hon. Gentleman's approach.

I must say, in addition, that the whole purpose and belief of the Government side of the House is that we can combine non-selective schooling with high standards, and that is what we are determined to do.

Finally, with regard to the hon. Gentleman's extraordinary remark about the sixth form, I should like him to give some evidence for that. What we have said is that sixth forms must be viable and must be able to offer a reasonable range of subject choices. We have never suggested that the sixth form is dead, but merely that it must be fair to the children in it.