HC Deb 23 October 1979 vol 972 cc182-4
7. Mr. John Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he intends to take to improve the quality of primary and secondary education.

15. Mr. Michael Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the Govenment's policy to raise standards in schools.

Dr. Boyson

An all-graduate entry to the teaching profession is being introduced. Action to promote higher educational standards will also be based on forthcoming reports on local authorities' curricular arrangements and Her Majesty's Inspectorate's national survey of secondary schools. Her Majesty's Inspectorate has recently published guidelines on primary mathematics following its national survey of primary schools. The first report from the assessment of performance unit, on mathematics performance by 11-year-olds, will be published in 1980, and other reports will follow.

Mr. Evans

Will reducing expenditure on education improve or reduce educational standards? Will reducing the number of textbooks available to children improve or deprive them of their educational standards?

Dr. Boyson

The share of the gross national product that has gone to education over the past 25 years has almost doubled, but I do not think that anyone can claim that schools' standards have doubled. Education standards depend upon the calibre of teacher intake, which we are improving, upon the curriculum that is taught, which we are examining, and how that is tested, which we are also looking into.

Mr. Brown

Will my hon. Friend give the House some indication of when we can expect Her Majesty's inspectors to play a much greater role in the Government's policy to increase education standards? Will he accept that it is vital that Her Majesty's inspectors once again play a central part in the Government's policy of ensuring rising standards?

Dr. Boyson

The inspectorate, in numbers, is lower than it has been for many years. This restricts the number of times that it can visit individual schools. But the number of reports that it has issued recently has been far in excess of previous years. A report on primary schools, another that is coming on secondary schools, and reports on mixed ability teaching and language teaching leave no doubt in my mind that the inspectorate has helped to raise the level of achievement in schools.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

As the Minister believes that he will improve the quality of education in schools by promoting selection, can he say what co-ordination exists in his Department on policies for promoting selections and the cuts? Is he aware that one local authority that is giving children practice tests in the 11-plus examination has been obliged, because of the cuts, to use old papers containing questions in pounds, shillings and pence? As the children taking these tests were aged 3 when this country converted to decimal currency, what effect does the Minister consider that situation is having on their education? How can the Minister square that, and many other examples, with improvements in education standards?

Dr. Boyson

Selection is applied not only between schools but inside schools. Selection inside schools is part of the education debate. It has always been understood that it is advisable to have one or two trials before sitting an examination such as the 11-plus. What better way is there than to include history and mathematics at the same time? That, presumably, is what is known in schools as integrated study. Shillings and pence were abolished some time ago. We have had a Labour Government since then, and one can only wonder what happened during that period.