HC Deb 03 April 1981 vol 2 cc591-608 9.34 am
Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)

I beg to move, That this House, noting the recent Government review of the 16 to 19 age group, urges local education authorities to reappraise their post-16 provision; and welcoming the Government's proposals for the use of microelectronics in education, urges closer collaboration between industry and commerce and schools and colleges. I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science for coming here today to listen to the debate.

There is national concern and anxiety on both sides of the House, despite the absence of Opposition Members this morning, about the problems of youth unemployment. There are problems which arise out of the waste of human resources, disillusionment among young people and the cost to the nation of having so many young people unemployed. The growth in the numbers of young unemployed has concentrated the minds of many people to examine the causes and attempt to obtain solutions.

The purpose of my motion is to air the views of people involved in education rather than of those involved in the problems of unemployment in industry. Some people might have been misled about the intention of my motion by the title given in various places—"Industry and the School Curriculum." It is important that education, for all its failings, should not be held solely responsible for the extent of youth unemployment, any more than it is solely responsible, for, say, the extent of juvenile crime.

Despite the criticisms which I shall make—and I hope that they will be constructive—and comments about what can be done to improve the education of young people, I am aware of and applaud what is already being done. The Department has done a great deal since the general election. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on all that he has done. The CBI, with its campaign for understanding British industry, the trade union movement, local education authorities, chambers of commerce, many individuals and companies have striven to improve the amount of work which is being done to solve the problems of youth unemployment.

So much is being done that it could be said that all the answers should have been found. Perhaps too high an expectation has been placed on the education service for what it can achieve in solving the problems of the young unemployed.

My main aim is to pinpoint certain areas of responsibility and to highlight the areas where full responsibility is not being accepted for the inadequacies, and the expected inadequacies, of our education system in preparing young people for work.

First, I refer to the curriculum and the Government's recently published document. I am aware of and heartily applaud the time and effort that my hon. Friend has applied to it. I do not underestimate the conflicting pressures to which he must have been subjected in trying to arrive at a conclusion in presenting the document. The informed education press hardly welcomed the document with open arms. It has been accused of being a loose and noncommittal document containing too many platitudes and of advancing thinking and conclusions on the school curriculum no further, but it is a sincere attempt to establish responsibility for the school curriculum. It refers to parents exercising their responsibility through their parent-teacher associations and their representatives on school boards.

The document also refers to the powers of governing boards through their instruments of government and how they can affect the preparation and settlement of the school curriculum, and the responsibilities of teaching staff, heads of schools and the local education authorities. I do not list those responsibilities in any order of priority. The fundamental truth is that the final responsibility lies with the State, even if it delegates some—or all in some cases—of its responsibility to other bodies. That may not be a welcome truth, and too often it is not accepted.

By law, we oblige the majority of our children of school age to attend State schools. We deduct rates and taxes by law to meet the cost of providing that education. For those State schools, we lay down statutory requirements and standards on space, the proportion of playing field areas, lavatories, health and safety provisions, the prevention of charging by way of fees and the powers of local education authorities. Despite all those requirements and the statutory obligation on our children to go to school to be taught, we shrink from the responsibility of laying down the basic statutory requirements of the school curriculum.

There is no denying that there are enormous difficulties in defining the school curriculum. There is also no denying that the documents carefully avoid saying what the curriculum must be and avoid giving an indication of a final acceptance by the Government of the responsibility for saying what the curriculum must be.

Many parents do not realise the powers that they have on school boards. They think that the teachers decide the curriculum. Many teachers think that the local education authorities decide the curriculum. The authorities think that the teachers decide. The Government know that they do not decide. I suspect that many employers wish they knew who decides.

Before my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State becomes a little too upset at what may seem an unfair analysis of the problem of locating ultimate responsibility, I repeat that I know how much he has done and how much his Department has done. I realise how much local education authorities, together with parents and teachers, do in achieving with a curriculum which, in most instances, goes a long way towards meeting today's requirements.

There should be a statutory requirement to teach certain subjects within the school curriculum. That requirement should include English, mathematics, religious education, a modern language, history or geography and physical education. Those subjects should be taught to a statutory minimum standard laid down in conjunction with the O level and CSE examinations. That would provide us with an opportunity to monitor the success of the curriculum that we lay down for our schools.

While I am beginning to see more merit in the amalgamation of the O-level and CSE examinations, provided that that ensures that the aspiration to increase the general level of educational attainment is not impaired, I strongly oppose recent reports that the O-level and CSE examinations should disappear. It is vital that we should retain a group examination for 16-year-old children. If that were to disappear, it would greatly harm the future of many of our young people.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

If my hon. Friend is referring to some comments in The Daily Telegraph by John Izbicki, I counsel the House to take note that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to eliminate the current group examinations for 16-yearold children. That was a mischievous ill-informed article. An article appeared in yesterday's columns in which my right hon. and learned Friend refuted the allegations which had appeared earlier in the week. It should be clearly understood by all hon. Members that my Department has no plans to halt those examinations.

Mr. Neale

I am delighted to hear that reassurance. Having heard other statements made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, it seemed inconceivable that what was said in the article could be right. It is marvellous to hear a categorical reassurance on that subject.

It has been suggested that character and work profiles should be provided for pupils when they leave school which would replace the examination results. Far be it from me to say that those profiles are bad. In many instances, they would be useful to supplement the examination results. Many employers, and even pupils, would find them useful as a supplement to the examination results.

We must also consider the way in which those subjects are taught and presented to parents in the school curriculum. One of the pleasing things about the school curriculum document is that it gives an insight into the considerable ways in which, within the school curriculum, teachers and parents as well as industrialists can arrive at ways of interesting the pupils and of educating and preparing them for adult life.

I shall refer to two recent publications. One is the report on the 16 to 19 age group by the Department of Education and Science, and the other concerns schools and working life. They reveal how much can be achieved. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues on the latter document. It is very helpful and I commend it to all those inside and outside the House who have an interest in the subject. They should consider how it may be used as an example in their own areas.

Both documents make a horrific admission. Rather than preparing our young people for work, lamentably we are principally educating teachers and industrialists to prepare young people for work. As we are now indulging in a training programme, it is high time that people realised that they must impart to pupils the information and experience that they obtain. Many schools have done that extremely well for some years, but it depends on the will of teachers, local employers and parents to prepare young people for work.

The Wadebridge school in my constituency in North Cornwall has a remarkable record not only in preparing pupils for work but, in conjunction with local employers, in ensuring that they find jobs, in spite of high unemployment in the area. Many employers and employer organisations deserve unreserved congratulations, but I am appalled that in areas where not enough is done, when attempts are made, particularly by well-meaning organisations outside the education service, they receive a negative response from the local education authorities and schools. A pecking order becomes apparent.

In view of the scale of the problem of youth unemployment, too much sensitivity is being displayed. I ask my hon. Friend to take a much stronger line with local education authorities and, through them, teachers. They have a critical responsibility to prepare pupils for work. School activities generally are important, and many need not relate to future work. They merely widen the mind. Nevertheless, schools have the responsibility to remain up to date on the current and projected requirements of the world of work and to ensure that pupils are kept closely in touch with what is expected of them.

In areas of high unemployment, and particularly where structural industries are in major decline, schools must be aware that the future lies more in finding employment in small businesses and perhaps even in starting small businesses, and in fostering enterprise and aiming at higher personal achievement, than in areas where unemployment is less accentuated. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry, who is responsible for small businesses, is present, and I hope that he will ask hon. Members to support any proposals that he has to ensure that in areas where industries are declining teachers and local education authorities impart to pupils the different attitudes and requirements of small businesses.

I turn to the question of microelectronics. It is becoming increasingly clear to people involved in using electronics in industry and commerce that in about 1985–86 there will be a phenomenal lift-off in the equipment available. People will be confronted with a whole range of computerised aids. There will be a great change in the nature of work, and the amount of information to be processed will be considerable, which will increase employment opportunities for young people. The Departments of Education and Science and Industry have done much to increase awareness in schools and to increase the provision for gaining computer knowledge. Although £9 million has come from the Department of Education and Science, much more is needed. Everything possible must be done to increase the money and to ensure that every endeavour is made to increase software training and provision in schools, because that is where future employment potential lies.

The Department of Industry is concerned to see more computer hardware in schools, but if our young people are to contribute to the exciting possibilities in the Western world we must also encourage much greater software training, which will greatly help to solve youth eemployment. Equipment is becoming more easily available, cheaper, more versatile and easier to operate, and school rolls in the 16-to-19 age group will be declining by about 25 per cent.

Considerable and conflicting difficulties are to be found among the people and organisations involved in education, but the Government must be much more clear about their responsibility for the curriculum. Over the next few years there will be great changes in the source of funding and the nature of provision in schools. Central and local government will not be alone in providing the tuition and resources for computer training. They will come increasingly from commercial and voluntary organisations. It is becoming more and more obvious that the 1944 Act has dangerous shortcomings. The documents that I referred to confirm an increasing dependence on local aid, links with industry and reliance on outside provision of electronic equipment.

There is a limit to what the Government can do, but the Act inhibits the amount of aid that can be accepted. Local education authorities alone are allowed to provide teaching, and statutory requirements are frequently quoted to reinforce that. There has recently been a great furore about the provision of books. Comparing the provision of books with the outside aid needed for computer training, I believe that the Act, in its present form, is under threat. We must monitor that element of the Act to ensure that if it is an inhibiting factor it is immediately changed.

I close by asking my hon. Friends to support me in urging my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science and his colleagues to accept much more responsibility, to impose a core curriculum and to monitor its achievements by the examination structure. I ask my hon. Friend to promote among local education authorities and teachers a far greater awareness and sense of responsibility about preparing pupils for work. I know that that suggestion will infuriate some who have done a great deal, but it must be accepted that many are backward in this respect. I urge my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry to make a far greater and increasing financial provision to equip our schools with the computer hardware and software which will encourage far greater potential to ensure that children in our schools obtain the opportunity to find work.

10.1 am

Mr. Jim Lester (Beeston)

I first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) on the motion that he has proposed and the way in which he has proposed it. He has made a very thoughtful and worthwhile contribution to what he described as a very difficult problem. Indeed, it is probably one of the most difficult problems that we have to consider. In a sense, there is nothing more important for any Government or any society than preparing succeeding generations not only for the world of work but for living generally. Many of us take this to heart.

I particularly liked my hon. Friend's reference to microelectronics. I never fail to be amazed at the adaptability of the young. One has only to consider, for example, the way in which they adapt to space invaders, skateboards or television games in which they regularly beat not only fathers and grandfathers but, everyone else as well. There is the way in which they adapt to motor mechanics. I think that young people of my son's generation must have petrol rather than blood in their veins, as they can do things with vehicles that my generation certainly cannot.

It is therefore not just a question of what we should do normally but the fact that each generation relies upon the next to be more adaptable and to pick up and develop the new technologies so that we may talk about them and use them even though we cannot actually produce them or understand how they work.

The overall picture with regard to the training of 16 to 19-year-olds is unacceptable. I pay tribute to what the Government have already done in this area. I think that over the past two years we have probably the best record of any. Moreover, it is not only in terms of the amount of paper that we have produced. I say that in no disparaging way. We have reproduced "A Better Start in Working Life" and "Providing Educational Opportunities for 16–18 Year Olds". We have dealt with the Finniston report and its importance to industry and education. We have had the RETA report on training boards, and the Macfarlane report, "Education for 16–19 year olds", from the review chaired by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. All of those papers have taken us forward. All have been discussed and all have posed problems which have to be faced.

Not only have we done the paperwork; we have produced money and schemes in areas of the greatest concern. First and foremost, of course, is the youth opportunities programme which the Government have expanded every year since they have been in office. Next year there will be 440,000 places to deal with a very difficult situation. That is a remarkable increase. Here I pay tribute to everyone who has been involved in that programme since its inception. For a scheme to be introduced in 1978 and to expand from no places to 440,000 places nation-wide and to deal with that number of young unemployed has been a remarkable achievement which should be recognised in the House. It has required not only commitment from the Government in terms of cash but commitments from industry, trade unions and colleges of further education in many directions.

I am concerned that the "knockers" are now increasingly criticising the youth opportunities programme. Critical motions are beginning to appear on trade union conference agendas. There are inevitable stories of the odd scheme that goes awry. Given the number of schemes that are now available nation-wide, it is inevitable that the odd scheme will go wrong. But that should not detract in any way from the contribution that the scheme has made, is making and will make to dealt with the problems of the young unemployed.

The second scheme which has been recognised, accepted and developed by the Government is the new unified vocational preparation scheme, where we have gone from a very small target number of places to accepting that we want 25,000 places on the scheme by 1983–84 and accepting that we shall have to provide the finance to do that.

The Government have therefore already done a great deal, but I would not stop there. I say immediately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North has said, that there is a great deal more to do. There is also a greater sense of urgency as the problems emerge. There will be a real effect upon our economic and social future if we do not act on the recommendations of the reports that have already been produced.

I come now to the problems that we all recognise, not necessarily in order of priority.

First, the number of pupils who stay on in full-time education in this country as compared with other countries is a matter of great concern. Moreover, within that full-time education, many of us feel that the division between the academic and vocational streams is far too rigid and desperately needs to be changed.

Secondly, 300,000 young people currently leave school at 16 and go into a job with no further education or recognised training facilities available to them. The position of those young people will cause problems in the future. This is clear from the demographic trends and the decline in the number of unskilled jobs—650,000 such jobs have already been lost, and a further 1 million will be lost over the next five years. We must therefore be concerned about those young people. In the past, they left school and went into jobs and we had no need to worry about them ever after. That is no longer the case.

The third group comprises those who leave school without having a job to go to. I have already mentioned that group, and the special measures which are doing an excellent job and are developing from schemes which originally simply kept young people off the register and gave them something to do and a chance to know what it was like to work. Those schemes are now developing into schemes that provide training, but they need to include much more training in order to be more appropriate to the problems of finding jobs in the future.

Fourthly, there is the nature of the skill training itself. The apprenticeship system has served its purpose in the past, but it is recognised by many as being in great need of reform. Again, the new training initiative to be introduced by the Department of Employment will seek to deal with this. I should point out as an aside that in this context I am particularly concerned about the present decline in apprenticeships and skill training. I believe that this is a false, though understandable, reaction of industry to the current recession. It is a great mistake at a time when we all recognise the need to reform the system, to train to standards and to improve motivation.

We do not want the present system to collapse before reform is implemented. In this context—and here I commend my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry—one has only to consider the age structure with regard to skills in engineering and the demographic trends. We have only to visit factories in our own constituencies and see the number of grey hairs on the factory floor to appreciate that the demographic trends show that the great mass of skill is still in the 55 to 65 age band, and that when those people retire there will be a desperate shortage. I say that as an aside, but I hope that it will be noted in other places. One must realise the importance of apprenticeship training at present. The position requires urgent consideration and urgent action to prevent the old, familar pattern of skill shortages developing when the upturn in the economy comes.

Having spelt out the problems, let us look at what is happening on the ground. The school-industry links are better than many realise. They are not good enough, but we sometimes tend to underestimate what is being done on the ground. There are many successes in the links between colleges of further education, secondary schools and local industry. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to travel round the country will know that in almost every community there is a school that has an excellent record of local links, and that exchanges teachers with local industrialists. Such schools place many of their young people in local industry without availing themselves of any of the Government's schemes. There are many schemes afoot, although they may not be classified.

There are also exciting schemes. I visited a school in Ipswich that had a system of vocational choice for the 12 to 13 age group. Many of the young people in that school begin training there and carry out practical work that enables them to do away with the first year of apprenticeship. The motivation and interest that the school finds amongst the 14 and 15-year-olds is to be commended.

The "bridge from school to work" scheme is run by the Chemical and Allied Products Industry Training Board. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister takes great interest in this scheme. Such schemes are pointers to the future. Things are happening on the ground that should be encouraged. We should encourage the standard of the best to become the overall standard of the country. That should be done, not by legislation but by publicity and personal encouragement. We want young people to have a choice of career that is not the result of a single decision. There should be a phasing in of the transition from school to work. Indeed, many of us accept that nursery education represents the transition of the young from home to school. Such education might take a year or two, but the children are all the better for it. For the 16 to 18 age group there should be a transition from school to work that involves being partly at school and partly at work, or vice versa.

By the time a young person is 18 he should have a clearer idea of his abilities, of what is required from him and of what he can achieve. Transition is the key. I particularly welcome the emphasis laid on tertiary education in the Macfarlane report. Those of us who went through sixth forms would not minimise the contribution that they can make in the old-fashioned sense. By that I mean that the sixth form was an integral part of the school. A sixth former was not only a senior pupil but was second only to the master and had much to do with running the school.

However, it is a mistake to think that sixth forms can be recreated throughout the country and that they can fulfil our future requirements. Therefore, I welcome the emphasis that has been laid on tertiary education. It is particularly important in urban areas. The concept of sixth form colleges and of colleges of further education is more acceptable to students and young people, because they can wear jeans and become students overnight with all the motivation that that involves. In addition, a wider range of courses can be offered. Academic and vocational courses can be mixed and everything can be done within the same set-up. With the best will in the world, however good a sixth form may be, the limits on staffing and on numbers mean that it will incline towards academic rather than vocational subjects. I should welcome a blurring of the edges. Students should be given a wide range of opportunities and should be able, not only to learn a language, but to take an engineering diploma at the same time. Therefore, I welcome the move towards a tertiary education system.

I should like to go beyond what is happening on the ground to outline a scheme that some of us have been working on, which gives a message of hope in such difficult times. As a result of my work in the Department of Employment and the decisions that I came to independently, a scheme developed for the way in which we should consider the 16 to 19 age group. I have christened this scheme "life-link" or "life-line" if, for no other reason than that one must have a name for it. It is largely based on a non-bureaucratic and non-centralised national role that will involve the whole of the 16 to 18-year-old age group. It seeks to mobilise genuine local interest as the motor to achievement.

Its national role is to co-ordinate standards. A great deal of work is being done and papers are being produced on examinations and the form that they should take. A great deal is being done by TETOC and BEC to achieve a national standard, whether that standard be in skills semi-skills or in a wide range of technical professions. This should be encouraged. It cannot be achieved through legislation but the different Departments involved should work together as a matter of urgency.

The second national role needed to promote the life-link scheme—this may be more controversial—involves careers advice and the careers service. The service is basically financed by the Department of Employment, but there is no control over the careers service offered in the various education areas. There are great variations in the numbers of careers advisers available and in the way in which they operate. I am far from being a central Government man. I much prefer to think where possible, in terms of devolution. However, we should consider a national scheme of careers advice and advisers that are linked into the system.

Schemes such as the youth opportunities programme and the UVP have a national role. The target figure is set and the Government finance it. As the Macfarlane report recognises, we must work towards a system whereby the special programmes division of the Manpower Services Commission, which already has 27 area boards, is converted into a series of local boards that are responsible for the whole of the 16 to 18 age group. They should have responsibility for co-ordinating work for the young unemployed and for those affected by the UVP. I have already referred to the 300,000 who start work without any skill training. Further education must also be co-ordinated.

My hon. Friend's report accepts the work that the MSC is doing and sees it as an ideal body to carry such work forward. From there, the traineeship principle should be developed. We should decide national standards and set up a national careers service. In addition, there should be national finance in terms of the targeting for different areas, although it should be remembered that there is more unemployment in some areas than in others. Most importantly, there should be a tremendous local contribution by industrialists, trade unionists and educationalists. Such local people should look at their own specific labour markets and work with their local training boards. Local motivation is important. Local people know the schools and colleges. If such steps were taken they could prove worth while.

Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I have listened to my hon. Friend with great interest. We all know of his expertise and skill on this subject. He spoke of greater co-ordination and has encapsulated his thoughts in his last few sentences. Does he envisage co-ordination that would include the educational world? We should all be interested to hear my hon. Friend's thoughts on that point.

Mr. Lester

The simple answer is "Yes". This is an opportunity to air my personal views at an early stage. I am working with a team of people to see whether our original thinking can be developed further. We intend to make a response to the Government's initiative on new training. The group feels that education, including further education, should be very much involved. This is an area where there has been no co-ordination. There is a need for all these matters to be pulled together. It is not a question of territories or even finance. It is a question of using facilities.

It is nonsense that, in an area containing youth opportunities programme youngsters and UVP youngsters attending colleges of further education, we do not also consider young people in those colleges taking other courses as of right. It is also nonsense, where schemes connected with the youth opportunities programme involve employers' own premises, to imagine that someone doing an educational course at a college of further education would not benefit from taking part of the course in an employer's premises. It is a question of coordination towards specific objectives and targets.

I think that my speech has probably lasted enough to whet people's appetites. I hope to have a chance to develop my thoughts on further occasions. One recognises the key importance of the 16 to 19-year-olds. Many people are giving thought to the matter. The Government have done a great deal. It is a critical area. There is a need to move faster with a greater sense of urgency and a greater sense of concentration.

10.21 am
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) for initiating the debate. Because of the hours that hon. Members have been sitting this week we have a poorer attendance than the importance of the debate warrants. The subject with which the hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) dealt touches one of the fundamental aspects of our national life. It is a pity that educationists have been responsible for most of the argument without the reinforcement of the views of those who can speak on behalf of industry.

Industry has been lax in making its wishes felt, largely because of the education that those in industry received. This is of enormous importance. In the nineteenth century, there was a wish to create the fully rounded man. This remains the main purpose of our education system. Other countries realised that in order to survive they must have people who could earn a living for the nation. Only very slowly is this country beginning to realise that we have to tailor a large part of the education system in order to maintain, let alone improve, our standard of living.

The myth of the arts graduate, and the myth that one can create a person able to turn his hand to anything because he has received some divine instruction or possesses some divine ability to use his brains to the maximum, is having to be examined closely. It is astonishing that we should be turning to such matters at this stage of the twentieth century when they were resolved satisfactorily in other countries 100 years or more ago. In the nineteenth century Germany set out on a course of providing for the education of its industrialists. Over 80 per cent. of directors in Germany have engineering qualifications.

In factories in Japan, and indistinguishable from the rest of the work force, there are people who have received a university education in engineering who are able to work alongside people carrying out the productive processes.

That is the sort of thing that we find ourselves, even at this late stage, examining but not implementing. No one can be happy about the fact that we have failed to understand the needs of the work force and the educated work force in industry.

We went fiercely wrong 20 years ago following the Robbins report on university expansion. We had the kernel of a superb education system in our cities, potentially geared to the demands of industry. What did we do? We started setting up places in the countryside—in York, Lancaster, Sussex and Essex—trying to emulate 200 years too late the dreamy spires of Oxford and Cambridge. Far from moving in the right direction, we moved in the contrary direction. The message was the need for even more arts graduates.

The situation on the Continent is quite different. I recall visiting Siemens, the big electrical organisation. I wanted to know about its recruitment policy. My driver was a philosophy student. He had graduated in philosophy but was unable to get a job and therefore was driving us around and talking to us. I was told that the company recruited 70 per cent. electrical engineers, 10 per cent. mechanical engineers, 5 per cent. linguists, and so on. In response to my question about how many arts graduates were employed, the personnel director of Siemens looked at me and the language barrier broke down. I asked the question again, giving, as an example, students like my driver, who had studied philosophy. His reply was "Philosophy? We do not do philosophy here. We are electrical engineers." This is a fundamentally different approach from what we have come to expect as normal in a world that does not regard it as normal.

This is linked with the division between our classes and the division on the factory floor. For my first job in a factory I wore a boiler suit. I became a foreman and put on a white coat. On becoming a machine shop manager I wore some decent clothing. I also moved up in the toilet ranks—from the ordinary toilets to better toilets, and on to the managerial toilets. My times for arriving at work also changed. I started by clocking on. A little later, I signed on. Eventually I was simply able to walk in. The same would have applied in regard to a canteen, if there had been one. Anyone might have imagined that my salary was going down rather than up. What are we trying to do?

People arriving for work in Japan are indistinguishable. One sees a whole horde of production engineers poring over the latest piece of new machinery trying to get the utmost out of it. This fundamental difference of approach is of enormous importance. We are talking essentially of engineering. If one does not learn mathematics and engineering when young, one never learns. It is different with history or literary criticism. Some of us turn to such subjects in later life with great enjoyment. I cannot say that my knowledge of history compares with the knowledge of those who studied it during the crucial years of their life. It does not mean, however, that because we did not enjoy those advantages but, instead, undertook a technical education that would earn us a living, we are an illiterate lot.

Industry is also culpable in this matter. The process normally is that like selects like, whether in industry, in Government, or in the Civil Service. This is a big problem. Industry likes to pick the best people. The best people tend to go to university, study certain subjects and go on to appear before selection boards, where they meet similar people. The system perpetuates itself.

I like to see every year the work of production engineers and to keep myself informed about what is happening. In one large organisation I met someone who was reputed to be a bright young fellow. I compared his salary with the salary of others working in the same firm carrying out other jobs. The production engineer was earning much less. The problem about inflation is that one can never mention salaries because they mean nothing two or three years later. The salary that that man could obtain by the age of 30 if he continued to be very good was about £4,500 a year, perhaps a little more than he might have earned if he had been a good shorthand typist. There is something wrong if that is what could be earned by a good graduate who was held to be competent and valuable. There is something wrong about our system in industry if it does not bring the necessary pressure to bear on our education system, and there is something wrong about an education system that does not seem able to provide what is needed.

I am worried, particularly in view of the cuts in spending on education. At present we still have some of the finest technical education institutions. I think, for example, of UMIST, in Manchester, which used to turn out probably the highest proportion of engineers in the world, and which still has a remarkably high standard. The university where I obtained my qualifications in the evenings was then only a modest technical college. The subject that I read was mechanical engineering. I looked at the 18 names of those who passed the examination two years ago and saw such names as Mistry and Patel—splendid names. A number of those who passed were my constituents.

The interesting thing is that the list consisted predominantly of people who were not born in this country, people who think that they can earn their living in a superior way. The important point is that some of the other names were of foreigners, who enable these splendid courses to continue. If we cut off the supply of educational opportunities we may strike at the only way in which we can improve educational opportunities for those who want to make use of them in industry in the future.

We shall one day find ourselves with 80 per cent. of our people in top management having studied engineering. The only question is whether we shall decline until that is forced upon us, until we become so impoverished that it is the only way out of our problems, or whether we shall at this late stage see just a little distance ahead and make the necessary changes in our education system.

Those are the unpleasant choices, unpleasant for those who feel that the subjects in question are not educational in the widest sense. Let me disillusion them. At one stage in the distant past those subjects were considered rather more important in some respects than they are now. Those who contributed to the physical sciences were held to be educated in the widest sense. They are the kind of people that we want—those who can use the skills that they can learn and the techniques that they can acquire in order to advantage industry. Without them, we are a poor country, and the sooner we realise it the better.

10.33 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I wholly agree with the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) about the high standing and respect that students and masters of the physical sciences should have. However, I cannot agree with him that if one does not pick up engineering early, one never can, whereas history and similar subjects can be studied later. That is not what happens. It is an educationally unsound and disappointing view. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not push it hard, and I did not think that he was being rigid.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) on the motion and the way in which he moved it. He spoke quietly and in depth about a number of important aspects of today's education. We should do well to heed much of what he said.

I apologise for the fact that I must leave shortly after speaking, because I have to go to a funeral. I have been reproved by an hon. Friend for not wearing a black tie. It is no disrespect to my departed friend. It is simply that I think that in the Chamber we are always cheerful, but I shall change the tie for the funeral itself.

Incidentally, I was astonished to hear on the Radio 4 "Today" programme this morning that "Yesterday in Parliament" would be cut short because after the marathon debate on the British Telecommunications Bill most hon. Members were sleeping. That is nonsense. I was in my constituency until late last night, and I know that most other hon. Members were in theirs. I realise that it was a throw-away remark by a programme compere, so I am not blaming the BBC, but I hope that the BBC will note that it was nonsense.

I want to speak carefully about two or three aspects of education as it is now. It is possible to be a wholly committed supporter of comprehensive schools, as I am, and of the principles that underlie them, and yet to be very concerned about what can happen in practice. It is one thing to say that the ability and potential of children cannot be adequately assessed at the age of 11, and that in any case children of different academic abilities should not be educated in separate institutions. It is quite another thing to say, with Rousseau-esque sentimentality, that all children should be educated as though their potential were equal, that all their career aspirations are equally valid, and that they should keep all their options open as long as possible, until the moment of truth when a child decides whether to be a nuclear physicist or a hairdresser's assistant. Perhaps I exaggerate, but a caricature often highlights truths otherwise overlooked.

Because for many of our less able pupils schools aim to provide far too broad a curriculum, boys and girls end up with far too insecure a grasp of the essential skills that they will need in adult working life and—the most serious result—educationally disaffected. I am not arguing for a return to thin, Gradgrind, three "Rs" gruel, although I believe that the three "Rs" are the most important. Nor am I suggesting that music, art, drama and literature—indeed, any of those subjects of less direct interest to employers—are mere frills. Remove them from the curriculum, which is what is happening in the areas of an increasing number of authorities, and the result will be to starve society of the imaginative and creative impetus that, despite our grave economic position, is perhaps our most important raw material.

I am saying that in our fear of providing restrictive, vocationally based education, we do less able children a grave disservice in pursuing the chimera of a broad, liberal and relevant education. We have not got the balance right. I am by no means certain that the discussions of what the curriculum should contain have so far helped; on the contrary, too often they have disguised the real issues. Many of the discussions have not got at what happens in the nitty-gritty of life in schools throughout the country. Too often people with an academic interest in the curriculum discuss it without reference to the coal face, so that they do not get at the precise facts.

That is not to knock the Government document on the curriculum that came out this week, which substantially got at the truth. We cannot attempt as broad a curriculum as is being attempted in many schools. I particularly welcome the core as outlined this week by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

Can my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is an acknowledged expert on the subject, find in the document on the school curriculum any means whereby the Government could ensure that schools actually teach what the document identifies as a core?

Mr. Greenaway

I accept what my hon. Friend says. The Government do not have the power to ensure that schools teach any core that they lay down, but they are in a position to influence the situation. I know the pressure that HMIs can bring on local authorities and schools, and the influence that the Government can bring to bear in the broad debate on the curriculum.

The Government have—or should have—an important power in enforcing one part of the school curriculum, namely, religious education. Unfortunately, that subject has been allowed to drift dangerously low in the list of priorities in schools. However, the Government have tried to redress the situation. I welcome that effort, and I hope that it will continue.

I come back to my original theme. We need to look carefully at the role that higher education plays in influencing and shaping our school examination system. Our universities are probably guilty of considerable hypocrisy. On the one hand, they suggest that they want candidates with a breadth of educational experience rather than high-level qualifications in a narrow subject hand, yet in practice they choose the latter whenever they have the opportunity to do so, as anyone who is familiar with the type of A-levels required by universities knows. Incidentally, I see that this week there has been a move by one of the Oxford colleges in its demands, but generally speaking what I say is correct.

The Government proposal to retain the A-level examination, but to complement it with the I-level examination, is sensible and praiseworthy. However, I-level will be eyewash if in the end the universities favour candidates with high-grade A-level passes supplemented by what I shall call satellite I-level qualifications closely related to the main specialism. What will that achieve?

What worries me just as much is that, in so far as the pattern of A-level candidates is to a large extent determined by the requirements of higher education, so O-levels are influenced. In other words, the candidate who succeeds at O-level is the one whose O-level results form the most clear continuum with his A-level studies—which, incidentally, looks most impressive on the UCA forms which have to be completed before A-level results are known.

In turn, O-level influences the curriculum pattern reflected by CSE examinations. There is an extraordinary chain of knock-on effects. The Government rightly concluded that the O-level/CSE pattern needs to be reformed, and they propose to introduce a common system at 16-plus. There is much to be said for that, provided that standards are properly safeguarded, as they can be. When this Government—or, indeed, any other Government—may go wrong is when higher education is permitted to continue moulding the whole system, however indirectly. A small tail will continue to wag a large dog. We need an examination system which will satisfy not merely the needs of higher education but those of employers, too, and which will inspire children in school to seek a broad education and perhaps give them the ambition to continue their education for life.

The suggestion that after one year in the sixth form there should be a pre-vocational examination is a start, but only a start. More thinking is needed if we are to produce school leavers who are not merely the products of a liberal education but have the qualifications that will appear relevant to employers.

I shall say a brief word about YOP courses and the way in which they are organised. I have seen many such courses. Broadly, they are working well. The influence on such courses of the educationists, particularly as represented by the Department of Education and Science, is of great importance and should be maintained, and possibly strengthened.

I say in passing that at Perivale, in my constituency, we are losing a skillcentre. It is being moved because the lease of the premises has run out and an enormous increase is being demanded of the Government-funded agency which runs the centre. In my opinion, the agency was right to refuse to pay the enormous increase. It would be wrong to do that in the name of the taxpayer. It is tragic that such a high rent is demanded that the skillcentre is forced to move. In fact, it is linking up with another centre that is not far away, so no places will be lost. None the less, the facility will be lost to my constituency, and I regret that. I hope that landlords in that and other areas will have regard to the length of the public purse and its ability to pay such increases.

I come back to the curriculum. I know from my long experience in schools that more and more was put on the curriculum. People said that schools should be doing something about whatever seemed to be ailing society. As the number of cars on the road increases and the number of children involved in road accidents increased, so it was decided to have lessons in road safety. It was then discovered that many parents were inadequate, although there have been such parents throughout history. So it was decided that something should be done about that and that classes for preparation for parenthood should be included in the curriculum. Then there was sex education. The next thing was international understanding. Now people are saying that that subject should be put on the curriculum. There is no end to the demands made on schools in connection with the curricular content.

As a result of all those worthy demands and pressures, the essentials—the core that has been outlined by the Secretary of State—has been pushed aside into a gradually decreasing part of the school curriculum in a wholly unsatisfactory manner. That fact, allied to the examination system demands and the curious knock-on effect of one examination on another throughout the system, has distorted the whole school system in a ridiculous way.

I should like to make a practical suggestion. Perhaps on Wednesday mornings—or any mid-week morning—the first period should be set aside in all schools from year one upwards for extra subjects. If there is to be a lengthened school assembly during the week, let it be on a Wednesday, so that it takes up that first lesson. Minority subjects should be studied during that period. That would leave the rest of the week for the study of the school curriculum. Many of the interesting and compelling additions to the curriculum could take place after school, as happens now with the willing and generous co-operation of many teachers.

At fifth and sixth form level thoughtful use is already made of what is called minority time—time left after the main provision for time has been made—for examination subjects. I suggest that an allocation of time should be made throughout the school curriculum to cover the extra demands that may be put upon it. At the same time, these extra demands should be kept to a minimum in the interests of schools and the children's education.

Profiling has been mentioned. It is too early to come to a view on the place of profiling in the examination system. There probably is a place for it, but I would not see it as a replacement for examinations. I have not come to a final view, but we may eventually have results based partly on examinations as and partly on profiling. The ratio of the one to the other needs to be thought through. I would put profiling as a small part of the ratio at present.

We should remember the demands that examinations make on the nerves and the difficulties that some children and adults experience on getting through examinations at all. Profiling, if it has a function, could help those who find examinations difficult and nerve-wracking and are thus unable to give their best performance.

I should like to quote from an article by a lady of 80 who recently wrote about her education in a London school—St. Barnabas and St. Philip's primary school, Kensington—more than 70 years ago. She speaks of the way that she went on to university and became a first-class honours graduate. Of her old school she said: The school was called a 'higher grade school', a description long outdated. To a pupil it seemed like any other school in London except that it had a visiting French teacher. This woman appeared to be very old for she was grey, wore mauve blouses and used glasses on a long gold chain for reading. Her idea of teaching French was to give the class a long list of words for repetition, and as she was French they had the correct pronunciation, then to give the meanings followed by a passage containing the words for reading and learning by heart. Pupils who could not have given the present tense of donner were thus thrown in at the deep end, but somehow some of them began to swim with this Gallic tide and liked it. She went on to touch on teaching techniques. She said: The school motto was from Ecclesiastes: 'The very true beginning of wisdom is the desire of discipline'. It hung in the hall facing the pupils each morning. It had a frosty sound to me as a newcomer whose idea of discipline was elementary. Later I came to know its true meaning and to read the last word as 'self discipline'. Finally, she said: I suppose pupils remember best those teachers who took their favourite subjects or those who were eccentric in some way. Of the former there was Miss Edwardes who took us for Shelley in the fifth"—

Mr. van Straubenzee


Mr. Greenway

Not sherry—Shelley, the poet.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I thought my hon. Friend said that he was taken for sherry. I was thinking that such advanced education accounted for his subsequent achievements.

Mr. Greenway

That is an interesting observation. I was describing a lady who is now 80 years of age. What happened to her is in no way related to my educational achievements.

This teacher, Miss Edwardes, taught the pupils about the poet Shelley. I am sorry if it sounded like "sherry". It was the poet Shelley. Poetry was taught in the fifth. The writer says that Miss Edwardes was a little simian woman with a gold-crowned lateral incisor and an encyclopaedic knowledge; Mlle Permain, diminutive and fluffy-grey, known afectionately as Pussy, who taught French in the lower sixth by entering the classroom staggering under a pile of exercise books that reached from her outstretched hands to her chin and announcing before she had reached her desk, 'Eh bien, nous avons beaucoup à faire ce matin', and who then worked her class non-stop till the bell rang! I commend those qualities of teaching, school attitude and discipline on the part of teachers and children years ago. I note that the writer of the article went on to university—unusual for a woman in those days—and achieved a first-class honours degree. She went back to her former head teacher, who looked at her sternly and said "What happened to you? Did you get an upper second?" "No", she said. "Not a third", remarked the head teacher. "Not a third", said the writer of the article. After that the head teacher drew her own conclusion, and her face lit up with delight at the achievement of the child concerned because it reflected on the school and all that it stood for. I commend all that, both this morning and eternally in terms of education.

10.56 am
Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I apologise in that I was not present during the speech by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) who introduced this important theme. I apologise also for not being able to stay for the rest of the debate. This afternoon I shall be speaking more of less on this issue to the Association of University Administrators in Sheffield.

This important debate comes almost immediately after the Department of Education and Science has issued its most recent document on the core curriculum. I do not want to canvas the whole issue of the core curriculum, because this is not the right time. However, there is one element or paragraph in the document on the core curriculum about which I should like to ask the Minister. The Department says that it is totally committed to the broad range of subjects under the title of craft, design and technology.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) took me to task some time ago for speaking as chairman of the Select Committee in what he thought was a partisan way. I think that I shall have the support of the whole Committee for the remarks that I am about to make. Indeed, I think that I had that support last time.

Although the Government say that that they are totally committed to craft, design and technology, all the evidence that we have so far received is that those subjects are the most difficult to maintain in the curriculum. That is partly because the teachers of those subjects are difficult to obtain, even in the recession. Of course, they will be even more difficult to obtain if the economy should ever take off. If that were to happen, industry would scoop those teachers out of the schools. Therefore, that would make it even more difficult to keep those subjects going. Those subjects also demand a more generous staff-student ratio than other subjects. They generally take place in laboratories and require a ratio of about 1:18.

I should like to know whether the Department, in pursuance of this connection between schools and industry, is able to implement any special measures in the rate support grant—I know that it has no real control—to encourage schools to maintain these subjects in a difficult time.

It being Eleven o'clock, Mr. Speaker interrupted proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings)

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