HC Deb 03 April 1981 vol 2 cc620-52

Question again proposed.

11.38 am
Mr. Christopher Price

I shall pick up where I left off 38 minutes ago. I put one point to the Minister about the DES proposals for craft design and technology. The discussions about the curriculum, the schools-industry project in the Schools Council, the "Manifesto for Change" in the The Times Educational Supplement, and the "Education for Capability" document from the Royal Society of Arts, put great emphasis on the subject it is a bee in my bonnet because I am keen to emphasise that what everybody thinks of the three "Rs"—reading, writing, 'rithmetic—never really were the three "Rs". There was always a craft element and an element of doing things with one's hands in the original concept of the three "Rs". Somehow we must bring that subject back into the curriculum, which it never should have left. I hope that the Minister will consider doing something concrete in that area.

No representative of the Department of Industry is present, so perhaps the Education Minister could take note of this point. The Department of Industry has just announced a scheme under which schools that want a computer will be given a computer if they can raise half the money. The Department of Industry puts in half the money and the other half is meant to be raised from private sources. We are always happy to see Government money flowing into new projects in schools. However, there is a danger that, simply because some schools are in areas which are more affluent than others, computers will be concentrated in those schools which have parent bodies in which the parents can put their hands in their pockets and meet the other half of the cost. There are many secondary schools in which, because of the recession and because of the area in which the school is placed, parents cannot put their hands in their pockets and find the rest of the cost. Those schools will have to go without a computer at a time when in those areas it is important to foster retraining for industry.

I urge the Minister to reconsider the funding arrangements into which the Department of Industry has entered. It should consider whether it is possible to have a co-ordinated function with local education authorities. It should discuss the matter with those authorities so that the distribution of computers among secondary schools can proceed on a reasonably even basis and not on an uneven one.

Our difficulty is that no Government can guarantee the curriculum. That has been the whole problem of the Department of Education and Science over the last few years when it has been trying to intervene in the curriculum. All it can do is put money into the rate support grant and try to make sure that the compulsory religious education element of the curriculum is complied with. The Select Committee wants to take that issue seriously, as well as the other issues in the curriculum. We hope to receive evidence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Westminster and the Free Churches about how they feel that element of the curriculum should be treated.

There is a difficulty about the curriculum as the examination system fixes it more clearly than anything else. All the people who have examined it say so. For the last 50 years the curriculum has been fixed from the point of view of degree level standards. The universities decide, quite properly, what should be the standards of a first degree. The Standing Conference for University Entrance, which is a powerful body, broadly fixes what should be the standard of A-level, given the standard of the first degree, and the three years to obtain it. By reference to that A-level standard, the GCE examination boards fix what should be the proper standard of O-level. Because O-level must correspond in broad terms to grade one of the CSE, the CSE boards are substantially affected by O-level standards. The net effect of this English system of fixing the curriculum by reference to examinations is that the curriculum is all too much fixed by the requirements of higher education rather than by the requirements of industry. Youngsters who have no intention of going anywhere near higher education are forced to go through a curriculum which is relevant to the needs of their fellow students who are going on to higher education but is of no relevance to their own needs.

There are the new examinations—the new I-level—and other influences on the schools. I do not know whether I speak for the Select Committee on this point, because it is a personal point of view. I do not disagree with the Government's attempts to make an impact on the curriculum. That has been happening ever since the Ruskin speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). I hope that the Government can think carefully about whether they are interested in the needs of employers in industry and commerce—it is not just industry, because commerce is becoming industrial, too. One cannot think of industry and commerce as separately as one used to do. The curriculum should be considered on the basis of the needs of thse people rather than on the basis of the needs of higher education. That means talking to those in higher education and making them modify their requirements, as well as trying to make an impact on the schools.

If the Department of Industry's initiative on computers is the beginning of a movement in Government under which Government Departments put machinery directly into schools, I do not disagree with that strategy. However, there must be a method, if we are to put expensive hardware into schools, of making sure that that hardware does not gather dust and rust in a corner simply because there is not enough current expenditure available through the rate support grant to the local education authorities. Already there is much evidence that secondary schools are finding it difficult, with regard to teaching staff and ancillary staff, to make best use of their computers. It is a waste of money if one puts in the tools without making sure that the resources are there to make use of them.

I renew my congratultions to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North. I apologise in that I may not be able to stay for the whole debate.

11.48 am
Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I join warmly with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) on his motion and on the manner in which he introduced it to us.

These reflective occasions on Fridays are, rightly, not unduly party political. It is curious that in such a debate there is no Opposition Front Bench spokesman from the education team. I mean no discourtesy to the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), who will speak officially for the Opposition.

There were two Opposition Back Bench interventions. The first was by the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) who walked in and walked out. The second was from the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who arrived at 10.30 am and has now walked out. He explained why he had to do so. He had a good reason for leaving. However, the team of Conservative Members who are interested in these matters has remained in the Chamber most of the time. It is strange that there should be so few Opposition Members, because these are important matters. One can gauge the interest of parties by the way in which they behave in such matters.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) is temporarily out of the Chamber. His contribution was of enormous interest. We know his great concern for the subject and the enormous skill that he brought to it in ministerial office. Many of us are sad that he is not still able to exercise influence within Departments and feel sure that his great skills will be brought into public service again. He raised fundamental questions. He started with a reference to the difficult question of the traditional sixth form and the sixth form college concept.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was criticised in some quarters for vagueness in what is called the Macfarlane report. It is unhappy that some ever called it a report. The cover does not say that it is. It is a review, and a valuable review. It did not attempt to come to a careful and beautifully set out conclusion, appropriate for every part of the country and every circumstance. Had it done so, it would have been criticised on that score. It placed before us under one cover a large number of the considerations that must be in our minds and considered the whole spectrum. My hon. Friend and all those who assisted him did education and training a great service. I appreciate having all the information available under one cover.

Under any Government in the foreseeable future we shall not have the finance to start afresh, even if it was considered wise, so we shall retain a variety of provision in different parts of the country, and will have to see how we get on, in the famous phrase. That is not necessarily bad. Educational establishments need a considerable time before one is able fully to gauge the effect of change.

I am not sure whether, for example, we have had sufficient time to gauge the effect on a traditional school of the removal of the sixth form. Schools in Exeter have had centralised sixth form provision in a technical college for a considerable time, and there are many other examples. However, I am not sure whether we have had sufficient time to evaluate and measure the effect on the remainder of the school of removing the top slice. Even if we came to a conclusion after watching a number of school generations—which involves a period of four or five years for each generation—we should probably not have the finance to put the matter back.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beeston is right. We can have imaginative and interesting schemes that attract a young person's interest when sixth form provision is in the ambience of a technical college. I take issue with my hon. Friend on one matter. He was overjoyed at the thought of the young at sixth form colleges in jeans. I do not criticise jeans. I am an old square, but not that much of an old square. In most modern comprehensive schools, the tradition is that sixth formers can dress more as adults, as an outward and visible sign of having reached a more mature age. In a purpose-built school there is also usually a sixth form block, although that varies enormously. That small detail of clothing is common to both.

I agree with my hon. Friend that, imaginatively used, there can be in the sixth form college a far greater spread than could possibly be achieved in the traditional school background. I remember talking to a young man who was studying German and cookery. I have no doubt that he is now a successful chef. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity of having him practise his German or cooking on me, but I hope that they are equally good. That is an idle example, but it illustrates the width of courses that can be provided.

I plead for caution. I do not mind not having one scheme or the other pushed down our throats, but as we contemplate the aspect opened up by the motion of my hon. Friend the Member of Cornwall, North, I increasingly have doubts—which I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in spite of having an imaginative and roving eye, will discourage—about whether we can make effective provision with present ministerial responsibilities. That point came out extraordinarily well in the forceful speech to which I have already referred of my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston, who has now returned to the Chamber. It was what was in my mind when I interrupted him to ask whether his interesting thoughts extended to the responsibilites of education. I understood him to say that, while all this was formulating in his mind and in the minds of his friends, they did not exclude consideration of those responsibilities

We have a plethora of provision. To take an example slightly outside the strict confines of what we have been discussing, on whichever side of the House we sit we are deeply concerned not only about unemployment generally but about the effects on the young in particular. The growing number of unemployed young, particularly those unemployed for some time, is our most grave social problem. Successive Governments have strained to alleviate the situation. I do not wish any remark of mine to be interpreted as being ungenerous towards the provision made, but one finds a variety of provision to assist young people, some educational and some not.

The boundaries of responsibility of the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science meet and are sometimes blurred in many areas—for example, the youth opportunities programme, the new community enterprises programme, the special temporary employment programme, the initiative known as community industry, even the job release scheme and, though primarily concerned with the other end of the age range, the temporary short-term working compensation scheme. We see the overlap especially in educational training.

I hope that this country made the right decision in the early years when training boards and all that they did were placed under the aegis of the Department of Employment. I think, however, that it would be accepted by all that they have always had a very considerable educational input and presence. I realise that we are dealing with an uncertain world with regard to training boards at the moment. Many of them, I think wisely, have very close relationships with the technical and other colleges in the disciplines with which they are concerned.

I therefore ask this question in a reflective way, this being the type of debate in which such a question may properly be asked. I do not think that it would be reasonable to expect Ministers publicly to reflect upon them, but Back Benchers certainly can and should. As part of the rethink about training boards that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will soon be empowered to carry through, and as part of some wider thought on the plethora of provisions for the young, in both employment and education, introduced in all good faith by successive Governments, should we not seriously consider the structure of Government with a view to moving towards a combined Department to embrace both education and training?

There is nothing original about that thought. There are very few original things in politics anyway. To my certain knowledge—and I speak with some knowledge on this part of the matter only—the idea has been around for a considerable time. Indeed, it was very thoroughly explored about 10 years ago. I believe that the pressures are now greater and the weaknesses of the separate provision more apparent than they were at that time.

I make it absolutely clear, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston that I am not "getting at" anybody in saying that. My hon. Friend put it far better than I could, and I shall read his words when Hansard is printed. He said, in effect, that we should not consider this from the point of view of any one persons's little empire. I gratefully adopt those words for myself. I am sure that that is absolutely right. It is understandable and natural that there should be some protection of existing empires on both sides. We are all subject to that human failing. I therefore believe that any change should be carried out quietly, at leisure, taking time to decide what is the right answer.

Mr. Christopher Price

I am following the hon. Gentleman's remarks, which are pertinent and properly raised in a debate of this kind. Is he thinking in terms of an expanded Department of Education taking on the training responsibilities of the Department of Employment, or is he thinking of a major new, reorganised Department, drawing together all the functions of the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a train to catch and is anxious to hear my next words, but those were to be my next words. I am grateful for having been assisted in that way. It is nice to know that someone is listening.

Having stated the problem, I was about to outline my preliminary feelings on the matter. I am by nature averse to very big omnibus Departments. However brilliant those who head them—whether ministerially or in the Civil Service—it is extraordinarily hard to get an effective grip on them. I marvel, for example, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment can get a grip—as he certainly has—on such a vast organisation of 52,000 people. There are exceptional men such as he, but very few can do it. I suspect that the same is true of civil servants. Again, I say that without any personal criticism. On those general grounds, therefore, I am averse to a vast omnibus Department bringing together both Departments. Frankly, I am not sufficiently skilled in the detailed workings of the Department of Employment to know where the point of incision would come. I am pleading that we should look at this. It would be foolish to come to immediate conclusions before we even begin.

My initial feeling at this moment, however, is that in so far as we have a Department responsible for the way in which young people are educated—I say "in so far as" because of the peculiar and in many ways valuable dual system of local and central control in this area, but in so far as we have it, it is vested in the Department of Education and Science—and in so far as much of the valuable provision is increasingly found in colleges which at the centre are under the aegis of the Department of Education and Science, although administered at the circumference, at this stage of my own modest thinking I think that the Department of Education and Science should have added to it the responsibility for training. That is my personal feeling. I would not then wish to expand the empire of the Department of Education and Science into taking on all the other enormously important responsibilities of the Department of Employment. On this point, I am quite certain. There are major and very important matters related to employment policy generally, trade unions, employers' organisations, and so on, which surely must be for the specialists of one Department.

Dr. Hampson

I do not wish to cramp my hon. Friend's speech, but I have had talks with people on the industrial side about this type of reorganisation. He must recognise that people in industry who are involved in training have a fixed view against the DES and believe that many of the problems arise because it is not sufficiently geared to industry. I think that they would be very upset if training were moved to what they see as an education Department rather than remaining in an industry-based Department.

Mr. van Straubenzee

My hon. Friend illustrates the kind of difficulty that exists. It is most important that we all keep an open mind on this. The answer to that might in part be that an increased input on the training side into the Department of Education and Science would change that attitude—which, as the lawyers say, I do not admit. Nevertheless, if it exists, the very fact of such an input might make a considerable difference. I accept my hon. Friend's point. As we all know, he has made a great study of this. Attitudes are very important. It is not just a matter of the dry bones of an Act of Parliament. I fully understand that point. That is why I have asked for reflection and thought upon this. There are enormous problems. There would have to be some rationalisation of salary structures, for example, and many other matters of that kind.

I have always felt that of all the sectors of our educational provision, the technical colleges—I use the old-fashioned phrase in order to be all-embracing—that is to say, the non-advanced work colleges, are the least appreciated in our education service. I think that it is right to say that to a great extent they grew up in response to local needs, and, in particular, to local industrial and commercial needs. Therefore, they are in tune with their local areas. I link my remarks with the important speech made by my hon. friend the Member for Beeston. He stressed local initiative and the importance of people working together. That is absolutely right. We have not exploited that area as fully as possible.

I accept that there are important local initiatives. Like other hon. Members, I welcome the recent publication—it might almost have been brought out in response to my hon. Friend's motion—entitled "Schools and Working Life—Some Initiatives". It is the Department of Education and Science at its best. It is not laying down firm patterns for every part of the country. That is good. It is not saying that there is only one way of doing things. Nevertheless, it seeks to draw our attention to some of the initiatives that have worked well so that the rest of us may read and learn.

In fairness to the teaching profession, which gets a good deal of stick, it should be recorded that many schools in different circumstances have effective links with industry. Increasingly, the teaching profession understands and appreciates that it is training young people for life. Advice is sought. I saw the initiative that was taken on Teesside. There was an imaginative headmaster in an area with a high level of youth unemployment and grave social problems.

For some time local commerce and industry have found it revealing to witness the problems of education. It is important that the teaching staff should understand the consumers' needs. Nowadays, there are close links and a lot of frank talking. There are one-day seminars to which busy men and women from industry and commerce give their time. Such frank talking is valuable to both sides. The teaching profession is sometimes lambasted too much. It should, therefore, be pointed out that such activities are taking place with great effect.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stevenage)

I fully endorse what my hon. Friend said, particularly when he spoke about secondary schools and technical colleges and the way in which industry is being brought in. That is also true of my constituency. However, I am disturbed by the lack of technical and scientific training that is given in primary schools. My hon. Friend will know that in religious teaching Roman Catholics often say "Give me a child until he is 5." I am not saying that nursery schools should be involved in such training. Nevertheless, there is a complete absence of training in the sciences in primary schools, although it is necessary for the technical education that should be given in secondary schools, technical colleges and universities. Does my hon. Friend agree that training should begin earlier, in primary schools?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I shall respond a little cautiously, for two reasons. First, I have no claim to be technically expert about teaching. It is important that we should be careful about such things. Secondly, I have some reservation about overtaxing minds at too early an age. However, I should like to discuss this subject at some other time with my hon. Friend.

There is an important duty on primary schools to prepare children's minds in terms of literacy and numeracy. I do not wish to give my hon. Friend the impression that primary school level—let alone preprimary school level—should just involve making patty-pans in the sand. I do not know whether it would be wise to impose such a burden at that preparatory stage. However, I accept that those in the higher classes of primary schools are older. I need to think about whether we should impose too great a standard of technical skills at that age. I have some reservations. I have no doubt, however, that we should prepare minds so that they are ready for the next stage.

I am sure that my hon. Friend has also met those who have become the holders of fine first-class degrees from major universities on highly technical subjects. He will also have met those who have completed a highly skilled form of training in industry. Such people say that they can trace their work, almost like a pedigree, to the early years of their lives. There is nothing worse than the slight sneer to the effect that anyone can teach a young child and that primary teaching is in some way an inferior job. It is sometimes implied that any untrained woman could do it. "Woman" is used as a term of contempt instead of respect.

The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne made an interesting speech about universities. Many would agree with his general thesis. He said that at one time we went too fast. Indeed, I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister in those long-ago days and I take my full but modest share of responsibility. There was an enormous feeling that higher education should be opened up to a wider number of people. However, it is easy to have hindsight. It was fascinating that the right hon. Gentleman should concentrate exclusively on universities. I hope that I am not doing him an injustice, but he never mentioned other important units of higher education, such as polytechnics. Those "animals" lie in the middle of towns. They did not go out to the green field sites. They take part in the industrial and commercial life around them. They make an important contribution to higher education, although many of us are anxious about the way in which some of them have developed and about the measure of control over courses. It was fascinating that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention those institutions.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to speak, so helpfully afforded to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North, to whom the whole House is much indebted.

12.18 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I join the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) in congratulating the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) not only on his fortune in coming top of the ballot, but on his choice of subject. To date I have consistently failed to come top of the ballot, but if I had done so I would probably have chosen for debate a similar subject.

The motion has provoked a wide-ranging debate that will make a useful contribution to thinking about the problems of the 16 to 19-year-olds. The recently published report, which covers the education of this age group, has been cited by many hon. Members. Its publication was awaited with great enthusiasm. However, it has been received with great disappointment. It has certainly dealt with many important issues covering the education of 16 to 19-year-olds, but there has been general disappointment that it has come to few clear-cut conclusions. Anyone is able to find something if wishing to prove a point about the education of this age group.

I do not wish to be disrespectful to the Minister for his contribution to the report in saying that I think that the report would have been better if it had resulted from an independent inquiry perhaps on the lines of Crowther or Plowden rather than from a working group combining central and local government. I believe that we would have got more interesting and perhaps more radical conclusions had it been an independent inquiry in the tradition of the other reports that I have quoted.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the Government have consistently refused to operate the obligation in section 4 of the Act, namely, the establishment of central advisory councils for education? This would have been an admirable study for that statutory body had it been in existence and had the Government kept the law. It would have had the advantage of people who were not functionaries in the sense of being selected by the Department of Education and Science.

Mr. Dubs

I agree with my hon. Friend. I thank him for drawing my attention to that point. I do not think that there is anything the matter with the terms of reference of the report on the 16 to 19-year-olds. It included mention of the expected technological change and levels of economic activity as being one of the concerns affecting the education of the post-l6-year-olds.

Some people say that this is the biggest single issue in education. I would not go so far as to say that. It is, however, one of the most important issues in education. My particular disappointment is that the report does little to tackle this term of reference that was set down for it.

The report provides a useful forum for discussion of many of the issues that it covered rather than being a programme for action. I fear that there have been many reports covering the education of the post-16-year-olds. The hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) listed them. What we need is action rather than too many reports. I hope that the debate will begin to lead to more action and not to another set of reports on the issue.

One regret is that we keep talking, as I have done, in terms of the education of 16 to 19-year-olds. We should not consider them in isolation. Some of the problems that we are discussing also affect children aged 15 in their last year at school. Those intending to leave at the age of 16 may be out of the education system before some of the benefits that we are discussing can play their part in helping them. We need to look further back, but I do not intend to dwell on that point now.

The report highlights the important point that the sixth forms in many schools are small. It refers to 1,100 schools where the number of pupils over 16 was 50 or less in each school and points out that the 16-plus age group is declining. I believe that 1981 is a peak year for the number of 16-year-olds in the population and that by 1993 there will have been a decline of 34 per cent. in this age group, which will not be even geographically. The decline in East Anglia will be 22 per cent. whereas in Greater London it will be 38 per cent. and in inner London, I suspect, greater. The problem of the size of sixth forms in schools will be made considerably worse. Many schools may no longer be able to sustain a viable sixth form if the numbers decline as predicted.

In addition, there is the difficulty that many young people staying on in sixth forms after the age of 16 tend to take academic rather than vocational courses when the latter might be more beneficial to them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) made the important point, although more in the context of universities than of education below university age, that we emphasise industry too little and subjects like philosophy too much. I do not wish to go entirely along that path, but the late Sir Peter Venables said, nine years ago: I have an education, he has training, (she more or less) I have a degree or diploma, he has a certificate; One is a professional, the other merely vocational; I am a teacher, he is an instructor; We have a syllabus, they have a programme; Ours is a preparation for life, theirs is a rescue operation; I attend college, they a training centre. Some progress has been made since 1972, but there is, alarmingly, far too much truth in that criticism of the whole thrust of our education system, certainly when our young people reach the age of 15 or more.

If we wish to get some sensible balance into education, we should not allow colleges of further education to impose fees for students under 18—quite the reverse. We should not discourage young people from having an education outside school, and we should not charge them. More important, we should go back to the discussion that was taking place in the education world. We should reconsider the merits of grants for students who stay on at a school after 16. This would redress the balance that is now very much to the disadvantage of children from working class and poorer homes.

I understand the Government's problem. Although we may be discussing some worthy aims in this debate, we are seeing cuts in education, including cuts for the very people we are discussing in advanced further education and in non-advanced further education.

One part of the report that I welcome is the statement: Educational considerations point strongly, though not without exception, towards the concentration of 18 to 19 years olds and students into large groups". That is one of the key issues. I have referred to the declining sixth forms in schools. It should underlie our approach to education for these people. Whether we like it or not, quite a number of young people are voting with their feet. They are voting not to stay in schools because they prefer the more adult and mature environment of colleges. I hope that our education structure will move quickly to reflect this wish.

I understand that increasing unemployment among young people is keeping them longer at school than might have been the case if there were jobs for them. The number of post-l6-year-olds in schools compared with further education colleges may not reflect the true wishes and preferences of the young people themselves.

I should like to refer to preparation for work throughout the education system. The Minister, in a press release on 27 February, said: I want to emphasise the importance of links with industry and commerce. This is in recognition that nearly all young people will hope at some point to take up employment, and that it is an important task of the education service to fit them better for their future work". That is a welcome statement, except for the implicit suggestion that although nearly all young people hope at some point to take up employment there may be some who will not and that, sadly in present circumstances, there will be quite a number who will not be able to do so. It is important, in providing an educational and training environment for the 16 to 19-year-olds, that we should help them at the point where they have to make their choice of career.

We should be concerned about how well informed these young people are about the jobs and types of career for which they might be suited. We should be concerned to ensure that they are well prepared for the job that they wish to do. We have to ensure flexibility so that young people can change their minds and so that they do not have to make decisions about their future jobs too early in their education. We need to be aware of the needs of the job market for the day when they leave education.

That puts a great responsibility on schools and colleges. Some have already moved dramatically and ably to meet those responsibilities. Nevertheless, doubts must remain. Therefore, it is welcome news that the Secretary of State has undertaken that there should be a study by a senior industrialist of the links between education and industry, a study that is long overdue. I hope that we shall soon have the benefits of it so that we may see more clearly what is happening about links with vocations in our educational institutions and schools.

The aim of vocational training must be to give young people an idea of what work means. Too many of those at school, though they may have two weeks' work experience, have little opportunity to obtain an idea of what the world of work means or to learn of the whole range of job opportunities and the types of jobs for which they may be suited. Vocational training should give young people experience of doing work and specific training for work. It should give them skills that are transferable rather than skills that will lead them only to one particular job. That is narrow training. They may change their minds, or the occupation that they choose may not be available.

Quite a lot of that can be done at school, but I noted with interest the welcome of the hon. Member for Beeston for tertiary colleges, a warmer and more enthusiastic welcome than was given in the recent report on education of 16 to 19-year-olds. I hope that we can go more positively down that path. Tertiary colleges would offer many advantages, but I fear that if the Government do not give a clear lead education authorities throughout the country will not move fast enough in that direction.

Dr. Hampson

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right. His Secretary of State, Mrs. Williams, began the process. A draft paper was begun but was never issued to local authorities, urging them in that direction. There were too many pressures on the Government from local authorities and the teaching world, resulting in its being withdrawn in, I think, 1976.

Mr. Dubs

I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to that matter. I hope that the tentative example set by the Department then will be taken up with more enthusiasm by present Ministers than the report that I have quoted suggests.

I do not wish to rehearse all the advantages of such colleges, but I believe that they represent an exciting educational opportunity, being places where young people who will be academic and young people who are nonacademic can be mixed together, where young people do not have to choose between academic and non-academic education after the age of 16. Indeed, they can have a mixture of the two.

With the decline in the school population that is expected in many areas, and indeed is taking place, empty school buildings will be available. I hope that when the use to which they may be put is considered tertiary colleges will be borne in mind. They will enable young people to continue their education and make their choice of career at a later age a more informed choice, because of the great range of vocational and educational training that will be available.

Such colleges would also go a long way towards achieving what should be another aim—the encouragement of far more young people to stay in education beyond the age of 16. Our record is not good. We have the lowest number of young people in full-time and part-time education of any European country, and fewer young people who continue positive education and training when they go to work. The comparisons between this country and the other European countries are disconcerting and unsatisfactory.

It is welcome that about half the schools in this country have microprocessors, but our aim should be to ensure that every school and college has the facility to instruct young people in their use. We must train our teachers—not merely one or two in each educational institution, but many of them—to become familiar with microprocessors and confident in their use.

More years ago than I care to remember I was briefly a civil servant. That was before we had pocket calculators. I wanted to make comparisons between years and was using a slide rule—that old-fashioned, almost antique, instrument—when a more senior civil servant said to me "Does that thing actually work?" We have come a long way since then, not only in years but in attitudes; but in our attitudes to microprocessors we still have a long way to go.

Young people should be familiar with the use of microprocessors and understand their application and future role. Moreover, they should learn to use microprocessors in teaching other subjects. Familiarity with microprocessors would help in teaching other subjects and in making people more confident in the uses to which they can be put. We must make sure that computer sciences become more valued subjects than they now are in some schools and that they are studied by bright and less bright young people.

Unemployment has featured in many of the speeches this morning. The hon. Member for Beeston said that the youth opportunities programme was a remarkable achievement by the Government in that it would cater for nearly half a million young people by the end of the year. However, he failed to say that the Government's activities had made the expansion of the programme necessary because of the tragic increase in unemployment for which they are largely responsible. School leavers represent one of the fastest growing sectors of unemployment and it is forecast that they will face even greater unemployment during the next few years.

It is not idle to say that the vocational training and benefits that we seek to give young people in schools should also teach them how to cope with the possibility of being on the dole. It is difficult for young people when they leave school to come to terms with the fact that society is rejecting them and that they cannot find work. It affects their attitude to society. They may lose the will to work, or may turn to delinquency and crime. There is a responsibility on our education system—one that I hope will not last for too many years—to help young people to cope with the possibility of being on the dole, possibly even after a year on a YOP scheme.

Unemployment presents another dilemma. Some young people have no incentive to obtain qualifications because they believe that they will end up in the dole queue anyway. They ask themselves why they should bother. We must point out to them that the present levels of unemployment are not an inevitable feature of our economy and society. We must continue to encourage young people to increase their qualifications and to stay on in education so that, when there are jobs, they will be able to follow the kind of career for which they are best fitted and, by then, I hope, for which they have been trained.

There seem to be no reliable estimates of the present number of apprenticeships. It is clear that the number is going down. Estimates vary, but the present number appears to be about 150,000. There are other forms of training at work which might add to the number of people being trained at work in their first job after the age of 16, totalling about 240,000, but there has been a significant decline.

Apart from the decline in numbers, there are other problems. We do not have nearly as many apprenticeships as Germany. In Germany, the number of school leavers going straight into apprenticeships is about half the total. We are well below that.

There are other difficulties. One is the inflexibility of the age of entry into apprenticeships. Young people have to decide when fairly young whether they wish to become apprentices. They do not have a second go if they stay on for further education, because of the age ban. Some apprenticeships take too long for the necessary training. However, that is a problem for another day.

I should like to see closer links between education—higher education in tertiary colleges—and the concept of apprenticeships so that the first stages of training are in the concept of the education system rather than in the world of work. That will be of benefit to young people and employers. We should become more flexible in that respect than we have been in the past.

The debate has shown that great problems affect 16 to 19-year-olds. There are unequal opportunities for that age group compared with some who may go on to higher education. The resources available to this age group are meagre not only by absolute standards but compared with the resources available to the lucky youngsters who go on to higher education and universities.

We need a more comprehensive or integrated approach to vocational training and the transition from school work. We should offer education and training opportunities for all 16 to 19-year-olds and not leave some to fall by the wayside. We should make it a specific education aim to encourage all young people to stay on for education beyond 16 years of age, especially youngsters from working-class backgrounds who tend to miss many of the educational and training opportunities which are available.

Finally, we must make resources available so that some of the high aims which many hon. Members have been discussing in the debate can be made a reality. I hope that the Government will take note of the debate and will make the resources available so that we do not waste years in the lives of young people with an education and training system which is not adequate to their needs or the needs of the country.

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

It might be for the convenience of the House for me to intervene at this stage.

I welcome the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) to the Opposition Front Bench. I congratulate him on his maiden speech from the Opposition Dispatch Box. I also congratulate him and his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on representing the entire custodianship of the Labour Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Scottish National Party and the Welsh National Party. The arrival of the hon. Member for Newham, South has swelled the Opposition's ranks by 100 per cent. I am pleased that he is to take part in the debate.

I must administer a gentle rebuke to the hon. Member for Battersea, South. This is an important debate, not worthy of total partisanship. However, it echoes the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that I did not write a report. I was pleased and honoured to chair a review group. It set out to be a review of 16 to 19-year-old provision, for the first time appraising what existed in England and Wales and drawing together some statistical evidence which is included in the appendix to the review. I pay tribute at this first opportunity to the contributions made by hon. Members of all parties, leaders of Labour and Conservative groups in the country, and officials from my Department and other Departments.

I welcome the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale). The House, and people outside who are concerned about the preparation of young people for work, will be grateful to him for initiating this debate. I am delighted that it has been constructive so far and I look forward to further contributions.

The last few years have seen a growing recognition, both by the education service and by industry and commerce, of the need to reappraise the relationship between education and the wider world of work and to foster within the education service a better understanding and a greater respect for the process of wealth creation and the contribution that it makes to our economy, and thus to our society.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North recognises in his motion, we need to start with the school curriculum. As the House will know, there has over the past few years been a wide discussion of the curriculum in schools and the arrangements made for it by local education authorities. Just over a year ago my Department published a consultative paper "A Framework for the School Curriculum". The consultations of last year were wide-ranging and drew much constructive comment. They also showed that there was a wide measure of agreement about many of our proposals, although not with everybody and not about everything.

Last week my right hon. and learned Friend, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, published "The School Curriculum", which sets out firm views, not in any sense prescriptive but in order to guide and assist local education authorities and schools. A number of hon. Members have been critical of the fact that it is not more prescriptive and that it does not decree and order local authorities to include a certain percentage of so many subjects in each week. We all know the constitutional recognition that we have of the 1944 Act. If my hon. Friend, in his remarks, implied that he wanted a statutory requirement when he emphasised the importance of English, mathematics, religious education and language—and he might have included an additional science—that is precisely the thing which my right hon. and learned Friend has always pronounced upon and urged local authorities, schools and head teachers to observe at all times. It is a recurrent theme in our document.

I draw attention only to some aspects of the paper. We believe that the first requirement for secondary schools is that all pupils up to 16 should receive a sound, broadly-based education, which extends their capacities and which does not, through too early specialisation, restrict their career opportunities. The paper says firmly that the curriculum needs to be related to what happens outside schools and that pupils need better and more systematic careers education and guidance. The paper also stresses that the education service and industry have much to contribute to each other. The schools certainly have a major role in preparing young people for adult and working life—hon. Members on both sides of the House referred to it at some length today. It is not a task which schools are able, or can reasonably be expected to be able, to shoulder unaided. Other important contributions are clearly needed. A two-way process of not just co-operation but detailed collaboration is called for.

Obviously, the education service has to seek better connections with, and understanding of, both local and national industry. Here I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), who said that these should be community- and region-oriented. Certainly this process must be developed in each area, so both local and national industries must be involved.

I accept the remarks made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that it also needs to embrace commerce and business of every shape and size, and that they must be sensitive to the problems and objectives of schools and colleges. We hope that they will be ready to help them to overcome those problems and realise those objectives.

I know that some people have been worried that we mean that schools should do no more than provide training in basic skills to meet the minimum requirements of some employers. That is not what we mean. Employers have again and again made it clear in discussions with us that they attach great importance to young people's personal qualities as well as to the more academic aspects of education, and I believe that the paper strikes the right balance between the two.

I was encouraged to note that both my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham were pleased with the production of our recent booklet by Her Majesty's inspectors, "Schools and Working Life: Some Initiatives." It is an important contribution. It was published earlier this week. It describes 12 different examples of ways in which schools can prepare pupils for working life. The examples include a comprehensive school which co-operated with a local company in the design, costing and construction of a model leisure complex, and examples of work experience, notably where the experience is seen as an integral part of the pupil's curriculum across the full range of academic ability.

The report also includes a chapter about visits and secondments of teachers to industry. This subject will be discussed by representatives of my Department and Her Majesty's inspectors with representatives of industry at a meeting for which British Petroleum is acting as host, in a week's time, in order to consider more ways in which the greatest benefit may be gained from activities of this kind. That is an important contribution.

There are many examples of school-industry links, and I want to turn to that matter in a moment. Many areas of the country now have detailed collaboration between schools and industry, and many of them have been encouraged by the national bodies which exist to foster links between schools and industry—the CBI and its "Understanding British Industry" project, the Council of Engineering Institutions, the Industrial Society, Young Enterprise, and many others which have emerged in recent years.

Much of the value of the effort being put into the development of the links between education and industry derives from its variety. I have not time today to go into the details of everything that is going on, nor shall I attempt to acknowledge everything. But I should like to mention in particular the powerful stimulus that is being provided in many areas by the developing network of science and technology regional organisations—SATROs—under the co-ordination of the Standing Conference on Schools Science and Technology.

The Government give financial support through my own Department—and through the Industry/Education Unit of the Department of Industry—to the SATRO movement. My Department also gives support to "Project Trident", and the Department of Industry supports a wide variety of other initiatives. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry was present this morning at the start of the debate; but alas, like many other Members, he had to depart to go to a conference.

I want to refer briefly to the important contribution that the Department of Industry makes in this area and to give some examples of the initiatives which it supports alongside the education service. The Department of Industry naturally view these matters from its own perspective, but its interests echo very closely my own responsibilities in the Department of Education and Science.

The Department of Industry's industry education unit has two main objectives. The first is to improve attitudes towards manufacturing industry among all young people, regardless of their choice of career. The second is to encourage more of the country's young people—including the more able, but also others—to develop an interest in careers in industry and in the subjects and courses both in the schools and in the further and higher education system, which can open up the pathways into those careers.

The industry education unit is supporting many scientific and mathematical projects throughout the country. The unit has been supporting the University of Southampton in the production of a film about the challenge and the variety of engineering as a career. The film features young girls and young women engineers talking about their work and their background. It will be available for free borrowing by schools when it is completed during the summer.

The unit is also supporting teachers' in-service training. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House referred to this important aspect of preparing our teachers for retraining. It also includes support for the in-service course, based on the Wigan education authority, to enable teachers to develop curriculum materials, and continuing support for the "Insight into Management" courses arranged by the careers research and advisory centre for pupils and teachers. It gives financial assistance to many other projects. The unit organises the "Young Engineer for Britain" competition. The competition is now in its fifth successful year and is gaining steadily in the prestige that it commands in the educational and industrial worlds.

In total, the industry education unit's budget grew from £558,000 in the financial year 1979–80 to £700,000 in the current year, and it will remain at this level in 1981–82. Within these totals, the support for the SATRO movement is growing from £86,000 in 1979–80 to £105,000 in 1980–81, and £175,000 for the current year.

In addition, much good work is being done, and I hope that hon. Members will recognise the important work that the Department is doing in trying to stimulate and foster this sort of link between the education services. But it can work only if it has the good will and devotion of all representatives in the community.

In recent weeks, we have been holding a series of conferences throughout the country, called "The Work of the Schools". We have so far had seven of the 10 regional meetings. I was happy only yesterday to chair one of the meetings, which covered six local education authorities in Preston. I was pleased to do so for more than the reason of avoiding an all-night sitting. I was happy to think that I was doing more useful work in fostering the links between the education service and the world of industry on that occasion. It was most encouraging to see in Preston county hall yesterday representatives of industry, commerce, the trade unions, the teaching profession and the careers service, all together discussing the important areas of microelectronics, school-industry links and the school curriculum. As I say, that was the seventh of 10 of the conferences that we have had.

But it will work only, when everyone becomes fully involved, and that depends upon the effectiveness of the head teacher, the careers teachers, the regional CBI, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and all the other umbrella organisations.

There is one area which worries us to some extent. It is that there are many organisations now which have had a number of pilot schemes going on for some years. Although we are very pleased that 1,000 flowers are blooming, we want to try to see the emergence of a good hybrid before long. For that reason, we have requested the services of Mr. Neville Cooper, of Standard Telephones, to work with the director of education for Bedfordshire—Mr. Browning—on a six months' investigation to discover how many of these exercises are going on, what their objectives are, and what they have achieved so far. Mr. Cooper will report back to my right hon. and learned Friend in the late summer or early autumn of this year.

Curriculum development is also needed. We have encouraged the Schools Council to give special attention to the importance of the curriculum to working life. It has two projects, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham referred. He has been to Teesside, as I have, to see that Schools Council industry project working. I think that my hon. Friend will echo the enthusiasm that I have for that scheme. So often we have depended on the multinationals and the nationalised industries to be the leaders, and it is all important to embrace the smaller employers.

I was a little concerned in my dialogue with the late John Methven, Sir Monty Finniston and, before him, Lord Boardman—the latter two had been president of the ABBC—to discover that in many major areas of manufacturing industry the employers were not always members of the ABBC and that it was difficult to get at them through their umbrella organisations. So we are having to review what can be done there. The Schools Council industry project is dealing largely with the smaller business people of that all-important area. It is an almost unique area, which does not have the same sort of decline in the pupil population that other areas will experience in the next few years.

The meetings which my right hon. and learned Friend and my other ministerial colleagues are chairing throughout the country cover all local education authorities, and the three remaining conferences will be held in North London, Exeter and Manchester. We have covered every local education authority within the last six or nine months.

I want to touch briefly on the 17-plus examinations. I hope that the House will be encouraged by my reference, in an intervention, to the article which appeared in The Daily Telegraph earlier this week and my stressing that there is no intention of removing the 16-year-old examination. In January of this year, we asked the Schools Council to consider how an assessment of achievement might be introduced to embrace that 60–70 per cent. of our pupils who do not go on to further education after the age of 16, and to see how that might develop. The council will be reporting back some time in 1982. But I want to make it clear that my right hon. and learned Friend has no intention of concluding the 16-year-old examinations. They remain, and that is clear.

Proposals for new 17-plus examinations were included in the recent consultative document, "Examinations 16–18". These proposals were framed with the very aim of helping the transition from education to work of young people of broad average ability. The hon. Member for Battersea, South touched upon it. This could be achieved by the encouragement of courses with a pre-vocational bias leading to an award which would be valued and seen to be valued by employers generally. When I chaired four of the seven regional meetings so far, I was impressed by the fact that, generally speaking, employers are not 100 per cent. aware of the syllabus and the status of our examinations. I hope that some of the dialogue which has now been initiated will encourage those who employ young people to walk 50 per cent. of the way and meet the education service in that area. That is long overdue.

The links between further education colleges and schools and other education institutions could be infinitely wider in each area. The elimination of barriers between the various institutions is long overdue.

Further education colleges traditionally have enjoyed close links with local industry and business. Many were founded to provide technical education for employers in local firms. Originally, that was often provided on a part-time basis in industry by day and in the local college in the evening so that industrial relevance was totally assured.

We have moved to a more formalised system of national qualifications, to greater reliance on day or block release for further education, and to a full-time professional teaching staff in colleges. It is possible that in some areas the links between colleges and industry have been weakened. The technician and business education councils, which have national responsibility for technician and business courses in further education, have taken steps to ensure that their programmes remain fully relevant to the needs of industry and commerce by seeking to involve prominent and experienced people from these fields in the design of courses and as members of their major programme and policy committees.

The Technician Education Council has also undertaken, in consultation with industry and with financial support from the Department of Industry, the development of course material on the design, application and maintenance of microelectronic devices. In the important area of computer studies, which crosses traditional subject boundaries, the two councils have formed a joint committee to design and validate courses.

Further education colleges provide all the first year off-the-job integrated training and further education courses for craft apprentices in the construction industry, and are major providers of similar courses for craft apprentices in the engineering industry. The design and the provision of these courses illustrates what successful collaboration can achieve.

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Art—the hon. Member for Lewisham, West—asked me about the training and retraining of craft design and technology teachers. He asked me about the importance that we attach to that and what our support would be. I hasten to assure the hon. Gentleman that we attach the greatest importance to the teaching of craft design and technology. However, alas, like the shortage of mathematics and science teachers, there is a shortage of good CDT teachers.

Since 1977 the Manpower Services Commission has made funds available to assist the training and retraining of teachers in mathematics, physical science, craft design and technology and business studies. That scheme will be continued in the academic years 1981–82 and 1982–83. The funds are administered on behalf of the MSC by the Local Government Training Board to provide training awards to people on the courses preparing to become teachers of the shortage subjects and by grants to local education authorities which release serving teachers. That is an illustration of the importance that we attach to the matter.

Numeracy and literacy have been mentioned. One of the weaknesses in our system is that we have forgotten the importance of the teaching of dexterity in our schools and colleges. Hon. Members might take me to task because we are not providing enough teachers of shortage subjects. For the last 25 to 30 years the education service has had vast amounts of money but still has not produced the necessary science teachers.

The new training initiative is important for 16 to 19-year-olds. The Government are committed to improving the opportunities for effective vocational training for school leavers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment told the House last November that the youth opportunities programme for unemployed young people is being expanded. Efforts are being made to increase and improve the provision of structured education and training for young people within that programme.

The programme of unified vocational preparation for young people entering jobs with little or no systematic training or further education is also planned to expand rapidly, from a modest pilot scheme covering about 3,500 trainees this year to a scheme covering about 20,000 trainees, or about 10 per cent. of the expected client group, in 1983–84.

I shall resist the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham to become drawn on the creation of an education and training department. He is allowed to speculate on what might be highly desirable, but I shall not reply or be drawn on that subject, so my hon. Friend will be disappointed.

I understand that later this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and the Manpower Services Commission hope to publish a joint consultative document on training. That, amongst other things, will raise questions about ways of improving vocational preparation for young school leavers. The education service will, I know, want to play a full part in further consideration of that issue. The unified vocational preparation programme in particular has pointed up the possibilities which exist for a better integration of education and training for young workers which can contribute both to their personal development and to their work motivation and their contribution as employees.

Several hon. Members referred to the desirability of having representatives from the education service on the special programmes boards. In my dialogue with my colleagues at the Department of Employment over the last 22 months it has begun to emerge that the MSC acknowledges that in some areas there has been a shortage of representatives of the education service. It is hoping to put that right, as they are an integral part of the system. That would have the happy effect of resolving some of the problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham referred in his desire for an education and training department. It is important to have more educationists in those areas.

I wish to allay some of the fears and anxieties expressed by the hon. Members for Lewisham, West and Battersea, South about microelectronics in education. The Department of Education and Science and the local education authorities will always play a full part in coordinating any programme for microelectronics in education. That will be a joint exercise and a joint venture. It would be pointless to deliver expensive equipment to any educational establishment if that equipment were not to be used, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, West said.

It is preferable to talk of "information technology", as it is in those fields where microelectronics and modern telecommunication technology come together that the full effects of microelectronics will be felt—in business, commerce and all kinds of office employment. The Government attach great importance to ensuring that this country obtains maximum benefit from the revolution in information technology.

The motion welcomes the Government's microelectronics education programme. I am glad that it does. I am also glad that the programme is rightly being recognised as vital to the future of our young people.

It is not easy to find the resources to sustain such a programme, and we could not have agreed to make £9 million available had the subject not been of such outstanding importance. I give a brief progress report. About £900,000 was spent in the first year of the Department of Education and Science programme in 1980–81 and some 34 projects were commissioned. About one-third of the projects were concerned with the training of teachers or LEA advisers—about 800 persons have attended pilot courses provided under the programme—one-third with curricular or software development and the remainder with the provision of information or with preliminary studies to lay the foundations for possible future work in the remaining years of the programme.

About 30 LEAs have been involved with projects so far undertaken in the first year, in the sense of being party to the submission of the proposals which were approved; but, of course, an authority can benefit from a project without being party to it in this sense.

For instance, the Council for Educational Technology has arranged six-week courses which have been attended by a teacher or adviser from each of 36 LEAs—one-third of the LEAs in England and Wales. The courses were specifically designed to equip the persons concerned to provide training for other teachers on return to their LEAs. Some people have been disposed to suggest that the sum of £9 million set aside for the programme is too little. I do not agree, but if it is a little, there are evidently ways of making a little go a long way.

Our decision to mount the programme was not intended as a criticism of the response which the education service has already made in many areas to the microelectronics revolution. A few months ago, HMI estimated that nearly half of all maintained secondary schools in England had at least one microcomputer at the start of this school year. Subsequent information suggests that the proportion is continuing to rise all the time.

We know of 12 LEAs with at least one "micro" in every secondary school. There are probably others of which we do not happen to know precise details. Moreover, according to our provisional figures, there were about 27,000 O-level and CSE entries in computer studies in England and Wales at the summer 1979 examinations, and I have seen some unofficial figures suggesting a further increase of around 5,000 in 1980, bringing the total to roughly three times the level of five years ago. A-level entries have roughly doubled over the same period.

These figures do not suggest any lack of interest and effort, but, clearly, much more remains to be done, particularly when one bears in mind that microelectronics involves a very great deal more than specialist examination courses in computer studies or computer science. Five years ago it would have seemed to most people fantastic to talk in terms of having a computer—and a powerful one at that—in every school. Now this can be contemplated with equanimity as a realistic prospect, and the real enthusiast looks forward to the day when there will be a microcomputer in every home.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the Minister for the interesting statistics, but are computers in schools for familiarisation, to train computer programmers, to give pupils an introduction to microelectronic engineering, or for all three purposes? We may be in danger of installing computers in schools not having thought through the precise reason for them.

Mr. Macfarlane

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's experience is with schools in his constituency, but I believe that he has outlined all the applications for school computers. Familiarisation and recognition are important. Pupils may become computer engineers or programmers, but it is important generally to familiarise children with computers. That is why, next Monday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be launching the new provision of hardware scheme.

The House should not gain the impression that little or nothing is happening. I know from my travels that much is happening in schools, but microcomputers are not always available, so my right hon. Friend is launching the programme with the full backing and financial support of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology and myself. It is a joint venture to provide a microcomputer in every school by the end of next year. The details will be handled by my Department and by the microelectronics education programme, of which we have a full-time director on secondment from Newcastle polytechnic.

Mr. John Blackburn (Dudley, West)

On 4 February I asked my hon. Friend: if he will make a statement on the progress to date in the setting up of regional resource centres for the servicing of computer software requirements in schools. He replied: local education authorities as part of the microelectronics in education programme … have been consulted and the Director of the programme will shortly begin discussions".—[Official Report, 9 February 1981; Vol. 998, c. 296–7.] Is my hon. Friend saying that the conclusion of the discussions is the opening of the campaign by no less a person than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? Will that policy now be adhered to, in line with this motion?

Mr. Macfarlane

The policy is in line with the motion, and we are also launching on Monday the strategy document that will be distributed to the education service for the detailed co-ordination of regional centres and other aspects of microelectronics in schools and colleges.

The programme is enormous. The provision of hardware will be all important. It will be a joint exercise with local education authorities providing the balance of the 50 per cent. funding. With regard to the education authorities, the fears of hon. Members must be allayed, because it is very much an education responsibility as well.

Mr. Neale

I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend yet again. I am well aware of the wide nature of my motion and I regret presenting him with such a wide brief to answer. I touched upon the question of voluntary aid. It is becoming increasingly clear that a larger number of companies are now handing over obsolete equipment to schools. Clearly, this will require further assistance from them to the schools to show them how to use it. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will keep under careful review any inhibition placed upon that voluntary aid by anyone who feels that the current legislation prohibits it?

Mr. Macfarlane

The fact that the phrase "voluntary aid" is there means that the Department of Education and Science cannot intervene and decree what should or should not happen. I am happy that it is largely voluntary. It comes from the parents themselves, and alternative support and finance comes from industry. In my travels and in my dealings with the computer industry in this country, I have found that schools in regions where factories are located seem to do infinitely better than those in other areas. On the other hand, in some cases parents have given old black-and-white television sets to the schools. This provides a very good exercise in design and technology, as they have to be linked up with the handsets. The real purpose of the exercise is to help those schools that have not made such provision so far and to ensure that everybody has an opportunity of understanding it. My hon. Friend feels strongly about the voluntary principle, and this movement comes from within the schools—from parents' associations or however it may be best coordinated—and plays an important part in the life of the school, as indeed it always has.

I turn finally to the review of provision for the 16 to 19-year-olds. This is clearly an important contribution to an all-important age group. Many feel that we should perhaps be talking of an age band from 14 to 19 in some cases. But in this post-statutory period of education there are many problems. I shall not say too much about this, as time is on the wing and other hon. Members are anxious to contribute.

We shall see the most enormous change in the next 10 years. We have already seen the start of change. What is now needed is an open mind as local authorities begin to appraise their post-16 provision. One cannot fail to recognise that since 1971 successive Secretaries of State for Education and Science have approved the principle of the break at 16. The 105 sixth-form colleges and a dozen tertiary colleges, built up throughout the 1970s, have established the principle of the break at 16. I recognise that many tertiary colleges provide a better all-round, wider education, but one must recognise the importance of schools catering for the 11 to 18 age band, and in some areas those schools will remain. It is not for the Government to decree exactly what shall emerge in a given region or local education authority. Suffice it to say that Croydon, for example, has produced a report indicating that its post-16 pupil population will fall by about 40 per cent. by the end of the decade. Clearly, it cannot ignore what will be upon it in no time at all. The problem of small sixth forms will clearly be difficult.

I hope that hon. Members will feel that we have acknowledged some of the important points. I hope that local education authorities will acknowledge that they must now get on quickly and appraise what their post-16 provision will be. Many have already done so. The many who have not begun must now get on with that important exercise.

I conclude by saying that my right hon. and learned Friend welcomed the debate and the topic introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this all-important subject and confirm that the Government are set on the right course. This reinforces our determination to follow all these policies through.

1.19 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I apologise to hon. Members, and in particular to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) because I did not hear the earlier part of the debate. I was particularly sorry to miss the remarks made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), with whom I share past professional responsibility for 16 to 19-year-olds. My professional responsibilities extended over a period of 14 years. I hope that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North will not think it churlish if I comment on the motion. It states its purpose as follows: To call attention to the importance of the school curriculum in preparing young people for work I do not deny that that is an important aspect of the curriculum. However, I hope that the hon. Member will agree that the curriculum is part of a school life that prepares young people for life. I do not minimise the importance of work provided that the community, and in particular the Government, adopt policies that make work possible. If we do not put our objectives in the correct sequence we may sometimes end up with something that we do not want. I do not expect that the hon. Gentleman will disagree, but I thought it right to comment.

Mr. Neale

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Official Report, he will see that I said very much the same thing.

Mr. Spearing

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He may well agree with my next point, which is probably uppermost in people's minds. In the past 10 years or so there has been national concern about the results of our education system, in so far as they can be apprehended by those who wish to employ its products. Education is intangible. Its quality is extremely difficult to measure. All hon. Members will have heard comments from employers on various aspects of the problems involved in employing young people. They cannot be dissociated from the signs of the times or from attitudes for which education establishments are not entirely responsible.

I turn to the Macfarlane report, or, perhaps I should say, the review. In official life we usually refer to reports by giving the name of the chairman or the chairmen. Whether or not the Minister likes it, I fear that the hon. Gentleman is landed with it because of his function in its preparation.

Mr. Macfarlane

I certainly like it. However, I think that it is a little unfair on the other 20 people who took part in this important review group.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman had better wait until I have finished my remarks. My criticism of the report's foreword arose from the suggestion that, together, the Government and the Council for Local Education Authorities should Form a joint group to consider the problems faced by local education authorities in providing for 16–19 year-olds I do not dispute that an administrative review is needed. There are many different types of institution, and that leads to administrative problems. However, we are not starting in the right place. All education and learning starts with the individual.

It would have been healthier if the review had started with the needs of those between 16 and 19 years old. It might then have produced a better administrative review. If the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) or the Central Advisory Council for Education (Wales) had been in existence, it might have had the wisdom to start at that point. Earlier, I pointed out that the Department of Education and Science, in its educational arrogance, was flouting the law. The Prime Minister constantly stresses the importance of maintaining the law. On 22 October 1971 she spoke from the Dispatch Box and refused to implement section 4 of the Education Act 1944.

The right hon. Lady did so on the ground that the section was no longer needed—that if advisory committees of any kind needed to be set up we could whistle them up officially at the drop of a hat from the Department of Education and Science. For example, those whose names feature at the end of the report could be collected by officials and Ministers and made to reply.

That is not good enough. That attitude has besmirched the reputation of the Department and successive Ministers of both parties. The Central Advisory Council, as set up by statute, could bring to Ministers' attention anything that it wished. Adopting the alternative form of advisory structure, which successive Ministers have done, no doubt on advice, has meant that they will investigate only matters that are brought to their attention. There is a big difference.

Mr. Macfarlane

It is clear that the hon. Gentleman feels heated about this problem of the Central Advisory Council. The matter was raised in 1975 by the Select Committee on Expenditure, and the then Government said in reply to its report that they doubted the value of a standing body on a whole area of education.

Mr. Spearing

I have no doubt about that. That is the trouble. Parliament says that there should be such a body. When it considered the 1944 Education Act there was a long debate about the matter. It is the law of the land. What the hon. Gentleman has just said endorses my view. I feel heated because our education problems, including those of young people aged 16 to 19, are due to an air of unreality in our attitude to education—probably not in the House, which wisely put that provision in the Act—but among those not only in the Department but in local education authorities. I do not criticise them as individuals, but, as a classroom teacher with 14 years' experience, I know what I am talking about.

The trouble is that too many chiefs have had too little experience as Indians. That means that many of our education documents and much of our education debate start from the wrong place. It is no wonder the debate often reaches the wrong conclusions.

It would be unreal for the House not to realise the general context in which the education of 16 to 19-yearolds as a cross-section of the community must be placed. Not only is there a great variety of institutions, which we have already heard about; the ages between 16 and 19 are, perhaps, those at which all of us in our time, and all young people to come, are liveliest. Young people then are at their most free, and they have minimum social responsibilities. They have near their maximum discretionary expenditure in relation to later respon-sibilities. It is a time of self-discovery, when a variety of recreation and challenges provide opportunities and alternative attractions to those of full-time education. Futhermore, it is a time when their ideals and attitudes to the world community can be at their best.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves what motivation there is between the age of 16 and 19 for young people to continue in full-time education or to take advantage of day release courses. Anyone at the chalk-face of education—I know that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker—knows that motivation is a key factor in any education process. While the Minister is right to mention the curriculum and to talk about hardware and all the other things that the administrators provide, there is one thing that administrators can never provide—the motivation to learn. Education is not so much about teaching as about learning. Unless one starts from that and takes account of the need for motivation to learn, all our debates, all our reports, and all the things that go on at Queen Elizabeth House may as well not happen.

Dr. Hampson

A great deal of research indicates that the most important motive for learning among young people is evidence that their courses are relevant to work.

Mr. Spearing

I could not agree more. The matter, however, goes wider. It may not simply be a question of work. I suggest that it is life—the mature living of life and not just isolated segments of life. Fortunately, as teachers will know, one of the greatest aids to his art is the curiosity of man. If one can produce or at least uncover innate curiosity, particularly among young people of this age, one is half way towards motivation.

All our organisation and assumptions of the 16 to 19 age group are bounded by the traditional form of education for that group, namely, the grammar or secondary school sixth form. The sixth form is traditionally oriented towards O- and A-levels and all that is associated with them. The point, rightly made by the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), is that O- and A-levels are largely an abstraction of the future and rarely connected specifically with any occupation. One of the great difficulties of teachers is creating proper motivation, other than a wish to earn a higher salary or a supposed wish to earn a higher salary—it does not always work out—for O- and A-levels and, perhaps, repeat O-levels, second time round, for the 16 to 19 age group.

If one has that motivation and a successful A-level set of courses, the educator faces the problem of providing sufficient motivation for all the matters that should be covered in the period of education for 16 to 19-year-olds. I include day release sixth form colleges, polytechnics and secondary schools. The problems are similar because the people are similar. It is difficult sometimes in "successful" grammar or comprehensive schools to get young people to believe in and take notice of periods of their education which may be made compulsory but are not for examination purposes. In the end, they may be the most valuable parts of the course. To get young people to recognise this, if they are sufficiently motivated in O- and A-levels, is sometimes extremely difficult.

A much larger number of people are not taking A-level at all. They are sitting O-level retakes, or some of the new examinations that have proliferated in the last few years. They obviously feel second-class citizens. They feel themselves very much bracketed in the "I" and "They" comparisons. There are also those people in the 16 to 19 age group who are not involved in full-time education at all. We have a pattern of attitudes, I am afraid, that persists from the last century.

The relevance of work has been mentioned. One of the things wrong with the country today can be traced back to a single question. Why was Oundle different? The great independent and private schools that set the pattern for all secondary education in the inter-war period and have also set the pattern of general aspirations for a great deal of the post-war period were founded in the nineteenth century. Only one of them, to my knowledge—it happened really by accident—under its great headmaster, Mr. Sanderson, realised the importance not only of literacy and numeracy but of the ability to manipulate and of the ability to understand scientific and technical matter so that a person became a well-rounded and educated person.

Only Oundle did that. None of the other schools gave it the same importance. I believe that many of our problems today, and perhaps the present psychological hang-ups in the education of the 16 to 19-year-olds, spring indirectly from that source.

Our concern is not just for work. I am glad that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North agrees. Any attempt to test education solely on the basis of suitability for work is not enough. Nor is it enough, by courtesy of large firms or the Prime Minister, merely to spatchcock patchwork attempts to induce an understanding of technical matters. I welcome that, but I suggest that there are many other aspects of education which are more important and which have perhaps been neglected. It just so happens that that need is more visible because of the obvious needs of employers.

The curriculum alone is not the answer. Some people in education remember the personality and vivid words and phraseology of Dr. Lincoln Ralphs—the former education officer for Norfolk. I remember his saying at a conference "Parents want education. Children want education. Do not believe it. They do not want education. They want negotiable erudition". There is a big difference. If we measure education too closely by the requirements of work we are in danger of producing a machinery for the production of negotiable erudition, rather than of education as a whole.

I am not sure that it is the curriculum that is at fault, either. I put it higher. We need an efficient and proper process of total education in the secondary years—roughly the 11 to 19 age group—to produce well-rounded and responsible persons who have a minimum range of skills but are capable of learning for themselves. They need sound mental limbs, but all too often they leave school with crippled limbs, on crutches. As a result, they are never capable of developing or learning for themselves. Some employers complain, not that the skills are not there, but that they are unable to produce facilities that elicit and build on the latent personalities of their employees.

The country has been aware of these matters for some time. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was Prime Minister, he initiated a debate at Oxford. Oxford was not necessarily the right place, but Ruskin College was the right place. He said that there should be a great national debate on all the aspects of education that were causing concern. Then Shirley Williams decided to have a national debate. Unfortunately, unlike the House, she did not pose any questions. We always debate a matter upon a Question. Alas, Shirley Williams, despite promptings, decided to have a great national debate without asking questions. I am not saying that if she had asked questions she would have got a good answer, because the right questions need to be asked, and they never have been asked.

I suggest that we shall not get ourselves right, either in great reports on 16 to 19-year-olds or in pamphlets on the school curriculum—which are limiting and on which I shall not comment—until we develop a proper rationale and system of secondary education as a whole in such a way that it meets the total education and other needs of the community. In my 14 years as a teacher, and in subsequent observation, alas, we have not done that. Unless and until we do, we shall continue to feel dissatisfaction and experience problems with any part of the secondary school age range and with the process as a whole.

The debate has been useful in identifying some of the deficiencies, but they cannot be dealt with unless we look at education in its totality and meet the needs of the individual at the age concerned.

1.42 pm
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

I intend to intervene briefly, partly because other hon. Members wish to speak and partly because, after the all-night sitting, I am in danger of becoming the first Member of Parliament to fall asleep in the middle of his own speech.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) on his introduction of the motion and the way that he presented his argument.

Several hon. Members made their contributions against the background of employment trends and patterns in our communities. It is important that the Department of Education and Science and those in the education service should take steps not only to equip students with new talents and skills but in some way to give them the ability to shape our industry in a positive way for the benefit of this country in the next 20 to 40 years.

I am sure that the reason for the debate was the recognisable need for it after many years of examining the problems facing this country as an industrial community. I share the concern about the need to orientate students in the age group concerned towards vocational courses. It is important to start this process as soon as possible. I am conscious from personal experience and elsewhere of the need to start early. It is important to shape the industrial elements of life at an early age, not as early as the primary level, as one hon. Member suggested, but at about the age of 14, because there is a knock-on effect in education.

The personality of the teaching staff often creates a certain type of curriculum. That will lead a student to choose subjects for O-level examinations which lead to the choice of subjects for A-level examinations and thence to university or the polytechnic. The danger is that, having started in that way, inevitably those who have a bias towards the arts and sciences may find themselves going down an avenue that they may not in later life have chosen to follow. The loss to the community of people with ability in both arts and sciences—especially the sciences—is one that we cannot afford.

It is also important for us to change the attitude of those in education for that reason. It is important that the industrial moguls in our society should be brought into the schools at an early opportunity.

The paper on the curriculum says that the curriculum needs to be related to what happens outside school. In page 18, at paragraph 53, it says that an increasing number of local education authorities and schools have recognised the importance of establishing links between the education service and industry.

I entirely approve of that sentiment. It is important for a number of reasons. For example, it would help to correct the mismatch between those in need of work and those who provide employment. It would also enable the entrepreneurial skills of local business men to be exposed to children at school in order that they can understand and appreciate the problems of industrial life. It would also give students access to places of work and to the high-growth technological industries that are springing up in a number of our communities.

I now refer to the problems of apprenticeship, and not only apprenticeship in the formal sense but apprenticeships in which people are embarking upon a course of work which involves the application and absorption of certain skills. I am conscious that a number of people are not taking apprenticeships not only because there are fewer of them, due to the economic situation, but because they are reluctant to embark on a commitment of perhaps four years, when their contemporaries at school are getting jobs which pay very much better in the earlier years.

It is important that we should accept that a person aged 15 could well appreciate and benefit from being permitted to take part in a course which would take him from the school and place him in the industrial environment. Whilst under carefully controlled conditions, he could absorb some of the academic subjects that he would have taken had he been at school, but also begin to appreciate some of the skills of the craft in which he aims to become qualified. Clearly this would be a way out for students for whom the traditional academic path would not be right.

The first year, or the last year at school, whichever way one views it, thus spent would need to be planned in such a way that the progression from the academic pattern of earlier years to the industrial application of new skills would be gradual. Thus, the variables of an apprenticeship course would be available to a student at an earlier time, and the first year would then count as a contribution towards the completion of an apprenticeship course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) referred to the co-ordination of training among Government Departments. I entirely endorse his views. There is a great need to examine training, especially, but not only, in the Department of Education and Science and in the Departments of Employment and Industry. After all, resources are limited and ought to be spent in such a way as to avoid expensive duplication and to obtain the best results for all concerned. Any coordination of training would necessarily lead to the application and maintenance of national standards. Local training, too, would benefit from the setting of such micro-standards.

I refer finally to the aspect of hardware, software and office aids in schools. A number of schools have access, through the efforts of parents or through local authorities, to the micro technological instruments that are available today. Clearly many schools do not have such access. Many firms from time to time reject and dispose of pieces of equipment which are no longer useful to them. They dispose of them at a book value or notional value and sell them where they can. It might be a good idea to encourage the Treasury to give some tax advantage to firms which present to local schools equipment of that type which can be used to simulate the work place. In that way, the schools would have a variety of equipment which would enable the skills about which we have spoken today to be given to children whilst they are still at school, and thus give them some idea of the sort of skills that they will need when they leave school to commence work.

This has been a most interesting debate.

1.50 pm
Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

The shortage of time requires a major telescoping of the issues. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) made a very telling point when he implied that the great debate had, if anything, been far too great. But that, of course, is the nature of the way in which we organise education in this country.

We ought to pause every now and then to ask ourselves why we do it in that way. Other countries seem to have a different pattern, which is more decisive and more determined in terms of the objectives and the function of education by the decisions of central Government. We ought to ask ourselves whether the British way is the right way.

On the one hand, we see the strength of the system—the partnership—with the freedom to have variety. The converse is the very weakness of the system, with the Department of Education and Science constantly having to review matters, produce documents, have debates and regional conferences and so often repeat the obvious.

Having lived with the system for many years, first as a teacher and then specialising in this place, I end with a very deep sense of frustration. Take two examples: The Secretary of State for Education and Science in the previous Labour Government tried to get teacher-training in-service programmes. There is also the question of unified vocational preparation, which is an experimental pilot programme that we have had since 1976. When are we to make some firm decisions? When are we to decide on the most important actions to be taken?

Clearly one must have broad education, but the pressures to keep expanding the curriculum in all directions are enormous. Surely the time comes when we have to ask what are the real objectives that matter today; whether the balance has been drifting too far in a particular direction and ought to be brought back.

The most important need now facing British education is to grasp and to cope with the tremendous problems arising from rapid technological change, not only in this country but world-wide.

From 1970 to 1978, there was a loss in this country of 600,000 jobs involving limited skills. We shall face an increasing decline of semi-skilled and low-skilled jobs over the next decade. Yet some 3 million young people will leave our schools with next to no skills. That is the crucial issue.

In the wider context, the world manufacturing base is changing very fast. It is constantly requiring new skills and a more mobile work force. Our education system has a critical part to play in that process, but unless it adjusts itself the nation will be the loser. It is, of course, tragic for the people concerned, but we shall also lose as a nation. That is the area on which we have to focus our attention, and it is the task of the Government to set the objectives and to set the pace.

Unfortunately, over the years the DES has shown an incapacity to establish firm goals and an unwillingness, and sometimes an inability—because it has to operate through the rate support grant—to provide adequate action. That is why people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and others say that we need a new structure, a new department of education and training. I have great sympathy with them. But, as has been said in the debate, attitudes are fundamental. People in industry feel that the education world has not been sufficiently attuned to its requirements over the years or to the nature of the work place in general.

In looking at British educational history, one comes to the conclusion that we work in 30-year cycles. This sort of debate took place in the 1870s. It took place again at the turn of the century, and then again in the 1920s. David Eccles tried to revolutionise our technician education—he succeeded to a very great extent—and to make greater vocational provision in the 1950s. Over the last few years we have had the same debate once again.

That is why we need to go far beyond documents such the one on the school curriculum, which is a mere bromide. It has emerged after a great debate which has taken place for five years in a formal sense but which started long before that. It was the Prime Minister who, when she was at the Department of Education and Science, set up the Bullock commission. The document on the school curriculum takes us not one iota further than the Bullock report or the feelings in the early 1970s on science and mathematics. Obviously a firmer line is needed. "Déjá vu" ought to be the slogan emblazoned across the doorstep of Elizabeth House, because we go through the same process time and again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) made a very telling point. We do not want an organisation with people propounding objectives from the centre. I am arguing for a firmer set of objectives in the national interest, but what matters is what happens in the school—what the teachers do, the motivation of the children and the role at the local level of both school and industry. That is why the organisational aspect has to be considered at that level. I am not arguing that structure is everything, but structures often get in the way of progress, and that is most certainly the case today.

In my view, things have not moved sufficiently in some of these areas. It could be argued that it has made tremendous achievements in many parts of the country as schools and local education authorities work to establish links. I pay tribute to all those people who have sat on working committees and liaison committees and who have been involved in all the rest of the apparatus. But we have to ask, with what effect have all these business men sat on all these committees over such a long period? At last my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has set up a review to discover what are the good practices and where we can learn.

Overall, however, my feeling is that we work in a nebulous way—the British way as opposed to the way in which all our competitors work. We really need some sort of instrument similar to the special programmes unit of the MSC. Sad though it is for me, as a teacher, to say it, the MSC has worked so much faster and more competently and has seen action taken at the end of the day far beyond what has been achieved in the education world. We need some sort of local executive arm—some person with authority and resources who can ensure that what is discussed, and the schemes which are devised, have real significance at local level. We must not go on just talking, reviewing and producing paper on the scale that we have.

We need further co-ordination amongst all our areas of education, and not just within the 16–19 programme, which is crucial. We go on, with the YOP scheme and the UVP and all the other schemes, patching up what is essentially a weak building. However, it is not just that of which I complain. It is the way that we relate the different education sectors themselves. The polytechnics and even the universities can play an important part as resource centres for the rest of the system.

In a sense, that comes back to structure, but not in the perverse way that some people seem to believe. Local education authorities seem to imagine that they can have a locally responsive institution putting on courses that local industry wants and meeting the needs of the community only if the local authority owns it. That is nonsense. The faster that the polytechnics are removed from the hands, the whims and the financial fickleness of the local authorities, the better. One has only to visit Robert Gordon college in Scotland, which is funded directly by the Scottish education department, or Crewe, where we have a direct grant institution, to realise that they are doing wonderful work relating to companies, putting on courses that individuals and young people want and meeting the needs of the communities. It does not matter where the money comes from; it depends on the teachers, the staff, the guidance and the creative ability of those who are running the institutions. The nature of the funding—the carrot-and-stick relationship that Governments have to our education institutions—needs a closer look and an overhaul.

We cannot afford time. I come back to my central theme. We have gone through this sort of debate many times in recent political history. It has gone through this on over generations. It even dates from the last century. When I look at other countries and see their successes, I cannot help feeling that there is something wrong with our system. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) spoke about our examinations. We have geared our education system primarily to the country's academic higher education needs, whereas the bulk of our young people do not want, do not need and do not intend to go into higher education. Above all, therefore, we have to ensure that the bulk of our young people, both the secondary school years and linked in a coherent way to the immediate post-school period, have the practical provisions which meet their needs as ordinary people having to cope with ordinary jobs in a world which is changing rapidly and in which, unless we get cracking now, they will be left stranded.

1.59 pm
Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

This is the first occasion that I have had the opportunity to address the House with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the Chair. I echo the support that hon. Members have extended to you. I congratulate you and pray for God's continued blessing on your service in the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) on his good fortune in the ballot. His constituents are well served by him. That is evidenced by the subject that he chose to debate.

The issue is one of the most important facing the country. It covers politics, unemployment, young people and the future of our education system. It is ironic, and a condemnation of them, that members of neither the Liberal Party nor the Social Democratic Party are here to take part in this important debate. They are the people who say that they will form a Government. Their absence is indicative of their enthusiasm for the real issues.

Earlier in the debate we heard a simple pearl of wisdom when it was suggested that mathematics, religious education and physical training should be mandatory features in the school curriculum. On 1 April 1980 I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he would include in his discussions the need for proper provision for religious education in schools. I received an assurance and was told that the position of religious education in schools was covered by the Education Act and the Secretary of State had no plans to change that.

I do not regard the products of our education system merely as people who obtain degrees or not. I regard them as the country's assets. In the same way, I do not look at an engineering company's statement of accounts and believe that its assets are in land or machinery. The assets of an engineering company are people, just as a country's assets are people.

I was delighted when the debate turned to a subject which is close to my heart, since I walked the avenues of the engineering industry for 17 years before I came to the House. If I were granted one wish it would be that the Finniston report should not be allowed to gather dust. Dudley, in the West Midlands, is a metal-based constituency. It is at the heart of Britain's engineering industry. There is a crying need for engineers and for the continual training of engineers.

The role of education is not only to educate. It has been suggested that people should emerge from education "rounded off" and able to take their place in the world, not only because they have qualifications but because they are able to stand in society.

Education is not only concerned with the education of people and the issuing of qualifications, many or few; it is concerned with the moulding of character. Character in young people is lacking in many respects. The motion concludes by saying that there should be closer collaboration between industry and commerce and schools and colleges. If the Minister of State can only grasp that truth, if the educationists can see the future in it and if industry and commerce will accept the challenge, we can have a united education system related to industry and commerce. This magnificent debate will have been well worth while if it produces nothing else but that pearl of wisdom.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, noting the recent Government review of the 16 to 19 age group, urges local education authorites 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.