HC Deb 20 January 1984 vol 52 cc544-606 9.39 am
Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak)

I beg to move, That this House believes that the standards of education in schools are of vital importance to the individual and the nation; and welcomes the proposals of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the curriculum, examinations and teachers as an important contribution to this aim. As someone who has spent some time in recent years teaching in a university, I have learnt at first hand the importance of what happens in schools before students reach higher education. Whatever subject a student may specialise in, he must draw on the knowledge and techniques of other subjects. All higher learning requires a command of one's language to be able to discuss concepts and theories in a precise and detailed way. It is essential that words mean the same to the speaker as they do to the listener. Many subjects, including engineering, economics, physics, psychology and electronics, increasingly use mathematics as a tool of analysis for developing theory and in research and teaching. A grasp of history and of the natural sciences is useful, although not essential, for the study of most subjects.

It is often said that it takes six to seven years to train a doctor, but in fact it takes 20 years in the long process that begins at the age of five and continues through the education system to university and beyond. It is impossible radically to improve the product of our education system without returning to the beginning and improving the process at each stage. That is why I welcome the plans of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, which he announced to the north of England education conference, greatly to raise the standards in schools.

Many people now say that this is the second industrial revolution, with the microchip, the computer and the robot revolutionising production and business methods. Many fear that the new technology will cause mass long-term unemployment. However, it need not do that. The new technology will replace many unskilled jobs, and simple repetitive tasks on production lines will be carried out by robots. However, as technology raises living standards, we shall need more people in education, in the Health Service, in other service industries and in those areas where we shall consume much more than we do now. Man's wants are probably insatiable, at least for the foreseeable future.

The computer, software and multinational companies have changed our industrial society. The most important change is that capital and production techniques are now much more mobile. Lord Nuffield began to build cars in Britain because he was born here, but the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and most large industrial concerns nowadays build factories where production is cheapest, whether that be in Britain, Spain, Taiwan or Korea.

If we are to achieve adequate long-term employment, and if Britain is to remain in the top 20 countries for standard of living, we must justify our earnings. Education is crucial to that task. Education is not simply passed-on knowledge; it produces people who can continue to learn and who can easily be trained, and later retrained, as industries come and go at a faster pace. It is a sad fact that the vast majority of the long-term unemployed—some surveys show as many as 75 per cent.—left school at 16 without qualifications, and have achieved no qualifications since then. The drive to raise standards announced by my right hon. Friend will, if successful, ensure that in future a better qualified work force can adapt more readily to the rapidly changing needs of the job market.

To remain employed in the long term we must be more inventive, better trained, and capable of retraining to acquire new skills. The raising of educational standards is an essential part of a long-term strategy to combat unemployment.

How can we raise educational standards? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set the objective for the education system, but perhaps today he will give us more details as to how the objective should be met. What is the next step? How can we reach agreement with those who work in education and with those who must decide how standards will be raised?

My right hon. Friend spoke about moving towards examinations based on absolute standards. However, it will be difficult to define absolute standards in some subjects. In mathematics one can test students by asking them to solve equations, but in history, philosophy or English literature the definition of an absolute standard will be extremely difficult. If we move towards absolute standards, the curriculum must be reconsidered. Will it be set by the state—from on high at the Department of Education and Science — or will there be scope for variety between courses and for professional judgment by teachers, reflecting their interests, enthusiasms and beliefs about how a subject should develop? We do not wish to force teachers to accept a sterile, uniform programme decreed from above.

In the past, raising the standards of the less able has been achieved by holding back the more able. Will my right hon. Friend make clear how he intends to raise overall standards without falling into that trap? We must raise standards on a wide scale, but we shall still need specialists at the higher levels in electronics, chemistry, mathematics and many other subjects, and we must ensure that raising the standards for the many does not deprive us of specialists.

In order to raise children's standards, we must increase the quality of teacher training and retraining. The goal of raising the standards of the pupil will almost certainly involve raising the standards of the teacher. Can my right hon. Friend outline plans along those lines today?

Parental choice may be a useful weapon in raising standards. Bad schools with bad head teachers, slack discipline and little emphasis on achievement may lose pupils to better-run schools. That is already beginning to happen in some areas. Parents have the right, at least in part, to choose the education that they want for their children and not to have imposed on them the beliefs of a group of teachers or bureaucrats. The Government's moves to improve parental choice will be a great help in this area. However, in some places parental choice is being defeated, sometimes because of genuine problems, but sometimes because of outright opposition to the Government's policy of providing parental choice. In Glossop in my constituency the intake of one major school, which has a high reputation, has been reduced to only one more than the number of children who attend it from its catchment area. In addition, living in the catchment area has become the main criterion for the school to choose who should go there. That means that the parents of only one child in nearby areas can exercise parental choice. Parents have protested about that, as have I, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will use his powers to correct this matter and to ensure that the policy is properly monitored nationwide, since other hon. Members have told me that the problem has cropped up in a few areas.

One problem with raising standards is that it may need more money. We know that there is no direct link between expenditure on education and the achievement of pupils. That is partly because money can be spent inefficiently — on too many administrators, fancy equipment, mahogany balustrades or rarely used video machines. Such things might not raise the standard of education much. It is crucial that money be spent correctly and in a way which strikes the right balance. Nevertheless, whatever studies show, there is inevitably a link between expenditure and achievement in that reduction of class size requires more teachers and classrooms and hence money. Many schools need more books and teaching aids. It is inevitable that they, too, will cost money. My plea is that, as the economy grows out of the recession—as it is now doing—more funds for education should be given the highest possible priority.

If we raise standards in schools it is inevitable that more people will want to go on to higher education. There are two reasons for that. First, I have found when teaching that the student who is most bored with the course is usually the one who has not done sufficient reading or work to discover how interesting the subject is. As standards are raised, more people will take a genuine interest in learning and want to continue the process through higher education. Secondly, as standards are raised, more people will be qualified to go into higher education. We must plan on the assumption of rising numbers of people in higher education. We must also bear in mind the fact that an increasing number of girls now choose to go into higher education, especially universities.

I witnessed the cuts in universities at first hand. Although some good might have come from them, they also did some harm. It might have been important to make those cuts. Many students with good A-level results have been kept out of universities as a result and the entry requirements for many courses have risen. Some less good courses have been cut. That might be a good thing, but some good courses have also been cut. The textile courses at Bradford university, for example, relate to technology, industry and jobs. They train people for the age in which they live. We all know that the British textile industry has been through a bad time, but it is now off the bottom. Almost all the textile companies in my constituency are now expanding and recruiting new staff.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Little of the textile industry is left.

Mr. Hawkins

There might be little left, but it is growing and it has a future. Anyone who believes that the British textile industry does not have a future should talk to Marks and Spencer, as I have done. It believes that the textile industry which remains is highly competitive and keeps up with trends in the rest of the world. The company believes that it pays it to buy 90 per cent. of such goods in Britain.

The Bradford courses' relevance is in line with the Government's wishes with regard to the money which is channelled by the University Grants Committee. Moreover, graduates in those courses are getting jobs. A son of a friend of mine recently completed a textiles course there and was offered six jobs which were relevant to his training. However, the department and the courses are to be closed down. That is not in line with what the Government want or with the way in which the Government want the UGC to channel funds. The UGC might be the Government's instrument for channelling funds, but it seems frequently to aim at its targets with a bent rifle. My right hon. Friend should use his influence to avert the threatened closure of that course, of which I have heard high praise from the many textile companies to which I have spoken.

The Robbins report was completed a long time ago. We need another one. We need a long and detailed examination of higher education in the 1980s and 1990s. It should be independent and have broad terms of reference. It should assess how large higher education provision should be, bearing in mind rising standards, increased female take-up and all the rest. It should examine the difficulties of funding and universities' independence from Government, insofar as that remains. It should also consider the role of the UGC, which has done much good but has not always acted entirely desirably. My right hon. Friend should consider setting up a new Robbins-type committee and avoid any more cuts in universities or the rest of higher education until it has reported.

I am sure that most right hon. and hon. Members agree that education is worth while for its own sake. However, it is also our best long-term safeguard against unemployment. We need it if we are to remain an inventive, skilled, competitive, trained and retrainable nation. That is why I welcome my right hon. Friend's initiative.

9.55 am
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

This is a rare occasion. When I looked at our "Whip" for the week, I saw that the business for today was, "Education: Christopher Hawkins". I did not do so in a routine way, because I am interested in educational matters, but it did not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Later in the week, however, I heard that the Secretary of State would be present, and that elevation of the debate made many of us wonder, "Now what will he say?"

I was present at the north of England education conference, but I did not make my presence known to the right hon. Gentleman. I saw him enter the room and was tempted to go forward and shake him by the hand—the Sheffield press was there—but I restrained myself, as I normally do. I listened to what he said. I was struck by the title of the debate—"Catastrophe or Watershed?" It is obvious that the answer is "watershed", and the right hon. Gentleman gave that answer quickly. However, I wondered why he went to such extremes as to talk of catastrophe.

I have many criticisms of the education system, but I also have much praise for it. To pose the issue as "catastrophe or watershed" is so removed from reality that I wondered what in God's name would happen next. I am sure that the House does not regard the education system as a catastrophe or as moving towards one. However, as the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) said—I congratulate him on his speech — the system needs money. The Secretary of State did not stress that fact in his north of England speech. Rather, he confined himself to asking for higher standards. We all want them, and he mentioned much that would contribute to the attainment of such standards. There can be no doubt that those suggestions will be praised by most educationists, but the right hon. Gentleman did not stress the issue of money.

At the beginning of the Secretary of State's speech I nudged a teacher who was sitting next to me and said that that was what we were looking for. I do not want to be churlish, and I shall therefore quote from the Secretary of State's speech. It reminded me of a few of my experiences. He said: When I came to my present office 28 months ago I knew that schools and teachers had a hard job. Let me now admit that I did not fully realise how hard". That, to my mind, is the beginning of wisdom in education. It happens to all of us. I do not say tht the right hon. Gentleman is unique. I well remember, in my years of teaching young teachers coming into the staffroom in what we in primary schools called play time—I still call it play time, and secondary school teachers nudge me and tell me that it is now called break time—and flopping into a chair. Back in 1969 there was not a single class with fewer than 47 children. We had to teach that number of children and we were told how to act. A new teacher was always told to act like a wise parent. One teacher retorted, "How many wise parents have 47 kids to look after?" The young teacher would flop down in a chair exhausted and immediately think about trying to get into a section of education where the work was not so hard and where he was not just a child minder, but was a teacher.

When we talk about raising standards we must make sure that that is what is really wanted and that it is not just a play for popularity among people who look cursorily at what happens in education instead of looking at the currents below the surface. What the right hon. Gentleman said — and I applaud it — has been said constantly throughout the years in almost every report that has come out—except, that is, for the Black Papers, which are somewhat different from reality.

I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said. It reminded me of various interviews that I had had in the past when I knew, for instance, that the director of education was deeply interested in the Hadow reports. Most of us have forgotten those reports. Of course, they came out a long time ago—I think it was in the late 1920s and early 1930s. There was a series of them. They said almost everything that we are saying now, and some of their proposals have still not been implemented.

I remember the handbook of suggestions which all teachers had in the 1930s. It is still worth looking at. It was permeated with a desire to educate our children. It was a delight to study and we learnt much from it. There has always been a noble section of people who want to develop education further, and I am sure that the hon Member for High Peak is one such person. So, although I am critical of many aspects, I welcome the desire for high standards in education, and I want the wherewithal to advance those standards. I welcome to that camp all people who wish to advance standards in education.

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech when it was delivered, and I have read and reread it. I find many of its aspects intriguing. In a summary, which is in the Library, under the heading "Values", it says: High standards did not turn only on how schools developed personal qualities, skills and competence backed by appropriate knowledge, he said. That means the right hon. Gentleman. Equally important was the role they played in the transmission of values". It goes on to give a quotation. We expect schools to be concerned with the behaviour of pupils and with the code by which the pupils live and to create a model of how people should relate to one another which will guide and fortify their pupils now and later. I believe we are right in thinking this is an important aspect of standards in schools, but the schools are not on their own in this. Parents have a crucial part to play. That is profoundly true. At a time of cuts in education, children are fortunate to have parents in middle and upper class areas who have books available in their homes, who take a real interest in their children's education, and who can donate money. Those parents can aid their children's education in a way that unemployed people and people living in poorer areas of cities cannot do.

Mrs. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

I always get worried when I hear the suggestion that children whose parents have books, records and other material things in their homes are in some way more privileged than those who do not. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a widespread system of public libraries to which every parent can take his children. I hope that the majority of thinking and caring parents take their children there. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that.

Mr. Flannery

I could not possibly agree with that statement. It tells us far more about the hon. Lady's approach to education than about good education. To talk about homes where books are available so that it is not necessary to visit a library, and where the parents are themselves well educated and listen to the children's reading, and so on, and convey the impression that children in such homes do not have a profound advantage over children who come from poorer areas reveals that the inside of a classroom is almost unknown to the hon. Lady. We on these Benches will treat that comment as it should be treated, and that is as an infringement on the real approach to education.

I complimented the right hon. Gentleman when he came to the Select Committee, and on many occasions on the Floor of the House, on producing the HMI's reports. I have never been churlish about praising him for that achievement. I hope that we will all read them, and not only the good parts, but the critical parts. We have to consider the speech against the background of those reports.

The 1981 report, which came out in 1982—one came out last year about the previous year—under the heading "Primary Schools" says: Increasingly when teachers leave they are either not replaced or are replaced by teachers on short-term contracts or by redeployed teachers who may not fit the school's needs in terms of curricula cover or the age and ability range of pupils to be taught. With continuing tight staffing it is difficult for heads to arrange for experienced teachers or those with specialist knowledge to help and advise these and other teachers in their classrooms or for the release of staff for in-service training". That is a major criticism. Every head teacher—of whom I meet many—and every practising teacher says that the education of children suffers from the failure to replace teachers who leave through natural wastage, because they leave to get married, or for some other reason.

There are many other criticisms. The report says, for instance: Another effect of the combination of economic restraint and falling rolls is the deflection of head teachers from their proper role as setters of standards and leaders in curricula and educational matters affecting their schools. This has come about because of reduced clerical assistance, which increases the administrative chores of the heads and increases the teaching load as schools become smaller to the point where heads have to take over permanently a class full time. Let us be quite clear what we are saying when we talk about raising standards. This report shows that there is bound to be a lowering of standards as a result of not having teachers and not having heads who can do the job of a head but have to do more and more classroom teaching.

I stress the criticism of HMI that certain subjects are often regarded as frills in education, but I believe that they are vital. Paragraph 63 of the report states: The economies continue to impinge on swimming, on field studies and instrumental music. The report discusses also the lack of certain types of equipment in schools. I stress the importance of music in schools, because we have heard hon. Members, when discussing education, say that many people regard its provision as a frill. The musical life of our schools is a vital component of education. Teachers, who rightly want to involve parents and show the progress of their children at school, put on many types of shows which take a term to produce and mean hard work for the teacher. There is no overtime in teaching. Just this week I spoke to one teacher who puts in three lunch times a week and spends two nights each week until 6 o'clock—after school hours—teaching students musical and other work. That is dedication, to say the least.

Years ago, the centrespread of The Times Educational Supplement said that there were complaints that difficulties had been caused by a reduction in the number of peripatetic teachers. Those teachers travel from school to school teaching the use of musical instruments and so on. The reduction in numbers caused difficulties in secondary schools in particular, but also in primary schools. I saw the work of those peripatetic teachers, and I was one of those who fought hard for them many years ago. Their employment lifts the life of the school and brings joy to everyone, even those children who are not interested in music.

The provision of swimming classes has been cut in many areas. The latest HMI report talks of the lack of equipment in many schools and states: There were, sadly, unavoidable traces of shortages for art, for craft and design technology, for science and other practical subjects. For the pupils concerned in this, in nearly a fifth of all institutions visited such shortages were serious. Pupils were quite commonly buying at least some of their own materials in art, home economics, needlework and craft and design technology. On the subject of premises, the report states: There has been no further deterioration overall in the state of secondary school premises, but the backlog of necessary repair and maintenance work appeared undiminished. In two thirds of the secondary schools visited the present state of repairs and maintenance of the premises was judged to be satisfactory, but in only one third of LEAs was that assessment made of secondary school premises as a whole. Secondary schools in general were not well placed to meet the demands currently made on them in respect of their general curriculum. They are asked to raise standards across the board to develop a more practical curriculum for pupils of all abilities and to enhance the vocational and technical element. The in-service training of teachers is a vital component in raising education standards. Every hon. Member who is a teacher knows that the more teachers are deprived of in-service training and left in classrooms for life without meeting other teachers and people who can teach them their craft, the more the children suffer and the more standards are endangered. The report states: Although there may have been a marginal improvement in the opportunities for in-service training, much of it, as well as other targeted resources of all kinds, needs to be made available if teachers are to meet the needs of the full range of their pupils and particularly of those who, even with the youth training scheme, are likely to he the least equipped to reach the increasingly demanding standards required for success in the employment market. We must look seriously at education employers. If publicity is directed towards this issue—it usually is—there is a great danger that employers will be treated as though they are HMIs and their opinions on education are somehow those that lead to decisions on what occurs in schools. I and hon. Members who are teachers have fought throughout our lives, tooth and nail, for a good broad general education as a basis for learning for life. If we have a bias towards technological education which militates against a curriculum for a good broad general education, standards will be lowered rather than increased. This aspect must be studied with great care.

There has been a full-scale attack on comprehensive schools. That attack will fail, because the vast majority of Tory parents want comprehensive schools and hate the 11-plus, which they and the Labour party removed many years ago. There have been tremendous achievements in examination results in the comprehensive schools. Opposition Members are the last people on earth to say that comprehensive schools are lovely and perfect, but they are part of a dynamic process on the road to better education. There is nothing static about them. Rather than launch a full-scae assualt on those schools, as many Conservative Members do, we should aim to study what is good and try to improve them.

The abandonment of the 11-plus lifted a cloud from primary schools and allowed a broad general education instead of the previous hammering away at and narrow approach to education in the three Rs which the 11-plus examined. For years, Sir Cyril Burt falsified results and fooled everyone to justify the 11-plus. We should look at what happens when we judge everyone according to intelligence quotients.

The opportunities available to students with good examination results are far from good. Tens of thousands of young people who, after coming through comprehensive schools, have the proper qualifications to enter university are refused entry because not enough money is being spent on the universities. In previous years, such students entered the universities with similar qualifications. Now thousands have not entered university because of a policy of deliberately increasing qualifications to such an extent that the University Grants Committee is almost becoming a Government agency for excluding rather than admitting people to the universities when they have the proper qualifications.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

The hon. Gentleman should say, as, I believe, did my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) who moved the motion, that, while university places have been restricted by a modest number of thousands, the places in polytechnics for higher education have soared. There are now 11 per cent. more students in higher education than when the last Labour Government left office. That is an increase from 400,000 to 450,000 in higher education.

Mr. Flannery

The right hon. Gentleman and I must honourably differ about that, because I do not agree with him.

Sir Keith Joseph

It is a fact.

Mr. Flannery

All these young people do not get into the polytechnics. They go on to the scrap heap and are unemployed. If young people cannot enter the education institution of their choice and become unemployed for years, they are in great difficulty. More children lower down the education system, as well as those who go on to higher education, are not motivated to learn. They say, "Why learn? I shall go straight on to the unemployed scrap heap when I come out of school."

Sir Keith Joseph

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He cannot sustain his claim that large numbers of applicants for higher education fail to find places. The proportion of qualified applicants in higher education is at an all-time record level, at between 88 and 89 per cent. The Government have said that if they become aware of a significant number of qualified applicants failing to find places in polytechnics or universities they will reconsider the number of places available.

Mr. Flannery

The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the bulge that passed through the primary schools many years ago has now reached higher education level. Therefore, as there are more youngsters, more are passing examinations. It follows that more of them should obtain places in higher education — which they are failing to do. The right hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do.

Sir Keith Joseph

I have just explained that the proportion, as well as the numbers, is at an all-time record level.

Mr. Flannery

It is bound to be a record, because there are now more young people with qualifications. But another record is the exclusion of youngsters who should be in university, but have failed to find a place. The problem has been caused, quite simply, by a lack of funds.

I do not intend to detain the House for long, but I must say a few words about the assisted places scheme. While the public sector suffers from cuts in education resources, there is a blossoming private education sector, which can well stand on its own feet. It is a privileged sector for the well-to-do, who have privileges in every direction. Not only do they have the privileges of private education because of wealthy parents, but they have taken public money to expand the private education sector. The HMI reports have said that the public sector is under attack and in urgent need of money to advance its education standards. Therefore, it is a contradiction to talk about the raising of standards while not talking about raising the resources available to the public sector. If we must work exclusively within the resources available, our education system will find itself in great difficulty.

The Government must realise that we all want higher and higher standards. The dynamic approach to education embodied in the Labour party programme has meant higher standards and more children passing examinations. But the machinery that we established to advance those standards is now under attack by the Government. It is hypocrisy for the Government to talk about raising standards, while not being prepared to provide more resources for the public sector, even though they are providing money for the assisted places scheme in the private sector. I hope that as a result of the debate the Government will now put more money into education in Britain.

10.23 am
Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I agreed with some, although not all, of what he said.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) on winning the ballot, on the subject that he chose and on the content of his speech. He made an excellent start to a debate that refutes the argument sometimes floated around the Chamber that we do not have sufficient debates on education and that the Government should provide more time for that. My hon. Friend has carried out the Government's role and provided the House with time. As it is almost 40 years since the late Lord Butler's Education Act 1944 reached the statute book, we are holding the debate at an appropriate time. Britain has a locally administered national education service, which immediately places restrictions on what central Government can do.

An important question is how soon parents should begin to prepare their children for primary and nursery schools. A recent interesting survey in the London area shows a strong difference of opinion between parents and teachers. The survey was published in The Times Educational Supplement, and covered 200 parents and 31 teachers of 277 children attending 33 infant schools in London. The article stated: One in four of the reception teachers interviewed said that they flatly disapproved of any attempt by parents to teach academic skills to children under the age of five. It continued: Overall, teachers were firmly opposed to parents teaching their children arithmetic. The parental view was wholly contrary, and the article stated: Seven in 10 say they have prepared their children for school by teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. We are trying to achieve co-operation among nursery schools—which are not universal in Britain—and pre-school playgroups—which are also not universal, but just as good—and infant schools. We must consider whether there is a case for more consultation among reception teachers, parents and pre-school groups before a child begins school. Although I accept that resources are limited, anything that can be done to bridge those gaps would be beneficial.

A great deal of the debate has focused on what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his excellent speech in Sheffield at the beginning of the month. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak spent some time discussing it. I also wish to refer to one or two points in my right hon. Friend's speech. On the subject of post-16 schooling, he said: I shall shortly be discussing with those concerned the proposal to supplement A level courses with the study of the other subjects, also leading to a recognised qualification, which will broaden the curriculum of those who aim for A level and beyond. I believe that my right hon. Friend was referring to what has become known as the I-level examination, which will run alongside A-levels. We need to know which subjects will be covered by the new examination, and how universities will adapt their entrance qualifications when the examination comes into being. I understand that universities want the examination to be offered in core subjects such as maths and modern languages, while my right hon. Friend may prefer to confine it to a narrow range of subjects that contrast with, rather than complement, the main subjects studied by sixth formers.

The I-level examination immediately raises the question that universities have been considering of whether we are moving towards a two-year degree course.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will not the hon. Gentleman express a little caution about the I-level examination—which some people call the "I-level grill"? As O-levels are taken at the end of the fifth year and A-levels at the end of the upper sixth year, if I-levels are taken in the lower sixth year there is a danger of imposing a great strain on youngsters who will have to sit three sets of examinations without having the benefit of one summer period when they do not have to sit examinations and worry about the results.

Mr. Madel

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is early days.

If the new examination comes into being, it will open up the question how many teachers will be needed in particular schools and whether those teachers will need new skills. There will be a broader curriculum up to a standard higher than O-level.

As I have said, there is also the question of our possibly moving towards two-year degree courses in universities. On 23 December 1983 The Times Educational Supplement reported Professor Willian Wallace of Glasgow university as saying at the biannual conference of the Association of University Teachers that a two-year degree course was no degree at all. He appeared to have considerable support for his view.

A host of problems will be thrown up by the I-level examination, not only for schools but for universities, if the time taken to acquire a degree is altered.

Technical education has been mentioned. Belgium, one of our continental neighbours, has a major scheme under way. The Belgium Government have given themselves nine months to make a major change in the technical education offered to young people. The major reforms which I understand they are bringing forward are more effective training workshops within the schools, the incorporation of existing apprenticeships into the education system and a sandwich course option for 16 to 18-year-olds in industry. Indirectly, that Government appear to be raising the school leaving age still further. The nearest we have to that is the rapid development of the technical and vocational education initiative. That all points to the type of partnership to which we can look forward between the education service and the Manpower Services Commission, because during the past two years the MSC has become more involved in the education service.

The MSC has the money to become more involved, and, given what our continental partners are trying to do, I hope that we can move towards a more lasting partnership and more co-operation between education and the MSC in what will be offered in the last years of school and immediately after school. In relation to that, there has been an interesting educational development in the youth training scheme. I stress the education side of it, because I realise that, the debate is not about the YTS. It has been found that because the time limit for courses in colleges of education has been reduced from six months to 13 weeks, the 32,000 places that it was thought would be filled have dropped to 20,000. If that time had not been reduced, perhaps more young people would have taken advantage of what had been planned and offered. As it will not be possible for all young people to have jobs when they finish YTS, we may need to strengthen the educational element of that scheme.

The role of training, education and co-operation between the MSC and the Government is exceptionally important. I hope that we can learn from overseas what can be done with future co-operation.

I want to deal with curriculum development and teacher co-operation. I thought that at the heart of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at Sheffield was his desire for changes and improvements in the curriculum and increased teacher co-operation, without which, of course, one could not have improvements in the curriculum.

The outgoing Select Committee during the last Parliament touched upon three particular points in its report on the curriculum. We first thought that there should be greater provision within a revised system for senior teacher posts within the classroom. We felt that that would stop classroom drift of capable teachers into administration. Secondly, we felt that there should be a review of the comparative impact of salary structures on schools of different sizes. It was felt that the present system gave large schools an advantage because the average size of schools will become smaller as time goes on. As we look at falling school rolls and the number of surplus places, I think that the Government should consider urgently what we said about salary structures.

Thirdly, we felt that there should be a greater sharing of teachers and facilities and a movement of teachers among schools, particularly at sixth form level, in language teaching, use of scientific laboratories, and careful management of the timetable. We felt that that would improve the curriculum. That has become more urgent in January 1984 than December 1981, when we reported, because of the fall in school numbers and the range of problems that that produces for the sixth form.

What we also said about the Secretary of State's role in the curriculum was contained in recommendation 54 of the Select Committee report: The 1944 Education Act should be amended in such a way as to give the Secretary of State powers to intervene in circumstances where a nationally agreed guaranteed provision appears to be at risk. The Government said in May 1982 that they did not agree with that recommendation. They said: The Committee appears to take 'a nationally agreed guaranteed provision' as embracing a national minimum standard both for the provision of educational facilities, and for c overage of the curriculum. That was all very well at that time, but I feel that what my right hon. Friend said at Sheffield has rather overtaken that answer. On page 15 of his speech he said: For this year I can see a number of stepping stones along our way". He went on to talk about. the formulation of a curricular policy in each LEA for pupils of all abilities and aptitudes". He finished that paragraph by saying and I continue to ponder ways of increasing the influence of parents. My view is that the way to increase the influence of parents and do the things about the curriculum to which my right hon. Friend referred at Sheffield is to reconsider the Select Committee's recommendation 54 to see whether there should be an amendment to the Education Act 1944 to enable the Secretary of State to intervene more directly in the curriculum.

As I said, it is 40 years since the 1944 Act went on to the statute book. There must be changes to it in relation to the Secretary of State's powers because they would be for the benefit of those who work in the education service and those who need to extract the maximum benefit from it. I believe that everyone accepts that we do not have unlimited resources, but with so many rapid changes in technology, with the role of the Manpower Services Commission, and much greater parental interest in the curriculum, the time is now ripe for changes in that 1944 Act, following what my right hon. Friend said at Sheffield. I hope that we can make those sensible changes in this Parliament.

10.37 am
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) on the persuasive way in which he moved his motion on this important issue. Like all hon. Members who have so far spoken, I very much welcome a great deal of what was in the Secretary of State's speech at Sheffield. It articulated many of the worries about the future of education, which are widely felt regardless of political position. However, like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), I am sceptical about whether the objectives can be achieved and whether they conflict with other Government policies, notably rate capping, to which I will return.

I shall pick out the specific items which I particularly welcomed. I start with the reference to the need to raise the achievements across the entire ability range. That is something comparatively new for this Administration. In the past, Secretaries of State have concentrated upon the top 10 per cent. or the bottom 40 per cent. If I might make a gentle political point, that kind of emphasis is welcome to the Social Democrats because we stated it clearly in our 1982 education policy document. We said: the great stride forward in educational standards we are seeking —will need a raising of expectations at all levels. … After the great Education Acts of 1870 and 1944 there were similar great shifts in popular expectation, and history indicates that when we do upgrade our expectations of levels of achievement. people respond by doing better. Secondly, I was pleased that the Secretary of State recognised that the present system of what we call in this awful jargon "norm-referenced examinations" is damaging the motivation of large numbers of pupils. That is another breakthrough.

There is a general view that because examinations assess entrants not by an absolute standard but by their performance in relation to others, and reserve the accolade of "academic" to only one quarter of the age group, the rest are led to have a poor opinion of their capabilities and tend to write themselves off as educational failures, whatever their other talents may be. That is a problem, particularly in the inner urban areas. Since I still have one child at a comprehensive school and the other has gone through a comprehensive school, I also welcome what the Secretary of State said about the importance of teacher quality. In-service training for teachers, based firmly on classroom experience and observation of best practice, is a major priority.

I am glad that the Secretary of State acknowledged that academic standards have risen over the past decade. However, that improvement has been accompanied by increased resources associated with the raising of the school leaving age and comprehensive reform. If there were a proper system of educational maintenance allowances and a widening of educational opportunities after the age of 16, there would probably be another improvement in standards. The Secretary of State also referred to a sensitive issue—the problems of the inner urban areas. I welcome that, and I shall return to it in more detail.

Finally, I welcomed what the Secretary of State said about the need for partnership in tackling education problems and his frequent reference to all the partners in the service, including parents, teachers and local education authorities. Again, I shall make a gentle political point. The Social Democratic party said in its 1982 policy document: Education has been in the past and should continue to be a shared responsibility between national and local government and the educational institutions. This is right because education is both a national resource and a personal and individual service. The notion of partnership must be restored". Having welcomed many of the objectives set out by the Secretary of State, I must now point out that there were some considerable inconsistencies between what he was aiming at and the real policies of the Government. For example, if the emphasis is on improving standards, particularly in the inner city areas, how can that objective be achieved when the Government are legislating to remove large sums of money from inner city education systems?

In the area that I know best, the inner London education area, the Government's target figure is over £100 million below the present spending levels of the inner London education authority. Is the Secretary of State seriously suggesting that such a cut should be made in spending on education in inner London, or that it could be made without seriously undermining standards, which he seeks to improve?

Sir Keith Joseph

indicated assent.

Mr. Cartwright

Then I must tell the Secretary of State that his approach will be examined with great care in inner London, on a non-political basis. One of the interesting things about the campaign to defend the ILEA is that it is not the sole preserve of the trendy Left. The Secretary of State should be under no illusion about that. He should distinguish between those who lead the ILEA and its consumers and its supporters among the general public. Already we are beginning to see a repeat of the campaign waged in 1962 and 1963, which led to the formation of ILEA. It prevented the Government from breaking up the old London county council education committee and established ILEA as a uniform inner London education authority.

ILEA is not a perfect body. I do not approve of all its spending priorities. However the spending cuts that the Secretary of State is talking about would do massive damage to the quality of education in inner London. If we are talking about spending levels in inner London, we must recognise that high spending reflects to some extent the major problems in that area — the higher costs of teaching and non-teaching staff, building costs and so on, and particularly special needs. It is worth recalling what Her Majesty's inspectorate said in its 1980 report on the ILEA: The Authority is faced with problems of a type, range and complexity unmatched in other LEAs and any assessment of its performance should take account of the circumstances in which it operates. That is the most important point about spending by ILEA.

It is hard to understand the logic of the Secretary of State's attitude towards resources. His lofty thoughts about standards when he spoke in Sheffield contrasted uneasily with what he said in Leeds a few days later, when he called for further cuts in local education authority expenditure. I cannot emphasise too strongly the extent to which rate capping is a disaster for education.

The Secretary of State may want partnership with other education interests, but he appears to be excluding them in a number of ways. For example, why has he reserved to himself all the appointments on the new Secondary Examinations Council and the new body to consider the curriculum, with no nominations invited from other bodies? Why did he fail to recognise in his speech at Sheffield that the pioneers of his new initiative were the local education authorities? For example, the idea of criterion-referenced testing was pioneered by two such different authorities as ILEA and Oxfordshire—a hard Tory authority on the one hand and a far Left Labour authority on the other. One does not have to approve of the political stance of either to recognise that sensible innovation is more likely to come from officers and councillors close to the grass roots than from national politicians or Whitehall mandarins.

If the Secretary of State is so keen on partnership, why has he failed to restore the Central Advisory Council, which the Education Act 1944 intended to be a forum for national debate and a source of advice for the Secretary of State? We can all recall the famous reports such as Crowther, Newsom, Plowden and Robbins, all CAC reports and all extremely influential. If the Secretary of State is so keen on the participation of parents in the discussion of curricular reform and the raising of standards, why has he not acted more vigorously to implement the Taylor report, which would give parents greater representation on school governing bodies?

Therefore, although I very much welcome the objectives set out in the Secretary of State's speech in Sheffield, I look forward with great interest to his explanation of how they are to be achieved against the background of massive expenditure cuts.

10.47 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), although he was off target in some of his attacks on the Secretary of State, who is widely acknowleged to have achieved more in recent weeks in bringing together the educational world in its drive towards higher standards and getting schools together than almost all his predecessors. I do not say that fulsomely; I mean it.

It was also a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who was a fellow professional in the teaching world and served with me on the Select Committee. However, he went seriously astray in his figures on higher education. It is important to get them right. There are 11 per cent. more people in higher education, or degree courses in polytechnics and universities, than in 1979. One must acknowledge that.

I join those who paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins), who tabled this excellent motion and who had the good fortune to come top in the ballot. The hon. Member for Hillsborough must know from his professional days that one of the great difficulties in teaching is to handle that most difficult pupil, who used to say when jobs were easy, "I do not need to work, as I shall get a job anyway," but who now says, "I do not need to work at school because I shall not get a job anyway." That is the pupil who poses such challenges to the teaching profession but who may well be touched by my right hon. Friend's initiative.

The hon. Member for Hillsborough spoke of 47 children in a class. In those days the teachers did a wonderful job, as they do now.

Mr. Flannery

I was exhausted.

Mr. Greenway

I am sure, although it is very difficult to imagine the hon. Gentleman being anywhere near exhausted. However, we now have the best ever pupil-teacher ratio, and that should be acknowledged.

The effect of my right hon. Friend's speech on school morale and on the morale of the whole educational world has been tremendous.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House any evidence from teachers that the Secretary of State's speech has raised morale? When I talked to teachers about it last week and this week, they all said that the major problem is that there is no money and that they cannot operate without resources. The speech has not raised their morale. It has further disillusioned them, because once again they have been asked to do the right things without having the tools with which to do them.

Mr. Greenway

I shall produce the evidence at once. I am in and out of schools almost every day, and in the last 10 days teachers from three schools have told me how encouraged they are by my right hon. Friend's speech. The secretary of a major public examining board telephoned me on Wednesday morning. He has been secretary of that board for 20 years, and in education for longer than that. He said, "We now have the finest Secretary of State that we have had in the sense of someone who is giving detailed thought to what we are trying to do—and please tell him that." I tell it publicly to my right hon. Friend.

I have been for 20 years and remain a public examiner at O-level, A-level and CSE level. I see many English essays which pupils write and they do not change very much. Last year I marked the essay of a girl who wrote, in response to a question inviting her to see herself in 10 years time, "My children will never be bossed about as I have been and go through all the hell that I have been through. They will be able to do whatever they like so long as they obey all the rules."

One other happy side effect of my right hon. Friend's initiative will be better motivation of pupils, and that should lead to better discipline in schools. Nothing has been said in the debate so far about discipline in schools. It is essential to improve school discipline dramatically in many areas. All children should receive equal treatment, whatever their background, colour, religion or anything else, in school discipline. Where there is unequal treatment for some groups in schools there is unhappiness. As Lord Scarman said of society, if special treatment is given to one group it creates inequality, which produces its own backlash, so that must be watched.

I particularly welcome, from my own point of view and that of the nation, my right hon. Friend's emphasis on values. Sound religious education in schools is central to a sound school ethos. I hope that there will be much stronger emphasis on providing more suitably qualified teachers of religious education than we have at present.

The ideas expressed in my right hon. Friend's speech, when converted into practical steps, will make it easier for schools to be more effective. His emphasis on improving the standards of all pupils is most helpful. Some previous comments by my right hon. Friend have tended to focus on low-achieving or high-achieving groups. His speech to the north of England conference, emphasising achievement for all pupils, is likely to encourage teachers dealing with the majority of pupils, and that is its great strength.

The principal ideas in the speech concerning assessment and recording of achievement are being developed by different local education authorities often in conjunction with examining boards, as in the case of Oxfordshire and the ILEA, and I pay tribute to those LEAs for this.

The speech clearly put down a hard marker — although it was not spelt out—against mixed ability teaching, save by the most gifted teachers, and there are not so many of them. There must be an emphasis in future—we have not had it hitherto—on setting pupils into that stream in the school in which they are best able to travel. That is very important and I hope that it will come out of the exercise.

In his speech my right hon. Friend mentioned absolute standards. Laudable as that concept is, the advancement of knowledge, even in the physical sciences, makes the identification of absolute standards somewhat improbable, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak said in moving the motion. The difficulties of obtaining such a standard within the area of aesthetics are obvious. Furthermore, the work by the Government's Assessment and Performance Unit in measuring standards over time demonstrates that there are many statistical problems in such work.

However, a move away from the current norm-based examination system, in which roughly the same proportion of examination candidates gain the same proportion of grades each year, to a criterion-based system, in which the educational levels of each grade are clearly defined and can be vigorously assessed, is to be warmly welcomed. Such a system is much more likely to gain the confidence of parents and the understanding and total appreciation of employers. It could be applied to the development of regular graded assessments, and that is one of its great strengths.

The second major idea in the speech concerned the curriculum on offer in secondary schools. My right hon. Friend's four criteria for what should be in the curriculum—breadth, relevance, differentiation and balance—are most helpful, although they leave open several questions.

With regard to breadth, while it is beneficial for pupils not to drop important subjects at the start of examination courses, the speech is unclear on how to deal with pupils who perform badly in some areas of learning and are much more competent in others. I always found that problem very challenging professionally. Should such pupils be forced to continue their least successful subjects? While courses are organised along current lines there is only limited time available, and I appreciate that choices have to be made.

My right hon. Friend argued that subjects should be relevant to the real world—we would all echo that—that they should be practical, and that technical and vocational subjects should have a proper place. That is in line with much educational thinking. It does, however, somewhat beg the question of who is to define relevance—the Secretary of State, the local education authority, the head teachers and governing bodies of schools, the parents, or pupils themselves.

Differentiation between schools raises questions for local education authorities with comprehensive systems. Differentiation between abilities raises questions about the validity of assessment of ability. Experience such as the social education courses used in the 1970s for low-achieving pupils suggests that the provision of a different course—no matter how good—for groups of pupils can lower the motivation of those concerned.

However, differentiation between individuals, making use of computers and individual programmes and drawing on the schemes of graded assessment currently being developed jointly by LEAs and examination boards, is to be encouraged and has been outstandingly successful.

As my right hon. Friend argues, balance is essential. However, without consensus, agreement on balance may be difficult to achieve. My right hon. Friend wants a consensus to develop between all partners in the education service, those whom it serves and those who pay for it. That is so right. That consensus would be very helpful to the education service, because of the greater teamwork that it would encourage. However, no permanent forum exists to bring together different views. Is this the time to propose a national forum for regular educational debate? Does my right hon. Friend think that such a forum is desirable? It could bring together the Secondary Examination's Council, the Curriculum Council, parents, LEAs and teachers.

My right hon. Friend referred to the quality of teaching. That is clearly vital and has been discussed in detail in recent reports. The idea of an accreditation council for initial teacher training is helpful and the encouragement of a teachers' council, modelled on the associations of other professions, would also be helpful. It has been successfully achieved in Scotland and I believe that my former profession would set very high standards for its members, which would benefit everyone.

My right hon. Friend did not develop the question of in-service training. No matter how effective initial training may be, a complex society will also require an investment in the continued development of teachers' skills and knowledge. However, having stressed the value of inservice training, I have to say that I know from my long experience that all too often the wrong teachers are sent on in-service training courses. Often they are the teachers who are not much use to the school and can easily be spared. I could give any number of examples.

The people who most deserve such training often do not get it, because they are vital to their schools. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of providing sabbaticals every seven or 10 years to allow teachers, however valuable they may be to their schools, to attend in-service training or refresher courses, as they have done for generations in universities. Why should school teachers not have the same privilege?

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

When the hon. Gentleman reconsiders his comments, he will realise that he has implied a slur on the professional competence of teachers who go on in-service service training courses. I know from my experience in teaching that it is often the keenest, most enthusiastic, imaginative and creative teachers who attend such courses. In-service training courses involve considerable extra unpaid work for teachers.

Mr. Greenway

I do not accept that for a moment. There is no slur on any member of the profession. I did not say that no excellent teachers go on in-service training courses. I said that too often teachers who are not pulling their weight or doing the best jobs in schools are most easily spared to attend such courses. The hon. Gentleman can ask any teacher who has been involved in the hard slog for any time and he will be given the facts. The teachers who attend in-service courses in their own time are often the very best teachers to whom the hon. Gentleman referred and, of course, some of those teachers go on courses in school time as well.

My right hon. Friend's generous acknowledgment that he had underestimated the difficulties facing teachers, particularly in inner cities and other difficult areas, has been welcomed in the education service. In urban LEAs, the proportions of pupils with backgrounds of disadvantage—as documented in the publications of the National Children's Bureau — are high. Added to that, the incresed number of pupils whose parents no longer live together and the high percentage of pupils coming from homes where English is not the main language pose serious educational problems for teachers. My right hon. Friend's acknowledgment of that is much appreciated.

It is unrealistic to think that standards can be raised without resources. We shall all support my right hon. Friend in his battles to get a suitable redistribution of existing resources and to hold on to resources that may be earmarked for other purposes as a result of falling rolls.

My right hon. Friend's speech has provided clear direction for the education service. It remains for the partnership to which he referred to be strengthened and for the practical proposals implicit in his words to be developed. If that can be achieved, society, including those in the education service and those who pay for it, will have cause to be grateful.

11.7 am

Mr. Sean Hughes (Knowsley, South)

The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) praised the Secretary of State's speech on the raising of standards in which he spoke of objectives that would be important and realistic, but not tomorrow or next year, but over the kind of longer period in which educational advance has always had to be measured. I do not decry long-term objectives, but the Secretary of State's speech and the motion fail to recognise what is happening in some LEA areas. They do not realise that areas such as mine need immediate action.

The Secretary of State asserted that he could confidently claim that the more examinations can measure achievement in absolute terms, the clearer the objectives will be for those who teach and follow examination courses and the easier it will be to movitate pupils to attain higher absolute standards by a proper acknowledgement of what they can do. But that does not necessarily follow, especially where the pupil's interest is not directed towards his work under any circumstances, because of his social background, lack of commitment to the purpose of the objectives and so on.

Conservative Members, including the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, consistently underestimate the crisis in education. Biddy Passmore wrote an article in The Times Educational Supplement on 16 December last year entitled "Class greatest exam influence". She wrote: the overwhelming factor in exam results achieved by pupils in the 96 English education authorities is the social composition of the area. Factors considered in the Department of Education's analysis that formed the basis of that article included the proportion of children in households the head of which was unskilled or semi-skilled, children in families with four or more children, pupils receiving free school meals, the proportion of non-manual heads of household, 16 to 18-year-old population density, the population density of all age groups, and unemployment. That is one of the reasons why I could not disagree more with the intervention of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery).

Sir Keith Joseph

In its report, The Times Educational Supplement was leaning, correctly, on the statistical bulletin just issued by the Department of Education and Science, explaining factors that the hon. Gentleman has rightly emphasised. These are, alas, no surprise, but part of the problem.

Mr. Hughes

I shall be developing this point.

The Secretary of State spoke in terms with which I can agree, which shows how reasonable I am. He said: Achieving our aims — to develop the potential of every child and, as a nation, to prosper in a free and fully employed society—depends much on the effectiveness of our schools. Of course it should. He went on: Far too many pupils do not enjoy the stability and support of a good home or the advantages of an environment in which their development can blossom as it should. I agree with that, and that is a point that I shall develop.

The Secretary of State continued: They have to prepare pupils for work at a time when jobs are often hard to get. The Secretary of State can say that again — in my area there is 62 per cent. youth unemployment and only 10 per cent. of last year's school leavers achieved permanent jobs. What are the Government going to do to offset the disadvantages in education experienced in areas such as mine?

Let me give an example. Some 19 per cent. of my borough's exam entrants in 1983 failed to get any qualifications. Nationally, the figure was 12 per cent. of school leavers. My borough achieved 6.5 per cent. of school pupils with one A-level or more in 1983 and the national average was 16 per cent. My borough had 4.4 per cent. of school pupils with two or more A-levels and the national average was 13 per cent.

To talk in terms of improving educational standards is meaningless in areas such as mine if the Secretary of State is not prepared to discuss the allocation of new resources. How can areas such as mine attract teachers of a high calibre and ensure that specialist teachers are prepared to work there? I have spent 13 years teaching in large comprehensive schools. I am aware of the dedication and professionalism of many of our teachers, but they are only human beings and they need to see that society is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. I am aware that throwing money at a problem does not solve it, but denying resources exacerbates it.

The motion is not enough, and nor is the speech by the Secretary of State, despite the excitement that he later demonstrated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough emphasised, that speech was entitled "Catastrophe or Watershed". I hesitate to use emotive or dramatic words—

Sir Keith Joseph

I have now been given the chance, I hope, to demolish the assumption that that title was mine. It was a title chosen by the hosts of the conference, to which I was responding.

Mr. Hughes

I did not say who was the author of the title, but that was the title of the speech. The lively language in the speech — I take it — was from the Secretary of State, but that cannot disguise the absence of the resources needed by areas such as mine. There is a crisis of education and there always has been in some areas, and that crisis is nothing to do with the development of the comprehensive school, but is to do with the deterioration of the quality of life in many of our deprived areas. When the Secretary of State says: The curriculum should be relevant to the real world arid to the pupil's experience of it I wonder whether he knows what the real world is for many of our pupils. For many, the real world is one in which a pupil sees his big brother or sister lying in bed when he goes to school preparing to face another day of crushing boredom. It is an anonymous, boring estate, with houses that may be overcrowded or in need of repair, without any facilities for homework, reading or even private thought. The real world is one in which a book is never read and in which what society deems as the finer experiences of civilisation are never enjoyed. It is one in which there is no ethos of education.

When the Secretary of State says: There would be a further gain if defined curricula objectives were not only broadly agreed by all and so on. While I obviously agree, I have to ask whether he appreciates the enormity of the task in those few words. I am not one to shy away from such a task simply because of its Herculean nature, but I know that, unless the Government give clear evidence of their commitment of resources to areas of educational deprivation, those words will remain words.

When Conservative Members speak of values, they must not presume that some objective set of values can be transmitted anywhere as if all schools were surrounded by green fields or pleasant, semi-detached surburban residences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough stressed, schools should seek to transmit the values that we as a society uphold, and the code of discipline without which we cannot operate. However, let us not pretend that schools can tackle problems of delinquency, vandalism or whatever in isolation. Unless we take positive steps to prevent it, deprived areas will be characterised by deprived schools. Unless we are prepared to tackle the totality of deprivation, the Secretary of State's ambitions for the service, many of them new, will have about as much meaning for areas such as mine as the Prime Minister's comments that we have all experienced a rise in the standard of living.

11.17 am
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

All who are concerned with education, whether they are parents, teachers, pupils, taxpayers or indeed employers, will welcome the fact that education standards and the curriculum are now matters of public debate and not restricted to educationists. Many have grave misgivings that so much money is spent in our schools and so little, in education terms, is apparently achieved. My experience in inner London suggests that there are many children in our schools who are frustrated when they are there. They are not stimulated and get little challenge from what is on offer. They are only too keen to embark on the outside world, but they arrive there to find that school has ill-equipped them for life outside. There is a general feeling that the curriculum is unsatisfactory and that standards need looking into. That is why I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate.

My active involvement in politics and the beginning of the path that led me to Westminster started some 15 years ago at a parents' meeting. It was a mixed locality in the inner city. There were prosperous homes and deprived ones. There were skilled and unskilled parents, and those whose heads were in intellectual clouds. There were some of us somewhere in between.

During the discussion about what would happen to our children when they left that primary school and proceeded to their future educational destinations, there was an interjection by one of our perhaps unskilled parents whose home was not, I imagine, stocked with books, records and pictures. He said in forthright and unequivocal terms that he was extremely dissatisfied that his 11-year-old daughter could not read and write properly and could not do her sums. With a look of withering charm, the headmistress explained that things were different today from what they might have been in his day; that children were not forced to learn these subjects but were led to them and allowed to come to know them and learn at their own speed. Having demolished him, she turned back to exchange views on current educational theory in trendy educational jargon with the remainder of the intellectual group whom she had gathered around her.

I was extremely disturbed by the incident. I failed to intervene then, but I recognised that the school was failing that girl and that something needed to be done about it. There needed to be a challenge to educationists' views. In London there had been far too much reliance upon the educational theory propounded by educationists. The tommy-rot which was apparent there at that time has developed over subsequent years to produce a very unsatisfactory state of affairs in inner London today.

I was interested in the contribution of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). While welcoming—with some restraint, I thought—the idea of a debate on these problems, he suggested that there were some academic no-go areas which could not be questioned, among them the sanctity of comprehensive education. In my view, this needs to be questioned. Some children do very well in comprehensive schools, but I suggest that for others they are entirely unsuitable.

Mr. Flannery

I could not possibly say, and nor could my words be construed as saying, that comprehensive schools were somehow a no-go area. In my opinion, they should be subjected to a quite rigid examination, like the rest of education. I said that comprehensive schools were part of a dynamic in education, would develop steadily and should be examined within that context.

Mr. Bowden

I accept the hon. Gentleman's intervention in the terms that it was made, but my suggestion is slightly different. Whether we should have comprehensive schools universally is open to debate. In London, if a child has an aptitude for and an ability in music he or she can be directed towards a school which specialises in it. If a child has an aptitude for what might be termed an academic subject, there is no such opportunity. I find that extraordinary. There is selection in London's comprehensive schools, but it is not based on a rational principle of aptitude and ability. It is based on an irrational formula of banding. That is where the absurdity exists or where many of the unfortunate consequences exist. That is why it should be questioned.

From comprehensive schools we move immediately to comprehensive classrooms and the problems of mixed ability teaching in those classrooms. Perhaps some children thrive in mixed ability classes. In many cases there is evidence that the bright child is frustrated, that the average child is perhaps taught adequately but that for the dim child mixed ability teaching can be disastrous. That takes me back to the school to which I referred at the beginning of my speech. I do not suppose that the girl in question was particularly bright, but that school was failing her in a way that no education system should allow.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I have always understood that the Conservative party was enthusiastic about the individual. Surely the task of the teacher is to teach each child individually. How the children are lumped together should not be relevant to that. What is important is that the individual child is taught. The difficulty with streaming is that too often the teacher does not teach the individual child any more. Instead, he teaches a collective group. That is the mistake. I accept that both systems can be operated badly, but the primary function of the teacher is to teach the individual child and not to try to teach groups of children.

Mr. Bowden

We may well disagree about the practicalities of that. A very good teacher could teach a mixed ability class with some skill so that all his pupils achieved something from it. But, alas, we do not have many very good teachers with that skill. It is infinitely easier to teach children at a similar level in a subject— not to make a judgment about them as persons, but to bring out the best that they have to offer. This dogma of equality in academic achievement is bedevilling so much of education theory today and is extremely damaging to many children in our schools — particularly the less bright. However, mixed ability teaching is a subject which will be raised as a prominent issue when we look in more detail at the practicalities of the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

A danger which is apparent to all of us participating in this debate is that there is a claustrophobic atmosphere in most classrooms and most education institutions. Those of us who are teachers believe that we know better what is going on, and we are sensitive to any criticism, challenge or questioning from those who are not themselves actively involved in the education system. That is one of the important features of this debate. It brings us face to face with the two issues that I have mentioned already: the universal comprehensivisation of secondary education and mixed ability teaching in the classroom.

We on the Conservative Benches are interested in genuine choice. We make no secret of it. We are proud of it. We believe in genuine choice. A pupil should be able to attend a school for a form of teaching which matches his aptitude and ability. We are looking for a way in which all children can be challenged to give of their best and to gain those skills which in themselves are intellectually exciting but which at the same time give children the opportunity to play a full part and take advantage of what is in the outside world.

The initiatives introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have benefits. Perhaps I may be allowed to utter the first orthodox heresy of education in inner London. These proposals could be implemented without a great increase in resources, if any at all. Many education authorities—ILEA is the one that I know best—are not strapped for resources, but merely choose to spend their money in a way which would not appeal to the majority of parents if they knew how it was being spent.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Prove it.

Mr. Bowden

We prove it regularly when we present alternative budget proposals during our discussion of the ILEA budget. We can identify areas where quite unnecessary expenditure is being wastefully and extravagantly deployed. It is possible to introduce these initiatives without a great expansion of resources.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Give us examples.

Mr. Bowden

There is also the opportunity to become occupied with the real basic curricular needs. Unfortunately, ILEA is preoccupied with what I suggest are social engineering initiatives. There are a number of good causes to which we all subscribe. I have in mind equal opportunities for girls and racial equality. All are highly desirable and laudable approaches, but within the ILEA system an unnecessary stratum of activity has been set up which is both costly and not beneficial. In many cases it is downright counterproductive.

Mr. Radice

When the hon. Gentleman studied the Sheffield speech by the Secretary of State, I do not know whether he noted that many of the ideas contained in it were being carried out in ILEA. If we talk about criterion referencing, ILEA is the authority which has done most. If we talk about development of the curriculum, again ILEA is one of the foremost authorities. The hon. Gentleman would be at least generous and honest if he admitted that.

Mr. Bowden

I recognise that ILEA, in one sense, has some of the best practices in the country, but it also has some of the worst aspects of educational extravagance. It ranges between the two extremes. We have an opportunity to deploy some of the resources, which are at present used in an area which is neither educationally desirable nor productive to the cause that it seeks to foster. The resources could be deployed elsewhere.

These initiatives can benefit the child in that they give the child the opportunity for stimulation and intellectual excitement, and also the opportunity to develop the skills that are used in the outside world. The initiatives give to parents the confidence that their child is being assessed properly and taught according to objective standards, rather than using the relative or subjective measure which operated in the past.

More significantly, they give an opportunity for teachers to realise that they are being challenged and that their professional skills are being brought into play. They must be able to give their best to a class of children who can benefit from their skills. The community also benefits when it realises that the schools are providing children with the skills needed for their later life.

The debate is interesting because it has dealt with the curriculum which has always been regarded by educationists as the secret garden, an area which must be nurtured, fostered and touched only by those initiated into its mysteries. Such a metaphor is dangerous to sustain. It is not a secret garden. The curriculum is a public pathway and not an enclosed world; a broad highway to an outside and wider world. One of the great advantages of the Sheffield speech is that it brought this debate into the public domain and made it accessible to the world at large to discuss.

The curriculum is a matter for public debate and we are assisting it by launching it on the agenda of public discussion.

11.32 am
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I welcome, as have all hon. Members, the opportunity provided by the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) to discuss this important subject. Although I found his speech and those of many of his hon. Friends interesting and highly relevant, much unreality exists in the comments of Conservative Members. The motion calls attention to the improvement of educational standards". Those are fine words and may bear some relevance to the world of Conservative Members, but they have no relevance whatever to inner urban areas such as Stretford, Moss Side and Whalley Range, which is pan of my constituency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) said, our education system has always failed to overcome the social handicaps. and educational attainment has always been a function of class.

Because of the complacency and indifference of the Government, the tragedy is that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots in our society has become more entrenched. The opportunities for children in areas such as mine are decreasing dramatically.

One of the two boroughs which straddles my constituency is historically a low-spending Tory authority which made its education cuts before the Government came to power, and the other is the high-spending city of Manchester. We have seen an overall levelling of standards in the provision of education, but provision in the city of Manchester has fallen, as it has been caught on the rack of the rate support and block grant system imposed by the Government. Although I was grateful to hear the Secretary of State recognise that the problem of social class and its effect upon the education system is important, to say that we can somehow manage to work the miracle of reducing resources and at the same time consider increasing standards defies all logic, from my understanding of the problems in the schools in Manchester.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) said that pupils suffer from the syndrome of asking, "Why bother? The education system offers me nothing. There is no product either in immediate or in career terms." The tragedy is the failure to give resources to inner city schools. He referred to the problem of multiple deprivation in the inner cities. In one school in my constituency, 40 per cent. of the pupils come from homes which do not contain both natural parents, and many of the children of my constituents go home to a house where the principal language is not English. The interrelationship of those problems and the multiple deprivation in the inner cities is experienced by insufficient teaching staff, who lack the resources to tackle the problems.

As a result of the conjunction of falling rolls and a reduction in spending, the schools in my constituency suffer from the almost insane numbers game of straight-line reductions. While the Secretary of State boasts that nationally — I cannot dispute his figures — the pupil-teacher ratio has improved, the ratio in my constituency has deteriorated, especially in the most deprived areas. The impact of falling rolls, even if we maintain an increasing pupil-teacher ratio, is not straightforward. In schools, as in factories, economies of scale operate, so single-age groups are the first to go. Some schools in my constituency practise vertical grouping, which will be the next step for many others.

The greatest tragedy is that remedial teachers, who are needed desperately, are the first to be pulled out. That is critically important. The hon. Member for Ealing, North said that, given the background and handicaps of children in the inner city areas, remedial teachers are desperately important. They are not a frill or luxury in the system, but are critical if we are to give equality of opportunity to all children.

One of my authorities maintains selective education — the secondary modern system. Mention has been made of the disastrous provision of facilities for pupils at the lower end of the educational range. That does not happen in comprehensive schools in any way similar to the educational deserts that exist in the secondary modern schools in the Trafford area of the Stretford constituency. One headmaster in my constituency told me that he is considering withdrawing some important options from the fourth and fifth year curricula as he is unable to staff the smaller groups that are necessary because of the absence of teaching staff. Subjects such as office studies, which is hardly esoteric, chemistry, literature and needlework are also affected. One secondary modern school in Stretford has not taught a modern language for many years. That fact is a disgrace to the nation.

A report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools says that only 14 out of the 20 teaching staff in the school taught their main teacher training subject. Maths is taught for 40 per cent. of the time by non-specialists. I submit, as a mathematician, that maths should not be taught by non-specialists.

As resources are declining, schools must now survive on handouts, which is yet another educational disadvantage to the poorer areas. It is easier for schools in more affluent areas to ask parents to contribute. That also happens in poorer areas, but there is a limit to the amount for which a school can ask from parents in a constituency such as mine, and there is a limit to the number of jumble sales that they can be expected to attend. Head teachers of primary and secondary schools tell me that they depend on financial contributions from parents, not to buy frills but to replace reading and mathematics schemes. Much as one school welcomed the computer provided by the Government, it was irrelevant to its needs, and the school could purchase a meaningful quantity of computer software only by asking the parents to contribute. All the parents' contributions were devoted to that, and there was nothing left for other needs.

I pay fulsome tribute to the teaching staff in Stretford, and, indeed, in all inner urban areas, who are extremely dedicated. They face great problems, and motivation is difficult, especially since there is a lack of adequate in-service training. I welcomed the Secretary of State's reference to that in his recent speech.

The Secretary of State will be aware that a great problem in Britain, and especially in my constituency, is the massive age imbalance of teaching staff. With declining roles and fewer new teachers, and with the methods of easing people out such as voluntary redundancy and early retirement, the majority of teachers are now aged between 30 and 45. That poses a short-term problem for career progression and motivation, and a long-term problem when that generation of teachers begins to retire. In a secondary modern school in my constituency, 70 per cent. of the teaching staff is aged between 30 and 45 and a further 20 per cent. is aged under 30. There is a gap before retirement, and a block in promotions within that school. In 15 to 20 years' time the generation that now dominates the school will reach retirement age, and there are no young teachers coming into the school now to replace them. We should address that problem seriously.

Education is precious, and it can still be the great leveller in society. We have never achieved that levelling. At present we are regressing considerably, and the idea of an improvement in education is a figment of the imagination of Conservative Members. It bears no relation to the schools of Manchester, inner London or other inner cities, and it probably bears no relation to some schools in more affluent areas, because the education system is divided and divisive. Those who can afford to buy get a good education, but the poor have only a deteriorating system of state education.

11.43 am
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I join hon. Members in complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) on his good fortune in securing first place in the ballot and on choosing education as the subject for his debate. Many hon. Members—the number is increasing—are interested in the subject and believe that we do not always have enough opportunity to discuss many of its more important aspects.

The speech in Sheffield of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is an important background to the debate. It is a shock to realise that, at least in some respects, his remarks represent new thinking, because some of what he said is such obvious common sense that one is bewildered that it has not been an essential part of education in the past. I hope that there will be good progress towards the implementation of the objectives that he set in that speech, and that that progress will be unhampered by ill-will from any quarter.

Conservative Members say so often that money does not necessarily buy better education that they are sometimes in danger of sounding as though they believe that money does not matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put us right on that matter in his Sheffield speech. We must not lose sight of the fact—uncomfortable though it may be—that lack of money can injure our education system in some circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak was right to draw our attention to that fact.

My right hon. Friend will understand that I have a close interest in rural primary schools, not just because I represent a rural area, but because I have a child who attends such a school. One problem that I have experienced is that in a small rural school the loss of a teacher, because of the application of criteria by the local authority as to the number of teachers that can be allowed for the number of pupils in the school, can have a serious effect. If the number of teachers is reduced to two and the school has as many as 60 pupils, they must be divided into two classes of mixed age and ability, and one must admit that education standards are likely to become more vulnerable as a result.

The survival of such schools is important, not just from an educational point of view, but because they enhance the quality of life in rural areas. The small village school may represent a compromise in education terms in the range of opportunities that can be offered, but if there are good teachers those schools will have most of what they need. Indeed, we are fortunate that most schools have good teachers. If resources for education are further reduced or become more finely tuned, the rural primary school will be at risk.

Mr. Flannery

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's desire to preserve small rural schools, but it must be remembered that most of those schools are in the shires, not in the cities. They are in areas controlled mostly by the Conservative party, and any cuts will result in the schools being closed. Indeed, many of them have been closed. We need more money to preserve standards in schools which have only a few pupils, with perhaps a caretaker and a head teacher, for just to keep them open will need more money.

Mr. Haselhurst

I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to make that intervention, since it was what I was trying to say. I said that we should maintain an adequate network of rural primary schools. Although I said that I did not wish the position to become worse, it is not as grave as the hon. Gentleman suggests. In my area only a few schools have closed in recent times. Most of the closures happened some years ago, and in Essex as a whole recently there have been few closures. That had more to do with the decline in rolls forcing schools down to such a level that, on education grounds, it was difficult to maintain their viability.

I am worried that in some local education authority areas it is not possible universally to admit rising-fives. That means that summer-born children are put at some disadvantage. I do not know to what extent that disadvantage has been assessed, but there is strong feeling in the teaching profession that such children suffer from missing a vital period of education. I hope that we shall not sweep that problem aside. I am sure that it is right to get our children into school at the earliest appropriate moment.

Although the interface between teacher and child in the classroom is the most vital part of the education system, the maintenance of schools affects morale. Education authorities have been unable to carry out as much maintenance as they would like. That might be regarded as a necessary sacrifice during great national economic difficulty. It might be regarded as appropriate that parents should step in to do some of the work. It is quite usual for parent-teacher associations to organise painting and decorating parties.

How far should we allow that to go? I shall quote from my right hon. Friend's speech at Sheffield. He asked, how will this claim for extra public resources stand up against the other claims on them especially if those other claims are for cash benefits for people in different sectors of the budget? I do not wish to be mischievous, but we should ask how far self-help can reasonably go. If it becomes the norm for parents to paint schools, perhaps it will also become the norm for leagues of friends to paint hospitals, and soon we shall organise parties to mix the concrete to repair roads when they become defective. I do not mean to be absurd or to suggest that present circumstances are out of hand or especially unhealthy. Self-help and interest in schools is good and should be welcomed, but there should be a limit to it. I hope that it will not be necessary to put pressure on parents to regard maintenance as their responsibility rather than that of the authority to which they pay rates and taxes.

Thus far we have been relatively fortunate. The pupil-teacher ratio is at an all-time high, as is spending per pupil. Unlike some Opposition Members, I accept that there is scope for more savings in some authorities. Resources could be better used. However, I am not so sure that such scope remains in all education authorities.

My right hon. Friend's Sheffield speech was laced with comments stressing the role of parents as essential partners in the provision of an education service. I do not dissent from the general importance of that argument. It is vital that parents be interested and involved, but what happens on the ground? Whatever we might say about the role of parents, they will always be divided into those who are interested and those who are not. The interested are again divisible into those who can and those who cannot commit the necessary time and effort.

Therefore, parents' ability to assess a school is more limited than is popularly supposed. Some parents who become involved with a school fall under its spell. They believe that it is the best in all possible circumstances and do not recognise its flaws. Perhaps they are lulled by a cosy relationship with teachers and governors into not seeing that something is wrong. Other parents might become frustrated. They might think that there is a bad teacher in the school. I do not want to be accused of assuming that all teachers are bad — far from it. I am aware of the high standard and dedication of the teaching profession. However, it does no service to anyone to pretend that there are not occasionally bad teachers or bad fits. It is a matter of chemistry. Someone might be a perfectly good teacher but unsuitable fo the circumstances in which he or she works.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the case which I once referred to him. A bad head teacher can affect a school for a long time. It might be difficult for that head teacher to be put in more suitable circumstances. If parents become frustrated, they might take their children away from a school. Such action is not always based on an objective approach. Sometimes only a rumour is necessary to convince a parent that it is right to move a child from a school. If a parent learns at the beginning of term that two or three children have moved to another school, he or she begins to ask why. Conscientious investigation might reveal that there was an ill-founded rumour or misunderstanding and that people have made an unnecessary move. Such moves, however, sometimes have a knock-on effect and the parents of the remaining pupils wonder whether they should move their children as well.

The effect of what I have described cannot be countered too quickly. A school might suffer considerably, as might the standard of education for the remaining pupils. The knock-on effect can affect the curriculum, which is important to the health of the school. It can also create an imbalance of the sexes in a class and make it difficult to maintain adequate sports facilities. As a weapon of bolstering standards, parent power can be uncertain. If there is a wide choice of schools in an area, parents might find it too easy to move their children from one to another and therefore not stay to fight and ensure that the first school is improved.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's caution about parental choice. The Conservative party has encouraged neurosis among parents because they feel that they must make a choice, and then, having made one, are frequently denied it. It is hard to decide what will be suitable for a child in five or six years' time on the basis of old results and other information on a school.

Mr. Haselhurst

It is a mere caution. I am not questioning the main proposition that parents should have a wide choice. One of the easier things for parents to assimilate is whether the reputation of a teacher or group of teachers in their area is good. There are other factors on the basis of which parents can make a sensible choice. However, there is a limit to the extent to which they can accurately assess the performance of a school. There is not a free market mechanism with schools, because the effect of the operation of choice works slowly.

It is important to me as a parent that other people's children should be well educated. It might be possible for me to move my child around to what I think is the best school, whether it be in the public or the private sector. However, I am concerned that other people's children should be educated as well as possible, because ultimately I and my children will depend on the quality and behaviour of everyone else in the community — on people's performance in industry and their social behaviour.

To me, therefore, it is a matter of concern if choice is exercised continuously and increasingly in the direction of the private sector. I do not want any remark that I may make on that subject to be interpreted as hostility to the private sector— far from it. However, I hope we can ensure that standards in the state sector are our prime concern and that they improve all the time, so that the vast majority of parents can be satisfied with the education their children receive.

I wish to say a few words about organisation at secondary level. The fact that my right hon. Friend's speech in Sheffield did not expressly deal with this matter is perhaps significant, insofar as the type and pattern of institutions in which our education objectives are pursued come second to the objectives themselves. I hope that we shall not cloud our purpose by allowing ourselves to be diverted into controversy over a perpetuation of the organisational arguments of the past. Time is marching on and it should be apparent that the mould needs breaking. We have seen the development of sixth form colleges. We have seen the emergence of the youth training scheme and its tremendous implications for education. We have seen the technical and vocational education initiative, which I think will also teach us much about what we should be doing for children over 14 years of age — not just over 16.

It is surely right to encourage the widest variety of thinking about secondary education, provided only that what is done is consistent with improving standards. It is surely wrong to suggest that only one type of organisation is to be preferred above all others, to which all our children should be submitted. It is, therefore, a time for new thinking and a time for new forms of provision which will be relevant to the developing technical world.

Finally, the further improvement in standards of education which we all seek will be better assured by less rhetoric of the type that we have had in the past and by more painstaking attention to the targets that my right hon. Friend has laid down. He has made a most important contribution to the advance of education, and I hope that everyone will now work co-operatively and urgently to ensure that the momentum for improvement is maintained.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Before I call the next speaker, perhaps I can remind the House that a number of hon. Members have sat throughout the debate. With a little restraint in speech-making, perhaps they will all be able to speak before the end of the debate.

12.2 pm

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I welcome the opportunity to speak after the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) in what is proving to be an interesting and detailed debate. I am particularly glad to do so, because his seemed to be a lonely voice on the Conservative Benches when he said that it is really not possible to raise standards in education without increasing additional resources, and when he said, on the subject of rural schools, that there is a distinct danger that standards will fall if we try to make savings in education. That is what we on these Benches have said, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes), and I believe that it will be our constant refrain. It is certainly the angle that I wish to take, speaking as a former teacher and as a current member of a county council and a member of an education committee.

Like all other hon. Members, I owe a debt to the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) for initiating this debate. However, I also wish to thank the Secretary of State for sitting through the debate, and I look forward to the speech that he will make. I hope that we shall have a further opportunity to hear his thoughts not only on his speech in Sheffield but on his speech in Leeds. I look forward to hearing his comments on both those speeches, and I also look forward to hearing the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) in response.

I give a cautious welcome to much of what the Secretary of State said in Sheffield. I have now read the speech twice, and there is much in it that is interesting and to be commended. What seems to have been lost on Conservative Members is not so much that what the Secretary of State is saying is new—he will be the first to recognise that the ideas that he floated there have been current in education circles for a number of years. What is important is that he said them, and he said them for the first time. He must accept that, to some extent, this is a different Secretary of State from the Secretary of State who, on 5 October 1982, said at the Conservative party conference that standards were in some cases poor or very poor—talking about the absolute standards of behaviour, understanding, speaking, literacy and numeracy. The remedy for what he saw as the poor or very poor standards was to be found in the ideas of the noble Lord Balogh or in such ideas as the voucher system or open enrolment.

I welcome his change of view. The Department of Education and Science is truly an educating Department if it educates the Secretary of State. I pay tribute to the Department for doing that. I trust that he and the Department will also educate the Under-Secretary, so that his long flirtation with the idea of vouchers will come to an end and his long love affair, often exhibited in weekend speeches, with the return to selection. I hope that the Under-Secretary heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South and I hope that when he visits local education authorities he will visit the few secondary modern schools that sadly still exist in some inner city areas and see the reality of the bottom end of education. There is a temptation, of course, for education authorities to show him the parts that they are most proud of, but he would benefit from seeing some of the schools in inner Manchester.

The Secretary of State, in his Sheffield speech, made many valuable points, particularly about the curriculum. Not enough recognition has been given in the education press to the fact that he was saying something very different on that subject. He appeared to me to be saying —I hope that I do not misinterpret what he said—that the curriculum should increasingly be skill-based and not information-based. That is a distinct departure in educational thinking, and something that I warmly applaud. However, I should have thought that, in considering changes in the examination system, the inevitable result of a skill-based system would be an increase in mode 3 examinations and a gradual phasing out of the rigid and—I believe—not necessarily accurate methods of assessment. Here I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who questioned the genuine difficulties of assessment. If the Secretary of State is saying that we shall move more towards mode 3 examinations, I certainly welcome that.

Much of what the Secretary of State said about the breadth of the curriculum, its relevance and its differentiation very much begs the question of increased resources. He said that he wanted primary science for all. That will mean additional science teachers in primary schools, of whom there are far too few. He talked about an option range in the fourth and fifth years in relation to the breadth of curriculum. We all know that at present the option choices in the fourth and fifth years are being reduced, and that more and more schools are having to give up a second modern language, and so forth. The Secretary of State talked about relevance to the real world and about a proper place for technical and vocational training in education. That, too, will need new and trained teachers. He talked about economics for all. Again, we do not have economics teachers.

All those coherent and detailed proposals in the Sheffield speech will demand new resources. That is not a generalised cry from the Opposition Benches; it is what the Secretary of State said in his speech, and it all needs more money.

The part of the Sheffield speech about which I am less happy concerned differentiation. I would be extremely unhappy if, as some Conservative Members have said, it means an increase in streaming and an end to any attempt at mixed ability teaching—however difficult it is, and we all recognise the practical problems. I believe that the Secretary of State recognised in Sheffield—I welcome this—that education standards have improved and can be improved further. In the past 25 years, there has been an improvement in the quality of teacher training, the qualities of teachers and the standards that are expected. Those of us who are sufficiently lucky to have teenagers in our families and who are taking examinations know that the examinations in O-level mathematics now are unrecognisable from those that we may have taken 25 or more years ago. Trying during the holidays to help my teenage son to prepare for his mock examination in O-level mathematics, I found that I did not understand the questions; and I was rather good at mathematics when I was at school.

Similarly, the quality and variety of work in art departments, especially in three-dimensional art, print making, music departments, craft design and technology is unrecognisable from what was done a few years ago. Each of those subjects costs money. They do not come cheaply. There must be physical resources for teacher training, and specialised teachers. I pay tribute to the Government for implementing and introducing the Education Act 1981. I pay particular tribute to the Government's consideration of special education, although the Warnock report which preceded that legislation was initiated by the Labour party. The Government have not given the necessary money and, as the Labour party pointed out in Committee, without more money, there cannot be improvements in standards in special education, despite more educational psychologists, governing bodies and all of the correct measures in the 1981 Act.

This is not a generalised plea from the Opposition, but a detailed and particular observation of the force of the arguments of the Secretary of State. I do not wish to cavil too much at his speech, but it contains worrying omissions which I hope he will put right today in the general ambit of his remarks. The Secretary of State did not mention the arts at all. That is a great loss, especially since two years have followed the Gulbenkian Foundation report on education, which was one of the most important educational documents of the past three or four years. The potential in terms of relevance and breadth and the personal development of pupils and teachers of drama, writing, dance and the visual arts is enormous. I hope that the Secretary of State will correct that omission in his speech.

It is surprising that the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to computers or modern languages in his speech. He did not refer—both sides of the House may disagree on this point—to the wider social or political education that should occur in schools. It is not a matter of indoctrination in ideologies. If the Secretary of State wants to be relevant to the real world of education, surely he has a responsibility to society to ensure that, when a student of 16, 17 or 18 leaves school, he understands the real world of work, social security, taxation, his responsibility as a citizen in the law and at work, his potential as a trade unionist and everything else. Young people are required to have an understanding of the skills necessary to operate in an increasingly difficult bureaucratic world. When talking about relevance, we should include those aspects. I hope that the Secretary of State will correct those small omissions.

It is sad that the right hon. Gentleman followed that Sheffield speech about a week later with a speech at Leeds. Although tribute has been paid to what he said at Sheffield, the Opposition are horrified and have distinct reservations about what he said at Leeds. I must confess that I have not read the Leeds speech, as I have not been able to obtain a copy. I have read only the press release by the Department. The Secretary of State said to the business men in Leeds: There is virtually no link between expenditure per pupil and pupils' examination results". The Secretary of State must know that that is not so. He continued: the present wide variations in the level of expenditure by LEAs cannot be justified. I agree with him if by that he means the old Conservative adage of levelling out and he is prepared to increase resources to those at the bottom of the system. The present wide variation is intolerable. I hope that he does not mean, as he said of other standards, that we must level down, but I am afraid that the force of the rate capping Bill and other Government legislation means that he intends to equalise education authorities.

The Secretary of State said: Nearly all education authorities could make savings without damaging school performance. The Secretary of State should know something about that matter, because the Government have done a little saving in terms of educational expenditure during the past few years. Through local government legislation and initiatives, they have cut local authority education spending. They have successfully cut the rate support grant, the Department of Education and Science in-service training money and, as has been pointed out by the Secretary of State, the number of university places, so that Britain has the lowest number of university entrants of any country in the OECD. The Government have cut the Schools Council. The Secretary of State does not have the machinery to scrutinise and monitor the new curriculum initiatives.

Mr. Madel

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was talking about the fact that local authorities are in a difficult position when deciding what to do about a considerable number of surplus school places. It is easy to say from on high, "Do this to that school and do that to another school." That action always produces local uproar. I am not criticising local authorities, but that process would simply land them with a larger bill than if we lived in a perfect world of rationalisation, which we do not.

Mr. Fisher

I am coming to a fairly detailed look at the hon. Gentleman's important point. The contribution by the Secretary of State to the national education cuts has had an effect on morale and the opportunities for all students.

I must refer to the real world of local education authorities on which the Secretary of State is urging cuts. I am a member of my local authority's education committee. Staffordshire is one of the better off authorities in this respect. Traditionally, it has been high in the spending league. During the past three or four years, Staffordshire has been badly hit by central Government's demands to cut expenditure by as much as £20 million by which we are said to be over target. We will have to make adjustments as well as we can. Since 1981, Staffordshire has attempted to cut its spending on education. It has made cuts of £16.3 million net—not gross—in educational spending when its rate support grant was coming down to a little over 50 per cent. The Government have not played fair in setting a climate for education authorities to respond to surplus places. Last year, for instance, there was an inflation rate of 3.5 per cent. for educational allowances when inflation was running at more than 5 per cent. The amount allowed for the pay award was 3 per cent. when the actual pay award was 4.9 per cent. The Government do not play fair in their own sums.

Staffordshire, like other authorities, has been trying to adapt to falling rolls. There are not only financial, but good educational reasons why some schools cease to be large enough to be educationally viable. It is extremely difficult to adapt to falling rolls because the surplus places are not necessarily in the school that one would like to close. It is difficult to close schools and to adapt to falling rolls while keeping curriculum and subject options open. The Secretary of State does not seem to understand how local government works. The timing between central Government cuts and the implementation of school closures to respond to falling rolls is not synchronised. We have been forced by central Government to make cuts in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984, but our secondary school population will not reach its peak until January 1984, when there will be the largest secondary school population ever in Staffordshire. We have had to make cuts during the three previous years because of the edicts from the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for the Environment.

After 1984 there will be a dramatic fall in secondary school education in Staffordshire. We will lose 2,870 pupils in 1985, 4,012 in 1986 and 4,320 in 1987—more than 10,000 students, at a cost of £1,000 per pupil per year. That means that £10 million will be lost in rate support grant, and by the end of the decade the figure will be £20 million. Many schools will be closed and many staff will not be replaced. It is difficult to make such savings without harming subject options and curricula. The Secretary of State must play fair. He must realise that school closures are unpopular, as the hon. Member for Saffron Walden made clear. We are trying to implement such closures as fairly and squarely as possible and with consultation.

I wish the Secretary of State was here to listen to my remarks. He has been slow to respond to our proposals on school closures. Indeed, he has refused to accept our proposals on grounds other than education, such as the balance between Church of England controlled and aided schools. For example, Hoar Cross school has recently been reprieved from closure by the Secretary of State. That will cost Staffordshire £81,000 in a year, which makes the cost per pupil £1,352 a year rather than the average of £654.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)

The hon. Gentleman has rightly referred to surplus school places. Hoar Cross school is not a matter for him, as it falls in the constituency of another hon. Member. The advice from my Department is that by the middle of the decade there will be more than 3 million surplus places. We have advised local authorities to take only 40 per cent. of those places out of use to allow for any future upturn in population.

Mr. Fisher

I understand the Secretary of State's position, but it is not as simple as the Minister suggests. If the hon. Gentleman visited an education authority, he might understand the problem.

The Secretary of State should realise that, in effect, he is saying, "Spend more." If we implement Cockcroft, that will cost more; the proposals in the Sheffield speech will cost more; the implementation of the 1981 Act will cost more. At the same time, he cries, "Make savings and raise standards." Are not the Secretary of State's own standards double standards? We cannot implement all his desirable recommendations without additional resources. He should recognise how difficult that would be in the real world. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had spent part of his life teaching or serving on education committees. He might then agree that it is difficult to make sense of Government policy on education. He would not then claim that we can make savings without damaging the system or that we can raise standards without additional resources.

Mr. Dunn

If the hon. Gentleman wants a lesson in how to save money, he should consult the London borough of Merton. That local authority — a small one, in London as a whole—has managed to save £800,000 a year by the privatisation of the school cleaning and meals services.

Mr. Fisher

The Secretary of State made that same point in his speech at Leeds. I did not refer to it because I did not think it worthy of consideration. Staffordshire will lose £20 million in rate support grant by the end of the decade—yet the Minister tells us to save money on school cleaners and school meals. Surely he cannot be serious. I had hoped that he would make more substantial and worthy points than that.

It is a fallacy to believe that money is not important, and the Secretary of State should recognise that. Of course, there are other important matters such as the quality of in-service training—although that also costs money—a genuine liking for children and a genuine love of learning. However, underpinning all that are the necessary resources and the people who teach and work with pupils to provide a better education service.

We need money to implement the Sheffield speech. We welcome the sentiments, but need the money. We need a strong refutation today from the Secretary of State of his remarks at Leeds. The House has the right to know what the Secretary of State believes in—is it Sheffield with money or Leeds without money?

12.25 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) on providing the House with an opportunity to debate this topic. I also compliment my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on raising the debate in public. Education is not simply of fundamental importance to millions of people, but is inextricably linked with the future of Britain both socially and industrially, and in terms of prosperity, enlightenment and quality of life.

I wish to comment on some of the points made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). It is regrettable that today's fashion is to worship at the altars of the god of economics and the lesser god of resources — in whom is vested every miracle and on whom we confidently rely to deliver education's Utopia the day after tomorrow. To that extent, the importance of the quality of education has been eclipsed. Indeed, the whole subject has become unfashionable for national discussion, let alone as a vital element for the future of people in Britain. I hope that that trend is now changing under the leadership given by my right hon. Friend.

Education is vital for the quality of every aspect of our national life, and we ignore its standards at our peril What may appear today to be a dry issue, what tomorrow may be mere statistics on ratios, performance and results, is translated the day after tomorrow into people's ability to live together in a civilised manner, to win the most from life for themselves and others and to compete in the world to generate wealth for us all. It is, therefore, not academic to strive to improve standards in schools and institutes of higher education—it is an essential and practical goal.

Education is undoubtedly our most valuable investment and it is sad that it is so often treated as yet another service. For every pound spent on education there is a rich and real return in the years ahead. For every pound spent on social services or defence, there is little return, save in the provision of the service itself. Therefore, spending cuts are more damaging in education than in other areas. Every effort must be made to ensure that they are implemented without harming standards.

Yet there are serious threats to standards in education other than lack of resources. The broadening of the curriculum may continue until it is so broad that it embraces the lunatic fringe of subjects. As that process occurs, resources are drained from the vital core that normal people regard as the true purposes of education.

Such traditional studies as reading, writing and arithmetic may be regarded as unfashionable by some and even treated with derision by others, but it is a crime of unsurpassed cruelty to deprive lively young minds of those simple but essential disciplines for which they cry and to throw them instead into the world with diplomas in peace studies, O-levels in aggression analysis and certificates in grafitti. It is not just depriving them of personal development, warping their minds, lowering their chances of finding jobs; it is also depriving society of their basic skills and contributions.

Some strange subjects are being peddled today as alternatives in schools. We have examples of schools that offer traffic studies, social understanding, living in the environment, as if one could live without it, dance—I do not mean dancing, but sitting firmly at one's desk—and even fishing studies, which is also studied, I understand, sitting firmly at one's desk on dry land. Of all those, the most fashionable is, of course, peace studies. The subject has a habit of cropping up everywhere. It is a matter of great anxiety to many people, including many of my constituents.

Recently, the teacher training department of Newcastle university instituted a full investigation after an admissions lecturer boasted that he was carefully screening applicants on their political views. It was suggested that only CND supporters were admitted. According to The Times Educational Supplement, the lecturer wrote: Ideal students would see English as a subject that was closely allied to peace education. The best applicants were those who regarded English as a major contribution to peace studies and who are predisposed to peace education. He also added: English is crucial to political and social overtones because it preserves forms of oppression in society. It is not just university education that is thus subverted; it seems that even primary schools are not exempted by those who wish to politicise the curriculum and enslave education to propaganda.

Newcastle city council education committee's working party, headed by a well-known unilateralist, is at present studying how to implement peace studies in teaching the under-10s. Meanwhile, it has been praised by no less an institution than the strangely named Institute of Peace Conflict and Peace Research headed by Dr. Smoker. He praises the authority for its carefully prepared syllabus and for developing its own material which has led to a specialisation for 14 and 15-year-olds in nuclear-free zones. The teachers are expressing strong feelings about some of this material, including the loaded arguments which are contained in a pamphlet produced by the working party entitled "The Bomb". It has offended their professional instincts and many teachers say that they are not prepared to teach this syllabus.

Then we come to the examinations. People on Tyneside taking the so-called joint 16-plus examination in May 1983 produced by the associated Lancashire schools examination board entitled "English Expression" were confronted with a picture of a CND demonstration and of the May day parade in Moscow. They were asked to discuss the points raised in the politically loaded quotations under the pictures.

Mr. Flannery

The hon. Gentleman has devoted most of his speech to that theme. He mentioned primary schools. There is a grave danger in primary schools at the moment, due to the cuts, of remedial teachers not being replaced. That will mean a drop in reading standards in the primary schools. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that he would be wiser, in a speech in this context, to address himself seriously to the problems we face in education instead of labouring this one theme, which is a tiny part of education and is virtually irrelevant to what we are discussing?

Mr. Merchant

I share the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expressed at the beginning of his intervention, but the point is that resources are being wasted on the irrelevant subjects that I have described. It is not a tiny problem. It is growing, and it is regarded as serious by many parents and teachers in my constituency. It is a valid point to make and directly impinges upon the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

All that I have described may be just the tip of a growing iceberg of those who would wish to pervert our education system and turn it into some gigantic propaganda machine. Peace studies are also being encouraged by many other authorities, including Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Avon and Cleveland.

I would not be as restricted in my approach as some of my hon. Friends or some parents of children who have come home with confused and muddled opinions, spouting recently acquired political rhetoric that sounds as if it has been ground out of a 1960 agitprop machine. I accept that there is a case in sixth forms for traditional political studies courses and that general studies should encourage the broadening of minds and grappling with ideas, but that must be set within a framework and must be monitored. If not, it is not a fitting approach for the under-15s, let alone the under-11s, even if innocently applied. There is evidence that it is often far from innocent. I appreciated the true danger when I was telephoned anonymously by a 14-year old pupil who was scared stiff because he was punished for having the temerity to challenge in class the views of his CND teacher. Religious education time had become a lesson in CND. The dialogue was entirely one-sided. The teacher unveiled the truth and the class had to swallow it.

In that dicey area, the slide from teaching a dangerous and controversial subject impartially to indoctrinating young open minds with persuasive but highly opinionated political invective may be imperceptible, and the temptation to a politically committed teacher may be too much.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Would the hon. Gentleman make the same criticism of history as it has been taught in many schools for years, when it is argued that conflict can be settled by war and that war is a legitimate aim of political expediency? I accept that it is difficult to develop a discussion of various views, but all the criticisms that the hon. Gentleman has made of so-called "peace studies" can be made equally of history as it is taught by some teachers in some schools.

Mr. Merchant

There is a fundamental difference between a traditional subject such as history, which relies almost entirely on the teaching of facts, or the views of people in history, but which is relatively immune from the influence of the views of the teacher, and a subject such as peace studies, which, by its title, is loaded and designed to present a slant on and interpretation of the world. Some teachers, by their own admission, have deliberately sought to exploit that opportunity to the full from the word go.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be prepared to investigate matters such as the extent to which peace studies are being deliberately encouraged in schools and taught in a one-sided way. Such matters impinge directly on education standards. The sooner the resources that are being wasted are directed away from the trendy brigade subjects to a traditional and beneficial curriculum, the better for all of us and our future.

12.33 pm
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) for raising the issue and to the Secretary of State for remaining in the Chamber during most of the debate.

I have seen the problems in the education service from the receiving end for many years, particularly in the four years before I came to the House. For my sins, I was the leader of my county council for two years until June last year, and was chairman of the policy resources committee, which determined how the council's resources were shared among the services in the authority. The problems that were raised and still persist included the fact that the education service was taking more than 60 per cent, of the budget. That was the traditional pattern in our authority, as in most authorities. When I was leader of the council I attempted, as did my predecessors to some extent, and as my successor is still trying to do, to cosset and protect the education service as opposed to the other services in the county. It was a very difficult task, because we have had resources withdrawn from us since about 1974.

For 15 years we had a moderate and reasonable Conservative administration. It operated the standard principle for Conservative local authorities and kept the rates down. Not much money was spent on buildings or on improving resources such as school libraries. After many years of lack of maintenance, in last year's budget, of the moneys allocated for building maintenance, 68 per cent, was spent on emergency repairs. It was not possible to follow a proper repair programme.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on most of the things that he said in his Sheffield speech, but I should like him, when he replies to the debate, to explain what he means by "clutter" in the education service. I have not previously heard the word used about the service.

Part of my work concerning educational resources involved the examination of the document from Her Majesty's inspectorate dealing with the nine-to-13 middle schools. My authority operates a three-tier system and in that respect the nine-to-13 schools are significant. The inspectorate produced in January 1983 an illustrative survey giving a detailed picture of 48 schools throughout the country. The preface says: As with other reports written by HMI, no assumption can be made about Government commitment to the provision of additional resources as a result of the survey". The document uses expressions such as "two fifths of and then it switches to percentages, so that it is difficult to analyse. The inspectorate examined some areas of the education service in detail, and I refer particularly to paragraph 7.17, under the heading "English", where it says: Many libraries had good features but also limitations, which included restricted borrowing policies, inadequate provision for the full age and ability range, and limited access during the school day. Under that heading the document also referred to visits to local public libraries. As the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) said, often that is not possible in rural areas. There are schoolchildren in rural areas in my county whose nearest library is 10 miles away, and it is almost impossible for them to visit a public library. Therefore, they must use a school library, and school libraries have been ill-served for many years because of the expenditure cuts.

In paragraph 7.44, under the heading "Mathematics", the document says: Almost all of the schools need to provide more background books to enable pupils and teachers to read more widely on the subject. That has always been a burning topic in my county. We have never had sufficient resources to provide the appropriate books, and we have been criticised in many circles because of it.

The report says: Two-fifths of the schools use electronic calculators, mostly on a modest scale. That means that three fifths of the schools do not use them. At the time of the survey, only one school had a computer. The Department of Education and Science deserves credit for establishing a programme to provide computers to schools, but the middle schools in my county have rolls of between 70 and over 600 and none of them has a computer unless parents have provided the money to buy one, as has happened. Unfortunately, some schools do not have parents' associations and cannot raise money to help themselves.

The report goes on to say: Many of the science laboratories have poor storage facilities and few had separate preparation rooms. In about a third, service was unsatisfactory. That is a reflection of the general position throughout the country. The report adds that deficiencies included shortage of sinks, gas taps or electric points and sometimes all three. The quality and quantity of book provision was satisfactory in just under three fifths of the sample. That means that they were unsatisfactory in just over two fifths of the sample.

On modern languages, the report says: Just over half the schools made regular arrangements for parties of pupils to visit France. Financial limitations prevented others from doing so.

The section of the report dealing with music says: Accommodation for instrument teaching was poor. Less than one fifth of the schools had satisfactory rooms and over half had no practice rooms available for individual teaching. Is that part of the Secretary of State's "clutter"? The right hon. Gentleman did not mention music.

The report says that resources varied widely overall, three fifths of the schools had equipment that was satisfactory in quantity and quality. That means that two fifths of the schools did not have such equipment.

Similar statistics are presented for geography, crafts and arts. The document is worth reading and it reflects the general problems facing our middle schools. It says that a statistical analysis was employed to see whether there was a significant association between adequate resources and the overall quality of work. Below average resources were fairly strongly associated with poor quality and quantity in geography, services, French, crafts, design, the technical side, needlework, music, mathematics, history, home studies and PE. Clearly resources are important not only to teachers and education authorities, but to Her Majesty's inspectors.

The report says: Book provision is strongly associated with higher standards in craft design, technical drawing, geography, religious education and history. Resources are becoming increasingly significant. A recent meeting was held in my county between the chairmen of governors and the heads of higher schools. The purpose was to impress on the education authority the problems caused by the lack of resources in schools. They did not need to try to impress that on the education authority — it knew the facts. They were asking for support from the education authority to mount a deputation to meet the Secretary of State. The education authority felt that, in terms of the resources that it had, it was inappropriate to provide finance for the representatives of the chairman, governors and heads to go to the Secretary of State. Therefore, although representatives are still attempting to see the Secretary of State, the PTAs are paying for it. They feel that it is important that the lack of resources is affecting the schools in the county.

There was another report by Her Majesty's inspector on a school in my constituency, the King Edward VI school in what was Northumberland. The report refers to another element of the problems in the schools and says: The school is well served by hard-working staff. Much time is given to thinking about and discussing professional matters and to organising a wide range of extra-curricula activities. However, staff resources are now fully stretched in maintaining the present curriculum. That was said, not by me or by the education authority, but by Her Majesty's inspector.

The report goes on to say: Pressure on staff can be indicated by the fact that in 1978, with 1,367 pupils on roll, there were 87.4 full-time equivalent teachers. At the time of the inspection, with 1,328 pupils on roll and sixth form numbers the same as in 1978, the school has the equivalent of seven fewer teachers. Any further reduction in staff numbers would inevitably result in a diminution of the curriculum. There are to be further reductions in staff numbers.

I have always had a basic philosophy on education. I have always felt that I had a better education than my father, who had his before the first world war. My education was towards the end of the second world war. I recognise that my son, who was educated in the mid-1960s, had a better education than I had and better educational opportunities. I am concerned about my grandchildren. If we follow the natural progression from father to son, or from mother to daughter, education should improve year by year and generation by generation. If that progression is not coming to a stop, it is certainly slowing up. One of the reasons for that is the lack of proper resources in the education service.

12.53 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak for the first time in this education debate, although I am a novice in educational matters. I hesitated a little before speaking at all, but, as I listened and learnt from the speeches from both sides of the House, I noticed that they were made mostly by former professionals. I should not wish to leave the debate entirely to professionals, just as I think they would agree that it would be a bad thing if debates on foreign affairs were left to former diplomats.

I was also encouraged to intervene by something that I heard the Leader of the Opposition say on television recently. He seemed to be laying claim to the leadership of the country on the basis that he has a family. As a modest Back Bencher, I shall make a few remarks on education on the basis that I too have a family.

As a newcomer, I often seek advice on the subject of education. One thing that has struck me is that people respond in terms of discussions about structure, organisation, finance, pension schemes or falling rolls. All these are very important, but few people except parents seem to talk about the quality of education. I have noticed that many parents to whom I talk seem to know instinctively that there is something badly wrong. It is obvious that organisation is important. Money is equally important. Education suffers if both are wrong, too, but the notion that organisation and finance alone produce the goods is a scientific fallacy in our schools, just as it is in society.

I welcome the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. In my very long political career, which now spans almost nine months, it is the best news that I have heard. If I understand clearly what my right hon. Friend is saying, it is that in education the country is long on relativity but rather short on Einsteins.

The theory of relativity is a fine sounding thing. In practice, in education it is disastrous. It is impossible to tell a potential employer that someone is relatively good at spelling, relatively good at maths, can spell relatively well and can add up relatively well. It is not possible to encourage a potential importer to buy our goods if we can tell him only that they have been relatively well put together by relatively well-trained people. We in Britain cannot boast about a relatively rich culture if that is all we have. Perhaps most important of all, we cannot reassure parents by saying that we have relatively good teachers and, if they complain, by telling them that if they do not like them they should see some of the others.

The dangers of relativism for people with higher ability are obvious. What is sometimes forgotten is that less able people will stay at the bottom and have no satisfaction of ever making the grade under the system of relativism because, whatever they do, they will always be at the bottom.

It may be asked how we know that education standards have been going down. Theoretically, under relativism they could be rocketing up all the time. We have no means of measuring them. Of course we know that standards are uneven. No doubt they have gone up in some areas. I suspect that mathematics is probably one of them. In many others — I suspect that English is one — there is little doubt that they have gone down.

How do we know? Parents feel it in their bones. We are not all professionals, but most of us are parents and we know in our bones that all is not well. Many teachers know it, too, and the braver ones say so. Nor must we forget international standards, because there are such standards in education. I am convinced that, by those standards, Britain could do better. We have immense potential.

I have seen education at first hand in a number of other countries, including France, the United States of America, Russia and China. That has taught me that we could do a great deal to improve matters here. I single out one small example. I have been struck by how foreigners who are friendly towards Britain are dismayed to discover how little British people know about their own history. These are not just my impressions. Recently I was talking to a head teacher who had been to Germany on an exchange visit. He came back scratching his head, thinking how much we could pull up our socks if we adopted some of Germany's more rigorous school standards.

I appreciate that standards are uneven across the country, for obvious social reasons, to which hon. Members have alluded. I am fortunate in two ways in my constituency. The first is that I have the whole gamut of types of school. I have a public school, a comprehensive school, a grammar school, secondary schools, rural schools and even a private university. The second is that standards in my area, I am told, are fairly high. However, many teachers in my area tell me that there is still a great deal to be done. My guess is that head teachers to whom I have talked will welcome my right hon. Friend's speech.

In giving my own welcome to the speech, I ask for more. It is obvious to me, a layman, that stricter standards for teachers must accompany higher standards for pupils. I ask one specific question: why is in-service retraining voluntary? There may be a good answer to that question, but I do not know what it is.

Secondly, it seems to me, from direct personal observation in schools abroad as well as in this country, that primary schoolchildren in Britain are grossly under worked. I could expand on this matter, since my children have attended French and American primary schools as well as schools in this country and the difference—in the case of France—is striking. Raising primary school standards must be vital if we are discussing raising standards further up the system. Children could do much more themselves, and I do not like the evidence that I have seen of the do-it-yourself attitude in primary schools. Scope exists for some minimal intellectual rigour even at that age, and it pays off later.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I hope that the Secretary of State's speech will not encourage the illusion that the state has the answer to our education problems. Better effort from the children, teachers and parents will produce the answer. The state cannnot do it, but it can help by setting standards and it should help by providing the means.

During my election campaign an anxious parent told me that she was worried about the narrowness of the syllabus. She gave the example of her child, who had been forced through the huge intellectual feat of reading half a book, and she asked why the syllabus could not be broadened. I expressed sympathy and suggested that she should encourage her child to read the entire book, that she visit the public library, obtain a further dozen books by the same author, turn off the television and encourage her child to read them too. I could lose more votes by making similar suggestions. However, I shall continue to state my opinion because I believe deeply—in fact I know from my background—that it is essential not to rely only on the state if we are to make real progress.

Conservative Members consider it bad taste to talk about revolution, but scope for revolution exists here. The Government have a proud record on inflation. I draw an analogy from that fact, because we must bolster the educational currency in Britain too. Great improvements will not be made overnight, but many of my hon. Friends and I, and many Opposition Members, will be vigilant, as will, above all, parents, to ensure that the important initiative of the Secretary of State does not result in delay or procrastination, but produces action. If delay and procrastination are experienced, parents and many hon. Members will wish to know from where the obstacles come. Perhaps I am too suspicious, or perhaps there is something in my bureaucratic background, but I hope that the Secretary of State's speech will not be drowned in honeyed praise.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House, who have more experience in these matters than I, know about the practical difficulties, and I was interested to learn about them in the debate. As one of a class of about 47—I do not think that I was taught by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)—

Mr. Flannery

It shows.

Mr. Walden

—I do not underestimate the practical problems, nor do I underrate the efforts that teachers are making against the odds in schools throughout the country. But we all know that much remains to be done. If we, as a country, are to aspire beyond the grade 4 average status on a sliding scale which most of our pupils attain nowadays, we must all make great efforts. We should fix as firm goals as possible, and fix them high.

1.4 pm

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) on his maiden speech on education. I do not agree with everything that he said, but I shall not follow him down the paths on which he started. Friday is usually a day for Back-Bench Members, but today we are graced by the unusual presence of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It is right that, after his Sheffield speech, he should be here, and the Opposition welcome him.

I congratulate the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) on his good fortune in coming first in the ballot and on the way in which he moved his motion. His was a good and considered speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) made a thoughtful and, indeed, statesmanlike speech—

Mr. Flannery

There is no need to insult me.

Mr. Radice

—which revealed his deep knowledge of education. He put his finger on the key issue of resources, as did many of my hon. Friends. My hon. Friends the Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) and for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said that deprivation was a key factor in under-achievement, and that one could not do much about it without spending money. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford also made the important point that we must recruit younger teachers if we are not to have a serious problem in the near future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) remarked rightly that the Secretary of State has changed his position. He welcomed much of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but asked what he meant by differentiation in the curriculum, and why he did not mention the arts. My hon. Friend also mentioned the lack of resources, of which he has firsthand knowledge as a councillor in Stoke. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) has considerable personal knowledge, which he revealed to the House, of what is happening on the ground and of what spending cuts can do to education standards in schools. I hope that the Secretary of State listened carefully to his remarks.

The debate has inevitably and rightly centred on the Secretary of State's Sheffield speech. As he knows, I have already publicly agreed with several points in that speech. First, he recognised—the recognition was belated but welcome—that teachers have an extremely hard job. Of course there are some bad teachers and we need more effective teacher training, but it was about time that a Conservative party spokesman stopped the Government's generalised attacks on the teaching profession. Such attacks are deeply resented by those whose support we need if we are to improve standards, so I hope that we can stop them in the House.

I welcomed the Secretary of State's acceptance that there was a basis of quality and past success in the state education system. He said that there was a good base for scaling much greater heights and that our schools are offering more pupils a broader education, and a larger proportion of pupils are successful in examinations at 16 plus". I warn the Secretary of State that the Opposition will quote those words endlessly, because they represent the biggest act of public penitence since Emperor Henry IV went to Canossa.

For more than 10 years Conservative education spokesmen, Ministers and even Members have shamelessly abused the state system of education because they hate the fact that it is overwhelmingly comprehensive. The Secretary of State is the first Conservative Minister to recognise that the comprehensive revolution has happened, that it is here to stay, and that some good has come from it. I congratulate him on that.

For the past 10 years Conservatives have gone on ad nauseam about falling standards. I was rather sorry that we had a bit of that, rather anecdotally I am afraid, from the hon. Member for Buckingham. The Secretary of State now tells us that standards have risen. Imagine the chagrin of poor old Cox and Marks and the black paper crowd, not to mention the Minister for Social Security, when they hear that. The Minister must have been deeply shocked.

In his Sheffield speech the Secretary of State talked about some of the real issues such as curriculum reform, improving teacher quality and the examination system. Those subjects have concerned the education community for many years. I had an extraordinary feeling of deja vu when I first read the Sheffield speech, but then I remembered that they were precisely the themes of the great debate that was launched by the Labour Government. If Conservative Members do not believe me—although I see a few nodding assent—I shall quote the headings of the background paper for the 1977 regional conference which was prepared by the excellent officials in the Department of Education and Science. The headings are: The School Curriculum 5 to 16. The Assessment of Standards. The Education and Training of Teachers. School and Working Life. It all seems very familiar. The Opposition welcome the return to those issues. They are some of the right ones.

I also strongly hope that we shall have no more of the absurd nostrums of the Tory Right such as vouchers and open enrolment. The Secretary of State must realise that his new-found support for the comprehensive system sits rather uneasily with the extensive public assistance which the Government provide for private schools, those engines of division and privilege. It also fits a little uneasily with the weekend speeches of his junior Minister, in which he expressed favour for the return of grammar schools. I hope that we shall hear no more of that.

Mr. Madel

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to be fair to the Conservative party. When talking about comprehensive schools, will he remember that many education authorities with Conservative majorities and Conservative education committees chose to go comprehensive? Their problem now is whether they have the right type of comprehensive system. That is what the argument is now about in many counties.

Mr. Radice

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point. I was talking about Conservative Ministers and Conservative Members of Parliament, not about Conservative-controlled local authorities or Conservative parents. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the latter were among the leaders of the movement towards comprehensive education. It is quite right to remind me of that.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Does my hon. Friend agree that we still find the recalcitrant backwoodsmen among Conservative-controlled authorities? Trafford council, for example, still operates the divisive selective system.

Mr. Radice

My hon. Friend is correct. If I can help him persuade that local authority to mend its ways, I shall be glad to do so.

As I said in my maiden speech from the Dispatch Box, we shall always support the Secretary of State if he speaks up for the state system. To judge from the silence of some of his old friends and from the reaction of the Right-wing popular press, he might occasionally need our support.

The Opposition also want to raise standards for all of our children. Perhaps our definition is broader than that of the Secretary of State. Examinations are important, but it is not only a case of more pupils passing more examinations, whether they be A-level, O-level, grade 4 passes at CSE level or even the new criterion reference examinations.

If we are to be a prosperous, creative and successful community in the 21st century, our schools must develop our children's practical and academic talents. That means that pupils must acquire basic skills, be adequately prepared for life and, through achievement at school, acquire self-confidence and self-respect. Only some of what is needed can be helped and developed through examinations. I should like to hear the Secretary of State say that. I know that he has said it on occasions, but I want to hear him say it this afternoon.

Whether we take a narrow definition or a broader definition, it is crucial to make clear the means and methods by which we can achieve the objective of raising standards. It is not enough to raise hopes and aspirations. We must also spell out the means. Otherwise, we shall be engaged in a giant deception of the British people. It is here that I find the Secretary of State's Sheffield speech disappointing. I hope that I am not paraphrasing that speech too outrageously if I describe his proposals in the following way: motivate more children than ever before by developing a clear, relevant and uncluttered curriculum and by designing examinations which measure their actual achievements rather than their performance relative to their peers. I hope that he will accept that description of what he seeks to do.

Sir Keith Joseph

I accept it so far as it goes. However, I should like to add: improved effectiveness of teachers, both by initial training and in-service training, and also records of achievement.

Mr. Radice

I accept that addendum.

I want to look at the curriculum and examinations in turn, but first I want to emphasise that they should be looked at together. I think the Secretary of State will agree that most authorities, ranging from the HMI to the CBI and the TUC, agree that one cannot look at examinations and the curriculum in isolation from each other. One of the troubles is that at present the influence of examinations on the curriculum is not always beneficial. On the contrary, the pressure of examinations on secondary schools at present often limits and narrows the curriculum to the detriment of pupils at all levels of ability. Examinations should be the servant, not the master.

There are signs that the Secretary of State understands that. In his article in The Times of 9 January he said: Clear and accepted descriptions of what pupils should learn add meaning to the motion of educational standards. Before we try to raise standards we would do well to define them. It is noticeable, however, that the right hon. Gentleman is much more clear about what should be done about examinations than he is about what should happen to the curriculum. Let us take what he said about the principles of the curriculum: on the one hand, it should be broad for all pupils; on the other hand, it should avoid clutter. I know that HMI has complained about clutter, but in "Aspects of Secondary Education" and in "A View of the Curriculum" it was talking about the wide and sometimes unco-ordinated variety of options adopted after the third year.

Although HMI wanted agreement on what should be taught, it specifically rejected a narrowing of the curriculum. It said very clearly in "A View of the Curriculum": An excessively instrumental view of the compulsory period of education runs the risk of actually reducing pupils' opportunities at a later stage, by requiring premature assumptions about their likely futures … and by narrowing the educational base on which their potential may be developed". That is an important aspect, and I hope that the Secretary of State will bear it in mind.

Against that background, I find the Under-Secretary's speech of 10 January most disturbing. He was speaking to North Fylde Conservatives in the plush environs of the Imperial hotel in Blackpool, and he put this gloss on the Secretary of State's words about the curriculum: That's rather a sophisticated way of saying that we expect the three Rs to be taught and to be mastered properly. I give a word of advice to the Secretary of State. If he wishes to portray himself as a reformer of the curriculum, he should keep his junior Minister on a tighter rein, particularly at weekends.

Mr. Dunn

And on Tuesdays.

Mr. Radice

On Tuesdays, too. Perhaps the Secretary of State agrees with his junior Minister. The subjects that he suggests for a core curriculum are narrowly and academically defined in his Sheffield speech. For example, he defines the curriculum only in terms of single subjects such as English, mathematics, science, history, craft, design and technology. I believe that most experts would want to add other subjects to that list, especially modern language which is one of the subjects on which criterion-reforming is most advanced and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central mentioned music and computer studies.

Most notably lacking in the Secretary of State's account is the interdisciplinary approach recommended by the Select Committee. The Select Committee said that a young person of 16 who is to take an intelligent understanding in the world of today needs not so much a detailed specialist knowledge of one of the humanities but some understanding of a number of disciplines including history, geography, economics and politics. Similarly, we see the need for young people to combine their study of all the sciences and to consider the political applications and social implications of what they learn. We did not hear that point from the Secretary of State, but it has already been made to him by HMI. He makes no mention at all of the need for young people to be made aware of their civic rights and responsibilities, whether it is a matter of voting, welfare rights or other factors. All that is involved in what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition calls education for citizenship.

Other topics are vital to a preparation for life, including interview technique, how to write a curriculum vitae, how to use money wisely, some element of work experience and some knowledge of industry, including meeting employers and trade unions. I should have thought that that was important, but we had no mention of those aspects from the Secretary of State. It is no wonder that the editor of The Times Educational Supplement, Stuart MacClure, has predicted this week that there will be a much narrower curriculum in the year 2000.

I suggest to the Secretary of State, in humility, that it would make good sense for the Government at least to be in touch with the curriculum committee which he recently set up. It might have been sensible if he had consulted that committee in the first place before coming forward with what he has called carefully worked out proposals. I understand that he did not consult the committee.

It is significant that examinations play a central part in the strategy of the Secretary of State. He is proposing a new grading system of examinations which, in his words, measure absolute standards. I accept that there is a wide body of support for more criterion references rather than norm-based examinations. I wish that educationists did not have all those jargon terms, but I suppose that they are a useful way fo describing what they are talking about. It is true that work is being done by a number of authorities, including the inner London education authority and Oxfordshire on criterion reforming and that it is possible to apply this principle to mathematics and modem languages. Much more work will need to be done before we can apply this principle with any confidence to other subjects such as English and history. I believe that the Secretary of State is aware of that, but there was not much of a hint of it in his speech.

I note that the Secondary Examinations Council will be carrying out further extensive research into possibilities. Until we know the result of that and other research, I suggest that we need to be much more cautious than the Secretary of State has so far been in deciding whether it is possible to erect a system which can measure absolute standards.

In any case, there is a more general point about the Secretary of State's proposals. What is the purpose of examinations? Is it to measure standards, motivate pupils and give them a sense of achievement, or is it a selective device for higher education and employers? Our current examination structure has rightly been called a "failure" system, in which substantial numbers leave school with little or no academic achievement.

I accept that the Secretary of State's purpose is to ensure that far more pupils pass examinations—and at higher levels—than ever before. I share that purpose, but there is a real danger that by concentrating so much on examinations we shall give them an even more central position in school life than they now hold.

One advantage of a graded criterion reference examination might be that individual pupils could take examinations at their own pace, but we shall lose much of that benefit if we become neurotically anxious and concentrate on examinations to the exclusion of almost everything else. The danger is that the new system could become just as much a failure system as the present system, especially if certain grades are considered failure grades. It could have a harmful effect on the curriculum if we are not careful about how we operate it.

We need a structure which accentuates rather than diminishes self-confidence and achievement. I accept that we need a good assessment system and that criterion referencing could play a large and constructive part in that, but we also require an effective national profile system of record of achievement for all pupils. Above all, before we devise our examinations we need carefully to work out what we intend to do with the curriculum.

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to make up his mind about a common 16-plus examination? The case for that has been widely accepted in the education community for more than 10 years. Given the right hon. Gentleman's new support for a criterion referencing system, which takes in more pupils, does that make a common 16-plus examination more, or less, probable?

The Secretary of State's speech was as important for what it did not say as for what it did say. I suspect that there are some equally important, if not more important, reasons for under-achievement which the right hon. Gentleman either barely mentioned or did not mention at all. For example, there is unemployment, which has already been mentioned in the debate. The fact that more than one quarter of our youngsters under the age of 25 are unemployed is likely to have a major influence on motivation at school.

I do not argue that the purpose of education should be defined solely in terms of how it fits youngsters for employment—far from it—but as I go around schools I find that both pupils and teachers agree that, with the prospect of prolonged unemployment hanging over them, many pupils question the value of education. "A road to nowhere" is how one 15-year-old in an area of high unemployment described his school. For all his charm and sincerity, the Secretary of State cannot escape his responsibility for the disastrous consequences for employment of the Government's economic policies—or will he now say that he was wrong about that also? I hope that he will.

There is also increasing poverty and deprivation in inner city and older industrial areas—"the cycle of deprivation" which the right hon. Gentleman discovered in the 1970s.

Mr. Christopher Hawkins

It is wrong to give the impression that education is "a road to nowhere" in any sense. The interesting point about studies on long-term unemployed people—as opposed to short-term—is the shortage of education qualifications both on leaving school and afterwards.

Mr. Radice

That was my answer to the young person who made the point. I was quoting what he said, which is something that we must take into account.

We know from many studies, and from what my hon. Friends have said, the profound impact that the interlocking factors of poverty and deprivation have on educational achievement. I ask a question which I hope the Secretary of State will take seriously. Is he demanding action today from his Cabinet colleagues to eradicate poverty? I very much doubt it, because it means extra money. That brings me to the issue of resources.

Of course, money is not everything. One needs good teachers and to teach the right subject. Even a well-resourced school cannot, by itself, compensate entirely for the disadvantages of background and environment. However, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, resources are important all the same. It is ludicrous to imply, as the Secretary of State did in his Leeds speech last Friday, that expenditure makes little or no difference to educational outcome.

If that were true, why does the Secretary of State send his inspectors around the country every year to check on the effects of local government expenditure on the education service. There would be no point. He knows better than I that for the past three years his inspectors have been telling him that the spending cuts have been having a harmful effect on the numbers and types of teachers, on the curriculum, and on books and equipment, all of which are central to his objective of raising standards.

The Secretary of State must surely heed the warnings from his advisers in their latest report. I shall read it, because it is important: Secondary schools were in general not well placed to meet the demands currently made on them in respect of their general curriculum (along the lines of circular 6/81, and, subsequently, the associated consultation documents on science and modern languages, and of the Cockroft report.) Those were all mentioned by the Secretary of State in his speech.

They are asked to raise standards across the board"— the Secretary of State is doing that— to develop a more practical curriculum for pupils of all abilities and to enhance the pre-vocational and technical element; and, in particular, to improve the motivation of and the means of learning of the least academic of their pupils". They conclude: In most secondary schools, existing levels of resources could not now be stretched to meet the demands legitimately placed on them by the community at large, nor could they in all cases maintain the existing basic provision. I should have thought that that was a pretty blunt warning to the Secretary of State by his advisers, yet he blandly continues to argue that local authorities face few difficulties even with the 1984–85 rate support grant and the prospect of rate capping.

Only today in The Times Educational Supplement Biddy Passmore, who is not exactly a member of the Labour party, points out from her survey of local authorities that Pupil-teacher ratios may get worse this year … Meanwhile, the prospect of rate-capping and — more immediately—stiff targets and penalties for 1984–85, appear to be forcing most council spending down. Even frugal counties like Somerset, whose low spending has aroused the concern of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, have been forced to make a real cut to avoid a severe grant penalty. I understand that there is a crisis in Kent. I hope that the Under-Secretary is listening, because it is his own county. I quote from The Standard which yesterday said: Schools in Kent are to be starved of supplies for the next 10 weeks because finance chiefs have found they are likely to overspend by £2,000,000.

All the county's 800 schools and colleges have been told they can have no more books, stationery, classroom equipment or extra staff to cover for absent colleagues in an emergency. These stringent savings have been ordered because of fears that overspending will bring a £5,000,000 fine from the Government". Therefore, the local authorities are in difficulties.

Yesterday I talked to teachers from seven west midlands schools. Without exception they said that the new examinations would be much more expensive, that much new money would be needed to develop the curriculum and that the improvement in teacher quality would require more initial and in-service training as well as more specialist teachers, which, as the Secretary of State knows full well, is extremely expensive. The right hon. Gentleman must be honest and tell the House that no major education improvement can be achieved without a great deal of extra resources. That is the plain truth, and the right hon. Gentleman must admit it to the House.

Of course we welcome the Secretary of State's discovery of education, as we welcomed his discovery of poverty in the 1970s, but, as an Opposition, we would be failing in our duty to the House of Commons if we were to give him a blank cheque. We believe that he is still extremely unclear about the way in which standards are to be raised. We do not yet know whether, in the battle for the soul of the Secretary of State, the Dr. Jekyll of Sheffield or the Mr. Hyde of Leeds will triumph. So we shall have to wait and see.

1.36 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

If only the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) had left out Canossa I could have congratulated him on his speech. Because of that, I am limiting my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins), who chose this subject when he had the good fortune to win the ballot, and who introduced the debate so succinctly, yet so constructively.

To use words that are often used at the Dispatch Box, but to use them sincerely, it has been an excellent debate. Views have been expressed vigorously and relatively briefly. I have far too many questions to answer. Therefore, I shall do my best to answer in writing, in due course, the questions that I do not answer in my reply.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak made a constituency point. He said that the Derbyshire local education authority had made proposals in connection with Glossop school and Buxton girls' school. There have been statutory objections. Therefore, the decisions about the proposals will have to be made by the holder of my office.

I assure my hon. Friend that the arguments for the proposals and the views and objections that he and his constituents have expressed will be studied seriously by me, and the decision will be made by me as soon as practicable.

I shall pick out some of the main points in the speech of the hon. Member for Durham, North. In the view of many people, including many in the education service, standards are lower than they should be. We should latch on to the point made so briefly and effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who spoke from considerable overseas experience. We must take into account the fact that some overseas countries seem to do better in many areas than we do. I am not saying that they are altogether better; certainly not. Perhaps more persuasively, some schools here in areas where there are great dificulties seem, with the same resources and facing the same problems, to produce better results than thier neighbours. The evidence for that is not my opinion but the research by Rutter. None of this dismisses the problem; it simply emphasises that we should not quibble about standards, and that hon. Members should not gloat about some remark that I made. We should all address ourselves—I think the debate has shown that we want to do it—to the raising of standards throughout the country.

I regret that the hon. Member for Durham, North chose to gloat because I have had to give up the effort—which I still think was a noble effort—to give all parents a greater choice than the majority have now. I have had to give up the idea of shifting from where we are to a voucher system, but I do not in the least apologise for trying to give all parents a real choice.

The hon. Member for Durham, North mentioned differentiation — a fairly central point that was also raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). There was also a reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) to mixed ability classes. The pendulum has swung very much against mixed ability. It is now common in primary schools and in the first and even sometimes the second year of secondary schools, but it is a relative rarity in the later years of secondary school.

The problem of mixed ability is that it calls- for extremely skilful teaching. I have no doubt that we have teachers who can do it, but we are not all geniuses. Yet the difficulty of differentiation is not limited to classes where mixed ability is the practice. The problem is constantly identified by HMI reports, which say that the form of teaching in a particular school or class either does not stretch the able or leaves the less bright limping far behind.

As I believe that the question is relevant to the issue of comprehensive against selective education, I remind the House that I stressed in my Sheffield speech that differentation has to occur, if not between schools then within schools, and it is not for me to explain to teachers how they can do it. That is for each school and each local authority to decide. I am not giving a lecture on the subject; I am trying to answer broadly what was said in the debate.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), rather uncharitably, implied that there was nothing much—

Mr. Flannery


Sir Keith Joseph

I did not say "uncharacteristically" because I could not honourably say so. The hon. Gentleman said with some emphasis that there was nothing very much in catching many of the ideas that had been floating around for a long time and putting them together in a speech in Sheffield, and he asked what all the fuss was about. That was a little ungenerous of him. Of course it is true that many of the ideas in the Sheffield speech have been around for a long time, and that many of the components of the Government's proposals have been suggested and discussed by various people and in various ways, but to my knowledge no previous Government have put them together in a coherent programme.

I acknowledge at once that several of my predecessors in Labour and Conservative Governments have initiated changes that are now part of the base from which we can do better, but no previous Government have set the achievement of such a coherent programme as is contained in the Sheffield speech as a task to be pursued jointly by the Government and the rest of the education service. The hon. Member for Hillsborough could, without weakening his criticism in any way, have acknowledged that.

Mr. Flannery

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Keith Joseph

If I must, but I was not ungentle to the hon. Gentleman.

The Government's proposals for raising standards in schools have been generally welcomed and I am naturally glad about that. However, the Government are well aware that it is one thing to formulate a plan—even a widely approved plan—and quite another to implement it. The Government are soberly aware of the scale and range of what has to be done to turn our words into reality. In co-operation with our partners and with parents and employers, we have to bring about a transformation in the effectiveness of what goes on much of the time in many—not all, of course—of the 25,000 maintained schools in England and Wales and the 350,000 classrooms in those schools. It is a formidable task.

I remind the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, that that is not a task which any Government, however well intentioned and whatever their resources, can do on their own. The task must be shared with parents. Mercifully—and may it last for ever— Governments do not control parents. Therefore, schools have to find ways to persuade more parents to co-operate in benefiting their children. Of course, most already do so.

The main issue in the debate has not cleanly divided the two sides of the House. The issue is, of course, resources, and some of my hon. Friends have gently and tactfully made some of the same points that have been made by Opposition Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak did not leave out of his speech a slight plea for more resources and he was echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) and by Opposition Members, all of whom were led vigorously by the hon. Member for Durham, North.

I do not want to spend too much time on the subject, but I wish to state my views as persuasively as I can. There is common ground between us. It is common ground that money matters, that, as was shown in the recent statistical bulletin issued by the Department, socioeconomic links are the best explanation of performance as measured by examinations, that not all parents provide ideal backgrounds, that environment makes a contribution, for better or worse, and that in inner cities many of the problems coalesce to make the overall problem even more difficult. That common ground is a start, but I seek wider common ground.

The hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) vividly described in their impressive speeches the conditions in their constituencies — the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) made a similar speech — but defined only part of the problem and I fear that they might do the same even if their party came to power.

The hon. Members described the position of a substantial minority of children and the difficulties of making education effective for them. But that is not the limit of the problem, difficult though that aspect of it may be. The majority of children are not fulfilling their potential either, even though they have no background of deprivation.

Secondly, hon. Members, despite their sincerity, which I do not doubt, do not face up to the cure in this difficult world. Under no Government will resources be easy. The queue for extra money is endless, whatever the Government. I am not making a political speech, but giving political facts. Labour seems to promise things, but even almost everything in the defence budget will not pay for almost everything wanted, even if Labour were to come to power and cut the defence budget. Labour cut public spending on education before pupil numbers fell. Without quarrelling with the hon. Member for Knowsley, South, I could take as a text for this debate some of the words that he used earlier, which were: I am aware that throwing money at a problem does not solve it, but denying resources exacerbates it. Many local authorities and schools feel constrained. They are not comforted when Government spokesmen say what is the truth—that spending per child in real terms is at record levels. However, the Government are also constrained, as are taxpayers and ratepayers. The pupil-teacher ratio is at a record low level and the spending per child is at a record high level. It was inaccurate of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) to suggest that the Trafford PTR was much worse than the national average. The Trafford PTR is 18.3: 1 against 18.1: 1 in the country as a whole; that is a marginal difference.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The point that I was trying to make was not a comparison between Trafford and elsewhere, but about the relative change in the Trafford PTR, in particular as it affects a school in the inner city.

Sir Keith Joseph

I shall follow the hon. Gentleman's argument more closely.

On the common ground that we have, I shall make a balanced proposal to critics about resources. The critics already accept that not all school problems can be solved by more money; that is why we are talking about examinations, the curriculum and the effectiveness of teachers. I ask the critics to remember the research findings of Rutter, and to accept something that they do not seem to accept at the moment, at least the Opposition critics—that where more money is needed it should first be sought by redeploying existing resources.

The first task of a local education authority is to make the best use of the large existing resources available to it.

There is scope, although not in every local education authority and not to the same extent between local education authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) referred to the scope in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant) referred to scope in other respects. However, other hon. Members, particularly Labour Members, asked the taxpayers and the ratepayers for more money for education. Surely it is first a duty on them to make sure that the large resources already available are being effectively spent.

It is because of the conviction that in nearly all local education authorities there is scope for redeployment that I was able to say sincerely at Leeds that I believe that rate capping need not damage education.

Mr. Radice

The right hon. Gentleman is talking about redeploying existing resources, but what advice will he give authorities such as Somerset, which has been criticised by the HMI, and Kent, both of which have cut to the bone but which are still in considerable trouble under the penalty scheme, and which may even be in difficulties with rate capping? Surely the Secretary of State must accept that his own plan will need additional money spent on examinations, the curriculum and teachers.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am coming to my side of the bargain. I ask critics to accept that point of view.

In return, I accept that where money is needed for real education purposes—money that we know how to spend to make education better—and where there is no scope for redeployment, I may need to try to convince my colleagues that more must be made available. But I ask the House to accept that my chance, as holder of my office, of convincing my colleagues that more money is needed will be far better if the aims of education are accepted as sensible and if the strategy adopted by the education service to achieve those aims is also accepted as sensible. I offer that bargain, for what it is worth, to critics. Let them accept some responsibility for redeployment.

I fear that I have to turn once again to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. Before I go into the detail of our proposals, there is one factor to which he referred that is so crucial that I must emphasise it early. Primary schools matter. We all tend to focus far too much on the secondary stage. My hon. Friend was right to remind us that what happens in the primary stage is crucially important.

The Government's plan involves tackling three vital aspects of standards in schools: the curriculum, examinations and the effectiveness of teachers. We intend to tackle all three in co-operation with everyone in the education system and with those whom the system serves.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak and others, one of the next steps to be taken will be to carry on the implementation of the improvements in initial teacher training spelt out in the White Paper published by the Government last March and entitled "Teaching Quality". The accreditation body will, I hope, be in action by Easter.

Secondly, we are consulting all our local authority partners. The first meeting on the subject of the Sheffield speech is to be next week.

Thirdly, we are consulting our teacher partners. We are seeing each of the main teacher associations. Two of them, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association, are meeting me next week. I am awaiting replies to my letters of invitation to the other teacher associations.

Fourthly, we are setting in hand the necessarily slow preparations for changing the examinations from norm-referencing, where each child is examined in relation to other children, to grade-related criterion referencing, where each child is examined in relation to what he or she has in knowledge, skills and competence. On this, I am meeting the new Secondary Examinations Council in 10 days.

Fifthly, we are listening systematically to employers to learn better what they need. That will start very soon.

At the NEDC last week, the top item on the agenda was schools. From all around the table the Government's plan was given a warm general welcome. The TUC asked for a leisurely meeting to put constructive suggestions to Ministers. A meeting is being arranged.

I turn to the curriculum objectives. We have a long and honourable tradition of leaving teachers freedom in the exercise of their professional skills. The Government do not intend to issue central guidance on precisely what teachers should teach, let alone precisely how they should teach it. But we intend, in discussion with all concerned, to work out in some detail objectives for what is taught in our schools and to publish those objectives. We intend the objectives to be broadly agreed by the education service and to be acceptable to parents, employers and the public. In embarking upon this process, I am aware that we shall be building on much of what is best in our schools today.

Objectives are needed for the range of the curriculum, for the balance between subjects, and for the level of attainment to be reached at the end of the primary phase at age 11 and at the end of the compulsory period at age 16. We intend to set out objectives for each main area of the curriculum. All this is not intended to lead to a national syllabus in each subject or in all subjects. The syllabus is the detail of how the subject is taught, and that matter will be decided—it will vary from school to school—in the school and the local authority. There will be much more consistency in the skill and competence which the pupil will be expected to master by studying a subject, and the knowledge and understanding which he will be expected to obtain from that subject, but the precise means by which it is taught will be left to local decision.

The school curriculum cannot meet the needs of adult life in the 21st century unless it provides every pupil, whatever his ability, with a broad initial base. The school day and year are just not long enough to acquire the necessary personal qualities unless a wide range of agreement exists. The essential qualities are the basic skills in English and maths, the necessary grasp of science, a foreign language or more, the humanities, craft design and technology and aesthetic subjects, and schools must meet the statutory requirements for religious education and allow proper scope for physical education. The demand on schools is huge, and only a great deal of agreement can ensure that all is done.

Breadth is an essential element throughout the compulsory years. The sixth form curriculum, too, will I hope become broader through the introduction of two new types of course — the certificate of pre-vocational education for those who do not aim at A-levels; and for those who do, a new course to supplement A-level study, which will also lead to an examination qualification.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West asked when the Government will have more to say about broadening A-levels. I hope within a couple of months to publish proposals for an examination to supplement A-levels, but a decision will have to be taken by the higher education bodies.

Two other principles should govern the system of objectives that we intend to develop. First, within the curriculum there should be differentiation in what is taught to take account of differences in the ability and aptitudes of pupils. Those differences arise in every type of school, primary and secondary, selective or non-selective, and need to be taken into account, as I tried to emphasise earlier, in all of them.

Secondly, what is taught needs to be related to the real world to a much greater extent. Pupils often learn better if they can see the connection between what they are being taught and the world that they know. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North asked for an example. In the teaching of physics, teachers should pay more attention to the transistor or the microchip than to the valve. History lessons can take account of the local environment and historical buildings that are familiar to the children.

In any case, much of what is learnt at school is meant to be applied in some way to a practical case in adult life, often in a technical context, so the curriculum needs to include subjects with a strong practical element and to emphasise the practical applications of all subjects. The technical and vocational education initiative programme, which is to be expanded from this September, will be of huge value in this respect.

Our system of public examinations at 16 serves to give schools and pupils a goal at the end of the compulsory period. Under its aegis, many schools and many pupils have done much excellent work. The courses for those examinations will be further improved when they are governed, for the first time, by a set of national criteria. These are now being prepared by the examination boards for the approval of the Secretary of State for Wales and myself. We intend those criteria to apply whether we decide, in the second quarter of this year, to establish a single system of grades and certification, or to harmonise separate O-level and CSE grades. There is a tide running in favour of merging the two examinations. I shall need convincing that a merged system can stretch the bright and do justice to the less bright without some of the main disadvantages claimed against the present system.

We wish to take further the work on criteria that is already in hand more fundamentally to improve the 16-plus examinations. At present, those examinations are not meant to be successfully attempted by all pupils, nor are they intended as certificates of competence. They serve rather to grade candidates in relation to one another. A pupil awarded a certain grade in a subject can be regarded as having achieved more in that subject than a pupil awarded a lower grade; but the grades do not tell us what each pupil has achieved. Those candidates who are lowest in the pecking order of achievement in a subject are not awarded any grade, even if they have achieved something, because the intention of the system is that some candidates should not obtain even the lowest grade.

The present system is helpful to employers insofar as the award of a high grade, such as a higher O-level grade, gives a fair assurance that the holder is at the upper end of the ability range for that subject. However, it gives only a limited idea of what the holder knows, understands, or can do in that subject. The Government intend to move to a system of grading under which the award of a higher grade continues to entail a higher level of attainment than does the award of a lower grade, but where the grades more closely reflect absolute levels of attainment. The holder of the grade will have given reasonable assurance that he can do specific things, or has a specified competence, understanding or knowledge.

My hon. Friends the Members for High Peak and for Ealing, North asked me about the word "absolute". No examination system designed for the generality of pupils can guarantee highly specific standards of real proficiency in all aspects of subjects such as English or mathematics, but eventually we can have a reasonable assurance that someone with a certain grade in such a subject has a certain competence in many aspects of that subject, expressed in reasonably, but not pedantically, specific term. The new grades corresponding to present higher O-level grades would be awarded only if the candidate had reached the level of attainment now broadly associated with those O-level grades. The Government are determined at least to maintain the standards of those grades. Since they will be awarded only if the candidate satisfies fairly specific tests of competence and understanding, some pupils who now manage to obtain a higher O-level grade might not obtain the corresponding new grade. Conversely, if we succeed, in due course a larger percentage than now will reach higher grade levels.

Towards the other end of the ability spectrum, a much larger proportion than now will, we hope, be motivated to achieve successes far beyond what they achieve now; and all pupils who satisfy the new tests of competence and understanding would obtain the new grades, irrespective of how many other pupils had also obtained them.

I emphasise the point that, with the new examination, every pupil and teacher will have the spur of a defined objective — mastering specified skills or attaining a certain understanding or knowledge. That incentive will encourage effort and increase achievement, although I do not underestimate for a moment the factors mentioned by the hon. Members for Knowsley, South and for Stretford. The incentive will have an important influence on the effectiveness of teaching and learning lower down the age range. Success in attaining the defined objectives will be acknowledged by the award of the appropriate grade. Pupils will be tested on what they can do and rewarded for showing that they can do it. We hope to instil the expectation of success, not failure.

The standards of examination grades will be preserved. We are raising our sights. Our purpose is that the standards of education in our schools should be so improved that almost all children reach — or preferably exceed — specified minimum levels of achievement.

The Government are not only aiming to improve academic performance but on also simply by intending to introduce records of achievement on which a consultation document is being discussed. We are demonstrating that we value the personal characteristics and attainments of pupils of all abilities.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Sir Keith Joseph

Other hon. Members will lose time if I give way.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I warmly welcome the right hon. Gentleman's ideas on profiling and what he said about examinations, but will he stress that this should not be seen as a means by which employers can consider school leavers, almost as if at a supermarket, and select them as a result of their examination achievements or their profile grading? Will he stress that this should be an educational process and not a short cut by which employers select pupils?

Sir Keith Joseph

It will be up to each child to choose whether to show his or her record of achievement to anyone, including potential employers. We cannot blame employers for trying to identify school leavers who will best fit their requirements, any more than it is possible to blame any of us for trying to match our tastes in everything that we do.

The third set of measures is directed at the effectiveness of teachers. I remind right hon. and hon. Members of the White Paper entitled "Teaching Quality". It will fall principally to teachers to secure for pupils the advantages which are offered by a system of objectives for the curriculum and a new type of 16-plus examination.

In last year's White Paper the Government announced policies which were designed to enhance teachers' contributions. We emphasised improved selection of new entrants to the profession and said that, in future, all initial teacher training courses would be assessed against criteria which were designed to improve their academic content and to relate courses more closely to the practical tasks which the trained teacher will have to fulfil. We are directing the attention of local education authorities to the need for a closer match between what teachers are qualified to teach and what they are asked to teach. Next year we shall expand the scheme, which we introduced, whereby in-service training of teachers in priority areas is supported by specific grants.

In-service training is crucial. The Government recognise that. That is why, in agreement with local education authorities, specific grants are now in payment. I believe that in-service training should be almost the first claim on any money that is provided by redeployment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West asked several questions about the way in which the Government, in the light of the Sheffield speech, regard some of the recommendations of the previous Select Committee. I shall write to him when I have had a chance to consider the matter. In the meantime, I draw his attention to current discussions between teachers' employers and teachers' associations about better assessment of rewards for experienced teachers. I apologise to my hon. Friend and others who asked some questions which I have not been able to answer.

Right hon. and hon. Members occasionally ask me about timing. I am told that it will be four to five years before we get much change as a result of these proposals. I hope, however, that after five years the examinations will reflect the changes and that they will examine on an agreed curriculum. I hope also that the benefits of improved in-service and initial training will have begun to emerge. A system of objectives for the curriculum and a new type of 16-plus examination on the basis that I have outlined open the door to a general improvement in the standard of attainment of pupils of all ability including the most able. The Government have set themselves and the education service a long-term target of raising what 80 to 90 per cent. of all pupils achieve at the age of 16 in a number of subjects over a wide range of skills and knowledge, at least to the level now achieved by the pupil of average ability. I say "at least", because the target entails that those of average ability and above will also achieve correspondingly more at the age of 16. My intention is that almost all pupils at 16-plus should achieve worthwhile qualifications and that these qualifications should not, as now, be aimed only at 60 per cent. in each subject. This is not to be achieved by lowering present levels of expected attainment, but by setting realistic yet challenging curricular objectives that have been agreed and understood by teachers, pupils, parents and employers, and then basing examinations and assessment on those agreed objectives.

I have learnt from today's debate. In due course I shall answer those questions put to me by hon. Gentlemen that I have not answered. I thank again my hon. Friend for High Peak for choosing and introducing this subject for debate.

2.15 pm
Mrs. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

I join the other hon. Members who have welcomed the opportunity of a debate of this nature. I also join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in saying that it has been a great pleasure to sit through it because of the high quality of the contributions from both sides.

The debate is about a topic that has exercised the minds of parents, teachers, members of local authorities and Governments for a number of years. I, for my sins, have fallen into each of those categories at different stages of my life. I have been and am a parent, I have been a teacher, I have been the chairman of a local education committee, and I am currently a Member of Parliament. So my experience of education is fairly broad, although I do not claim to have any great expertise.

I want to address my remarks in particular to the qualities that are required in the people who are to carry out the excellent programme that my right hon. Friend has just outlined in his intensely interesting speech. I refer, of course, to the teaching profession. The people whom we are to attract into the teaching profession in future are crucially important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) spoke of the importance of the primary school element in our education system. He is quite correct. A child's first experience of education is in the primary school, and that school will determine whether it will enjoy that educational experience. Unfortunately, very often the child who is bright and is interested in the first two or three years may well not be so interested if he or she has the misfortune to come up against teachers who are perhaps not quite as well qualified or tuned in to the children's needs as they should be. So I shall consider how to encourage and select the people whom we want to come into the teaching profession, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will also consider the matter.

It is not just a matter of young people being asked to reach certain levels before they enter the teaching profession, teacher training college, or however they do it. It is also important, early on in their training, to have their ability tested to see whether they have chosen the right career. All too often—it happens to many people in all walks of life—one knows what one wants to do at the age of 18, only to find oneself trapped in a career for which one is not ideally suited. Great damage could be done to the young children of the future by someone who, unfortunately, is trapped into a profession to which he may not be ideally suited. That point should be carefully taken on board when looking at the system of training teachers.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the hon. Lady accept that it is a matter not just of testing or examining the fitness of these individuals, but of ensuring that within higher education they have an opportunity to move sideways into some other area and to obtain a qualification that has some virtue? It is not just that people should be stopped. Many of them want to change. They realise that that system is not for them but they feel trapped because of our higher education system. They feel that they must continue to train to teach because there are no alternatives to which they can easily move.

Mrs. Rumbold

In a sense, that is exactly what I am trying to say. Fairly early on in training one can identify whether an individual will be suited to a profession.

Many people who are attracted to teaching start believing that they will be good at some subject in secondary teaching or some area of higher education, but they may in fact be better suited to teaching at the primary school level. I urge the Secretary of State, when examining the grading and assessment of young people intending to enter the profession, to examine the opportunities for those people to find their own level.

Teaching is an honourable profession which, over the years, has attracted people of high calibre. People who go into the profession stay there for 30 years. In my experience in local government I found that one of the elements that is most divisive and most destructive to a good partnership between the people who work in local government, who are trying hard to provide the necessary resources for the education system and the teaching profession, was the unusual way we agreed remuneration and conditions of service for teachers. I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect closely on the way we continue to discuss this area.

I do not suggest that any profession, such as teaching, should not have a body to argue and negotiate with its employers on conditions and remuneration, but it is a pity that there are so many of those bodies within the profession. There are three such bodies in higher education and several for head teachers and ordinary teachers. An accumulation of unions try to negotiate on behalf of the profession. It is sad that many people, particularly in local government, believe that there will be divisive negotiations when trying to obtain a consensus between the authorities and the teaching profession about the best way to operate and the best use of resources for the young people in the area. There is a difficulty in having to argue across the table.

I urge that a close look should be taken at the way in which we negotiate teachers' salaries. The negotiation of salaries under the present system deliberately excludes conditions of service—what is actually being done. No good teacher will ever deny a child in a school the time that the teacher believes he or she requires, but many good teachers would feel very resentful if they were not being fairly treated in the general package. I believe that the general package would be better negotiated in one negotiation at one forum rather than two divisive forums. The negotiation impinges on the quality and the way in which the local authority people and the teaching professions work towards providing better standards for children.

We should question the way in which we appoint teachers to our schools. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members are aware of the curious system for selecting head teachers for both primary and secondary schools—it is certainly not the most scientific method. I do not think that many parents would disagree with my belief that the quality of a head of a school has an enormous impact on standards, the curricula and the welfare of the children. Yet there are no set criteria for judging who should be appointed to that post. It is sometimes more by luck than judgment that a school finds that it has an excellent head who can develop the school in the way that parents want.

My right hon. Friend and others considering the raising of standards in education should pay attention to the way in which people are appointed to senior posts. It is a relevant point in the whole argument about raising standards. The key positions in education should be filled by people with excellent qualifications and leadership qualities, just as industry needs to recruit such people to its key posts.

I wish to relate one of my experiences while visiting schools throughout the country, but especially in my constituency. In comparing standards of education between different schools, I was interested to find that not only was there an enormous variation in a relatively small area in the content of curricula, but that there was an enormous variation in how curricula subjects — for example, mathematics and English—were being taught, and an enormous variation in how teachers addressed themselves to those subjects.

I visited 50 primary schools across a range of areas, including socially deprived areas, so I understand the problems of youngsters coming from different home backgrounds. I found that mathematics would be taught in one way in one school, but taught in a wholly different way in a school in the next road. Yet we expect children living cheek by jowl to arrive at the same answers even when they are being taught by different methods. I therefore appreciate what my right hon. Friend is trying to do with criterion referencing.

I am delighted that we have reached this stage in the debate. The general debate did not begin simply with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), but has been taking place for many, many years. We have all been discussing how children can learn the same things at the same age. That depends a great deal on the quality of the teachers, who must have both the ability to teach and a sympathetic approach towards children from all social backgrounds. Therefore, it is crucial that the right sort of people are attracted to the teaching profession.

I welcome the remarks of the Secretary of State when he spoke about his approach to the 16-plus examination discussion. I hope, most sincerely, that he will not throw away the baby with the bath water when he studies the two different examinations.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.