HC Deb 14 March 1985 vol 75 cc451-9 4.17 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the final report, published today, of the committee of inquiry into the education of children from ethnic minority groups. Also published today is a guide to the main issues in the report written at my invitation by the chairman, Lord Swann, which I am arranging to be sent to all schools. Copies of both documents are available in the Vote Office.

The Government are profoundly grateful to the chairman and members of the committee for their long and dedicated labours on an issue of crucial importance. We believe that we have a duty to the House, to the ethnic minorities, and to the nation as a whole, to declare immediately where we stand on this issue.

The Government accept the committee's finding that many ethnic minority pupils are achieving below their potential and recognise the concern that is felt about this among their parents. We shall strive to improve the position through three broad lines of policy.

First, under-achievement is not confined to the ethnic minorities. Many in the majority community could be doing far better, and I am determined that they too should be helped, wherever they are at school. As the House knows, our policies for schools are designed to raise the performance of all pupils and to tackle the obstacles to higher achievement which are common to all. These policies apply to all pupils irrespective of ethnic origin. As they bear fruit, ethnic minority pupils will share in the benefit.

Secondly, we are determined to give ethnic minority pupils the same opportunity as all others to profit from what the schools can offer them. We are tackling the obstacles to opportunity, notably by promoting good practice in the teaching of English as a second language.

Thirdly, we want the schools to preserve and transmit our national values in a way which accepts Britain's ethnic diversity and promotes tolerance and racial harmony. Whether or not a school contains ethnic minority pupils, its ethos and curriculum should promote understanding and respect among all its pupils for the different ethnic groups which now contribute to our national life.

These three lines of policy are being supported by a number of measures. I have referred to the steps the Government are taking to raise pupil achievement generally. The need to take account of the ethnic diversity of our society has been written into the new criteria which will govern initial teacher training and the GCSE examinations, and will be incorporated in the objectives for the relevant subject areas of the school curriculum which we are formulating in co-operation with the education service. The same need lies at the heart of a group of projects, totalling some £1 million in 1985–86, which will be supported through the new education support grant scheme, and of some urban programme projects. I shall propose to the local authority associations that from 1986–87 onwards the in-service training grant scheme should include training dealing with the need to respond to ethnic diversity. Meanwhile in English language and mother-tongue teaching the good practice endorsed by the committee will continue to be encouraged and disseminated by Her Majesty's Inspectorate and supported by grants made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. These measures are essentially designed to change attitudes; they will not entail an increase in local authority expenditure as a whole.

Policy for the good education of ethnic minority pupils needs information which is adequate to measure and secure progress. Some local authorities already collect information on pupils on an ethnic basis. As the committee's interim report recommended, I have been exploring with the education service and the ethnic minorities the collection of ethnically based statistics on school pupils. There are legitimate concerns and practical difficulties. I hope that soon, however, this work will come to a successful conclusion so that all local authorities can operate acceptable and mutually compatible schemes which respect confidentiality. The committee recommended that, without positive discrimination and without any reduction in the required level of qualification, an increase in the proportion of ethnic minority teachers should be sought. The Government accept this recommendation. I intend to consider with the education service and the ethnic minorities how it might best be pursued. I shall consult about the possibility of establishing acceptable arrangements for the collection of statistics on ethnic minority teachers and students in teacher training, as the committee also recommends.

We badly need more hard information about the effect on achievement of factors in and out of school. I intend to commission research which will look at these factors and at the extent to which they contribute to underachievement among pupils of all backgrounds. Ethnic minority pupils would be one part of such a study.

The report contains many detailed recommendations which I will consider in consultation with those concerned in the education service and outside it. I shall also consider what might be done in these matters in further education, which was outside the committee's remit. But, to forestall unfounded fears or hopes, the Government wish to make it clear that they cannot accept four recommendations in the report. We do not intend to change the present statutory requirements for daily collective worship and for religious education in maintained schools. Nor do we wish in any way to call in question the present dual system of county and voluntary schools. It remains our policy not to extend mandatory student awards to any form of study which precedes higher education, and we see no immediate prospect of legislation to amend section 11 of the 1966 Act.

These four matters are not at the heart of this issue. It is the policies and practical actions which I have outlined that offer the best prospect of mobilising the combined efforts of the education service to the vital but difficult task of reducing under-achievement at school and promoting good education in our multi-ethnic society.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

The Opposition welcome the Swann report as a valuable guide to what must be done to ensure that all our children fulfil their potential at school. However, is the Secretary of State aware that parents will be expecting action from him, not just the elegant waffle that we have just heard? They will want to know what—in contrast to the Government's very weak response to Rampton—the Government are going to do about the Swann report. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they will want to know what the Government intend to do to provide genuine equality of opportunity in our schools; to ensure that the school curriculum reflects the values of our multicultural society; to root out the racism which, as Swann shows, blights the prospects of many black and Asian children? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the simple point made so clearly in the Swann report that initiatives in this area will require extra resources? We cannot ensure a good education for all our children without paying for it. As usual, it is bricks without straw.

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government have already announced a large number of policy changes concerned with the objectives of the curriculum, examinations, teacher training and records of achievement, to list only a few. All these things are highly relevant to under-achievement in all our population, including ethnic minorities. Those changes will come into effect over the next two or three years and will, I hope, be of benefit to all.

The hon. Gentleman has allowed himself to speak in far too absolute a fashion about what he calls "racism". He does an injustice to the teaching force, whose members are dedicated to the service of individual children and in whom I have seen precious little evidence of any racist prejudice. I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to accept that, apart from the general policies to reduce under-achievement to which I have already referred, the Swann report is asking us to deal with the most difficult of all issues—attitudes. I have announced that we are taking what steps seem practicable, emerging from the Swann report, to tackle those attitudes and I do not think that resources are in any way the prime need.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

As the person who was responsible for asking Lord Swann to take on the chairmanship of this committee, I wish to add my thanks to those given by my right hon. Friend to Lord Swann for his willingness to take on this job. I suggest that, had he realised at that time the enormity of the task that he was entering upon, he might have been slightly more hesitant.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about his decision not to interfere with the role of the voluntary schools. Does he agree that if we are to achieve in education equality of opportunity for all people of all ethnic groups—as the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said—the most important recommendation of all relates to the teaching of English to those for whom it is not their first language?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I doubt whether even he guessed, let alone warned Lord Swann, what an enormous task he was being asked to undertake. I agree, too, about the prime importance of the learning of English and that is why it featured among the first things that I said in my response.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

Will the Secretary of State promise that as a result of this long, detailed and good report we shall, within the course of the next year at least, have an opportunity to debate it in the House? I totally agree with him that this is a question of attitudes. Would he make it easier for teachers to gain some understanding by, for instance, making it obligatory to have a probationary or training period in schools which contain children from the ethnic minorities? Finally, I ask him particularly to look again at the Swann report recommendation on the educational under-achievement of West Indian children and to recognise that general solutions are useless when it comes to specific problems.

Sir Keith Joseph

My right hon. Friend the header of the House will be made aware of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion about holding a debate. There are Supply Days and the Opposition may wish to contribute a day of their own to the debate. I shall follow up the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that probationary teachers should spend a period in schools with ethnic minorities. On West Indians' special needs, the Swann committee reveals a certain paradox. There is a differential record of achievement among different groups of ethnic minorities and, indeed, within those groups.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, during my 23 years of teaching in London comprehensives, I taught children from overseas with 65 foreign languages between them? In my last school of 2,000 students, 700 of the children were black or coloured. The job done by the teachers was admired by people in all circumstances who determined that their work was free from racial prejudice of any kind. I welcome the credit my right hon. Friend has given to the teaching profession in doing that job.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a warm welcome across the country for his determination to refuse the Swann suggestion that morning assemblies should be changed and his determination that religious education should be strongly maintained? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the best way to overcome racism in any school is to give every child equal treatment? There is no other way. I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that we want more teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds. I advanced that idea many years ago. Does my right hon. Friend accept, however, that every teacher, from whatever background, must be well qualified and well able to do the job?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend, but I think that this country faces a particular problem to which the Government are addressing themselves — under-achievement in the majority community as well as in the ethnic minorities. That is why the Government introduced the low attainers programme, with extra money from the taxpayer. That is why we shall commission more research, as I said in my statement.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman, with his background and record, would have the same desire as I have to want children of ethnic minority communities to have a fair crack of the whip. I suggest that educational opportunity cannot be isolated to the narrow confines of education—it has, above all, something to do with home life. The right hon. Gentleman has talked about wanting the children of the majority community to achieve more. In areas such as mine, white children are sometimes in the minority, not the majority. Better homes, increased expenditure on housing and facilities to do homework are needed, because such areas are grossly overcrowded. There cannot be equality of opportunity without facing those issues. The right hon. Gentleman's Government is seriously remiss in that respect.

Sir Keith Joseph

There is some common ground between the hon. Gentleman and me, but I hope that he will agree that what the Government can do is relate education to what people can do for themselves.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that not just the Opposition have an interest in debating this important subject? It is already clear from exchanges across the Floor of the House that misunderstandings about the report are growing and leading to danger. Does my right hon. Friend also accept that perhaps the central feature of the whole report is the statement that attention must be paid to the curriculum and the operations of schools that have virtually no ethnic minority pupils? Does my right hon. Friend accept that many schools where the most useful, exciting and demonstrably effective work has been achieved are substantially ignored by the education press and many people making educational policy, because those schools cater for children for whom achievement is measured in much lower grades than the normally accepted targets? Because our system gives far too much credit to academic achievement alone, these demonstrable achievements are neglected.

Sir Keith Joseph

I respect the sensible ardour of my hon. Friend who was a member of the committee. I should be grateful if he would add to what he has said by telling me, in any form he wishes, the names of some of the schools whose work he thinks is underestimated. In that way I shall learn from him.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Although there will be general agreement with the Secretary of State that we need more information, will the hon. Gentleman accept that the fact that he has not announced substantial new resources to deal with under-achievement will be regarded as a great tragedy? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that in places such as my constituency, where half the schools in the inner city were built before 1903 and many schools are overcrowded, understaffed and underequipped, under-achievement is clearly linked with the unemployment, housing and poverty crises gripping the inner cities? Bradford council states: To learn well, a child must feel that her or his background, family origins, religion and cultural patterns are respected. A child with low self-esteem cannot learn. That is the problem of under-achievement. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that proposition?

Sir Keith Joseph

I think that the hon. Gentleman is deceiving himself if he thinks that the prime need is for resources. Indeed, the Swann committee does not say so. We face a considerable paradox, because substantial proportions of the ethnic minorities are achieving as well as— we are not satisfied with that standard either — substantial minorities in the majority community. The problem is that there is under-achievement in the majority community and differentially under-achievement in the ethnic minorities. The prime problem is not resources but the fact that some people manage to succeed on all sorts of terms with present resources, and some do not. We must ferret out what is happening. Further research is sought to help us.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

May I reassure my right hon. Friend that in Leicester, which has a large ethnic minority community, Asians, especially those of Moslem faith, are performing extremely well. They are not under-achieving in any way. Will my right hon. Friend examine the major problem, which I believe lies with the parents of these children, who need to be taught English as soon as possible? I am pleased that morning worship will continue to be encouraged in all schools.

Sir Keith Joseph

I hope that my hon. Friend will not fall into the fallacy of attributing one single factor as the cause. The Swann report contained healthy comments explaining that a single explanation will not suffice.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that about 20 per cent. of Leicester's population are Asian citizens and that its education system requires congratulation? The city has absorbed those people in the face of the Government's refusal to provide additional resources, as needed, to cope with problems which are obvious when a city contains people from other cultures and backgrounds who speak different languages. Bearing in mind that the city is being rate capped and that the county education authority is run by Conservatives, who refuse to assist in that authority's work, will the right hon. Gentleman suggest some form of positive action to assist, rather than simply say, "Well, everyone is the same. People perform as best they can"? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind especially the fact that Asian school leavers are discriminated against, as the Select Committee on Employment clearly found?

Sir Keith Joseph

Extra resources are provided under section 11, through the rate support grant, and in various other ways to deal with the type of problem to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I deeply respect the deep and valuable cultures and traditions which many of the ethnic minorities have brought to this country, but does my right hon. Friend accept that if he were to move towards a coherent, stable and integrated society the probability is that the majority of people in the United Kingdom would wish public money to be spent in such a way as to encourage one mother tongue, which is English, one culture, which is the culture of these islands, and the teaching of one history, which would be British history?

Sir Keith Joseph

I think that in general that is the Swann report's message. We are being told, and I think the whole House will agree, that the maintained education service should work as my hon. Friend says, while respecting the cultures of each separate group and the willingness of separate cultures to protect their continuity. It is true that the Swann report recommends that some attention should be paid to encouraging the mother tongue so that it may be a bridge towards the mastery of the English language. I ask those interested to read the cautious words in the Swann report about the mother tongue in the state system.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the statement and the interest shown in raising underachievement throughout the community, but should not attention be paid to home liaison, especially for first generation parents? As the report is not dealing with further education, is it not necessary to help parents to achieve the best objectives for their children?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, indeed. There is great scope, but it must be delicately done. I am glad to say that there are a number of such individual projects up and down the country from which I hope we can all learn.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that almost the most welcome part of his statement is his evident determination to treat the main problem as one of under-achievement, rather than underachievement amongst ethnic minorities? We wish him to direct his principal effort towards under-achievement in general.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall endeavour to call those hon. Members who have been rising, but I ask them to be brief.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Lithlithgow)

Forgive my curiosity, but before the press conference this morning did the members of the committee all see and agree the abstract, which will be much more widely read than the full report? The abstract reflects Lord Swann's clear recommendation in para.4.11 that all schools should adopt clear policies to combat racism. Formidable a chairman as he is, are we sure that the other members of the committee agreed the all-important abstract?

Sir Keith Joseph

The responsibility for the brief guide written by Lord Swann falls on my shoulders, as I asked him to write it. As he says in the brief guide, he wrote it without consultation with the Committee, and no doubt each member of the Committee would emphasise a different factor. In his guide, the chairman explains the background to the report.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so complacent about the extent of racism and racial prejudice in our society, which, in the view of the report, undermines the potential for achievement of ethnic minority children? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the report that schools must be much more sensitive to the needs of ethnic minority pupils? Will he say something about the Swann report's implications for teacher training,; in particular, that there should be some form of racist awareness training to ensure that racial prejudice does not exist among teachers?

Sir Keith Joseph

I distance myself from the kind of comments that the hon. Gentleman would evidently like me to make, because I think that the word "racism" is used as a relatively superficial alibi for what is a whole range of rather complicated issues. That is why it is necessary to have a little more research to discover why underachievement affects not just ethnic minorities, to different extents, but the majority community. We need to understand that, and "racism" does not begin to explain under-achievement in our society.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Secretary of State has undervalued resources. As Newham has a considerable ethnic minority school population, will he consider the case for individual resources for that borough if it is put up? On the point about British traditional values, do we not value human resources, and should we not therefore care for our teachers so that they can care for our pupils? Would that not be a much better way to combat the under-achievement of all our children?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am tempted to reply that teachers owe something to the children as well. I do not believe that their present behaviour—

Mr. Spearing

The community owes something to the teachers as well.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Is the Secretary of State aware that if he emphasises the problem of underachievement across all groups in our society it makes his view that there are sufficient resources even more perplexing? If we study the schools in the inner city areas which ethnic minorities attend, we see that they are the schools which are becoming increasingly starved of resources as cuts in education and local authority spending take place.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also address himself to another reality of education in inner city areas with massively high unemployment, which is that it is difficult for children in our schools to believe that education is relevant if at the end of that education they see no opportunities for employment? With unemployment rates of well over 50 per cent. in my constituency, many children find it difficult seriously to believe that schooling has any long-term benefit.

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that there is no link to be seen from the statistics between the amount of money that is spent and the value added to the children's education.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Oh, come on.

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Lady says, "Come on", but there is no link. Secondly, while accepting that unemployment is a misery in many areas, I must say, that if children emerge from school unadaptable and illiterate, they will have less chance of obtaining the jobs that will return.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

Granted what the Secretary of State has said about under-achievement in general affecting children over the whole community, is he aware that for a significantly large proportion of black parents the fact that their children leave our schools less able to compete in our society than white children causes the most enormous anxiety? Is he aware that in his statement this afternoon he has not shown that he fully appreciates the magnitude of the anxiety felt by black parents?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on some of the recent initiatives taken by the Inner London education authority on the lines of some of the report's recommendations before the report was made known?

Thirdly, while many of us understand that the Government will not make more money available for education, and the right hon. Gentleman has said that money makes no difference, will he look hard at the effects of the cuts in education, because there is a danger that many of them will have a disproportionately serious impact on the most disadvantaged—in many cases the black children—in our schools?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman will find at the beginning of my statement that I paid tribute to the anxiety that many ethnic minority parents feel about underachievement. There is differential under-achievement within different ethnic minorities. That is the interesting and hopeful factor that I emphasise to the House. I have often enough paid tribute to some of the work being done by ILEA, but I am not sure that I wish to pay tribute to every aspect of the work to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Radice

Is it not a matter of astonishment that the abstract issued by the chairman has apparently not been approved by all members of the Committee? Is it not time that the Secretary of State quoted fairly from the Swann report, which makes it clear in paragraphs 2.3 and 2.4 that social deprivation and racial discrimination are major factors in ethnic under-achievement? As so often, the right hon. Gentleman pays lip-service to the principle of the report but is not prepared to do anything about it or to provide resources to see that it is implemented.

Sir Keith Joseph

If there is any criticism of the brief guide on the grounds which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the fault is mine, because I asked the chairman at the last moment to produce a brief guide and there was not time, even if he had wished, to go through the processes of the committee. The brief guide carries within it an explicit statement that it is the chairman's summary, and it does not pretend to be a document to which every member of the committee would agree in every emphasis.

The Swann report refers specifically to racial prejudice in connection with housing and employment. There are general references in respect of education, but I do not believe that those references are justified by what I know of the schools service.

The hon. Gentleman plays a record when he refers to resources. There is a limit to resources. The presence of ethnic minority pupils is taken into account in the distribution of resources.