HC Deb 17 March 1987 vol 112 cc801-2
4. Mr. Thurnham

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about the raising of education standards; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Rumbold

My right hon. Friend regularly receives letters from members of the public and others concerned to improve educational standards. In recent months a large majority of these letters have supported the introduction of a national curriculum as a means of achieving that objective in schools.

Mr. Thurnham

In raising standards, will my hon. Friend take note of the pressing need for more highly skilled people to enter the engineering industry? Will she encourage more school leavers to take advantage of the places for technology and science in higher education?

Mrs. Rumbold

I note my hon. Friend's remarks about engineering and technology job opportunities. The Government have frequently emphasised the need for better and more systematic careers education. We hope to take measures shortly to encourage local education authorities to bring a new coherence to careers provision for young people.

Mr. Weetch

Is the Minister aware that there has been a great deal of talk from the Department about standardised tests of attainment and about a core curriculum, which suggests a centralised approach? On the other hand, is she aware that the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 devolved the responsibility for those matters to local schools and headmasters? Are not those policies going in opposite directions?

Mrs. Rumbold

No, they are not. I hasten to assure the hon. Gentleman that we are considering, not a core curriculum, but the possibility of introducing a national curriculum during the course—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is the difference?"] If Opposition Member do not know the difference, they will have to learn and decide what it is for themselves.

To return to the hon. Gentleman's question, we hope that after consideration and consultation with all those within the education world about the national curriculum, we will come up with a responsible decision about how it should proceed. Benchmarks are important to establish pupils' achievements on the course.

Mr. Onslow

Does my hon. Friend think that the leaders of the teachers' unions have a part to play in raising education standards? Also, does she think that they are playing it?

Mrs. Rumbold

All teachers have a part to play in raising education standards. For the most part the professional quality of our teachers is excellent. They work hard towards the goal of improving standards and achievements in our schools.

Mr. Ashdown

Will not the next real marker for standards be the GCSE to be taken this year? Does the Minister realise that the resources and advice provided by her Department for that examination are wholly inadequate to meet the task and that as a result for 600,000 14-year-olds this year the GCSE will be at best a raw deal and at worst a blight on their future chances?

Mrs. Rumbold

I advise the hon. Gentleman to study a little longer those matters of education for which he is now spokesman. The GCSE will first be taken in 1988. We have made very good provision — [Interruption.] Will hon. Gentlemen listen?—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mrs. Rumbold

We have made very good provision for in-service training for teachers and for books and equipment for the GCSE. In the current year substantial sums will be available for both those matters in order to enable teachers to deliver the GCSE.