HC Deb 19 November 1987 vol 122 cc1220-32 4.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement.

Scottish education has a deservedly high reputation, which we are determined to maintain. There is, particularly in the primary schools, a need to achieve a more coherent and better understood curriculum; a more systematic approach to assessment; and to identify pupils who may need extra help. There is also a need for parents to be given more information about what schools are trying to achieve and how their children are progressing.

I intend to secure substantial improvements in those areas. Steady progress has already been made and my aim is to build on this in collaboration with teachers, education authorities and parents. To this end, I am today issuing a consultation paper, "Curriculum and Assessment in Scotland : a policy for the 90s." This sets out proposals for defining and developing the curriculum and for introducing a new approach to assessment including testing of key aspects of English and mathematics at the primary 4 and primary 7 stages.

The proposals are aimed particularly at the five-to-14 years age group. The secondary school curriculum and associated assessment procedures have been the subject of considerable study in recent years. The task now is to draw together existing guidance and good practice. That is done in the document "Guidelines for Headteachers on Curriculum Design for the Secondary Stages" which, with my agreement, the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum is issuing today. Copies of this document, along with the consultation paper, are available in the Library.

The primary curriculum, however, is less well defined. There is substantial agreement over the subject areas that should be covered, but there is no guarantee of the emphasis that each receives in individual schools. Accordingly, I intend to invite the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum to advise on the balance of components within the curriculum and to develop curricular guidelines for all subject areas for ages five to 14 where satisfactory guidelines do not already exist. I envisage that the consultative committee's initial review will be completed by the end of 1988 and detailed guidelines, at least for English and mathematics, will be in place by the end of 1989 for inclusion in school courses in the 1990–91 session. I also intend to ask the consultative committee to draw up a set of statements explaining the school curriculum to parents.

So far as assessment is concerned, my intention is that national guidance will be issued on assessment policy and methods to accompany the guidelines for each area of the curriculum. I also propose to establish a joint committee of the Scottish Education Department, the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum and the Scottish Examination Board to co-ordinate the development of a bank of test items in connection with the new approach to assessment. At present, in many schools, assessment techniques are well developed, but there is no certainty that basic attainments in language and mathematics are being consistently or accurately assessed. The more able pupils are often insufficiently stretched, while the needs of the less able are not identified in a way that allows appropriate extra help to be given. The aim will be to remedy those deficiencies by providing parents and schools with better information on children's progress and their individual needs. Tests will be drawn from the bank by head teachers and will be administered and marked by the schools themselves. Tests will not be used to select children for particular schools or courses, nor is it the intention that they should be used to rank pupils in order of merit.

The proposals on curriculum and assessment, taken together with our proposals already announced for school boards, will provide parents with much better information about their children's education. I intend to reinforce this with the development of a new format for the pupils' progress record and, in particular, the report card so that it becomes a clear and comprehensive report on achievements and aptitudes.

The proposals provide the basis for a substantial step forward in the quality and effectiveness of education in Scotland. They reflect the particular nature of the Scottish system and build on well-established approaches to meet the needs of teachers, pupils and parents. Given the context of the Scottish system, I hope to implement the proposals by consultation and agreement with our partners in the education service. I am inviting comments from interested parties by 26 February 1988, but if this timetable causes difficulty I shall be happy to receive comments up to Easter 1988.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Does the Secretary of State accept that his statement will have been heard by many with a combination of suspicion and dismay? Despite the closing flourish about Scottish tradition, the impression is that the Scottish Education Department is again being made an intellectual prisoner, over-influenced by what happens south of the border.

The Secretary of State referred to curricular developments, balance and new guidelines. Does he accept that we want assurances that that does not mean dictation, with schools being forced to follow a set and precise curriculum with little room for discretion? How does he reconcile such a concept—if that is what is meant—with the rhetoric of choice with which we have become so familiar? Is it his determination to regiment even the form of the report card compatible with educational freedom?

Why does the Secretary of State want to import national testing at this time? What is the justification for that at the primary 4 and primary 7 levels? The Secretary of State will be aware that my hon. Friends and I strongly support assessment when it is in the interests of the child. However, why force our primary schools into what looks like a tight corset of examinations? I should, for example, support the use of the Edinburgh reading test at primary 4, but only because the professional judgment of the teacher would properly be exercised in the interests of the child, not because the Secretary of State demands a set national test. Who has been pressing for such changes?

I recognise that there is a short period for consultation. However, what advice has the right hon. and learned Gentleman received during the consultations that he will surely have carried out informally with the teaching profession? Is there not something damaging about his excursion into education when, as I understand it — I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong—his own inspectors have reported favourably about what is happening in the primary education sector? Is it not in the nature of things that inevitably the tests will be seen to be and will become competitive? If that happens, is there not evidence that the bright will be held back and that those who are struggling will be artificially forced? Is there not a danger that teachers will end up teaching for the examination and not for the children?

I fear that the clear implication is that the Government are encouraging a climate of false competition that will put pressure on children, bring anxiety to parents and distort the community's view of its schools. Is there not a real risk that this importation will be used to rank schools in the public mind and to judge them on false criteria? In the testing, especially at primary 7, many people will see something that will look very much akin to the old 12-plus. Does the Secretary of State accept that the atmosphere is wrong and that he seems to be moving towards a system that is rigid, uniform and traditional in a self-defeating and narrow way? Is there not a reasonable fear, which the House will want to watch carefully and guard against, that children will ultimately be the victims of changes that owe everything to the Government's social prejudices and little to good education practice?

Mr. Rifkind

I do no know whether to be amused by or sorry for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). He began by suggesting that the proposals are drawn from those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, which could mean only one of three things : that the hon. Gentleman has no idea of what is being proposed down south, that he has not listened to what I am proposing, or that he is unaware of either.

In many significant ways the proposals are not the same as what is being proposed elsewhere, because they are designed to deal with the structure of Scottish education and to be based on the tradition of continuous assessment that is an important feature of the Scottish education system. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that, he knows less about Scottish education than I thought.

First, the hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance that there will be no dictation of the curriculum. He will know that there is a tradition in Scotland in which the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum has, over the years, already achieved something close to a national curriculum. Nowhere does the document suggest powers of dictation or imposition. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman has suggested that the proposal for the report card will create a standard format throughout Scotland. He appears to be unaware that there already is a standard format for report cards around Scotland——

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

No, there is not.

Mr. Rifkind

There is indeed. There is concern that the report cards provide inadequate information fully to satisfy parents as to how their youngsters are doing in school at present. I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman observe to the House that he supported assessment in the interests of the child. That is sensible and desirable, and I am glad that we have common ground about it.

The hon. Gentleman went on to ask why the Government are proposing the limited testing in English and mathematics at primary level. The reason is simple: first. it is surely important, and not a matter of political controversy, that we should be able at an early age to identify whether a particular youngster is having problems with the basics. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen will allow me — [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen did not just produce a knee-jerk reaction to everything that is proposed by the Government, they might find that their own education would be improved.

It is in everyone's interests that youngsters at school who may be having difficulties with basic reading, writing or arithmetic should be identified at an early age, so that they can be given the extra help that their teachers think appropriate. Secondly, it is desirable that parents should be fully informed about the capacity and potential of their youngsters so that the latter can fulfil their capabilities.

The hon. Member for Garscadden predictably went on to suggest that what we are proposing would bring back the 12-plus and introduce ranking of schools and competition in the classroom. If he and his hon. Friends had cared to read the document before they made accusations and had listened to my opening remarks, they would have heard that I said explicitly that there was no proposal to rank pupils as a result of the tests. The information that will be obtained as a result of the tests will be made available to the teacher, the parents and the youngster himself. It will not he made available in a way that would enable anyone to know where that particular child ranked in the class. The document explicitly says that there are no proposals to that effect.

I know that Opposition Members will be disappointed by that, because they might have found it easier to attack the proposals if they had included such a provision. Opposition Members may by all means come to a responsible judgment about what is in the proposals, but they should not create a bogus sense of indignation about matters that are not being proposed in the document.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise—the Opposition appear not to — that any measures that improve the quality of education in Scotland will be widely welcomed by parents — and, I hope, by teachers, who should study the proposals carefully. Does he also recognise that in recent years we have had a plethora of consultation papers, working parties and others, which have swamped schools? My right hon. and learned Friend puts at risk what is good in the proposals unless adequate time is allowed for consultation. Therefore, I ask him seriously to consider extending the period of consultation; otherwise, he will put at risk what may be good in the proposals.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that the proposed tests and examinations are an aid only to individual assessment at the choice of the teacher, and not a replacement for the assessment procedures that are in place now?

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my right hon. Friend, whom I can reassure on both counts. We have stated our preference that consultative responses should be available by the end of February, but, as I said earlier, if comments are forthcoming thereafter, they will be taken into account.

The tests are exactly of the sort that my right hon. Friend suggested — namely, to assist the teacher to decide what is in the best interests of the child, and whether he requires additional help and is meeting the basic requirements of English and mathematics. It is therefore desirable that a youngster at primary school who might have particular problems should be identified at an early stage so that appropriate help can be given him.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The Secretary of State must recognise that, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, it is an unusual coincidence that we are considering proposals now in the wake of the proposals for the south. Will he reassure the House that that is not so, and answer the question about where the demands for the changes came from? Will he assure the House that, at the end of the consultation period, and in due course, there will be primary legislation—as there will be south of the border —to enshrine the proposals in law, so that they are not slipped through as a guidance note or a statutory instrument?

If the Secretary of State is saying that no ranking is involved in the assessment, why does he not build on, and develop, the existing diagnostic tests, which already fill the need that he has identified?

Mr. Rifkind

We have no proposals for legislation on the curriculum. I have not yet come to any judgment as to whether legislation on assessment would be helpful. I have asked those who comment on the document to say whether they believe legislation would be helpful to achieving our results, or whether it is not necessary, given the nature of the Scottish education system. The normal co-operative process might be sufficient for the purpose.

Essentially, we are trying to allow the individual head teacher to choose from a bank of national tests the lest that he thinks is appropriate to the circumstances of the school for which he is responsible. It will then be for the teacher to mark the test, and the information will be made available only to the parents and children concerned. The teacher will then be able to come to a judgment about whether additional help might be required. Of course, tools are already available to teachers, but I cannot see why there should be objections to making a judgment about whether the basic, crucial elements of a good quality of education have been achieved in the case of a child.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that I welcome his proposals to improve the quality of education in Scotland, particularly in mathematics and English? Does he accept that I do not believe it will be necessary to legislate, because all his proposals can surely be covered by administrative arrangements and circulars?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give firm approval to the view that the consultation period should be extended to the end of March, or perhaps April, so that the schools and teachers can plan their discussions over a longer period, rather than rush things through by the end of February?

Mr. Rifkind

I noted with interest my hon. Friend's view that the necessity for legislation is unlikely. I also confirm to my hon. Friend, as I said in my opening statement, that we shall be extremely happy to receive the responses of those interested in these matters up to Easter of next year.

Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Provan)

On the question of national assessment and testing, will the Secretary of State answer the question that has already been asked: who in Scottish education has been demanding this particular proposal? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman name anyone in the Scottish education world who is demanding national assessment and testing? Is this not just another simple example of aping the English and, in particular, following the disastrous proposals of the Secretary of State for Education and Science? Does he accept that the proposals completely ignore the fruitful developments that have taken place in recent years regarding internal assessment in Scotland both at primary and secondary level?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right that there have been significant improvements with internal assessment, and that will continue. However, inspectors' reports suggest that although in many schools the methods of assessment are perfectly satisfactory, that is not true of all schools. There are different methods of assessment and different approaches. We do not mind a degree of flexibility, but it is useful that teachers should have available to them — as part of teachers' consideration of continuous assessment — the results of tests such as those we are proposing. We are not suggesting, nor have we ever suggested, that a teacher will simply be expected to rely on this particular method when making a judgment as to what may be appropriate for an individual child. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are so anxious that teachers should not have the benefit of information of that nature. If Opposition Members can identify some basic problem that will arise as a result of our proposals, we would be interested to hear what it is.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

It will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State when I say that today's statement confirms our suspicions that the SED is becoming the DES backwards. His statement makes a mirror image of the legislation that is being proposed south of the border.

On the specific point of the identification of children with special learning needs—I remind the Secretary of State that I speak as one who is specially qualified in this aspect of education as I hold the certificate for remedial education—are not such children best identified through continuous assessment by the classroom teacher backed by qualified remedial teachers who have access to diagnostic tests and who are trained to administer those tests effectively? Would it not be better if resources were put into the remedial service, which has been sadly cut under this Government? That would he of great assistance to youngsters with special needs.

Secondly, on the issue of resourcing, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the implications of the implementation of his proposals? Would it not be better if the money came into the schools for better textbooks, better facilities and better access for teachers to learning opportunities for themselves?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Lady will see, when she reads the document, that we acknowledge that particular provision may be required for those youngsters with special needs. That is something that we will happily take into account.

When the hon. Lady says that these proposals are a mirror image of the proposals down south, all I can say is that she must use an extremely curious mirror. In a number of important respects the two sets of proposals are very different. First, my right hon. Friend's proposals apply to secondary as well as primary schools, whereas our proposals for assessment apply only to the primary level.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend's proposals envisage testing over a wide range of subjects, but our proposals are limited to English and mathematics.

Thirdly, in the English context my right hon. Friend has proposed the need for legislation, but I have said that there will be no need for legislation. In the English context, my right hon. Friend is also proposing that certain national tests will apply in every school, but I am suggesting that, in a Scottish context, it will be up to individual head teachers to choose what particular kind of test is appropriate to their local circumstances.

I ask the hon. Lady not to give an immediate reaction, based perhaps on her natural prejudice, but to look at what is proposed.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Secretary of State take cognisance of the fact that we are rather hesitant about accepting his advocacy in relation to education because, in effect, we really do not trust him to have the good of the people, especially the oncoming generation in Scotland, at heart? There is a basic distrust. If the proposals contain so little to upset the education of young people, why is he bringing them forward? Does he accept that, in the past five to 10 years, one of the most exciting things in Scottish education has been the development in primary schools? If there are to be changes in primary schools, he should have better grounds for those changes than those that he has put forward. If we are to have such changes, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should say how much more money he will put into primary education.

Mr. Rifkind

It would appear that the hon. Gentleman trusts only those people with whose political opinions he agrees. I cannot change his political opinions.

As regards his subsequent points, we make it clear in the consultative document that we accept that our proposals will have resource implications and that, therefore, it will be necessary to bring forward funding to cover the costs that may be involved.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

Will not the effect of the proposals be to increase consumer power among parents with children in the Scottish education system? That will therefore enable parents to know effectively what is going on in the schools and to choose between them more effectively. Why does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that Opposition Members think that parents should not be trusted with that information?

Mr. Rifkind

Certainly the proposals on curriculum and assessment will provide much greater information for individual parents about their youngsters' performance. I would have thought that any Labour Member would be only too happy to have as much information as was available and obtainable with regard to the progress that their son or daughter was making at school. I find it difficult to understand why that should be considered a controversial matter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

To what purpose will the results of the primary 4 maths test be put?

Mr. Rifkind

I have already informed the House that the purpose of the assessment tests for primary school children is to enable their teachers and parents to be aware of their capacity and of any particular problems they might be experiencing in the subjects that are clearly basic to their future educational prospects.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

If the Secretary of State is so interested in the education of young children, why is he cutting money from Strathclyde region and forcing it to close schools that are only 12 years old? In constituencies such as mine every primary school is affected either by closure or amalgamation. If he is serious about improving education, surely the Secretary of State should ensure that schools are kept open?

Mr. Rifkind

I understand the growing embarrassment of the Labour party about the controversy that has been generated in Strathclyde about the regional council's proposals.

Mr. Foulkes

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has caused it.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) knows perfectly well that our reason for requiring Strathclyde region to consider the closure of individual schools is demographic, not financial. The hon. Gentleman also knows perfectly well that it is the number of youngsters attending schools because of demographic changes that has led every education authority throughout the country to realise some rationalisation of school provision is necessary. I suggest that if the regional council exercised slightly more leadership than that advocated by the hon. Gentleman, the people of Strathclyde might end up with a more sensible use of their resources.

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

I speak as someone who sat the qualifying examination—[Interruption.] — and passed —[AN HON. MEMBER: "He was a late developer".] I well remember that examination and the divisions, sadness and bitterness that resulted from it. We must not have that again. I remember the way in which our education was suspended so that we could prepare for it. That was one of the troubles with it.

Under these specific proposals, will the Secretary of State tell us what key aspects of maths and English will be tested? Will the results be held centrally? Will he give us a categorical assurance that they will not be published? I repeat a question that he failed to answer: who is pressing for these examinations? From where does the demand come?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that the purpose of the examination that he sat in earlier years was to determine to which school he would be allocated. When asked by his hon. Friends, he said that he had passed that examination and others had failed. It is not being proposed that these tests should be used to decide whether individual youngsters pass or fail. Pass and fail will not be appropriate to the tests that we have in mind. We are concerned that individual teachers should be able to determine the degree of attainment that individual youngsters achieve so that they can decide whether a youngster requires extra help.

The hon. Gentleman asked what would be done with the results of those tests. I have already said that the results will be made available to parents, individual teachers and children. The individual results of each child will not be made known to his classmates or to the school generally. The headmaster will inform the school board in due course about the overall results of the school—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] I find it difficult to understand why Opposition Members should be concerned that parents should be aware of them. No doubt they have their own reasons. I can assure the House that the achievement and the degree of attainment of any individual child will be known only to that child, to his parents and to his teacher.

Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)

I have one child who has passed through the primary school system, and another who is currently in it. Each year that they have been at school, my wife and I have gone to the school and discussed them individually with their teachers and been given a detailed assessment of their progress, with which we were contented. I have served on an education committee which examined the standards in our schools, and we were satisfied with those standards. What possible additional advantage can there be from the proposed scheme? Is it not just another hare-brained notion from a bird-brained group of Ministers?

Mr. Rifkind

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has in his constituency individual tenants who are delighted with their housing. Does he thereby conclude that there are no problems in housing? No doubt he will find individuals in his constituency who are delighted with the education that they are receiving. Does he suggest, therefore, that there are no problems in education and no need for further resources? The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that these proposals seek not only to satisfy his personal requirements, but to improve the quality of education in Scotland.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavic)

Sadly, the Secretary of State is showing distressing signs of repeated applications of the leaded handbag. He is seeking to bring the Scottish system into line with the English one. He asked about the question of trust. Here is an opportunity for the Secretary of State to honour some trust. He acknowledged that there would be resource implications. Will he promise to receive independent advice on the resource implications of his proposals and will he promise to honour them in the grants that he gives to local authorities?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman will read paragraph 43 of the consultative document—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not available."] He will be able to read it in due course. It is available to the House and to Hon. Members. Paragraph 43 states: In particular the Secretary of State will make resources available to fund the development, administration and maintenance of the national item banks and the system of sample moderation. The Government does not propose that education authorities should be charged for these services.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

If the Secretary of State is as concerned about special needs and pupils with learning difficulties as he says, why were they not mentioned in his statement? As he has not given the House any information about costing, will he be surprised if the House concludes that resources will be taken from other aspects of the education system? In view of the compliments in a recent report that have rightly been expressed about secondary comprehensive education, will he refuse to introduce an alien system into primary education, especially when so many alien philosophies have already been imposed on Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman asks about special needs. When a copy of the document has been made available to him, I suggest that he look at paragraph 36. It contains a recognition that particular requirements may well be needed for youngsters with special needs. Clearly, the education authority will want to adopt a system that is appropriate to requirements as the authority perceives them for that category of youngster.

Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that parents have a duty to find out how their children are doing at school? They want to know how they are doing — at least I do. If the Opposition believe that we should help less successful teachers to withhold this information, they are not helping the cause of education in Scotland or the future of children.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is quite right. He ought to appreciate that the Opposition felt obliged to oppose my statement, irrespective of its content.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Returning to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), does the Secretary of State realise that the profound ignorance of the history of Scottish education that that answer revealed will be seen with the greatest interest in Scotland? Surely he is not too divorced from the much more than 95 per cent. of Scottish people who use the state education system to realise that the past purpose of these examinations was to determine not to which school a child should go, but rather to deal with streaming within schools. His reply, which denied that fact, was astonishing. Does he realise that the suspicion on the part of the Opposition is precisely that he is trying to get back to streaming?

Will the Minister answer the question that he has specifically and persistently evaded? Does he accept that support for this measure within Scotland is reflected by the backing that he has from his Scottish team behind him — one who would support anything and another who sounds distinctly heretical? As we are dealing with the learning abilities of young children, may I put my question in words of one syllable that the Minister might be able to understand and thereby not evade: who has asked for this nonsense?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions. He knows perfectly well, and is right, that some years ago under previous education arrangements examinations were held at primary level to determine streaming. He will know that in the state sector in certain parts of Scotland some schools were, for all practical purposes, equivalent to grammar schools. They were not called grammar schools, but they were state schools that were deemed to be appropriate for youngsters with a particular level of education. We have no proposals for the streaming of children, nor do we propose that any child's future school will be in any way influenced or determined by the results of these tests. As I have already said, apart from anything else, children will not be judged to have passed or failed in these tests. Only the child's teacher and its parents will be aware of how the child has done. The purpose of the tests is to assist the teacher in deciding the appropriate extra help, if any is required, for the child. I can understand why the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friends might take the view that this is unnecessary. I have yet to hear any reason why they think that it could be harmful.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

On that point, does the Secretary of State not realise that it can be very harmful to grade a child at the age of seven or eight because that grading could remain with it for the rest of its school life? Does he not accept that it can be wholly undesirable to be coaching or even cramming children for an examination or test at the age of eight when the child could be stretched to the utmost by existing assessment procedures? Will the Secretary of State now answer the question that he has failed to answer? Being an intelligent man, surely he can tell the House who had the idea for this proposal? As long as the Secretary of State refuses to answer that question, the suspicion will remain that the proposal came from the authors of that other crazy proposal—school boards. This has not been sought and is not wanted. It is high time that the Secretary of State and his team stopped interfering with the education of other people's children.

Mr. Rifkind

Being myself the author of the document on school boards and having put forward the proposals some months before the general election, I am happy to accept the authorship that the hon. Gentleman in his usual flattering way was content to put in my direction.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the question of grading children. If he likes he can put up an Aunt Sally to knock down, but it would be helpful, useful and relevant if he were at least to concentrate such criticisms as he thinks appropriate on what we are actually proposing. There is no proposal to grade children and there has never been such a proposal. There is no reference in the document or any intention on the part of the Government to grade children. If the hon. Gentleman's best criticism of our proposals is on the question of grading, I feel very reassured, because it suggests that there is nothing in the actual proposals that he feels able to criticise.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Secretary of State mentions a consultation procedure. I am grateful to him for offering the caveat that this consultation will take place until Easter. Perhaps that is a result of his last consultation period on school boards during which I and certainly my colleagues never found any support for the proposition. The main question is: where did that come from? Did it come from the public watchdog that the Secretary of State has set up—Her Majesty's inspectors? I challenge the Secretary of State to show me an HMI report that advocates testing or school boards.

We have our ear to the ground about Scottish education because we are involved in public education in Scotland and can speak to the authorities. We know that what the Secretary of State has put forward is not at all the case. In his paper he talks about testing at primary 4 and primary 7 levels. In other words, at one go he has taken on the primary and secondary sector. There is a proposal in the report by the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum for the eight-to-14 age group, and that report has been out for two or three years. Why does the Secretary of State not look at that and build on it, because it contains no suggestion for streaming in schools? Where is the concern being expressed in Scottish education? It does not come from the political side or from educationists. In the name of honesty, where does it come from?

Mr. Rifkind

I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that there arc no proposals for assessment of secondary school pupils. I am not sure where he got that impression. I spoke about primary 4 and primary 7.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Primary 7 is the last step before secondary school.

Mr. Rifkind

I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about. The purpose of testing at primary 7 is not to assess suitability for secondary education, but to identify whether there are individual youngsters who need extra help.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Rifkind

No—at the level they have reached. For the Opposition to continue to try to discover proposals that are not in our document does themselves discredit and in no way enlightens the House.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Is the Secretary of State aware that he betrays his ignorance of the state sector of education in Scotland when he completely fails to recognise that any move towards a nationally imposed curriculum of national testing in schools at the ages of nine and 12 runs contrary to the whole development of Scottish education over the past 30 years?

I am especially concerned about the justification that the Secretary of State has trotted out for these proposals. On the one hand, he says that they will provide better information for parents. On the other hand, I think that in response to an hon. Member he said that the information would be made available to school boards. I am worried that we might create a situation in which parents will he able to compare one school with another and that we shall end up with schools at each other's throats, with some being successful in attracting high numbers while others will be less successful and will see their rolls begin to fall. Will the Secretary of State make it absolutely clear to the House whether the information on testing will be publicly available in a form that will enable one school to be compared with another?

Mr. Rifkind

First, having accused me of ignorance, the hon. Gentleman said that we are seeking to produce a national curriculum. If the hon. Gentleman knows Scottish education, he should know that we virtually have a national curriculum and have had one for years. For all practical purposes, that was achieved through the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that, it is about time that he did.

With regard to school comparison, the results of tests on an all-schools basis will be made available to the school board by the head teacher. I have always found it difficult to understand why Labour Members get so upset that parents involved in one school may be aware of the achievements of their school compared with those of others. What are we trying to hide?

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Can the Secretary of State tell parents what relevance these assessments have, given that there will be a bank of tests from which the headmaster can draw? How will the individual parent know whether that particular test makes sense? How does the parent differentiate between those tests? Does he have any say in which tests the headmaster uses? What relevance does this assessment have, if it is drawn from a bank?

Mr. Rifkind

The national bank of tests will be devised by educationists, not by Ministers. It will be up to the head teacher to choose the particular test which he thinks appropriate to the circumstances of his school and his pupils. That matter can be discussed with parents and, naturally, we expect full and close co-operation.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

If the Secretary of State were at school today, does he realise that his teacher would say, "We are having great difficulty getting through your thick skull today, boy"? Will he tell us who knocked on his door and give us the names of the individuals and organisations which asked for these proposals?

Mr. Rifkind

Her Majesty's inspectorate has consis-tently referred to the need to improve assessment techniques in primary schools. That is what these proposals are designed to do.

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Secretary of State aware that the people of Scotland will have no confidence in Ministers' stewardship of Scottish education so long as those Ministers do not send their own children to local authority schools? If the Secretary of State did that, he would know that such testing and assessment is already under way in schools. So far as I can divine, the reason for the imposition of this centralised national test is the same as that for the proposal of school boards — that he and some of his advisers have a long-term plan to change the nature of Scottish education and restore streaming and a degree of selection which is alien in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State accept that he is taking his advice from the wrong former pupil of Keith grammar school?

Mr. Rifkind

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that those people whose children do not attend state schools cannot be assumed to have any genuine interest in, or contribution to make towards, the welfare of education in that sector. Am I to assume, therefore, that those people who, like the hon. Gentleman, live in homes which they have purchased, can have no real interest in the welfare of those who choose to live in council houses?

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As one who has a married son living in Scotland and, therefore, like many people south of the border, has a direct interest in what happens north of the border, will my right hon. arid learned Friend tell the House whether it is Scotland which is against all and every reform proposed or is it just the Labour party in Scotland which is against these reforms and will use every system of distortion and obfuscation in a vain attempt to prevent this happening?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is quite correct.