HC Deb 09 November 1988 vol 140 cc296-8
9. Mr. Harry Ewing

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received on national testing and the national curriculum.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

There were over 1,000 responses to the consultation document on curriculum and assessment and these showed considerable support for the principles of redefining the curriculum, improving assessment and giving more and better information to

Mr. Ewing

It is not a question of more and better information—in other words, national testing. Will the Minister explain in simple terms to very worried parents what will happen to a child if, when he is tested at seven and 11, he produces poor results? What impact will that have on that child when he goes into secondary education? One of the main reasons, among others, for the people of Govan voting for Bob Gillespie, the Labour candidate, tomorrow is that parents in Govan are desperately worried about the serious damage that the Minister is doing to Scottish education.

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Member should recognise that when we talk about more information for parents, we are not talking just about introducing testing in English and mathematics at primary four and primary seven. We are talking about providing a new report card that will give information about each child's performance in every subject. It will include a statement to parents about what their children are expected to learn and the level of attainment that they have reached. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that people in Govan or anywhere else do not want to know how well their children are doing at school, he is out of touch.

When a child is identified as having difficulty with basic literacy and numeracy, he or she should be given extra assistance. One of the things that have come out of restart is the fact that far too many children have gone right through primary and secondary education, but have come out with basic difficulties in literacy and numeracy. Not only have those difficulties not been identified, they have not been attended to.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that a recent opinion poll shows that two Scots out of three approve of the Government's educational policies? Does he agree also that those policies give parents more information and will result in better standards? Does he further agree that the same opinion poll showed that two Scots out of three want opting out to be introduced to the Scottish system? Will he fulfil the wishes of the Scottish people and introduce a Bill in the near future that will allow opting out?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that recent opinion poll, but I should add that it was carried out by the Daily Express. The Mori poll carried out in May for The Scotsman might be more to the taste of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). Even then, before the Educational Institute of Scotland's campaign, which seems to have coalesced support for the Government's proposals, the Mori poll showed that some 45 per cent. of parents approve of testing in primary schools. The general secretary of the EIS has said that, by drawing attention to the desire for choice and information for parents, the Government have identified a weakness in the education system in Scotland which parents are determined to have removed.

Mr. Norman Hogg

In what way have the Government altered their stance on the curriculum and assessment to meet the reservations of teachers and parents? Does the Minister agree that there continue to be severe reservations about the narrowing of the curriculum, ranking of pupils in schools, teaching to tests and placing undue stress on young children? Why do these fears persist in spite of the Secretary of State's statement? Who has the Secretary of State convinced? Who has the Minister convinced? They have certainly not convinced parents and teachers in Scotland.

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman is always very fair, and he is fair enough to point out that we have adapted our proposals on the curriculum and assessment to meet anxieties that have been expressed about the ranking of pupils and selection. He is right to say that my right hon. and learned Friend has given a clear indication that the results of testing will not be used to rank children in class and that the information will be limited to parents and teachers. There is no question of pass and fail examinations being used to provide entry to a secondary school. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked why nobody believes that. The answer is, I think, that there are not many people in politics or in the trade union movement who share his respect for the facts and for constructive and informed debate.

Mr. Harry Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the utterly unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.