HC Deb 15 December 1992 vol 216 cc285-7
8. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what steps he is taking to ensure an increase of the information available to parents about their children's education.

10. Mr. Hendry

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to make more information available to parents following publication of the examination results tables.

Mr. Patten

I shall shortly be publishing, LEA by LEA, the assessment results for seven-year-olds and expenditure on primary pupils. Under the parents charter, the comparative tables of school examination results issued this year will be extended next year to include national curriculum assessment results, truancy rates and information about what happens to pupils over school leaving age when they go on to their new careers.

School prospectuses are already more informative than ever before, and will include more information from next year. From 1993, parents will begin to receive summary reports of the inspections which will take place every four years in each maintained school.

Lastly, and importantly, parents are now guaranteed a written report on their child at least once a year. Last Friday I made further regulations about these reports to take effect next year—requiring all school-leavers to be given the highly successful national record of achievement as a passport to working life.

Mr. Butler

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in my constituency and throughout Britain the results have been greatly welcomed? I have to say that his Department's mark for accuracy has come out as "could do better", but that has not detracted from the usefulness of the exercise. For the first time eyes have been opened to the relative performance of schools. In addition to the other information that my right hon. Friend proposes to publish, will he consider including results in other public examinations such as British Amateur Gymnastics Association tests for athletics, swimming awards, music examinations, and so on, so that we can get a clear picture of the child in the round at individual schools?

Mr. Patten

We certainly intend to do all that we can to publish more information, which enables parents to make a sound judgment about the schools to which their children go or may go. We hear a lot from the Opposition, and in a few days' time, in an effort to be helpful, I shall publish results of the tests on seven-year-olds for last summer and further information including, for example, public expenditure per head on primary school pupils.

Mr. Hendry

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his welcome announcement that more information is to be made available, including the publication of school prospectuses, shows that the claim that the publication of examination results alone may mean nothing is one which can be fairly squashed? Does he also agree that that shows that socialist claims that parents could not or would not want to understand information about their children's education is nothing more than patronising socialist waffle?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend from Derbyshire is absolutely right. It is very patronising to treat parents in that way. What amazes me is how the Opposition continue to fail to understand the aspirations of ordinary working people. In the 1970s and 1980s, they did not understand the aspirations to home ownership—[Interruption.] The chattering classes who inhabit the Labour Benches these days do not understand the aspirations of ordinary working people to good education for their children, hence the publication of the league tables:

Mr. Spearing

Will the Secretary of State not review his somewhat arbitrary limit of five O-levels on one occasion as the criterion of performance in any school? What has he to say about the slow-learning pupil for whom I was once responsible, who got one O-level in the summer, two more the next Christmas and two the following summer? That pupil could not possibly have got five O-levels at one time at the first attempt. What does the Secretary of State have to say about the performance of that school and that pupil?

Mr. Patten

I would not cast any aspersions on the performance of the teacher involved, and it was probably a triumph for the slow learner. In the White Paper we said that it might be easy for academically gifted children to get a number of O-levels, but that a small number of qualifications may represent a triumph for other boys or girls and for the teachers who help them to get those exam results.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Secretary of State recognise that there might be problems with league tables in relation to the publication of A-level results because the standards set by schools for accepting pupils in A-level classes may vary considerably? Some schools lay down minimum GCSE result requirements while others have a more open policy. Is there not a danger that schools will be discouraged from accepting pupils in A-level classes because they fear that when the results are published they may not be so good? Will the Secretary of State at least consider revising the method of publishing A-level results?

Mr. Patten

I shall treat the hon. Gentleman's question seriously, reflect on it and write to him. It is important to bear in mind that most professional teachers who take on a child who is perhaps a slow learner—such as the pupil mentioned by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—or has special educational needs, realise that they represent a considerable professional challenge. I applaud teachers who do such excellent work and the good results produced by teachers who help pupils with special educational needs.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the broad welcome by parents for the publication of examination results, we can clearly develop the system further by including such matters as vocational qualifications in years to come, as so many Conservative Members have requested?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right. I can announce to the House that next year we shall publish results of vocational qualifications. I hope that that will be greeted rather more warmly by the Labour Front Bench than the publication of tables which they condemned on the day of publication but six days later they had done a complete U-turn and were in favour of the tables.