HC Deb 20 April 1993 vol 223 cc192-282
Madam Speaker

Before we start the debate, I must announce that I must limit speeches to 10 minutes between 6 pm and 8 pm, and that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.56 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I beg to move, That this House believes that there is an urgent need for stability in the nation's schools with decision-making in education based on developing a consensus rather than centralising power in the hands of the Secretary of State for Education, and that the current difficulties and instability associated with Key Stage testing are caused by the Secretary of State refusing to listen to parents, governors and teachers; and calls on the Secretary of State to withdraw the compulsion on schools to carry out the Key Stage 3 tests in English and Technology and to follow the Key Stage model introduced by Government Ministers in Scotland, pending a genuine consultative review. It is customary in our debates to declare any interests. As the House knows, I—along with members of other parties—act as a parliamentary consultant to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, although I do not speak on its behalf today, any more than have Conservative Members when they have acted in the same capacity. However, I have one particular and important interest: I have two children at primary school. I therefore have a vested interest in ensuring that the quality of education on offer in our schools is the best possible, and that we make a reality of the opportunities that should be provided for all our children.

Like other parents, I am alarmed by the pressures that are bearing down on our schools—not just the constant need for fund raising, but the amount of chopping and changing experienced by parents, and the weight of instruction that is coming into schools from the Department for Education on an almost daily basis. It is important to bear that in mind, because it provides the background for today's debate.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

The hon. Lady says that she is a parent, with children in primary school. Does she intend to support calls to parents not to let their children go into school on the day of the tests, or will she denounce the Socialist Education Association which made that call?

Mrs. Taylor

I shall have some interesting suggestions to make, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will be willing to consider, about what parents ought to do. I intend also to say a word about the experience of my own children with the standard assessment tasks. If the hon. Gentleman will wait, I shall certainly answer his question.

The problem is that parents see the pressures on our schools. They do not understand, any more than I do, why Ministers, who claim that they want to get the Government off our backs, are filling every shelf in every school with thousands of pieces of paper from the Department for Education. Parents know that teachers are the buffers—that they are absorbing the pressure in order to minimise disruption in the classroom caused by the constant instructions from Whitehall. Sometimes, the pace of change has been so hectic that Ministers changed the instructions before the last set of changes could be implemented.

Governors also understand the consequences of the frenzied nature of the Government's approach to these changes in education. It is, I believe, fair to say that the build-up of pressure on our schools is clear for all to see. In the past 14 years, there have been 18 pieces of legislation. Yet another Bill is now in the other place, having been pushed through the House of Commons with the Government's usual contempt for democratic scrutiny.

The Opposition have chosen this subject for debate today precisely because this week sees the start of the school term for many thousands of children—a term which should see the culmination of the year's work.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Does the hon. Lady recall that last year's tests for seven-year-olds, which her party opposed strenuously, were a valuable exercise, in that they revealed serious shortcomings in reading and arithmetic in a significant proportion of pupils? Her party was wrong in opposing the tests then. Does she not think that it is just possible that she is also wrong in this instance?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is downright wrong. My party did not oppose the tests. It was not those tests that showed up the lamentable lack of progress under 14 years of Conservative government. I sometimes wonder how Conservative Members can take any pride in their education record when they have to tell us of the dismal failures of our education system after 14 years of Conservative government.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

But the reality is that the National Union of Teachers is calling for the boycott of all tests, including those for seven-year-olds. The hon. Lady, it would appear, has just given her support to the tests for seven-year-olds. Will she therefore join me in condemning the NUT which wishes to boycott all tests, including those for seven-year-olds?

Mrs. Taylor

No, I shall not. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the motion on the Order Paper, which says exactly what should happen about the tests for seven-year-olds. I hope, too, that he supports the Scottish Office Ministers, who have already resolved this problem. I do not understand why Conservative Members, who have supported certain changes in Scotland, cannot accept that those changes should be introduced in England.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

No. I have given way three times already, and I want to make a bit of progress. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not intend to leave this issue, and that there will be plenty of time for interventions.

The Opposition have chosen this subject for debate because we believe that the school term that has just started is important. It should see the culmination of the year's work and the normal assessment of children so that parents may receive a report on the progress of their children. That is what should happen during this school term.

However, if the Secretary of State gets his way. the normal teaching pattern that teachers have struggled to develop will he disrupted by tests in which no one—parents, governors or teachers—has confidence. Indeed, even the Secretary of State himself does not seem to have confidence in the tests. The significant aspect of the testing arrangements that he has imposed is that, the more that parents hear and learn of his proposals, the less confidence they have in him and in them.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Despite what the hon. Lady says, does she not agree that the chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has said that the tests should go forward this year so that experience can be gained which can be used in devising the tests that will take place next year and in the following years?

Mrs. Taylor

Many parents are fed up with their children being used as guinea pigs in the Secretary of State's experiments.

We must consider how the Government have got themselves into this position. The arguments surrounding this year's tests are the culmination of concern over the past few years about the increasing powers taken by the Secretary of State over what goes on in the classroom from day to day.

The national curriculum was introduced by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), and the policy was initially welcomed by all political parties and interest groups, but Ministers have transformed it into an educational straitjacket which confines and dictates what can and cannot be taught. Perhaps that is why the Secretary of State's chief ally in all this, the former chairman of the National Curriculum Council, has just sent his daughter to an independent school, which does not have to follow the national curriculum that he has devised for other children.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Am I right in recalling that the Labour party fought the general election at least in part on a pledge to modernise the national curriculum? Will the hon. Lady tell the House what was meant by that?

Mrs. Taylor

Yes, I confirm that, and I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of my article which appeared in The Times Educational Supplement some weeks ago, outlining exactly how we could have a framework for a national curriculum rather than the prescribed national syllabus that Ministers are imposing on us.

The most significant point, and the thing that Conservative Members need to understand above all else, is that the tests prescribed for the key stages are not an integral part of teaching but are too often superimposed on the normal work load not only of teachers but of pupils. The tests do not assess progress in the curriculum, nor do they diagnose the problems of any individual child. On that basis, I agree with teachers, and many parents and governors, that this year's tests should not go ahead.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

There is one further element to take into account. Some local education authorities, including mine in Northumberland, operate a three-tier system, which is seriously affected by the structure of the national curriculum, especially by the testing procedures. Children leave the middle school at 13 and will have been in the high school less than one year when they are tested.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which was discussed at some length when the original proposals were made. The present key stage ages cause difficulties for children who transfer through the middle school system. In general terms, however, I support the idea of some form of testing at 14, because I consider that an appropriate stage at which to assess a child's progress. None the less, I appreciate the problems that my hon. Friend raises concerning children in middle schools.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)


Mrs. Taylor

I shall give way once more, and then I must make some progress.

Mr. Greenway

Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that, in 1979, one in 13 children went into higher education, whereas a year or two from now, one in three will do so? Does she not accept that that means that standards must be raised, and is not a properly tested sound curriculum the way in which to do that? What would she do?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman ought to reflect on what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said recently about international comparisons. I also suggest that he considers the importance of GCSEs in terms of raising standards, and especially in increasing motivation among young people. The GCSE is one of the reforms of the former Conservative Government that I support, and I welcome its impact. I therefore very much regret that the present Secretary of State seems to be undermining the very aspects of GCSEs that are most important.

Mr. Richards

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

I will give way for the final time, for the moment, to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Richards

The hon. Lady says that she agrees with teachers that the tests should not go ahead. Does that mean that she supports the boycott?

Mrs. Taylor

How many times must I say it? I certainly support the professional and educational case that teachers are making. Their actions in pursuit of that case are and must be their decisions—[Interruption.] I do not intend to tell teachers what to do; one of the reasons that we are now in this situation is precisely because the Government spend too much time telling teachers what to do and refusing to respect them or to listen to their professional judgment.

I will not tell teachers what to do, but I am happy to tell the Secretary of State what he should do, because the responsibility for the overloaded and over-prescriptive curriculum rests with him, not with teachers. The responsibility for the inappropriate nature of the tests rests with the Secretary of State, not with teachers. But the responsibility for protecting the education of our children during this clearly rests with teachers, because the Secretary of State refuses to follow the logic of his own conclusions and call off those clearly flawed tests.

The Secretary of State has said that these tests are the way in which to identify problems and that they have a diagnostic function. They are supposed to let parents know of their child's progress. Standard assessment tasks simply do not do that very well at all. The Secretary of State is a simple chap. For him, any test is good; any criticism of any test has to be wrong.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor


Indeed, it seems that the Secretary of State does not know his assessment from his elbow when it comes to testing. All he can do is repeat ad nauseam that anyone who criticises his tests is against testing and against raising standards. In fact, the opposite is true. Those opposed to his tests are in favour of good, useful methods of assessment as a means of raising standards, and are not in favour of tests that damage children's education.

If the Secretary of State ever bothered to read the research, he would know that standards are raised wherever good and appropriate tests are used, and that the information generated by those tests is used in the classroom every day by teachers and pupils alike as a basis for their testing and learning strategies.

Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

I have listened very carefully to the hon. Lady's reasoning. The tests that she is discussing were originally devised by teachers and by the educational world simply to do the task of diagnostic testing and of looking into the abilities of children. Many Conservatives wanted to introduce a fairly simple pencil and paper test. We were told by many people in the education world, including some teachers, that that was quite impossible because it would be damaging. Could the hon. Lady tell the House what her tests would be?

Mrs. Taylor

Yes, I can. I have explained it in the motion which we have tabled. Conservative Members do not seem to be capable or reading the motion. I wish that they had done their homework before the debate. I should like to see introduced the model which exists in Scotland. It is the model which the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold)—she should know better, because she was a Minister in the Department—must approve for her colleagues who introduced it in Scotland.

The Secretary of State has united parents and the education world against bad tests, not against testing itself. The right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden asked about the different tests. Perhaps I need to give Conservative Members an education. I thought that someone who had been a Minister in the Department would have known the difference between, for example, summative tests and informative tests. The latter diagnose not only the fact that the problem exists but the nature of it.

I know that the Secretary of State would want parents to know not simply what their child could read but whether there was any problem as a result of a lack of comprehension, a limited vocabulary or some problem with word order. Good and appropriate testing which gives teachers and parents such information is essential to teaching. It is absolutely essential if we are to make the best use of our valuable resources, especially the time of teachers.

Dame Angela Rumbold

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

No. Poor tests such as those suggested by the Secretary of State waste that valuable teaching resource and therefore detract from the opportunities of our children.

As a parent, I do not want to know simply how my children are getting on. I do not want a frozen picture at any one point: I want to know what difficulties or problems they may have and what can be done to help them to do better.

The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) asked what I thought parents should do. My daughter went through the key stage 1 standard assessment tests in the pilot year. At that time, I did not withdraw my daughter from those tests because they were new. Although I had reservations, I felt that that would not be the right thing to do. However, speaking from the experience of that occasion, I can say that the results of those standard assessment tests told the teacher nothing that she did not already know, and they told me nothing that I did not already know. The tests deprived my daughter and her classmates of the valuable teaching time of the teacher when the teacher was undertaking the test with all the other 30 children in the classroom over several weeks.

The key problem with the Secretary of State's tests is that they are high on administration and low on educational value.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Is the hon. Lady aware that the pilot tests were diagnostic, in that they showed that, of the 14-year-olds who took them in English, three out of 10 had a reading age of between nine and 11 years? In that way, the tests were extremely helpful. Would the hon. Lady deny teachers the ability to diagnose the problem that those children have and to assist them to repair it?

Mrs. Taylor

I hope that someone on the Conservative Bench will explain a diagnostic test to the hon. Gentleman because it is certainly not what he is talking about. The hon. Gentleman is also wrong to say that the English standard assessment tests for 14-year-olds were on trial last year. Those tests were dumped by the Secretary of State. One of the reasons why we have so many difficulties at present is that the Secretary of State chose to change the examining body in midstream, yet again.

Conservative Members seem to think that only Labour Members are against the tests. I shall remind the House who is against the Secretary of State, because it is an impressive alliance, not an army of Luddites or neanderthals—the Secretary of State often uses such titles. For example, the Independent Girls Schools Association is against the tests. The president of that association was described as "ridiculous" by Baroness Blatch when she quietly expressed her misgivings about key stage 3 as long ago as November 1992.

Joan Clanchy, a head who was a member of the National Curriculum Council, resigned earlier this year, in her words because the dominant aim had become a curriculum designed for tests, a model which is barren and intellectual. She is not a member of the Labour party. In an article in this week's The Independent, she said that, as a council member, she objected to being given Centre for Policy Studies pamphlets to read by way of homework. That is the tone of what was happening at that time.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

Not at this stage.

Most of the independent schools say that they will use their discretion and will not introduce the tests for 14 year-olds this year. It is different for them. They have made their professional judgment and, by and large, they do not want anything to do with the tests.

The Chairman of the House of Commons Education Select Committee has called for a postponement of the tests. I am sure that he will explain his position later. Teachers from schools throughout Britain, who describe themselves as "anything other than loonie lefties"—

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

No. I must continue to talk about those who are not loonie lefties and whose credentials the hon. Lady might appreciate. I have received a letter from someone who describes herself as a member of MENSA, and someone whose children were educated entirely at traditional prep and public schools and has been vice-chair of the Birmingham Conservative advisory committee.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Not a member of the Labour party, then.

Mrs. Taylor

No, not a member of the Labour party.

She described herself as "no trendy radical". She has said: Having wasted many hours on trying to determine exactly what is being required from teachers in terms of futile, punitive, pedantic, impossible-to-complete-honestly record-keeping, I have reached the conclusion that the demands of Key Stage 3 for the proliferation of bumf is a sort of mental equivalent to that emblem of certain Victorian values: the treadmill. Both inventions are designed to break the victim's spirit and exhaust her energies by a form of hard labour distinguished not only for its cruelty but also for the complete absence of any end product.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

I am sorry. I am quoting Conservative supporters. It would be well for Conservative Members to listen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] I will certainly send copies of the letters. I was quoting Alma Evers, who teaches at King Edward VI school in Handsworth, Birmingham, a school which may be familiar to some Conservative Members.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. The hon. Lady has made it clear that she will not give way.

Mrs. Taylor

If I am to make progress, I cannot give way too many more times. But perhaps I should point out to Conservative Members that level 1 of key stage 1 recommends that pupils should listen attentively to others. [Interruption.] I can go on to quote levels 2 and 3, which tell pupils to listen carefully. But we shall leave that for the moment.

Another correspondent describes himself as a member of the Conservative party. He has also written to the Secretary of State. He says that he has been a member of the Conservative party since 1976, and adds: Decisions are simply being dumped on schools for teachers to try and sort out and make some sense of for their pupils. This is the type of information and response that we are receiving to the Secretary of State's proposals from up and down the country.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

No. I have quoted correspondence, and I am sure that many Conservative Members have been given similar information.

Mr. Pickles

Will the hon. Lady give way on this point?

Mrs. Taylor

I do not want to quote the document again, but I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy if he cannot listen carefully. It is for seven-year-olds. Perhaps Conservative Members could listen on that basis.

If the Secretary of State wishes to continue to call everybody who disagrees with him a neanderthal and to describe teachers as Luddites, perhaps he ought to take into account the fact that I have been quoting members of the Conservative party, independent girls schools and public schools—those who know what the situation is and are united in their opposition to these tests.

The Secretary of State may wish to dismiss all those people, but he must take into account the views of parents. The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations is against it; it agrees with us that the Scottish model should be introduced in this country. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has listened to some of those who are supporters of his party and who have told him that the tests are ridiculously flawed.

Lord Skidelsky has described the testing system as Byzantine. Donald Naismith, the director of education in Wandsworth—quite a topical place at the moment—has said: What we have now is not what was intended. Chickens are coming home to roost.… It is over-bureaucratic and unworkable. The sooner it is buried, the better. And, as I say, more hon. Members opposite are now coming out in the same way.

Sir Paul Beresford (Croydon, Central)

Is the hon. Lady also aware—I am speaking both as a Member for Croydon, Central, where that gentleman was a director, and as a Wandsworth councillor—that he still feels that these tests should go ahead this year as part of the review?

Mrs. Taylor

I am quoting what the director has said, not in private, but publicly—that the sooner they are buried, the better. I think that is good enough grounds for not making guinea pigs of our children yet again.

I will give an example of the kind of gibberish that is being sent out to teachers at the present time. The Secretary of State has sent out a circular about arrangements for testing this year, which says: For PC3 (Writing): First examine the constituent AT levels based on the NC Test levels and the TA level in the case of AT4/5: If the TA in AT4/5 (Presentation) is at level 7 and the NC Test level for AT3 (Writing) is at level 8, then the PC level is the AT3 NC Test level. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen have every confidence in their ability to explain that to parents of children in the schools in their constituencies. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Give way."] Of course I will give way to the Secretary of State, if he wishes to intervene to add extra clarity. Here we have yet again the Secretary of State turning to his junior Minister and asking for an explanation. Perhaps, if he had been on the Committee on the Education Bill, he would know more about some of these things.

All those who are opposed to the tests agree on many aspects. The first is that the tests are too prescriptive, too long and not properly prepared and piloted; that they are immensely bureaucratic and the administration is far too complex; and that teachers spend hours testing and recording when they should be teaching.

We believe that teaching time is especially critical for pupils aged 13 when they start to prepare for GCSE. These tests are a poor preparation for GCSE and are inferior to many of the tests that schools are already using. These tests, far from raising standards, have a damaging effect on children's learning, as teachers have less time to teach, and when they do teach, they are teaching to the test.

Perhaps, if he will not change his mind today and is intent on insisting that these tests go ahead, the Secretary of State would like to let parents have more say in what should happen. The Secretary of State says that he sets great store by the attitudes and views of parents, and he is very keen on ballots. May I suggest that he should encourage schools to ballot parents on testing? After all, we are talking about the future of their children. What is wrong with that? I hope the hon. Gentleman will support that suggestion.

Mr. Tracey

I speak as a parent of four children who have been through the state system. Will the hon. Lady take note that Ofsted said that the national curriculum and testing have driven up the standard of education? That is precisely what Conservative Members wanted and precisely the purpose of the Education Reform Act 1988 and the national curriculum and testing. Why did she not mention that when she was reading out her press cuttings?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is lucky that his children have been through the system and are not being used as guinea pigs now. The Ofsted report said that the information and the results were very mixed. It was the Secretary of State who, yet again, put out a press release saying that everything was wonderful.

I return to my suggestion for a ballot of parents. I know that some schools are embarking on that course of action. I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that schools are entitled to do that, and that we should encourage greater parental involvement in that way. However, I have to tell him that the results of ballots that I have heard about have always shown that the tests should not go ahead.

We are asking only that the interests of our children should come first. The Secretary of State has admitted that the tests are flawed, first when he said that they would not be nationally reported and later when he accepted the need for a full review of the curriculum and testing arrangements. I hope that the Secretary of State will stop, think again and withdraw the tests.

This year's 14-year-olds could be the only ones that the Secretary of State is trying to get to take the tests. Last year's 14-year-olds did not, and by next year we may have a more sensible arrangement as a result of the review. Why should we make this year's 14-year-olds the guinea pigs?

The Secretary of State said that the tests should go ahead to help design future tests. In other words, the flawed tests should go ahead to find out just how flawed they are. I repeat that parents are absolutely fed up with their children being used as guinea pigs in the Secretary of State's experiments. It is change for change's sake.

The Secretary of State should follow the logic of his own conclusions. He has accepted that the tests are flawed and that there is need for review. He should therefore withdraw the compulsion for this year's tests and allow a proper and independent review.

I want to say a word about the review. At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Cardiff, the Secretary of State spoke about the membership of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. He announced, as if it were a great concession, that there would be one head teacher and one classroom teacher on the review body. Leaving aside the problem of who chooses the head teacher and the classroom teacher, that is hardly likely to win the confidence of the teaching profession. If SCAA is to gain the confidence of parents, governors and teachers—and I very much hope that it does —it is essential that it is not packed in the way that so many previous bodies were.

I hope that the Secretary of State will learn something from his colleagues in government. Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office have decided to delay statutory testing at least for a year. Ministers could follow the Scottish model and learn something from what has happened north of the border. Opposition to the nature of the tests in Scotland resulted in extensive consultation with parents and teachers. Most of the objections have been overcome because of those discussions and the fact that the issues have been talked through. In Scotland, there is no central collection or publication of test results. They are reported to parents and school boards. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful".] Hon. Members may say "Disgraceful," but their Government introduced the proposals.

Teachers in Scotland are trusted to judge when a pupil is ready to take the test and move from one stage of the curriculum to the next. Tests are informal and taken in small groups at all ages. Schools choose the tests that they want to use. I hope that the Secretary of State can explain why Scottish parents and children have come off so much better, and why the Government listen to Scottish parents and teachers but will not listen to those in England and Wales.

At the moment, the Secretary of State seems intent on pressing ahead as if nothing was wrong. Despite announcing that there is to be an overall review, he has announced yet more changes in the national curriculum for English.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Hear, hear.

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman ought to tell the Secretary of State to make up his mind: either to have an overall review and look at all the information, or to go on meddling all the way through. The Secretary of State must stop meddling, or he will make a nonsense of the review before it starts. I hope that he will give an assurance this afternoon that he will not pack the committee in the usual way.

I have concentrated most of my remarks on the curriculum and testing, because that is the area where the meddling of Ministers is causing the greatest concern among parents at the present time. There are, however, other areas of instability caused by Government policy which it would be wrong of me to ignore, so I will briefly mention nursery education, the problems associated with section 11 funding, and the youth service.

One problem that is clearly causing concern to many parents is the squeeze on nursery education as a result of Government cuts. Our concerns about the future of nursery education are made much greater by the attitude of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, who is supposed to be responsible for nursery provision. We believe that nursery education offers the best introduction to formal learning and social behaviour for our youngsters. Like many parents, I was keen for my children to have the benefit of nursery education at a time when they were developing rapidly, wanted external stimulation, and were keen to meet and mix with other children and learn new skills.

It was not only my instincts as a mother that gave me an interest in nursery education. Research in the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe and the United States shows that children who get the benefit of a nursery education perform better academically in later years. The report on SATs for seven-year-olds shows that those who had the benefit of a nursery education had a head start. Another benefit is the early identification of special needs, which can save money later. It has been estimated that £1 spent on nursery education can save £4 later in terms of savings on antisocial behaviour and, indeed, prison.

The anger and frustration of parents who know that their children could benefit from a nursery place but who are unable to obtain one is made more intense by the answer of the Minister to my parliamentary question on 30 March. I asked the Minister to confirm that parents who live in Labour-controlled county council areas have a three times greater chance of getting a nursery place for their children than those who live in a Conservative one—a point which, strangely enough, the Minister ignored and forgot to confirm. Perhaps he will confirm it today.

I also asked the Minister what he intended to do about Conservative-controlled councils who were not spending their standard spending assessment on nursery education as they should. I went on to ask him to agree that every three and four-year-old should have the right to the best start in education, which meant being able to take advantage of nursery provision. The Minister would not say that children should be entitled to that, and many outside the House will have noted with despair the fact that nursery provision will not improve so long as the Conservatives remain in office.

The Government are often keen on making international comparisons, but we are not told, for example, that in France, by the age of three, 96 per cent. of children are in state-provided nursery schools, ecoles maternelles. We in Britain should be aiming for that target, so enabling every three and four-year-old to have a chance of a place in nursery school. Parents want that—

Sir Paul Beresford


Mrs. Taylor

I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman.

If the Minister is seriously interested in raising standards in the schools, he should persuade the Government to take one of the most important steps to that end, which is to spend more on pre-school provision.

Another crucial area in which chopping and changing by Ministers is bound to damage the quality of education concerns children from the new Commonwealth for whom English is a second language, whom the Government recognise need help but from whom they are withdrawing assistance. Last year, the Government made much of an announcement about section 11 money going to local authorities so that extra assistance could be given in schools to children for whom English is a second language.

Mr. Fabricant

Will the hon. Lady please precis her speech?

Mrs. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman may not like to hear me spell out the record of the Government, but he must learn to take it. Hopefully he will get a chance to speak in the debate. In the meantime, he must listen.

As I was saying, the Government were boasting last year that they were providing section 11 money to local authorities. That announcement and clear financial commitment enabled authorities to give contracts to teachers and language support workers. The money may not have been as much as those involved would have liked, but at least contracts were made and people thought they knew where they stood.

In November 1992, the Home Office issued a circular reneging on that agreement. That happened without warning or consultation, and despite the fact that contracts had been drawn up and teachers placed in schools—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members are interested in improving the quality of education, they shoult take more interest in the vital support that is necessary for many school children.

The shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), wrote to the Home Secretary on the subject, and at least he had the courtesy of a reply, and an acknowledgement that the Home Secretary valued the important work that has been, and continues to be, performed by teachers and others supported by section 11 grants. He went on to say that he remained firmly committed to the need to tackle the causes of disadvantage and he mentioned the lack of English as a prime example of that.

I wrote at the same time to the Secretary of State for Education asking for his opinion, not least because of the contradiction caused by his claim that more money was needed for reading recovery programmes. I was anxious to ask him then—so I ask him now—how much greater will be the need for reading recovery efforts if we do not have the maintenance of language support teachers in schools that need them. I did not receive a reply from the right hon. Gentleman, so I can only assume that he is not interested in the problems faced by those with English as their second language.

Mr. Pickles


Mrs. Taylor

I will not give way again. I am nearing the end of my speech—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and that response from Conservative Members will convince the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) that his hon. Friends would not be pleased if I gave way to him.

There are other areas of instability that should concern us. We hear much these days about increasing levels of truancy, the increasing problem of exclusions from school and the difficulties and cuts facing the youth service. At a time when there is probably greater social disintegration than we ever imagined, the Secretary of State must explain what he is doing to protect the youth service. With youngsters having many pressures on them to conform to a culture of violence and to disregard everyone but themselves, an absolute need exists for more investment to counter such problems. Yet Ministers are not fighting on behalf of the youth service, which could provide an alternative culture and support.

After 14 years of Conservative rule, too many children have far too many problems in their classrooms, and many of them are under-achieving, despite the claims of the Government. We are debating what happens in the classroom at a time when teachers have never been more alarmed about the implications of Government policies for the children they are teaching and for the hopes that parents have in the education system.

After 14 years of one experiment after another, there is a feeling of despair about whether the Conservatives will ever get anything right. The Secretary of State has announced a review. We hope that it will be used by the Government to make a fresh start. They must try to work with parents and teachers, and their first action should be to admit that their past policies have been wrong. We need the development of a new consensus for stability in education. The Labour party is willing to concentrate on that, because we believe in putting children first.

4.46 pm
The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)

I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to the National Curriculum and its associated regular tests; notes that the new independent inspectorate, the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), recently reported that the National Curriculum and regular tests were already helping to drive up standards in schools; believes that the progress made in the implementation of the Government's education reforms is due to the hard work and dedication of professional teachers and welcomes the review established by the Secretary of State for Education into the National Curriculum and testing; believes that a boycott of this summer's tests would disrupt children's education, cause unnecessary concern to parents and damage the professional standing of teachers; and looks forward to a definitive statement from Her Majesty's Opposition as to whether or not it supports a boycott of this summer's tests.'. I relish the opportunity to affirm to the House yet again the Government's commitment to the better education of all our children, our commitment to the national curriculum, our commitment to the regular testing of children and our commitment to the reporting of results to parents. There should be nothing to hide in our schools. I confirm our commitment to the publication of more and better information about how different schools are performing.

Those are the firm principles on which many of our education reforms are based. They are principles from which Her Majesty's Government will not be deflected. I believe that those principles are in tune with the aspirations of the vast majority of parents and most of the nation's hard-working professional teachers, to whom hon. Members in all parts of the House are grateful for implementing the reforms so far, since the process of reform began in 1989, following the landmark Education Reform Act 1988 introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who is in his place this afternoon.

They are certainly principles which set us a long way apart from the Labour party, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) demonstrated graphically today. She had the opportunity to make a positive and constructive contribution to the current debate about the implementation of education reforms, but she blew it. She rehearsed blowing it this morning on the "Today" programme when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools comprehensively demolished her arguments, getting us off to a good start over our breakfast eggs. The hon. Lady's rantings this afternoon showed that, despite 14 long years in opposition, the Labour party remains absolutely devoid of any credible alternative policy on education. That view is held by left-wing commentators in the New Statesman and Society and The Guardian as much as by my right hon. and hon. Friends. That is because the Labour party remains as out of touch as ever with the wishes of ordinary people for higher standards.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

The Secretary of State will have noticed that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) did not answer a single question today. She has not done so in the past. Does my right hon. Friend know that the hon. Lady is a member of the Socialist Education Association? Is he also aware that that association has advised parents that they should keep their children at home on testing days? Will my right hon. Friend therefore invite the hon. Lady to answer the question that was put to her earlier and will he give her time to do so? [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Lady would do me the courtesy of listening, which she never does.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Lady is taking her orders from that organisation which is trying to stir up as much trouble as it can in the nation's classrooms. As she made clear in her answer to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), she, like her hon. Friend the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), is in favour of strikes, of industrial action and certainly of boycotting, as she has made clear to the House this afternoon.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

I thank the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) for reminding me that I have not paid my subscription to the SEA for some time, but I shall do so forthwith. On the point that the Secretary of State has just made, I hope that he will withdraw the word "strike", because I do not know of any teacher who is suggesting strike action on the issue.

Mr. Patten

I was simply comparing the hon. Lady's approach—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—to the approach of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, who supports strike action by the railways. There is nothing for me to withdraw. The hon. Lady has avoided the question yet again—wriggle, wriggle, wriggle. It is easy in the heat of the hon. Lady's earlier rantings to forget about the endemic feebleness of Labour. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for providing the opportunity for a serious debate at least in the second half of the afternoon because it is easy to lose sight of the background against which our reforms were introduced five years ago.

First, let me make it absolutely clear that, despite our differences with the leaders of some of the teaching unions, we have nothing but admiration for the overwhelming majority of teachers. They are hard-working and dedicated professionals who have risen magnificently to the challenges posed by the introduction of some of the most fundamental and far-reaching education reforms ever seen in Europe.

Lady Olga Maitland

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a great insult for truly professional teachers to hear members at the conference of the National Union of Teachers making such statements as This isn't the end of the campaign. It's the beginning—a springboard to fight the Tories on all the other issues."? In other words, it is an attempt to politicise at the expense of children.

Mr. Patten

We all know that the agenda of bodies such as the National Union of Teachers is to use proper professional debate over curriculum and testing reform as an opportunity to begin an attack not only on issues which concern some teachers, but on the nature, rate and pace of education reform, because they do not like the way in which we have begun to expose the serious problems with educational standards in some schools in some parts of the country. I am determined not to hide that and I tell my hon. Friend that I will not hide it.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

Has my right hon. Friend seen an election leaflet which has been circulating in my constituency, produced by a teacher training college for three Opposition candidates? It contains six minor political points but also six major grammatical and spelling errors. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is usual in the English language to start a sentence with a capital letter? Does he agree that there are two Ps in "support" and only two Cs in "economic"? Does he agree that "advocate" has a D in it? Is not it right that "reasonably" has two As? Finally, is not it time that people like—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Too long.

Mr. Patten

It may have been too long, but it was a jolly good question as far as it got. My answers to the first six questions are yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. I have seen the leaflet, circulated by the Liberal Democrat party in the Scarborough constituency and, mysteriously, printed by a teacher training college. That is an issue which I shall have to look into later.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)


Mr. Patten

Ah, the voice of the NUT on earth.

Mr. Steinberg

Will the Secretary of State spell for us the word "sincerely"? Apparently when he wrote to a school in Cleveland he failed to spell it correctly. Will he please spell it for us now?

Mr. Patten

S-i-n-c-e-r-e-l-y. I hope that that is the last spell check for this afternoon. I utterly refute any suggestion of spelling errors on the part of my Department at any stage.

If anyone is the parent of a bright child in this country, the chances are that that child will do well at school. Most bright children do. They always have done. We still need to do more to help the particularly gifted child, but at the upper end of the academic scale we have a record which is every bit as good, if not better, as any of the advanced industrial nations which are our competitors, whether in Europe, on the Pacific rim or in north America. It is a record of which schools, further education colleges and universities can rightly be proud. The new vocational qualifications that are being introduced are helping to give new opportunities to those in the middle ability range as well.

It is at the other end of the scale—the 30 per cent. of the less able—that we do particularly badly. That tail of under-performance has been there for decades. The problem started back in the 1960s. It puts us at a distinct competitive disadvantage with our competitors. More importantly, it blights the prospects of many of our young people and it causes unnecessary unhappiness and a lack of personal fulfilment.

It is to those children that our reforms will bring most benefit whereas the reforms of the 1960s and the 1970s only did harm and lasting damage to a generation of children. We cannot ignore reality.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)


Mr. Patten

I will give way in a moment because I know the hon. Gentleman was a teacher and I respect his views. We have to confront the problem and we have to tackle it. Our reforms can, and will, put a halt to the years since the 1960s of under-performance and under-achievement of the three and sometimes four out of 10 children who, after 11 years of being taught, still leave school grappling with the English language.

Mr. Spearing

In 13 years in the classroom I spent much time dealing with the very problems which the Secretary of State is describing. I believed in testing regularly and was an Ordinary level examiner. Can the Secretary of State tell me, because of his professional background, whether he believes in the efficacy of field work? If so, can he tell the House which secondary schools he has been to, where he has perhaps sat down for a couple of hours with the staff and talked about the efficacy of the mechanisms which he is imposing upon them? Can he also tell us what the teachers have said to him? Can he give us the name of such a school and say whether it was independent or private?

Mr. Patten

In our first 12 months at the Department for Education, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools and I visited more than 110 schools in this country. The list of schools is recorded in Hansard —as I answered a question on the subject just before Easter—to which the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) should refer. My next visit to a school will take place tomorrow morning, when I am visiting a primary school in Chingford. I very much look forward to that visit. I am determined not to hide any of the problems in our schools as it does the Government no good at all to do so. For the sake of thousands of young people and the competitiveness of the economy, the reforms, which are vital to the national interest, will continue.

Let us consider the Labour party's view as set out by the hon. Member for Dewsbury in her speech. She made much of the need for stability and frequently used the "S" word. I shall translate from Labour speak into plain English the definition of stability. In Labour speak, stability equals complacency and inertia. In Opposition speak, stability is code for orderly management of decline and for abandoning the reforms in our schools. That is the hon. Lady's agenda; she wishes to abandon our education reforms, as do the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers. Stability is a code for returning to the failed policies of the 1960s and 1970s, when high standards were subordinated, above all else, to the pursuit of equality, which did much harm to generations of children.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)


Mr. Patten

I shall give way later to a deputy head teacher.

Stability is code for returning the running of our schools to the producer interests and for putting up the shutters against the measurement and publication of a school's performance and letting parents and the local community know about it. Stability is code for denying parents choice and for concealing results.

Mr. Enright


Mr. Patten

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that his intervention will be in English, not Latin like last time.

Mr. Enright

In view of the Secretary of State's comments about the NUT and the NAS/UWT, I merely wanted to ask what he thought of the decisions of the union to which I am proud to belong, the LTA—[Interruption.] Sorry, the ATL—[Laughter.]

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman cannot even remember the name of his own union. What is the modern Labour party coming to? The deputy headmaster should go to the back of the class.

Mr. Patrick Thompson


Mr. Patten

Here is an ex-head teacher.

Mr. Thompson

An ex-classroom teacher who is proud of that fact. I know that my right hon. Friend supports good classroom teaching. Many classroom teachers are opposed to a boycott as the best means of proceeding. What does my right hon. Friend say to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and her hon. Friends who are failing to support those moderate and responsible teachers who believe that a boycott is not the best way of obtaining change in the national curriculum?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Member for Dewsbury is a boycotter and is in favour of industrial action in our classrooms—as parents are beginning to realise more and more. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), who is a distinguished classroom teacher, that I have received many letters from individual teachers who take a completely different view about boycotting tests from that which the hon. Lady attempted to put to the House.

I have a letter dated 12 April from a woman teacher of 19 years' standing from Ilford—[Interruption.] The Opposition should listen to and respect the views of a member of the teaching profession, not jeer at them. How dare Opposition Members jeer at a practising teacher—it shows the contempt that they have for teachers. The teacher wrote: I welcomed the advent of the national curriculum. None of us is infallible; and it gave me the confidence to know I was not omitting anything vital in my planning. It also gave structure and continuity…I am now discovering how my children have progressed and how ably they are acquitting themselves under test conditions. They have enjoyed their assessment tasks…and the results have pinpointed strengths and weaknesses in each individual which may not necessarily have been picked up in less specific testing. The SATS workload is demanding…However, the exercise is proving worthwhile. I am aware that many teachers share my feeling. The views of that classroom teacher are much more typical of the comments that parents want to hear than are some of the scenes that we saw on our television screens over the Easter period.

The hon. Lady's speech was a clarion call to duck the issues and desert the nation's children. Today we have heard the authentic voice of Labour after 14 years in the Opposition wilderness. The Labour party is fleeing, with full speed, back to the past. It summons us back to toleration of mediocrity and a blissful unawareness of what is being achieved in our schools. The Labour party's message to parents, the community and the taxpayer is that as long as there is no sound and publicly available information about standards, and no information on rigorous and manageable tests, everything will be all right.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the Labour party's record on mediocrity. May I remind the House of Labour's mediocre record on rewarding teachers and attracting them to the profession? Under the Conservative Government, teachers' wages have risen almost two and a half times faster than they did under the last Labour Government and in the past three years the average classroom teacher has seen his wages increased from £15,000 to £20,000 a year—a record rise. This year, 32,000 people want to enter the teaching profession—the best record in the country for 30 years.

Mr. Patten

Since I have become Secretary of State, teaching has become an extremely appealing profession and people are entering it in record numbers. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) is right —since 1979, teachers have enjoyed an overall salary increase ahead of inflation of 46 per cent. I confirm what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Secretary of State has been talking about mediocre records. I could refer to the mediocre record of his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), on finding out the true state of the national curriculum. I consulted the book of Duncan Graham, the chief executive and chairman of the National Curriculum Council, which said in the second paragraph of page 21 that the right hon. Member for Mole Valley signed a letter that could have had fatal consequences for the national curriculum. The two had a furtive meeting in north Wales, where the right hon. Gentleman was running a half marathon. The right hon. Gentleman looked at the letter and asked Mr. Graham whether he had signed it because he could not believe it. Does not that show the incompetence of the previous Secretary of State? The neanderthals are not the parents and the teachers, but those running our education system, and that is why parents and teachers have no confidence in Education Ministers.

Mr. Patten

I think that educational historians and political historians will look back at the Education Reform Act 1988 of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley as a bench mark in national achievement. My right hon. Friend deserves the thanks of all parents and children for what he did.

I do not think that I, as Secretary of State, should ever duck an issue. I do not believe that education policy is best made by insulating myself from reality or information on what is happening in schools, which is why I have gone on so many school visits. That is why I also believe that the Labour party's complacency is entirely misplaced. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research recently found that, although we spend a greater proportion of gross domestic product on state education than do Germany and Japan, the standards achieved by those in the lower to middle ability range is considerably lower than in France, Germany and Japan. The problem seems to date back to the 1960s. That was the problem that led my right hon. Friends the Members for Mole Valley and for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) and their hon. Friends to set about the process of reform.

It is not nice to be presented with a report, as I was a few months ago, showing that of those entering further education colleges last year after 11 years of state schooling about one third lacked an adequate command of English to make a good fist of their courses. That is the problem that we face. That is why the national curriculum and testing are so important.

It is not acceptable that, before the introduction of the national curriculum and its associated tests from 1989 onwards, parents should have had no solid information about pupils' progress until they reached O-level, as it was then, at the age of 16. They had no comparable information. It is only recently that the Government have introduced proper standardised written reports for all parents, which I, as a parent, value very much. Parents had no opportunity to judge the performance of their children against the performance of other children in other schools in other parts of the country.

Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way to a non-classroom teacher. Will he depart briefly from his prepared speech and address the excellent suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) that he should ballot parents on whether their children should be tested this summer? The right hon. Gentleman is keen to talk about parental involvement. Will he put that rhetoric into reality and allow parents to be balloted on the crucial aspect of testing this summer?

Mr. Patten

I rather thought that we put our views to the electorate a year ago in a ballot where we won a splendid victory. The national curriculum and its associated testing regime were part of that.

Parents in our main competitor countries in Europe or the Pacific rim would be scandalised not to be given such information about educational performance. Yet that is what the Labour party want. It is in the pockets of the producer interest. It does not wish to see standards. As the hon. Member for Dewsbury herself declared, she has been in the pocket of the producer interest for many years as a trade union adviser.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Secretary of State please pause and think again about his decision with regard to encouraging schools to ballot parents? I said earlier that, as a parent, I wanted a say in the education of my children. I know, as a parent, the information that I want from schools and the kind of assessment that is appropriate for my children. I think that other parents share my views and would welcome an opportunity to be consulted about the appropriateness of the tests.

Mr. Patten

The hon. Lady wishes the introduction of the national curriculum to be brought to a halt. She has made it clear that she does not wish to see national testing or school performance tables. It is right that parents should have available to them information about the performance of their children and the performance of their schools compared with others in the vicinity and elsewhere in the country. The national curriculum is central to that.

Mr. Byers


Mr. Patten

I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman, who described himself as not being a classroom teacher. He showed himself to be little more than a barrack-room lawyer. I shall not give way to him again.

The national curriculum, for the first time, establishes clear and challenging targets for pupils of all ages and abilities in the key subjects of the curriculum. Only last week I published proposals for the streamlining of those targets in English. My proposals reduce the number of requirements of the national curriculum, but give them much greater precision. They spell out the requirement that pupils must acquire a working knowledge of standard English, grammar and vocabulary. The contempt that poured from the Labour party last week about the need for children to speak standard English beggared belief.

The proposals ensure that pupils have a good knowledge of our literary heritage. Under them, pupils will no longer be able to leave school without a sound grasp of the basics. They will no longer be able to leave school without having their sights and spirits raised by our greatest writers.

Such reforms are fundamental in other countries. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, to which I have already referred, found that the common factor in the higher standards achieved in France, Germany and Japan was the national curriculum that those countries have had for many years. Now, thanks to this Government, we are challenging our pupils to fulfil their potential as well.

Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

The Secretary of State has just talked about new orders for the English curriculum, which were announced last week. Will the tests that are to take place, or may take place, in schools this term test the curriculum that he announced last week or the curriculum that has been taught for the past three years? If the latter, shall we have a new set of tests to test the curriculum that the right hon. Gentleman has announced for next year? If so, what is all the fuss about tests for one year that will cease to exist because he has changed the curriculum and so will have to change the tests again?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Lady should be putting that question to the hon. Member for Dewsbury. Each year the syllabuses for A-levels and GCSE change and each year the tests for them change. The hon. Lady is not neanderthal, she is positively paleolithic in her knowledge of the testing regime at GCSE. I cannot go back further. I must look at my prehistory.

It is an absurd idea that we should set in concrete a national curriculum and its tests and never alter them in the light of experience over the years as knowledge is pushed forwards.

Ms Estelle Morris


Mr. Patten

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Lady again. It was a great mistake for me to give way the last time.

The national tests are an intrinsic part of the national curriculum. There is no point setting targets if pupils' progress is not measured against them. That is obvious to everyone except the Opposition. The national tests introduced by the Government, which happen on only four occasions during a pupil's 11 -year school history, at seven, 11,14 and 16, provide vital information for teachers about their pupils' strengths and weaknesses. They enable parents to hold schools to account for their children's progress. That is a right of every parent. They also enable the taxpayer—the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was on the Front Bench earlier—to make his judgment. They certainly enable me as Secretary of State for Education to see what is happening to education. How could I justify education expenditure to the Treasury in the forthcoming public expenditure round without evidence of improving standards? We cannot have it both ways. We cannot ask for the bill to be paid without demonstrating that it is worth paying. That is a message to which the education world should listen carefully.

Tests are the key to raising standards and they are already doing so. The inspectors of the independent inspectorate, Ofsted, have found in their first two years of operation that the tests for seven-year-olds have improved those pupils' attainments while showing—this is a cause for considerable concern—that one out of every three seven-year-olds have serious problems in dealing with the English language and simple arithmetical tasks. If that has all been put right in the past, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury was saying, why have the independent tests exposed that and why has the inspectorate said that the tests have raised teachers' expectations? I pay great tribute to primary school teachers in Britain who work hard, but the inspectorate has said that expectations have been raised.

There are striking gains and it is unreasonable for some in the teachers' unions now to seek to mount an attack on tests which have already taken place and which are already raising standards in Britain. It is typical of the hon. Member for Dewsbury that she should give comfort to that attack by the unions, to join in and encourage industrial action. Like it or not, that is what boycotting is. It is industrial action. We cannot mess around with words. The hon. Lady is aiding and abetting industrial action, just like her hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East.

The tests were written by GCSE examiners and by experienced educationists and devised under the direction of the School Examinations and Assessment Council, which had six teachers and six lecturers among its membership. The subject groups were largely staffed by individual, working classroom teachers and head teachers.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

The Secretary of State mentioned working groups. Why, in the case of the English orders put out for consultation last week, did the right hon. Gentleman deliberately avoid the English working group and have the curriculum council itself produce the work?

Mr. Patten

Because I announced some time ago that to keep the national curriculum up to date, there would be a rolling, five-year review of all national curriculum subjects.

Knowledge moves on. It was not written down in a book the last time that Labour held power. Knowledge and interpretation advance. There are changes all the time. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend want me to give way?

Mr. Harry Greenway

I accept my right hon. Friend's invitation. I was simply excited by his remarks about the sheer dynamism of education—particularly in the way in which my right hon. Friend represents it. The Opposition should take this lesson: when education becomes static, standards collapse. That has always been Labour's problem in running schools or anything else.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend, who was a practising teacher, exposes the underlying fallacy in Labour's argument, which seems to be that a national curriculum should be written one day and remain exactly the same, not for years or decades, but for hundreds of years and never improved.

Mr. Pawsey

Written in tablets of stone.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right.

Last summer's science and maths tests for 14-year-olds were extremely successful. There was much debate and there were problems and concern about those tests—just as there were in respect of the tests for seven-year-olds when they were introduced in 1991. There were threats of boycotts then. Happily, they were withdrawn and the tests went ahead and were improved.

Exactly the same is true of last summer's mathematics and science tests. The inspectorate announced that it was extraordinary that not only were standards higher than it had expected, but that truancy levels plunged on the day that the tests were sat and children turned up in large numbers to take them. Ofsted's findings that the tests were well received and worked well are interesting. The fall in truancy shows that children enjoy being stretched—and it is a great mistake not to stretch and to challenge children.

Talk of boycotts is an absurd over-reaction to tests that have been much more carefully prepared over a longer period of time than the average GCSE new syllabus. It does no service to the reputation of the majority of hard-working teachers who have conscientiously implemented the national curriculum. I am glad to pay tribute again to their professionalism.

I do not believe that those committed and professional teachers will turn to their pupils this summer and say that a test required by law—and it is, under the Education Reform Act 1988—and for which a pupil aged 14 has been preparing for three years, should be torn up and tossed in the wastepaper bin. I do not believe either that those committed and professional teachers will look parents in the eye and tell them that they do not think that they will bother with the tests this year and will not give the evidence.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury wants that to happen. She made it clear that she is in favour of industrial action, boycott, and withdrawing co-operation. That is reinventing the 1970s. The hon. Lady's analysis is fundamentally flawed.

The sensible response to the genuine concerns of some teachers about the manageability of the existing curriculum and assessment arrangements—I say "some" because many other teachers have written to support our policy—is to feed those concerns into the review that I have asked Sir Ron Dearing, chairman-designate of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, to undertake.

That wide-ranging review will examine the curriculum and assessment framework in its totality—not just individual subjects. It will be taken forward urgently. Sir Ron has already spoken to head teachers, teachers and many organisations interested in education. Although head teachers, deputy head teachers and classroom teachers have a prime interest in education, so have many others. We are all concerned about state education—we are all shareholders in state education.

However, Sir Ron cannot make progress and identify ways of improving the current arrangements unless he has sound evidence. That involves this summer's tests going ahead—that is Sir Ron's opinion, not mine. I quote from the letter that Sir Ron wrote to me: I have to tell you that if I do not have information from tests this Summer, I am going to have difficulty in giving well-informed and convincing advice on what changes should be made to the testing arrangements. Those are the words of someone of enormous distinction and a great independence of mind. In other words—in my words—a boycott would be self-defeating. It would damage children's education by depriving teachers, pupils and parents of important information about children's progress. A boycott would retard the evolution of the national curriculum and its testing arrangements and would undoubtedly rebound ultimately on public perception of the teachers themselves.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important not only for pupils and parents to see the results of the tests but for employers, in order to ensure that British commerce and industry has the best products of our education system in future? Employers as well as pupils and parents want the tests to continue.

Mr. Patten

I listen carefully to employers and I am sure that the major employers' organisations will feed their views into the review, and rightly.

If a child's performance in mathematics or English is not checked at 14, that child may leave school at 16 with a low or poor GCSE performance, by which time it will be too late.

Ms Estelle Morris

It is already too late.

Mr. Patten

It is never too late. The hon. Lady is arguing, then, that nothing can be done for a child who is under-performing at 14. That is complete rubbish. A lot of help can be given in two years.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Is the Secretary of State under the illusion that the performance of pupils in mathematics and English at the age of 14 was not checked before the introduction of that examination?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman is on to a very good point. The evidence available from the inspectorate is one of the important things that we must look at. We must deliver to each child in England or Wales—my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of State are in their places on the Government Front Bench and are listening to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption]—in whichever part of England or Wales for which we are responsible. That means giving each child in England and Wales a chance in life—not a hit-or-miss chance over whether or not there is testing at a school in Wales or in the area in which I live.

The tests at ages 7 and 11 will therefore go ahead this summer. Just how self-defeating a boycott would be is well illustrated by the evolution of the tests for seven-year-olds. It is important to work through this example briefly. Since those tests were introduced in 1991, we have listened to teachers and streamlined the tests to meet their concerns.

I am told that the 1991 tests for seven-year-olds were problematical. They were modified and focused on the basics of reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic—and quite right, too. Ofsted reported that the 1992 tests were more manageable than the 1991 versions as a result.

The 1993 tests that are under way in schools throughout the country now are better still. It is perverse for some in the teacher unions to incite their members to boycott tests which those members have worked so hard over the past two years to establish. Those tests are fundamental to our reforms and will help to crystallise the standards that we expect our children to reach.

The review illustrates another facet of our reforms, which, although carefully thought out, have been implemented pragmatically since 1989 on the basis of experience. It was only in that year that the national curriculum began to be phased in; it will not be fully in place until 1997, nearly a decade later and not until 2001 will the first pupils who embarked on it as five-year-olds complete it as 16-year-olds. That is a very long time.

At each stage of the introduction of the testing and curricular arrangements, we have demonstrated our keenness to take the views of professional teachers into account. That is why the maths and science curriculum, and the first tests for seven-year-olds, were simplified. The way in which the School Examinations and Assessment Council has listened has provided a model, leading to an improvement in tests year after year. That is why I decided earlier this year that results should be included in performance tables only for the second year of their introduction nationally. Our record shows that we have taken careful notice of professional views.

I shall not go into all the many other matters mentioned by the hon. Member for Dewsbury, because I do not think that the House is in the right mood to debate the full range of education issues. Let me remind the hon. Lady, however, that the Education Bill—which she failed to mention—passed through the House of Commons undented by the Labour party, whose Front Bench was one of the weakest Opposition teams imaginable.

The education system—underpinned by the national curriculum, testing and the Education Bill, which is now in another place—will last well into the next century. It will be the basis of our over-achievement during the late 1990s, allowing us to catch up with our competitors on the Pacific rim, in Europe and in North America. The Government constantly seek to achieve a balance between preserving what is best in our education system and improving what is less good.

Our overriding aim is to improve standards, encourage diversity and increase the number of opportunities. The achievement of those aims—which the Opposition seem to have missed entirely—will mean continuing to take clear and concerted action to set higher standards by stretching children in the national curriculum. It will mean measuring pupils' progress by means of rigorous and manageable tests and securing the publication of results in school performance tables. In that way, we shall ensure that our education system is fit for the challenges that lie ahead in an increasingly competitive world and that our children are as well educated as any in the rest of the world.

5.32 pm
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As it is my birthday, I am especially grateful.

As is customary, I declare my interest. I am one of the parliamentary consultants of the National Union of Teachers—

Mr. Patten

How much is the hon. Gentleman being paid?

Mr. Steinberg

That is between me and the National Union of Teachers. Let me record, however, that I fully support the action being taken by the NUT and other unions, which is backed by their members.

The Government's education policy is only one of the many policies that they have dreadfully mishandled. They are now universally mistrusted. None of their policies is more mistrusted than their education policy, and none of their spokesmen is more mistrusted than the Secretary of State for Education. What a way to run an education service! What a way to treat the country's children, parents and teachers!

During the Secretary of State's speech, the microphone went off for a moment. I fully expected the right hon. Gentleman to behave like the concert chairman of my local working men's club, and to say "Testing, testing" as he does before a performance. That is what I think of the right hon. Gentleman's ability.

We need stability in our schools, but all that we get from the Secretary of State are threats—threats that teachers may be fined if they boycott the tests; threats that school spending will be cut if teachers refuse to test pupils; threats that governors may be taken to court and personally surcharged if they sanction the boycotts. Even governors responsible for the running of our schools vehemently oppose the Government's reforms. Recently, the Northumberland School Governors Association wrote to me as follows: Governors in Northumberland are opposed to tests currently being required by the government for children aged 7, 11, 14 and 16… The Northumberland School Governors Association trusts its teachers to exercise their professional skills in assessing the academic progress of pupils in a sensitive and positive way. And they place reliance on the objectivity and standards of GCSE and 'A' level examinations as genuine measurements of schooling. In our view it is high time that ideology and rhetoric were banished from education. Parents and governors know what is needed for their children. And in Northumberland they have every confidence in their teachers to meet these needs." It is a great pity that the Secretary of State has not the same confidence in his teachers. If the Government cannot get away with threats, they use the courts to take legal action against teachers. They use their puppet and lackey, Wandsworth council, to try to force teachers to carry out flawed and damaging tests; and they lose in the courts. They use the tactic of division by virtually forcing schools to opt out of local education authority control. They are setting one school against another, and one local education authority against another. They show contempt for those whom they most need if our education system is to succeed; they show contempt for parents, whom the Secretary of State describes as neanderthal. The right hon. Gentleman shows his contempt for teachers by rewarding their increased work load and dedication with a pay award of 0.5 per cent. —a miserly halfpenny in the pound.

The Government constantly use patronage to implement their right-wing dogma. They appoint Tory poodles to key posts. The chairman of the National Curriculum Council is David Pascal', a Tory hack; the chairman of SEAC is Lord Griffiths, another Tory hack; its vice-chairman is Ms Lawlor's husband, yet another Tory hack. The Government use bribery to implement their opt-out policy, giving opted-out schools vast amounts of capital expenditure as a reward. This year grant-maintained schools have received a 300 per cent. increase in capital expenditure, while LEA schools have received a 10 per cent. increase. If that is not bribery, what is?

Lady Olga Maitland

If, as the hon. Gentleman implies, he does not approve of tests, how could he possibly discover that some children are falling behind in their literacy and numeracy skills? How, without tests, could we discover that one third of school leavers going into higher education have a reading age of only 14? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the lack of literacy and numeracy skills is costing British industry £5 billion a year in mistakes? Surely that justifies proper testing.

Mr. Steinberg

Can the hon. Lady quote the part of my speech in which I said that I opposed tests? I shall give her a copy after the debate, and, if she can find the place where I said that I opposed tests, I shall take her out to dinner. I have not said that I oppose tests; I said that I supported the boycotting of flawed tests by the NUT.

Ms Estelle Morris

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was good practice on the part of most secondary schools to give the new intake of 11-year-olds reading tests so that the reading age of every child was known and it was not necessary to wait until the children were 14 to discover that eight out of 10 had a reading age below their chronological age? It is a travesty of the truth to imply that teachers did not know that children were failing in some instances.

Mr. Steinberg

That is absolutely right. I was the head teacher of a school for 10 years and, before that, a deputy head teacher for three years. I tested the children in my care every year for 13 years. I kept the test records and let the parents know at the end of each year the results of the tests. That is not new. It is an absolute load of rubbish to say that I oppose testing. We have been doing it for years and years.

The Government were convinced that schools in Labour-controlled authorities would opt out of the system. This Secretary of State, and previous Secretaries of State, said, stupidly, that opting out would provide schools with the opportunity to escape from bad, socialist-controlled local education authorities. But what happened? By far the majority of schools opted out of Conservative local education authority control. That proves just how out of touch this Government are. If they cannot get away with threats and bribery, they use deceit. A previous Secretary of State—not the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) who, history will prove, was a far superior Secretary of State under the Tory Administration of the past 14 years than anyone else who has followed him in that post—

Mr. Kenneth Baker (Mole Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman repeat that?

Mr. Steinberg

I never thought that I would say this, but when the right hon. Member for Mole Valley was Secretary of State he proved to be probably the best Secretary of State for Education that the Tories have ever had. To be quite honest, to say that takes the biscuit.

The Government have used deceit. During the debate on the teachers' pay Bill, the previous Secretary of State said that we had to trust him. I would not trust him any more than I would trust a second hand car dealer. He said, though, "Trust me." During the proceedings on that Bill he said that he could not override the new teachers' pay review body. This Secretary of State has done that in his first year in office. He has given the teachers a 0.5 per cent. pay increase—absolutely disgraceful when one remembers that the Government tell us how much they respect teachers and value the work that they do. The Government show so much respect for teachers that they give them a halfpenny in the pound pay increase.

I hope that those teachers who were conned and duped by the Government into accepting the pay review body now realise what this Government's words mean. The result of these appalling deeds has led to extreme dissatisfaction and instability in our schools. It is not surprising that 1 million days have been lost through industrial action in our schools since 1971.

Lady Olga Maitland

Whose fault is that?

Mr. Steinberg

Which party was in power when those 1 million days were lost? Tory Administrations have forced teachers into taking industrial action. Through their incompetence, 1 million days have been lost through industrial action.

Mr. Dunn

May I put a question to the hon. Gentleman, whom I like and respect, as he knows. Does he know whether more children of blue collar workers are in universities today than in the 1920s?

Mr. Steinberg

I do not know the answer to that question, but I suspect that there are. God help us if there are not. Since the 1920s there have been Labour Governments who have improved opportunities for children. We introduced comprehensive education which allowed the kids of blue collar workers to obtain the qualifications that they needed to go to university.

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood my question. There were more children from blue collar worker families going to university in the 1920s than there are today. That shows the failure, not the success, of the comprehensive system.

Mr. Steinberg

I really cannot believe that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will show me the statistics later.

Mr. Dunn

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take me out to supper.

Mr. Steinberg

I do not really fancy that, though I owe the ex-education Minister a great debt, for it was he who kept my school open when the local education authority wanted to shut it.

The Government have managed almost the impossible: to alienate and unite the whole of the teaching profession. To make matters worse, the Education Bill, which is now in the other place, has nothing to do with raising standards in education—only with right-wing dogma, to get rid of local education authorities and place education eventually in the private sector. Education is not in the private sector now, it is not selective now, but the Bill that is now in the other place will encourage it to become both.

It is already moving in that direction in Penrith where, needless to say, the Secretary of State appaluded and supported the actions of that school in becoming grant maintained and selective. Although it was absolutely appalling, the Secretary of State agreed with and accepted what happened. Teachers fear that the Bill which is going through the other place has only one objective: to obliterate local education authorities, thus causing further instability in our schools.

The Government have said nothing about the statutory role of the teaching profession in improving the quality of education. The absence of a commitment to working in partnership with teachers reveals how little understanding the Government have of schools, how they are run and how they can be improved. Consequently, there is disquiet throughout education. The Government's attitude is exactly the opposite: one of confrontation, particularly as regards testing.

I shall quote from a letter that was sent to the Secretary of State—I noticed that he did not refer to it in his speech today, but a copy of it was sent to me—by the heads of English departments in 42 comprehensive schools in County Durham. They wrote: As Heads of English in Comprehensive schools across County Durham, we want to make clear our anger and professional disquiet at the way the tests in English for 14-year-olds are being implemented. We also feel that parents of Year 9 pupils should know the chaotic fashion in which these tests have been introduced. As responsible English departments, we had properly planned schemes of work in response to the National Curriculum when these pupils entered Year 7. It was necessary to plan a three-year course in order to ensure that all required activities were covered. The information on the tests, which only started to come through officially last term, has meant that we have had to abandon our plans in order to cover specified texts and prepare our pupils for a very narrow form of examination … This type of testing was not mentioned when we started the course, and we have had little time to prepare pupils. We were also asked to allot pupils to tiers within the tests before we had seen any sample questions. Contrary to reports, the new form of tests have not been tried out—or only in a very small number of schools, and with pupils of the wrong age. We are very disturbed by these changes which are preventing us from working as we have planned. We have acted professionally from the start, in accordance with all the requirements in the National Curriculum, yet these changes are being forced through in a most unprofessional way that will be damaging to all our pupils, and to the concept of good English teaching. It is incredible that the Secretary of State can be so stubborn and arrogant: all the professionals are wrong and he is right. For the life of me, I cannot understand how anybody can be so stubborn.

I make it clear to Conservative Members, particularly to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), that teachers are not opposed to tests, and never have been. Tests are part of an array of means to determine children's needs. The tests that the Secretary of State wishes to impose are fundamentally flawed. They will not benefit children; they will damage them.

I had intended to quote from a letter that I received from Mrs. Granville, the head teacher of a Cleveland school, Huntcliffe comprehensive. It is, however, a long leter, so I shall not do so. Instead, I will get on with my speech.

As if matters were not bad enough, the English orders, which were the most popular part of the national curriculum, are to be changed. Most professionals believe that major changes are not needed, and changes have been rejected in Wales and in Scotland, but not in England. Not only do teachers in England and Wales still have to operate flawed assessment and testing arrangements, in contrast to those that have been agreed in Scotland, but children in England are now to have a retrograde curriculum in comparison to that offered to children in Wales and Scotland, whose teachers have been heeded. It is a pity that the Secretary of State cannot listen to teachers in this country as the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland have listened to their teachers.

That decision will further undermine the morale of teachers in England. They are being told what to teach and how to teach it. A teacher from Droitwich, Mr. Martyn Copus, recently wrote to me saying: Like many teachers I welcomed the bulk of the national curriculum provisions and the delegation of school budgets, but foolishly I assumed we would have some years to implement and assess the impact of these measures. It is now clear that the Government has decided on purely ideological grounds that we have failed and is determined to pursue its own agenda without any concern for the professionals. Teachers who supported the Government now feel that they have been duped. They feel bitter about the Government's actions.

The Secretary of State stumbles on regardless. In all his rantings I have never heard him once mention the need for extra resources. Instead of threatening to cut education budgets, he should fight for the bare minimum standards of resourcing for education, especially with regard to staffing levels linked to class sizes, to curricular needs, to nursery provision and to books and equipment. If standards are falling, the Government are solely to blame. After all, they have dictated education policy for the past 14 years. They have under-resourced education throughout those years, and now they are using the excuse of falling standards to implement their right-wing dogma.

During the previous Parliament the Select Committee on Education investigated supposed declining reading standards. We found no evidence to substantiate that claim, which was made by a Mr. Turner, an education psychologist. Now—surprise, surprise—he has been rewarded for his unreliable report with a job as a member of the School Examinations and Assessment Council's English Committee.

It is with great sadness that I must tell the House that the Tory Members of the Select Committee connived last week to prevent the Secretary of State from being brought back to the Committee—

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg


Last week the Tory Members of the Committee connived to prevent the Secretary of State from being made to return to the Committee and answer further questions on the most topical current education issue.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg


Sir Malcolm Thornton


Lady Olga Maitland

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way.

Mr. Steinberg

The hon. Lady should not be grateful, because I am not giving way to her.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I put the record straight for the House? Before the meeting of the Select Committee, and without reference to any of my colleagues on either side of the Committee, I made it clear through the Press Association that my view as Chairman—clearly it had yet to be endorsed by my colleagues—was that it would be inappropriate and unhelpful to have an inquiry at this stage. That is the precise position. There was some brief discussion and then we proceeded to other business. What Members may do when they consider such matters is entirely up to them, but I have told the House what happened.

Hon. Members


Mr. Steinberg

I shall certainly not withdraw. As far as I am concerned, the Tory members of the Committee connived to stop the Secretary of State returning to the Committee to answer questions. The cat was let out of the bag twice, once when a member of the Committee said that we should not call the Secretary of State back because we should not put any further pressure on him—

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg

No. The other occasion was when the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford) attended the meeting for the specific purpose of ensuring that the connivance was successful, then left and did not return.

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman is aware that he was in a minority of two, so connivance could hardly have taken place. The voice was rather weak on his side of the Committee. He should also recognise that what the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), said is absolutely true. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) was so busy rushing off to tell the Press Association his version of events that it was suggested that I leave, because I had a chest infection at the time, which would have made it difficult for an interview to continue.

Mr. Steinberg


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It might help the House if we were to recognise that the statements referred to were apparently made in private during the Committee sitting, so there is no record of them. Perhaps we can move on.

Mr. Steinberg

If the Secretary of State is not prepared to come back to the Select Committee, he must be shell-shocked; he must be in a dreadful state if he is not prepared to come back to the Committee and discuss—

Mr. Pawsey

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the practice in this place that when allegations have been made and have been proved to be unfounded, as has just happened, those allegations are withdrawn?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

All hon. Members are honourable; they will have listened to what has been said and they should all recognise the point that I made about the events having taken place in private session. Perhaps we can now move on to more substantive matters.

Mr. Steinberg

Since 1979 education has received a declining share of the gross national product, despite what the Government may say. Education's share has fallen from 5.5 per cent. to 4.6 per cent., and central Government spending on education is 30 per cent. lower in real terms than it was in 1979. Figures recently provided to me by the Library reveal that, because of that, education lost the equivalent of £1.5 billion last year.

There will be stability in our schools only when the ludicrous so-called reforms are halted, and schools are better resourced to meet the needs of the national curriculum. I fully support the vast majority of teachers and the action that they are taking over the dreadful tests.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next hon. Member, may I remind hon. Members that Madam Speaker has imposed a 10-minute restriction from 6 o'clock, so whoever is called next will be asked to resume his seat at 6.10.

5.56 pm
Mr. Kenneth Baker (Mole Valley)

Before the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) got into a procedural spat at the end of his speech, he had some kind things to say about me; may I tell him that I have always believed his judgment to be perceptive and distinguished?

I heard the speech by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), and I must tell her that I was disappointed by it. It reminded me of the speeches that I heard from the Labour Front Bench in 1986 and 1987. The Labour party has been in favour of the national curriculum. It did not vote against it during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988, but Labour Members' attitude has always been one of hesitant support. They have always taken the line that they would like the national curriculum, but not just yet—a sort of secular version of St. Augustine. We have heard that line again from the hon. Member for Dewsbury.

I recognise that there is considerable consensus in the country about the need for the national curriculum.

Mrs. Ann Taylor


Mr. Baker

I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not give way, because I am short of time, and she spoke for quite a long time. What I have said does not do her a disservice.

The more that one can cement an agreement across the House between the parties on the importance of the national curriculum and the need to consolidate it, the better. The debates that we have about the national curriculum are not now heard in France and Germany, for the simple reason that in those countries the national curriculum has lasted for decades. Bismarck started the national curriculum in Germany, and in France it started at the beginning of the century. It has ceased, as it should have done, to be a matter of debate or dispute between politicians. The hon. Member for Dewsbury said that, in the revision of the national curriculum, politicians should step aside, and I echo that sentiment. I shall deal with that subject in a moment.

I must chide the Labour party, because, for all sorts of reasons, it has always been hesitant about going ahead with the national curriculum. In yesterday's edition of The Times, I read that Mr. Pascall, the outgoing chairman of the National Curriculum Council, has said: The 1988 Reform Act is our best chance to ensure that our children receive the education they need. He said that there should be no slowing up in its implementation.

The process of getting the national curriculum on to the statute book has been long. It started with a speech by Jim Callaghan at Ruskin college in 1976. It is a matter of record that the education establishment, including the then Secretary of State, formed up against him. The establishment said, "Keep out of our garden. The curriculum is ours. It is the secret garden of our profession, so don't intervene." It took almost 10 years before I could introduce a Bill establishing a national curriculum. From some teachers—not by any means the majority—and certainly from some in the education establishment there has been hostility to the concept of the national curriculum.

If one has a national curriculum, one has to have detail and standards. The whole reason for our introducing a national curriculum was that we were disappointed by the education standards in our country over many years. Employers complained to us about the literacy and numeracy of 16-year-olds. We discovered that there were 6 million people who could be described as functionally illiterate. That was a disgrace to a country as civilised as ours was—or should have been. The whole purpose of the national curriculum was to elevate the standard of education for all our children.

When we fashioned the national curriculum, I was determined that it should be broad and balanced. One school argued strongly just for the three subjects: mathematics, science and English. I believed that that was a Victorian, Gradgrind curriculum, and I wanted a broad and balanced curriculum which contained not only science, mathematics and English at its heart, but history, geography and technology—the jobs of tomorrow. Now every child has to take technology up to 16, so that decision was a revolution. We are very bad at languages. I wanted to ensure that every child took a language up to the age of 16. That is now secure. I also included the cultural subjects: art, music and sport. The children in our schools must experience the pleasure and joys of those subjects as well.

It took a great deal to get that curriculum established. The question asked was, "How can all that be fitted in?" Much of the argument was that we should not be so prescriptive, that we should be more relaxed about the curriculum. I felt that we had to be prescriptive.

On the problem of fitting all the subjects in, one of the things that I most regret about my time as Secretary of State for Education and Science is that I did not open up the argument for extending the teaching day. If one could have one more lesson of 40 minutes a day in schools, all the pressures on the national curriculum could be eased, as could the pressures brought about by testing. I should have had open negotiations with the teacher unions again.

In schools in England and Wales, children are taught by someone standing in front of a class and teaching them for about 24 hours a week. In Scotland, the figure is 27 hours a week. In 1960 in England, the figure was 30 hours a week. In Japan, it is now more than 30 hours a week, and in France and Germany, it is between 27 and 28 hours a week. Those figures refer to teaching time. We must consider the structure of the school day and the use of teachers' time to ensure that there is more teaching in the classroom. That means reopening the settlement which I reached with the teachers in 1986.

I now come to the current point of great concern. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there does not seem to be much dispute now about the mathematics and science curriculum. I remember the passionate debates when we had to fashion the mathematics curriculum. I thought that there would be no debate on mathematics. However, there were debates about whether there should be calculators, whether calculus should be taught to children under 16, and how the teaching of number was approached. Passions raged. Passions also raged on science. Should there be two or three sciences? Should we teach the old three sciences, which we all learned, of chemistry, physics and biology?

I knew that the passions would be greatest in English, and that is why I set up two committees, first under Sir John Kingman, to try to define what English was. I appointed Sir John Kingman because he was not an English scholar, but a distinguished scientist and engineer. I did not want him to get involved in the whole linguistic debate, the phonics debate and all the rest of it. His report was not very satisfactory, so I asked Professor Cox to fashion the first national curriculum. That was better, and it has formed the basis of the English curriculum since then.

I did not disguise from the world in those days the fact that I wanted a return to basics in English. The most important thing that one has to give our children today is a mastery of our language. Our language is one of the great enduring assets of our country, and it needs to be taught properly. That is why we went to great pains to try to establish a curriculum, and why the then old-fashioned concepts of punctuation, grammar and spelling were so important. Those matters are not a subject of debate in France. French children are taught to discuss the nature of the Franch language and French grammar; it is not so here.

I took the trouble to look at the document on English which came out only last week from the National Curriculum Council. It is a very good document, which is a development of the original English curriculum. It says sensible things about key stage I for children aged seven. It says: Communications. Pupils should be able to use accurate and simple vocabulary. The document gives good examples on grammar. It says: Subject-verb agreement. 'We were late back from the trip' not 'We was late back from the trip.' Such documents help teachers, and I do not see why the teaching profession has anything against this document.

The document also deals with literature, which is very dear to my heart. It says of key stages 3 and 4: Response to literature. Discuss narrative techniques. This is for 14 and 15-year-old children. It says: Discuss narrative techniques, character development, conflict, tension, and atmosphere in a novel or a play, for example"— it is not prescriptive— 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Dickens or 'An Inspector Calls' by J. B. Priestley. Studded throughout the document is a range of access to literature, which is sensible. The document says broadly that children should have read by the age of 16 or have had experience of—

Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Baker

No; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The document says that children should have read or have had experience of by the age of 16 two plays by Shakespeare, of five poets, one before 1900, and of works of fiction, one before 1900. The document is not prescriptive. I have heard some teachers say that it is narrowing and restrictive, but I do not believe that.

We never try to tell teachers how they should teach in classrooms. The national curriculum provides the essential framework, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will proceed with it.

I am glad that he has appointed Sir Ron Dearing, a distinguished public servant. I first came across him when he was chairman of the Post Office and I was Minister for Information Technology. I appointed Sir Ron Dearing to be the chairman of the Polytechnics Funding Council where he did an outstanding job. I am sure that he will do a very good job of looking at the national curriculum.

We never envisaged that the national curriculum should be set in tablets of stone for ever. As the hon. Member for Dewsbury said, it must be looked at from time to time and reviewed. That is sensible.

Part and parcel of the national curriculum are attainment levels, and part and parcel of those are tests. There has been much discussion about tests. I tried to have simple tests. I wanted pencil and paper tests, but the advice I received was that they had to be more complicated, so we set up an elaborate system which has become too complicated.

Now we want it to be simpler. However, I suspect that, when it becomes simpler, quite a few teachers will say that it is too simple and that they do not want to go back to pencil and paper tests. There is an element of pencil and paper in all tests.

The boycott is utterly wrong. I do not believe that teachers should take industrial action in any circumstances. I speak as a Secretary of State who had to deal with a strike that had lasted for three years. A strike or industrial action, whatever the semantics, in the classroom is wrong, because it sets a bad example to children. Teachers are people to whom children should look up, so I beg the various teaching unions not to proceed with the boycott.

When I was Secretary of State, I had to face a boycott of the GCSE, which was far more important than a boycott of the tests for 14-year-olds. If the GCSE had been boycotted, there would have been no certificates for a whole year, and we could not have caught up on that. I shamed the National Union of Teachers into abandoning its boycott, and I hope that the teacher unions will be shamed into abandoning their present boycott.

In 1989, at the north of England conference to which all Secretaries of State go from time to time—

Mr. Hall

This one did not go.

Mr. Baker

I said, "from time to time". I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will go in the fulness of time.

After the Education Reform Act 1988 was on the statute book, I said that the national curriculum should do five things: give a clear incentive for all schools to catch up with the best and the best will be challenged to do even better; provide teachers with detailed and precise objectives; provide parents with clear, accurate information; ensure continuity and progression from one year to another, from one school to another; help teachers concentrate on the task of getting the best possible results for each individual child. That is the object of the national curriculum, and I believe that it has achieved it so far.

6.9 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

The Secretary of State for Education began his speech by listing a number of firm principles which his party supports. Perhaps I shall surprise him and other Conservative Members by saying that I entirely agree with the principles of a national curriculum, the testing and assessment of that national curriculum and the provision of information to parents on the strengths and weaknesses of their children. It is easy to speak in slogans and headlines. This debate should be about the details that underpin those principles—the type of national curriculum, the type of testing and the type of information that should be provided to parents about those pupils.

In the few minutes available to me, I shall address my concerns about the approach to those matters. The Government's approach is leading to a crisis in our education service. That crisis is of the Government's making. They have created strife where once there was harmony. For decades since the Education Act 1944, an education partnership has built up in the United Kingdom among parents, teachers, governors, local education authorities, the local community and central Government. The Government's actions undermine that partnership and bring instability to the education system.

The Government's attacks on local education authorities and many within the education service, their abject failure to consult and their continuing lack of direction are leading to unprecedented and unnecessary chaos, division and strife, and a significant lowering of morale throughout the education service. They are interested only in forcing through their views—views which are the cause of much of the strife in the education service. The real disgrace is that they mask that behind the pretence of choice. In reality, the only choice is that there can be an education system of any colour, as long as it is Tory blue.

During the passage of the Education Bill, I proposed an amendment that would have allowed grant-maintained schools to opt out of that status and return to local education authority control. The Government refused to accept it.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster

If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I would prefer not to give way, because time is short.

The Government will accept the opportunity for people to vote only if they can be sure that the vote will go the way they want. That has been demonstrated today by their unwillingness to accede to the request of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and other hon. Members that there be an opportunity for parents to ballot on their thoughts about the current testing procedures.

The problem is the approach of the Secretary of State and his Ministers. Perhaps it is not surprising that the Department for Education, under this new Secretary of State, has moved into new premises which are aptly called Sanctuary buildings. When the Secretary of State is closeted in that sanctuary—as he frequently is—he is unwilling to listen to the vast majority of views of the people in the education service. He prefers to listen only to the views of those who share his views.

Occasionally, the Secretary of State emerges from the sanctuary bunker and sadly undermines, by the things he does and says, the education partnership. We have seen a number of examples—the rubbishing of last year's GCSE examination results, the debacle over the league tables, the way in which he called the views of some parents' organisations "neanderthal", and the constant and piecemeal changes to different aspects of the national curriculum and the associated assessment procedures.

We have now seen the disorder that has been caused by the proposed key stage 3 tests this summer. With all those statements, the Government still fail to get it right, and the nation sadly suffers as a result. It is no wonder that, only six months into the reign of the Secretary of State, a Conservative party document—referring to the Secretary of State—talked about too much fire and brimstone, ill-defined attacks on education experts and not enough attempts to raise morale in the education profession.

As the motion before the House says, there is an urgent need for stability in our schools. The Secretary of State is in a curious position. He is largely responsible for the malaise that we are in, but he is about the only person who is capable of treating it. He could treat the malaise today —although I suspect that he will not—by accepting the motion, especially the part that refers to the key stage 3 tests.

On the issue of testing, the right hon. Gentleman has built, ranged against him, a most amazingly powerful coalition of people interested in the future of education. He has managed to unite parents, governors, teachers, local education authorities, directors of education, Conservative party organisations and, indeed, many leading Conservative politicians in the belief that the current curriculum testing arrangements are unworkable, unmanageable and likely to harm the education of children.

Many people would agree that it was an absolutely singular triumph for the Secretary -of State to unite the traditionally moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers in their vote on the boycott of the tests. It has certainly been a singular triumph to have so many traditional Tory supporters opposed to the tests. Indeed, the list of those who claim that the whole process is like a juggernaut careering to disaster reads like a "Who's Who" of previous fans of the Tory party education reforms.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) and the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), who are in their places, have made highly critical comments. That traditional Tory party newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, suggested that the only way out of the Secretary of State's current dilemma was unilaterally to scrap this year's tests. Of course, there are many other people to whom the hon. Member for Dewsbury referred.

To the voices of those Conservatives must be added —as anyone who has looked through the press recently will know—the views of a vast number of parents who oppose the Secretary of State on the issue of testing. Many governors, local education authorities and chief education officers oppose it. Of course, a huge number of teachers oppose, from a professional view, the testing procedure proposed by the Secretary of State. Incidentally, I must congratulate the investigative talents of The Mail on Sunday which, this weekend, managed to dig up two teachers who support the Secretary of State. Apart from those two people, the Secretary of State stands almost alone, deserted even by his traditional allies. He cannot rely on the support of the independent school sector.

With so many voices ranged against him, one might have expected the Secretary of State to reflect on the advice offered by Oliver Cromwell to the Church of Scotland: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken. Sadly, the Secretary of State is mistaken about many things. Most importantly, he is mistaken in his claims that the vast majority of teachers are opposed to testing and assessment.

Those teachers are definitely not opposed to testing and assessment. Indeed, a teacher union leader said to me only yesterday that teachers do not need some Johnny-come-lately Secretary of State telling them about testing and assessment. The vast majority of teachers agree not only with testing and assessment but with the importance of some external moderation with national testing as part of the development of the education process.

The real anxiety of the vast majority of those in the education service is with the particular testing regime imposed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has told us today that it is vital that that testing procedure be continued as a way of developing the procedure. But no one who tests any product even begins the testing procedure with real people, especially pupils in our schools, when all the professionals say that it is flawed. Until there have been major reforms—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I call Dame Angela Rumbold.

6.19 pm
Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

Little would have persuaded me to join in an education debate at this time, because I believe passionately that, when one has had time on a subject as I have had time on education, one should perhaps leave a decent interval before one returns to it, especially from the Back Benches. However, several reasons have made me decide to join in.

One of the most pointed reasons is that I have normally managed to shut up the clarion voices of people on radio and television who carry on at one stage or another about the introduction of the national curriculum, testing and all the other reforms introduced in the Education Reform Act 1988 of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). This time, I found it more difficult. The voices invaded my kitchen via the radio, and even invaded my television during the Easter weekend. I found that unforgivable, so I decided that I would say something about it.

The second, and much more serious and important, reason is that I felt strongly that I should state the principle of testing, which is critical to the national curriculum, the inception and implementation of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley so eloquently described. The essence and success of the national curriculum depends on the principle of testing and its implementation throughout our schools.

The third reason was my sheer enjoyment of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley. I greatly enjoyed it, because it took me back to an extremely happy time when we were working together on the Education Reform Act 1988.

Many people on the Opposition Benches and in the country at large have asserted vigorously that they are, of course, in favour of testing. They say that they want to see children tested. Indeed, we are told by many teachers, who I believe are genuine, that they test their children regularly at every interval. However, that is not what we are talking about, and it is not what the national curriculum and the testing attached to it is about. Nor is the Education Reform Act 1988 about that.

Now, as in 1988, we are talking about the standardisation of tests at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16. We have not addressed that in the debate this afternoon. It is unfair to many good teachers throughout the country to pretend that testing by individual teachers of individual pupils at every point in their career in the classroom is the same thing as the standardisation of tests for seven, 11, 14 and 16-year-olds.

In our schools today, standard tests for seven-year-olds have been introduced. They were introduced over a period. I do not say that the early introduction of any of the testing was absolutely perfect. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained clearly that the system is one of evolution. The introduction and implementation of anything as large as the Education Reform Act 1988 cannot be arranged in two or three years.

The Education Reform Act was a 10, 12, 15 or perhaps 20-year programme to ensure that, throughout our schools, standards were raised, practices were introduced and education was inexorably lifted, so that teachers who came into a classroom knew what they were expected to teach and test on, and children knew what those tests involved. More importantly than ever before, parents receive the information that they want.

The ambition of parents when their children are tested at school is to know two things. The first is how their child is doing. They do not want to be told, "He is doing nicely. You will find that he is integrating well into the class." They want to know whether he is keeping up with the sums, whether he can spell and whether his essays and little offerings are as good as those of the other children in the class.

The second thing that parents want to know is whether their child's school is as good as the school down the road. They want to know whether their child's class is as good as the class at the other school. They want to know where their child stands. Not only middle-class parents who live in houses with pianos and books but all parents instinctively want to know that. Many parents who may not be able to articulate that desire want that information. To deny them that information and say that it is not possible to say exactly and precisely how the child is doing is fundamentally wrong. It is a serious matter for the country to consider. That is why the boycott is so dangerous.

The boycott undermines the principle, which has taken some five years to establish in the country and in schools, that testing is important. I remind the House that it is not so long ago that we introduced another reform in the education system. In the same Education Act, and in my time as Minister of State, we introduced local management of schools. I travelled around the country talking to primary and secondary school teachers. They told me that it was impossible to introduce LMS, that it would involve far too much administration, that they were not administrators, and that they were there not to manage anything so crude as money or consider budgets but to teach. They said that they did not want to be taken out of the classroom to administer the school's budget and that LMS would be a disaster. That was only three years ago.

I defy any Opposition Member, parent governor or anyone anywhere in the country to say that they would prefer that we took LMS away. The majority of schools are 100 per cent. in favour of it. I draw a parallel with the introduction of testing. I simply say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it may take longer for people to accept testing, but I know full well that his intention is right. It is entirely the rights of parents as well as children to have those tests introduced.

We are considering tests for 14-year-olds at present. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley described eloquently and directly those wonderful days when we began to introduce English as a subject and to set up what one should or should not ask teachers to consider teaching children at various ages. Of course it is a controversial subject, and of course people will argue, but eventually they will come back to the basics, as I believe that Sir Ron Dearing will quickly do after this year's experiment and testing. It is extremely important that the tests continue.

We shall see the programme evolve and develop. I remind the House that this is 1993. In 1994, we shall introduce tests for 11-year-olds. I can imagine the language that will be used. The phrases are resonant. I can hear it all. People will say that it is all about the 11-plus and selection of children. That is nonsense—it is old education-speak. We are going forward now. We shall take our children forward.

Many of the excellent teachers out there will be reluctant to boycott education practice in the way that has been suggested to them by some of the more militant unions. They will take education forward with the tests to ensure that their children—for they are parents, too—our children, my grandchildren and all the children of Britain can achieve the standards we need in our schools and universities for our ideas to materialise and continue to be as good as they always have been, so that Britain can export brilliance and success.

If the boycotts go ahead, they will be a devastating blow to the introduction of many of the reforms which have succeeded, although with difficulty, so far. I wish this reform success, and I hope that the clarion voices will no longer be heard.

6.29 pm
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

It has been customary in this debate for hon. Members to declare their interest at the beginning of their speeches. I declare an interest as a consultant to the National Union of Teachers and as having spent 16 or 17 years teaching in an inner city multiracial school and community college.

Those of us who have visited schools in the last year can be in no doubt that this term schools are in crisis. It is clear that teacher morale is at rock bottom, that schools are continuously and increasingly under-resourced and that, as a result, children's education is suffering. Anyone would think from the flurry of media interest in education in the last few weeks that this was something new, but those of us who are interested in education know that this crisis has been growing for some time and that this dissatisfaction with what is going on in education has been around for some years.

There is a feeling among parents and teachers that those who currently exercise political control over what goes on in our schools are removed from the reality of classroom practice. I sometimes think that the utterances that come these days from Sanctuary buildings have more to do with the posturing of the Secretary of State than with raising standards of education for the children for whom we have a responsibility.

One of the Secretary of State's infamous predecessors was the "I know best; I do not need to listen" type. It has been one of the saddest things in the past year that the present Secretary of State seems to rate her higher than he does some of his better predecessors. Nowhere can that be seen better than in the chaos of what has gone on in key stage 3 English testing in the last year. A year ago, schools were busy teaching the national curriculum key stage 3 English. As recently as last September, the Government commissioned its third attempt to get an acceptable form of testing English at that point. The pilots that were published last autumn were radically different from the two that had preceded them. When they had finished, the response was unanimous: the tests were bad. The teachers, the governors, all those who had looked at the tests were unanimous: the tests were ill prepared, they were prescriptive, they lowered expectations of our pupils and, most important of all, they were not based on the national curriculum that had been taught in schools for the previous three years.

How can the teachers have been teaching the books on which the children are to be tested when it is now only four months since the book list was published?

I listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) said. It was a sensitive speech and one that I enjoyed. He talked about a variety of literature. He talked with some feeling about books, choosing them and giving access to them to the whole range of children. That is not what is being said by the Secretary of State. He is saying "Thou shalt read this, that and the other book that I have chosen".

The right hon. Member for Mole Valley talked about Shakespeare and the other great writers of our history. The Secretary of State's testing will prevent children in the lower ability range from reading and learning about Shakespeare, when in many schools they have been doing that for the past decade. The right hon. Member for Mole Valley said that it was not for us to tell teachers how to teach, but the effect of the testing introduced by the Secretary of State is to forbid strategies that have enabled teachers to teach Shakespeare and other great writers successfully to children in a wide ability range.

What were the results of those pilot tests? No results were published, we never saw what the teacher response was, and the Secretary of State refused to enter into discussions with those who had been involved with the tests. Instead, he used the opportunity to demonstrate some sort of political strength, some sort of growing opposition to teacher unions, and what seemed at that time to be a total disregard for the work that teachers were doing in schools.

Key stage 3 English testing is not about who runs schools, it is not about left and right, it is certainly not about whether children should be tested. What the key stage 3 English debate is about is whether Ministers want to work with teachers and parents to get the best for our children, or to carry on making changes in spite of the opinions of those important groups.

In the last few months the Secretary of State has turned an educational discussion into a political wrestling match. For that he cannot and must not be forgiven. Through December, January, February and into March, all we heard from him was that the tests were scrupulous and unflawed; they were unparalleled in their distinction. He refused to publish the evaluation of the results and he refused to talk to people.

By April he was beginning to see the light. He called for a review; he talked of genuine concern among teachers. His conversion on the road to Cardiff was exceptionally welcome to me, for one. But he still did not have the political courage to withdraw the tests. He seems to have spent the Easter recess looking for excuses not to accept the logic of his own statement to the conference in Cardiff. He went to Cardiff, Brighton, Bournemouth and back to Brighton looking for anything to distract our attention from the real issue.

Any statement by any union leader that could be interpreted as a political attack on the Government was seized on by him as a way of not discussing the real issue, which was testing. When one union leader talked about a campaign against the Government, that was it; gold had been struck. Baroness Blatch was dispatched to "Newsnight" and John Patten's picture appeared in every newspaper.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I know that the hon. Lady is among the last batch of hon. Members to come here and has probably not got used to our procedures. She must refer to the right hon. Member as the Secretary of State, not by his name.

Ms Morris

I apologise Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The same picture of the Secretary of State appeared in all the newspapers the next day. He was more intent on renewing his battle with the unions than on talking about testing.

Despite this, he has now said that the tests must go ahead, because he will not know how to improve the tests next year unless the pilot scheme is allowed to run this year. It is clear that the tests will go ahead this summer, not to test the children, but to test the tests. The children are being used as guinea pigs. There are pilots to test the tests, but nothing to test the children, because, as the Secretary of State has admitted, those tests are flawed.

The only people who seem to need the pilot tests to find out what is wrong with them are the Ministers on the Government Front Bench. Everybody else who has been involved in the tests knows what is wrong with them. Nobody needs to go through a pilot scheme this year to find out how they ought to be improved. We have an over-burdened curriculum and flawed tests piled on to an already creaking education system. For a decade now, financial cuts imposed on local authorities have meant that, as each academic year approaches and schools consider how to reorganise themselves, they tailor what goes on not to meet the needs of the pupils but to meet the demands of the Treasury.

We have seen special needs money siphoned off for other uses, fewer resources and larger classes. And piled on top of that is the greatest conflict and instability that has yet hit our schools—the balloting process over grant-maintained schools. It is a system designed to create conflict; a one-off opportunity for everybody to cast a vote to decide whether a local education authority should be allowed to continue to exist.

What would be lost by losing that battle is so important that all sides will play it for all it is worth. We have seen it happen already: bitter battles about ballots going on all over the country. The consequence of losing the ballot is great, because under the type of democracy introduced by the Secretary of State there is a one-off vote and one does not get another chance.

There are many areas of our education system at the moment in which there is instability: an unstable curriculum, an unstable testing system, an unstable structure imposed on us by the Government. Teachers need a structure that enables them to do their job, which is being in classrooms, raising the standards of education of our children and having the highest expectations of them. Under this Government, with the proposals that we have seen, we as politicians have not given them that. Let us take this opportunity to give them what they deserve.

6.39 pm
Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

I shall refer simply to the national curriculum and testing.

It is a mystery that people feel that we never had a national curriculum before, but we did. My first job was as head of English in a secondary modern school in Lancashire. When I was appointed I went to the headmaster and drew up a syllabus and we put it into operation. A week later I was visited by an HMI, and in those days HMIs were very wise. He gave me a book called, "Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers", which came out in June 1944. It was first published in 1890. It comprised 564 pages telling teachers what to do in every year with the bright, average and least bright pupils.

In 1979, when I became a Minister in the Department of Education, no one knew that there had ever been a national curriculum. It had collapsed and disappeared.

There was also a book on primacy education entitled, Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers and Others Concerned with the Work of Primary Schools". It was last reprinted in 1963.

It was not that we never had a national curriculum. Until the cultural revolution of the 1960s we had a national curriculum and we also had testing. The testing was the dreaded 11 -plus over which so many Labour Members committed suicide. If any of them wish to do so tonight, it would be preferable if they did not do it in the Chamber.

Some 50 per cent. of children sat the 11-plus. [Interruption.] I failed mine; the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) probably passed his and that is why he joined the Labour party. Children took the 11-plus in English, mathematics and general knowledge, which was scripture, geography, history and civics. I had the most homework in the year when I sat my 11-plus. I failed it because of Blackburn Rovers. I left the examination early to see them playing a cup match and I did not finish the last half hour. Blackburn Rovers are doing very well now, although it took them a long time to get there. I failed the 11-plus and that was the only time my father ever hit me from one end of the room to the other, and I decided from then on that education was very important. I have believed in corporal punishment ever since.

Let me say a word about the English tests and the teaching of standard English. Children should be taught standard English, otherwise they will be handicapped for life. In the yard they will still speak their own language and it is no good having a teacher in the yard to tell them how to speak when they are playing games, but they must be taught standard English, otherwise they will be handicapped if they want mobility nationally or in their chosen work.

In the 1960s we had the cultural revolution; the resurrection of Rousseau from France and Dewey from America by long distance telephone. It was said that every child should develop at his own pace. We had the Plowden report, which should be burnt in Trafalgar square as it did so much harm.

We all know that it is better to find out than to be taught, but how can children discover by accident at the local library the theorems of Euclid or Faraday's electromagnetic laws or even the French subjunctive without going on a day trip to Boulogne? They cannot. It is the teachers' job to pass on the learning of the ages. If children could do it for themselves, we could save all the money we spend on education and put them in libraries and the teachers could go somewhere else and dig trenches or the potato crop.

The national curriculum was destroyed as was the idea that teachers had a body of knowledge to pass on. Similarly, we had reading readiness or real books in primary schools. Very clever children will learn from those, but the others must have phonics and must be taught bit by bit. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) referred to illiteracy. He did so with his usual great wisdom. I am godfather to his son, so he is obviously a very wise man.

Comprehensive schools were introduced at that time. The Labour party was looking for a programmme. It is looking for a programme again, if anyone has one to offer. The Labour party became the driver of the train of comprehensive schools. The Conservative party did not know what to do about it and became the brake man at the end of the train. The Labour party rushed towards it and the Conservative party tried to slow it down. Nobody knew what it was and what it was doing. It is interesting that no other country in Europe went that way, but we are still landed with it as against specialist schools.

The Conservative party now has a national curriculum and testing, but we should think about the organisation of secondary schools. It is all very well having grant-maintained schools, but they cannot all go their own way, otherwise we shall have a strange patchwork quilt of education. There will have to be some guidance.

The Bennett report of 1976 contained some interesting findings about testing and checking. It was undoubtedly read by the then Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan, who referred to it in his Ruskin college speech which was destroyed by the then Shirley Williams, now a member of the other House. That speech was a benchmark and would have done great good for the Labour party had it been followed through at the time.

The destruction of the national curriculum and testing at that time led to a deterioration of standards. The Bennett report showed from a study of 700 infant schools in Lancashire in which there is the constituency of my distinguished hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowmati) that testing in schools and the 11-plus produced higher standards in mathematics and English and that the children were more at ease because they knew what they had to do. That report influenced what the then Labour Prime Minister said at the time.

I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends agree that the testing of individual children helps to ensure that schools are doing their jobs. Good teachers carry out regular tests purely and simply to make sure that the school is living up to its standards.

Over the past 15 or 20 years, and certainly over the past 30 years, we have had some of the worst schools in Europe. Our good schools remain good and the average ones continue, but in the centre of our cities—I always taught in downtown areas—we have some of the worst schools in Europe. That is why we decided to introduce testing.

Let me say something about the national curriculum. I am in favour of the tests, and I believe that they will raise education standards in Britain. However, the education establishments have made it all far too complicated. It has been said, rightly, that teachers are also responsible for that. They did not want simple pencil and paper tests; they wanted assessment, but it takes up too much time. The national curriculum takes up some 85 per cent. of time in secondary schools and primary schools. I believe that it should take up no more than 50 per cent. of time in secondary schools and 75 per cent. in primary schools so that secondary schools could teach second and third languages and the classics as well as specialised subjects.

I hope that Sir Ron Dinsey—I mean Sir Ron Dearing. I have a friend called Ron Dinsey who is also very distinguished and perhaps will be knighted. I shall leave the Secretary of State a note on the Board.

The Secretary of State said that the committee of 15, under the chairmanship of Sir Ron Dearing, would have at least one head teacher and one teacher. I should like there to be a majority of head teachers and teachers as they recognise children in the classroom, instead of all those education theorists. If a child came into the Chamber, they would not recognise him: they would probably think it was a Manx cat or something. We should get down to the classroom teachers as they are the ones doing the jobs.

To sum up my rather rapid speech—I have not had time to write it totally in verse as is my usual way—I welcome entirely national tests. They will be a great advantage to parents, particularly in downtown areas, if they can guarantee good standards. The state has no right to impose compulsory education without compulsory minimum standards. I welcome that, and at the same time I hope that we can reduce pressure on individual teachers and schools. It is a great reform, and I back the Secretary of State totally in it. Undoubtedly, with the help of Conservative Members, it will go on to even greater things.

6.49 pm
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I have no consultancies to declare in this debate, but I do have a more modest claim. I am still a member of the governing body of an imaginative, working-class, inner-city secondary school, which all of my children have had the privilege of attending. That school is not opposed in any way to a national curriculum or afraid of the notion of pupil assessments, but it does feel a huge sense of exasperation at the incompetence of the Government's current testing proposals. That exasperation is felt by parents, governors and teachers alike.

If the Secretary of State is allergic to the notion of listening to teachers' views, perhaps he would care to hear some of the views of head teachers in the city of Nottingham. I have spent a fair part of today speaking, by phone, to head teachers in Nottingham, asking them what views they would like passed on to the Secretary of State in this debate. It was a timely set of telephone calls, because all the head teachers of the city schools received a letter today from the Secretary of State—it was an SOS from the SoS—in which he said: If the test did not go ahead there would be no sound basis for an independent evaluation. Yet that is precisely the basis on which head teachers are exasperated about his proposals, because the proposals themselves offer no sound basis for independent evaluation.

I have received a fax from the Nottinghamshire Association of Secondary Heads. This is not a trade union or a political organisation which would normally oppose, root and branch, the Government's policies. In the fax, the association has said publicly: Head Teachers are happy to implement the National Curriculum and believe that testing is an essential part of education. Such tests have always been used to measure pupil achievement. However, the Secondary Head Teachers of Nottinghamshire are very worried about the national tests, especially in English and Technology … Detailed information about courses and testing arrived late and in a piecemeal fashion. The tests themselves have not been properly trialled nor validated. The fax concludes with the following remarks: the way that testing is to be done this year is damaging to pupils' education. When I rang around today, not a single head teacher would speak up in support of the Secretary of State's proposals.

When I spoke to individual head teachers, they were more forthcoming. The head teacher of one of the best performing schools in the city—one which one would expect to find to be most enthusiastic about the idea of assessments and stand to gain considerably from testing —was unequivocal in his condemnation of the approach of the Secretary of State. He said that the preparations for testing at key stage 3 had been detrimentally draining on the school's education programme and had seriously undermined staff morale. The Secretary of State mentioned the notion of improved standards, but another head teacher said that the English tests will not allow really able pupils to show their ability, and that one-word answers are not a way of demonstrating creative writing ability.

Other head teachers went further. They said that, if only the Secretary of State had asked them and had been willing to listen, he would have heard that the argument used in his letter—that schools had had three years to prepare for the tests —was an absolute lie. The information about the English tests arrived at the schools in January. That is the period of real preparation within which schools have been asked to organise their testing.

As school after school pointed out, there has not been enough time given to preparation and the approach to English that the Secretary of State is advocating would wreck good English teaching and force teachers to teach to a test, not to a sense of excitement about English. One went as far as to say that this was the closest he had come to understanding the notion of Stalinism in education.: that what the Secretary of State was offering was a prescribed reading list around which English would be taught, and presumably inspired!

At one stage, elsewhere I understand, the Secretary of State has cited "Treasure Island" as an example of the books he has described as "a good read". To comment on this I should declare that I feel myself singularly privileged in many ways, because when I retreat from the House and spend some time with my children at the weekend, one of the joys for me is to read to them and with them. I feel privileged that I have three teenage children who still enjoy and get excited about poetry and literature … and in sharing it.

I invite the Secretary of State to listen to the reading list that my children would recommend to him. It would include a wide range of contemporary literature, which breaks through prejudice and offers different, more productive and enhancing role models which challenge the out-of-date stereotypes of race and gender in some of our older literature. My children could provide a wonderful reading list. But it would be lost on the right hon. Gentleman.

If the Secretary of State looks at "Treasure Island", for example, he would see that it offers two role models for women: one is an old crone and the other is a barmaid. If he thinks that such role models would inspire young girls to get excited about literature, he should be sent back to start his education all over again.

If the Secretary of State is not happy to do that, perhaps he would go back to his own notion about the testing that he held last year. We have heard from some of my other colleagues that the results of last year's pilot testing have not been declared. Let me offer some information about some of the pilot testing done in Nottingham. It might be the litmus test against which the Government's education proposals should be measured.

One of the schools tested was an independent school —the Nottingham high school for boys—and my understanding of its reaction to those tests is that now it will not touch SATs. Although the school was part of the pilot, it rejected out of hand the notion of continued involvement in SATs. Why? It found them time-wasting, badly constructed and a poor way of showing what the school already knew. That is the litmus test against which the Ministers claim, that they 'were well received' and had a broad base of support. If the independent schools will not touch them, why should anyone else?

I put on record my unequivocal support for the action that teachers up and down the country are taking in boycotting these tests. I will explain why, in very personal terms. Not long ago, one of my sons submitted a written piece in English and tried to work a flanker. He had not bothered to do much work on it or much preparation. The work he handed in was somewhat shoddy and ill prepared. To her credit, the teacher looked at it and said to my son, "What do you call this? It's rubbish. You have not put any effort into this. How can you expect me to treat this as a serious piece of work and mark it seriously when you have neglected the duties and responsibilities which, at this stage of your education, I expect you to live up to?"—and she threw it back at him. I saw her a couple of days later and she said to me, "I hope that you were not offended about it." I said, "Offended? I was pleased that you did it, because you sent my lad scuttling back home, and he has worked like a beaver on it". He went back and rewrote it, and delivered it in the sort of terms that he had to in order to meet the standards of education the school expected.

Will the Secretary of State do the same—because that is precisely what teachers are saying about his own offering? Teachers are saying that the proposals are shoddy and ill thought out, and should be taken back to square one and completely rethought.

I do not for one moment believe that the Secretary of State will do that. One of the tragedies of this debate and of the Government's education policies in general is that the Secretary of State does not have a fraction of my son's understanding of what real learning is about. The right hon. Gentleman does not have my son's wisdom in knowing how to learn from his own mistakes. Nor does he have a fraction of my own gratitude to teachers who are prepared to stand up and confront such ill-prepared and incompetent acts of educational folly.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


7 pm

Sir Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

For nearly 30 years in elected office, at local and national level, I have been a passionate and vocal supporter of standards in education. I wish to make clear at the outset my support for the main principles of the reforms—for the national curriculum and for the absolute necessity of testing as an integral part of that curriculum. Without testing, we cannot be sure that the right measurement is being made.

I quote from two reports. One said: Things have improved within the last 30 years … But the educational opportunities offered in most of our towns, and in nearly all our country districts, to boys or girls who do not proceed to the universities, but leave school at 16, are still far behind the requirements of our time". The second, referring to final examinations, stated: we feel that the schools themselves may become uncertain in their aim and vacillating in their methods, if they have no suggestion of a definite standard to guide their work … There is wisdom in the saying of Plato, that 'the life without examination is a life that can hardly be lived'". Those reports were dated 1895 and 1924 respectively. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The debate has turned on statements such as "A return to the golden age." Those reports show clearly that the golden age, if it ever existed, exists largely in people's imagination.

The progressive reforms that we put in place in the 1980s are vital. The Education Reform Act 1988 brought matters to a head, and we are now starting to see the benefits flow through. I agree with all of that. Recent reports, some of which have been attributed to me, would have one believe that I am opposed to the Secretary of State for Education's efforts. Not so. I am totally behind the principles of his stewardship in that Department.

It is vital for the success of our children that the reforms succeed, although I have found differences in the implementation of some of the reforms. I believe strongly in the sort of statements that have been made by Professor Alan Smithers, a member of the National Curriculum Council. For example, he said in a recent television broadcast that it was important to have a balance between external testing and internal assessment. If we can get that balance right, we shall get testing right and achieve the benefits that flow from a wide curriculum. We shall also have the rigour of external standard tests, enabling national assessments to be made, which in turn will benefit pupils, teachers and parents alike.

Comments have been made about the report of the Office for Standards in Education. The Ofsted report also says that a fine balance must be drawn and that the dangers of teaching to the test—if the tests are too prescriptive—must be avoided at all costs. It is important that that is taken on board in any future review.

The teacher unions have made many statements in recent weeks. I believe the boycott to be totally wrong. I appreciate the frustrations and understand many of the points that moderate teachers have made when writing to me over the months, but the boycott can do nothing but harm to the children and to the case of moderate teachers who wish to bring about change, and I condemn it unequivocally. It would take us back to the bad old days and allow a handful of militants in trade unions to use this focused debate to destroy the whole essence of the reform programme. That cannot be right, and I would not wish to be associated with it in any respect.

But to deny that there is frustration is to misunderstand the huge volume of feeling that exists in many schools about the implementation of what is proposed and the way in which it is impacting on teaching practice. It is also important to consider whether it will work and deliver what the Secretary of State and I wish to achieve, which is improved standards.

My right hon. Friend might consider the possibility of a way forward, and it can be no more than that. The threat of a boycott and its consequent disruption hangs over the schools. It would be in no one's interest and might be against the law. We shall have to wait and see. It would cause enormous problems for head teachers and governing bodies. I am married to one and am a chairman of governors, so I speak with feeling on the subject.

The Secretary of State has made two concessions. He said that there would be no reporting of the tests. The fundamental point made in the early correspondence was that they should be piloted and unreported. That concession has been made. He has promised a review of the national curriculum, and Sir Ron Dearing has, I hope, our full support in the work that lies ahead for him. He has a major job, and should be given a chance to get on with it. I was encouraged earlier when I think I saw the Secretary of State nod in assent at the suggestion that politicians should back away a little.

Although I have made no secret of my belief that an abandonment of, or making voluntary, the tests for this year is perhaps a way forward, if that is not to be, a shift in the way that teacher opinion is sought could do much to persuade the majority of teachers, who are moderate, who support testing and assessment and who want to make the national curriculum work, that their views will be heeded.

It is no use having the odd head teacher or teacher sitting on a working party or national body. However experienced, such people represent no one's views but their own. My right hon. Friend should seriously consider setting up opportunities by which groups of practising teachers and head teachers, perhaps regionally or at LEA level, have the chance to comment in detail on the way in which the principles of the reforms are implemented and on their practicability. That would be a significant and welcome move.

Moderate teacher opinion would be more likely to turn away from confrontation if those teachers felt that their voices would be heard and that their professionalism and expertise would be put to good use. It would be a challenge to the teacher unions to show clearly whether their rhetoric of support for testing is matched by their willingness to allow their members to co-operate. Education for our children—for the future of the nation—works best when a genuine partnership exists.

Mr. Patten

I have been listening with care to my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee, and I assure him that it goes without saying that the Government welcome the possibility of groups of teachers, along the lines that my hon. Friend suggested, making their views known, regionally and locally, to the review that Sir Ron Dearing is starting. That is exactly what Sir Ron wishes to happen. That is important, and I welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion. I am sure that Sir Ron Dearing will also welcome it.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention.

As I was saying, education works best when a genuine partnership exists in which the views and experience of all are taken into account in the evolutionary development of the education system. Consensus is not a dirty word. While Government must clearly set the framework, those who work in the schools must be allowed to exercise their professional judgment and the benefits of their practical experience if they are to feel that sense of ownership that is vital.

Whatever the outcome of the current dispute, my right hon. Friend's most urgent task is to use his good offices, as only he can, to bring about that genuine partnership. That would be a signal achievement. It is the way forward to restore the belief which most parents and all moderate teachers, who are the vast majority, have in the need—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Time up.

7.10 pm
Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

It is so long since I taught that I would not use that as a qualification for speaking in the debate. When one has been a Member for a long time, like the previous Secretary of State for Education, and has lived through arguments about setting, streaming, banding, comprehensive education and the great debate on education which was launched by the present Lord Callaghan, that is a qualification for making a contribution. Memory is very important in the House. I remember the statistics which showed that a previous Conservative Secretary of State for Education, later to become Prime Minister, closed more grammar schools than any Labour Government ever closed. I just make that point in passing.

I have always been in favour of a national curriculum, and I do not want what I am about to say to make people think that I want to move backwards, but the Secretary of State did a great disservice to teachers in the 1970s and 1980s. The impression has been given, as hon. Members will see if they read Hansard, that at that time parents had no knowledge of what their children were doing.

Like most sentimental mothers, I have at home a drawer full of documents about my children which in my old age I will look at with tears in my eyes. They are the reports of my children and the children I fostered at that time. They all attended state primary schools and comprehensive schools in the 1970s and 1980s. The reports told me how they were achieving. A remedial boy who needed special help was given the utmost attention and assistance so that he might achieve better.

For the Secretary of State to give the impression that teachers at that time were not assessing their pupils and that no testing was taking place is a total misrepresentation of what was going on in education. When the Secretary of State and other hon. Members read what they said, they should have the grace to say that they were wrong. Thousands of parents like me, whose kids went through the system at that time, knew what their children were doing.

The method of testing was different. It was not competitive, as it was when I was at school, when information about who was first, second, third, fourth and fifth was put up on the wall. Although I was not knocked across the room by my father or mother like the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson)—which may account for his views—nevertheless I have always questioned that system of classing children as successes or failures in education.

I want to concentrate on nursery education, on which the Secretary of State refused to comment. I have always been apprehensive about the testing of children at the age of seven, particularly because we have a declining industry in nursery education. The nursery programme is becoming the casualty in many local authorities which are starved of resources. Indeed, many Tory authorities in particular have never put great stress on nursery education. The playgroup movement is in grave financial difficulties because it has become the substitute for nursery education in many areas. At least one hon. Member was present at the launch of the appeal of the playgroup movement for funds and greater assistance from the Government.

Many children are denied any nursery experience. Therefore, some children who go to school at the age of five will have only two years of experience of school before being tested at seven. In some areas where there is only a once-a-year entry, children born in July will start school when they are aged four years and two months. Some will go into attractive reception classes equipped as nursery classes. Although I would prefer proper nursery education, I recognise the benefits of such classes, but many will go into ordinary classes and will be expected to participate in more formal education.

If testing is done at the age of seven, some children will have been three years in primary school, but some will have been there only two years; some will have had nursery education and some will not. Will any hon. Member who knows anything about young children tell me that all those children can be tested successfully at the age of seven on the same basis? It is absolute nonsense. Even one year less will make a difference to children throughout their school life until they begin to catch up at the age of 12 or 13. Most teachers recognise that. The fact that we are driven to once-a-year entry for children is very worrying in relation to tests.

Some hon. Members have referred to the continent. We do badly in what we offer our young children. In most European countries, children start school much later, at the age of seven, having had superb pre-school provision. Our children are robbed of that experience.

When the Secretary of State talks about the value of testing for very young children, I question it very much. I support the testing which took place in the past when parents knew how their children were measuring up. With such testing, any teacher could tell parents at any time how their children were doing, because that was their function. That is why I get angry when I hear people like the Secretary of State dismissing what happened in the 1970s and 1980s as if teachers were not communicating at all with parents. That is rubbish. We all went to parent-teacher evenings and discussed what was happening. As I said, we have reports to prove it.

There was a time when I had some hopes of the Secretary of State. He kept being photographed with his young child, and I thought that anyone who loved a little child must have some good in him. I still like to think that that is so, but pomposity and dogma are no substitute for proper educational debate. Sadly, we have listened to much dogma and pomposity in the debate. There has been no real contribution to solving the problems which teachers are facing in schools today.

7.16 pm
Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

As has been said, the debate comes at a time of continuing reform in the education service. In a democracy a government are always under pressure to get quick results, but steady progress in the classroom and increasing parental support and commitment to the education service are not, alas, headline news. It is only when things go wrong that education gets the headlines.

Of course, the debate comes about also as a result of the problem over testing. Concern about testing is not confined to seaside conferences. Many people who are not involved in education politics but who are committed to the education service do not think that we have got matters quite right. Such people want to work with the Government in the laudable desire to raise standards and thereby expand opportunities for young people.

Therefore, much rests on Sir Ron Dearing and his new committee to sort matters out. We must stop the slide from ballots to boycotts and inevitable legal action which will benefit only the lawyers and certainly will not benefit many young people who are close to taking their GCSE and A-level examinations this summer term.

I suggest two immediate guidelines which I hope that Sir Ron and his committee can establish with the teaching profession as common ground. First, the more standards improve in schools, the greater the support for the teaching profession. Secondly, performance needs to improve fastest in the middle and lower ability groups so that we can better compete with our industrial competitors.

Perhaps I may say a little about the changes which Sir Ron and his committee need to bring about in the tests. The people who have been constructing the tests so far subject by subject seem to have regarded them as a sort of Christmas tree; they keep putting extra things on the tree. We need early syllabus information and no late changes in the syllabus. We need a big reduction in the amount of printed material and paperwork that passes to the schools. It must be recognised that more preparation time is needed for both teachers and students. I particularly want tests for 14-year-olds to be dovetailed into the GCSE exams, which are looming pretty close for young people of 14. I do not want the tests for 14-year-olds to be an odd branch line, but part of the main track towards raising standards at GCSE level.

In his "Who's Who" entry, Sir Ron Dearing lists one of his hobbies as do-it-yourself. If he can establish new and better guidelines on testing that are acceptable to the teaching profession, the schools will certainly do a lot for themselves and provide parents, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Department with the helpful information that they need, subject by subject, so that pupils' weaknesses can be corrected.

I agree with the first words of the Opposition motion, which mentions the "need for stability" in schools. I believe that stability in schools encourages the Government to build on existing good practice in schools. The Conservative manifesto said that popular schools that become oversubscribed would be given the necessary funds to expand, which is a hugely popular policy and good practice. Many parents cannot wait to see more evidence of popular, oversubscribed schools expanding as a result of parental demand.

With the local management of schools, more and more schools are steadily arranging for homework to be done at school rather than at home. Many homes in this country are, alas, simply unsuitable places for young people to do their homework. Much good practice is being built up in schools whereby pupils stay at school after school hours to do their homework. That good practice should be expanded. There is more than enough evidence that the better the homework, the better the exam results.

I was delighted that the report of the Office for Standards in Education of March 1993 stated: the 20-day INSET courses for primary school teachers have been effective and were much appreciated by the teachers. Such good practice should be built on. It will be welcomed by parents and teachers if they can see that the courses positively benefit teachers, which will inevitably lead to higher standards in the classroom.

If schools continue to improve their careers guidance, underpinned by rising standards, the numbers who can usefully use the education system—with all that it has to offer—after school will expand. The country will also benefit from the fact that more and more people are going into higher and further education, which has been a great triumph of the Government. That increase largely depends, not just on standards in the classroom, but on good careers guidance in schools to ensure that young people make the right choices.

We must give the national curriculum a chance. Some people seem terribly keen to keep pulling it up and inspecting its roots. It is taking root well and simply needs to be given a chance. Above all, we must ensure that the tests, which must go ahead, are seen as supports to the public examination system and a means of raising standards. Raising standards in schools not only creates domestic happiness in families; it improves the country's economy in relation to that of its competitors, which is of the utmost importance.

7.25 pm
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

We should consider for a moment why our children are at school and how we should treat them once they have gone to school. We send our children to school, first and foremost, to encourage in them a sense of excitement about learning. They do not go to school to be given tests or a prescribed body of knowledge. The teachers should enthuse the pupils by the way in which they teach the subjects.

It does not matter which history syllabus is used; it does not matter whether it is a wild west syllabus. If pupils are enthused by the way in which the topic is approached, they will read for themselves about what happened with Oliver Cromwell, the Commonwealth or the first world war. The most important factor is to grasp pupils' imagination at both primary and secondary school and ensure that they retain that imagination.

The national curriculum will be tested in so far as it achieves that aim. Teachers must be able to interpret it and provide it for the children so that they benefit from it and continue to learn, not only for the brief period that they are at school, but for the rest of their lives. Children will then develop habits and a way of living so that they continue to read and study and have an inquisitive knowledge of life.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) quoted Plato and said that life must have its examination. Plato did say that, but he did so in the context of self-examination. We must give pupils the ability to look at themselves, analyse themselves and see where they are placed in relation to the rest of society. The reforms proposed by the Secretary of State and those already introduced will be successful if they contribute to that goal. They will be successful if they make pupils, not economic beings, but useful, essential and lively parts of the society to which they belong. That aim is crucial, which is why I am extremely worried about some of the reforms that have taken place.

Not much has been said in today's debate about the Office for Standards in Education. It has been quoted, although it has been in existence for only a couple of years and has not yet officially produced its first reports on schools. It has produced pilot reports, which I have been lucky—or unlucky—enough to see. Compared with the old reports of Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools, the Ofsted reports are poor and pathetic creatures. They are meagre and seem exactly like painting by numbers—a sort of MOT for education. They do not diagnose the problems within even the weakest schools so that they can be strengthened—a great flaw of the reports.

When I made inquiries about why the organisation was so weak, the reason became clear. One sample of those being trained—three people being trained locally—showed that they were aged 67, 69 and 70. Those people were embarking on a new career in examining what is needed for the young. It is simply not good enough. The Secretary of State must look carefully at the quality of the people entering Ofsted, or the reports that it produces will be unimaginative and useless to the state, school or individual pupil.

When we consider the speaking of Standard English, which is a serious issue, are we suggesting that it is exemplified by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) or by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) —the sort of estuary English that we heard this evening? Are those the models on which to base our English? Much nonsense has been talked and it is impossible to decide what constitutes standard spoken English. It is not good enough to intrude in the particular delicate way that the Secretary of State has proposed.

English needs a little common sense. In an article in The Guardian today, Martin Turner says that what the Government are doing with English is splendid. He is a member of the English committee and he is awfully proud of it. I quote two paragraphs. He talks about 'writing (including Spelling, Grammar and Handwriting)', with six Strands: Composition, Forms of Writing, and Handwriting (which merge from Level 6), Grammar, and Punctuation (which merge at Level 1 and above Level 5), and Spelling (which joins Forms of Writing and Presentation at Level 7). Is that an example of someone who is trying to tell our children how to produce clear and concise English?

Towards the end, writing in a less technical vein, he says: Writers are 'significant', 'major', 'reputable'. Such terms contain an appeal to implicit criteria which remain tacit. Perhaps someone can translate that for me into any language, I do not mind which. He goes on: The stance is not chauvinistic but liberal. The bubbling republic of world letters is neither excluded nor ignored, but welcomed as literature in English". It really will not do that people who are attempting to set curricula are so divorced from what is happening in schools and from our young people that they produce such contentious nonsense.

We are not helped by the Secretary of State when he makes his analyses of the state of education today One day they are upbeat and the next day they are downbeat. Let us examine the important question of illiteracy. It is extremely important that we deal with the 30 per cent. of children who are not, frankly, well dealt with at the moment in our schools and for whom we have to find imaginative paths out.

But that said, when it comes down to it, illiteracy does not affect one in three, as was suggested by the Secretary of State. The report from which he quotes gives a figure of 16 per cent. How is that defined? It says that 16 per cent. have a reading age that is under 14. But the same report says that virtually nobody is illiterate now. Figures for 1951, before comprehensive schools came into existence, from the then Department of Education—so they must be correct—show that 30 per cent. of people aged 15 had reading ages under the age of nine. Therefore, there has been a considerable improvement since then and it is important to recognise that fact. Illiteracy, or an inability to read and write, was also constant at that time.

I could go on to mention tests and so on, but the real resource that we have in our schools is our teachers. Some teachers are brilliant, some are reasonable and some are not so good. But the amount of time that they put in is phenomenal. One thing that we do not measure is the voluntary time that is put in by our teachers. Nor do we know how long pupils spend on extra work outside school which, in other countries, is done in school.

7.33 pm
Sir Paul Beresford (Croydon, Central)

The Labour party's motion talks of instability and calls for stability. It talks of too much change and of stopping key stage 3 tests. In many ways it is saying, "Let's sit back on our hands." That has been followed up in the debate with the cry, "Standards are low" and "The Government should be acting". That is a rather contrary posture to take. Part of the Government acting is to utilise the opportunity of testing. We need to use the tests at various stages to discover progress nationally, not just of the individual pupil or the individual school. In making progress—or hoping to make that progress—the Government have the big problem of the local education authorities between them and the schools.

This evening there has been a lack of attention to our education clients—the parents and pupils. They wish to know how our schools are functioning. They want to know how their local schools are functioning compared with the national standard. They want to be able to choose a school, with some knowledge, so that they can maximise their children's abilities as they progress towards the work force. When their child is in school, they also want to know whether he or she is progressing. Tests are a key factor in that—tests, not individually but nationally; standardisation of tests.

I think that all hon. Members accept that standards need to be raised. A number of facts have been given as examples. We should not necessarily compare ourselves now with ourselves in the past. We should be looking towards our competitors. When one hears that the average standard of maths for a 14-year-old in Britain's state schools compares with that of an 11-year-old in Germany, we have reason to be concerned. We need to raise our standards.

However, the Labour party's motion says, "Don't rock the boat. Stand back and watch it gently sink." The Labour party is talking about stagnation when what we need is a continuation of the stimulation that has already started—started by the Government in 1988.

First, as has been mentioned, there is the broad national curriculum. Secondly, there is the movement into testing and the publication of those results. Finally, as was touched on earlier, there is the chance for schools to break away from the frequently dead hand of their local education authority by going grant maintained.

All that said, I was delighted that the Secretary of State announced a full range review. That means that he is listening. But I am also delighted that he has recognised that parents and pupils wish to know where they stand. He wishes, as do I, that the tests should continue.

As the exercise this evening seems to be that we should touch on points for the review that is to follow the tests, I shall mention one or two. I certainly support the idea of the national curriculum, particularly with three or perhaps even four out of the total seven subjects. I also support the attainment targets and the programme studies In addition, there are the four key stage tests. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) mentioned that there could have been a spot of hijacking by the profession. Perhaps we could look at the possibility of testing in three or four of the core subjects—English, maths, science and, perhaps, technology—leaving the rest of the various subjects for the schools to test in their own way looking towards GCSE. I realise that that may hurt the sensibilities of some teachers in those specific subjects, but practicality may dictate it.

We have from Professor Black and his task group on assessment and testing a complicated system of 10 attainment targets, on 10 subjects, covering four key age groups, which is complicated. Furthermore, specific marks are available for allocation to specific age groups. To my mind, that engenders the impression that there will be progress in our schools, when in reality there has not been, merely because of the way in which those particular marks can be allocated by teachers to the various age groups.

During the devising of all the complications, I understand that the teachers' unions requested more classroom assessment. The problem is that that was heeded, bringing a greater work load to classrooms. That arrangement also favours children with helpful parents, diminishes the chance of a realistic nationally assessed standard, and hurts children from homes where the environment is not educationally helpful.

The answer is an increase in paper and pencil tests. The mere mention of them provokes the cry of teaching to tests—so what? If the syllabus is broad and not too prescriptive, and if the tests within it are selective, that approach can succeed. It succeeded before and continues to do so in many other areas today. I am sure that it will do so again.

As for grant-maintained schools, it is a delight that they will be able to break out from their local education authorities. That is an excellent first step, but I hope that we continue with stimulation rather than stagnation. We need to move on. Grant-maintained schools need further independence and to be in the situation whereby their revenue, and the revenue aspect of their capital, improves on that independence. We should use those schools as independent schools serving state-funded pupils, rather than state-funded schools serving the pupils.

As for the main topic of this debate, those tests must go forward so that the review mentioned frequently this evening will have substance and provide a basis on which to work.

7.41 pm
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I speak as someone who spent 31 years in a classroom teaching English—yes, English, and I am delighted to have done so. It was hard work, and we should all acknowledge that teaching is hard work. It is physically and mentally hard, and emotionally demanding. Few people are as exhausted at the end of their day's work as teachers. I have no regrets about spending all those years teaching. The work gave me great joy and satisfaction—but as I look back on that experience, I realise that it was soured to some extent by the experience of the latter years.

I will speak for teachers tonight, and especially for teachers of English, and for pupils. The one thing that they need is stability. The one thing that saps energy, undermines morale, and breeds anxiety and uncertainty—and has the negative effect that they all create—is the constant chopping and changing that has typified education in recent years. We must not underestimate the damage to the educational process done by the massive reorganisation envisaged in the current Education Bill, which could be incalculable.

I was head of English at a comprehensive school when the GCSE was pushed through a year too soon. I undertook the massive increase in workload that suddenly came upon us at that time. I know of the long hours spent outside the classroom on training courses, and so on, to the great detriment of a whole year of pupils.

Those of us teaching English were given the choice of setting 30 per cent., 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. course work. We were made to feel unco-operative and guilty if we did not go for the maximum option. It was said that all really good teachers went for that. I had left teaching when the same Government said that teachers must not on any account set more than 30 per cent. course work.

I was head of English too when successive drafts of the expensively printed and bound national curriculum arrived on teachers' desks, with its impenetrable maze of programmes of study, key stages, levels, strands, attainment targets, and standards of attainment. There were 17 strands across five attainment targets.

I remember discussions, under systems of continuous assessment, as to the level that each of the 30 pupils in a class had attained in each of those 17 strands. We tried to devise ways of conveying that mass of information to parents in a form of which they could make some sense. We did not know whether to laugh or to cry. In those days, the most familiar sound in staff rooms and on training courses was the belly laugh. That saved us from going crazy.

I applaud much of the independence stance adopted by the National Curriculum Council for Wales in its recent document, and I will return to that point later. However, I cannot accept its claim in a press statement dated 15 April that the current order has gained widespread acceptance by teachers. I checked this morning by telephoning a teacher of English who knows the opinion among former colleagues in my constituency. It is plain that the order has not gained widespread acceptance. It has serious deficiencies and, specifically, it is unmanageable.

I left teaching before standard attainment tests were introduced, so I did not have to endure being told in November 1992 which Shakespeare text would be tested the following summer; or until January 1993 before the additional reading list for the same tests was supplied; or until February 1993, before the poetry anthology was provided. Think of the effect on carefully constructed courses, planned to meet the requirements of the new curriculum, paced over weeks. Think of the effect on the attempt to provide a balanced syllabus, and the concentration given to those texts, in order to get them done in time for the examinations.

I left teaching before the announcement was made that there was to be a review of the English curriculum. I was not there to enjoy the combination of relief and cynical self-righteousness that I would have felt had I still been a teacher, nor the fury, given that the change meant that many of the long hours that I had spent devising courses were largely wasted.

We should all acknowledge that those experiences—I have touched on only some of them—lie behind the decision to boycott tests, together with the realisation that an assessment authority is to conduct a review of the national curriculum. The tests therefore seem entirely redundant. Much of that misery could have been avoided if the powers that be—by which I mean politicians but also academics and curriculum developers—had listened to teachers.

However, it is an ill wind that blows no one any good. One truly progressive element of the national curriculum was knowledge about language. At the school at which I taught, we used that element as an opportunity for collaboration between the English and Welsh departments in the construction of a two-week teaching module based on a pupil's experience of bilingualism. We studied dialect and accent, the relationship between dialect and accent and prestige, and the relationship between prestige and language choice—the choice between English and Welsh in particular circumstances and in a particular context. We examined the influence of one language on another, and what governed that influence—whether it is the influence of English on Welsh, the influence of Welsh on English or the influence of French or Latin on both. We studied Welsh literature in English lessons, and English literature in Welsh lessons. The exercise was visibly fascinating for the pupils, and it was intended to be a regular component of the English and Welsh syllabus—which would have justified a considerable input of time and resources.

A flexible curriculum should encompass just such arrangements; but we have now been told that knowledge of language is to be replaced by the confident use of standard English. In other words, the use of standard English is to replace a creative, scope-giving element. We are told that, in England at least, seven-year-old pupils' English is to be corrected if it does not conform to the standard. It is difficult to imagine a more effective way of undermining fluency, stunting the growth of linguistic competence and damaging the interactive relationship between language and learning.

That does not apply to Wales, thank goodness, unless the recommendations of the Curriculum Council for Wales are overridden. I hope that that will not happen. I urge the Secretary of State to read the CCW's explanatory note about standard English—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Time is up.

7.51 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) has taught English. I must confess that I have not done so myself, although, before going up to university, I taught mathematics and physics for a year in a secondary school. Moreover, while studying for my doctorate before disappearing to the university of Southern California, I was a tutor for London university masters degree students, teaching binomial techniques in economic forecasting. That only goes to prove—to me, at least—that any form of economic forecasting is not worth the paper on which it is written. I am told, however, that this is an education debate, not a Treasury debate.

I want to say something about the teaching of English—not because I was a teacher for a year, albeit not an English teacher, but on the basis of my experience as an employer. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of a union with a rather unwieldy name—the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers—said: Even Stalin did not force standard Russian down his subjects' throats. That, incidentally, demonstrates an appalling lack of knowledge of the USSR. Because of its vast size and the lack of communication, there was no standard Russian, as is still the case; but I would not expect Nigel de Gruchy to know that. There was no democratic tradition, no standard Russian grammar, no promotion based on merit and no internal or external market in the old Soviet Union.

Last night, I read Mr. de Gruchy's entry in "Who's Who". He lists his hobbies as golf, cricket, football, music, opera, France, Spain and—wait for it—literature. Mr. de Gruchy has been a teacher and a trade unionist for most of his life. That, to me, rather sums up the naivety of his comments about what should and should not be taught in schools. What I cannot forgive him, however, is his elitism, which implicitly states, "I will enjoy literature to the full, having had the benefit of an education at De La Salle college in Jersey"—he might care to admit that—"and degrees from the universities of Reading, London and Paris". He does not want others to enjoy the same benefits of a good education.

I like quoting Dr. Johnson, because he was born and educated in the great cathedral city of Lichfield, which I have the honour to represent. Dr. Johnson said: Language is the Pedigree of Nations. That is true.

Mr. Enright

Will the hon. Gentleman quote the next phrase?

Mr. Fabricant

I remember from my university studies that, according to a principle in social psychology, "language is the font of a nation's culture". I consider it tremendously important how the language is spoken.

Only last year, Nigel de Gruchy said in The Independent that to include Shakespeare in English tests was fine for grammar school kids, but boring and irrelevant for a good half of pupils. That says little for de Gruchy's faith in the ability of either pupils or teachers. Perhaps he opposes testing for the same reason; it is very sad.

The proposed reading lists in the national curriculum are not extensive. In his "Epistulae ad Lucilium", Seneca says of books: It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters; a limited list of reading benefits; a varied assortment serves only for delight". How appropriate that quotation is.

Nigel de Gruchy has something in common with Stalin: neither has lived in the real world. I must admit that I have something in common with Stalin—I am sure that you will find that hard to believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker—in that I share his love of vino krasna Gruzinska, Georgian red wine. It is excellent and I hope that it will be introduced in the Palace of Westminster.

As others have pointed out, last year's pilot tests for 14-year-olds revealed that one in three children had the reading and writing ability of nine to 11-year-olds. Moreover—this has not yet been pointed out—one in 20 was shown to have the ability of seven-year-olds. That was revealed by testing. What does Labour fear so much? Are Labour Members so frightened of exposing the weaknesses that exist in some schools? There is no room for complacency; Nigel de Gruchy had better begin to accept that and so should the Labour party.

Before I was a Member of Parliament, I had to employ engineers and other staff. For 10 or 11 years, I worked in the real world. I was not a special adviser and I have never worked for Conservative central office, but I was involved in the manufacturing industry. We had to employ engineers and staff who spoke coherent English.

The point is that English is an international language. The French try to preserve English, because French is almost a minority language in the world now, while English is an international language. It is essential that when our salesmen or engineers go abroad they speak coherent English: it is no good speaking a form of dialect English that is not understandable in Nairobi, Kampala, Java, Moscow; Reykjavik or Sao Paulo, all of which I have visited. Language is there for the purpose of communication.

I have a weakness: I cannot eat with a fork in my right hand and a knife in my left, although I know that I should do so. I also know that when I eat a bowl of soup I should hold the plate away from myself. My point is that having table manners gives me the confidence to eat with my peers. Similarly, I believe that knowing the rules of grammar gives people the confidence to communicate—whether they are selling engineering products or communicating ideas. My one criticism of the present schooling system is that, sadly, students aged 15 or 16 are still asked to specialise in the sciences or the arts for their A-levels. My hon. Friend the Minister is aware of my views on AS-levels.

Mr. Win Griffiths

But he is not listening to you, is he?

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman says that my hon. Friend does not listen to me, but I have always found that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Education are the most listening and caring of people. They do not believe that the curriculum should be written in tablets of stone. My God, if it were up to the Opposition Front Bench, a science curriculum would be taught that ranged from the Venerable Bede to Newton and was never changed. The all-important point is that, as circumstances change, the curriculum changes.

There are those who argue that punctuation and grammatical structures are unimportant—that language is dynamic and ever-changing. That is true. There are those who argue that regional dialects and regional words have their place. That is also true. There is a time and place for colloquial English. Rousseau said that accent is the soul of a language and gives feeling and truth to it. Nigel de Gruchy and others of his ilk may sneer at the goal of testing and at the goal of teaching proper pronunciation and grammar, but Nigel de Gruchy has never had to employ anyone. He has never actually worked or lived in the commercial world.

Sadly, both in this debate on education and in other debates, the Opposition display a naivety which comes from never having lived in the real world and from prescribing for their children that which is not for the benefit of the nation for the nation's children, but which is self-seeking and self-serving—the socialist claptrap and dogma that we hear every day when we come here.

8.1 pm

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate, in which we are dealing with major issues that directly affect many pupils and parents in my constituency. I have to declare an interest, in that I, too, have been a member of the NUT and the NAS/UWT. Like the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), I was a teacher of English. It is strange that the only two people who have spoken so far in the debate who at one time were teachers of English come from countries beyond England's borders.

I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). As someone who claimed to be a mathematician, I was struck by the fact that he displayed so little logic in his speech. I was more interested, though, in the Secretary of State's speech and wondered whether he would pass the tests that he is so eager that our young people should take. I have very little hope for him, despite the fact that I had low expectations of him in the first place.

Let us consider some of the Secretary of State's phraseology. He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) blew it when she made her speech. If, however, the Secretary of State were to pass key stage 3 in English, which I use because that is probably closer to his chronological age than key stage 1 or key stage 2, he would have to be able to convey complex ideas and views in clear, fluent, standard English that suited the particular listeners and circumstances and that included the correct use of a wide vocabulary, and he would have to display the ability to retain his listeners' interest through the originality and clarity of the ideas conveyed. I found nothing terribly original in what the Secretary of State said. His clarity left a great deal to be desired. Indeed, he was incapable of answering the questions put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris). It seems to me that he would not survive key stage 3.

Perhaps, therefore, we should consider key stage 2. At that stage, the Secretary of State would need to be able to offer a fluent and well-organised account of an experience or activity and be able to convey information and ideas accurately, giving reasoned, sustained and detailed accounts of activities and viewpoints. The Secretary of State would have to learn to solve problems by defining the nature of the difficulty and suggesting solutions. Although he accused Opposition Members of ranting, he gave a very good example of exactly that. When pressed to do so, again and again he refused to admit that one way to resolve this difficult problem in which he finds himself would be to ballot parents on whether they would allow their children to take this test, in exactly the same way as parents in Scotland can make choices about whether their children should take the test. It appears that the Secretary of State would also fail at key stage 2.

As for key stage I, the Secretary of State should be able to give simple, audible explanations—we cannot blame him entirely for the fact that the microphone was switched off for a short time during his speech—narratives and descriptions. He should also learn to listen attentively to others and make thoughtful comments. Given the response from parents, governors, teachers' unions and professionals, it is clear that the Secretary of State is incapable of listening attentively to others. He has been singularly unable to make thoughtful comments, since he referred to organisations such as the National Parents Association as neanderthal and to professional teachers, whom he constantly tells us he respects, as Luddites.

There we have it. The Secretary of State, the Dan Quayle of the Conservative party, who does not know whether an "e" should be in a word or out of a word, would hardly be considered to be the best boy in the class after today's performance. On reflection, the Secretary of State may be thankful that teachers will not be testing him on key stage 3 and his ability and peformance today.

Teachers in Lewisham have written to me and my colleagues regarding their fears about testing. For example, the teachers at Catford county girls school say that they believe that the tests are unsound—that the format of the tests has been changed frequently without teacher consultation and that the English standard assessment tasks have not had an adequate full-scale national pilot. Those are the people who, every day of the week, are teaching children. They know best what should happen in their classrooms.

The head teacher of a school in Croydon, who is one of my constituents, said: Apart from the intellectual absurdity of a set book list for Year 9 (both in principle and in content), it is not good enough for SEAC to send out a booklet containing many unanswered questions, on the last day of November, just to adhere to the published timetable. It is clear to us, at the chalkface, that the whole operation is behind schedule, rushed, and subject to change. This is not the way to run a National Curriculum or to communicate with teachers who have the unenviable responsibility of running the operation. It would be better to postpone it for one year. Another head of English asked me to ask a question in the House about where the money will come from to pay for all the glossies that are being put out by the Department and SEAC to deal with key stage 3. The answer that I received from the Minister was that it was costing an estimated £1.5 million to publish the glossy magazines dealing with key stage 3 English—yet still we have parents, teachers and governors who say that the system will not work.

Parents in my constituency have written to me. Mrs. Corran wrote: Teachers' coursework assessment at the end of this year can provide a reliable form of assessment, as it has done at GCSE level for the past few years, Mrs. Hamilton wrote not only that the tests were wrong but that there should be a pilot before compulsory testing was introduced. Parents and teachers have written saying that they are concerned about the way in which the tests are being conducted.

The governors of schools in my constituency have written saying the same. Those of Northbrook Church of England school wrote to the Secretary of State on 31 March. I do not know whether they have received a reply yet; I certainly have not seen a copy of one.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

It takes five months.

Mrs. Prentice

My hon. Friend tells me that it takes five months to receive a reply—and even then we cannot guarantee that the spelling will be correct.

The governors of Northbrook school wrote that the governing body had assiduously undertaken its duties in implementing the 1988 Education Act and associated legislation. The governors have found much to commend in the underlying principles of the curriculum legislation—but much wanting in the statutory requirements. We are particularly concerned at the inappropriate nature of much of the Key Stage 3 assessment and of its demands on teacher time. We wish to draw your attention to the unacceptably high work load being demanded of teachers and to the derisory pay award made this year in the light of the above demands. That is not the teachers talking, but the governors—the people who are attempting to run their schools as efficiently and effectively as possible. They feel that they cannot do their job properly because they know that the colleagues whom they have appointed to do the job in the classroom cannot do that job properly.

I shall touch upon one or two other matters that have been raised in the debate. We all understand now that nursery education is the key—if I may use that word—to ensuring that people do well later in their educational lives. In Labour authorities in London we have the highest number of three and four-year-olds in nursery schools and classes. But many boroughs are now having to cut places, funding staffing and support services to meet Government capping limits and to bring their funding more closely into line with the standard spending assessments, in anticipation of the new schools funding methodology.

Yet again the Government tell us that they are committed to nursery education, yet they do nothing about it. In fact, they act in such a way as to ensure that people who want to provide nursery education cannot possibly do so. You might be shocked to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that in the 14 years since the Government took office, only one extra child in every 100 in London will get a nursery place, despite the Government's so-called respect for education and for our young people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury mentioned another matter that especially concerns those of us who represent London constituencies—Home Office funding for section 11. That funding greatly affects the teaching of English in our schools and it has been estimated that reductions in Home Office section 11 grants represent a loss to London of £15 million for 1994–95 and £19 million for 1995–96. Those cuts will cause a decline in language support services, which will lead to a decline in levels of achievement for all pupils. It will disadvantage some groups and the impact will be felt by all.

Section 11 funding supports classes in English for speakers of other languages. That is not a national curriculum subject, so it cannot be adequately supported by mainstream staffing levels. My own borough of Lewisham has expressed concern that, where section 11 funded staff are already spread across several classes, pupil-teacher ratios could worsen to unworkable levels.

We are concerned that cuts in Government support are further destabilising the education system and reducing local education authorities' capacity to implement local and central Government policy. Frequent change in Government education policies is having an enormously damaging effect on London's schools. We need stability so that we can create a climate in which effective learning can take place and regular monitoring can provide opportunities for real evaluation of the need for appropriate change. The words of Mick Levens, the head of English at Forest Hill school, sum up our concerns about Government policy: Badly written, poorly researched tests which look at a tiny amount of what a student can do and which will take preference over teacher's assessment, (which would be based on four lessons a week for three years), will be useless and have the potential to do lasting damage. The government will have several goes at getting it right but this time will not come again for our students who deserve much, much better than this. My hon. Friends and I can only agree with those sentiments.

8.15 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I know the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) to be a formidable member of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and I have seen her tackling witnesses. In full flight she is remarkable, and I pay tribute to her. Like the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), she raised the issue of nursery education, and I do not believe that what she said was entirely right.

My hon. Friends will wish to know that the Government have provided about £150 million in additional funding for nursery education this year. That is a substantial sum. More than 90 per cent. of children in the United Kingdom now enjoy some form of pre-school provision; 175,000 more children aged under five attended maintained schools in England in 1991 than in 1979. Those are the facts. I appreciate the importance of nursery education, and my right hon. and hon. Friends in government appreciate it too. The Government have done much to support pre-school education.

My hon. Friends and I should be grateful to the Opposition for providing us with their parliamentary time in which to expose their lack of policies. This debate, like so many others that have preceded it, is about our ideas and our agenda. We have heard from the Opposition the same ritual calls for more money, and more power for the trade unions. Opposition Members continue to oppose tests, excellence and, of course, grant-maintained status. They have no constructive policy, and they would not recognise one if it sprang from the Dispatch Box. Labour is travelling light, with no new ideas, only the same tired discredited dogma.

I have to say—

Mr. Enright

The hon. Gentleman does not have to say it, but he will say it anyway.

Mr. Pawsey

The hon. Member is right. I shall indeed say it, and I shall refer to the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) in due course; let him be patient.

I have said before in the House that the national curriculum is too prescriptive. There is little doubt that the tests are indeed too complex. Both those aspects should be modified; I do not believe that there is a major dispute between the two sides of the House on those two general points.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his admirable speech, acknowledged the fact that some change is necessary. He said that a wide-ranging review would be undertaken by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority under the chairmanship of Sir Ron Dearing. I have no doubt that following that review the national curriculum and the tests will be substantially amended. I found it interesting, as I am sure my hon. Friends did, that Sir Ron Dearing said two weeks ago that the hands-on experience that will be gained from this year's tests will be invaluable in deciding the format of the new tests for schools in the next academic year. He repeated that point in the weekend press. He clearly sees the benefit to the nation's children of continuing the present testing process.

I have no doubt that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority will, with the experience that is now being built up, produce an entirely acceptable national curriculum and testing system which will meet the requirements of teachers, pupils and parents. It will be simpler and easier to implement, but sufficiently rigorous to test and to assess children so that subject weaknesses, when identified, can be remedied.

I am concerned—my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) made this point during his admirable speech—about some of the statements and comments that we have heard from teacher trade unions at recent conferences. I have long argued in the House that the majority of teachers are dedicated both to their profession and to the children in their charge. I have said for many years in the House that teachers should be adequately remunerated. I am pleased that, as a result of efforts by my right hon. and hon. Friends, the average salary for teachers is now substantially in excess of £20,000 a year. Most teachers earn their pay.

However, I regret certain of the recent statements made by teachers at conferences and I deeply deplore the possibility of a boycott of all tests. That will cause the greatest distress and worry to parents because they know that it will damage their children's education. Children have been preparing for the tests, and for them now to be abandoned would be most frustrating.

The National Union of Teachers has announced that it will ballot its members on whether to boycott all national curriculum tests both this year and next. That is a remarkable decision given the setting up of the SCAA. It is apparent that the NUT is prepared to condemn the SCAA before it has even seen its recommendations. That is not a responsible position for any trade union to adopt.

The NUT boycott would include all existing tests which the independent inspectorate says are raising standards. It is clear that the NUT wants confrontation and not improvement. It opposes any reform because it wants to stay in some 1960s time warp and to return to the permissive and trendy methods that caused the problems in the first place. It wants to go back to the discredited ideas that caused Jim Callaghan to start the great debate on quality and standards in the nation's schools. That point was touched on by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today.

The NUT's attitude was best summed up by its general secretary saying that he was delighted to receive a letter from the Prime Minister saying he found the union troublesome. He then said: We will continue to be troublesome for some time". I suspect—I think that some of my hon. Friends will join me in this belief—that Mr. McAvoy is concerned more with his union's macho image and with his falling membership than he is with the education of the nation's children.

My fears grew when a teacher at the same NUT conference said: Testing is the link in the chain. If we break it the whole Conservative education policy goes down the tubes. Another delegate at the conference said: This is not the end of the campaign, it is the beginning, a springboard to fight the Tories on all the other issues There we have it. It is out in the open. The argument is not about testing and it is not about educating the nation's children. It is not about education at all. It is about taking on the democratically elected Government of the United Kingdom.

I hope that parents saw on television the teachers' conferences which showed, as no words of mine can show, why a national curriculum and testing system must be in place. I wonder what the majority of hard-working, conscientious teachers felt when they heard the statements made by some of their militant colleagues who are pursuing not so much a classroom dispute, but more a class war.

There are those who mistakenly believe that the Government will cave in to pressure. They are wrong. When the well-being of the nation's children is at stake, there will be no U-turn by my right hon. and hon. Friends in this Administration.

I said at the beginning of my remarks that I understood teachers' frustrations. They naturally want to get on with the job of teaching the nation's children. Teachers well understand the importance of tests, but they resent the amount of time being demanded by the current tests. I have some sympathy with that view. That is why my right hon. Friend is instituting his far-ranging review which will substantially improve the testing system.

I remind the House that not every trade union leader wants the disruption of this year's tests. I read again the comments made by the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the union of the hon. Member for Hemsworth. I was interested to hear him describe it as the LTA, and I wondered—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell)

It was dyslexia.

Mr. Pawsey

My hon. Friend accuses the hon. Gentleman of having dyslexia. Having heard him in full flow, I do not believe that he suffers from dyslexia. He may have shortcomings, but dyslexia is not one of them.

I return to the remarks made by Mr. Smith, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and I quote his words, which make very good reading. He said: Information about examination results is here to stay. Parents are entitled to information about the schools their children attend. Commenting on my right hon. Friend's commendable decision not to publish the results of this year's English tests for 14-year-olds, Mr. Smith said: If English teachers genuinely think the tests are flawed they now have the opportunity to prove it and co-operate in improving them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to have the support of my hon. Friends. I will give them even more to cheer about. Mr. Smith then said: If they reject that chance, was the concern ever really professional at all? Hon. Members should remember that Mr. Smith is the general secretary of one of the principal trade unions, so his viewpoint is important. Parents will naturally give substantial weight to what he says, especially as the overwhelming majority of the nation's parents agree with what he has said.

It is worth while recalling that my right hon. Friend has met the trade unions on 11 occasions. During his first year—this point came out in his excellent speech—

Mr. Enright

The hon. Gentleman has said that several times.

Mr. Pawsey

I will say it three more times because it is worth saying again. My right hon. Friend is a caring Secretary of State who wishes to improve the quality and the standard of state education in which his child is being educated. Opposition Members should always remember that point.

During his first year, the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues visited more than 110 schools. As a result of what they learnt from those visits, my right hon. Friend has made two substantial concessions.

Mr. Enright

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pawsey

I am sorry. I would normally give way to the hon. Gentleman, but, sadly, many of my hon. Friends wish to make important speeches. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

The first point made by the general secretary of the ATL was that the test results would not be published. The second concession made by my right hon. Friend was to set up the SCAA to review the tests. My right hon. Friend has sought to meet the concern of teachers and the aspirations of parents. He has been successful in his aims.

8.30 pm
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

As a Member who represents a constituency in the north-west of England, I am not prepared to see children in some parts of the country having to settle for second class education. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I welcome that response from Conservative Members because they acknowledge the words of their leader in the foreword to the "Choice and Diversity" document. I only hope that the Minister remembers that point when people from Cheshire put a logical case to him about the mathematical imbalance of the standard spending assessment as it affects north-west shire counties when we meet in the near future.

I come to this debate not as an expert educationist or an experienced teacher but as a parent of a child who is going through the secondary system—a key stage 3 pupil—and as someone who cares deeply for the children in my constituency of Ellesmere Port and Neston. A wide range of views has been expressed to me by teachers in the constituency.

I wrote at length to Baroness Blatch in mid-February and got a response in April. I was pleased to read in one paragraph: We are not insensitive or unaware of the problems being faced by schools. We are always willing to listen to the informed views of those on the ground. Your points will be treated in this light. I hope that the Minister will listen to my points about a number of aspects.

Early in her letter, Baroness Blatch says: As you may be aware, there has also been recent concern about the standard of technology education". As a member of the Information Committee—I can only assume that I was put on that Committee because I have some expertise in the field—I read that sentence with great interest. I also read with great interest the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on grant-maintained schools in England which was published only a few days ago. The report showed that there is an extreme weakness on the part of the Department for Education in information technology.

In the overall conclusions, three of the four paragraphs—paragraphs 31 to 34 inclusive—criticise the way in which grant-maintained schools, in their activities of running the school administration, fail on information technology. That comes as no surprise because we know that the Department, in its role as the body responsible for education, fails properly to develop information technology in the classroom.

There is an extraordinary statement in the key stage 3 document. It is bizarre. Many of the teachers to whom I have spoken, who are developing information technology in the classroom, also found the statement bizarre. At the end of what, on the face of it, is a well-structured block in the 1993 element, it says: The information technology test will be a one hour written test, taken simultaneously by all pupils under controlled conditions. It will take place at 11.30 am on Monday 14th June. Four tiers will be provided covering levels 1–4, 3–6, 5–8 and 7–10. All questions in the test will be compulsory. Introducing people to information technology is a difficult task in the House, so perhaps some lessons can be learnt from teachers who are dealing with people who are slightly faster on the up-take than perhaps we are. It has been the experience of all participants that the practical hands-on element is especially important. A number of teachers have told me that, in the nine weeks, they have had to draw pupils away from the hands-on experience five weeks into the course. That seems to be an entirely daft way of teaching information technology.

The information technology course is not designed to replace the skills which have been taught in English, mathematics or physics: it is an information technology unit. The unit needs to be reviewed most carefully. I urge the Secretary of State to undertake such a review in the forthcoming weeks and months. To draw pupils away from the hands-on experience is like telling driving students that in the future they will simply be tested on the highway code and they can learn the practical hands-on bits later. That is the wrong approach, and I hope that the Secretary of State will take that in the spirit in which it is intended.

Another aspect of technology relates to design and technology—many of us used to call it woodwork and cookery. Some interesting concepts are being developed in that unit. The Secretary of State must question whether the notion that the continuous process from original thought through to manufacture and evolution, which in itself is extremely valuable, does not overly burden teachers who in the past would have spent more time teaching pupils about the hands-on skills of penmanship or mixing ingredients or using hand tools in the various components of the tests. It is interesting to note that in practical terms—I have come across such situations and, indeed, this happened to my daughter—the complications facing teachers this year have resulted in pupils being entered into the wrong tiers for the testing process. When it was eventually recognised that pupils could have been entered into a higher tier, it was too late because there was no classroom time remaining.

Let me refer to the English part of the debate. I must acknowledge that, like the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), I also failed the 11-plus test. [Interruption.] I do not want to hear any comments from Members on the Government Front Bench. We also have whiskers in common. I studied English at school. Perhaps I did not study it as well as some of the great scholars around me, but I learnt to appreciate wonderful literature, especially the works of Shakespeare.

The difference between the process of education now and the process that prevailed then is that then it was common practice for pupils to be taken regularly to see Shakespeare live to learn about it, feel it and enjoy it. I am afraid to say that that happens all too infrequently today. When it does, it requires a parental payment which is prohibitive to people in the poorer parts of our community. If the Secretary of State genuinely intends to make the process of education open to all parts of the community, he must address that point more seriously. It would be a tragedy if literature and the arts were left to an elite few in our community.

A broader brush approach has been taken tonight on matters which have impacted on us as a result of the Education Bill. Many hon. Members will have seen a letter from the director of Music for Youth in the past few days. He said: The Education Bill will, I believe, bring about a diminution in the quality and range of this aspect of music teaching in our schools. Whilst I am certain this is not the intention of the Bill, it will be one of its side effects. In parallel with my comments about the theatre, I genuinely believe that those risks face us. I urge the Secretary of State in undertaking the review to examine them most carefully. If not, one might be tempted to quote "The Merchant of Venice". The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) indulged in many literary quotes, so why shouldn't I? The man that hath no music in himself,

Nor is mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,

Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;

The motions of his spirit are as dull as night,

And his affections dark as Erebus:

Let no such man be trusted". I invite the Secretary of State to think most carefully about his handling of the debate.

Mr. Dowd

How does my hon. Friend think that the Secretary of State got where he is?

Mr. Miller

I leave that for the House to decide.

I conclude by inviting the Secretary of State to examine the scale of changes that he is imposing on teachers and head teachers in the system. The scale of the changes is having an enormous impact on the ability of schools to deal with them in a cohesive manner. There are simply too many changes and they are happening too quickly.

One of the schools in my constituency was referred to in Baroness Blatch's letter. She said that it had given helpful and thoughtful comments. I asked it to give me a list of documents that it has received recently. It produced a list of documents received since September 1992. The teachers identified 19 major documents within half an hour this morning. No one undertook a detailed search for every last one. The 19 documents began with the White Paper "Choice and Diversity" in August and went through to the most recent English anthology, which it received in February. Over and above that, it received 17 glossy books on assessment arrangements for key stage 3.

I say in all honesty to the Secretary of State that every school in my constituency with which I have had contact and discussed the impact of the changes with staff, teachers, head teachers, parents and governors has told me that the change is happening too quickly, that it is not being controlled and that some fresh thought needs to be given to how the schools are supposed to introduce the changes and resource them in terms of professional staff time.

I suppose that a step in the right direction was taken when the statement was made that English and technology results would not be included in the schools performance tables until 1994. I guess that for that we can be grateful. But again, lessons could have been learnt from mathematics and science in the past year. No one is against change in education. No one is against ensuring that every pupil has the best chance that we can offer as a society. But I urge the Secretary of State to listen carefully to the remarks that have been made in the debate. Some fundamental changes could take place for the benefit of the consumer—the pupil—with some significant changes on the Secretary of State's part. He must take a step back and rethink his position.

8.45 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) down his literary path. I shall return to the not very poetic terms of the motion, which says that the current difficulties and instability associated with Key Stage testing are caused by the Secretary of State". That betrays a great deal of flawed thinking. It has already been said that introducing the national curriculum and associated tests is by its very nature a complex exercise. It would be surprising if adjustments did not have to be made and we did not have to rethink as we went along in order to get it right. We have attempted the task over very few years, so, of necessity, changes and amendments will have to be made. That cannot be said to be the fault of the current Secretary of State.

When one boils it down, the real problem that has brought us to the difficulties that we face in our schools stem from key stage 3 tests in English and technology. I do not know what the Labour party is about in the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nor does it."] I do not know whether the motion is simply intended to make mischief. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) referred to guinea pigs twice in her speech and also used the term on Radio 4 this morning. She also accused the Government of confrontation.

However, anything new that is tried in schools, whoever inspires it, is bound to involve the children on the receiving end in those schools being guinea pigs. I do not see why the term should be pejorative and why it should be used against the Government who introduced those reforms. Clearly, the pupils on the receiving end of those reforms are the first to experience them. Nor do we confront schools if we present new ideas. The nation has willed us to make changes because it shares our perception that education standards are not as good as they should be.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury dissimulated considerably about what she meant by tests. The sentence in the Labour motion which I quoted refers to key stage testing, but not to any part of it. Only later in the motion are key stage 3 tests in English and technology referred to specifically. Throughout her speech the hon. Lady did not distinguish between key stage tests. So she appeared to join in the condemnation of the tests as a whole which several of the teaching unions have expressed. She did not make her position clear. I hope that the country will take note of her apparent sweeping condemnation of the reforms that are being attempted.

What is the real position? There are four strands to the argument. There is the question of key stage 3 tests in English and technology. There is the question of tests as a whole. There is the question of the use to which tests are put. And then there is a general assault on Government policy.

I do not believe that the broad mass of professional teachers in this country are pursuing a political agenda. Some are—my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) referred to that—and the nation heard some of the contributions to the conference of the National Union of Teachers. Certainly, lurking in the background there is a political campaign being fought, but that is not of interest to the vast mass of teachers, certainly not in my constituency.

We should acknowledge that there is misgiving about league tables and the use to which tests are put. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) made the point that of course these things are there as a measure of performance of schools, and why should they not be? But, fair enough, that is an area of discussion and controversy and we must recognise that not all teachers are happy about it.

It is more difficult to establish whether people, professionals or other, are for or against tests as such. We heard conflicting remarks from the hon. Member for Dewsbury. Was she or was she not for them, because she seemed to be in favour of her kind of tests but not in favour of anybody else's? However, it seems to me that these tests have been proceeding perfectly well, although not, perhaps, in the literal sense of "perfectly". We have made good progress with the implementation of the tests for seven-year-olds. There were difficulties to start with, but they have been bedding down quite well and we have been gaining valuable information from them. The trial of the 11-year-old tests is proceeding satisfactorily, as I understand it. The tests at key stage 3 in maths and science are also proceeding reasonably well. It is the opinion of one of the schools in my constituency that the tests will be a valid and reliable indicator of pupils' achievements towards the national curriculum. So I do not believe that the debate is about maths and science at key stage 3.

We come back to English and technology at key stage 3. We should acknowledge that there is considerable misgiving among many teachers about the content of these two subject tests.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made two important concessions in this respect. Early in February I had a group of people from one of the schools in my constituency to see me; it was made up of governors and senior staff. They said that, if the Secretary of State could be persuaded that the tests might go ahead this year, but the results should not be published, it would be a reasonable compromise. It was a compromise that they urged on me.

Well, without particularly listening to me my right hon. Friend, on 19 February, made that very concession. I do not believe that that group of governors and teachers was unique, so clearly there are many governors and teachers who believe that the Secretary of State made the right gesture on that occasion. He has gone further than that and said that there should be a review of the national curriculum and the content of these tests for a future year.

I believe that those two gestures on the part of the Secretary of State deserve a degree of reciprocity by the teachers, particularly when reinforced by the statement of Sir Ron Dearing, who is to conduct the review of these tests, that the evidence that he believes that he will get will be valuable in determining what happens in the future. What is now required is a step back, not by the Government, but by the teachers.

The teachers would, I believe, cut a more impressive figure with parents if they carefully distinguished their position. If they said to parents throughout the country that they believed in the national curriculum, subject to discussion about its future evolution, that they believed in tests, subject to discussion on getting the context exactly right; that they were quite happy to proceed with the tests for seven-year-olds and the trial of 11-year-old tests, and to pursue the maths and science at key stage 3—which apparently there is evidence to show is supported by the teaching profession—they might sound more credible on the subject of English and technology. It might be easier for us then to meet them on that particular point, which is clearly one of real and acknowledged difficulty.

We have said that there will be a review, so the only question is whether the tests should go ahead this year as a source of evidence for next year. Surely that is not a great chasm for teachers to jump. It would be a worthwhile gesture in response to the Secretary of State to convince all the parents in the country that teachers are as committed as anyone else to the national curriculum and a system of tests with it. I believe that, if teachers can be satisfied that my right hon. Friend is genuine in his desire to hear their views on the correction of the content of English and technology at key stage 3, and for them to be involved, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) suggests, that could be a way forward that would ensure that there was peace and stability in our schools this summer.

8.54 pm
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)

I get more depressed in the House listening to debates on education than on anything else. I get depressed on many other things, too, but I get depressed on education in particular. This debate has typified what happens at every education question time. It fills me with total dismay about what is happening to the education system in this country.

A debate such as this should be an occasion for celebration. When the British House of Commons discusses the education system, it should be an occasion to celebrate it, to laud it, to talk—as some of my hon. Friends tried to—about what education is all about, its excitement, the joys of discovery and the vision that it brings. We hear nothing of this. We hear only about the machinery, the mechanics. We have lost sight completely of what we should really be talking about. I hope that the point that we have reached now is a warning to us that we can no longer go on in this way.

I am not talking only to the Conservative party; I am talking to us all. If we go on talking in the way that we have been, we will be doing a massive and permanent disservice to the education system and to the children in it.

We are all allowed a few autobiographical words, and perhaps I can say mine. I spent a lot of time in the middle and late 1980s when the education reforms of this Government were coming on stream, working with school governors and trying to arouse their enthusiasm about what might be possible. I have always been a great advocate of greater parental involvement in education. I had opposed the teaching unions when they were very resistant to involving parents in school government. I thought that I spoke for parents in this. Governors were excited about what was happening and so were parents. We wanted to see more power come to the school level, to empower parents. We believed in all that. We wanted to measure results, to drive up standards and to improve the standing of teachers.

There I was trying to arouse their enthusiasm, but they also had worries—for instance, about the national curriculum. They asked if it would mean the nationalisation of the system. The answer was that it might, but assurances were being given that it would not be like that; it would just be a structure within which they could operate and explore, retaining the essence of what education was about. There were worries about the formula funding. Would it penalise certain schools against others? We were told that it would not.

There were particular worries about the impact of testing. It used to be called assessment. We were told at that time that it would not be called testing as that would be to misunderstand its very nature; it would be called assessment and it was to be a servant of the curriculum. The worry was that the relationship would be turned round and the system would be driven by testing rather than by the curriculum. We were told that it was a false worry and that it would not be like that.

We have now reached the pont where all those hopes and enthusiasms have been dissipated. I speak quite genuinely as someone who was enthusiastic about much of what was happening. Teachers are completely demoralised, parents are completely dismayed and governors are packing up in droves because the system has been kicked away from under them.

We have to ask what went wrong, as something clearly has gone wrong, and how it could have been allowed to happen. My answer, and I believe it to be genuine, is that what has happened is the total politicisation of the system. What was originally an education agenda has turned out to be a political agenda for education. That was what went wrong. It is the only way to explain the history of those years.

Why else were people put in to run the system found to be unacceptable and booted out? What happened in 1991 when the then Minister replaced Duncan Graham from the National Curriculum Council and Philip Halsey from the Schools Examination and Assessment Council with someone who the Government thought would be okay, an oil executive who turned out not to be okay and had. to be sacked because he did not deliver the goods?

The story continues with the curriculum committee being packed with people who were politically okay and often associated with the Centre for Policy Studies—that is the entry point into the system.

Politicising the system destroys all confidence and trust in it among all those associated with it from teachers, who Conservative Members clearly do not like, to parents, governors and everyone else in the educational process. We have now reached crisis point. I take no pleasure in saying that. It is a defeat and a quite unnecessary one as it need never have happened.

In the middle and late 1980s there was a consensus in the making that would have driven up education standards on a unified basis. The word used then was partnership. That has been totally destroyed. Hon. Members must remember Professor Brian Cox—the great "black papers" author. I agreed with much of what he said then. I felt that we had gone wrong in the primary sector, that teaching had slipped and that we needed more rigorous standards. Professor Cox, formerly chairman of the National Curriculum English Working Group, said earlier this month: During the next few months the national curriculum in England and Wales may totally collapse. Great harm will be inflicted on children in state schools. Children in independent schools will find themselves at a considerable advantage, for their teachers are free to reject narrow and muddled national curriculum requirements. It is a system in crisis and chaos. Those are the words not of the Labour party, but of the friends of the Conservative party, the people who have tried to work the system and to believe in it. They are saying that we have reached a point of chaos and collapse.

The question now is what on earth we do about it. I am against all boycotts. I am particularly against those people who boycott consensus, consultation and common sense. It is exactly that. The politicisation and the political agenda for education has produced the present crisis.

I ask only this. Given the fact that we are doing an enormous disservice to the system and to everyone in it, the more I hear the political knockabout that is going on in debates such as this one, the more depressed I am about getting the chance to do anything about it unless we now decide seriously to stop playing politics with the system, with English, with history and above all with children. I should like the Minister to say—and I say this more in hope than expectation—that he has learnt all that and he is about to offer a new partnership that can stop all the nonsense that is going on at the moment.

9.4 pm

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

I listened with great amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright). I have never heard such unmitigated drivel in my 14 years in the House. He said, "Stop playing politics with children" but that is what the Labour party has done for 30 years—it abolished the direct grant and grammar schools, it closed down good high schools, created neighbourhood schools and opposed the assisted places scheme. He forgets that we have been down this route before, to the same destination, time after time in education debates, whether to do with legislation or on a Supply day.

I have a strong suspicion that, when the shadow Cabinet comes to review today, it will regard it as rather a waste of time. It has been an empty day for the Opposition—their Benches have been empty and people have been dragooned in to speak at the last minute. A list of eminent Conservative speakers are down to follow me—and for that reason I will be brief.

Labour Members have offered no new ideas but simply repeat the ideas of the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, all of which stem from the 1960s. I am sad beyond belief that, although in every other area of policy the Labour party has twisted, turned and turned again to fashion a policy for the electorate, in this area of education it has not changed one atom in 40 years. That is why I am surprised that the Labour party has the nerve to choose this subject for debate on a Supply day. How bogus; what cant; what hypocrisy.

It all stems from the "great debate" of the noble Lord Callaghan. He started that debate for no other reason than the pressure from the Conservative party at the time and the success of the black papers written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). We had the great Ruskin college speech, and then we had nothing. We had nothing for years, yet we had anarchy in our schools, the winter of discontent, and ever since then the bleating of the Labour party.

I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) was bizarre—there is no other word to describe it. Where is she? She should be here listening to me. It was immensely bizarre. She did not answer questions. I thought it was just me who thought that she did not answer questions—that it was some sort of cultural or psychological block—and then I discovered an eminent article in the Evening Standard of 15 April entitled "How Mrs. Ann Taylor avoided the question." She ought to have read it. Perhaps she knows about it. If she does not, the new custom is not to tell people across the Floor of the House but to send it to them after the debate in an envelope. Perhaps she will do the same, if she can find the stamps, and tell us, after the event, what she might have said if she had said it.

What hypocrisy we have from the Labour party these days. At one time, it stood for something. In the 1950s, it stood for something; when Eric Heller was here, it stood for something. It now stands for nothing. It is bland, boring and futile.

The Labour party talks about stability. What about the instability that it would cause to those districts in Kent where we enjoy grammar schools, city technology colleges and high schools? What about playing politics with the children of Kent and other areas where parents vote, year after year, to retain a selective system of secondary education? The Labour party says we should have a referendum or a ballot in schools. It can have a ballot any time it likes in Dartford on selective schools. It will be won time and time again by those who believe that selective education is a good thing for Kent.

In the debate on 3 March I asked the hon. Member for Dewsbury: If the hon. Lady was Secretary of State for Education and wanted to close grammar schools in my constituency of Dartford, and if the people of Dartford voted in a referendum not to have those schools closed, what would she do? Would she keep them open or close them?"—[Official Report, 3 March 1993; Vol. 220, c. 385.] What was the answer? There was no answer. The traditional practice of the Labour party is not to answer questions. It refers only to the image makers—let us see if they are happy with what is proposed. I challenge the Labour party to come clean.

We decided to take the route of the national curriculum not because we had lost faith in all local authorities, although we had in some, or because of some centre for policy study's notion, but because the great consensus of the past, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North referred, had collapsed. The secret garden of the curriculum had been invaded by the left—by the pursuit of gay studies, lesbian rights, anti-police, anti-business and anti-capitalist studies. We had to move in. We had to take action to rescue the nation's children from the left, many members of which are still sitting on the Opposition Benches.

Labour Members talk about money. If money was everything, ILEA, which spent more than any other education authority in the country, would have come top in the examination results. In the event, it was top in expenditure and bottom in examination results. My goodness, I was glad when I abolished the ILEA.

I urge my right hon. Friend to continue the pursuit of what he has started. We need to measure performance within the national curriculum. Only by testing can we evaluate the work that we have done in the interests of the nation's children. About 95 per cent. of the population educate their children in local authority or grant-maintained schools. We have a duty and obligation to make sure that we educate them to the best of our ability. I wish my right hon. Friend every success in his policies.

9.11 pm
Ms Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, because I am anxious to relate the motion, and particularly the elements that refer to the centralising nature of the Secretary of State's performance, to the way in which the whole issue of education is bubbling up in my constituency.

There is great interest in the subject in Hillsborough now, because we are faced with the potential closure of five schools, four primary and one secondary. That threat brings home to the children, parents and teachers—and it certainly brings home to me, their representative here—just what a school means to all concerned in an area. My postbag has been overflowing with letters from constituents about those schools.

To discover the reasoning behind the proposed closures, I questioned the Secretary of State. After all, he is responsible for setting the standards by which LEAs make the choices available to them. He must spell out the standard of quality that he expects schools to achieve. I have been extremely disappointed by his lack of response.

I asked the right hon. Gentleman to say what standards he expects from LEAs faced with restructuring programmes at the schools in their areas. I expected him to tell me what he required of LEAs, for example, in the context of propping up their educational needs programmes. I expected him to spell out what LEAs should do to protect nursery places in their restructuring programmes and to detail the facilities, including books and equipment, that should be provided.

I did not receive any satisfactory answers from the Secretary of State. On one issue alone, that of special needs, he said that he was expecting an equal number of places to be provided in schools. He did not say when he expected that to be achieved. He did not even say whether there would be a gap of a few years.

There is no requirement that nursery places should be protected at all costs. There is no requirement to provide books and equipment. Many of us have seen the provision of books and equipment become increasingly dependent on the financial wherewithal of the parents. In schools where parents can raise money to provide them, books and equipment are available. In schools where the parents do not have the necessary financial means, provision is increasingly difficult.

The issue on which I have taken greatest exception to the non-reply from the Secretary of State is school size, and, more importantly, class size. When I have asked about the maximum class size for satisfactory education at primary and secondary level, the answer has been that there is no maximum size. If teachers are asked whether the number of children in their care makes a difference, they will say that of course it does. In Sheffield, the local authority has had good pupil-teacher ratios over the years. Therefore, it has been penalised, with a rounding down of standards under the Secretary of State. Demoralisation among professional teaching staff is significant, and will do nothing for the quality of education.

Hon. Members have referred to their experience in education. When I was a teacher, I specialised in teaching children with special needs at infant, junior and secondary levels. I dealt particularly with children who were slower at learning to read than others in their age group. The point that came home to me strongly, particularly at secondary level with children who had failed constantly at junior and infant levels, was the need to raise their self expectation. To do that, it was crucial that they were not faced with rigid testing which categorised them from first to 30th in the class, because they would have been towards the bottom, year in, year out. Such children needed to be tested frequently in a sensitive way so that they could be offered encouragement continually.

The same is true of teachers. They should be encouraged to care about the status of the profession. Understanding the contribution they can make to education policy is the core of creating a good education system.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) referred to the Ruskin college speech of Lord Callaghan when he was Prime Minister. I was present that day when Lady Williams, as she is now, was Secretary of State for Education. My hon. Friend will remember that that was towards the end of the period of office of the Labour Government. Since then, we have had 14 years of Conservative government. What have they done about the problems which Lord Callaghan cited?

Ms Jackson

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. It has been said that standards are low and we cannot be complacent. Of course we cannot, and we should be asking what has happened to the core elements of teaching, which would encourage the standards to rise. Instead, the heavy hand of centralisation has caused a rounding down of standards. What has happened to the qualitative nature of teaching? There has been a continuous rounding down of the status of teaching and teachers in this country.

If teachers are perpetually told that they are asking for too much money, should not be listened to, and know less about the curriculum and the process of teaching than the Secretary of State, it is no wonder that the core element of our education system has declined. I welcomed the approach taken by teachers over the Easter holiday, when they decided to make a stand for their profession. I feel profoundly that that will be to the benefit of the education system and the educational future of our children.

I know that the Front-Bench speakers want to wind up, so I shall finish on the issue with which I started my speech: the intense concern felt by my constituents about school closures. The pupils in one of the primary schools in my constituency have sung a song and put it on tape. They asked me as their Member of Parliament and the councillors on the local council to play the tape in our cars as we drive around. I do not play it continuously and I shall not sing it now, but the final verse of the song goes something like this: Dear Mrs Councillor"— it was addressed to the chair of the education committee— it makes us sad

When we think of the good education we've had,

Though politics and money have had their say

But it's our education you are throwing away.

That reflects the feeling of the children in Wharncliffe Side primary school—[Interruption.] That is why we must treat today's debate seriously.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

I must remind hon. Members that sedentary interventions are to be deplored.

9.22 pm
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I was interested to hear the contribution of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Jackson), who was one of a number of teachers who have participated in today's debate. I am an ex-teacher, and taught for 23 years before entering Parliament. I believe that today's debate has been a failure for the Opposition. The hon. Member for Hillsborough talked about attendance, but the attendance of Opposition Members has been appalling when one considers that this is supposed to be a major debate for them to put forward their education policies.

I have sat through almost all the debate and heard virtually no new ideas or policies on education from Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Hillsborough, who I know is an ex-teacher, talked about complacency. There is nothing more complacent than the motion that the Opposition have tabled. My colleagues have explained why it is a complacent and destructive motion, and I have to say to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) that the Opposition exercise has failed and been disappointing in many ways.

I was once a member of the ATL. I forgive the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), who unfortunately is not in his place, for forgetting that it is the ATL and thinking that it is the LTA, because it has changed its name four times during my professional career—I make no criticism of that. Various teachers' unions have been mentioned, and I should at this stage declare my interest in and connection and work with the Professional Association of Teachers.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) that many teachers are not in favour of industrial action or a boycott. I think that I am right in saying that one Opposition Member, the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright), had the guts to speak out against the idea of a boycott. But the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have been rolled over into supporting industrial action and a boycott, and that is an abdication of their responsibility.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury spoke a little about the background to the problems of the national curriculum and testing, and she was right to do so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acknowledged the problems by announcing a review, but I do not share the hon. Lady's analysis. She has not given a correct analysis of the problem, nor has she provided a solution.

However, there is concern, as several of my hon. Friends have confirmed, and as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, among responsible teachers and head teachers about the amount of bureaucracy in and the complexity of the national curriculum and testing. The one positive message that has come out of the teachers' Easter conferences took the form of a photograph, which some hon. Members will have seen, of a supermarket trolley loaded with documents on the national curriculum and testing.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will share my concern, and the concern that has been expressed by others, at the amount of bureaucracy and complexity that has crept into the system. I know that my right hon. Friend recognises that, and that is why there is to be a review. However, I am convinced that the support of Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen for a boycott is unwise, ill-advised and an abdication of their responsibility.

My right hon. Friend was good enough to promote me to headmaster earlier, but I was proud, for 23 years, to be a classroom sixth form teacher. I was a supporter of those of my colleagues who, in their heart of hearts, know that in the teaching profession industrial action is never justified. I suspect that that is true of the majority of classroom teachers. Strike action is never justified. The idea of a boycott of testing on the curriculum is never justified, even though, as I have done, it is perfectly possible to criticise the system as it now is and support the Secretary of State in his declared intention to review it.

The teaching profession is in many ways a secure profession. I support the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) who reminded us that teaching is not easy, that it can be stressful and tiring. It is also a responsible profession, so there is no justification for industrial action or strike action. That is why I support my hon. Friends and those Opposition Members who have had the guts to speak out against that attitude on the part of the Opposition.

The thrust of the Government's education reforms has been successful. Devolution of responsibility to the schools, governors and head teachers is working out well. I know that from visiting schools in my constituency, when parents express appreciation of their increased choice. The Government's aim of achieving higher standards, which is the whole purpose of reforming the national curriculum—but of which the Opposition have lost sight—is popular, recognised and supported.

The introduction of a teachers' pay review body, which I wholeheartedly support, is another step towards helping the profession to be respected, professional and successful, and to achieve high standards.

I support the Government's amendment. The debate has been a total failure for members of the Opposition Front Bench, and I am totally opposed to boycotting—even though one recognises the need for continual change and reform.

9.30 pm
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

The speeches by Conservative Members can be categorised under the heading of great myths of our time. Many of their remarks could not even be described as half truths. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) bemoaned the closure of so many grammar schools, supposedly by Labour, when the fact is that Lady Thatcher closed more of them than anyone else. Such misinformation was typical of the presentations of Conservative Members this evening.

When the public see part of this debate on television or read of it in their newspapers, I hope that they will plainly realise the contribution made by my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright), for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Jackson) and for Eccles (Miss Lestor). [HON MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Their speeches reflected much better the mood of the teaching profession, parents and governors towards the crisis—

Mr. Dunn

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would it be possible to suspend the sitting to allow Labour Members to return to the Chamber?

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order, but I notice an absence of hon. Members at the conclusion of this debate. It is to be deprecated that hon. Members who participated in the debate are not present.

Mr. Griffiths

I realise that Government Members do not like home truths about our schools, but teachers are disillusioned and their morale is low. Parents are concerned and dismayed at the way in which the Government persist in thrusting down the throats of pupils a system of testing that needs to be improved far beyond the promises of the Secretary of State.

In newspapers and in the letters that right hon. and hon. Members receive, demands for change and improvement far outnumber expressions of satisfaction at the way in which the national curriculum is currently implemented. There is a crisis of confidence and things have been turned on their head.

The right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) made a speech earlier, but has obviously been waylaid on his way back to the Chamber. On Second Reading of the Bill which became the Education Act 1988, he said: We do not intend to lay down how lessons should be taught, how timetables should be organised, or which textbooks should be used."—[Official Report, 1 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 774.] In the case of the first and the last, however, that is exactly what is happening. We wait with trepidation for the delivery of instructions as to how the timetable itself should be organised. Things have gone badly wrong, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood pointed out.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman arrived in the Chamber just over 10 minutes ago. I will not give way to him.

There is a crisis of confidence. At a conference on design and technology management in South Glamorgan, curriculum leaders and heads of technology from 24 of the 26 schools in the county expressed grave disquiet about the nature, management and interpretation of key stage 3 SATs and long tasks. It was strongly felt that SATs were radically interfering with good course work, to the detriment of pupils' education.

Another teacher—the Southampton teacher referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) who has been a member of the Conservative party since 1976—said: The 'goal posts' have been moved around almost weekly and you"— that is, the Secretary of State— must not be surprised to hear that senior professionals are concluding that there is little quality thinking being applied by the DFE before statements are made. Decisions are simply being dumped on schools for teachers to try and sort out and make some sense of for their pupils. The verdict in almost any paper on any day of the week—not only that of teachers, but that of others involved in education—is damning. According to John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association: In English, the tests have produced real problems for many schools, not just because there was no pilot programme and the administrators at SEAC made a dog's breakfast of getting out clear and accurate information early enough, but because the assessment tail is now seen to be wagging the curriculum dog. Even David Pascall, chairman of the National Curriculum Council—who is soon to retire—said: the fact remains that the national curriculum at primary level is overloaded and that quality and depth of teaching is being sacrificed in order to achieve the necessary curriculum coverage. The Ofsted report—which the Government cite in their amendment as supporting their changes—has been much quoted, but those quotations have been very selective. Its press release was entitled "Mixed Progress In The National Curriculum And Assessment Reported By Ofsted". In that press release, it said that the impact of assessment in the national curriculum could lead to a distortion of the positive relationship between teaching, learning and assessment". It went on to say: This year, however, and for the first time, the benefits and costs are finely balanced. There are some clearly discernible signs that the impact of 'teaching to the test' and the complexities of the assessment requirements could lead to this distortion. I could go on and on.

Brian Cox had this to say: Teachers are not against testing, but the new tests will result in bad teaching. And the new … curriculum will be disastrous for children: it goes back to ways of teaching that failed in the past and its ideas about English language are untrue. Whether we are talking about head teachers who have got together in their own national committee on learning and assessment or about classroom teachers who are concerned about what is happening in schools, the fact remains that teachers are committed—whatever happens in this year's ballots—to ensuring that children are taught more, and that they will be tested and that the result of those tests will be reported to parents.

Furthermore, all the teacher unions have offered to talk to the Secretary of State for Education about ways to get out of this impasse and to make sure that there will be intelligent assessment and testing of children this year. They welcome the review, but they say clearly that the tests are flawed.

The Leeds university study showed that, if anything, there were three clear advantages to be seen in the tests. First, it is an advantage for a child to be born in the winter. Secondly, it is an advantage for a child to be born a girl. Thirdly, it is an advantage for a child to have attended a nursery school. I do not expect the Secretary of State for Education to do anything about making sure that children are born in the winter, or that they are born girls, but I should like him to respond to the evidence that nursery education is good for children by making sure that resources are provided for it. The millions of pounds that he and his predecessors spent upon introducing city technology colleges would have been much better invested in expanding nursery education and making sure that all children, before going to school, have the opportunity to take advantage of nursery education.

Dame Angela Rumbold

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us, in answer to this interesting debate, what the Opposition's proposals on testing are?

Mr. Griffiths

There is a simple and straightforward answer to that question. We believe—we refer to it in our motion—that the Department of Education and the Welsh Office should follow the example of the Scottish Office. That is the simple way forward. If the Welsh Office and the Department for Education were to adopt the Scottish model, there would be sweetness and light, as in a flash of lightning.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be delighted to join me in congratulating Members of the other place on defeating the Government on the first day of their consideration of the Education Bill by supporting a Labour amendment, which means that there will have to be somebody on the funding council with expertise in special educational needs.

Mr. Griffiths

I am very pleased to hear that. We pressed in this place for that provision to be made, but the Government remained implacably opposed to it.

The chaos created over key stage 3 English has been further underlined by the differences between the Department for Education and the National Curriculum Council and the Welsh Office and the Curriculum Council for Wales. In press releases and letters to the chairman of the two bodies, the Secretary of State for Education admitted that it was novel for his curriculum proposals to be based directly on the advice of the council rather than on those of the curriculum subject working group. However, the Curriculum Council for Wales went out of its way to point out that The Curriculum Council for Wales has consulted with the profession in Wales and has involved Council members and its English Committee in the shaping of its advice. Members of these Committees include head teachers, primary and secondary teachers, LEA advisers, lecturers in further and higher education and representatives from industry and training organisations. I appeal to the Welsh Office to ensure that sufficient copies of the document from the Curriculum Council for Wales are distributed to all the schools in England so that teachers in England may have the same opportunity as teachers in Wales to read it.

Finally, I appeal to the Secretary of State for Education to listen to some words that Oliver Cromwell spoke in the House exactly 340 years ago today, on 20 April 1653, to the parliamentarians of that day: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.

9.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth)

A casual observer of the debate might find it difficult to believe that this is, or has been, an Opposition day. It would have been confusing to anyone who did not know the House and its ways and who had come here expecting some sort of fireworks on a day selected by the Opposition and on a subject of their choice. The Opposition would have been expected not only to criticise the Government, but perhaps to give us an inkling of their policies. Yet in the House today we have seen a Chamber almost empty on the Opposition side and we have heard lacklustre Opposition contributions, without any positive ideas or thoughts. The debate has been pathetically poorly attended by Opposition Members. That may suggest the extent of the Opposition's commitment to education policy; indeed, it sums that up extremely well. In contrast, there have been distinguished and scintillating contributions from my right hon. Friends the Members for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) and for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), to name but three distinguished former Education Ministers.

That being said, it might be slightly surprising if I were to tell the House that some common ground has been exhibited in the debate. For example, everybody supported the concept of a national curriculum. Everyone tells us that they support the concepts of testing and assessment. Indeed, even the education trade unions say the same. The general secretaries of all six teaching unions signed a letter to the Secretary of State on 9 February which affirmed: we are not opposed to testing". In a letter to Members of Parliament dated 16 March, Mr. de Gruchy of the NAS/UWT wrote: I wish to reiterate the Association's support for testing and assessment procedures". In a letter dated 15 April Mr. McAvoy of the NUT said: The National Union of Teachers is not against assessment and testing". There must be an answer to that apparent conundrum; there must be a catch somewhere. Of course, the catch is this: Conservatives believe in testing, but by that we mean relevant and effective testing. For example, testing should be standard in its approach, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden said; it should be fitted to the curriculum, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) said; it should be objective, reliable and informative to parents and teachers; and it should be transparent and reported regularly and openly to parents whenever it takes place. In other words, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North said, testing is designed to ensure that schools are doing their job. That is the object of the exercise. That is the form of testing in which we believe.

By contrast, it appears that Opposition Members, while paying lip service to the concept of testing, are content with the traditional approach, as they would call it, by which teachers assess their own work in their own classrooms and make their own judgment of what their pupils have done. That is not acceptable. It gives rise to inconsistency and it means—

Mr. Hall

I shall not use this evening the example of Scotland. Instead, I have a question for the Minister. Is he familiar with the Neale reading analysis and with the National Foundation for Educational Research mathematics test? They are criteria reference assessments which teachers have used for a long time. It is not their own judgment at all.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I am sure that some teachers have used those tests; probably the better teachers have used them. The real difficulty is what the not-so-good teachers are doing. How can we assume that teachers who are inexperienced or not very good at their job—there may be some of them out there—are assessing their pupils? How can they give information to parents about what the pupils are doing?

Throughout the debate, Opposition Members have been in some difficulty and I shall give two or three examples. They allege that there is instability in the education system, yet it is Opposition Members who support a boycott that is designed precisely to render the education system unstable. Surely that is the most disgraceful hypocrisy imaginable.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) told us that she supported last year's tests for seven-year-olds, which were an enormous success. Almost in the same breath, she said that she supported the boycott of all tests by unions this year. How she can arrive at that position is quite beyond me. Opposition Members have come to the House on their day and have offered us no policies of their own.

Many Opposition Members have asked repeatedly that there should be a review of the testing regime. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has arranged for that to take place. He has asked the very distinguished new chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Sir Ron Dearing, to conduct just such a review. It is not good enough to say, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) said, that everyone knows what is wrong with the tests. That is a ludicrous statement. How can everybody know exactly what is wrong with all the tests? Some people may take the view that the tests need reviewing. We have conceded that. The Secretary of State has recognised that and he has asked Sir Ron Dearing to arrange for a review of the tests. My right hon. Friend asked him to look at the scope for slimming down the curriculum and to consider the future of the 10-level scale for grading children's attainments. How could the test arrangements be simplified? How could the central administration of the national curriculum and tests best be improved?

The key fact is this. In the letter written by Sir Ron Dearing to my right hon. Friend in which he accepts the challenge that he has been given, he says: if I do not have information from tests this Summer, I am going to have difficulty in giving well-informed and convincing advice on what changes should be made to the testing arrangements. The very man who has been asked by the Secretary of State to conduct the review has said that if anything is done to prejudice the tests this summer he will not have the material with which to conduct the review for which Opposition Members have asked. How can they support the idea of a boycott which will undermine the tests and ask for a review that would be undermined by that same boycott? Opposition Members cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)

If tests are a good idea for the state sector, why are not they a good enough idea for the private sector?

Mr. Forth

We have always recognised that if parents wish to exercise their freedom of choice by sending their children to the independent sector, they do so in the knowledge of what the independent sector offers. If they wish to take advantage of mandatory, taxpayer-funded education through the state system, we must provide them with a guarantee of the quality of education in that state system to which they are entitled.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)

On the subject of tests in the private sector, may I tell my hon. Friend that when I was at a private school, we were tested at the end of every fortnight and beaten if we got less than 60 per cent.?

Mr. Forth

Today, my hon. Friend is a walking testimony to the system which educated him.

I come to the old favourite of Labour Members: Ministers do not listen. It was trotted out once again by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), among others. The reality is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and I go out of our way to talk to educators, professionals and teachers in their staff rooms, at conferences which we attend and at meetings in the Department for Education.

Mr. Enright

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth

I shall give way in a moment. I suppose I could claim that I had a dialogue with teachers which ran for something like 150 hours in the Standing Committee on the Education Bill, of which the hon. Gentleman was such a distinguished member.

Mr. Enright

Can the Minister tell the House whether Education Ministers have apologised to the school which they shamefully tricked into taking part in a party political broadcast?

Mr. Forth

I doubt whether anyone who was involved in such an exercise was naive enough not to know what was happening. The suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman does him no credit.

I hope that we have laid to rest any suggestion that Ministers in the Department for Education do not speak to those involved in education. That brings me to one of the more serious aspects of the debate which was referred to with great feeling by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson). He raised the matter of the professionalism of teachers. If teachers want the respect that the profession demands, we must ask them to act and behave like professionals. Acting as professionals in this context means working within the law, not breaking it. It means expressing concerns by dialogue and debate, not by industrial action. It means taking and accepting responsibility for the pupils in their charge, not casually dismissing the welfare of pupils to promote their own self-interests.

Mr. Walden

My hon. Friend is not a naive man. If he is, he hides it successfully. Despite his kind words about the teacher unions, he knows that the whole spirit of comprehensive education is against testing. The only real hope that parents have to ensure a rigorous education for their children is to vote with their hands and feet for grant-maintained status.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend knows that an increasing number of parents are doing exactly that. With the number of grant-maintained schools at 800 and rising fast, the evidence is there that parents know how they can guarantee quality education for their children. Our testing regime seeks to guarantee objectivity, a level of standards and a reporting to parents of what is going on in schools of the sort which I sometimes think Labour Members are either ashamed of or want to conceal. That has certainly been the thrust of much of what they have said today.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with Labour Members, many of whom benefited from a grammar school and direct grant school system of which this country could formerly be proud, is that a Labour Government got rid of it in the pursuit of trendy socialist thinking in the 1960s and the 1970s? Labour Members told their constituents and the British people, "Pull the ladder up, Jack. I'm all right". A Labour Government replaced the system with the low standards that we have seen from the militant teachers who are trying to align the teaching unions with the striking miners and the striking rail unions. Those militant teachers, unlike the majority of responsible teachers, do not deserve the status of the profession.

Mr. Forth

That sounded like an extremely effective peroration to this debate. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend. The contrast could not be clearer. This debate —which astonishingly was brought to the House by Labour Members, and flopping so dramatically as it has—has illustrated only too well the difference in approach taken by Labour Members and Conservative Members.

Conservative Members wish to ensure that standards of education rise for all of our pupils. We want to guarantee all pupils in the state education system, regardless of their circumstances, their background or their school, an education of which we can be proud.

As part of that, we believe that openness about what goes on in our schools is vital. The testing regime is important. It must be standard and objective. It must be reported to parents. We must be told what is going on in our schools and we must be proud of it. Opposition Members have no concept of that. I ask the House to reject the motion and support the amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 263, Noes 317.

Division No.241] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Eagle, Ms Angela
Adams, Mrs Irene Eastham, Ken
Ainger, Nick Enright, Derek
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Etherington, Bill
Allen, Graham Evans, John (St Helens N)
Alton, David Fatchett, Derek
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Faulds, Andrew
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Armstrong, Hilary Fisher, Mark
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Flynn, Paul
Ashton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Austin-Walker, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Barnes, Harry Foulkes, George
Barron, Kevin Fraser, John
Battle, John Fyfe, Maria
Bayley, Hugh Galbraith, Sam
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Galloway, George
Beggs, Roy Gapes, Mike
Bell, Stuart Garrett, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony George, Bruce
Bennett, Andrew F. Gerrard, Neil
Benton, Joe Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bermingham, Gerald Godman, Dr Norman A.
Berry, Dr. Roger Godsiff, Roger
Blunkett, David Golding, Mrs Llin
Boateng, Paul Gould, Bryan
Boyes, Roland Graham, Thomas
Bradley, Keith Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Burden, Richard Gunnell, John
Byers, Stephen Hain, Peter
Caborn, Richard Hall, Mike
Callaghan, Jim Hanson, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hardy, Peter
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Harvey, Nick
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Canavan, Dennis Henderson, Doug
Cann, Jamie Hendron, Dr Joe
Chisholm, Malcolm Heppell, John
Clapham, Michael Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Clelland, David Home Robertson, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hood, Jimmy
Coffey, Ann Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cohen, Harry Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Connarty, Michael Hoyle, Doug
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corston, Ms Jean Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cousins, Jim Hutton, John
Cox, Tom Ingram, Adam
Cryer, Bob Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cummings, John Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Janner, Greville
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Dafis, Cynog Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jowell, Tessa
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Keen, Alan
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)
Denham, John Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Dewar, Donald Khabra, Piara S.
Dixon, Don Kilfoyle, Peter
Dobson, Frank Leighton, Ron
Donohoe, Brian H. Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dowd, Jim Lewis, Terry
Dunnachie, Jimmy Litherland, Robert
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Livingstone, Ken
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Randall, Stuart
Llwyd, Elfyn Raynsford, Nick
Loyden, Eddie Redmond, Martin
Lynne, Ms Liz Reid, Dr John
McAllion, John Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McCartney, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Macdonald, Calum Roche, Mrs. Barbara
McFall, John Rogers, Allan
McKelvey, William Rooker, Jeff
Mackinlay, Andrew Rooney, Terry
McLeish, Henry Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McMaster, Gordon Ross, William (E Londonderry)
McNamara, Kevin Rowlands, Ted
McWilliam, John Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Mahon, Alice Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marek, Dr John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Short, Clare
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Simpson, Alan
Martlew, Eric Skinner, Dennis
Maxton, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meacher, Michael Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Meale, Alan Snape, Peter
Michael, Alun Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Spellar, John
Milburn, Alan Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Miller, Andrew Steinberg, Gerry
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Stott, Roger
Moonie, Dr Lewis Strang, Dr. Gavin
Morgan, Rhodri Straw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Tipping, Paddy
Mowlam, Marjorie Trimble, David
Mudie, George Turner, Dennis
Mullin, Chris Tyler, Paul
Murphy, Paul Vaz, Keith
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Wallace, James
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Walley, Joan
O'Hara, Edward Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Olner, William Wareing, Robert N
O'Neill, Martin Watson, Mike
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wicks, Malcolm
Parry, Robert Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Pendry, Tom Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Pickthall, Colin Wilson, Brian
Pike, Peter L. Winnick, David
Pope, Greg Wise, Audrey
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Worthington, Tony
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Wright, Dr Tony
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prescott, John
Primarolo, Dawn Tellers for the Ayes:
Purchase, Ken Mr. Eric Illsley and Mr. Jack Thompson.
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles
Adley, Robert Batiste, Spencer
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bellingham, Henry
Aitken, Jonathan Bendall, Vivian
Alexander, Richard Beresford, Sir Paul
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Biffen, Rt Hon John
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Blackburn, Dr John G.
Amess, David Body, Sir Richard
Ancram, Michael Booth, Hartley
Arbuthnot, James Boswell, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Ashby, David Bowis, John
Aspinwall, Jack Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Brandreth, Gyles
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Brazier, Julian
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Baldry, Tony Browning, Mrs. Angela
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Budgen, Nicholas
Bates, Michael Burns, Simon
Burt, Alistair Hague, William
Butcher, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Butler, Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butterfill, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hanley, Jeremy
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hannam, Sir John
Carrington, Matthew Hargreaves, Andrew
Carttiss, Michael Harris, David
Cash, William Haselhurst, Alan
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hawkins, Nick
Churchill, Mr Hawksley, Warren
Clappison, James Hayes, Jerry
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heald, Oliver
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heathcoat-Amory, David
Coe, Sebastian Hendry, Charles
Colvin, Michael Hicks, Robert
Congdon, David Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Conway, Derek Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Horam, John
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cormack, Patrick Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, James Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Cran, James Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Day, Stephen Hunter, Andrew
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Devlin, Tim Jack, Michael
Dickens, Geoffrey Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dicks, Terry Jenkin, Bernard
Dorrell, Stephen Jessel, Toby
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dover, Den Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Duncan, Alan Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Duncan-Smith, Iain Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dunn, Bob Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Durant, Sir Anthony Key, Robert
Dykes, Hugh Kilfedder, Sir James
Elletson, Harold King, Rt Hon Tom
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knapman, Roger
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evennett, David Knox, David
Faber, David Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fabricant, Michael Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Fishburn, Dudley Legg, Barry
Forman, Nigel Leigh, Edward
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Forth, Eric Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lidington, David
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Freeman, Roger Lord, Michael
French, Douglas Luff, Peter
Fry, Peter Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Gale, Roger MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gallie, Phil MacKay, Andrew
Gardiner, Sir George Maclean, David
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan McLoughlin, Patrick
Garnier, Edward McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gill, Christopher Madel, David
Gillan, Cheryl Maitland, Lady Olga
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Malone, Gerald
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mans, Keith
Gorst, John Marland, Paul
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Marlow, Tony
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grylls, Sir Michael Mates, Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Merchant, Piers Shaw, David (Dover)
Milligan, Stephen Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Mills, Iain Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Moate, Sir Roger Shersby, Michael
Monro, Sir Hector Sims, Roger
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Skeet, Sir Trevor
Moss, Malcolm Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Needham, Richard Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Nelson, Anthony Soames, Nicholas
Neubert, Sir Michael Spencer, Sir Derek
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Nicholls, Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Spink, Dr Robert
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Spring, Richard
Norris, Steve Sproat, Iain
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Oppenheim, Phillip Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Ottaway, Richard Steen, Anthony
Page, Richard Stephen, Michael
Paice, James Stern, Michael
Patnick, Irvine Stewart, Allan
Patten, Rt Hon John Streeter, Gary
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Sumberg, David
Pawsey, James Sweeney, Walter
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Sykes, John
Pickles, Eric Tapsell, Sir Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Porter, David (Waveney) Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Powell, William (Corby) Temple-Morris, Peter
Rathbone, Tim Thomason, Roy
Redwood, John Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Ronton, Rt Hon Tim Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Richards, Rod Thurnham, Peter
Riddick, Graham Townend, John (Bridlington)
Robathan, Andrew Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Tracey, Richard
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Tredinnick, David
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Trend, Michael
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Trotter, Neville
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Twinn, Dr Ian
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Viggers, Peter
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Sackville, Tom Walden, George
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Waller, Gary
Ward, John Wilshire, David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Watts, John Wolfson, Mark
Wells, Bowen Wood, Timothy
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John Yeo, Tim
Whitney, Ray Young, Sir George (Acton)
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Ann Tellers for the Noes:
Wiggin, Sir Jerry Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

MADAM SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to the National Curriculum and its associated regular tests; notes that the new independent inspectorate, the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), recently reported that the National Curriculum and regular tests were already helping to drive up standards in schools; believes that the progress made in the implementation of the Government's education reforms is due to the hard work and dedication of professional teachers and welcomes the review established by the Secretary of State for Education into the National Curriculum and testing; believes that a boycott of this summer's tests would disrupt children's education, cause unnecessary concern to parents and damage the professional standing of teachers; and looks forward to a definitive statement from Her Majesty's Opposition as to whether or not it supports a boycott of this summer's tests.