HC Deb 14 December 1993 vol 234 cc823-4
10. Mr. David Martin

To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on the progress of his measures to improve standards in primary schools.

Mr. Patten

The national curriculum and testing continue to secure higher standards in primary schools. That is confirmed in the first annual report published by Professor Sutherland, Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools last week, and in a report published by Ofsted today on testing. Both of those highlight the clear improvements brought about by present educational policies. But there is still room for improvement and we are continuing to work to raise standards in all our schools and to encourage higher-quality teaching for all our children at the level that the best already achieve.

Mr. Martin

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most sensible people want to be assured that children in our primary schools are properly taught to read and write and to grasp the basic principles of arithmetic? In what specific ways do Government reforms carry these vital objectives forward?

Mr. Patten

They do so in two important ways: by the introduction of the national curriculum and by the introduction of regular testing. In addition, as report after report from the independent inspectorate, Ofsted, shows, teacher expectations need to be as high as possible. In the best of our 20,000 primary schools in England—and England has many good primary schools—teacher expectations are extremely high. All the academic evidence points to the need for enhanced teacher expectation. Children enjoy a challenge and the greater the challenge, the better they perform.

Mr. Litherland

One way to improve primary education is to give adequate funding for proper repairs to schools. Does the Minister accept that it is totally unfair to ask teachers to teach our children in the deplorable conditions that are experienced in inner-city Manchester?

Mr. Patten

I do not want to stir up yet another local education authority, but I have to say that the way in which Manchester local education authority has conducted its repair programme over the years is not necessarily a paragon of virtue to hold up to metropolitan authorities. Adequate funds have flowed to Manchester over the years; the question is why they have not been properly used.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Bearing in mind the fact that standards in primary schools, as in all types of schools, greatly depend on the quality of teaching and teacher training, may I ask my right hon. Friend to accept the congratulations of the country and of hon. Members in all parts of the House on the fact that we are at last tackling the improvement and reform of teacher training? Will he also take up the question of establishing a staff college for head and senior teachers as a back-up for the reform of teacher training?

Mr. Patten

With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, I wish that we had started our programme of vital education reforms 15 years ago with the reform of teacher training. That is when we should have started, but 15 years later we are getting going on it. My hon. Friend raises an important matter that has been put to me by head teachers who are more articulate and more sensible in discussing these matters than Opposition Members. The concept of a staff college for head teachers, deputy head teachers and aspiring heads and deputy heads is worth considering in discussions between the teaching profession and me. Anything that we can do to enhance the professional standing of teaching is good.

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