HC Deb 05 May 1993 vol 224 cc173-5
4. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on educational standards in Scotland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Scottish education enjoys a high reputation, which is well deserved. The Government's programme of educational reform in Scotland will improve standards further, through changes in curriculum and assessment, teacher development and appraisal, the devolution of management to schools and more and better information to parents. All those initiatives are under way and yielding results.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that an important part of the improvements in education that the Government are determined to introduce is more involvement for parents in the choice of their children's schools, and that we are looking forward to the day when parents are as welcome in schools as they are in Jenners in Princes street, Edinburgh or in Marks and Spencer? Will he outline the ways in which his Department is going about giving parents greater opportunity to contribute and to choose their children's schools in Scotland, so that we can learn about it down here in the south?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I thank my hon. Friend and strongly agree. I do not believe that a little information is a dangerous thing—parents need more glasnost, not less. We have consulted on better information for parents and have received about 300 responses. We are going to take action in that connection and, by early summer, we shall have drawn up a revised circular and regulations. The two sets of regulations will be put before Parliament and will come into effect early in August. Four of the relevant subjects that we intend to cover are pupil attendance and truancy rates; school exam results; school leaver destinations; and school costs, so we are definitely taking action.

Mr. McFall

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) could learn more from her area. I have a letter in front of me from a demoralised head teacher in that area, who is complaining about the Government's interference, is weary of being blamed for everything, including the moral decline of society. He states unequivocally that the people responsible are those who have been in power for the past 14 years. Does not the Minister think that the hon. Lady could learn from Scottish education, not least over testing, where changes to the national curriculum in England and Wales followed a successful campaign by parents and teachers in Scotland? Does he agree that comprehensive education has resulted in increased standards and qualifications in Scotland and that such a system, which does not reject 80 per cent. of our young people at a tender age, is good for the aspirations and talents of young people and for Scottish society? Does not the hon. Lady have a lot to learn from Scottish society and education?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

All European educational systems have a certain amount to learn from each other. Testing in Scotland is designed to operate as part of our distinctive five to 14 development programme, but the principles underlying our policies are the same north and south of the border—to ensure that pupils are regularly tested against a national standard and at defined stages of the curriculum and that the results are reported to parents. Standards have risen and we have made a lot of effort, through assessment and achievement programmes, research, regular inspection and reports by inspectors—who do an extremely good job. We have information on the level of success of pupils in standard grade, higher and other awards. We have national testing, which will give the teacher a view of a pupil's progress compared with national standards—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] It certainly is not rubbish and it is being delivered.

5. Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what were the figures for reported cases of truancy in Scottish secondary schools in (a) 1980, (b) 1985, (c) 1990 and (d) 1992; and if he will make a statement.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

No accurate truancy figures are available for those years, but we plan to lay before Parliament this summer regulations that will require education authorities to collect comprehensive information on attendance and truancy rates, and to include those figures in school handbooks.

Mr. Robertson

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in a recent speech made in my constituency, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that truancy and juvenile crime were inextricably linked? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that he will examine more imaginative ways of combating truancy in schools, including raising the level of parental fines and introducing the suspension or reduction of family allowance payments to the parents of wilful and persistent truants?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I agree that truancy can not only blight education, but because the incidence of youth crime. The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 includes a provision for parents who are brought before a court in this connection——

Mrs Gorman


Hon. Members

There goes a truant.

Madam Speaker

Order. I have a good sense of humour, but I think that we ought to proceed with Question Time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The penalty for parents who allow their children to play truant regularly is substantial: a fine of up to £1,000, one month in prison or both. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), however, that I do not consider reducing family allowance payments made to the parents of persistent truants to be the best option at present. Many other measures can be taken, including involving parents at a very early stage; I support that.

Mr. Watson

I am glad to see that a truant from Billericay has managed to return to the fold after a brief disappearance—[HON. MEMBERS: "She is missing again."] Ah, she is missing again.

Will the Minister call for a report from the appropriate authorities, following yesterday's truancy from a Scottish airport by the international crook and contributor to Tory party funds, Asil Nadir? Will he tell us whether Mr. Nadir's passport was withdrawn—if not, why not?—and whether Group 4 Security was responsible for guarding the airport?

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is on the wrong question. The question relates to truancy in Scotland, and I have just given permission for one hon. Member to leave. Let us move on.