HC Deb 03 May 1994 vol 242 cc583-4
10. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what proportion of his time he has been able to devote this year to meeting parents and teachers in order to gauge their views on educational developments.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend and his ministerial team have visited 50 schools, and have received at least as many delegations, including a number from teachers, parents, and their representative associations.

Mr. Mackinlay

When listening to parents, does the Secretary of State have regard to the legitimate expectation of parents that their children shall be taught by qualified school teachers? Will he review the decision to experiment with so-called "specialist teaching assistants", who are not qualified and simply do not have the skills to teach our children the key stage 1 basics of the national curriculum? Is not that education on the cheap and a great deception of parents?

Mr. Forth

No. I cannot recall offhand any of the delegations whom I have met—or the teachers in the staff rooms that I have visited—raising that particular question. I can recall that parents show an interest in the educational outcomes of the education process. They are concerned that their pupils are taught well and in an appropriate environment, and in that we support them. Everything that I and my colleagues in the ministerial team do is aimed in that direction. The hon. Gentleman would do better to concentrate on the outcome of the education process rather than on its input.

Mr. Congdon

Does my hon. Friend agree that, since the early 1960s, too much time has been spent listening to education theorists and not enough on listening to the views of parents? What parents want, particularly those who send their children to primary schools, is to ensure that their children get a good and firm grounding in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Mr. Forth

Yes. My hon. Friend reflects the anger and frustration that are often felt at the domination of education over the past two or three decades by boffins and egg-heads. When he stays, as I know that he will, to hear the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the Second Reading of the Education Bill, he will find that what he has to say is greatly to his satisfaction.

Mr. Don Foster

Given the Minister's stress on the importance of links between parents and schools, is he aware of the recent National Consumer Council report on that matter which criticises the Government's market approach to education, saying that it precludes concepts of partnership and co-operation between home and school"? Does he believe that it was the following of the Government's divisive approaches that led the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) to call for the sacking of his right hon. Friend?

Mr. Forth

The example that the hon. Gentleman gave pays tribute to the broadmindedness of the Government, who are prepared to fund that council with a considerable amount of taxpayers' money and give it the freedom to report in the way that it has. We will, of course, study its report with great care to see in what ways its conclusions are relevant and useful, and how—if at all—we can meet its requirements.

Mr. Dunn

Is the Minister aware that if he were to visit the county of Kent, he would discover that parents and teachers strongly support the Government's education policies, but give very little support to the policies of our county council, which is controlled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats and which seeks to destroy all choice in Kent?

Mr. Forth

I suspect that my hon. Friend, with his deep and intimate knowledge of the wishes and desires of those in his constituency and in Kent as a whole, has put his finger on the degree of frustration felt in the county by those who voted in the way that they did last year for a certain set of reasons, and are now rather appalled at the outcome in terms of education. I hope that that has taught a lesson to many people up and down the country.

Mr. Hardy

If people give the Government advice that the Government do not like, will the Minister ensure that a rather more gracious approach is adopted than that of the Minister of State? On learning the result of a vote on opting out in my area—80 per cent. voted in favour of good sense—the right hon. and noble Lady decided that Members of Parliament were responsible; she appeared to deplore our exercise of a democratic responsibility that we are rather more entitled to exercise than anyone in the other place.

Mr. Forth

There are no known limits to the graciousness of my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Blatch.

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