HC Deb 21 March 1995 vol 257 cc127-8
1. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what assessment she has made of the reading abilities of 10-year-old children in England and Wales. [13242]

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth)

The chief inspector's annual report for 1993–94 states that seven to 11-year-olds are making satisfactory or better progress in reading in 90 per cent. of schools. We shall have a clear national picture of the reading standards of 11-year-olds as a result of the Government's introduction of tests for the first time this year.

Mr. Corbyn

Is the Minister aware that, on 9 March, an editorial in The Times estimated that poor standards of reading among children coming into and leaving secondary school is costing the country £10 billion a year? Does he recognise that one of the biggest problems is the inability of primary schools to teach six and seven-year-olds good reading skills? Why have the Government abandoned the reading recovery programme and, therefore, cut money available for specialist help, which has proved to be very effective in giving seven-year-olds a well above average reading ability for the investment of a relatively small amount of money and little intensive teaching time?

Mr. Forth

Whether the estimated £200 million to continue this scheme nationwide is a small amount of money I shall leave to the hon. Gentleman to argue with his Front-Bench spokesmen. Indeed, whether he is making a commitment on behalf of his Front-Bench team, I shall leave them to sort out for themselves. The reading recovery scheme is one of many which deal with pupils in that age group who have reading difficulties. It is interesting that, having looked at the scheme, a number of local education authorities have decided to pick it up and to continue it as one of their priorities. That must be the right way to proceed rather than us dictating from the centre what local education authorities—or, indeed, schools—should do.

Mr. Evennett

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the national curriculum and the testing of children are helping to raise standards and that the policies of his Department are doing much to improve the calibre of teachers, teaching and standards in the classroom?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he has identified rightly the battery of measures that we now have in place in schools to assist them in ensuring that our young pupils learn to read and to master numbers effectively. The curriculum is the keystone of that, regular objective testing is an important part of it, the independent inspection of schools is a vital element and the publication of school results, now welcomed by the Leader of the Opposition, is another key element. Together, all those measures will produce a steady increase in standards over coming years.