HC Deb 29 January 1997 vol 289 cc342-3
3. Mr. Sweeney

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what recent representations she has received regarding arrangements for children's homework. [11727]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

I have received a number of representations on homework from various bodies and members of the public.

Mr. Sweeney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it—heaven forbid—we end up with a Labour Government and a Welsh Assembly, we would be placed in a ludicrous situation in which Members of Parliament from Wales will be able to vote in Westminster on issues such as homework while Members of Parliament in England will have no say on education matters in Wales? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be a ludicrous result and gives every indication of why we need to reject the concept of a Welsh Assembly and of a Labour Government?

Mrs. Shephard

I thank my hon. Friend for his ingenious question. I am sure that the distressing situation that he describes will not arise. Conservative Members believe that it is quite clear that the most effective way to encourage good practice on homework, whether in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, is to disseminate guidance based on research and practical experience.

Ms Estelle Morris

At least there seems to be some agreement that homework raises standards, but why do not the Government show some leadership in ensuring that all children can benefit from it? Does the Secretary of State not understand that the very half-hearted initiative that she announced recently, which will not benefit all children, is wrong, and that she should support Labour's policy of minimum homework targets and a national network of homework centres to support those children who have home backgrounds where homework is difficult?

Mrs. Shephard

It is neither necessary nor—perhaps more importantly—practical for the Government to introduce a legal framework to govern homework arrangements in all our 25,000 schools. The important thing is to disseminate good practice and guidance so that schools fully understand that it is in their interests and those of their pupils to have sensible homework policies.

It is perhaps typical of the Labour party that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) says that he supports an approach whereby the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) would be given the task of checking that all the nation's 7 million pupils had done their homework, followed no doubt by his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who would tuck them up in bed.

Mr. Pawsey

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although homework is important, what counts is what is taught and the methodology that is used in schools? Does she agree that we have shown leadership in education, but all the education reforms that we have introduced have been opposed by Opposition Members, both Labour and Liberal Democrat?

Mrs. Shephard

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A very important difference between our policies and practice and those of the Opposition is that we have consistently concentrated on measures to raise standards by means of inspections, performance tables, tests and the national curriculum. The Labour party, which actually voted against the setting up of the Office for Standards in Education, is less than convincing when it proposes homework by law.