HC Deb 24 July 1997 vol 298 cc1038-9
14. Mr. Jenkins

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what proposals he has to raise standards in schools. [8609]

Mr. Byers

The White Paper "Excellence in schools", published on 7 July, sets out in detail the Government's proposals for raising standards in schools and summarises what we aim to achieve over the lifetime of this Parliament.

Mr. Jenkins

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. How does he intend to include as many parents as possible in our crusade to raise standards in education, bearing in mind the wide range of abilities among parents? I am thinking not only of special needs children, but of special needs parents. How do we involve all parents in the crusade?

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the important role that parents play in raising standards, particularly in the basics of literacy and numeracy. We intend to introduce home-school agreements which will lay down clearly the rights, responsibilities and duties of schools and parents. We believe that, by adopting that approach, we shall be able to engage parents in the important process of improving the education that their children receive.

Mr. Malins

I understand that the minimum requirement to enter teacher training college is now three grade Cs at A-level. If that is right—perhaps the Minister can confirm it—is not the requirement rather low? Would we not have a better-educated teaching profession if we raised the standard required for those wishing to enter teacher training colleges?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman is right. We have inherited a legacy of neglect as a result of 18 years of Conservative Government; and recruitment to teacher training illustrates that point well. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will shortly write to the School Teachers' Review Body and, in the process, he will draw that body's attention to the need to retrain, recruit and motivate teachers. We shall take positive steps to do that because we recognise that the only way in which we shall improve the quality of the education our children receive is by raising the quality of classroom teaching.

Helen Jones

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most effective ways in which to raise standards in schools, as shown by academic research, is to cut class sizes? In this connection, is it not a disgrace that the Conservative party has consistently tried to block the Government's attempts to do that, to the detriment of the vast majority of children?

Mr. Byers

There is no doubt in our mind that, by reducing class size, we shall improve the quality of education that our children receive. That is why we are pledged to reduce class sizes to 30 or fewer for every five, six and seven-year-old. Those young children have been the innocent victims of the previous Government's neglect of the education service. We do not intend to turn our backs on those young people. We shall reduce class sizes so that what is presently the privilege of a few will become the right of the many.