HC Deb 06 July 2000 vol 353 cc418-9
14. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

If he will make a statement on progress towards his target of 80 per cent. of pupils achieving level 4 in literacy tests at key stage 2. [127933]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

We inherited a situation in which 56 per cent. of 11-year-olds had reached the acceptable level of ability at reading and writing. Last year, we achieved 71 per cent. of children reaching level 4 at that age. We were very pleased to find an even bigger increase in the reading skills of youngsters of that age.

We face a problem with writing skills, which I highlighted when the statistics were announced last September. We have set about that problem this year, and have recruited the help of a range of outside organisations and individuals—including the poet laureate—to inspire and encourage young people to learn to write more effectively.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, and invite him to join me in congratulating the pupils and teachers of Slough. Just after I was elected, only 58 per cent. of children there were reaching level 4 and above at key stage 2, but last year the proportion had risen to 68 per cent. I am confident that the figure will continue to improve in the coming year.

My right hon. Friend identified the teaching of writing, which has also been identified in a recent Ofsted report. It is clear that our focus on reading, given the national year of reading and the energy put into reading in the literacy hour, has delivered results, and we must focus on improving the teaching of writing. The Leader of the Opposition announced plans to cut—among all the other cuts—the number of those who are responsible for training primary teachers to deliver the teaching of writing and the literacy hour. If such a policy were implemented, could the ambitious plans to improve the quality of the teaching of writing in primary schools be delivered? If we got rid of those trainers, would we be able to reach the target—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Lady is making a speech. We have heard the question.

Mr. Blunkett

I congratulate the heads and teachers working so hard with pupils in Slough, and hope that we see substantial further improvement in the youngsters' results from the end of May. This year, through the standards fund, we are putting £200 million into the literacy and numeracy programmes. That involves the employment of 300 co-ordinators throughout the country, working with schools on the programme and reinforcing the use of phonics, grammar and spelling. If those resources, those co-ordinators and that work with the schools were to be withdrawn, the Conservatives would take us back to the position we inherited in 1997. The previous Government evangelised and pleaded, but they did nothing to raise standards.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Will the Secretary of State admit that the rate of improvement has been no greater during the Government's term of office than it was under the previous Government? [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] By how much have literacy standards at key stage 3 improved over the past two years, and by how much did they improve in the previous two years?

Mr. Blunkett

I have just spelled out that there was a 15-point improvement in literacy, from 56 to 71 per cent. I do not recall the exact figures for the years between 1994 and 1997, but there certainly was not an improvement from 41 to 56 per cent. If there had been, we would have adopted the policy that Opposition Members were then following—which was to do sod all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will—

Mr. Blunkett

I immediately apologise. That was entirely unparliamentary language, and I have corrected myself.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am grateful to the Secretary of State that, on prompting, he corrected himself.

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