HC Deb 23 March 2000 vol 346 cc1102-3
7. Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North)

What plans he has to tackle literacy problems among secondary school pupils. [114603]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Michael Wills)

The national literacy strategy has already had a significant impact on standards of literacy in primary schools and we are now determined to build on that success in the early years of secondary school, where unfortunately there has not been similar progress. We have invited 13 local education authorities to take part in a pilot programme from next September which will include trials of a new framework for teaching English, and professional development and support for teachers in literacy.

Ms Ryan

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Earlier this week, I spent a morning at Carterhatch school, and last week I did the same at Alma primary school—both of them in my constituency. I participated in a literacy hour lesson in both and I was struck by how productive and how focused year 6 pupils are and how much good work was being done. I am concerned that after the transition to secondary school, which is a big change, pupils' level of achievement can slow down and, in some cases, regress. Can my hon. Friend outline in a little more detail what training and support will be provided for secondary school teachers to build on the success of the literacy hour and to continue raising standards at that vital point in a child's educational career?

Mr. Wills

I reassure my hon. Friend that there will be considerable support for teachers in that regard. Our great success in raising literacy standards in primary schools has been due to the fact that we have an effective partnership between the teaching profession—the hundreds of thousands of teachers throughout the country, with their vision, inspiration, dedication and effort—and the Government. We are determined to continue that work into what my hon. Friend rightly identified as the critical early years in secondary schools. There are 13 pilot projects in 13 local education authorities—£6.5 million is available for those projects and there is a significant element of continuing professional development to support teachers in putting that policy into effect.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Can the Minister assure the House that he is making continuing and continual assessments of the performance gain of pupils who attend so-called summer schools compared with those who do not? While it gives me no joy to say it, will he confirm that the rate of improvement in standards of literacy and numeracy overall in the past three years has been less than it was in the equivalent three-year period before that?

Mr. Wills

I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that everything that we do is properly evaluated and the results are published. Unfortunately, there are problems with literacy at key stage 3. That is why we are launching the programme and why we are determined to achieve in secondary schools the level of success with literacy that we have achieved in primary schools. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not rest until we achieve that.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

When my hon. Friend considers the pilot programmes that he mentioned, will he ensure that he takes into consideration the needs of those who are teaching English in secondary schools who do not have their first qualification in that subject? Will he ensure that the training and development plans that are put into place take account of the particular needs of that group of teachers, who number several thousand, according to parliamentary answers that I have received?

Mr. Wills

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We are considering that issue, which is important. It is also an important strand of the pilot projects that are under way.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

Literacy problems are often one of the key issues for failing secondary schools. Does the Minister accept that dealing with such schools is hampered by the confusion of initiatives in the area, by rising secondary class sizes and by the Government's policy on exclusions? Given that one head has declined to take up a job at a failing school after the Government's recent naming and shaming exercise, and that three out of 10 superheads at failing schools have resigned, when will the Government admit the failure of their policy on failing schools? How many heads do they have to lose before they admit their failure to deliver?

Mr. Wills

It is a source of great sadness to me that the hon. Lady does not recognise the considerable mess that we inherited and the extraordinary strides forward—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady scoffs, but the summary judgment on the Tory years of stewardship of the education system—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady will benefit from listening to this. The Moser report found that one in five adults is functionally illiterate. She is proud of that as a record of the Tory party's stewardship of the education system. That is the summary judgment on the Tory years of looking after our education system. We are putting that right. Unfortunately, there are failing schools. We are taking measures to deal with them—and we will deal with them.