HL Deb 21 July 1977 vol 386 cc443-54

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place. She said this afternoon:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about education in schools in England and Wales, on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I are today presenting a Green Paper to the House.

"The Green Paper assesses the present stage of development of our schools and makes proposals and recommendations for their future development. Substantial progress has been made towards full comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education, and the Government are determined to press ahead to complete this process so that secondary education shall be equally available to all children over the full range of ability. Having secured that aim, the Government look to a period of stability in organisation and of improvement in educational standards.

"The Green Paper points to the need for positive discrimination to help those most in need; those handicapped in different ways including the disadvantage of a deprived environment; the ethnic minorities; travelling children and others; special measures are needed, both to help the pupils themselves and to encourage the recruitment of teachers with those attributes which can be of special value to disadvantaged children.

"It also underlines the importance of offering equal educational opportunities to girls as well as boys: the curriculum needs to reflect this, from the study of science to training in parenthood and domestic responsibilities.

"The Green Paper recognises that schools benefit in many ways from building close links with the community; and that the groups most deeply involved with a school must always be the teachers and the parents. The Taylor Committee Report to be published in September will have more to say on this subject. Meanwhile, a circular on a matter of special importance—the information which is available to parents about their children's schools—is already out for consultation and comment and should be issued early in the new school year.

"It must be our concern together with our partners in the school education system in England and Wales—the local education authorities and the teachers—that the school curriculum should match the aptitudes and aspirations of boys and girls and of their parents for them as well as responding to national needs. The Government reject any idea of a central control of the curriculum; but they believe that all those with responsibility for the schools should consider whether these needs are now properly met. We therefore propose to ask each local education authority to consult with the local representatives of the teachers and with parents, employers and trades unions, in carrying out a review of their curricular arrangements. This review, and a joint study of what it reveals, will precede the preparation of any curriculum advice which we might then issue to local education authorities.

"The Green Paper also deals with the accountability of schools and the need for a soundly based means of assessment for the educational system as a whole, for the schools, and for individual pupils. The assessment of the school system as a whole rests with Her Majesty's Inspectorate who are moving towards quantitative analyses of what is done—for example, through the current surveys of primary and secondary schools which complement their traditional methods. Secondly, local education authorities need to be able to identify schools' problems in performance and to take remedial action. But league tables' based on standardised tests in isolation can be seriously misleading, as they neglect many important factors such as the school catchment area, the school's own objectives and external factors. Thirdly, the assessment of individual pupils is a continuous process in which the teacher's own competence and knowledge are of prime importance. The development of diagnostic tests and greater consistency of practice in their use will be encouraged by the Education Department, but the Government reject the view that universal national testing basic literacy and numeracy is desirable.

"The Green Paper proposes further study of the concept of a leaving certificate for all pupils, and it stresses the need for high standards of professional accuracy in record-keeping of pupils' progress. The keeping of records should be included in the review of curricula arrangements.

"Any plans for improving the curriculum and raising standards must depend in large part on the full understanding and support of the teaching profession and on the quality of its members. We are concerned to improve the quality and relevance of initial training in a number of ways. First, we shall set higher minimum standards for entry and we shall require a qualification in English and in Mathematics; we also aim to continue the recruitment of mature people to teaching who can bring useful experience of the outside world into the profession, as well as more teachers from ethnic minorities. We are seeking ways of improving the college curriculum and the professional relevance of the training process.

"As the number of newly qualified teachers entering the schools falls, we intend to consult our partners regarding better arrangements for the induction period for newly qualified teachers entering the schools. They need support in a number of ways. The arrangements might involve some reduction in new teachers' workload, and experienced members of staff could be given special responsibility for overseeing their work and progress. I intend to consult the local authority associations and the teachers about these proposals and about other possible developments—for example, whether new teachers might be given an interim status when they complete their training and receive fully qualified status upon the satisfactory completion of probation. The Green Paper also envisages a major initiative in in-service training. This would build upon the wide variety of provision already made and would aim to include the development of specialist centres, on a regional or national level.

"May I now turn to an aspect of our proposals which I should like to deal with in rather more detail. The Green Paper points to the need for employing authorities to develop more systematic approaches to the recruitment, training and deployment of their teachers during the period of declining pupil numbers. This changed situation will give scope for authorities to give more positive attention to the career development of their teachers, and to consider, for example, whether their present arrangements are such as to secure the best appointments to headships. I am confident that they will wish to proceed in the closest consultation with the teachers' representatives in all these matters.

"Various aspects of all these matters may need to be reviewed. I, for my part, pledge my willingness to join sympathetically in any discussions, especially where action on my part may be required. The overwhelming majority of teachers give devoted and efficient service throughout their careers. A difficult problem is posed by the small minority whose performance falls below an acceptable level of efficiency, for a variety of reasons—for example, from the effects of stress. Any cases of this nature will raise sensitive personal issues, and I expect authorities to offer the fullest consultation to the teachers' associations in working out procedures for dealing with them which clearly satisfy the requirements of fair practice.

"The Green Paper proposes the further development of links, both nationally and locally, between schools and productive industry; for more direct contacts between those working in schools and in industry to increase understanding on both sides. In particular, the Green Paper emphasises the need for a much wider development of careers education to widen the scope and expectations of boys and girls in their career plans and to take fuller advantage of the contributions which employers and trade unionists can make. The curriculum, interpreted in its widest sense, should be more outward looking; it should place more emphasis on preparation for adult life in an internationally orientated, democratic and industrial society. Parents, local industry and the community at large all have a valuable part to play in helping schools to meet these needs.

"Mr. Speaker, there can be no end to debate on the education of our children, but there are times for self-examination and for the setting down of new objectives and new ways of reaching them. I believe this is such a time, and I look forward with confidence to the continued progress of our schools along the lines we have set out in the Green Paper".

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for repeating the Government's Statement on their Green Paper on Education. It would have been nice to have had a copy of this Statement before it was made.

Several noble Lords

Hear, hear!


My Lords, I acquit the noble Lord in particular and the Government Front Bench in general of any discourtesy, because they are always extremely kind in this respect, but it makes me wonder whether the extraordinary gyrations which seem to have been going on in the Cabinet—The Times Educational Supplement referred to it as some members of the Cabinet crying "Forward" and others crying "Back"—led to the typing of this Statement literally being finished only in time for it to be put into the nervous hands of the Government spokesman on this occasion.


My Lords, I am not nervous.


My Lords, the noble Lord has given us quite a lot of information; but the one thing which he did not say was that today's Statement stems from the Prime Minister's speech at Oxford nine months ago, in which he identified, in particular, ways in which he thought that education could contribute to the recovery in our industrial and commercial life, which is so desperately needed. I am bound to say that in the nine months which have passed those problems have become more and not less apparent. I am also bound to say that having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, I believe that this Statement comes dangerously near to saying that our education is good but ought to be better and that it is to this particular wheel that the Government are putting their shoulder—and very little else. May I substantiate that belief.

The Statement tells us that there is to be a review of the curriculum in each local education authority. Each local education authority will undertake this review, in company with widespread consultations, and then, as I understand the Statement, they will come back again to the Government from whom they have received this remit. Then it may be that the Government will indulge in giving some central advice. However, the Statement which has been made today has been preceded by a tremendous fanfare—by what has been called "the great debate". I had understood that in the great debate the local education authorities would be consulting representatives of the Government all over the country, and all those other bodies, to find out what everybody thought and that, as a result, the Government would then say what was to happen. I had genuinely thought that the Government would give the signal for some action today.

I should like to ask the Government whether they are aware that there is something of a crisis of confidence in the Education Service and that at the heart of the crisis lies the Government's insistence upon reorganising schools in the way which they believe to be right—on a totally blanket comprehensive basis. The Government have been warned on all sides in both Houses of Parliament that, although whether or not this is the right policy is arguable, one thing which is absolutely certain is that this policy will do no good to sixth-form teaching in this country.

There are certain points in this Statement which bear upon that view and which I welcome. Indeed, it would be churlish of me not to do so. May I pick out two of them. The first relates to the teacher training proposals, and these I broadly welcome. I am sure that the Secretary of State is on the right lines, and the House will probably welcome the opportunity to debate at a later date this particular aspect of the Green Paper. The second relates to the sending out of prospectuses by schools, about which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke when the Education Act was going through your Lordships' House.

However, today's Statement leaves unanswered some absolutely basic questions. First, should there be a common core to the curriculum? It was mentioned, but the Government presumably have no view. Should there be some national assessment of pupils at the start of their secondary courses? Again, assessment was mentioned but presumably the Government have no view on this basic question. Then we come to the members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, the numbers of which are very much below par—so much so that the Secretary of State is apparently no longer able to have independent schools inspected for recognition status and has indeed told representatives of the independent schools that HMIs are not inspecting maintained schools in the same way. What is being done about that? Again, apparently, the Government have no view.

How are we to overcome the shortage of mathematics teaching?—the very thing that the Prime Minister laid his finger on when he made his Oxford speech. What is Government policy on strengthening sixth forms in a comprehensive system? Here—and I am nearly at the end—may I remind the Government that the Secretary of State's panacea—having more and more sixth form colleges—has been fundamentally criticised, not by the Opposition in either House of Parliament but by none other than the Chief Education Officer for the Inner London Education Authority, as being a panacea which is totally unworkable. Should there be an inquiry into religious education? I should have thought that this would have been the one opportunity that the Government could have taken, in answer to representations from all parts of your Lordships' House, to make a Statement on that. Apparently, the Government have no views.

My Lords, I apologise for being so critical, but I had really thought that this Statement was going to be something of a mountain, which is what we had been led to believe. It sounds perilously as though it were a mouse, but to reach a final conclusion we must wait to read the document in full.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating that Statement. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has said, it is difficult to react to it without having been able to see a copy, particularly since it is a very complicated Statement. Luckily, we have been able to have the Green Paper for 35 minutes, but 35 minutes is not a long time in which to study a Green Paper.

On the whole, we on these Benches very much welcome this Green Paper. It contains a large number of sensible proposals, a number of which we ourselves have been putting forward for some time past. I shall not take up the time of your Lordships' House by enumerating them, but I should not like the one or two criticisms that I have to make to detract from the fact that I think this a considerable advance.

It is a pity that we are apparently not going to discuss the possibility of altogether doing away with an externally monitored examination at 16. We are still about the only country in Europe which has one and we do not appear seriously to be considering this important reform. I think it a great pity that, as far as I can see, the Green Paper does not deal with the major problem of the relationship between schools and colleges of further education. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, mentioned the whole question of sixth form colleges. In my view, this is something which ought to be explored in depth and we should like to know rather more than we do about Government thinking on the matter.

I have one small caveat. Of course, we should all welcome high standards for teachers and I very much welcome the Secretary of State's thinking that, at a time when there is widespread unemployment among teachers, we must concentrate on seeing that we have the best teachers. I hope, though, that initial qualifications will be flexible. I am highly alarmed by the feeling that all teachers must be both numerate and literate to quite a large degree. Of course we should all like to be that but it is not entirely necessary. I am reminded that Professor C. S. Lewis was totally incapable of passing his mathematics responsions to get into Oxford University. He never would have got in had he not been exempted by the War, and we should have lost one of the greatest English scholars this country has ever had. This raising of arbitrary barriers must be subject to exceptions and must be made flexible, but there does not appear to be any sign of that in the Green Paper.

The only main question I have to ask is, where do we go from here? We now have a Green Paper and presumably, since that is the purpose of Green Papers, we are now going to continue with the great debate up and down the country about that Green Paper. Are we to have a White Paper and, if so, when are we to have it? Where do we go from here, my Lords?

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the two noble Lords who have spoken—perhaps rather more grateful to the latter than to the former. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, criticised the Green Paper really because it was not a White Paper. That seems to me to be rather short-sighted. The problems of education are colossal, enormous, extremely difficult and controversial. If I had come forward with a core curriculum and half a dozen other things that the noble Lord asked for, I should have got the stick from everywhere, and quite rightly. This must be dealt with slowly and carefully. The series of meetings which my right honourable friend has had about the country has done two things: to some extent it has told her what people are thinking, and to some extent it has told her how much people differ. Therefore I think she would be absolutely wrong to come out now with a series of hard and fast propositions.

Take, for example, the question of the core curriculum. The noble Lord says the Government have no views on this. I apologise for the fact that the noble Lord has not had long to study this Green Paper, but when he has been able to study it he will see that the Government have perfectly clear views on the matter. The Government hold the view that a total curriculum centrally enforced is not what is required; but the Government also think that there probably ought to be a core, which is agreed—not enforced but agreed—among local authorities, of certain subjects which should not be eroded. That is a tentative position to take up, but it is a perfectly sensible one and, in my view, quite a satisfactory one. I do not think I can satisfy the noble Lord that my right honourable friend has done what she ought to have done; I can only satisfy him that I think she has done what she ought to have done, and I think it would have been a great mistake if she had done what he thinks she ought to have done.

In relation to the one comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, about standards, in the first place nothing is laid down for certain here, which is the virtue of the Paper because there is still room to discuss on the lines he raised; but I think that to say that because one man of genius managed to get to the top without passing an examination is not a reason for not giving anybody an examination. I think one should be very careful not to use such arguments.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, that was not the point that I was making. The point I was making was that one does not have to be numerate in order to teach something like English extremely well, and that people who are in that unfortunate position should not be stopped from being able to pursue a teaching career.


My Lords, I accept the difference, which seems to be marginal. I have to confess that I think a modest equipment of numeracy is probably desirable in nine cases out of ten, even for teaching English. I will say no more. I am grateful to noble Lords for having received the Paper, and I apologise on behalf of my right honourable friend that your Lordships received it so late.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I apologise for not being here for the opening remarks of the noble Lord, but in view of the fact that infant classes have so few male teachers and that there are so many single or divorced women now, would it not be advisable to have in the schools more male teachers—this, I gather, is not mentioned in the Green Paper—in order to give the necessary support to the children?


My Lords, the Green Paper refers to the desirability of bringing more mature teachers into use, but it does not specify whether they should be men or women. The suggestion made by the noble Baroness is something which should be looked at very carefully.


My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why, when the Government are, very properly, consulting parents, teachers and local education authorities on all sorts of important matters such as the curriculum, there is not included in that consultation the question of the retention of a limited number of selective grammar schools, where that is locally desired? Why is that excluded? Will the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, also explain as regards the Government's attitude to selection, why selection is permitted, as I understand it, in the case of children who show proficiency in music and dancing but not in academic ability?


My Lords, we spent goodness knows how many hours discussing those points. If the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, had been here and had listened to those discussions he would not need to ask that question to which I propose to make no answer at the moment.


My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge aware that that reply ensures that he will have to discuss the matter a great deal more.


My Lords, would it not be true to say that the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is that the Government are interested in educating most children—not just a few, and not just a select few? They do not want to have entirely selective education; they want to educate most children to the highest degree of their potentiality.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell.