HL Deb 14 March 1979 vol 399 cc637-55

2.57 p.m.

Lord ELTON rose to draw attention to the conditions necessary to secure acceptable standards in secondary education in England and Wales; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper refers to acceptable standards of secondary education. The standards which our educational system must achieve are not only academic. The purpose of education in a free society is to enable its individual members to develop their potential to the fullest possible extent. This involves not only the acquisition of a store of knowledge and not only the perfection of a range of skills but also the development of personalities and the means of expressing them. That is how whole people are produced and, since a society is no more and no less than the sum of its individual members, that is how a State perpetuates itself. In totalitarian States, whether Communist or Fascist, this is well recognised. Their schools are smithies in which citizens are forged into weapons for their dogmatic and repressive crusades. That, oddly enough, is an easier, if less attractive, task than the one which faces our educational system.

Standing, as we do, four-square between the excesses of Left and Right, we have to teach our young people to strike a balanced judgment between them. We do not have to drill them in blind admiration of any system but we have to enable them to be perceptively critical of all. That criticism must also embrace our own system, and it must be constructive. Only by this means can we continue to apply the most valuable lesson this country has ever collectively learned and continue the process of evolution without violence, which has made us rightly the envy of more turbulent nations. Only if we enable our young people to strike another balance will the fabric of our democratic society survive: that is the balance between individual liberty and the public good which, when it is properly struck, creates freedom under the law. These are very demanding aims and will rarely be referred to in the classroom, and certainly not in such general, high-flown and philosophic terms; but interpreted into everyday situations they are the stuff of education and it is upon them that all other standards are grafted.

The first necessity for successful schools —apart, of course, from the necessity to have them open and working, to which I shall not further allude as the matter is sub judice—is a body of teachers whose lives are dedicated to their pupils. Teaching, like medicine, is a skill, a profession and a vocation. Recruitment has to be selective and the courses must be exacting. The final responsibility of colleges and departments of education is not to their students, but to the pupils whom the latter will teach; and if there is doubt as to the competence of a trainee teacher it is the child who should get the benefit of that doubt. In the Department of Education and Science Statistical Bulletin No. 2 of 1979, published last month, I see in Table 2 that of the 33,000 teachers who qualified in 1978 only 49 per cent. had taken up full-time employment in maintained nursery, primary or secondary schools by September. The pressure of demand for newly qualified teachers is therefore no longer such that standards in this sphere need be relaxed.

In that context, I would say that few things do more to render a teacher confident, effective and competent than one or two years spent earning his living in the competitive world. Working holidays are not a substitute for actual dependence upon your own wit and hard work to win your way. The experience, incidentally, introduces the teacher to the world in which he is preparing his pupils to live, and that is one with which he ought to be familiar. I believe that it is best gained before training, but it should certainly be gained, where possible, before teaching.

I referred a moment ago to the falling pressure of demand for newly qualified teachers. This will continue, nationally, as the school population diminishes, as a result of the reduced birth rate. There will be a corresponding relative increase in resources, but it will not be an absolute increase, because the savings will not always correspond to the reduced numbers. Savings will, however, be substantial. One way in which they can properly be employed is in improving both the initial professional training of our teachers, and in establishing a recognised minimum requirement for in-service training as well. Provisions for the induction year are not yet complete. There is much to be said for giving mandatory provision for formal tuition and consultation in the weekly timetable of newly qualified teachers, quite possibly outside the schools. The opportunity to discuss difficult cases over a prolonged period would be of great assistance to teachers who had had only nodding acquaintance, or none, with similar problems during teaching practice in training. The opportunity to do so might well form part of a contract of initial service, which would extend until the satisfactory completion of a period of probation.

Training can no longer be regarded as complete at the end of probation. Technological change is now so rapid and so fundamental that the requirements of pupils may be expected to alter almost beyond recognition in many fields during the working life of any teacher. The changes are not only technological, and by way of one illustration may I refer to the percentage of our population who are, and will be, retired. In 1951, the number of people who were beyond pensionable age was equal to 30 per cent. of the working population. In 1977, the last year for which I have figures, that rose to 36 per cent. We therefore have to generate a very active earning society, or else most of your Lordships will be feeling the draught quite soon, because the money will not be there to support us.

The proper development of in-service training, not as a voluntary activity out of hours, but as a necessary element in a teaching career, will provide opportunity for a healthy increase in the exchange of ideas, experience and people at the chalk-face and in the colleges, and I was glad to see this mentioned in the Green Paper. It could also be considered as a useful means of developing a rational and fair gradation of salaries throughout a normal teaching career. This, in turn, could be used to reverse a very damaging feature of the present system of awarding increases of salary.

What happens at present is that allowances are given for special responsibilities. These special responsibilities are given on promotion to head of department or deputy head, and to those who arrange time-tabling and other responsibilities; and it is, of course, the people who are best at teaching who get the promotion. But in virtually every case the result of promotion is not that they do more teaching, which they are proven to be good at, or exercise wider pastoral care which is their essential function, but that they do less because the responsibilities are almost universally administrative. The allowances, therefore, serve to suck the best teachers away from teaching and, presumably, to leave the less good to take their place.

Indeed, with the growth—in my view, the damaging growth—in the average size of schools, administration is increasingly soaking up valuable men and women whose gift and whose vocation it is to teach, and causing them to spend care and time in occupations for which they have never been trained. It would be interesting to consider, and somebody should consider, the idea of creating a new and very small profession of school administrators and the various roles that such people could play, thus immensely increasing the effectiveness of the trained teaching staff in the classroom, and possibly improving the administration of the schools.

In welcoming the prospective relative increase in available resources, we must be careful to do our sums nationally and not by regions. Migration within the United Kingdom is having a very marked effect upon school populations, such that in some areas there will be a continuing net increase in school rolls reflected by a dramatic fall elsewhere. This is already creating an unfair imbalance in rate support grant provision, particularly between rural and city areas, and my noble friend Lord Belstead will be drawing your Lordships' attention urgently to this later this afternoon. I wish merely to mention that the effects of short-changing an authority are very noticeable in certain specific respects. Any local education authority's budget is, after all, committed in advance as to 90 per cent. of inescapable costs. The only areas for economy are, therefore, equipment, cleaning, maintenance and books.

Enough of your Lordships will have followed the Guardian newspaper for me not to have to go on about the book famine, which I remember was already present when I was teaching in a school, where it appeared that textbooks were expected to last between nine and 12 years in a rough school, which of course they could not do. While I have often said, and still maintain, that you can have an inspiring lesson in a ruin and a disastrous one in a palace, you can go too far in that direction. In many authorities, there are schools where decoration and maintenance are five and even 10 years behind. This produces an environment that is not conducive to good behaviour. How do you persuade children to look after rooms in which the walls are dirty, the paint is peeling, the windows are cracked, and the furniture is rickety? Some authorities are under pressure from both Government and ratepayers to minimise expenditure, and have suffered from thoroughly had architectural advice as well.

I know of one school with 1,500 pupils on the roll which has only five orthodox classrooms, one for every 300 pupils. All the rest of the teaching is done either in social areas that serve also as locker rooms, dining halls or corridors, or in 15 temporary wooden structures of a considerable age which also serve other purposes. In these circumstances, teachers find it impossible to do some of their most valuble work, which is directing, assisting at or joining in their pupils' activities in and out of school hours. I strongly suspect that that authority is in breach of its responsibilities under the 1944 Act, but there has been no general inspection of it for a very long time indeed. My noble friend Lord Belstead will also be speaking about Her Majesty's Inspectorate, and I shall only say at this stage that this kind of circumstance proves the need for their excellent service.

Let us return to considering general principles. Ever since 1965, considera- tion of British education has been overshadowed by the comprehensive battle, in which most of us here have been engaged. I do not wish to reopen it here. I wish to say only three things on the subject. The first is that we ought not, as a result of it, to assume that the two main political Parties must forever be locked in mortal combat over every issue of substantive importance in educational policy.

The second is that the view of my party is that issues of this nature ought to be decided at local authority level and not as a result of Government decree, and it is upon that principle that we shall continue to act. The third is that we have been involved in nearly 14 years of confrontation and uncertainty. In some areas, it continues. Twenty-five local authorities are still in correspondence with the Minister about proposed reorganisation, and the one thing our schools most desperately need now is a period of stability and confidence in which to get on with their job in the newly organised forms in which they find themselves; yet this is precisely what they are to be denied.

The whole system of secondary education is at present under review at the 16-plus, the 18-plus and even the 17-plus levels. At the 16-plus level, the Secretary of State has apparently decided to go ahead with a scheme about which there is still very great uncertainty as to whether it will work. For those of your Lordships who have not had the opportunity to look into it, I ought to explain a little of the scope and complexity of the present system. It results in two kinds of certificate that are at present nationally and, indeed, in some respects internationally, accepted and which consequently are of very great value. This odd situation arose from the bipartite system which was in operation at the time when it was introduced. The most able pupils went to grammar schools, while the less able went to secondary technical and secondary modern schools.

Although there was a variation from region to region, the average level was that 20 per cent. of places were given by grammar schools. Therefore, the General Certificate of Education was aimed at grammar school pupils, amounting to 20 per cent. of the national ability range. The Certificate of Secondary Education was introduced to cater for the next band of ability, from the 80th to the 40th percentile. The two certificates together cater for only 60 per cent. of all pupils. Although the threshold is falling in some subjects, it is none the less generally true to say that 40 per cent.—two out of every five of the entire population of our schools—will never take either examination in most subjects as a result of lack of suitable ability. That important fact is not generally recognised. I wish to return later to a consideration of this lowest band.

The various boards of examination cater for 60 per cent. of our school population. Their task is formidable in both its size and its complexity. To seek to adjust it is no small or light matter. There are 22 CSE boards oriented towards local authorities. Each administers a defined geographical area and caters only for pupils in that area. In 1976, they dealt with over 2,600,000 subject entries, at an average cost each of £2.47 and at a total cost of roughly £6,427,000. The eight GCE boards are university linked and accept candidates from anywhere in the country, and in some cases from abroad as well. In 1976, they dealt with over 3,010,000 subject entries at O-level. The average identifiable cost was £2.34, giving a total turnover of roughly £7,050,000. This, of course, was in addition to nearly 2½ million subject entries at A-level. The grand total of subject entries to all boards at 16-plus was 5,486,571 actual physical examination scripts to be marked and checked. The present set of 16-plus examinations is thus administered by no less than 30 separate bodies which between them control a considerable army of markers, moderators and administrators, and which between them handle an annual turnover of about £13½ million. It is upon that large, complex and sensitive machinery that the Secretary of State is now advancing, with a White Paper in one hand and a spanner in the other.

A desire to do something under the circumstances is understandable. A single certificate graded on a single scale would have a clearer value to all its users—to employers, parents and pupils alike. It would also, on the face of it, spare teachers the sometimes difficult task of advising a pupil upon which syllabus to embark. At first glance, it would do away with a system that results in some schools catering only for CSE, and the system, in many others, where timetabling makes it impossible for a pupil to match a mixture of GCE and CSE courses to his own differing abilities in different subjects. One might also expect some administrative savings from running one system in place of two.

Unfortunately, on closer inspection, most of these advantages prove to be illusory. The actual cash savings to be gained were the subject of part of the report of the Waddell Committee—Cmnd. 7281—commissioned by the Secretary of State to advise her, be it noted, not upon the desirability of this scheme but its feasibility. As regards cost, their answer was very approximate. They said that the change would be somewhere between a saving of £½ million and an increase of £3 million, probably half way between the two. So there is no economic motivation for pressing on with this reform.

Reorganisation of the present apparatus is a formidably difficult task and one which, in a letter from her Department on 9th February, she has delegated to the examination boards themselves. Although it admits, in paragraph 3, that: a major issue yet to be resolved is whether there should be three or four examining authorities in England or Wales", it states, in paragraph 2, that: the intention is that territorial proposals should reach the Secretary of State by 30th April", and the constitutional intentions by 31st July. This, I think, is a profoundly over-optimistic expectation. Very considerable issues are involved.

Because of the pressure of time, I shall not go into the most detailed issues, but not least of the major issues is the question of whether or not universities are to retain a preponderant influence in overseeing the syllabuses and the examinations of the most academically able of our children. GCE boards are university linked. I do not think that they are the proper guardians of the syllabus or the curriculum of nonacademic children. CSE boards have that skill. But these boards are more numerous and they have more customers than the GCE boards. Already they are claiming, in some consortia, to dominate the whole spectrum of ability.

Let me make two things clear. First, we must not allow our educational thinking to be dominated by academic traditions that see no virtue in non-acedamic courses. That way, eventually, our industry perishes. Second, we must not fall into the opposite pit; that is just as deep and dangerous. We must not dilute our academic standards as some sort of genuflection towards the valid principle of the fundamental equality of importance of all individuals. That is at present the greater danger. We have always to steer a course between the two.

If we do not preserve at the centre of our learning the very highest and most exacting standards of logic and objectivity and the ability to arrive with absolute thoroughness at an impartial assessment of the truth in each separate discipline, then we shall have kicked away from beneath us one of the essential props of civilisation. It is the universities that must be the sanctuaries of learning now, as the monasteries were in the dark ages, but I believe that they must have a really effective voice in the matter of the preparation and qualification of their candidates. There has been no central guidance in this matter, and I think that there should have been.

This brings us to the educational implications of the White Paper. To understand them we must look at the Waddell Report. The Waddell Committee was appointed to advise the Secretary of State on the Schools Council's request for a single examination system at 16-plus. It was made necessary as the Secretary of State was not satisfied with the Schools Council's own paper, evidence for which had been furnished by experimental programmes run by various consortia of examination boards in cooperation with the Council for varying periods. I have here a list of the periods, but I shall not read it. I shall merely say that at the one end you have the mathematics candidates who had taken papers for five successive years and that at the other you have the social science and religious studies candidates who had taken papers for two successive years. There are points in between. The committee extended this work for a further year.

A feature of the experiments throughout was a very heavy emphasis upon the search for a viable common examination paper for the whole ability range in each subject. In paragraph 125 of the main report, the committee accepts the fact that many of its working groups had come to the conclusion that it could not be found. They said: After considering the report of our educational study group, we judge that in a number of subjects feasibility depends, on present evidence, upon the use, in various forms and in varying degrees, of alternative examination papers and tests. These alternatives require candidates to make a choice before the examination and in certain cases require preparation for the examination to be undertaken by candidates in separate groups for at least a part of the course". Please note, my Lords, the words "in separate groups". It must therefore be noted at once that neither the Schools Council, nor the Waddell Committee, nor the Secretary of State have managed to wave a magic wand that will eliminate for ever the need for choice by parents, teachers and children of an educational career. Nor have they made mixed ability teaching an effective method of preparation for external examinations.

Another disturbing factor about the whole exercise is the extent to which the enthusiasm of the Secretary of State for introducing the new system is unsupported by the confidence of the Waddell Committee's report on its feasibility and the extent to which even that confidence is unsupported by the reports of its own subject groups to the parent body. I shall take only three short examples because my speech is becoming too long. It must remain doubtful, said the English Study Group, whether a satisfactory common examination can be designed. Only one of the operational joint examinations explored the most likely approach to assessing the response to literature and a common system, that of differentiated papers".

In so far as the other joint examinations included the assessment of literature, they confirm the validity of this approach and offer some useful implications which might be followed up in adopting it. This fact, supported by analogy with other comparable subjects, makes it reasonable to conclude that the techniques of examining English Literature within a common system can be devised. In the case of science, they say: while a common system of examining in biology, chemistry and physics is feasible, differentiated papers will probably be required if the most able pupils are to be given an adequate preparation for A-levels and the less able to be stimulated and enabled to achieve their potential. More development work is urgently needed in these two subjects and should follow these lines".

I shall not extend more than one further illustration: For the reasons given above", says the Modern Languages Committee— the joint examinations do not of themselves justify a statement that feasibility has been proved, except in oral testing. But they do provide sufficient evidence to support the belief that if certain requirements are met a common examining system in modern languages is feasible, but the overall requirement must be that the system should provide adequately for the most able and the least able as well as the middle of the ability range. The joint examinations have shown that a common examination does not satisfy this requirement and would not provide for candidates at either end of the range to show their abilities".

Therefore we are again brought squarely up against the question of standards. I could quote many more passages but I shall refrain. We recognise that there is a case for a single certificate but the fact is that the preparatory work simply has not been done. The Waddell Committee recognised it; the White Paper recognised it. Yet the Secretary of State shows all the signs of being committed to a date to introduce it. 1985 was the Committee's suggestion. That means teaching the syllabus from 1983, and that in turn means that at the very latest the syllabuses must reach the schools in 1982 so that the teachers can learn the stuff themselves. Many would say that 1981 would be a more appropriate date but it is 1980 next year and we have no organisations to begin even to plan the syllabuses and in many subject areas there has not yet been even an attempt to devise suitable papers. That is why I say that the target date set was so optimistic.

I recognise the anxiety of an ageing Government to place monuments upon the road they are travelling before the chisel is knocked out of their hand. But that is no excuse for rushing up a botched-up job. The place of the Secretary of State in our regard as the initiator of this approach to a common system is assured. She does not have to carve her name upon it yet. Let us for goodness' sake get it right before we rush it into concrete form. If target dates are necessary to secure progress, let us have a target date for establishing a direct and overlapping correspondence between O-level and CSE grades. The committees required to do that work will provide a useful increase in experience of co-operation within consortia of boards. The improvement of the certificates will satisfy many users and neither of the existing certificates will have been scrapped before a valid substitute has been found—and that is what worries me.

I can now refer only briefly to a number of very important matters. The first is the curriculum. Your Lordships know our feelings on the preserving of minimal standards of achievement and it seems to me that some form of a core curriculum must be established, at least in the form of a guideline or yardstick. The second is the whole question of the relationship of work at school to work in employment for our non-academic children. I am aware of the work of BEC and TEC but we are lagging far behind other nations in providing the motivations and effectiveness that relevance procures. A child has become a young adult before he leaves school and he must be treated as such. I commend to your Lordships the pioneering work of the City and Guilds of London Institute in this field as well as the researches of the Schools Council.

There is an increasing number of young people leaving school at 17-plus for whom no appropriate examination exists. Had there been time I should have speculated on the effects upon this figure of the job creation programme and wondered whether, if it is as costly as rumour suggests, that money might not have been better spent on keeping children in school and out of the dole queues as well as jobs. The search for a suitable qualification is important and should be encouraged. Some would have it as the first half of an A-level. To them I would simply say that the A-level examinations are designed for the most academic 15 per cent. of all our pupils and they are not the ones we need specially to encourage.

I said earlier that what we need now in education is a period of stability. Yet not only are the 16-plus examinations under the threat of reorganisation but the same may simultaneously be the case of the A-levels. The N and F proposals are too complex for me to go into now. They have the admirable aim of deferring over-specialisation, which I applaud. but it appears to me that the universities are saying that the introduction would mean an extra year on the BA degree which would price them out of the market.

In conclusion, my Lords, let me say that in designing our educational system we are forming the future of our nation. To survive we must be a people who can practise both the highest academic virtues and the highest technical skills and who accord a proper recognition to all the skills throughout the whole range. We must be a people who can assess their own society and modify it and the institutions that control it, in a reasoned and continuing progress into the future. We must be a people who can communicate fluently with each other and the world, and we must be a people for whom moral standards continue to have a real significance in a materialist age. All this, I believe, will not be achieved by central direction, except in so far as that is necessary to ensure minimum standards in the provision of resources and of teaching. That is why my party, while it recognises the need for a core curriculum, for an Inspectorate and for a reassessment of the function of the school as an approach to employment, will never seek to impose upon children a rigid and uniform system of organisation that their parents do not wish them to undergo. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.27 p.m.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, the Government welcome this debate and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing it and for being relatively non-political in his approach. We are much looking forward to the two maiden speeches in the debate, that of the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll.

The subject of the debate is one of the greatest interest to everyone who cares about education. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, is not alone in showing his concern. My Government are very deeply concerned and have translated that concern into action—if I may say so, not previously taken by any other Government. Such actions could have been taken between 1970 and 1974 but they were not. I should like to take a few moments to outline what has been done since we took office.

The first thing to which I want to call attention is the Government's Green Paper Education in Schools, in which the Secretary of State said she would ask local authorities to report on their curricular policies. This was the first occasion since the 1944 Act that any Government had asked questions about the content of education as opposed to the machinery and structure. But in no way are the Government seeking to impose central control over the school curriculum. My right honourable friend made this clear in her circular to local education authorities.

We shall be publishing a report on this exercise during the next few weeks and following it with consultations. The whole purpose of our questions on authorities' curricular policies has been to concentrate attention on the content and quality of education, particularly as regards literacy, numeracy and preparation for working life. Secondly, we have ensured equality of opportunity for all children by the introduction of reorganisation along comprehensive lines for all our secondary schools. Today 83 per cent. of children in maintained schools are being educated in comprehensive schools, and as a result thousands now get the opportunity to take O- and A-level examinations which was rarely available to them under the selective system, and the consequent increase in the number of candidates successful in these examinations is something I shall return to at a later stage.

We broke new ground in establishing a unit for the assessment of performance in 1975 in order to produce effective national monitoring of the school system. Unlike public examinations, which are not taken by all children, or may be taken in only a few subjects, the APU is testing the attainments of all ability levels on a sample basis and over a wide range of the curriculum. This was a new and ambitious initiative. The Opposition talked about it, but it was this Government which brought it into being.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to the importance of the quality of the teaching force: another major change to our credit is the new requirement that every intending teacher beginning a teacher training course must have at least the equivalent of O-level English and mathematics before entering a course. We saw that some two-fifths of non-graduate primary school teachers under 30 have not got O-level in mathematics and decided that this would not do. We recognised the widespread concern over the teaching of mathematics and so we have set up a committee of inquiry under Dr. Cockcroft. The committee has already begun its work of reviewing the teaching of mathematics in schools in England and Wales and is paying particular attention to the main points of concern raised by the Expenditure Committee in their report on the attainments of the school-leaver.

I have mentioned new requirements for entry to teacher training. There are two other initiatives in this field for which my Government are responsible. We are the first Government to introduce crash teacher training courses in shortage subjects— mathematics, the physical sciences and craft, design and technology. A recent survey of the teacher shortage situation undertaken by the Department of Education and Science indicates (although the results have not yet been fully analysed) that the situation is steadily improving.

On induction and in-service training, we are also the first Government to introduce systematic induction arrangements so that LEAs can begin to reduce a first year teacher's workload by 25 per cent. This has been done by allowing resources for 1,700 extra teachers in the 1978/79 rate support grant. By 1981/82 plans provide for a margin of about 17,500 full-time teachers to cover induction and in-service training. All this, at a time of teacher unemployment and falling rolls, has led to a dramatic improvement in the pupil/teacher ratio, with average class sizes in 1978 down to 24.5. Of course, it is true that we still have some classes over the size of 30, but we are leaning as hard as we can on the responsible local authorities —a large number of which are Torycontrolled—to spend their share of the RSG block grant in accordance with Government priorities. That goes for other areas of educational expenditure too: in 1977–78 local authorities spent some £37 million or 3½ per cent. less on non-teaching costs in primary and secondary schools than had been assumed for that year's RSG settlement.

These restrictions particularly affected the provision of books, equipment and other materials, which are of such importance to effective teaching. Here £8 million less than had been assumed was spent. Similarly, expenditure on the salaries of teachers released for in-service training was some £13 million lower than had been assumed, although this shortfall was balanced nationally by the cost to local authorities of employing more than the anticipated number of teachers in the schools. Government efforts to obtain resources for education will not suffice if some local authorities are unwilling to play their part. We can also claim that this Government have presided over a marked decline in teacher wastage, a serious problem when we took office. The annual rate at which teachers have left the profession has declined markedly in recent years, from 10½4 per cent. in 1974–75 to an estimated 6 to 7 per cent. in 1977–78. London figures are even more striking. In Brent in 1973–74 the loss was 32.7 per cent., in 1976–77 14.7 per cent.; in Newham in 1973–74 29.2 per cent., in 1976–77 11.6 per cent.; in ILEA in 1973–74 25.5 per cent., in 1976–77 12.6 per cent. Wastage rates have halved, or even better.

In addition we have paid great attention to the needs of those suffering from educational disadvantage. We have set up within the Department of Education and Science an educational disadvantage unit, and have created a centre for information and advice on educational disadvantage. The Government's policy has been to fight disadvantage wherever it may be, but, through the urban programme and the inner city partnerships, has made increased efforts to strengthen educational provision in inner city areas. We have also improved conditions for the very young by expanding nursery provision, although many local authorities, particularly Tory authorities, have failed to take advantage of the resources we have made available.

My Lords, this is a substantial record. Everything I have quoted is directly related to improving the quality and standard of education. But this is not idle boasting. Noble Lords will be interested to see whether these initiatives have achieved any effects in the short time they have been going. There are certain very encouraging signs, in spite of the rather gloomy comments coming from the other side. In anything as uncertain as education one must not be too positive about anything, but it does appear to be the case that the steps we have been taking are beginning to work. I trust when I have finished speaking the Opposition will agree.

First of all, we have some information about standards in primary schools. As part of their traditional task of monitoring the educational system, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools initiated a national survey of primary education in 1975. This has now secured for us a broad picture of the work of children at primary age. The inspectors' report which has been very widely welcomed was published last September; it is an interesting and detailed document which should be very helpful to teachers and local education authorities. It showed that teachers pay a great deal of attention to teaching children to read, write and do mathematics, despite what is often said about this. The mean score in the reading test given to 11-year-olds was the highest achieved since the test was introduced over 20 years ago.

The inspectors' national secondary survey was launched a little later and has involved visits by Her Majesty's Inspectorate to one in every 10 maintained schools. We shall have to wait for their report until later this year. The survey has concentrated on the fourth and fifth years of secondary education and is concerned mainly with English language, mathematics, science, the pupils' personal and social development and general preparation for adult life. It has examined the contribution to these aspects of education made by all the subjects in the curriculum, as well as the influence of the social, pastoral and academic organisation of the schools. I believe that the outcome of this survey will provide a valuable contribution to our knowledge of seconary education and therefore to consideration of how best to maintain acceptable standards.

Without waiting for the results of the secondary survey, we can look to examination statistics to provide a partial indicator of performance. One must, however, be very careful only to compare like with like. Comparisons are drawn between the achievement of schools in areas with comprehensive schools and others which still have grammar schools. Such information needs to be treated with sensivity, as comparisons almost always offer an over-simplified or distorted picture because they fail to allow for the creaming off of abler pupils from conprehensive schools in some areas, for the often recent date of comprehensive reorganisation and for socio-economic differences between the catchment areas of the schools concerned. The often quoted Manchester/Tameside comparison is an example of over-simplification of the socio-economic factors involved. But in any event the evidence is not all one way, and surveys in some areas show substantial improvement in examination results since comprehensive reorganisation.

Let me quote some examples. An article by the chief education officer of the London Borough of Merton, where the first comprehensive intake entered the school in 1971–it became fully comprehensive in 1976–shows that the rise in the number of O-level grades A to C, the equivalent of a former "pass", is little short of sensational. In 1978 an age group of 2,207 produced 897 such grades in English language. In the days of selection only about 20 per cent. of these pupils would have had the benefit of a grammar school education. Using the same age group as an example, if all 20 per cent. had passed that would have been 441 passes. Even assuming some additional passes by children in the top classes of secondary modern schools and—an even bigger assumption—assuming they had access to an O-level syllabus, this would still fall very far short of the 897 A-C grades in English language at O-level in Merton last year. To take that same example, if 20 per cent. of the 1978 16-plus age group in Merton had been in grammar schools in 1976 and had obtained on average five O-levels at these grades we should expect a total of 2,205; the Merton results were 5,191.

Two other examples are worth quoting. First, a survey by the Hertfordshire education authority last year showed that in Welwyn Garden City, the first area of the county to go fully comprehensive in 1968, O-level passes doubled between that year and 1975, and A-level passes rose by 63 per cent. Secondly, the East Sussex authority last year compared the examina- tion results of their two grammar schools and three secondary modern schools in Hastings against the only four fully-developed comprehensive schools in the county. The comparison favoured the comprehensive schools in almost every respect. For example, over 95 per cent. of the comprehensive school age group took O-level or CSE examinations against 88.5 per cent. from the Hastings schools; 39 per cent. of the comprehensive entrants gained between one and four O-level Grades A, B or C, CSE Grade 1, against 30 per cent. from Hastings. A higher percentage of pupils at the comprehensives stayed on to take A-levels, and a higher proportion of them gained passes than did the candidates from the Hastings schools. I think that these figures speak for themselves. The message they convey is supported by evidence from Leicestershire, which has long had a comprehensive system producing most satisfactory examination results; and from Sheffield, which shows some evidence of improvement in its results since going comprehensive.

My Lords, I have spoken about what the Government have done to find information to help in their future plans, and I have also talked about some of the results which we can already see. As for the public examinations system, my noble friend will deal with that and will answer some of the questions which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised in his opening speech.