HL Deb 02 February 1981 vol 416 cc976-91

7.9 p.m.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on Education in the Community (6th Report, H.L. 41).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first opportunity there has been for the House to have a short discussion on the relationship between the education service and the European Community. It is for that reason that we thought it right to ask the House to note this report. The report itself makes three recommendations from the Community, and these are merely recommendations which can be accepted or rejected by individual nations. They can take any action, or no action. The first concerns the teaching of languages. I think it would not be unkind to the education service in this country to say that, as a means of communication, we are not particularly successful in the teaching of languages, and it is as a means of communication that the recommendation is principally concerned. I studied French for six years but I cannot speak French. I took a degree in Italian but I cannot speak Italian. One of the things that concern me and on which we are anxious to hear the views of the Government is this. Before we entered the Community we recruited about 4,000 French assistants a year. Since we have been in the Community that number seems to have decreased steadily, and I believe last year the number was less than 2,000, which seems to make not much of a contribution to the first of these recommendations. The second recommendation concerns teaching about Europe, and this is rather a difficult concept. I cannot imagine the building of a course on Europe to be embodied in the schools, though it may well be that in every subject in the curriculum there is a European aspect to which reference could be made. Both of these recommendations seem to imply quite major changes in the training of our teachers, and I hope that when the Minister replies when will say whether this problem is being examined in that connection.

To me, a much more important problem is what underlies these recommendations. They have been on the way for six years and the end result, as I say, are recommendations and no more than that. The reason, I gather, is some doubt as to whether education is within the terms of the Treaty of Rome—I gather there is no reference to the education service in the treaty—and that seems to have two fundamental assumptions which I find totally unacceptable. The first is that the education service has no contribution to make to unity. I believe the reluctance to embody it in the Treaty of Rome is due to concern on the part of a great many people lest attempts should be made to harmonise the education services in the nations of Europe. That seems to me to be a fundamental failure to recognise the difference between unity and uniformity, a thing which seems to occur very often in the communications we get from the Community. I cannot imagine that the education service does not have a major contribution to make to unity. It is 50 years since I spent a year in America and I had no doubt then, and I have none now, that the education service made a major contribution to unity in the United States.

The second assumption worries me even more, and that is that the education service is irrelevant to an economic community. I was brought up early on to believe that the quality and standard of education that all the people got in a nation largely conditioned the economic strength and social stability of the nation, and I cannot imagine that education does not have a very great relevance to economic community. The effect of this is important. Last week your Lordships discussed a report on the social fund, from which it emerged clearly that monies from the social fund, particularly concerned with young people, could be used only for training. This seems to establish an utterly false dichotomy between education and training.

It also means in our case that these monies are largely devoted to the Manpower Services Commission. I would say, I hope without being unreasonably critical, that I have the impression that the Manpower Services Commission provides training, on a relatively narrow front in most cases, for jobs about whose existence by the end of the decade I would have some doubt. I have a very strong feeling that the future of our young people will depend on strengthening their education from 16 to 18 to give them a much greater adaptability and a much greater capacity to train and to be retrained for the jobs they will have to undertake in a rapidly developing technological society. It seems, therefore, that it is of great importance to know whether Her Majesty's Government share these views and whether we can bring to the Community a realisation of the relevance and importance of the education service, both to develop unity in the Community and in strengthening the Economic Community as such.

I am conscious that we have only a limited time available. I have not dealt with the third of the recommendations; the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, will, I gather, do that. I only hope that the Government will, in reply, give some assurance that the problem of languages will be tackled with great seriousness, because it is fundamental. The other week I read a cutting from the journal Education of 50 years ago: complaints were being made of our failure in language, and the effect of it in the economic relationship with other countries, and particularly with Europe. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on education in the Community (6th Report, H.L. 41).—(Lord Alexander of Potterhill.)

7.18 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I wish to underline and reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said about the present inadequate approach to education in relation to the Community. When the Treaty of Rome was passed there were perhaps reasons why it was not seen fit that education should be included as a matter for concern within the Community, on the very narrow argument that education was not a matter which directly affected the relative competitiveness of the countries of the Community. Both in relation to the immediate problems which the Community is facing and in relation to the development of the Community as a true community, nothing could be further from the truth than that education is not a matter of central importance in the Community. One very much hopes that Her Majesty's Government will take every opportunity to see that more attention is paid to educational questions, that more ways are found to include them in community affairs, and that there is a right to finances—greatly enhanced finances we hope—to be used in that direction.

In particular, I would draw attention to the fact that one of the Community's major problems at the moment is the restructuring of industry, together with the problem of unemployment, in particular youth unemployment. If those are the major problems which we as a Community face—and I do not think that there is much disagreement that that is so—then the need to harness education, to challenge and to face the problems can hardly be over-stressed. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has referred to the fact that it is very necessary that people should be retrained, that they must have a basis which makes retraining possible. At present this is not the case. A very great many people find it extremely difficult to be trained for the new jobs which are emerging because their educational base is inadequate to handle what is required in the new training.

I admit that I have said this before in your Lordships' House, and no doubt I shall say it again: What we are finding in all the countries of the EEC—and all the forecasts bear this out—is that the future of the really unskilled is very bleak indeed. Unless our educational system is harnessed to make certain that we reduce to the absolute minimum the number of people who are unskilled, then our unemployment problem will become totally insoluble. I believe that it is not insoluble if we approach it properly through education and training, and I believe, too, that we should stop making this totally false distinction between education and training.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, talked about the education service in relation to the 16- to 19-year olds. I should like to go farther and talk about the contribution that education has to make during the years of compulsory schooling, and not only during the period from 16 to 19 years of age, to solving the problems of unemployment. It is in the inadequacy and inappropriateness of the years of compulsory schooling that there is laid so much of the ground work. It is very hard indeed for youngsters to move out of the unskilled category into skilled occupations after leaving school, and it is even more difficult for them to be able to adapt at a later age, because their basic educational foundation is totally inadequate. If we allow that to continue we shall build up the most serious problems for ourselves, and to pretend that education is not relevant to the economic development of the Community, and to a solution of its most immediate problems, is absolutely absurd.

Of course there can be no doubt that in the longer run it will be only through the development of education with the large European component that the Community can come to mean anything more than an arena for horse trading between individual nations —which it is in grave danger of becoming. Some of us still believe that there is a European ideal, that the European ideal is one of the great ideals of the postwar period. But that can be fostered only if there is an adequate educational base. That requires that there should be far better language teaching. It is lamentable in the extreme to see the figures in the report on what language teaching amounts to. How is it possible to build a true Community in which men and women of different countries have a real understanding and sympathy for their fellows in other member states, unless there is a good command of languages and a common educational experience?

I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, is not speaking tonight, but ever since questions of the Community have been debated it has been his constant plea that there should be some equivalent, though on a much larger scale, of the Rhodes Scholar idea. That gave people who came from different countries but who were educated together a real understanding and sympathy one for another, as well as a sense of belonging to something much larger than their own nation state. That is what we are trying to do in the European Community, and I for one most certainly believe that that is what the Community is all about, even though it is said that today that view is old-fashioned. It will be in education, in the teaching of languages, but perhaps even more in common educational experience that the Community will really be built. So, far from questions of education being ultra vires in the Community, surely in spirit they are at its very heart.

7.25 p.m.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, for opening the debate with very wise words, and I should like to say to him that I think we could get on very well with geographical and political history, but when it came to other history it might be slightly difficult, because we all differ rather in our opinions of what has happened in the past. I regret very much a note that I received from the Chief Whip, written, I think, in connection with his opposite number, stating, Shorter Community debates in the dinner hour. I doubt whether this experiment can be repeated if today's debate continues after 8 p.m.". I think that that is very unfortunate—I have told the Chief Whip that I am going to say this—because this is an extremely important debate. It is all right to debate regulations during the dinner hour, but I know that a great many other noble Lords wanted to speak in this debate, but in the circumstances have decided not to do so.

I am particularly interested in the debate because I believe that personal communications are needed far more between ourselves and overseas countries, in particular those in the EEC. One can deal with well-qualified interpreters, but that is never the same thing. Having been on the Council of Europe for seven years, I realise the real need for better understanding between individuals, not just in the council, but in the town where we can speak to one another privately, or at dinner, and so on. That can lead to better understanding.

The question of employment also arises here. I have found that in a great many of the European countries people in business—commercial travellers and others—speak many languages. I believe that we lose quite a lot because we do not consider it necessary to learn many languages in doing our overseas work, in particular in regard to trade.

I have tried to do something practical. Eleven years ago I awarded a prize in Plymouth for schools which entered a yearly competition. Last year 15 schools and 98 pupils competed. I have a letter from the acting Education Officer of Plymouth, in which he states that pupils have been greatly encouraged to learn modern languages and in particular the speaking of them in public. One can learn to write and read a foreign language, but it is quite a different thing to learn to speak it. The competition includes little plays and so on, so that the pupils do learn to speak the foreign languages. One of the prize winners, the daughter of a local councillor, is now an international interpreter, and I think that such instances prove that those courses have been satisfactory. The competition includes French and German open classes, French and German under-16, French and German under-14, and Italian, Spanish and Russian open classes. As I have said, the competition has been going on for 11 years, and I think it really is worthwhile.

I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, on the point regarding exchange teachers. According to the report, there are I think only 300 teachers involved each year, and I think that is very depressing. The report contains no statistics at all on the number of pupil exchanges. Eight countries of the EEC keep such statistics, and figures are also available for Greece, Spain, and Portugal. It appears that 2,961 went along to ordinary courses, not including the English-speaking schools, for which I gather the figure was over 3,000. The only figures we have here, from UNESCO, show that in this connection about 4,000 people come to this country.

So I should like to suggest that if the local authorities cannot afford more exchanges of teachers, cannot afford to pay teachers, they might give individual pupils certain sums of money so that they can go to polytechnics or language schools and thus really have a chance to learn. The reason that I think that this is so terribly important is that if we really want an understanding between people and want to keep peace —which, after all, we all do— we must learn to communicate. So I would ask the noble Baroness who is to reply to this debate to see that this is one of the most important things to take its place in the educational curriculum in the coining years.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Ritchie-Calder

My Lords, I will follow the admirable example of the previous speakers by being very brief, but I am intervening (I am not a member of the sub-committee) because I want to point out that what Lord Alexander of Potterhill has been saying is absolutely crucial. The fact that this might be ultra vires, certainly financially ultra vires, is to me one of the most sardonic comments on the Treaty of Rome. I may tell your Lordships—and I think I have said this in this House in discussions on the Common Market—that my objection to the European Community was that it was the Common Market; that in fact it did not embody the principles that we are discussing now, by which somehow we could move from sheer commercialism to some idea of unity—and Lord Alexander has made the point that I want to stress, that unity does not mean uniformity.

I have just come back from the USSR where I have been visiting, among other things, schools. The very impressive thing in the USSR that we ought to remember, whether or not we think it is a part of a great international conspiracy, is that in every school I visited they had language classes. In fact, in the USSR they have 82 ethnic language groups, all of which have been embodied and represented in their literature and in their communications system. That unity (which, as Lord Alexander was pointing out, happens in the United States, where they have 72 ethnic language groups which they have somehow embodied over the years as the American nation) seems to me to be absolutely crucial. The great thing they have done there is in the development of language laboratories. I went into schools where the children were not only learning English but, for my benefit, were in fact being taught Robert Burns, in the language.

This seems to me to be a lesson which we ought to learn very crucially for Europe, because the one thing that is inescapable is that if there is going to be any consolidation of Europe—and I am not just talking about the Community as we now see it—it must come through education, it must come through understanding. This means that not only have we got to learn how to talk to each other but we have got to learn how to live with each other in terms which, reading this report, are in fact almost excluded from the definition; that is that every one of us is trying to defend our own system, to follow our own educational processes, and so on, which is not the nature of education. Education is not a process. The mechanics of education are something we can cope with: what we really need are the essentials of education—and what Lord Alexander has pointed out is that, not only in Europe but everywhere in the world as it is now, we completely lose our way.

I have pointed out in this House before, and I repeat it now, that education is not training, but training is impossible without education. The example I quote is that once we had radio mechanics with soldering irons who built up birdcages of circuits. There are no radio mechanics any more; they are electronic engineers, and electronic engineers will face a situation (as we are doing in the chip situation today) in which they will not be competent unless they are in fact solid state physicists. What we are talking about is how you broaden the whole basis of education by which people will adapt themselves to having inevitably to change their occupation. That is not training, because you have nothing on which to be trained unless you have got the basic education.

The other thing I would point out is that I gather we are being recommended to take a benevolent attitude to the proposals which we are discussing tonight. I hope we are not introducing another weasel-word. Thirty-five years ago Lord Alexander and I were at the first general conference of UNESCO. He was on the budget commission—he was very good on the budget commission—and I was on the programme commission, and never the twain did meet because we had ideas for which Lord Alexander had to budget, and we never got to a point where the budget could effectively provide for all the brilliant ideas we were producing.

At that conference J. B. Priestley and myself produced two weasel-words—and I have regretted it ever since. We produced the two weasel-words "stimulate" and "facilitate". We said that if we could not get the money now we should at least have the idea on the table, so that UNESCO could perhaps stimulate and facilitate. These have been two disastrous words, because all they mean is that you do nothing at all. It is the excuse for not doing something; and I hope that if tonight we are going to recognise the term "benevolent", we shall not recognise it in those terms, on that basis, but shall in fact do something about it. There is no way in which we can find the answer to this except ultimately in money terms, and I recommend to your Lordships the old saying of a Quaker, who said, "I love my neighbour £10—how much do you love your neighbour?".

7.37 p.m.

Lord Wolfenden

My Lords, I should like, if I may, in a very few words to fill in what Lord Alexander of Potterhill said about the third of the reports that we are considering; that is, the one about the admission to institutions of higher education of students from other member states. Nobody, I think, would deny the desirability of such interchanges. Those of us who were fortunate enough to spend a year or so of our early academic life in a university in another country have never ceased to be grateful for that experience; and I suggest, not altogether flippantly, that student age is likely to be the most appropriate age for this kind of interchange, because at that stage we all of us have ideas, many of them half-baked, which we want to exchange with our contemporaries in other countries before we all settle down to a middle age of orthodoxy and set opinions.

Secondly, on a more practical and utilitarian note, there are opportunities for professional and vocational education in other countries which may not be available in one's own. It is admitted that firm statistics are hard to come by, but the estimated totals of 4,000 British students in Community countries and 6,000 (if I may include Greece) in Britain from other countries seem to me to be a disappointingly low proportion of the Community's total student population. I understand from the press that the number of graduates at the Open University in this country who have been granted their degrees in the past week is 5,000.

I take no partisan view about whether we in the United Kingdom should aspire to be net importers or net exporters in this matter. I simply plead for the maximum use to be made of academic free trade inside the Community. I am not going to enter, either, into the controversy about fees for foreign students, but welcome, as I am sure we all do, the Government's decision in this regard to give to Community students treatment equal to that given to our own.

Thirdly, I would hope that what our own institutions of higher education have to offer will be made widely known in other Community countries. I am presumptuous enough to think that there are areas in which our teaching and research in this country are as good as anywhere in the world. The more students come here from outside to take advantage of these opportunities, the higher our international standing and reputation will be.

There are somethings which we are good at; and the more other people come to recognise that, the better for us as well as for them. I know that there are some practical and formal difficulties about entrance standards and so on, but these are minor problems by comparison with the major advantages for us and for the Community at large which this two-way traffic presents. I hope that these advantages will be seized by Her Majesty's Government, by the universities, by the polytechnics and by all those institutions of higher education which go to make up the splendidly varied spectrum of higher education in Britain.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, the brevity of the speeches we have listened to makes one feel that the arrangements for the discussion of such an important matter need to be looked at in the future. I think that it would be generally agreed in all parts of the House that the debate would have been improved by allowing, certainly the mover, and a number of others, to deploy in their speeches some of these points in much greater detail than they felt they could. We are very indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, for making it possible for us to discuss this important matter, even for such a short time.

Clearly the case for a significant increase in the policy of member states of the Community in the field of multi-language education makes itself. The Select Committee is to be congratulated on an admirable analysis of the position. There are certain suggestions that they have made with which we would all agree and there are one or two matters that we may wish to discuss in more detail. But we would agree that there is a double necessity for a concerted and stronger move by Europe and its member states to develop a multi-language policy.

The necessity is clear. If the Community is to develop into a cohesive confederation on economic lines, its citizens, its business men, its producers, simply must learn much more about each other—their history, their geography, their geology, their industry and languages—than they do now. That is the practical economic case for an expansion of this kind of education. Then there is the equally strong case for an increase in the resources devoted to this policy in that the youth of Europe, who have suffered perhaps more from the difficulties of communication and of mutual understanding in the past century or so than have the youth of any other part of the world, must be allowed to know more about each other, their own traditions, their history and, above all, their languages, than they have so far.

As the report says, we should set before each member-state, each education authority, the minimum objective of teaching to every child from an early age—through the basic and the vocational stages, and, I would say, beyond that—one language at least, and possibly two, other than the mother tongue. We do that in most parts of Wales with, I believe, great benefits to ourselves and to the United Kingdom. The key to it is language. Europe has a common culture based on the Judeo-classical tradition, but superimposed and infused into that are the various cultures which are expressed through the great languages of Europe. In fact, Europe has a two-tier culture. Both tiers must be supported, and this is one of them: the encouragement of national languages as a means not of nationalistic self-praise but of internationalistic communication.

The report stresses that point, but it also draws attention to the weaknesses of the Community itself and of its member states in promoting this essential policy. The mover, rightly, and others, referred to the absurd paucity of resources of manpower, money and material which member states are willing to devote to this business. They are less willing even than they might be because there is no compulsion behind it. They can opt in or opt out as the spirit and the finance moves them in their home Parliaments.

The result is that the draft resolution in 1978 on which the report is based and the evidence taken—and I refer to the resolution of November 1978—proposed an expenditure of £16.2 million over five years—little enough in all conscience for such a purpose, but in the event what is going to happen is that £7.6 million only is to be spent during the next five years. We hope that the Minister will be able to persuade Her Majesty's Government to redouble their efforts in Europe and here, nearer home, greatly to expand this sum. If Europe is to develop into something more than a tight little Zollverein it must expand territorially, commercially and culturally. This is one of the vital fields in which there must be a forward-looking policy and strong support, particularly by this country. The report refers to the aim of language teaching in Europe as being one, not too narrowly concentrated on written forms". This is a matter of opinon, as the mover would agree. I would hazard my own personal opinion that we are in danger in this country, and I believe in other European countries, of so giving ourselves up to chatter that we forget the importance of the printed word. Of course, speech, in the very first instance, is the means of communication: but as it develops it depends upon a steady supply of thoughts made available in print. I hope that when the Select Committee have another look at this—or, indeed, when the House itself has another look at this—they will look more carefully at this sentence in the report.

This applies to industry. Modern industry depends more and more at all technical levels, I am told, on the capacity to read as well as to speak. If one visits some of the great new electronic industries which, despite the recession, are growing in this country—and one is delighted to see them—one appreciates how insistent top management is on the lower technical levels being able to read messages, the teleprinter, the blueprint, as well as to communicate over the telephone, the intercom or whatever. The two things go together. They feed each other both culturally and commercially. Culturally the case need not be made. After all, reading is an expansion of experience. Without it, there is no real culture; and we must see to it that, through their languages, the youth of Europe are able to share with their fellows in other countries the best that is available in the literatures of Europe.

I hasten to my conclusion; it is on the question of language as raised by one or two speakers in this debate. There is a tendency in Europe, in the Community, for member states who ostensibly—and, I am sure, genuinely—are seeking increasing cohesion which will overtake the former excesses and enormities of old-fashioned nationalism, to assert a certain linguistic particularism.

The report refers to the need to pay regard to the less widely used languages. Speaking as a Welshman and as one who practically every day uses one of those less widely used languages, may I utter a note of caution. Parity of esteem for the various languages of Europe and of the world—and there are a great many; my noble friend mentioned 82 ethnic speech forms of a substantial, modern type—is one thing especially within the member states. In the United Kingdom we are well on the road to understanding this. We are doing a slow but good job of giving parity of esteem to Welsh in Wales, where it is spoken and used, while at the same time retaining the essential unity of the United Kingdom. That is one thing. But parity of use in international transactions is quite another.

Those of us—and there are a number present, my noble friend Lady White is one—who have attended international conferences know that unless there is a common sense agreement to limit the languages used to one or two—at the most, three—the result is increasing the hazards of translation and therefore of interpretation and the proliferation of paper. This is becoming increasingly true of the Common Market and its agencies. This is what Members of the European Parliament of every party and country are telling me. There are mountains of paper translation simply because each country insists that its own language shall be given parity of use.

I happen to believe that English has emerged—or, if it has not, it is increasingly emerging—as the de facto international language. That has not affected my knowledge of one or two other languages; indeed, it has helped to see things clearly. I know that there are thousands of other people who are bilingual or trilingual; but it is too much to hope that this will be accepted by everybody. But already the Community comprises 10 very self-conscious European countries. Soon there will be 12 and some of us hope that the 12 will act with other significant countries, possibly in the Maghreb, in the Mediterranean and Near East, which will make Europe a stronger political and economic entity.

What is going to happen? Are we to proliferate that kind of national sureness? That is what it is. Can we not take the lead boldly in the Parliament, in the Council and in COREPER and say, like the United Nations, let us reduce and number of languages used in these transactions to three or perhaps four? Unless we do something of the sort, I fear that while a great deal of talk will go on about education and other matters, very few people will do anything in practice about it.

7.55 pm.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I believe that this is the first occasion in this House in which we have considered any part of the education programme of the European Community and we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, for introducing this short debate this evening. I welcome the opportunity afforded by the report of the committee under the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, to say a few words about it, before turning to some of the specific points raised in the debate.

The education work of the Community began only comparatively recently, It is based on an outline agreed at a ministerial meeting in Brussels in 1976. Although the resolution passed then covers quite a range of fields of education, from higher education to specific areas such as modern language teaching, the programme has developed only slowly and it is very modest in size. It is entirely related to complementing the policies and provision of individual member states, and in no way replacing them by Community policies. The most ambitious part of the programme touches on the work of schools and colleges in helping young people make a successful transition from school to work and adult life, and I hope that on a future occasion, when the projects which the Community is supporting in this field have produced their reports, there may be an opportunity to take note in this House of what has been done.

The proposals we are concerned with today concern the teaching of modern languages, teaching about Europe in schools, and the development of a common approach towards the admission of students from each other's countries to its institutions of higher education. All these texts have been through a lengthy process of amendment, first of all by education advisers from all the member states, to ensure that they were framed in relevant and practical terms as far as the needs of each country were concerned; and, secondly, to enable them to be put forward to Education Ministers in a form which would enable finance from the Community budget to be spent on them.

Disagreements at this second stage prevented their being put forward to Ministers, as had been hoped, in 1978, and meant that when they came forward to Ministers in June 1980 they took the form of a report, instead of separate resolutions. I do not want to take time this evening to go into the reasons for this delay, but I do need to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the underlying problem of finding a secure basis related to the treaty for education co-operation is still not finally solved, and that partly for that reason and partly because of the general pressure on the Community budget, it is very unlikely that there will be finance available this year from the Community to implement the proposals, even though their content was approved by Education Ministers in June.

Nevertheless, it is true that these proposals touch on important aspects of education in Britain today—points that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, raised. It gives me the opportunity to say a few words particularly about modern language teaching and learning, and teaching in our schools about Europe. It is particularly helpful that, in this context, these two aspects of the education process can be naturally and sensibly looked at side by side—though in many cases they are traditionally provided for by different kinds of specialist teacher.

Turning first to modern languages in the curriculum and examinations, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and most noble Lords who took part, expressed concern, shared by many, about the learning of foreign languages in our schools. The facts are as follows: more than 80 per cent. of the pupils in secondary schools now have the opportunity to take up a foreign language: not so many years ago this was an opportunity confined to those in grammar schools and the ablest children only in some secondary modern schools. The best modern language teaching is still very good, and much interesting and promising experimentation has taken place. There is too a growing awareness of the wider issues involved, and a determination to tackle them.

Nonetheless, it would be wrong to underestimate the problems, While very many more pupils now make a start on a foreign language in primary school or in the first years of secondary school than was the case 15 years ago, the proportion—about a third—who continue their study in the fourth and fifth years has hardly increased at all. There is an imbalance—the reverse of the imbalance in science—between the proportion of girls and of boys studying modern languages (about 60 to 40 in the fourth year, about 2 to 1 at A-level). A survey undertaken by the Inspectorate in the mid-1970s in comprehensive schools revealed widespread under-performance by children studying French, and the expansion of language provision has tended to reinforce the dominance of French over other foreign languages.

As the examination system has expended there has been a substantial increase in the numbers with CSE or O-level passes; but the increase in the numbers with higher-grade passes has been much less pronounced in languages than in other subjects, especially in the case of boys. At A-level, the picture is similar: the proportion of pupils with an A-level pass in a foreign language has declined, the decline being more pronounced among boys than among girls.

I can assure noble Lords that the issues raised in this debate are now widely recognised in the education service. They were explored in an HMI discussion paper, Modern Languages in Comprehensive Schools, published in 1977, which, as the replies to my department's curriculum inquiry later that year demonstrated, was the subject of considerable discussion in local authorities and schools. They have recently been drawn to public attention again by a report issued by the Headmasters' Conference. Some of the questions under discussion are necessarily for teachers and linguists themselves to resolve; others are properly a matter of wider national concern. We have had these very much in mind in the context of the Government's consideration of the school curriculum as a whole.

Two factors identified in the Inspectorate's survey as affecting performance in modern languages seem particularly important. The first is motivation. Why are so many of our children disinclined to go in for languages? Why does such a high proportion give up French at the earliest possible moment?

Some of the reasons are external to the education service. It is not simply that our children have less contact with foreign language speakers than the Dutch or the Germans, but also that the habit of language learning is not there, in the home or in society at large. Our television and cinema probably give less opportunity for children to hear a foreign language spoken.

I suspect, too, that children and their parents are influenced by the low priority attached by employers to language as compared to other skills. We need to ask ourselves if industry and commerce provide sufficient incentive for potential recruits to want to acquire a second or third language, and if there is not more scope for language learning combined with business or technical studies. At present, too many of our young people who take a language as far as O-level or CSE, do not continue with it beyond that point. Combined courses would be a valuable way both of retaining the skills acquired at earlier stages and of improving motivation.

It is also true, however, that, in expanding their provision for language teaching, schools have not found it easy to reassess their objectives and the content of their courses to suit the much wider range of abilities among the pupils who now learn French. Children will net be motivated to learn if the material is presented badly or pitched at the wrong level. I do not believe that low motivation is inevitable; the external pressures working against language learning can be overcome. I am encouraged, for example, by the recently published results of research undertaken at York University, funded by the Schools Council, which show a significant increase in the proportion of pupils choosing to carry on with French after the age of 14 among those who had been taught in a less traditional and more practical way.

The other point I want to pick up from the Inspectorate's findings is the question of teachers' expectations of pupils. The Inspectorate found that where teachers revealed, albeit unintentionally, that they had low expectations of their pupils, these were almost invariably fulfilled. In languages, as in other subjects, we must not underestimate what pupils can achieve.

The consultative paper, A Framework for the School Curriculum, issued last January, indicated the importance that the Government attach to modern languages. It suggested that most pupils should continue to have the opportunity to learn another modern European language as part of their secondary education for a minimum of two, and preferably three, years. It also stressed that languages other than French should be made widely available as first languages for some pupils. These suggestions have received a broad measure of support in our consultations on the school curriculum over the last year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, raised a point about the Plymouth schools scheme and I should like to confirm that it is very encouraging to hear about the success of that scheme in Plymouth, for not only does it strengthen the interest of boys and girls in learning a language but it demonstrates their value outside the school in the real adult world. I am delighted that the noble Baroness has now been able to extend the scheme to Spanish and Italian. Initiatives like these—and I am sure there are many others in different parts of the country—where authorities take a positive interest in strengthening foreign language learning, do much to help the schools; and I greatly welcome them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, also suggested that, where a school cannot provide a language, pupils might go to a local college. How far that is generally practicable, particularly if it is a private rather than a local authority college, would be a matter for local circumstances; but the underlying principle that students do not necessarily have to learn all their languages in schools, particularly after 16, is very close to current thinking on the proper use of secondary education facilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, also raised the whole question of assistants and teacher training and supply. I should like to say something of the Government's thinking on that matter. At the present time there is undeniably a shortage of teachers of French and German, though this is numerically less serious than the shortages in mathematics, the sciences and craft, design and technology. There were 266 unfilled vacancies in French last year compared with 174 a year earlier. In German the shortfall was 30 in 1979 and 58 in 1980. But I am happy to be able to tell the House that, with the increase in the number of modern language graduates taking the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (which is the main source of supply to the schools) this year and the further rise in applications for 1981–82, we expect that the supply of teachers of French and German will be more than adequate in a year or so to meet local education authorities' needs.

A point was raised about communication competence and the needs of business and industry, and there is no doubt that the skills required by industry and commerce, and indeed in everyday life, are the skills of communication, and I agree with noble Lords who have emphasised this point.

We must be careful, however, about placing on schools the sole responsibility for developing language skills. To take one example, the languages international commerce needs are always changing. It may be Arabic now, perhaps Spanish or Chinese in a year or two. The schools cannot be expected to be more successful in anticipating demand than the rest of society. They can, however, introduce children in a practical way to the habits and skills of language learning, so that they can develop the confidence to take on a second foreign language at a later stage. To this end of language training in schools, the Government consider generally that assistants make a useful contribution to school language teaching. Much depends on the way the assistant is used by the school, and more needs to be done to ensure that we get the best value from the assistants that we have. The number of assistants in the United Kingdom has declined in the past few years. The peak year was 1975–6, when there were as many as 4,400. This year there are 3,000 which is a small fall in relation to the year before, when there were 3,300.

The Government have been considering what steps they can take to prevent numbers falling further. However, so long as responsibility remains in local authority hands as to whether or not to employ assistants, there will continue to be a risk that numbers will fall in times when cuts in public expenditure have to be made. The danger is that this may lead to retaliation by countries who now offer places to our students in cutting down the places they make available to us. So far this has not happened, and I am happy to say that the French Government agreed very recently to provide us with another 240 places a year, in addition to the 1,450 that they already provide, by stages between 1981–82 and 1983–4. We have also obtained 80 more places in the Federal Republic of Germany in recent years and Italy, over the next two years, has promised to double to 80 the number of places it provides.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, drew attention to the great importance of training teachers in the right methods and in providing courses. So far as initial training is concerned, we have to recognise that teaching the skills necessary to achieve communicative competence is not easy, and that the good principles advocated by teacher trainers during the short one-year postgraduate certificate of education course do not always survive daily life in school. This makes it the more important to ensure that well-organised courses of in-service training are available, and stresses the importance of ensuring that public examination syllabuses give due weight to the importance of understanding and speaking the language, so that teachers have an incentive to teach towards that objective. Teacher exchanges and in-service language courses held abroad are, therefore, of the highest importance.

The Community's proposals include help to countries to increase the number of teacher exchanges. At present, we in the United Kingdom are investing about £330,000 a year in the support of teacher exchanges with Europe, and the Community's proposals would enable this to go up by a small amount—say, £50,000. This would allow our present programme in Europe—which is altogether about 350 "terms of exchange" each year, and will be nearer 400 next year—to rise to, say, 450, if the Community has finance for its proposals in 1982.

The United Kingdom has always recognised the value of exchanges for teachers as part of their in-service training, When the present exchange schemes with European countries began in 1972, some funds were set aside to make sure that the teachers were well prepared for their visit, and discussed what they had seen and done on their return. I am glad to say that, recently, Germany and France have introduced similar arrangements.

In the past two years, my department has introduced new variations of exchanges and courses to widen their attractiveness to teachers so that more can take part. Exchanges for half a term with France were introduced in the spring of last year and are expected to quadruple in number in the next 12 months. In the summer of this year a new programme of short in-service courses for teachers of modern language will be introduced. They will provide about 180 extra places and will more than double the existing provision by central government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, raised an important point about expenditure on education. I should like to say that expenditure on education co-operation from the European Community budget totalled £4 million in 1980, mostly in grants to member states. Expenditure from the Social Fund was enormously greater. In the United Kingdom alone, it amounted to £135 million, which was 22 per cent. of the fund, and 58.5 per cent. of that went to the youth opportunities programme.

In conclusion, may I say that I very much understand and appreciate the European dimension and the European ideal, which has run as a theme through our discussions. Traditionally, learning about Europe has been the responsibility of history and geography teachers, but, as the United Kingdom grows more closely linked with the rest of Europe, there is a need to look carefully at whether these traditional arrangements are good enough. But it is for school departments, schools and local education authorities to do this, and it is not for central Government to lay down a set syllabus.

Finally, I should very much like to endorse the views of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, on the free trade in students between the European Community countries. The Government's acceptance of European Community students as home students for tuition-free purposes was directly aimed at helping such traffic and trade. Direct schemes of co-operation between the institutions of different European Community countries for running joint courses are another important contribution to this movement, and I am glad that these are growing steadily. The United Kingdom universities and other higher education institutions have received 198 grants altogether from the European Community in the past five years for developing such courses—far more than any other country—and this year we took 33 of the 132 available. This reflects, in the Government's view, a good and healthy interest by our university and polytechnic teachers in promoting links and mobility of students in Europe.

8.14 p.m.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

My Lords, I am most grateful to those who have taken part in this short debate, and I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the reply which she has made in considerable detail. I venture to hope that there may be an opportunity at some time when these matters can be discussed at greater length. I suggest, therefore, that when the report becomes available on the projects that arc taking place relating to the 16 to 18 year-olds from the Community, if this is brought before the House we should have an opportunity to discuss it at greater length. I am most grateful for the support which I have received.

On Question, Motion agreed to.