HL Deb 12 April 1983 vol 441 cc110-5

3.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about Secondary Education in Scotland.

"One of my main concerns since coming into office has been to advance a development programme designed to introduce radical new arrangments for the curriculum and assessment of all 14-to-16-year olds at school in Scotland, building on the recommendations of the Munn and Dunning Reports published in 1977. I gave full details of our programme in response to my honourable friend the Member for Argyll on 31st March 1980.

"I am glad to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the sterling efforts of all those who have taken on the burden of the development work since then and who have insured the success of the programme. The results of their work were fully reported in the consultative paper, The Munn and Dunning Reports: Framework for Decision, which I published in September last year. I received several hundred comments upon that paper and I am very grateful for the time and thought which was put into them. The respondents overwhelmingly supported the principle of the introduction of the arrangements proposed in the paper. I have considered their comments and I have decided to implement the new system along the following lines.

"I believe that the eight modes of study proposed by the Munn Committee provide a curriculum framework which all schools should adopt, taking account of the particular needs of each school and its pupils. Within this framework, all pupils should study English, Mathematics and Science, and there will be considerable scope for pupil choice of other subjects. I accept the Dunning Committee's proposal for one certificate for all pupils based on the three levels of syllabus of Foundation, General and Credit. Pupils will be assessed against performance standards related to the syllabuses they are studying. Practical skills will be assessed internally at all levels where appropriate and internal assessment will also be used for other aspects of the syllabus of the new Foundation level courses. In the light of further experience of the use of internal assessment for certificate purposes, I shall at a later date review the place of internal assessment in relation to all three syllabus levels. My aim in any such review will be to maintain, and, indeed, raise, standards at all levels.

"My consultative paper last autumn set out a 4-year implementation programme covering most of the subjects in the school curriculum. Several respondents commented that this was too slow. In view of this evident enthusiasm to proceed more quickly and in order to minimise the transitional period, I have therefore decided to implement the new system in three years rather than four. This will be done by bringing into the third year of the programme all those subjects originally planned for the fourth. In addition to these changes, I have decided to introduce German at all three syllabus levels and to introduce Italian, Russian and Spanish at General and Credit levels in the third year.

"One important aspect of implementation is the resources available to support the programme. In the consultative paper, we stated that the implementation programme and other priority calls on staffing could be carried out with overall national staffing about 4 per cent. to 5 per cent. over the basic levels set out in what is familiarly known as the "Red Book". I remain of the view that staffing at about this level will be sufficient once the implementation programme has been completed. Nevertheless, I recognise that there will be an extra burden upon teachers during the transitional period, particularly now that we have speeded up the programme. I intend, therefore, to provide for staffing about 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. over "Red Book" levels, excluding the probationer allowance during the implementation period. I shall also be willing to consider applications by education authorities for reductions in the secondary school year for in-service training and syllabus development related to implementation. We will continue to support the programme through secondments of development officers, which have been very successful in previous work.

"The comments I received from bodies representing parents emphasised the need to ensure that parents fully understand and are fully consulted about the new arrangements. I appreciate the anxieties which parents will have, particularly if their children are in the third and fourth years of secondary education during the implementation period. The new arrangements will be widely publicised and explained to parents, children and employers.

"Details of our plans are set out in a circular which my department is sending to education authorities today, copies of which have been placed in the Library. I hope to make further announcements in the course of the summer.

"The Munn and Dunning Committees recommended major changes in secondary education. Our plans offer all pupils for the first time a common curriculum structure and courses suitable for all levels of ability leading to a single certificate for all. The implementation programme is a major undertaking and I do not underestimate the heavy burden of work still to be done, but I am confident from the comments I have received that all involved are anxious to set about the task and will ensure that it will succeed. Together with the programme recently announced in 16–18s in Scotland: An Action Plan, this reform will bring about major improvements in the education of all young people in Scotland."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place.

May I say that I, too, join with him in paying tribute to those who have borne the burden of preparing for this programme. I think it is a bit too early to talk about the success of this programme. There are many people who are very sceptical about this very important change in secondary education in Scotland. I am concerned because I have parental concerns with both reports, the Munn Report and the Dunning Report. The aim and concern was to get a much more relevant education in the 14-to-16-year group. There was concern—and I have always appreciated that there may have been concern by the party opposite when they raced into raising the school-leaving age when they had not adequately prepared for it.

The first thing I want to mention is that since 1977, when we got these reports, there has been a considerable change in respect of the outlook for young people in the wider world. One of the facts that we were worried about before 1977 was the relevance of the school curriculum and the educational system to the after-work scene. I wonder whether it is advisable to curtail the interim period and, it may be, do something that in retrospect might not be wise. The Minister refers to the three levels of syllabus; Foundation, General and Credit. Does he mean a single syllabus with three separate levels; or does he mean three separate syllabuses within the same subjects related to assessed levels? There are many people in Scotland concerned about a tripartite system of education and opposed to it. I think we want some guidance on that.

The Secretary of State has not made up his mind about everything yet. It is interesting that in 1980 the Secretary of State was complaining about the leisurely and hesitant approach of his predecessor. It has taken him three years to get to this point, and he is still hesitating about internal assessment. I do not blame him because it is a very complex business of changing from an accepted structure of secondary education and examination to yet another one. I must ask him this. In the Statement the Secretary of State says that several respondents commented that this was too slow—that is, the four-year introduction. Who were these "several respondents" to whom he listened? Was the Educational Institute of Scotland, the major professional organisation in Scotland, one of the respondents? I would be surprised if it were.

Also, in this foreshortened programme of implementation, will the noble Earl now outline exactly what the timetable is? According to my recollection, this is really the middle of summer in Scotland, because that is when the decision of the Secretary of State was to come—that is, summer 1983. Or are we seeing a clearing of the decks for some other important thing that may happen in the early summer? I could understand it if the Minister were to tell me that a circular is coming out and I shall see that. I think that to understand it all we would require to see that circular.

The consideration of these two reports and of the important implications for resources has always been overshadowed by the Government's overall policy of cuts in education. The Secretary of State said that in an earlier report; and now he tells us he is placing a heavier burden upon the administration, upon teachers and upon parents, too, in respect of this. He says: "I am bending to the recognition of that, and I am going from 4 per cent. to 5 per cent. and from 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. over the Red Book". Is he aware that the staffing of secondary schools at the present time is already 5.8 per cent? Therefore, in promising that he is going to do this extra, he is really promising nothing at all. Can he tell us in terms of money what it really means—or am I right in thinking that it has to be done on existing resources? If so, this is going to be a very insubstantial Statement indeed.

Lastly, it is said that arrangements will be widely publicised and explained to parents and children. It is going to be a very difficult period for children, and for the parents of those children concerned about their education, to have a shift in the middle of it, in the third and fourth year of secondary education. We take these matters seriously in Scotland. Who is going to be explaining to the parents? It is not enough just to put an advertisement in a local paper or for a headmaster to announce this at assembly. Is it to be done by the teachers? Is this another burden to be placed upon them? If so, it is going to be pretty unfair. Has this been discussed with COSLA or EIS, or with the teachers' organisations in Scotland?

The Minister says: I do not under-estimate the heavy burden of the work still to be done". There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, and that is why I am concerned about the foreshortening of the period. We appreciate that most of the work was done by the Central Council for the Curriculum in Scotland, and at the time they were considering this they had a visit from Sir Derek Rayner. He invited them to reorganise and cut expenses, and the rest of it. I can appreciate the difficulties in respect of the burden of work. Is the Minister satisfied that all the work that could have been done has been done in coming to this decision? I, too, hope that it will work, because it is very important from the point of view of secondary education in Scotland.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, from these Benches we, too, should like to welcome the repeating of the Statement by the noble Minister, and to welcome also the implementation of these reports. It is a fact that in Scotland we have perhaps relied too much on our ancient reputation in higher education, and perhaps we may have fallen behind a bit. Certainly it is absolutely scandalous to see the numbers of young people who leave school without any certificate whatever.

This new development is very welcome, and we hope and trust that the work will be done in the three years. But there are a number of things about which I should like to ask. First, in view of the excellent spread of subjects—German, Italian, Russian and Spanish at general and credit levels being introduced in the third year—is the noble Earl sure that this will be introduced into the smaller country schools as well as in those of the larger education authorities, where there are larger schools and perhaps they are able to staff them more easily? Will he be willing, if necessary, to extend the use of part-time teachers who can be of enormous value in this situation?

The thing that is really "bugging" me (if I may use the word) is the question of money, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ross. Have the authorities who have been consulted agreed that they can do it with 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. above the Red Book levels? Is he going to provide the money? And, as regards Strathclyde, which I understand are well behind Lothian in staffing and everything else, do they agree that it can be done in three years instead of four? These are very important questions, but the question of the cash being provided is the most important one because this immense widening of the curriculum cannot possibly be done with a cheeseparing programme. I should like the noble Earl's assurance that the authorities are satisfied that the money forthcoming from the Government will be sufficient. I hope that it works, but it will not work if the Government try to cheesepare.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I should like to thank both noble Lords for their reaction to this Statement by my right honourable friend, and particularly, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, because of his immense professional expertise in this field before he took to politics. The noble Lord asked me a number of questions. The first detailed question was about the three levels. As he will know, we are imposing a three-level system. That means there will be three separate syllabuses for each subject, and they will overlap. The reason for that is to enable movement between levels. I know that fears have been expressed that this system might lead to a form of divisiveness; but it has been designed to avoid that, because pupils will be able to transfer between levels as their performance merits. This means that in the case of one subject a pupil might well be at one level and in the case of another subject he or she might be at a quite different level. So I do not think that this will lead to divisiveness, as has been feared.

The second of the noble Lord's questions—and this was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—was about the speed of the programme. In fact, in the main, the respondents to my right honourable friend wanted a speed-up. There were a number of major bodies. But I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, that the EIS wanted a two-year programme. So that was their reaction at that time. The noble Lord also asked about the timetable. As was mentioned in the Statement, a copy of the circular will be placed in the Library. Perhaps I may just say this to the noble Lord. The first subjects start in 1984. The majority will be in by 1986.

Both noble Lords turned to staffing levels. As was said, a number of education authorities have been employing more teachers than the Government think they need. Our planned increase in provision during the implementation period will, I think, tend to narrow the gap. But those authorities which have been over-generous in their staffing levels can reduce them, and still will be able to implement the new arrangements. They will, in effect, have to deploy their staff more efficiently and eliminate small teaching groups and unnecessarily wide curriculum choice.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that this does not represent, as it were, something which should give rise to exceptional difficulty for rural schools. It is doing what many of these schools already do, but doing it better and in a way which will be much more advantageous to the pupils involved. Of course, there will have to be consultation as between the parents of the children and the schools, but it will really be up to both the schools and the education authorities to present the picture, as it were, to parents in a way that they can appreciate and thereafter make their choices and decisions. My department will consult with the education authorities about it. I agree with noble Lords that it is something about which there will need to be quite a lot of co-operation.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, can the Minister tell me who is doing the explaining? Also, will he further elucidate whether the syllabuses will be internal or external ones?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I tried to explain to the noble Lord that, so far as the explanations are concerned, there will be a circular from my department. Thereafter, it will be up to the schools, the teachers within them and the education authorities to make these explanations. Of course, the school teachers will have a key part to play in this matter, and it is partly for that reason that there may be facilities for the reduction of a school year in certain instances while these arrangements are being phased in.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, may I ask the Minister: since when have authorities or schools engaged more teachers than were necessary? Surely, this is a completely new concept, a new idea, as a result of this Government.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am not sure that I understand the noble Baroness. There have for many years now been falling school rolls in Scotland, and the levels of teachers which are desirable in any particular instance must reflect the number of children in their area seeking education.

Baroness Stewart of Alvechurch

My Lords, in view of the fact that the last paper issued by the Department of Education cost £3.40, may I ask whether parents, pupils and teachers will be able to obtain reports from the department without having to pay for them?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, this is a Scottish Office matter, but I will translate it, so to speak, into the Scottish dimension and write to the noble Baroness.