HL Deb 06 December 1983 vol 445 cc992-5

2.52 p.m.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the number and level of qualifications that the average British school-leaver attains at the age of 15–16 years.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, information is not available in precisely the form requested. However, a Grade 4 in the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) is reckoned to indicate the standard of attainment of pupils of average ability for the 16 year-old age group as a whole. In the summer of 1982. 47 per cent. of minimum age school-leavers in England and Wales obtained between 1 and 4 CSE certificates in the range of grades 2 to 5, within which grade 4 falls. A further 37 per cent. obtained at least one certificate at CSE Grade 1 or 0-level AC, and 15 per cent. left school with no examination certificates at all.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that wealth of information. Has he any information in addition to that on the plans for continual assessment in schools, as compared to having to sit exams? I ask this question as one who in his schooldays never seemed able to do himself justice in an exam. Can my noble friend also say whether the two schemes of continual assessment and exams, as they are now, could possibly he combined?

The Earl of Swinton

Yes, my Lords. My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales are taking a full part in a national exercise to review the content of syllabuses and the procedures for assessment in examinations at 16-plus, and the Government have announced their intention of encouraging the development of records of achievement for all school-leavers. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has published a draft policy statement on this matter and comments have been invited by the end of February next year. A copy of this document has been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. Once the consultative process has been completed, we hope to waste no time in taking matters further.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether there is any curriculum at present in our schools which covers the study of public affairs and business, with an emphasis on the qualities which might be considered necessary for good leadership?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think that that is a slightly different question. But I know that my right honourable friend is very concerned that more in the nature of practical studies, and studies of the way to carry on in a practical world, should be considered in the curriculum of our schools.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl when he expects that Her Majesty's Government will be able to report on the latest report of HM Inspectors on education? Also, can he comment on some rumours that that report is being withheld because of its very favourable replies to some questions on comprehensive schools?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think that that is very wide of the question and I am afraid that I have no knowledge of the report to which the noble Lord is referring.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he has given a great deal of attention to the curriculum of the 15 per cent. of pupils who are not attaining any qualifications when they leave? Will the narrowness of the curriculum be widened, so that there are more opportunities for these young people?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am not sure about the curriculum, but I can assure the noble Baroness that one of the ideas behind continuous assessment is that, when pupils do not attain any sort of qualification, their progress through school will be considered, and any achievements—though not necessarily in the academic stream—will be put in these reports and will provide something for when they leave school.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether, in so far as information is available—and I emphasise that, because he may know more about it than I do—it is a fact that those children whose parents are financially able to provide the highest form of education are more qualified when they leave off education than those whose parents are unable to provide their education, and who depend on comprehensive schools and so on?

The Earl of Swinton

Again, my Lords, I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that that is well wide of the original Question. The Question is about the average school-leaver, not about those who go on to further education. That is a very different question altogether.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, if the noble Earl the Minister is unaware of the inspectors' report, to which my noble friend Lord Stallard referred a moment or two ago, will he give an undertaking to find out about it and to write to my noble friend with the result of his inquiries?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, of course I will give that undertaking.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can tell us if there are any regional variations in the statistics which he has given to us. Is the Department of Education and Science aware of the reasons behind those differences—if there are such differences—and are any steps being taken to help those regions which may have a lower than average attainment ability?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I do not know of such statistics, but I shall certainly look into that and let the noble Baroness know.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask my noble kinsman the Minister whether some educational boards are more sympathetic than others to those children taking examinations who have problems such as dyslexia and other handicaps?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, GCE and CSE boards alike have general policies for dealing with requests for special treatment for handicapped candidates. Their guiding principle is that the needs of the individual must he taken into account in each case. So far as special arrangements are concerned for candidates who suffer from such things as dyslexia, deafness or blindness, this will depend to some extent on the board concerned and the subject being examined. Some examples of special arrangements include the use of an amanuensis, a typewriter, braille tests, reading aloud in tests for lip reading and provision of extra time to complete papers.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, of the whole 18 year-old age group in this country, only 13 per cent. go on from secondary schools to higher education and that this figure is the lowest in the Western world? In view of this, do not the proposals announced by the Chancellor in his miniBudget—for example, to halve the basic grant and to increase the assumed parental contribution for middle-income parents—provide road blocks across the broad highway that there used to be from primary school to university, and ought not the Government to be ashamed of themselves for introducing proposals like these?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I repeat that this is a question about 15 and 16 year-olds, and I think that the noble Lord's question is very wide of what is on the Order Paper.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in view of the very high level of divorce and of child abuse, it would be right to include a course on parenthood within the curriculum, and that this is a qualification which is very necessary for children coming out of school?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, that is a very interesting point, which I shall bring to the attention of my right honourable friend.

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