HL Deb 14 March 1985 vol 461 cc249-56

4.28 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on ethnic minority pupils which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Statement is as follows:

"I wish to make a Statement about the final report, published today, of the Committee of Inquiry into the education of children from ethnic minority groups. Also published today is a guide to the main issues in the report written at my invitation by the chairman, Lord Swann, which I am arranging to be sent to all schools. Copies of both documents are available in the Vote Office.

"The Government are profoundly grateful to the chairman and members of the committee for their long and dedicated labours on an issue of crucial importance. We believe that we have a duty to the House, to the ethnic minorities, and to the nation as a whole, to declare immediately where we stand on this issue.

"The Government accept the committee's finding that many ethnic minority pupils are achieving below their potential and recognise the concern that is felt about this among their parents. We shall strive to improve the position through three broad lines of policy.

"First, under-achievement is not confined to the ethnic minorities. Many in the majority community could be doing far better, and I am determined that they, too, should be helped, wherever they are at school. As the House knows, our policies for schools are designed to raise the performance of all pupils and to tackle the obstacles to higher achievement which are common to all. These policies apply to all pupils irrespective of ethnic origin. As they bear fruit, ethnic minority pupils will share in the benefit.

"Secondly, we are determined to give ethnic minority pupils the same opportunity as all others to profit from what the schools can offer them. We are tackling the obstacles to opportunity, notably by promoting good practice in the teaching of English as a second language.

"Thirdly, we want the schools to preserve and transmit our national values in a way which accepts Britain's ethnic diversity and promotes tolerance and racial harmony. Whether or not a school contains ethnic minority pupils, its ethos and curriculum should promote understanding and respect among all its pupils for the different ethnic groups who now contribute to our national life.

"These three lines of policy are being supported by a number of measures. I have referred to the steps the Government are taking to raise pupil achievement generally. The need to take account of the ethnic diversity of our society has been written into the new criteria which will govern initial teacher training and the GCSE examinations, and will be incorporated in the objectives for the relevant subject areas of the school curriculum which we are formulating in co-operation with the education service. The same need lies at the heart of a group of projects, totalling some £1 million in 1985–86, which will be supported through the new education support grant scheme, and of some urban programme projects. I shall propose to the local authority associations that from 1986–87 onwards the in-service training grant scheme should include training dealing with the need to respond to ethnic diversity. Meanwhile, in English language and mother-tongue teaching the good practice endorsed by the committee will continue to be encouraged and disseminated by Her Majesty's Inspectorate and supported by grants made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary under Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. These measures are essentially designed to change attitudes; they will not entail an increase in local authority expenditure as a whole.

"Policy for the good education of ethnic minority pupils needs information which is adequate to measure and secure progress. Some local authorities already collect information on pupils on an ethnic basis. As the committee's Interim Report recommended, I have been exploring with the education service and the ethnic minorities the collection of ethnically based statistics on school pupils. There are legitimate concerns and practical difficulties. I hope soon, however, that this work will come to a successful conclusion so that all local authorities can operate acceptable and mutually compatible schemes which respect confidentiality. The committee recommended that, without positive discrimination and without any reduction in the required level of qualification, an increase in the proportion of ethnic minority teachers should be sought. The Government accept this recommendation. I intend to consider with the education service and the ethnic minorities how it might best be pursued. I shall consult about the possibility of establishing acceptable arrangements for the collection of statistics on ethnic minority teachers and students in teacher training as the committee also recommends.

"We badly need more hard information about the effect on achievement of factors in and out of school. I intend to commission research which will look at these factors, and at the extent to which they contribute to under-achievement among pupils of all backgrounds; ethnic minority pupils would be one part of such a study.

"The report contains many detailed recommendations which I will consider in consultation with those concerned in the education service and outside it. I shall also consider what might be done in these matters in further education, which was outside the committee's remit. But to forestall unfounded fears or hopes the Government wish to make clear that they cannot accept four recommendations in the report. We do not intend to change the present statutory requirements for daily collective worship and for religious education in maintained schools. Nor do we wish in any way to call in question the present dual system of county and voluntary schools. It remains our policy not to extend mandatory student awards to any form of study which precedes higher education. And we see no immediate prospect of legislation to amend Section 11 of the 1966 Act.

"These four matters are not at the heart of this issue. It is the policies and practical actions which I have outlined that offer the best prospect of mobilising the combined efforts of the education service to the vital, but difficult, task of reducing under-achievement at school and promoting good education in our multi-ethnic society".

My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.

4.34 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. Of course, we welcome the report for which we have been waiting a long time, since it is four years since the Rampton interim report was published. We appreciate that it is not at all an easy task that the committee has had and I should like to congratulate them on the work they have done and on their stamina; and I think that we, too, are going to need some stamina to ready the report, which I understand is 840 pages long. I was pleased to read in the sixth paragraph of the Statement—and I quote: Whether or not a school contains ethnic minority pupils, its ethos and curriculum should promote understanding and respect among all its pupils for the different ethnic groups who now contribute to our national life". A change of attitudes is all-important and it is important among the white pupils and the white teachers, too.

Education for all is what the report is asking for, I understand, and there is anxiety to get all pupils to their full potential; but it needs extra help and effort for the ethnic minority children to realise their full potential. Is the extra help, effort and finance going to be put into it? I am not clear from the Statement that there is this commitment. Does the Minister agree that the under-achievement of West Indian and Asian children is related to a number of factors, but particularly socio-economic factors, bad housing and unemployment being the main ones? These must be tackled if the Government are serious in facing up to the problem, and that again means providing enough resources. Is there a commitment to this?

I am glad to hear that initial teacher training will take account of the ethnic diversity of our society. This is overdue and, again, enough action has not been taken since the Rampton Committee recommended the same thing four years ago. In-service training is very important and that is mentioned in the seventh paragraph of the Statement where the education support grant scheme is referred to. But I question whether grants under that scheme will be adequate for the amount of in-service training necessary.

I am surprised that there is nothing in the Statement on pre-school education. This is vital for the ethnic minority children and particularly those whose first language is not English. Again, an increase was recommended by Rampton. The reference to Section 11 may be intended to cover this, but I ask the Minister what are the Government's intentions for the education of the under-fives of this group? It is satisfactory that there is to be monitoring and research. Will that cover school-leavers and the jobs they go into as well as success or the reverse at school? And will it also cover ESN schools where it has been suggested that a number of West Indian and Asian pupils, too, arrive when they really should not be there at all.

I am sorry that one recommendation is not to be followed, which is that mandatory awards should not be extended to any form of study which precedes higher education. The need to encourage this group of children to go into further education is all-important and they are not very likely to do it unless they have some financial help.

My final comment is this. I find the Statement bland. The need for further action does not seem to be felt. I believe that the situation calls for very special action. "As [our policies] bear fruit," the Statement says, "ethnic minorities will share in the benefit". If something much more positive is not to be the attitude of the Government, the pace of change and improvement will be very slow indeed, and that does not bode well for our multi-cultural society.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we, too, are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swann, and his committee for the hard work that they have put in over such a long time in producing this voluminous report, which obviously we shall have to study in detail before we make any conclusive remarks about it? Meanwhile, might I ask the noble Earl whether he would agree that the question of underachievement is an immensely complex one and requires a full-scale debate in itself, but that the committee were right when they pointed out that for schools to allow racist attitudes to persist unchecked constitutes a fundamental miseducation for their pupils, and that this must be dealt with as a matter of high priority by the education authorities in this country?

Is the noble Lord aware that we are rather disappointed by some of the specific comments he made? In particular (as is the noble Baroness) we are disappointed that the Government's policy continues to exclude extending mandatory student awards for any form of study which precedes higher education. Is this not contrary to the Government's policy of trying to encourage more ethnic minority teachers to be found? Would not the provision of mandatory awards for forms of study which precede higher education enable some ethnic minority pupils to undertake courses of study which would lead to qualification as teachers and thereby assist the Government in achieving the objective they have set themselves?

Am I not right in recalling that in fact the Government accepted the Rampton recommendation on the increase in the number of teachers from the ethnic minorities? Why is it only now that the Government are considering how that objective is to be achieved? What in fact have they been doing since Rampton to increase the number of ethnic minority teachers in our schools?

Finally, may I ask regarding daily collective worship and religious education why they have rejected the recommendations of the Swann Committee, without giving any explanation at all? Why have they not decided that, in the context of a multi-religious and a multi-ethnic society, some changes in the 1944 Education Act might be appropriate, after 41 years?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, and to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for their reactions to this Statement. I am also delighted that they both paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Swann, and members of his committee, for the work which they have done on this report.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked a number of questions, as did the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the under-achievement. This is a very difficult question to answer, as I think the report states. Not all ethnic minority groups are in fact under-achieving. Some children from all ethnic groups are doing very well indeed and some are doing badly. The average performance varies from one ethnic group to another, but it is clear that many are falling below their potential. West Indian and Bangladeshi children, for example, tend to achieve at lower levels. Asian children, on the whole, on the other hand, are achieving at comparable levels to their white contemporaries in all subjects except English; but these are averages. As the report itself says on pages 59 and 60, some West Indian children do very well indeed and not all these are from middle-class homes. We shall obviously want to discover more about the reasons for these variations.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked a number of questions on matters which do not appear in the Statement but which are referred to in the report. I think I must respond to her in two ways. She said that we were not responding properly by dealing with this matter quickly, and appeared to be rather lackadaisical. I think it is some measure of the importance we place on this report that we are making a Statement at this stage. On the other hand, it is only three weeks since my right honourable friend actually received the report, and obviously there are many things which will require attention.

For instance, the noble Baroness mentioned the under-fives. My understanding is that the committee did not say a great deal in their final report on the education of that group of children. Nevertheless, the Government will be considering all the committee's recommendations in due course and this Statement is very much an initial response to the report, three weeks after it has been received. It is not the end of the matter. We shall be considering and consulting on many of the committee's findings and recommendations in the next few months. That goes for school-leavers as well and for the ESN schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the recommendation on mandatory awards and why we have not accepted this. It is a well-established principle that mandatory awards are paid to those on degree and degree-comparable courses. It would be wrong to breach this principle, with its considerable public expenditure implications, and to accord more favourable treatment to one particular group of students.

The noble Lord also asked me about the passage in the Statement which says that we are not prepared to change the law on religious assembly and education. I think there is a strong feeling in the country and among a great many parents that they are satisfied with the system and do not want change.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, may I say I am very pleased that this report has been published at last because I have been one of those who have been pressing for quite some time for it to be published. But, my word, when we get a report such as this, costing £24-odd, and ask the ethnic minorities to read it and participate in its findings, this is just crazy. I am very glad that there is also a brief report as well. I am sure that will be read, but as for the main one costing £24—it is impossible.

May I say that we really cannot comment here: the time when the Statement is made is not really the occasion for a debate. I hope that the noble Lord will at some time give us the opportunity of having a full debate on the report. May I say, from what I have read, and speaking entirely for myself, that I welcome most sincerely the Government's Statement about continuing the requirement for daily collective worship in schools. I think that is good; and long may it continue! Regardless of what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, had to say earlier, I hope it continues for a long time. I also welcome the statement that we should continue with the dual system of education. Apart from that, I will say nothing at this stage and will leave it until we have the opportunity for a debate at a later time.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, said, particularly in relation to religious assembly and worship. A Statement like this, of course, is not the subject for a debate, and therefore I will not get into any arguments on the pros or cons. But on the question of whether £24 is too much money, it is jolly good value reading for £24, I think one would say. At least there is plenty to go at. Also, a report that has taken five years to produce is going to be a pretty massive document. I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lord welcomed Lord Swann's brief guide to the main issues. I am sure that everyone is grateful to Lord Swann for, in addition to having chaired the committee, having also done that.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, is the Minister aware that from these Benches I believe that his Statement, and particularly the four points of immediate rejection by the Secretary of State, will be received with great relief, because this is a living issue and not an issue which is designed to discourage or "uncare" for the ethnic minorities. The Church is deeply concerned. But, on a side wind, for the report, on pages 476–477, to suggest the abolition of the collective act of worship would be wrong and I believe that all of us on these Benches are most grateful for the immediate statement made by the Secretary of State and for the Statement now given by the noble Lord himself, who only a few weeks ago made that very robust answer concerning the collective act of worship, which also did a great deal to encourage churchmen throughout the country in their task of caring for people of all sorts who are under their care.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for those words.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I wish to make a single point about the act of worship in schools, and not having had a sight of the report, I rise with some diffidence. In defence of my noble friend Lord Avebury, I think that what he said in response to the Statement was not that it is his belief that this should be discontinued, but that there should be a modified form of service to take account of the great diversity of religions represented by the ethnic minorities and the majority community.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for saying that. Yes, of course, there is no reason whatsoever why the act of worship should not, in schools which have large ethnic minorities, take account of the fact that those children are there.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister feels that the three objectives to which he referred really do justice to this tremendous report from the noble Lord, Lord Swann, and his committee, to whom we are all very grateful. For instance, the first objective refers to the raising of standards in schools generally and, while all of us would endorse that, does the Minister agree that if we are to raise standards for the ethnic groups, this really implies positive action, because it means special action for the ethnic groups in such places as the inner cities of Bradford, Huddersfield and other places?

In the second objective the emphasis is on the promotion of good language practice and again, while one would endorse that objective, if we are to assist the ethnic groups to take full advantage of our education system, there are many other areas, such as the cultural backgrounds and the cultural inhibitions of some of the ethnic groups in the setting of the British culture, which, again, call for positive action. If one links this with the only reference in the Statement to funds—that is, £1 million from the education support grant in the year 1985–86—does the Minister agree that much more funding will be necessary if these problems are to be dealt with in an adequate way?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I can only repeat what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady David. This is very much the Government's first reaction, and obviously all these questions will have to be looked at and decisions taken.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, while the weight of this report is rather formidable and the price is even more formidable, I should like to say how good it is to find the research material incorporated to such an extent in the report. Particularly on a subject of this kind, which arouses a great deal of discussion, to have inside the report the evidence on which the conclusions are based to the extent that it is here is very valuable indeed.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Swann, will bask in pride at that.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, as a privileged member of the Swann Committee, perhaps I may very briefly pay tribute to the 22 members of the committee, 12 of whom were from the ethnic minorities and 12 from the indigenous population. All were British and all held posts of responsibility in this country. I should like to pay tribute to them for their magnanimity in the fact that over a long period we have found grounds for both disagreement and agreement, but we finally, after many years, produced a report with which, by and large, we all agreed. I should like your Lordships to pay tribute to the secretariat who had a very heavy job and did it very well. I should also like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Swann, our chairman. As is well known, and as has been stated before, he produced at the request of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State a brief guide to the main issues of the report.

I very much hope that in schools—and not only in schools, but also in the community at large—if people feel that they cannot read the whole report, they will at least read the heads of the chapters together with the recommendations which are at the end of each chapter. In that way people will get the flavour of the report together with the brief guide. I know that it is much to ask all schools and all teachers to read this volume, but it is quite easy for them to pick out the chapters which are very clearly marked and the recommendations at the end of the chapters. Finally, by their fruits ye shall know them. We look, after six years, to the Secretary of State to implement the recommendations of the report as soon as possible and practicable.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, it would be very churlish of me to point out that my noble friend has been totally out of order in making a statement on a Statement, rather than asking questions. However, I am sure that we shall forgive her after the five long years she has put in on this committee, and I am sure, too, that we wish to echo from all sides of the House congratulations to her, her colleagues and the noble Lord, Lord Swann, the chairman.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Earl has said that he will be participating in the discussions within his department regarding this report, to which I would pay tribute just as he and Members on all sides have done. May I ask him whether he will take back to those discussions in his department one issue which I have raised before in this House? In associating myself fully with the congratulations that my noble friend Lady David paid to the section in which it is stated clearly that multi-cultural teaching will take place in schools where there are no ethnic minorities, may I ask him whether he will look again at the issue of Her Majesty's Inspectorate?

If I am not incorrect, until 1979 one of Her Majesty's inspectors was specially designed to look at and advise on international teaching. Again, I believe it is the case that after 1979 that practice was dropped. If this intention is to be followed through, would it not be at least a matter for discussion as to whether that practice should be renewed, as those of us who were associated with international teaching before this Government came into office know that the value of that inspector, with special responsibility for international teaching, was quite beyond praise.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, of course I shall draw the noble Lord's remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend. I at first thought he was going to suggest that there should perhaps be some multiethnic members of the inspectorate. I do not know whether or not there are any and I shall have to let the noble Lord know. But, of course, I take his point.