HL Deb 22 January 1986 vol 470 cc240-79

3.13 p.m.

Lord Irving of Dartford rose to call attention to the problems facing the nation's schools; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in May last year Mr. John Clare, the BBC's education correspondent, wrote an article which was published in The Listener entitled "Turmoil in Education". It is this turmoil, its causes, its consequences and its remedies which I should like to discuss this afternoon. Mr. Clare summed it up very neatly and effectively when he said: said: Britain's schools have never been more embattled. Since the beginning of the year, millions of pupils have had their education disrupted by teachers in an entirely just but hopeless claim. The disruption, unprecedented in scale, coincides with a drive by the most innovative Secretary of State for a generation to push through an elaborate plan to boost school standards".

There can be no doubt about the concern felt throughout the country about this damaging dispute or the earnest wish of parents, teachers and all others that it be drawn to an early conclusion. The question is, how?

Referring to Sir Keith's plans, Mr.Clare said: It is a plan that depends absolutely on the goodwill and commitment of teachers. Such things have never been in shorter supply, nor has teacher morale ever been lower". In case anyone thinks Mr. Clare to be exaggerating, let me tell the House what Dr. Harry Judge, the director of the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford since 1973, said in an article in The Times Educational Supplement in September: The morale and confidence of the education service are now at a desperately low point. Unless and until the fact of crisis is acknowledged, and its nature agreed upon, nothing can be improved. The present mood is without precedent, certainly within the working life of the older among us, and arguably at any time over the past century". Those are strong words.

A similar view was expressed in an article by Mr. Bernard Barker, headmaster of Stanground School, Peterborough, published in The Times Educational Supplement in November when he said: Trust has been destroyed over a 2 year period so that there is no chance of negotiations leading to a just and lasting settlement. Without trust it is impossible to achieve a changed pay and promotion structure, earnestly desired by the teachers themselves".

Without agreeing with everything that the teachers have said and done, I believe that the Secretary of State, Sir Keith Joseph, has to accept a large share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. As Mr. Barker concluded: What kind of psychology is it that expects the profession to accept radical changes in conditions and methods in return for a rise slightly below the cost of living?

Pay is clearly at the heart of the problem. What is the "just claim" referred to by Mr. Clare? It is that teachers' salaries are now worth only two-thirds of what they were 10 years ago. This is not propaganda: it is a fact established by the Burnham pay data working party early last year. It is also true that over the same period they have fallen behind every remotely comparable group of employees. The problem is that teachers are unwilling to accept the promise of jam tomorrow in the form of what many feel could be an improved package of professional reforms, in the face of the dramatic and real erosion of their pay which has taken place since the Houghton Committee reported 10 years ago. Pay has declined when demands on teachers have increased.

The Burnham pay data working party last year selected eight occupations for comparison. In 1974 the weekly difference between teachers and the average of the eight was 82p. By 1984 teachers' pay had gone up by £129 a week, but the average for the others had gone up by £172.50. In other words, the difference had gone from 82p to £43.50 a week. Whereas the total for all teachers was £188.63, including heads and deputy heads, for gasfitters it was £182.50, crane drivers £193.20, seagoing deckhands £187 and printing machine minders £190.

More than a quarter of a million or 61 per cent. of the 414,000 primary and secondary schoolteachers in England and Wales are stuck in the two lower pay scales and can only earn a maximum of £9,597 a year. To restore the purchasing power of teachers' pay they need an average of over £1,750 a year. Is it surprising that teachers are filled with anger and frustration? Whatever Sir Keith Joseph says, it is clear that we undervalue and underpay our teachers in terms of both comparable jobs and what is paid in other countries. The teachers are not asking for the immediate restoration of this loss, but that the loss will be made good in a planned way over a period of time. The failure in this respect will, in my view, involve a price, but I shall talk about that later.

Sir Keith has claimed over and over that he is willing to provide an extra £1½ billion over the next four years. But, such is the distrust of Sir Keith, the unions do not believe that this really means £1½ billion; but that what it means is £450 million, which is only allowing the local education authorities to raise their expenditure to £200 million a year out of which only 47 per cent., the rate support grant element, will be paid directly by the Government.

The plain truth in this respect, which is mentioned in an article in The Guardian today, is that no one knows exactly what will be spent on school education in the current financial year, or in the next year for that matter. The system of local government finance is so complex that estimates cannot be made, even by the DES. The 1984–85 document on Government expenditure plans, for example, reflects not what will actually be spent on education in schools, but is: the Government's view of the appropriate distribution of local authority expenditure on education".

The main long standing problem is that individual local authorities do not necessarily spend the amount that has been assessed as their need: some spend more and some spend less. With their pay eroded by 33 per cent. teachers are affronted by the fact that they are having to fight for a bare 6.9 per cent. when senior civil servants received 12.2 per cent., the judiciary 15.3 per cent., senior military officers 17.6 per cent., admirals 31.9 per cent. and the head of the Civil Service 46.3 per cent., without any proof that they were having difficulty in actually filling any of those appointments.

I think that parents now are taking a hand and demanding a proper professional salary for teachers. A Gallup poll in July showed that the majority of the public were in favour of the teachers' demand in this respect. Before I am interrupted by someone telling me that the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations has changed its mind, I ought to say that in my view this is an indication of the turmoil going on in many parents' minds about the damage being done. But most parents believe that pressuring teachers to go back without a just settlement would not provide the peace required to get the kind of calm, relaxed consideration of the improvements that Sir Keith and others, including the teachers themselves, would like to see.

Nor will the Government's hard line of taking them to court or stopping pay work either. Indeed, the difference between the unions is not all that remarkable. The NUT and the NAS/UWT are both in favour of strikes. It is a question of tactics. And the NAS/UWT general secretary has said that when this income pay award is over—and he means when this year's settlement is over—they will start the next campaign for pay increases immediately. I think that the dispute must be brought to an end before further damage is done.

I have tried to demonstrate the impossibility because of the anger and frustration of teachers in getting a settlement of making progress in respect of re-structuring, appraisal and curricular reform on terms set out by the Government. To achieve these things will require the co-operation of teachers. Even if some unions did seek to go ahead I believe that it would be very difficult to get all the LEAs to act together. The dispute, apart from the other damage that it is doing, is already affecting recruitment into the profession. It is clear in my view that the only way to resolve the strike is for teachers to accept an interim settlement in return for an independent inquiry which will take into account both the erosion of teachers pay and the new duties and standards that Sir Keith wants to apply. In this way, teachers would secure a real assessment of their worth in the context of these responsibilities. I believe that an independent inquiry does not just have the support of the official Opposition; it has the support of many Members on the Conservative side in another place, and indeed also of The Times in its leader of 4th January.

Although pay is the main point of controversy, there was crisis in our schools before the pay dispute. In a paper, The Next Ten Years, Public Expenditure and Taxation into the 1990s, the Government argue that education expenditure in real terms has increased by I per cent. since 1978–79. With a school population fall of 12 per cent., LEAs, according to the Government, should be in clover. Of course, the LEAs claim that falling rolls do not provide such economy, that the same number of courses offered to fewer pupils when funds are allocated per capita is more expensive and where staff numbers have been reduced there have been redundancy and compensation payments.

Now, Sir Keith's own inspectorate have stepped in and added their weight. They say in their report, The State of Schools in England and Wales: The present picture is of an under-resourced service with poor maintenance and buildings, inadequate provision of basic equipment, and materials. Teachers are struggling to cope in schools in which resource provision is well below standard". But of course the parents themselves are taking a hand. The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations has just produced its own report with contributions from a large number of secondary and primary schools throughout the country in 83 areas. They conclude: Classes are increasing in size while the curriculum is narrowing and staff are under more and more stress". They say: Parental funding is forming a sharply increasing part of school funding leading to disadvantage for pupils from less affluent areas". Deteriorating buildings are reported in 58 per cent. of primary schools and 72 per cent. of secondary schools. The confederation urge that funding be increased to deal with what they have indicated as the specific deterioration that they have outlined. They also call on the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament to get out and see the problems for themselves.

Funding from parental sources is estimated to be £40 million a year. When Sir Keith was presented with this, he said, "Of course, if that is the way that parents want to spend their money, they are perfectly entitled to do so". The generosity and money-raising activities by parent teacher associations have been features of our educational system for generations but this is the first time in history that many schools have had to rely on parents to supply the basic tools of education. The fact is that in poor areas the pupils will not be able to get the same help as children in middle-class areas.

Sir Keith was invited to go to Sheffield because the Sheffield committee believed that they wanted £8 million to bring their schools up to standard for the next 10 years. He had the good grace to say that they had rubbed his nose in some pretty depressing, leaking and obsolete buildings. Sir Keith was reported as saying "Of course, you can survive crummy schools. I myself had some expensive and prolonged education in some crummy physical conditions". The chairman of the Sheffield Education Committee replied, however, that "crummy" was an understatement of the conditions. But perhaps Sir Keith ought not to have been surprised when Mr. Brewer added: Many kids in Sheffield go to crummy schools; their home environment is crummy. Their prospects for the future are crummy and they can't go back to a rich and privileged environment as Sir Keith could".

When the NEDC looked at public sector investment early this year, it concluded that the present practice of school building maintenance "flies in the face of good management". Finally, there is a substantial minority of schools, mainly older ones, with extensive and often severe deficiencies in amenities by today's standards. Despite what Sir Keith had to say, I do not believe that Harrow or any of the schools that Sir Keith attended was ever like this.

The bill to bring all schools up to standard was in 1977, the last time the DES surveyed this, £1.5 billion. In my view, it must be at least £3 billion now. But the question is this. Does the shortage of books or deteriorating buildings affect the real quality of education? Professor Brian Cox, Professor of English at Manchester University, in an article in the Sunday Times only last month said: According to the Bullock Report, approximately 1 million adults in England and Wales have a reading age of nine, although to read the simplest newspaper requires a reading age of 13. He said that the problems highlighted in this respect show the immense folly of the present Government in allowing spending on school and public libraries to fall dramatically.

As to buildings, clearly if a school has no technology workshop or computer facilities then the education is limited, but arguably not reduced in quality. But so far as the general state of dilapidations in schools is concerned, the HMI report was unambiguous: In some schools the conditions in which teaching takes place adversely affect the quality of pupils' work".

Sue Nicholas of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: There is no doubt that dilapidation is both dangerous and disruptive. Broken windows, damaged playgrounds, broken locks are a danger to pupils and teachers. The security of the school is often affected and vandalism is encouraged. Head teachers report that vandalism gets worse as buildings deteriorate. It appears that children's reactions in terms of poor decoration is this: if no one else wants to take care of it, why should we?

Of course there are other problems, some of them even more potentially dangerous for the future. Mr. Kenneth Reid, Reader in Education at the Glamorgan Institute of Education, has recently published a book, Truancy and School Absenteeism. He says that there are worrying signs that absenteeism in our schools is increasing and that its nature is changing. Overall, one in 10 secondary school pupils fail to attend school daily and the rate is worse in some regions. Truants used to be regarded as isolated cases from unfavourable deprived backgrounds. Recent evidence shows that group truancy is, however, more common. Rather than staying home and whiling away the time in monotonous inactivity, some absentees deliberately (to use Mr. Reid's word) "mitch" together in groups. They then participate in organised, often deviant, activities which pose an increasing threat to society. There seems little doubt that the rise in group truancy is related to the increase in juvenile crime, especially shoplifting and vandalism. Police experiments with truancy patrols in both the United States and Britain regularly produce substantial decreases in juvenile crime.

The tendency for truants to form menacing groups in major conurbations and unemployment black spots is of particular significance. It is probable that truants have played a part in every city and inter-racial conflict, in drug trafficking and in vandalism. Schools in Britain are beginning to lose credibility among a large section of lower and middle ability pupils. Mr. Reid says that teachers are finding it harder to motivate disillusioned youngsters who, with the decline of unskilled employment opportunities, face a hard struggle throughout their lives. The teaching profession is not the only victim of low morale. Adolescents are losing their youthful optimism. Hope, says Mr. Reid, is being replaced by fear, worry, envy, bitterness and a sense of despair. It is in this atmosphere that highly-charged groups will take their own form of collective action.

All the matters I have discussed today are related. There are very severe and disturbing social consequences for all of us if we fail to invest adequately in our school system. Sir Keith has asked where the money is to come from. My answer to Sir Keith is that the cost of not finding the money could be infinitely greater, as the results could only be measured in the irreparable damage to the quality of life for all of us. We cannot afford to fail, but the time is getting very late.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? With regard to teachers' pay, has he taken into consideration the very long holidays that teachers enjoy?

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, it is quite clear that the noble Viscount has never worked in a school. In many schools most teachers are engaged in many activities in the evenings and in the summer recess; and schools would not be as good as they have been in the past if it had not been for that devotion. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.32 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should like first to acknowledge our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, for having inaugurated this very important debate on the subject of schools. He has painted a sympathetic picture of the teachers' situation and a dark picture of the situation in our schools. I thought I was going to do the same, but I found when I began to ask some questions of certain teachers that I had some encouraging replies from them; so I hope to cheer you up a little, my Lords.

I think it would be true to say that there is no section of society on whom the pressure of the social upheavals of the last decade has borne more heavily than our teachers. The problems of racism, sexism, multi-racial culture, language differences, the new technology, unemployment, social deprivation and single parenthood have all affected our schools vitally, crucially and traumatically. At the same time, schools have had to face cuts in resources; and teachers, who hear the burden, as the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has said, have been undervalued and, I would add, also threatened. I think they have minded being told that they are not good enough just as much as they have minded being underpaid.

The problems facing our schools are indeed so many and so great that one does not know where to begin thinking about them or talking about them. I thought I would confine myself to saying a little about two London schools whose head teachers I happen to know. The popular image of an inner city school is of the "blackboard jungle" variety: vandalism, anarchy in the classroom, the victimisation of some children by others, stealing, smoking, drugs—you name it. I suppose that in the background of my mind that is what I expected to be recounting to your Lordships today, but when I began to ask questions of my two head teachers a very different picture began to emerge and I realised that I should be talking less about the problems than about the solutions that those two teachers in particular have been finding.

My first school is a primary school in Deptford. To tell your Lordships a little bit about the problems, and adding to what the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has said, seven years ago there were 700 children in that school, all white. Now there are 200. Two-thirds of those children come from minority ethnic groups. Thirteen languages are spoken. I will not tell your Lordships what they are; you can use your imagination. The school is expected not only to teach English to those children, whose English is in some cases very inadequate, but also to maintain their own mother tongues. The school has to absorb children with special education needs, in accordance with the Warnock recommendations and the 1981 Act.

This particular school has in the nursery section a child with cystic fibrosis; there is another case of Down's syndrome. A third child who has now reached the age of 10 has such a low IQ all round that it is impossible to integrate her into any class, but her mother refuses to allow her to be sent to a special school. Fifty per cent. of the children come from one-parent families and 40 per cent. of the parents are unemployed. The head teacher, who is actually a friend and an ex-pupil of mine, has parents begging him to keep the children from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. so that they can earn enough money to make both ends meet. I must tell you here of a remark made by an eight-year-old girl. She is not in fact from this school, but I am telling you of this remark because it is indicative. She said, "I'm not going to do any work. It's not worth it if you are going to be unemployed at the end". This from an eight-year-old, my Lords! There is always this shortage of resources. I am digressing briefly here to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Irving, was saying about parental help. In another school the parents have had to repaint the building themselves. The LEA supplied the paint but it did not supply the labour. The parents in this school are themselves buying some of the ancillary help. They have even been considering paying the salary of an additional teacher. The school I am briefly digressing about is in a well-to-do commuter area. You cannot imagine things of this sort being done in an inner city area, where parents are so much less likely to have either the ability or the willingness to make contributions of this sort.

To return to my London primary school, I must tell you that, despite all these problems, this school is a showpiece and visitors come in numbers from this country and from abroad to see how the challenge of a multi-racial culture has been responded to. The showpiece in the school is called a resource centre for multi-ethnic artifacts or, to put it into plain English, an exhibition of works of art from all the children's mother countries.

The other school I want to tell your Lordships about is a girls' comprehensive in the same area of South London. It numbers 800 girls, with 100 in the sixth form. A sixth-form consortium exists with three neighbouring schools—one boys' school and two others; I am not quite sure what they are—offering altogether 25 A-level courses between them. A wide variety of subjects is offered throughout the school, including four languages (apart from English)—French, German, Italian and Russian—for 11-year-olds up to 18- or 19-year-olds.

That school also has to absorb children with special educational needs. The school has a team which offers not only specialist teaching, often in a one-to-one situation, but also pastoral care for these children. A number of children with special educational needs enter at sixth-form level, having had to leave some other school at the end of their fifth year. I believe they make remarkable progress. So that is another example of the successful implementation of the Warnock recommendation about the integration into mainstream education of children who have special educational needs.

This school has 23 per cent. black Africans, 15 Tamil refugees, five Boat people and many other ethnic minorities, with 27 languages spoken in all. Yet I can vouch for the fact that there are no racist feelings in this school. To me, it was a most interesting example of how ideas are conveyed to children by adults. Ideas are infectious and they travel with the speed of light. If you convey to children the idea that there is something wrong with another child whose skin is a different colour, they will pick it up instantly. But, if you convey no such idea, they remain completely innocent of it. I have seen this happening in this school.

The teaching of English to the ethnic minorities, which is a theoretical obligation, is of course a problem, and how they manage to solve it I do not know. But I was delighted to learn that one sixth-form girl, who is a Jamaican, has the specific task of teaching conversational English to some of the first-year girls. She is not the only one. There are several members of the sixth form who are given the task of talking to some of the younger girls in order to improve their oral English. This same Jamaican girl is a fully fledged member of the governing body, attending all meetings. She is the elected representative of the sixth form and has to submit a report on sixth-form activities to the governing body.

The girls of this school are very active in community work. They look after the old people of their neighbourhood; they organise a party for them every Christmas; they wheel them there in their wheelchairs; they give them presents; they provide all the fare for the party and they provide a pantomine—not, alas, this year, because of the teachers' dispute. All this makes one feel that, although the problems in our schools are great, the ability to overcome them if you have the right teachers may be greater. But this can be achieved only by teachers—not ultimately the buildings, resources, curricula, schemes, directives or Acts of Parliament, but the teachers. And they must be accorded their true worth in money terms and in recognition, in appreciation and in honour.

3.43 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Irving, for giving us this opportunity to discuss the problems facing our nation's schools. My contribution will focus on two kinds of problems which are not caused by cuts or by the dispute over salaries. The first is a result of policy, and the second of the political attitudes and commitments of some teachers.

My first concern is the effect of the massive switch to comprehensive schools, which now contain about 90 per cent. of our secondary school pupils. Let me hasten to say that I am not prejudiced against comprehensive schools. I know that there are many very good comprehensives, and my own three children all went to a comprehensive school in the London Borough of Brent. But there is a growing body of evidence which shows that a comprehensive system leads to lower overall levels of achievement than a system with different kinds of schools for pupils of different aptitudes and enthusiasms. It is morally incumbent on us to take this evidence seriously. It was a socialist, writing on the development of comprehensive schooling, who said that it is an experiment with the life chances of millions of children". I agree. But the essence of an experiment is to see if it works; if it does not, then one must think again. Not to do so is evidence of dogmatism.

Time permits mention of only two examples of such evidence. The first comes from the DES itself. Statistical Bulletin 13/84 shows that pupils from a selective system of grammar and secondary modern schools achieve significantly better exam results than those from comprehensives. Of course, there is more to education than exams, but exams matter—as passports for pupils to their careers, and as an external independent assessment of the quality of teaching. So consistent under-achievement in examinations should be taken seriously if we care about pupils' welfare, especially as it is pupils from working-class homes who seem to be being most adversely affected. For example, there has been a disturbing decline in the proportion of these pupils going on to higher education.

The second example of evidence refers to the comparison of examination results between England and Northern Ireland. This shows that as England's schools became comprehensive, proportions of pupils achieving GCE 0 and A-levels began to level out, despite DES predictions that they would rise. In Ulster, however, despite all the troubles, the proportions continued to rise steadily, so now there is a massive gap between England and Northern Ireland, with Ulster's selective system out-performing England's comprehensive system. There, 50 per cent. more leave school with one or more A-levels and 40 per cent. more with at least five O-levels. Of course there may be other factors at work, but these have not been identified.

I am not suggesting putting the clock back to our former system of selective schools, although I should like an assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the Government will think very carefully before closing any more good grammar and secondary modern schools, especially as it is not only grammar school pupils who benefit from a selective system; secondary modern pupils often do better than their counterparts in comprehensives.

But we must also be prepared to think about improvements to the present comprehensive system, especially in the inner city areas. One way forward might be to consider a solution adopted in the United States. I refer to magnet schools, which provide high quality education around a particular theme. We could surely consider developing specialist comprehensives offering first-rate facilities in subject areas such as maths, science and computing, languages, technical subjects, music, art and drama—even PE. Such schools could have a more flexible age of transfer than grammar schools and accept pupils on the basis of enthusiasm as well as ability. They would help to solve problems of shortages of specialist teachers and declining sixth forms, and would also develop as centres of excellence in the state system in inner city areas where positive initiatives are so desperately needed, as the noble Lord, Lord Irving, rightly pointed out.

I now turn to my second concern: the politicisation of education. As there is to be a debate on this subject on 5th February, I will merely touch on it briefly today. But it seemed wrong to have today's debate on the problems facing our nation's schools without any reference to some of the disturbing developments associated with the politicisation of teaching and the attitudes and behaviour of some teachers. I must stress that I refer only to some teachers. I recognise that there are many dedicated and conscientious teachers to whom my comments will not apply and who are worthy of our complete admiration.

It used to be a cherished principle that we kept partisan and party politics out of the classroom, but in recent years there has been a sea change. New subjects like "peace studies" or "world studies" are highly political. They are characteristically anti-Government. anti-NATO, anti-Western and often stridently anti-American. One book called Pieces for Peace, funded by the ILEA and the GLC's Women's Collective, shows two pictures on the front: one of a demonstration of solidarity with SWAPO; the other with placards saying "US murderers get out of Grenada". Its recommended reading is typical of peace studies material in its anti-Western bias and its complete lack of reference to Soviet military and political strategy or the realities of life on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The effect of this is to undermine our younger generation's political will for defence, because they are led to believe that we have nothing worth defending and that there is nothing to deter.

Other developments, which are highly politicised and appear designed to destabilise our society, take place under the rubric of so-called anti-racism or anti-sexism. One example must suffice. A book by the Institute of Race Relations, which is funded by the GLC, called How Racism Came To Britain was written for children aged 10 years and upwards. Cartoons allege the iniquities of Britain's racism, which is illustrated, to give one example, by a caricature of our legal system which shows a judge proclaiming: I s'pose you're innocent until proved guilty … As long as you're white, that is! If you are white and wear a blue uniform however, well, then as we all know … you're innocent even when proven guilty! Got it?". That quotation illustrates another disturbing development: the growth of anti-police propaganda. The GLC has produced posters, booklets and a video for schools and youth clubs, showing our police as racist, incompetent and callous. The video, which cost £35,000 in this time of scarce resources, finishes with a reggae singer in a night club urging "Communities must rebel". The first of the credits in the video is the Communist Party newspaper, the Morning Star. At present we do not know how much of this material reaches the classroom. It is highly probable that some does, because, for example, the anti-police video is prepared for schools; and the teachers' group All London Teachers Against Racism and Fascism recommend in glowing terms that hook How Racism Came to Britain. This raises the issue of the political commitments and concerns of some teachers. The Times Educational Supplement recently exposed the extent to which far Left teachers have a grip on teaching in ILEA. The Inner London Teachers' Association has about 13,500 members—over half the capital's teachers. It is dominated by the Socialist Teachers' Alliance, which includes Trotskyists, Anarchists and Communists. In a leader article, The Times Educational Supplement points out that ILEA has been ineffective in curbing their militant activities. I quote: By condoning breaches of the rules by teachers striking in sympathy with the miners and health service workers—and freezing disciplinary procedures against them as a supposed gesture of goodwill—ILEA attempted to keep credit with the Left". As I draw to a conclusion perhaps I may mention just one other indication that many teachers seem more concerned with political than professional issues. That can be seen from the list of motions put forward for the annual conference of the largest of the teachers' unions—the 216,000 strong National Union of Teachers. These motions include a national boycott on exams, a partial ban on homework, indefinite strikes in schools in marginal Tory constituencies, support for pro-Soviet and anti-American positions and for more peace studies. For example, Hull welcomes Soviet peace initiatives but condemns the United States, while Coventry wants to affiliate to CND and urges the widest possible dissemination of peace studies.

I leave further discussion for 5th February. But I hope I have indicated that there are serious problems facing our nation's schools which reflect changes in the attitudes and political commitments of many teachers and local education authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in his commendable report some years ago, made an important link between salary increases and professional standards, a link which some teachers appear to have forgotten.

I conclude by suggesting that there is no greater problem facing our nation's schools than that of encouraging those teachers who put politics before professionalism to reverse their priorities and commit themselves first and foremost to the wellbeing of the pupils for whom they are professionally responsible. Until and unless they do this, no increase in resources or salaries will give our nation's schoolchildren the education which they deserve and which it is in our nation's interest for them to receive.

3.54 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Derby

My Lords, my remarks this afternoon do not arise out of any party political standpoint nor out of any narrow interest in Church schools but because of visits to schools of various kinds and discussion with teachers in different situations.

There remains a heavy irony in the fact that the Government White Paper, published when the present Prime Minister was Secretary of State for Education and Science, was entitled, Framework for Expansion. It heralded a long-drawn-out period of cutback and contraction. One hopes fervently that the same sort of fate will not overtake the latest White Paper on education, Better Schools, though the signs over the past year since its publication have not been very encouraging. At the moment, maintained schools are certainly worse places to be in than at the time when the White Paper was being prepared. This is partly due to the general social environment which creates unusual pressures on teachers, examples of which we have heard already, but also to the teachers' own feeling of neglect by authority.

The intentions of Better Schools were undoubtedly good, and the intentions behind subsequent Government action have presumably been equally good. It is the present effects of that action which create deep concern. The White Paper was right to claim that, there is widespread acceptance of the need to improve the standards achieved by pupils", and that the necessary improvement involved action in the four areas of curriculum, examinations, teaching and school government. The paper was also right to close with the reminder that, in these initiatives, as elsewhere, the Government cannot act alone. Their success depends on the ready co-operation and mutual support of all the partners in education and of the customers of the schools". These partners were identified as being: the local education authorities (LEAs), the churches and other voluntary bodies, governing bodies, and teachers". It is therefore tragic that the current dispute has brought the Government into direct conflict with both the LEAs (as employers) and, of course, the teachers. This has more than cancelled out the benefits of the progress made in the other areas, such as the technical and vocational education initiative, the introduction of the GCSE, the larger role given to parents and teachers on governing bodies and the highlighting of the needs of the bottom 40 per cent. among the pupils. These are all real advances, with potentially high benefits, but despite these our schools will not be better schools if the Government do not recognise that improved performance requires better provision of resources.

Sir Keith Joseph is now saying that the teachers have won their argument that the profession is currently underpaid, though he adds the rider that the current members of the profession need to show themselves to be worthy of a professional's level of remuneration. What also needs to be guaranteed by the Government is that if they are prepared to increase the teachers' salaries this will not be at the cost of depriving the educational system in other ways. The figures of the Department of Education and Science show that expenditure on buildings has fallen from a 6 per cent. share in the overall educational budget in 1979–80 to a 4 per cent. share in 1983–84. The results are there for all to see, in poorly maintained buildings on which even greater expense will be needed in years to come in order to make up for the underexpenditure of the past few years. This is not good housekeeping.

The blame for it cannot be laid at the door of the local education authorities and the Churches, who between them own and are responsible for the maintenance of the buildings. Spending limits are laid down centrally. It is only fair to recognise the importance of the Government's policy of reducing public expenditure and the force of their belief that this will contribute to the ultimate improvement of the country's economic position. But one does not improve any system's effectiveness (nor its efficiency) by underinvesting in it. It is not only a question of needing to put even more money into the system at a later date, to compensate for neglect. It is a question of the real danger of the system collapsing completely within itself. When a system is starved of resources it needs remarkably high morale on the part of those who run it to defend it against such a collapse.

Over the past 12 months or so, the morale of all the partners in the educational system, but particularly that of the teachers and of the local authorities, has plummeted, and continues to plummet. Unfortunately, the teachers themselves have not succeeded in producing understanding of the causes of their unease: the strain of disorder and violence and the lack of hope for the future of so many of their pupils. The nation as a whole has been unappreciative of the problems and largely unwilling to grasp the realities of the situation.

The present industrial dispute is part of a vicious circle in which the Government must carry their share of the blame. At the North of England education conference earlier this month, Professor John Tomlinson, previously chief education officer for the Cheshire local authority, argued that, national policy has undermined the self-esteem of those expected to carry out many of the key tasks". He pointed out that, on the one hand, the teachers have been subjected to accusations of having 'failed the nation' and that, as part of the public service, they are nonproductive and parasitic", while, on the other hand, their employers have been subject to the tightest of controls, which have wrested from them their capacity to pay what they may deem necessary and therefore their credibility in the eyes of those they are supposed to manage". Like the buildings, but even more significantly, the damage done to morale will take a long time to put right. Barry Taylor, the chief education officer of Somerset, wrote only last week in The Times Educational Supplement, that any settlement of the dispute this year will be only "an armed truce".

In such a situation, the Church is deeply concerned about the future. It is concerned in general terms because here would appear to be yet another situation in which groups within society are being set at odds with one another. Any government must see as one of their functions the need to hold society together—not to force it into a complex of warring factions. Certainly the Christian gospel must urge people to seek reconciliation one with another, to pursue the ways not only of justice but also of peace.

The Church must urge such reconciliation, not as a distant observer of the scene but as an active participator in it. Many of the teachers in the nation's schools are members of the Christian church. So are many of the administrators in both local and national government. So, most significantly, are many of the parents whose children's future lives are being put in jeopardy as the dispute drags on.

The Churches are also involved institutionally through the many governing bodies of aided schools, as employers and direct partners of the local authorities in the running of those schools. It was mainly in that capacity that last July the General Synod, reaffirmed the Church of England's concern for the well being of the whole of the maintained system of education in this country and its expectation that it will continue to play a significant role as a national partner within that system". We therefore look to the Government to make a similar reaffirmation.

To quote again from Professor Tomlinson's address to the North of England education conference, delivered less than three weeks ago, The public education system is at a turning point. Either we confirm that it is one important means by which the public good is engendered or we grant it only the status the market allows. Either it is a force for coherence and community as well as for individual fulfilment, or it is the route by which the less advantaged are inducted—no doubt largely against their will—into a divided society". The more advantaged pupils are those whose parents are able to afford the independent sector of educational provision. Yet in this situation of crisis—this moment of crucial decisions—the Government, as Professor Tomlinson notes, appear ambivalent. Their talk of, releasing the spirit of enterprise and the opening of opportunity to all for a greater say in their own lives, is contradicted by actions that restrict the opportunities available to the majority by eroding the effectiveness of the system that provides for their needs.

Even more significantly, the danger of allowing market forces free rein in the realm of education arises from the renunciation that that implies of a clear sense of responsibility on the part of the Government for maintaining the national education system as a force for coherence and community engendering the public good. That is the unifying vision we hope that the Government will hold before the nation. It must be supported by their partners; the LEAs, the Churches, the teachers, the parents and governors. Only that vision will produce "better schools". A system in which the morale of those who run it is at an appallingly low ebb is unable to produce "coherence and community". By contrast, a clear commitment to that vision on the part of those who have the chief leadership would be a vital first step to the restoration of morale.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford for introducing this debate at this time. He and I belong to a movement whose pioneers used to say that one must educate, educate, educate before one can legislate, legislate, legislate. It is in that mood that I wish to address the House this afternoon. I am equally grateful that the contribution of the right reverend Prelate came between mine and that of the noble Baroness.

Lady Cox, and the great bay of approval for her tallyho gallop and Red hunting through the schools of this country that marred what was otherwise a contribution to this debate that I deeply respected.

There is no evidence from what we have heard so far, and from the reaction to it in this House, that we have reached a point of crisis in education in Great Britain today unlike any other that we have known in this country since the introduction of general education. Those of your Lordships who have shared in the past 10 or 11 years with me in this House will know that my credentials for speaking in this debate are that for 32 years I served in the classrooms and staff rooms of Great Britain. When I came here 11 years ago, I was one of only three serving teachers in this House. It is therefore essential for me to repeat again today that every report on British education that has been published during my lifetime of service to education has always pointed out that the single most important influence in the education of children—my Lords, your children and grandchildren and mine—is the attitude of the parent to the school in which their child is educated.

The second most important element is obviously the teacher, who becomes the parent when the parent inevitably has to surrender care of his child to people more competent in certain abilities to teach that child than the parent admits to being. So if the parents are worried about the future of British education, and if the teachers in the classrooms, regardless of their politics, are in conflict with the Government of the day, as they have over the past 15 years been in conflict with successive governments, then we must take far greater interest in this debate than the House appears to be taking, judging by the Benches this afternoon and by the reaction to what has been said.

When one begins to set up the comprehensive schools that are now a major part of our public education service, and when one analyses their performance, one must analyse also their composition. I wonder what is the relative composition of the schools in Northern Ireland with their success and that of the comprehensive schools of Great Britain, because the third element affecting the education of the child is the size of the class in which that child is educated. While I have taken a fairly ambivalent attitude to comprehensivisation I have always been bitterly opposed to centralisation which I consider to be the real enemy of the age.

The noble Baroness knows—and she and I can talk about this at leisure—that when our schools went comprehensive they did so not for the educational and social reasons that were argued for comprehend-sivisation in the first place but because it was discovered by the Treasury along the way that you can put more heads under one centralised school for a smaller expenditure of money than if you keep them in the diverse grammar schools and the small schools in which once we were educated.

As a teacher I happen to believe that if a school gets above 800 pupils in a rural district it is out Of keeping with that rural district; but if a school gets above 1,000 in a city the teachers do not have a chance of knowing one another let alone knowing their children and their problems. Therefore, do not let us detract from the purpose of this debate by galloping our prejudices when we should be seeking to isolate the principles upon which all education is founded. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that education is two people sitting on a log. I believe that prejudice will come into even that situation. It is in that kind of situation that you can best have two minds size up one another. But what are the chances of someone who gets 35 minutes of time and 42 people's share of the time of a young teacher in West Wales, or Northern Ireland or in Central London? My own daughter has just left school and is teaching in a special centre for the multiple handicapped and socially deprived. She has a privilege that I did not have when I was teaching either at primary or at secondary level in the public system in Great Britain. I was never in a class in the whole of my education that was fewer than 35 in number. When I was at college the group in which I was taught was sometimes 95 and always 75 in number.

What parents who send their children to public schools—the great public education system which is private—are trying to achieve is a better relationship than that when they commit what they have to spare to the education of their children. I am proud, as I stand here as a Welshman in the Welsh education service with leaders of the education services of Wales around, that when the people of my country have been asked to choose they have always chosen—as have the people of Ireland, England and Scotland—to spend more of their resources on education than on other things. I am proud that the University of Wales was founded on the pennies of the miners who paid from their wage packets to educate not their own children but others. They made that voluntay contribution.

Facing us in Great Britain today, then, is the disillusion of the parents with the system and with some of the schools that we have set up. We are faced with the disillusion of the teachers and, added to that, the disillusion of the pupils themselves. Remember that Hegel, who set running many of the philosophies upon which are based the systems which many noble Lords bitterly oppose—and so do I—said: All down the pages of history the society begins to collapse when disillusionment finds its place in the heart of the people who live in it. The foundation myth of our society is that the grocer can take his daughter to his local school knowing, as now we know, that even his daughter might become the Prime Minister of Great Britain; that an industrial chemist can get his son to stand outside No. 10 Downing Street and, as now we know, he can emerge as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, properly educated. I do not know that the grocer at the corner of the street is there any longer in our society; but, I wonder, whether such a shopkeeper could be so confident now that the education achievable in the towns of Great Britain is one that will prepare someone, somewhere, to become the Prime Minster of this country in due course. I do now know.

However, I know that Hegel said that disillusion leads inevitably to decadence, that decadence leads to disintegration, that disintegration leads to the collapse of the existing order and out of the collapse of that society there comes the emergence of a new faith which is almost always the antithesis of the faith that it replaces. If we care about democracy, as I know we do, and if we care about education, and I am certain that we do, do not let us follow this into the blind alleys of prejudice, but let us isolate the real causes.

If the education of Northern Ireland is beginning to perk up, let us analyse the fact that Northen Ireland has had invested in it of late an incredible share of the British budget. I know that there are things in Northern Ireland that they would never have had if they were not balancing in some way the appalling difficulties under which they have had to live; and I would vote for that. But when we apply the results, do not let us forget that if one-quarter of the money that ran in blood and down the drains and gutters of Belfast had been applied to improving the educational system—and we can all agree with this—then we, too, would be able to provide results in ratios of teachers to children.

May I, in the last minute I have available to speak today, point out that all of our schools, whatever they were, have always had within them bands of underprivileged. Their very plight has attracted the best teachers. The most handicapped have attracted the best teacher ratios, and at every level—and indeed in every form—there have been those who have missed out because they started as under-assessed, and their contribution and their ability to contribute had not been properly accounted. I always used to worry about the fact that when I was teaching in a secondary modern school and they decided to go in for competitive examinations, they gave me a smaller class than the rest. That was introducing a new band of privilege and a new band of under-privileged among the generally able people.

I want to end by saying this. There is also one terrible thing which is happening in the schools. I am 60 years of age—I do not know the age of the Secretary of State for Education—and went into teaching in 1945, straight out of college at 19 years of age. I had to go back to university in order to requalify myself later. But every one of my generation has taken early retirement and has gone. We are leaving the staff rooms of Great Britain to those who are in the menopause; 52 years of age and no one older. What about that band of people from 52 years of age to 65 who were once the strength of the great schools of Britain? What about those men and women who were sufficiently encouraged in their career prospects and opportunities and in their love of their job to stay on until they were 65? All right, we have cut their retirement age to 60 and offered them a handshake; but what kind of handshake is it, I wonder.

I understand that there is now even a proposition that we might try to get them out for less money, four years earlier, and have them leave the schools at the age of 48. I would not want my children, or my grandchildren if I have any, to go into a school in which there is a narrow age band of disillusioned people who believe they are not now assessed by society to be as important as once they believed themselves to be. They are in crowded conditions knowing that in this debate this afternoon the emphasis fell upon those who happened to be communists. There are communists in every aspect of society because they choose to believe that and because democracy gives them the right to believe it. There are people who are conservatives and others who are socialists but when talking about teachers let us talk about education.

5.19 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I, too, wish to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, for initiating this debate.

I seek to speak this afternoon on the serious problem of truancy and, arising out of the subject, the relationship of education to the other professions; in particular, to the social services and the health service. I contend that truants from schools are often the most vulnerable in our society. There is, as many of your Lordships will know, a draft circular issued by the Secretary of State for Education and Science headed, School Attendance and Education Welfare Services. In the light of the serious truancy problem throughout the country, this draft circular, which proves that the problem is recognised by the Secretary of State, must receive a warm welcome. We applaud the philosophy of the circular, which is to help children achieve their education potential.

Having said that, one is bound to ask whether the methods by which this is to be achieved, as laid out in the circular, are wise methods or whether they are not out of line with the many reports on education that this country has received: the Plowden Report, the Ralphs Report, the Seebohm Report and, more lately, the House of Commons Social Services Committee of Inquiry. This subject is touched on in paragraph 59.

It is interesting that the circular is headed: "Education Welfare," whereas the two biggest associations in the education welfare field are the Association of Chief Education Social Workers and the National Association of Social Workers in Education. May I ask my noble friend the Minister what is meant by "early resort to court action", which is advised in this circular? Under the Education Act 1944, parents can be taken to court for their children's non-attendance at school, and I think that the circular enjoins education welfare officers to take swift action. But is this always the right way to act? Magistrates find such cases frustrating, because under this section of the Act the only course open to magistrates is to fine the parents, and very often those parents have low incomes and are also drawing supplementary benefit. Equally, of course, a child can be taken to court for non-attendance at school and a care order can be made, but this is drastic action.

Turning to the circular, may I ask my noble friend the Minister why the circular is so narrow in laying down the duties of the education welfare officers? Is not the circular going backwards and forming a body of people called the "school board men and the attendance officers"? If education welfare officers are to confine their duties to just this narrow issue of truancy dealt with in this way, what is to happen, for instance, to the children who want to work and must receive permission? What is to happen to the children who are in the entertainment field and must be looked after? What is to happen to handicapped children, for whom the education welfare officers have to make provision if they cannot remain in their schools, as I, and I understand the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, hope that they can. What is to happen to the children of the travelling families for whom the education welfare officers often make such good arrangements?

It seems to me that children who truant fall into three categories. First, there is the child who fails to fit into a particular school, and the failure of a school to meet the needs of a particular child; secondly, there is the child who suffers from a lack of control on the part of parents, who do not co-operate with the school. Thirdly—and I suggest that this is the biggest and most important segment—there are those children who are faced with family problems arising from social conditions, emotional and psychological problems or ill-health within the family.

I have been a civil servant in two government departments and I maintain that in these particular areas of the child at home, the child in society and the child at school, there must be co-operation between the different Ministries. With humility and a certain amount of diffidence, I suggest that perhaps there is not always understanding between the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health and Social Security and often the Home Office. If there is not co-operation at Ministry level, there will riot be co-operation and understanding at local level between the directors of social services, education officers and the community doctors of the health service. If there is not co-operation there, there will not be co-operation between the teachers in the classroom, the social workers on the ground and the health visitors, who are most important, in the health centre and the health service.

I come back to the circular. If the vulnerable children who are today truanting in our country are not helped by all these services, we shall get nowhere. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he will ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to consider a joint circular coming from all three departments, so that there can be co-operation between all the departments to deal with the truanting children of our country. "No man is an island unto himself", and never was that statement more true than in this sector.

4.26 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford for initiating this short debate on the problems facing the nation's schools. I come from a region which in the past could boast of its schools, its standards and the progress which had been made in all the different branches of education. The North-West in general, and Lancashire in particular, were the forerunners of the industrial revolution which gave so much to make Britain great. Side by side with all the achievements in industry went the development of our education and schools, which took the form of a partnership between government, the local authority and the Churches. The North-West is perhaps different from many other regions in the country because around 50 per cent. of the schools are Church schools of one kind or another: aided, voluntary aided or controlled.

This relationship between Church and state, both locally and nationally, has worked well but the rapid growth of the population in the middle of the last century has meant that we have inherited many old and dilapidated schools which should have been demolished and replaced years ago; but because of the lack of finance, and in some cases the reluctance of national government, this has not been done. We are now facing extremely high maintenance bills which are proving too large for the local authority to ask its ratepayers to support.

Lancashire Education Authority has recently produced a booklet on the problems it is facing in school maintenance and replacement. I shall gladly pass on copies of this booklet to your Lordships if required. I should also like the noble Lord the Minister and the representatives of the department to avail themselves of this very useful document concerning the state of the schools in Lancashire.

For over 30 years I have been privileged to serve on education committees, both locally and nationally. Like other speakers before me this afternoon, I too have never known so much despondency and so much lack of enthusiasm in all spheres. I look back at the statistics in Lancashire and I know that we were proud of the fact that in the days before the reorganisation of local government, the shire counties, the county boroughs, were in the top 10 of the league table in every field, including student ratios, books, capitation allowances and maintenance. We were willing in those days, and are still willing today, given the resources, to participate in pilot schemes of one sort of another. Our teachers and our administrators did, and still do, a first-class job in spite of the difficulties. But many of them feel very depressed with the way in which central Government are failing to listen to, or to understand, the pleas.

We feel that we are being forgotten. The days of our prosperity have gone. The days of our giving so much to the nation have been forgotten. We have been sent perhaps to a geriatric ward, but we shall still go forward. I used the illustration some time ago in your Lordships' House, in trying to make the point that education has been neglected in so many ways, that once we looked upon education as being the major jewel in the crown of this country. I went on to say that it had now got down to the form of a cheap diamond in a small engagement ring.

It must be recognised that we have to get our priorities right by setting the right standards in schools in all spheres—from the building to teachers and to salaries. Education is very much like a running stream. It is constantly moving, flowing from the hills to the rivers and to the seas—from the village school, to the town comprehensive, to the city college and to the university. Unfortunately, at this time there seems to be a dam being built to stop the flow of progress. But the dam must burst. I hope that this short debate will assist this to happen soon and that it will make the Government aware of the many problems that we have to face.

Let us go forward. Let us try to make sure that we use everything that we possibly can to help our children. We have so much to invest in our children. It used to be said that every pound invested in education produced two pounds. Investment in education has so many repercussions. The benefits can be so advantageous to the country. Unfortunately, our investment now is nil. I despair therefore of what awaits future generations. They will not have the advantages that so many of us have had in the past. I plead with the Government to take notice of what is being said by all sections of the community.

4.33 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for taking the opportunity to raise this important question. There is perhaps not much more that I need to say following the eloquence of the right reverend Prelate, my noble friend, and so many contributors to the debate. I am, however, an ex-teacher, the mother of a teacher, and the mother-in-law of a teacher. I have always been greatly concerned with the teaching profession and latterly, especially, with the Church schools.

In the last few months, I have attended the last occasion on which a school would convene together. I hasten to say that these were all Church schools. It was a very sad occasion. One knows that when a hospital closes or a school closes, it never re-opens again in the form that prevailed before it closed. So it was a very sad occasion. I suppose that it would be easy to say that each of these schools has had a very bad record. But that would be totally untrue. The teachers were dedicated.

I welcome this opportunity to say something in favour of teachers. Teachers are expected to pick up every evil in our society. I blame the parents. I lay the blame very stongly at the door of parents. Even this afternoon we have heard the noble Baroness suggest that it was the fact that teachers smoked that caused children to smoke. Even when I was teaching, one was not allowed to smoke except in the staff room. I cannot think that the rule has been changed very much.

A picture is conjured up of people sloping about the school corridors, smoking, drinking and taking drugs and, in the meantime, implanting propaganda in the children. Nothing could be further from the truth. The teachers are struggling in appalling premises. Their dedication has to be seen to be believed. If animals were housed in the same conditions, there would be numerous pressure groups telling us that it was a disgrace and that it should be dealt with tomorrow. What we offer our children is something that all of us should feel thoroughly ashamed of. Teachers have to cope not only with teaching but with every kind of social work. My little daughter-in-law said to me the other day: "I don't mind doing this, but I didn't train to be a social worker. I trained to be a teacher, but I have to spend so much time picking up from the children problems that should never have been brought to school". They are, however, brought to school because, willy-nilly, there is nowhere else to take them.

We have falling rolls. We have, in other words, fewer children in the schools. I recall that when I was teaching there was always held out the great carrot that one day we would actually have small classes where, as has been rightly pointed out, one can do justice to the children. I remember having 44 children in a class for a 30-minute period. That was less than a minute per child. And it included giving out the pencils and the books and taking them back again. We never had a one-to-one situation. There were all levels of intelligence. To me, it is remarkable that our schools should have turned out the quality of people that they have in past years. I do not share the surprise that there are not more of them.

Because of falling rolls, there are school closures and amalgamations. This means fewer opportunities for promotion. And teachers now are wandering around lost, and looking for work. Many ex-head teachers are being maintained on relatively high salaries with nothing to go to. What a colossal waste of talent, energy and everything else! I am sorry that things must always be brought back and placed before the Government. However, if you are the Government, you must accept responsibility for education and for many other things. Rate-capping and similar measures are having their effect on schools. The moment that there are cutbacks, people cut back on what they think is irrelevant. I saw the other day one of my grandson's books from which he was supposed to learn Greek. It was appalling. It was practically unreadable. And he shared it with three other boys. Yet this is 1986. Dickens could have written up with every truth what is going on in our schools.

There is an increasing proportion of very difficult and disturbed children. Teachers are blamed for what they are supposed to be doing, or not doing, in the schools. They are never praised for their handling of this increasing proportion of very difficult children and what they do to contain disruptive pupils. Very few sanctions remain to enable them to deal with these children. Teachers are constantly assaulted; other children are assaulted. One judge, I recall, actually told a teacher that she must expect to be assaulted six times in her working life. That is another, typical example of some of the foolishness shown by these judges to whom we have given a pay award.

Extra demands are being made all the time by the Department of Education and Science and local education authorities. There is increased interference. No profession has been interfered with to a greater extent by people who do not know the job than the teaching profession.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not say the same about social workers?

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, yes, I would. I give the noble Baroness that one, particularly as I am very fond of her. It is so easy to solve a problem round a table or in this Chamber. It is only by standing at the sharp end of the job that you know what you have to contend with.

Finally, we have the suggestion from the Department of Education and from the Secretary of State that there must be assessment of teachers. I notice that they did not want the cameras in the other place—they did not want to be assessed on their performance. But they are very happy to assess the teachers. How can one assess a teacher? I taught dull and backward children—as they were then called—for two years. At the end of that period very few of them could read. They did not have the necessary grey matter in the first place. I do not know what I did for them; I hope that I made life a little fuller and happier. I suspect that it would be very difficult to assess, but I know—with all the conviction that one has when blowing one's own trumpet—that I was a good teacher. However, I would challenge Sir Keith to come and say how he will assess a teacher. It is virtually impossible to do. It is like talking about prevention; one never knows what one prevents.

At the moment we are having new courses introduced into schools. One has the gorgeous name of the Sixteen-Plus Certificate in Pre-vocational Education. We are hearing new words every day. I was intrigued by the one we had in Question Time. What was it—"demile"?

A noble Lord

My Lords, it was "decile".

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, "decile" is not a new word. I taught English but I have to look up words every day.

This system has been introduced without any proper financing or back up. It has been thrust once again on the teachers. Morale is at an all-time low. Let the Government make no mistake about that. This is a traditionally moderate group of people. We are not talking about some "hotheads", despite what the noble Baroness said. I am happy to tell her that that is quite unique in the London schools. One will always have a few, I am afraid, who will do such things. I say that because I go to a large number of London schools. The moderate groups are taking industrial action. I am sure that the Government will be pleased to know that they have taken up all the legislation which the Government have imposed on ballots, and each time they have a ballot within the union they get a higher vote still to have industrial action. And these are moderate people.

The authorities are obsessed with change; our society is obsessed with change. When they want to carry out a reform for financial reasons they all say that it is being done for educational reasons. I make no apology for quoting again what the famous Roman said. He died in AD 65 so he cannot contradict me. He said that they were always training but they were always being reorganised. He said: I was to learn that we tend to meet every new situation by reorganising and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress whilst promoting confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation". Once again nothing has changed very much. The Romans had an expression for nearly everything.

It is not without significance that The Times Educational Supplement—not, I hasten to say, anything from ILEA or from the Communist Party—has a headline in this edition saying, "Pay Deadlock Triggers Independence Boom". The independent schools are booming. Parents are trying to get their children into these schools. Why?—because they are so concerned, because they are not happy with what is happening in the schools; they feel impotent and are not sure how to deal with it. But perhaps that is what the Government want. The Government like market forces. They like to bring in contract labour; they like to have private health schemes encouraged; they like to have private education encouraged.

I would not say that this has been a conscious move. But I make an appeal. We must first have some kind of action in this deadlock on pay. I would emphasise that when one talks to teachers it is not the actual cash terms about which they worry; it is their status in the eyes of their pupils and in the eyes of society. This is what always concerns people. I do not believe that strikes emanate half so often from the question of pay, as we are led to believe. They emanate from people's feelings of frustration that they are not accepted for their worth in society.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for introducing this debate. I hope that we shall get something from it. May I leave with the Government a plea that this is desperately urgent and needs a solution.

4.46 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. The evidence is that the current preoccupation of teachers is not just with salaries and the funding of schools but also with what they see as a very real lack of appreciation by the public at the present time of their work, its difficulty, and its importance to the nation.

I myself have a good deal of sympathy with this. I am a farmer and most of us farmers also feel at the moment that our contribution to the common weal is being somewhat unfairly denigrated. I also have sympathy with teachers who resent the constant oversimplification of the issues and the mindless unresearched criticism by people who seldom enter a school. I agree with them that the public has not fully grasped the enormous changes which are taking place in the demands made upon teachers and the increased and changed workload that those changes represent.

That having been said, I have very little sympathy with the way that teachers are seeking to remedy the situation. It has always seemed likely to prove counterproductive in the short term. Now it is looking massively counterproductive, I believe, in the longer term as well.

After 15 years on a local authority education committee in Scotland I hope that I shall be forgiven if I speak of Scotland; and in particular of my own local authority of Tayside. Our teachers' unions freely admit that their action at the moment is designed to cause the maximum disruption at schools, the maximum impoverishment of children's education, the maximum hold-up of plans for the future which teachers can achieve without themselves breaking the law, breaking their contract or causing authorities to break the law, and at minimum cost to themselves.

Everybody knows in Scotland—and teachers know best of all—that among the most crucial aspects of a child's preparation for the modern world are the following: close and frequent contact between teachers and parents—as the noble Lord, Lord Parry, has so eloquently reminded us; close contact between schools and local industry; widespread supervision and influence by teachers—necessary to maintain good behaviour—and the implementation of a well-worked out curriculum and examination system to make school more relevant to the needs of young people in the world of work and life in general. New and agreed plans of this kind should now be well under way in Scotland.

Everybody knows that new methods of teaching using the new technology are very important, that extra-curricular activities of many kinds are crucial, and that to achieve a high professional standard teachers need considerable in-service training and need to spend a considerable amount of time in reading, planning and preparation. Yet these are the many aspects of their work to which teachers in Scotland have found it necessary to call a halt. And at what cost to themselves! In Tayside in 1984–1985 out of a total of £45 million which would have been paid in teachers' salaries the teachers lost only £175,000, or 0.39 per cent. Up to December in the current year they lost £341,000. The sacrifice has not so far in the main been financial. It has been a sacrifice by teachers of modern participative management of schools, because, increasingly, the unions have been consulted about decisions within schools and their withdrawal is spoiling the whole management system. It has been a sacrifice of the present pupils' life chances and of parents' understanding of and faith in their schools, and it is increasingly a sacrifice of the life chances of the schoolchildren of the future.

The only schools in Scotland where the new curriculum and exams are being fully implemented and where teachers are fully involved in school decisions are in the private sector. I must tell the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that, although the private sector in Scotland is fairly small, I think that is why parents are taking their children away from the state system and putting them into the private sector. The teachers there accepted an increase in pay of 4 to 5 per cent. on account and have been working normally throughout the strike.

However, what matters is not yesterday but today and tomorrow. What must happen? I speak again of Scotland and, although the Scottish press is full of news on the subject today, I think that I am still up to date. We have a new Secretary of State. It seems that this should be regarded as a time for new initiatives.

First, it appears to me that the Government, the local authorities and the profession should now combine in a great drive right across the country to explain clearly and simply to parents and the public just what is planned for the education of our children and what the benefits will be; how the plans for the 10 to 14-year-olds will work; how the new courses and exam system for 14 to 16-year-olds, which should now be under way, will work; how the modular courses of the 16-plus will work; and how these will dovetail with the youth training scheme, with community education, with further education and training and with higher education. The public needs to understand these matters if the political will to implement them is to be found.

Secondly, a package must be negotiated and agreed forthwith with the teachers whereby it is acknowledged that teachers now have a different workload from that which prevailed even five years ago, different demands upon their time and energy, and that they require a new professionalism for which as yet few have been properly trained. It has to be acknowledged that co-operation with parents, co-operation with local industry and extra-curricular activities are no longer frills to be undertaken voluntarily by teachers as the spirit moves them, but are an essential part of the job. Agreement that these matters should be acknowledged should not be difficult as there already exists a survey on teachers' normal duties today which was produced by the joint negotiating committee and agreed by both sides.

The package must include a modern-style flexible definition of teachers' duties. It must include a commitment to re-examine the existing criteria in Scotland for staffing levels in schools, because these are probably no longer the most satisfactory or cost-effective way of deploying staff. Reflecting all this, the package must include new promotion and salary structures—structures which will allow skill and commitment to be rewarded, the best teachers to achieve promotion without having to leave the classroom and take to administration, and pay levels which compare favourably with other professionals in the local government service.

Funding such a package cannot be easy for the local ratepayers because teachers' salaries are such a large part of the total expenditure. In Tayside, which has a net budget of over £100 million, 51 per cent. of that budget is spent on education and 46 per cent. of the education budget goes on school staff costs. The teachers continue to say that in Scotland they want an independent pay review. But it must surely be a properly negotiated, agreed and realistic package. Human nature being what it is, if the money comes first it could take long enough for the rest of the urgently needed changes to happen. We have previous experience of Houghton and Clegg, when very large pay rises were awarded, the cost of which was the straw that broke the back of local government funding in 1979, and out-of-date practices continued virtually as before.

The skeleton round which such a package could be constructed is already on the table. It was put there by the local authority employment side of the joint negotiation committee last August, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has indicated that £10 million of new taxpayers' money could be available over four years to aid implementation. It seems to me that it is of the greatest importance to the life chances of our young people and to the career prospects of teachers—indeed, to the very continuance of the state education system as we know it in Scotland—that a campaign to help people understand what is proposed should be implemented, that an up-to-date package should be agreed forthwith and that we should be able thereafter to get the most important of all our services on the move again.

4.56 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, we are all indebted to my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford for initiating this debate on the problems of the nation's schools. There cannot be any doubt that of those problems at present the most pressing is the dispute with teachers and the fact that teachers are taking industrial action, with the inevitable damage that follows from that to the children and the education system as a whole.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Irving that what is needed is, first, an interim award of some kind. With that the Government must make it clear that it is their intention within a reasonable time to enable the teachers to recover the ground that they have lost since the Houghton award of about a decade ago. If the Government can create that situation, I think we may have the degree of trust which will make it possible to go on and bring in the other items: the nature of teachers' duties and the delicate question of the appraisal of teachers. The profession has not shown itself unwilling to discuss appraisal, but it will not agree either to that or to arguments about what teachers' duties should be unless the Government first make clear their attitude on the question of pay.

With the question of pay goes the question of the respect in which teachers are held. It is a fact that their salaries have been allowed to drop in comparison with almost everybody else's, which gives the real gravamen to their charge that the Government are neglecting them and treating them unfairly. I am sorry that the noble Lord who referred to teachers' holidays is no longer present; it is a rather ancient argument, and anyone who has done teaching for a little while will possibly understand why teachers need rather longer holidays than people who pursue other professions. However, in any case this reproach could have been thrown at teachers a decade, two decades, or half a century ago. It is not a reason why their salaries should have been allowed to slide back during the last decade in the way that they have.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, gave striking examples of the excellent work done by teachers in the most difficult material conditions. It is of course true that of all the things that affect the quality of education it is the human factors—the attitude of the parents towards their children's education and the gifts of the teacher—that matter most. However, sometimes that is used as an argument for excusing governments which do not spend enough on the material surroundings of the school—the buildings and the equipment. One must remember that children are not fools. If they observe that when a public house gets dilapidated beyond a certain point steps are promptly taken to improve it, but that nothing like that happens with schools, they will come to the conclusion that what their elders are always telling them about the importance of education is so much humbug.

We cannot expect teachers, however devoted, to go on giving of their very best in desperately unsuitable surroundings, with no prospect of having them put right. What we have noticed—and this was brought out most strikingly in the powerful speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby—is the way the Government have neglected the material surroundings of education; that work has had to be done in surroundings which made it clear that the community as a whole did not put a great value on education.

If we are to solve the problems of the nation's schools the Government will have to spend more money both on teachers' salaries and on educational provision of all kinds. I am afraid that this is a topic to which I refer whatever subject I start with. I usually end up by saying that the Government must be prepared to realise that they must raise the necessary taxation to meet necessary public services, whether those are defence, education, social services, or what you will.

We do not get inflation by increasing public expenditure; we get inflation if we increase public expenditure and have not the nerve to raise the necessary taxation to meet it. That has been the danger into which governments have constantly fallen. We had better stop talking about the possibilities of tax cuts until we have met some of the most pressing needs of the country, and a proper provision of the material surroundings of the education system is one of those essential things.

If we could do that, I hope that we could then avoid being led away from this essential problem of, are we, as a nation, ready to spend more on education? I believe that the number of people in the country at all levels of income who are prepared to see more money spent even out of their own pockets in order to have decent public services is steadily increasing. If the Government imagine that the country is full of people quite prepared to vote "Yes" for tax cuts, without bothering about what happens on any of the important public services, they are mistaken. At any rate, I hope they are.

We must keep in mind the need to spend more on education, on teachers and on buildings, and not be led off into the agreeable irrelevancies to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, tried to shift the debate. I hope that we are not going to have the comprehensive issue brought up again and be invited to try again with something like the 11 plus. That is to say, to commit ourselves to the notion that we can decide a child's capacities at the age of 11, and do so by—

Baroness Cox

My Lords, if the noble Lord had perhaps been able to hear what I said he would have heard that I had no intention of suggesting putting the clock back. I was arguing for a way of looking forward which avoided precisely that problem.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, the trouble was that the noble Baroness objected to comprehensive education. That must have meant that she was in favour of some form of selective education.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I am sorry, but, just for the record, I was arguing for something called magnet schools, or specialist comprehensives, which combine the best of both worlds.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness is trying to have it both ways. She is trying to arrange some means of selecting children for one school rather than another. We have tried that. It produced the most remarkable nonsense. If anyone wants to study it they should read the reports of the Conservative women's conference in the 1950s, which displayed most devastatingly the muddles into which one got if one tried to proceed on any kind of selective system of education.

I have no doubt that there are some silly pamphlets written about political education. I must say that I was staggered when I heard the noble Baroness say that it has always been a cherished principle of ours that there should never be party politics in education. I can remember when I was in an infants school run by the London Country Council, as it then was, under Conservative control. We always had a special lesson about Disraeli on Primrose Day. It does not always seem to produce the effects that were hoped, and I do not think they do it now because I doubt whether anyone remembers which day is Primrose Day.

This is an abuse which can always occur, but I do not believe that it is a serious matter. If it were we should hear a great deal more about it from parents in London. If the Government imagine that parents in London are bitterly dissatisfied with the education they get from ILEA at the present time, then they are out of touch with what parents really feel. Let us not be led away from the real and pressing necessity to have a better educational system. Better and more satisfied teachers, better buildings and equipment for them to work in, and let us not be led astray by these comparative irrelevancies.

I wanted to add something about the nature of the buildings and equipment that schools have. It is staggering that we are now reading the extent to which parents are contributing to those things, buildings and equipment, which ought to be an esential part of the nation's own provision. We had produced from the Front Bench the other day statistics to show how increasingly prosperous this country is getting—apart from the number of people who have the misfortune to be unemployed. If we are getting so much more prosperous, why are we constantly being told that we cannot afford certain essential improvements in the public services? We must get back to the plain fact that we are not spending enough on education, that we had better get down to spending more; then we may get a little nearer to solving the problems to which my noble friend has helped to draw our attention this afternoon.

5.7 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Irving has richly deserved the thanks that have been showered on him by all speakers for his foresight in introducing this Motion today. In addition to the thanks he must have the satisfaction of knowing that he has drawn into the debate a number of people with excellent personal understanding of the issues. If ever there were a subject before this House on which the emphasis must be on people—on what happens in the classroom—rather than on institutions, education in our schools is that subject.

We have been well served by the expert and wise words of many noble Lords this afternoon. I am particularly grateful to those who have referred to particular parts of the country and their problems and opportunities. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, referred to schools in London; my noble friend Lord Parry, to Wales; the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, to Scotland; my noble friend Lord Taylor spoke about the North-West. All of these have been real and valuable contributions.

There have been many other worthwhile things said to which a minute or two ought to be devoted. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, drew two relevant conclusions from his, if I may so as a survey researcher, rather small sample of schools. The two points that he was making which were particularly valuable were, first, that one element of the discouragement, disappointment and sometimes despair in our schools is the knowledge, both among teachers and pupils, that a high proportion of those leaving school are not going to find jobs. This must inevitably have a deadening and discouraging effect on the schools; the effect, in particular, of truancy which was referred to by a number of noble Lords.

He also made the point that the fact that a school is multiracial is not a disadvantage. On the contrary it is a real advantage. One of the most remarkable changes in our society in the last 30 years, one which has been almost entirely a beneficial change, has been the opportunity of our people to mix with those of other races.

One must be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for giving us a trailer for the debate which she will introduce on 5th February. At least she has given us an opportunity to sharpen our weapons, of which I assure her there are plenty, by exposing her arguments in advance. My noble friends Lord Parry and Lord Stewart, who both went a good way to answering the issue (particularly the recollection by my noble friend Lord Stewart of his own indoctrination) must strike a spark in many people's memories. I remember vividly being taught in economics that the climax of the organisation of human kind was the capitalist system. There was in the penultimate lecture a small piece on the economics of socialism in which it was pointed out how wicked and reactionary and incapable of achievement socialist economics would be—

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Hear, hear, my Lords!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that, I am sure, is acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter; but if he had heard his noble friend he might not be so keen on generalised accusations about indoctrination.

I was also interested in the comments made by the noble Baroness about the achievement of comprehensive schools. It is incumbent on us all to find an opportunity to debate this issue at greater length. I shall seek to do so. My recollection from the statistics of school leavers issued by the Department of Education and Science—I have only the 1982 edition to hand—is that the number of school leavers who had no qualifications at all declined from 20 per cent. of all school leavers in 1984 to 10 per cent. in 1982. There may be other figures than those which have been quoted by the noble Baroness, and the debate which might take place on this matter might be less one-sided than we are led to believe from the figures we have heard so far.

The right reverend Prelate made some extremely valuable points about the partnership, which is an essential part of our educational system, among the parents, the teachers, the governors and the community at large. It is one of the worst aspects of the current pay dispute that that partnership has been put at risk and that contact between teachers and the other partners in the education system has been cut off so brutally.

I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, made particularly relevant comments about the curriculum and the relationship between education and training. I know she referred particularly to Scotland, but the problem of the gap between school and work, or school and life after school if there is no work, requires much greater attention than it has been given. There are people in the education and training worlds who are anxious to see that gap reduced or broken.

I feel that we should be considering more deeply not just a two-year youth training scheme after pupils leave school, but some greater integration of training with education, probably from an earlier age of 14 to 19 years, with spells of work experience intermingled with spells of education, out of which the results could be not only examination results, which should always be available, but also the credits to which the noble Baroness referred.

I have said that it is people not institutions who matter in our schools, but speaking from this Dispatch Box I have an obligation to speak to some extent about institutions and about the balance sheets. There are things that I have to say about public expenditure on education, the relationship between governments and local education authorities and, finally, about the pay dispute. The figures for public expenditure on education are contained in this year's public expenditure White Paper, and very discouraging reading they make for everybody concerned with education and for the improvement of it. The plans going up to 1988–89 (I realise that these are planning totals and planning totals are not adhered to in practice, but they are the only things that we have to go on) envisage a cut in real terms in education expenditure of approximately 10 per cent. by 1988–89. The total public expenditure on education is proposed to go below the total of 10 per cent. of all public expenditure for the first time in many years. Expenditure on education was higher than expenditure on defence for many years until recently. By 1988–89, if the plans in the White Paper are achieved, expenditure on education will be only 80 per cent. of that planned for defence. If we consider this in terms of the shortfall from the real level of expenditure the situation is equally grave. By 1988–89 expenditure on the under-fives will have declined in real terms by 8.7 per cent., expenditure on primary schools by 7.3 per cent., expenditure on secondary schools by 10.2 per cent.

If the noble Earl thinks that he can say that the Government are behaving fairly and proposing to behave fairly by our schools in the light of those projections by his own Government, he is either much cleverer than I am in the interpretation of statistics or he is keeping the compartments in his mind very successfully apart.

The second issue which has to be raised is that of government intervention in the spending of resources for education. The noble Earl chided me last night for suggesting that the Government might impose minimum standards on midday supervision in schools, but we see a report in The Guardian today that the Government will be proposing in their Green Paper on the rates extending specific grants into new areas and particularly into education. The figure under discussion under the Education (Amendment) Bill instead of being 1 per cent. of total expenditure, 10 to 15 per cent. of educational spending or £1 billion to £1½ billion of the £10 billion total would be directly applied in specific grants by the Government as opposed to the block grant system which now obtains. The timing is such that the noble Earl has a golden opportunitiy categorically to deny those allegations which are presumably based on leaks, although I do not know from which department. He has the opportunity to say that these allegations are totally untrue and that the Green Paper will not contain any such proposals. If he fails to do that the House and the nation will draw their own conclusions on that matter.

Finally, there is the question of the pay dispute. It behoves all of us, while negotiations at ACAS are still going on, to be extremeley cautious in what we say, because nothing we say ought to put at risk the possibility of agreement between, unfortunately, the two groups of teachers and the local authorities. But the fundamental problem which cannot be solved either by the local authority employers or by the teachers' unions is that, whatever the opposite of tertius gaudens is, the absent partner in these negotiations (the partner who is determined to remain absent and who has played no significant or helpful part at any stage in this dispute) is the Government. It is the Government which control the expenditure of local authorities either, in some places, by rate-capping or by the penalties which they impose for under-spending. It is the Government which deny the local authorities the resources to reach a meaningful agreement with the teachers; it is the Government which have consistently made it impossible for agreement to be reached at a much earlier and much less damaging stage. I am not simply referring to the extraordinary maladroitness of the announcement of the top people's salary review immediately after the first rapprochement between the employers and the teachers last summer.

The fact is that there is so much wrong with teachers' pay that it cannot be dealt with on a single, 12-months' basis. It will take a much longer time for justice to be done to the teachers and to all of us as parents and members of the community who depend on a loyal and happy teaching service. In the period since 1974, in the period after the Houghton Report, teachers' salaries were roughly comparable to those of accountants, systems programmers and analysts, civil engineers, surveyors, production managers, office managers, local government administrators and so on. At that time, as I say, teachers were within 4 per cent. of the average salaries for those groups of people.

Now, teachers are paid 45 per cent. less than accountants, 51 per cent. less than systems analysts and programmers, 43 per cent. less than chemical scientists, 45 per cent. less than civil engineers, 13 per cent. less than surveyors—and I have not heard about a surveyors' strike yet—and 72 per cent. less than office managers and so on. The situation of teachers perhaps living in the same streets as these people, or living in the same community as these people, is desperate. There cannot be any justification for that continuing decline in relative standards for a group of people who, with very minor exceptions from a small number of people, are generally held to deserve the trust and support of our people.

It must be the case that, whatever happens at ACAS, there should be an independent public inquiry funded by the Government to look not only at this year's settlement but at the settlement over a period of years. This inquiry should be in the spirit of the Houghton inquiry and should look again with complete independence at the whole issue of comparabilities.

In the meantime, we must all hope that the ACAS discussions and negotiations meet with success in the very next few days, and that we end up from that at least with a conclusion to the extraordinary difficulties which have faced our schools since 6th February last year, and the Scottish schools for much longer. The debate this afternoon has shown that there are many more long-standing problems which we have to tackle; but they can only be tackled when this immediate problem has been overcome.

5.26 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has given us an opportunity this afternoon for a thoughtful debate about the nation's schools. I could have wished that the terms of his Motion had allowed us to fix our attention as much on the strengths of our schools as on their problems, but perhaps in the present circumstances the emphasis he has chosen is inevitable. Nonetheless, I should like to begin my own remarks with the clear statement that the Government believe that our school system has made notable advances over the past 30 years, and that there is an enormous amount of dedicated, imaginative and well-focused work going on in our schools today. No criticism should be allowed to obscure that fact. In fact, I believe that in some respects standards have improved in recent years.

But I also believe that in some respects they have not, or anyway not fast enough to keep pace with the demands of the modern world. The Government described some of the areas where improvement is particularly needed in the White Paper, Better Schools. I shall not rehearse those comments here. I propose instead to talk mainly about the action being taken by the Government to improve standards in three crucial areas—the curriculum, examinations and teachers—referring as I do so to points made by noble Lords in the course of this debate.

The curriculum is at the heart of what the schools do. The Government have succeeded, I think, in getting very wide agreement with the proposition that for all pupils the curriculum should be broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated. What the education service now has to do is to work out those principles in practice: to ensure that every boy and girl really received a broad education in science; that all study one or more of the humanities to the age of 16; that all continue with a practical subject to the same age; that as many pupils as possible successfully learn a foreign language; that all subjects are taught in a practical and relevant way; that all pupils are able to progress as far and as fast as their abilities will allow. I could go on much longer.

Simply to state some of the requirements is to understand why they present schools with a formidable range of problems. Many schools no doubt are already meeting some of these requirements effectively; but very few can claim that they are doing so in every respect. Yet that has to be our goal. That is why the Government are seeking broad national agreement on the objectives of the curriculum. This requires a great deal of the teachers. They may have to rethink the structure of the curriculum as a whole, of option systems, of individual courses. They may have to rethink the ways in which they tackle the job in the classroom. For the upper years of compulsory schooling, the TVEI and other projects are exploring what can be done. HMI papers particularly those in the Curriculum Matters series, and policy statements from the Government, as well as the curriculum policies of each LEA, will help schools to think about the issues involved. And the governing body has an important role in this, too. But in the last resort it is the teacher in the classroom who has to make the necessary changes.

Of course, one of the most significant changes facing teachers throughout most of the United Kingdom is in the field of examinations. My right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced on 20th June 1984 that the present system of GCE O-levels, CSE and joint 16-plus examinations would be replaced by a new single system of examinations, the GCSE. The first courses start in September 1986 and the first examinations will be held in the summer of 1988. This announcement followed a long period of debate and was widely welcomed both within and outside the educational world.

The timetable for the introduction of the new examination courses is demanding. The main task of preparation naturally falls to teachers. To assist them in that task, the GCSE examining groups, the LEAs, and the Secondary Examination Council, which is providing preparatory teachers' guides and videos, have collaborated in a special programme of in-service support for all teachers of the GCSE. The Government are contributing substantially towards the cost.

Noble Lords will be aware that some teachers' associations have instructed their members not to cooperate with the introduction of the GCSE as part of the action resulting from the present dispute. Specifically, they have asked their members not to turn up to the preparatory seminars organised under the training programme. I hope that teachers will think seriously before taking this course. These important reforms brought by the GCSE have long been advocated by many teachers and their associations. Many teachers have worked long and hard in the development of the new courses. By taking such action, teachers will only be making it more difficult for themselves to implement the new examinations, examinations which are desired as much by them as by the Government.

All preparations for the introduction of the new examinations are well on course. I am glad to be able to say that there have been no reports of significant disruption of these preparations so far; but of course the majority of teachers are only just beginning to become directly involved in the training programme. My right honourable friend takes the reported threats of non-co-operation with the GCSE seriously and will wish to monitor the position closely. However, the Government believe that the new examinations can be brought in according to the timetable which my right honourable friend set in June 1984. I hope that teachers will think seriously before taking any action which will damage their pupils' educational experiences and chances of examination success.

So far I have been speaking about the academic side of the work of our schools. But the Government, and society as a whole, look to schools to promote high standards not only of achievement but also of behaviour. A school's ethos can be a powerful determinant—though it is far from being the only one—of young people's attitudes and sense of responsiblity towards others. One aspect of that ethos is the way in which discipline is exercised. The Government's views on discipline in schools have been clearly set out in Better Schools. Schools need discipline for their own immediate purposes, so that they can get on with their main task of educating children, but they also recognise that the task itself extends to fostering the high standards of personal conduct which society expects from its adults. Most schools do in fact impose and maintain good discipline, not only by means of rewards and punishments, but through the examples teachers set through their every day relationships with pupils and parents and through curriculum subjects such as moral and social education. At the same time, I know that there is widespread anxiety about the minority of schools where standards are unacceptable, and we have called on them and the local education authorities concerned to tackle their problems urgently.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull raised the question of truancy. Prolonged absence from school without an acceptable reason is a matter for concern, whatever the reason and whether or not parents condone it. Unless firm action is taken, and taken promptly, it is likely to continue and become chronic and thus seriously affect a child's education and future prospects. This requires close co-operation between the schools and the education and welfare services in identifying absentees, discovering the underlying reason behind the absenteeism and finding and applying the appropriate solution. Then it means making it clear to the parents and pupils what will happen if the absenteeism continues. Finally, if all else fails, it means ensuring that the offence (because it is an offence) is brought promptly to the attention of the courts. The thrust of the circular is to concentrate the efforts of the education and welfare service on its primary task of ensuring attendance and to ask local education authorities to ensure that the service is effectively organised to do so.

My noble friend asked me a number of questions, but in view of the fact that time is running out I really think that I shall have to write to her about them. For the same reason, I shall not go into any of the points raised by my noble friend Lady Cox. She has given fair warning and she will have a chance to debate the subject further on 5th February. Perhaps I should say, on the specific question she asked about my right honourable friend thinking carefully before he closes any more grammar schools, that he considers very carefully all proposals brought before him by local education authorities for school reorganisations.

Her Majesty's inspectors of schools will be carrying out a review of good practice in schools as regards relationships, behaviour, attitudes to work and discipline, and this should provide valuable guidance for schools on these important aspects of their work. A report will be published by the end of the year. But schools cannot do everything on their own, and I was very grateful for the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and the noble Lord, Lord Parry. I know that the noble Baroness is not very good about staying, but I thought that she might perhaps have stayed for the end of this debate since it is a short debate. However, I am sure she has a very good excuse.

We look to parents during the pre-school years to equip their children with at least a basic idea of right and wrong and of how to behave considerately towards others. But we must also look to parents, once their children have started school, to support and complement what the schools do, and we are encouraging parent outreach schemes which help the parents understand how their role as educators fits in with classroom education. A survey of parent outreach schemes is therefore being commissioned by the Department of Education and Science to provide information on the critical factors that bear on parental involvement and on the types of scheme which could be encouraged on a wide scale. Finally, to reflect the fact that schools are rooted in the community at large, we are proposing to broaden the membership of governing bodies of county, controlled and maintained special schools, and we shall expect governing bodies, with head teachers, to take responsibility for promoting a suitable ethos in their school.

Perhaps I may say a little more about this. For a school to be successful in all its tasks, it needs to have an identity and clear sense of purpose of its own. At present, too few maintained schools have these attributes in sufficient degree. The Government see the governing body of each school as the focus for the necessary developments on this front. As announced in the gracious Speech, a Bill will shortly be introduced for the reconstitution of school governing bodies in England and Wales. Parents and the wider community served by the school would, as indicated in the White Paper Better Schools, have stronger voices and no one interest would be predominant.

The Government recognise the problems of education in the inner cities and are tackling them across a broad front. Inner city schools will benefit from our national initiatives to improve the quality of schools throughout the country. Furthermore, a great deal of money is already being directed towards the special needs of inner city schools. These needs are under continuous review—a process which, naturally, continues in the light of recent events.

The special needs of ethnic minorities are also being tackled, and I was very interested to hear what was said on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee. Financial assistance is available to local education authorities through the Home Office, under Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966, to provide additional staff in support of the educational needs of commonwealth immigrants. Educational expenditure of about £75 million a year is supported under Section 11. In addition, education support grant is being used to support pilot projects to meet ethnic monority needs, to promote harmony between different racial groups and to prepare pupils and students for life in a multi-ethnic society.

Other measures are in hand too. For example, the new criteria for the approval of teacher training courses require students to be prepared for teaching in a multi-ethnic society. The in-service teacher training grants scheme will be extended from 1986–87 to include training to equip serving teachers to respond to ethnic diversity. The department has issued a consultation paper, inviting views on possible reasons for the apparent under-representation of ethnic minorities in the teaching force and of ways of increasing recruitment. Responses are now being considered.

The Government have recognised that their policies for better schools cannot be given proper effect without sufficient, suitable schoolteachers in post. They have consulted their partners about the numbers of schoolteachers required and have acknowledged that some further limited improvement in the overall pupil-teacher ratio for England and Wales may be needed, even though this is now at its best-ever level. The Government have made clear that the extent and pace of this improvement must depend on future public expenditure plans and changes in the cost of employing staff. It is also most important that any improvement should be used in support of the Government's curricular policies, and that this should be coupled with efforts to secure a more efficient deployment of the teaching force across and within individual local authorities. The Government and their partners are now considering the way forward.

A steady improvement has taken place in pupil-teacher ratios over many years. In response to a concern often voiced by parents as well as teachers, this improvement has been commonly used to reduced the size of regular classes. There may still be some classes around the country which are too large to allow adequate attention to individual needs, but on the whole the Government believe that it is now more important to use further improvements in staffing levels to focus on the celivery of the curriculum rather than on a general reduction in class size as a goal in itself. For example—and my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour said this—teachers may need more time away from regular classes for in-service training and curriculum review and may benefit from more flexible patterns of teaching, which can be more closely attuned to pupils' abilities and needs.

Improvements of this kind are important if we are to retain and motivate teachers of good quality, and I am glad to say that the profession is continuing to attract large numbers into training, despite the current dispute. Yet there is no denying that supply has become worse in certain subjects where there have always been difficulties because of direct competition for recruits with industry and commerce. I am thinking in particular of mathematics, physics and craft, design and technology. That is why the Government are keen to see a reform of the teachers' pay structure so that local authorities are given greater flexibility to recruit, retain and motivate people of the right quality, including people whose specialist qualifications are in short supply. We also believe that new graduates in maths, physics and CDT may require some extra financial incentive to spend a year on a PGCE course rather than accept immediate employment—which is why students on such courses in colleges in England and Wales will now be eligible for tax-free bursaries worth £1,200 a year, alongside mature students on specially-designed CDT training courses.

It is a matter of great concern and regret to the Government that the teachers' dispute should have gone on for so long—for almost 12 months in England and Wales and for nearly 18 months in Scotland. Like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I very much hope that the talks under the auspices of ACAS—which were adjourned yesterday and are reconvening on Friday—will help the two sides to find a satisfactory way of settling this damaging dispute. The Government, like parents, want to see an early end to the disruption of children's education. Let us hope that the unions—all the unions—adopt the same objective. It is impossible to see what useful purpose can be served by intensifying the action directed against children. They have suffered enough.

With this damage being done, it should go without saying that the Government want the earliest possible end to this dispute. Yet it has been suggested that the Government are not doing enough. I really must refute that criticism. Our first concern must be for the children. We must be able to hold out to them the promise of good quality and uninterrupted education. This is why we need not only an early end to the current pay dispute but also a lasting settlement covering teachers' pay, their career and promotion structure, their duties and their conditions of service.

There is at present no formal statement of teachers' duties and responsibilities. That is no longer an acceptable position. When it suits them—during the current dispute, for example—teachers claim that many of the tasks they have regularly carried out in the past are voluntary and cannot be required of them. Examples are taking classes in place of absent colleagues, attending staff meetings and parents' meetings, and taking part in in-service training and other schemes of staff development. In times of dispute, some teachers—and I fully accept that this applies only to a minority—refuse to carry out some or all of such tasks and thus severely disrupt children's education at little or no cost to themselves, because employing authorities hesitate to impose penalties in the absence of any formal statement of teachers' duties.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the noble Earl give way?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I will not, I am afraid. I am very short of time. I have quite a lot to say and I think I am entitled to my 20 minutes. It has become essential to establish such a formal statement so that both teachers and employers know clearly where they stand.

The teachers' pay and career structure does not meet today's needs. Two specific problems are the limited promotion prospects for good teachers now that pupil numbers are declining, and the limited extent to which the pay structure enables employers to offer pay which takes sufficient account of the relative difficulty of filling particular teaching posts with appropriately qualified, trained and experienced teachers.

The Government recognise that the amount spent on teachers' pay needs to be increased in real terms if enough teachers are to be recruited, retained and motivated. The Government have offered additional resources, totalling £1,250 million over the four years 1986–87 to 1989–90, above what would normally be provided in the course of annual public expenditure planning and pay negotiations. Quite deliberately and properly, this was not a no-strings pay offer. This substantial additional investment was made conditional on sufficient progress being made towards a clear definition of the range of teachers' duties linked to their contracts of employment, and a pay structure which will offer more promotion opportunities, provide better rewards for leadership responsibilities, and attract skills currently in short supply.

I think that I can very quickly contradict the view held by I believe a lot of noble Lords today, that the blame for all that is wrong in our schools can be laid at the foot of the Government's expenditure policies. The facts simply do not bear this out. The resources which taxpayers and ratepayers put into the education of each child have increased under this Government. Record amounts of money are now being spent on the education of the nation's children. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who I think I can say is a friend of mine, though I cannot say my noble friend, said that the expenditure was nil. But 16 per cent. more per pupil in real terms is now being spent than in 1979. I acknowledge that falling pupil numbers have helped. But this still represents an enormous opportunity for good.

There is, as I said earlier, real improvement, too, in overall pupil-teacher ratios. These show that in January 1979 there were 18.9 pupils to every teacher in England. By January 1985 the measure was 17.8 pupils to every teacher—the best ever level. And last week's public expenditure White Paper confirmed the Government's plans for a further modest improvement to 17.7:1 in January 1986. The allocations for education capital expenditure in England in the financial year 1986–87, announced in December 1985, should enable LEAs to meet all basic needs for new school places arising from local population growth, and to carry out in full their plans for cost-effective rationalisation of school accommodation by the removal of surplus places.

I think that my time is running out. In conclusion, I have to acknowledge the considerable but legitimate demands that are placed on the education service by the need to improve standards to match the requirements of the modern world. The Government will continue to do all that they can not only to resolve the current dispute, but also to help the education service make the changes necessary if schools are to equip our young people properly for the world of the 21st century.

5.43 p.m.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I hope that this debate has helped to emphasise the seriousness of the situation in our schools. I would just note—

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Aylestone)

My Lords, the time allotted to this debate has elapsed. Does the noble Lord wish to withdraw the Motion?

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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