§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Lord Peston rose to call attention to the state of primary and secondary education; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first time that I have introduced a debate in your Lordships' House. Apart from that excitement, I also have the double pleasure of noting that two noble Lords will make their maiden speeches in this debate. Perhaps I may say how much all of us in your Lordships' House are looking forward to those speeches.
§ I wish that in my own speech, in order to help them, I could be non-controversial. However, my experience of education has been that merely to say that x plus x equals 2x is regarded as highly contentious; and to say that a sentence contains a 1037 subject and a verb is regarded as highly provocative. Therefore to be non-controversial is not easy. I am also aware that this debate is by way of being a preliminary skirmish and that the real battle on education, to which we all look forward, will occur when the new education Bill comes before your Lordships' House.
§ I should also like to say by way of preliminary remarks that there is always a problem for those of us who are devoted to the state system of maintained schools. We support them and regard them as good schools; but we also strongly believe that the way to help them to improve is to criticise them. The danger is of course that our remarks are then sometimes used by other more destructive critics as a way of damaging those schools. I hope very much that in today's debate we shall not have such interventions.
§ I begin my remarks more substantively with a few words on our primary schools. For the most part I think they are universally acknowledged to be extremely good schools. They are community schools and, in my view, in the best sense of the word they are comprehensive schools.
§ I am aware that when we consider the curricula of such schools there is always tension between those who would emphasise the so-called three Rs and those who pay greater attention to what appeared in the very distinguished report of Lady Plowden some years ago regarding the development of the whole child. There is that tension, which I am well aware of. I may say that instinctively I am a conservative with a small "c" and in addition I am probably excessively so.
§ If I may be anecdotal, I remember when my first child went to primary school he appeared to spend all day playing with bits of sand and paint, and nothing else. As a young man, I was horrified that he was not sitting at a desk adding up long columns of figures and being taught how to read. My wife, however—who then, as now, had a great deal more sense than I—suggested that if I waited a little our child would actually learn the art of reading and might even be able to do a bit of elementary arithmetic. Moreover, he might end up a rather happier and better integrated person. Of course she was right.
§ The point I am trying to make is that in considering the education of our children we really ought to have more faith in the children themselves and also occasionally show a bit of faith in their teachers. I would add that I think we should all recognise that there is a range of valid approaches to education, and certainly to primary education. I do not believe that the state of knowledge of child psychology is so definite and well substantiated as to allow any of us to conclude that any one way of doing things is the only correct way.
§ I turn now to comprehensive schools as more generally understood; that is, comprehensive secondary schools. One of the puzzling things about them is how political they have become. It is puzzling because those of us who know the history of comprehensive education in this country know the leading role that was played in the foundation of comprehensive schools and in their success by many 1038 Conservative local authorities. The notion that the comprehensive school was some kind of Socialist engineering invention simply bears no relationship whatsoever to the facts.
§ The positive case for comprehensive schools is that they hold all the children in our community together. I can tell your Lordships, again being anecdotal, that there is nothing more heartbreaking—this is something I know from personal experience—than to see in the local community all the children happily together in primary schools and then suddenly being split up and going their separate ways; some off to public schools, some to other forms of fee-paying schools and others, like my own children, as it were, keeping going within the comprehensives as part of the community.
§ So I think that the positive case for comprehensive schools remains as strong today as it ever was. Within such schools there is room for greater flexibility of the curriculum and also for much greater freedom of choice. I think we also ought to bear in mind something which is often forgotten but which is again connected with the foundation of such schools; that is, how biased and inefficient selection can be. We should not forget that a great deal of the case for comprehensives has to do with enormous errors—often the errors through arrogance on the part of psychologists who believed that they could sort children out once and for all and very successfully. But the evidence overwhelmingly has been that they could not do it then, and they cannot do it now.
§ I hope I am not breaking the Official Secrets Act when I reveal that in my time working at the DES, round about this time of the year when the results from those parts of the country still engaged in selective education became public knowledge, the Minister's desk would be covered with letters saying, "My child was not selected for local grammar school: he or she is a first-rate child and will you please do something about bringing comprehensives into this or that local education authority? So I remain unreformed, (if I may use that word), about the positive merits of such schools and also, negatively, about the damage that can be done by the selective system.
§ On the other hand, I would add two further remarks which I think are important. One is that many of our comprehensive schools have problems. In large part they are the problems of society as a whole, and in particular they are problems to do with the inner cities. I hope that those of us who try to assess our schools and to help them will not assume that the difficulties they have are somehow intrinsic to them, as opposed to being often intrinsic to the circumstances in which they are asked to operate.
§ Let me say that even in those circumstances—and I am looking forward to hearing the noble Baroness's comments on this—when visiting such schools, which I do rather less often than I used to, I am always overwhelmed to see the adverse circumstances in which teachers are doing work of a positive nature. I am sometimes amazed, thinking of the difficult circumstances within which they operate, that they are not disheartened. It is enormously impressive to see how they try. They certainly try harder than I 1039 would, as a university teacher dealing with difficult students.
§ I turn now to the general area of freedom of choice, parental involvement, and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was once chairman of a very important committee dealing with the role of governors and I hope that he will intervene in due course to say something about that and related matters. I should like simply to emphasise several points. First, the idea of parental involvement is not something that was invented in the past year or so by the present Secretary of State. The idea of choice within the maintained school system is not something that was invented just by him. Again, being my normal boring self, I was writing 20 years ago that it was vital for parental choice to become a very important factor in our maintained system and was devising ways of doing precisely that.
§ Looking generally at the question of parental involvement, it seems to me clearly the case that 25 years ago head teacher power was too strong for most of us, when we were sending our children to school, found ourselves completely unwelcome when we were walking through the playground. Indeed, we were not allowed in. So clearly it was right to move in the other direction, and I am glad that the system has evolved so that parents now have a much greater say and a much greater contribution to make. However, things may now have gone too far. There is a danger that the head teacher may have too little power and that teachers have been pushed too much to one side in these matters: certainly they feel that to be so. I believe we must think again about what is the right balance between the teachers on the one side and the parents on the other.
§ On teachers generally, it is now very much the present game to malign them. I for one certainly do not. It seems to me, to say the least, that it is extremely unfortunate that their bargaining rights as trade unionists have been removed. I am not certain whether the noble Baroness will be able to tell us anything positive on that matter this afternoon, but certainly we hope to hear from her in due course.
§ I should like to add a slightly acerbic remark. In looking forward to seeing the teachers' unions returning to a proper role in this area, I am not supporting a tiny minority of teachers. I include in that remark the Inner London Teachers Association, which I think has behaved in a foolhardy and arbitrary way in terms of teachers being ready to withdraw their labour (if that is the right word) at a moment's notice without due regard for the interests of the children. I think that that constitutes teacher power taken to a mad extreme.
§ Before I sit down I should like to say a few words in anticipation of the education Bill. First, I am not one of those who feel that the education system is such that it is quite intolerable for a Secretary of State to ask questions about it. I think that the Secretary of State is entirely right to ask questions and I agree that nothing is ever finally settled in this domain or anywhere else for that matter. Therefore if the Secretary of State wants to discuss charging and fee paying, why should he not do so? If he wishes to weaken the role of the local education authorities or 1040 ask about their future role, why should he not be allowed to do so?
§ Indeed, if he wants to raise all kinds of questions about freedom of choice, perhaps he can also tell us whether, within this area of discourse, he also wants to discuss whether there should be a school-leaving age, or whether education should be compulsory, and similar matters. While I do not object to the Secretary of State raising such matters, I hope that as we progress in this field, both today and when the Bill comes to us, we shall find that we are dealing with Ministers who are open-minded and willing to argue through the case in order to come to the correct outcome rather than a doctrinaire one.
§ I should like to say just a few words about the curriculum, and I speak very much for myself. I favour a national curriculum. I commit no one else on this side of the House to that view, but I have always been a believer in a national curriculum. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Eccles, is in his place. I remember that when he was Secretary of State for Education he was one of the first to try to raise from the centre the idea that the Secretary of State has some role to play in curriculum reform and enhancement. Many Secretaries of State since his day have tried to move forward in that field and I am not unhappy that the present Secretary of State is also trying to do something in that area.
§ Having said that, I must make some further remarks. If the Minister gets involved in the question of a national curriculum, I hope that in doing so he is aware that he has not only power but also responsibility. Most of all. I should deplore a Secretary of State who lays down rules from the centre for a curriculum and then chooses to blame everyone but himself should anything go wrong in the schools. In other words, it is important to bear in mind that the moment the centre decides to become involved, it must accept responsibility. Clearly whatever the national position as regards the curriculum, it must take the form of guidelines and must not be in the form of something so specific that it leaves no room for manoeuvre by teachers, head teachers, or individual schools. A broad set of parameters is wanted.
§ Perhaps I may reiterate to your Lordships my own rather reactionary view of these matters. I do not believe that all subjects are equally meritorious or equally significant but that there is a hierarchy within the curriculum. I think that the foundations of being able to read, write and engage in numerical analysis take a natural, logical priority over all the other desirable activities which cannot be undertaken without those prerequisites. I also believe that central to the curriculum, although I do not know how it can precisely be written in, is the need to be able to argue logically and approach all matters in a critical spirit. That is my typical example of how difficult it is to lay down a precise curriculum in the first instance.
§ If it is asked why those foundations are laid down, I think that we all should surely agree that they are laid down in order to encourage other faculties—to develop taste, judgment and appreciation. I regard as worse than disastrous a nation of young people who can read but who do not read, do not want to read or 1041 never have read a book for its own sake and who only read for the purposes for which the material can be used.
§ I have also demonstrated how easy it is within the field of education simply to continue speaking and use up more than one's share of time. I shall therefore conclude with one final remark. In the end the only criterion that matters—and I hope that every one of your Lordships will agree—is the educational welfare of children. I hope that that will be the criterion that dominates this debate. My Lords, I beg leave to move for Papers.
§ 3.26 p.m.
The Earl of Stockton
My Lords, I feel myself to be something of a usurper in your Lordships' House: first, because the sound of the name that I am proud to bear will evoke memories of one who, despite his sadly short stay on these Benches, displayed such a master of the art or craft of speaking that his successors will perforce be in his oratorical shadow until those memories have faded; and, secondly, because, were it not for the untimely death of my father, who was known and loved by many of your Lordships in another place, he would be here in my stead today.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for giving us this opportunity to debate the vital topic of children's education. I am awed by the breadth of his knowledge and experience. I am also happy to be able to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for she can be justly proud of the innovative and radical approach that the Government have taken to education, particularly in the primary and secondary sectors.
They have instituted a lively debate and review of the curriculum and have furthered the concept of a national curriculum. They have put in place a new secondary examination system at the age of 16, which is likely to be more effective, fairer and less divisive. Moreover, as an employer, I am happy to note that it should also be more meaningful in fitting young people for employment. They have also involved parents far more centrally in the running of our schools. These initiatives, as well as many others, have rightly received a warm welcome from the country at large.
There are other proposals which, in the heat of the election, received rather less ministerial attention than they justify and will need further consideration. I am sure that that is an area in the forthcoming education Bill in which your Lordships will have a major role to play. Overall this administration can be scored highly for the quality of their ideas in the field of education.
So why, when asked about our schools, is the response from people a negative one? Why do most people lack confidence in the state system? Why do we feel less easy now about the provision than we did years ago? A clue may lie in a comment that was made to me recently by one of my directors, whose work brings him into contact with many people at various levels in the world of education. His daughter has recently been awarded a place at a college of higher education to study for a degree in education 1042 with a view to becoming a teacher, as her father was before her. He has been amazed at the vehemence of the criticism that he has received from the teaching profession and administration for failing to prevent his daughter becoming a teacher, given that all involved are so aware of the problems relating to morale, esteem, reward and resources. That is a clear example of the serious loss of self-confidence by those on whom we are totally dependent if our education system is to deliver in line with our aspirations. We may legislate to our heart's content, but, without the support of the practitioners, it will be to no avail.
Over the past few years we have identified and addressed the issues; but many would say that we have failed to deal with the people. We have focused too closely on the issues, without allowing ourselves the time or the breadth of vision to see that the base must be a highly motivated, totally committed, well-trained teaching force. We shall never deliver the sort of service to which we aspire with a teaching force that perceives itself to be demotivated, under-committed, poorly prepared and badly resourced, as it does at this time.
I ask your Lordships to imagine an army whose high command has defined a strategy which is imaginative, far-sighted and, given a reasonable amount of luck, likely to win the campaign, but which failed because the troops were never brought on side, never enthused about the objectives and thought they had sufficient weapons to win the battles. Would one blame the troops or would one question the high command?
The high command, in the sense of our education service, are the Government. It will not do to pass the buck to the local authorities any more than to brigade HQ. This high command has produced an imaginative and far-sighted strategy; but what has happened to the motivation of the troops? It is far too easy to blame the "employees". I believe that we should not be seeking to lay blame at all. Much better that we start immediately the process of repair, for it will take a long time to persuade the majority of our professional teachers, who have over recent years perceived a real decline in their rewards, have had society blame them for the ills of modern youth, have had to make do with inadequate resources in the classroom to make cost-effective use of their pupil contact-time, that as a society we really value them, and that as a government we consider their performance crucial to the renaissance of the education system.
I regret asking: when did you last hear a Minister, in public or in private, noting with pride that his teaching colleagues had achieved a real improvement in standards as now evidenced by research and so widely regarded by overseas observers? As a society we must stop rubbishing what is, after all, one of the best education systems supported by a profession that is one of the most highly regarded in the world by other professionals outside this country. We must address in a serious way what are our priorities to build on for the innovations of the next decade, and not—just because it seems superficially advantageous from time to time—seek to push through attractive changes. As the Government themselves 1043 acknowledged in their policy statement of two years ago, Better Schools:in these initiatives, as elsewhere, the Government cannot act alone … success depends on the ready co-operation and mutual support of all the partners in education".We must now question whether, through our well-intentioned enthusiasm for much-needed change, we have overwhelmed, over-burdened but under-supported the teachers.
I feel confident that, given the proper respect, acknowledging their real status and making it clear that as a society we have a clear understanding of the real problems facing each teacher in every classroom, the profession will respond positively and with enthusiasm. The vast majority of teachers select their profession because they believe in the value of what they are doing. We have left this reservoir of good will too long untapped, and perhaps so long that we have allowed it to stagnate and even become polluted by irrelevant and artificial politicisation.
The improvements to be gained through a national curriculum, bench-mark testing, and new examinations are as nothing compared with the improvements we will see from a determination by the Government genuinely to motivate, purposefully to manage, and adequately to resource, the teaching profession, and I hope that the Green Paper announced yesterday by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place will address the need to restore the balance.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to follow the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, most particularly because I agreed with so much of what he said. His warm words about the education service and the need to support our teachers were indeed heartening. I should like to feel, as I am sure will all your Lordships, that it is merely the beginning of a career in your Lordships' House which will complete or fulfil the work begun by his illustrious grandfather. Also, I am greatly looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch; and I am sure that we shall enjoy that greatly, too.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for introducing this subject, though my thanks are a little reserved when I hear that I have to say what I want to say on his subject in seven minutes. It is an exercise in conjuring. It is rather like having to tell a story after dinner and being deprived of the opportunity to give the punchline. I am afraid that if I do not hurry and speak very quickly the bell will go and I shall just have to sit down and stop.
In my seven minutes, I should like to speak briefly on an aspect of education which is concerning me very much at the moment and which I am sure concerns all of us. At the beginning of February this year, there was a "World In Action" programme on Granada TV which presented the results of a research project which was carried out at Lancaster University. This showed that the number of adults and school-leavers who are virtually illiterate could be something near to 7 million; and this report was 1044 supported by a MORI poll which showed something similar. These figures are not a surprise to the adult literacy and basic skills unit which has been saying for some years that the proportion of semi-literacy among the adult population is something like one in 10.
I should like to say, first, that there is no evidence that this situation is any worse than it has always been. There may well be a subjective impression to this effect, but I believe this is only because great changes have taken place in the past 30 years in the nature of employment, whereby the demand for unskilled labour has greatly reduced while the demand for work requiring degrees of literacy and numeracy has greatly increased. So that those who lack those skills are exposed in a way that they never were before and the whole problem is exposed. It seems as though in our education system as it is—do what we will—there will always be a certain number of children, say 10 per cent., who manage somehow to slip through the net and leave school without the necessary basic skills, without the three Rs.
The problem is a very serious one. Nobody would deny that. Think, my Lords, what effects it has on our employment situation, the circumstance that the Government have I think only recently woken up to when trying to recruit for the job training scheme; think of the thousands who cannot gain employment because they cannot read the situations vacant columns in the newspapers; think of the thousands who cannot complete an application form, who cannot write a simple letter of application even for a job pushing a trolley in the local super-store.
Consider also, my Lords, that these people would not dream of applying for a job where basic literacy and numeracy skills were required. And think of the frustration and misery of the unemployment which follows, and the predisposition to take revenge on society because they are left out of those who count, and the predisposition to take revenge in crime and violence. I consider that a 10 per cent. illiteracy rate in this country at this time in our society is an economic and social disaster, and yet I have heard of no plans on the part of the Government to take any action about this dangerous situation. Why does this situation exist? Dr. Mary Hamilton who headed the Lancaster University research said:We have, I suppose, failed to come up with a simple explanation as to why a country like Britain continues to have a literacy and numeracy problem.It is obviously time further research was carried out, but pending that I shall have the temerity to make a guess. That was the guess that I made in an Unstarred Question in your Lordships' House in March. Some 20 or 25 years ago there began to be talk of something called dyslexia. It began to be realised that there were children who, despite good average general intelligence and adequate schooling, were for some reason failing to master the three Rs. It is a familiar concept now and it has been debated several times in your Lordships' House. Only yesterday it was debated in another place.
The essential discovery was that the acquisition of the skill of reading—to isolate that from other basic skills for the moment—is a very highly sophisticated neurological process. It is within the capacity of nine 1045 out of ten children of average intelligence but there is a percentage of children, say 10 per cent., who are of perfectly good average general intelligence but who are weak in that one very specific neurological skill involved in learning to read. Those children will be the casualties in anything less than the optimum learning conditions. In our education service they very often do not have the optimum learning conditions.
I suggest that in our national education service the teenagers who leave school to a greater or lesser degree illiterate are just the ones who have suffered or are suffering from a degree of that condition. It may only be a mild degree and for that very reason is likely to remain unidentified. So what is the solution? There are three essentials: the training of many more specialist remedial teachers; the resources to pay those teachers to be in the classroom together with the class teacher to give support to any child or children in special need—this is being done at the moment but not enough of it is being done—and the inclusion in the initial training of all teachers of a study of the symptoms of specific learning difficulty, as it is now called, so that they may be instantly recognised and remedied.
The Government will say that they cannot afford it. I say that they cannot afford not to do it because a situation in which in our highly sophisticated and developed society a tenth of the population cannot read is intolerable. I can only close by echoing the words of the Alliance manifesto that education is the essential investment.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to add my congratulations and thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, for his extremely interesting, clear and constructive contribution in his maiden speech. Those of us who had such respect and affection for his grandfather can suppose that the noble Earl will make many contributions to our debates, and we look forward to them very much. I also look forward very much to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. This is an opportunity before the curtain rises on the great controversies ahead to seek to take a rather wider perspective than the particular issues which are going to he debated during the proceedings on the Bill.
I was very interested in the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to whom we are very grateful for initiating the debate, that so many of the problems of bad education where there is bad education, come from the environment in which the education is given, especially in the inner cities. Those of us who can look back a longish way— there are a good many of us in this House who have a long perspective—can recall times when most of the children who came to school came from stable homes with parents who were committed to sound values based on religious faith.
When we look around us now we know that a very large proportion of children come from homes where the parents have largely abdicated their responsibilities and the children are brought up without any sound values at home. That presents the schools with an almost impossible problem. What 1046 can we do about it? The parents are not going to change quickly. We have entered a phase of culture of a degenerated kind. The schools have to pick up the responsibility and take over many of the responsibilities that parents should exercise. But at the same time we all have, so far as we can, to encourage parents to come back again into constructive participation in their children's education.
People of advanced age are commonly regarded as Jeremiahs. I am an optimist myself but I am a Jeremiah in relation to the trends of our society. I fear that we have entered a downward spiral in which it will be very difficult to set the trend upwards again. In that predicament it is the schools which probably will play the central role for better or for worse.
One of the problems confronting society now is that the schools throughout the West have largely become concerned, for understandable reasons, in purveying knowledge and they have forgotten the larger responsibility to instil understanding, the art of learning, creativity and the foundations for constructive citizenship. We are unlikely to be able to tackle this problem on a large scale. Any really significant social developments start in a small way. I therefore commend to your Lordships and to the Minister the efforts that are beginning to be made by small schools, some of them independent, some of them in the state system, to bring back values as the central core of what they seek to impart in education.
Some of your Lordships will have seen the report in the press about the small school at Hartland in Devon, which I know personally. It is promoted by the Schumacher Society. It started with virtually no resources but with totally committed and dedicated staff who have succeeded in a short time in getting going a little school to which any of us would be proud to send our children or grandchildren.
I hope that that school will still receive registration and perhaps an injection of government funds. Again, the foundation with which 1 am associated has initiated a small independent school in Yorkshire which sets out to achieve standards of excellence in every area. Those are the types of small initiatives which by an infectious example can lead to a proliferation of emphasis on values throughout, I hope, our whole education system.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I address your Lordships' House today. Last Saturday I was presenting prizes at Gresham School in Norfolk. I cannot remove from my mind the words spoken by the head boy, a young Master Kemp. In a short but witty speech he chose to give advice about maiden speeches. His advice to the assembled company was this:If you don't strike oil in the first few minutes, shut up, sit down and stop boring".On the basis of all the advice generously proffered by your Lordships on the subject of maiden speeches—that by convention they should be not contentious, not too long and not too short—I feel that this is a risky occasion on which to go drilling. Therefore I appeal to your Lordships' traditional generosity and crave your indulgence for the next few minutes.
1047 I now turn to the subject in hand. There is much going on in our primary and secondary schools that is excellent. Indeed, some of the best examples exist in my own county of Cambridgeshire. However, we know also that many parents and children feel trapped by the system. In my contribution I shall refer to three issues, all of which arise from the most gracious Speech: self-budgeting in schools, the curriculum and teachers' pay.
First, as to my own credentials, I am a parent, I am a consumer with experience of both the public and the private sector and I am a county councillor. I have served as a county councillor for Cambridgeshire since 1977, during which time I have held posts including those of vice-chairman of education and leader of the council. In 1985, when Cambridgeshire County Council went from being a Conservative-controlled council to a hung council—or, to use a word that I prefer, an unhinged council—the post of leader of the council was abolished, after which I became, as leader of my group, an equal member of an egalitarian triumvirate, which turned out to be neither equal nor egalitarian. However, I digress.
Local financial management, as it is known in Cambridgeshire, was introduced in 1981 as a pilot scheme into six secondary schools and one primary school. It was preceded by more limited schemes and has subsequently been extended to all secondary schools and a limited number of primary schools. There are some fine examples of schools that have found devolved management a positive and beneficial experience, none more so than two schools on whose governing bodies I serve, St. Peter's and Hinchingbrooke comprehensive schools, and Buckden Church of England school in the Huntingdon area of Cambridgeshire. Therefore I hope that Cambridgeshire can be forgiven for basking in a little of the glory when the courage and vision of those who ventured into uncharted waters back in 1981 should have paved the way for such liberating reform.
Time does not allow me to address the detail of devolved financial management; suffice it to say that placing power and responsibility together in the hands of those closest to the operation makes good sense.
Contrary to the sceptical view held by some that the Government are centralist in their proposals, the practice is entirely the reverse. It is a case of devolving not only power but responsibility too, and, much more significantly, trust. The introduction of this proposal will require great sensitivity. It will have the effect of modifying training for teachers, especially head teachers, with the emphasis on management rather than administration. The curriculum and proposals that there should be a core of subjects determined nationally are generally welcomed across all parties—that is, if pre-election rhetoric can be believed.
I know that it is a statement of the obvious, but the ability to read, write and communicate is the key to all learning, and fundamental to all children. Had there been more time, I should have liked to comment 1048 on the moral and spiritual education of our children, for without this dimension education is but an arid and clinical experience.
I do have one or two reservations, however. I hear all too often from the world of educationists talk of ridding the system of competition; even that examinations are not necessary to good education, or rather that education would be a healthier experience if unfettered by the examination system; that testing inhibits progress; and even that there should be open access to our universities. All too often the pursuit of excellence gives way to stultifying egalitarianism. I hope that all the changes proposed will continue to espouse competitiveness and recognise the value of success but also accept that, for those of us who are not of the brightest and not among the prizewinners, learning how to fail, coming to terms with one's limitations, is just as much a positive and constructive part of being educated. I apologise for the rather sweeping generalisations.
I turn lastly to teachers' pay. This has largely been addressed by the present Government. I welcome the breaking of the mould of paying the same salary for good, bad or indifferent performances. There is no greater killer of incentive for the most able performers.
The residual issue of course is how pay for teachers will be determined in future. I welcome the fact that there was not an instant resumption of rights to negotiate pay for teachers. It would have been precipitate and almost certainly would have plunged us back into the bad old days of Burnham. Those of us who have watched from the sidelines the machinations of the Burnham Committee will not lament the passing of such an undignified and largely outdated and ineffective negotiating forum dealing with pay but never dealing with the conditions of service.
I welcome, if I am to believe what I read in the press, the news that at least one option that will appear in the consultation paper on this issue is a no-strike agreement. This has already been welcomed by the Professional Association of Teachers. My hope is that other unions will follow. We have two choices when the proposals come before us. On the one hand we can resist, prevaricate, become self-indulgent by talking about reform without enabling something to happen and generally create an atmosphere of conflict; or we can seize upon what I believe is a great opportunity.
The objectives are clear: the raising of standards, the retention of diversity and choice and the strengthening of the accountability of schools to parents; the recognition of good professional performance by teachers and, more importantly, promotion of their standing within the community, and a more stable environment free from industrial strife, within which our children can enjoy a rich and full education. These reforms as set out by the Secretary of State for Education represent the most radical and exciting programme since Mr. Butler's Education Act 1944. All of us—parents, teachers, government and your Lordships in this great place—have a duty and vested interest to see that a framework is established so that the objectives can be achieved within which schools, professionalism and 1049 our children will flourish. They will certainly have my support.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and to congratulate her on her maiden speech. It is always refreshing to have a new voice in your Lordships' House. Today we have heard two such voices. Both have acquitted themselves well. One should expect the noble Earl to do, coming as he does from a distinguished political family; and the noble Baroness brings a distinguished record in local government to the discussions in the House. I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say that we hope to hear from both of them on many occasions in the future.
§ Baroness Lockwood
In my few remarks I want to follow along the lines of the noble Earl. I wish to quote three press releases from the Department of Education and Science. The first release is dated 30th March of this year and it says:Effective learning and a lively interest in what is taught in Primary Schools are being achieved and sustained by purposeful teaching that has clear aims.This report by Her Majesty's Inspectors (HMI) shows that good practice is being achieved in a wide range of circumstances in all kinds of primary schools".The second release is dated 31st March and refers to Sheffield, a city which has some of the problems of inner cities about which we are all concerned. It says:Education in Sheffield's schools and colleges demonstrates a range of good quality and generally satisfactory work and provides a sound basis for future development".The third release is dated 23rd June and says:Education Secretary Kenneth Baker has welcomed a report by Her Majesty's Inspectors on good behaviour and discipline in schools".It then quotes Mr. Baker as saying:I am delighted to say that good behaviour is the norm in most of our schools, he they in the cities or the counties. But parents are rightly concerned about the standards in some schools".I have mentioned those three press releases because they contrast with some of the depressing headlines that we often see in the press and with some of the views that are expressed, on occasion, in your Lordships' House. I do not refer to them in a spirit of complacency. There is obviously much scope for improvement in our education system. Clearly, there are a number of problems. I shall refer to just three of those problems.
The first problem is that of resources. The HMI report of May of last year, which I believe is the latest such report available, illustrates the problem of resources in a number of ways. It refers to difficulties in maintaining buildings, providing adequate equipment, providing adequate books and so on. No matter how the Government protest that they are investing more in education than ever before, it remains a fact that the resourcing of our schools is insufficient. Resourcing has not kept pace with the increasing costs of education; nor has the proportion of GNP spent on education been maintained.
1050 There was a disturbing reference in the HMI report to comparisons between different schools. The report referred to the growing differences in parental contributions to schools. I think that parental contributions in the form of fund raising, social activities and so on are to be encouraged for marginal activities. When they begin to be significant in terms of the resources available to one school as compared with another, we begin to run into real difficulties. I fear that that problem will increase if we move into a system in which some schools can opt out.
The second problem is that of morale of teachers. We cannot hope to achieve the kind of leadership that is necessary in schools if the profession is demoralised. I do not think that it is simply a question of pay; it is also a question of professional and social status. As one headmaster said to me recently: "These days, if you suggest to pupils that they might consider teaching as a career, they look at you as if you were mad. In fact, they think we are mad for doing it". That is a much more urgent problem for the Government to tackle than some of their intended changes in the system, such as the small number of students entering postgraduate teacher training.
The third problem is that of absorbing the changes already under way. After protracted discussions by several previous Secretaries of State, Sir Keith Joseph, to his great credit, decided to introduce the new GCSE examination. The first batch of pupils will be taking that examination next summer. That could be one of the most fundamental changes to take place in our education system for some time. It could also be one of the most rewarding because it anticipates that all children should be involved at their own level. It also anticipates that their achievements will be recorded in their profiles through continuous assessments rather than just through a final examination. There has been a great deal of work done on that by the secondary examinations council in co-operation with the teaching profession in working out both the examinations and the national criteria. It could form the basis of a national syllabus and curriculum.
There is still a lot of work to be done in that area. It seems to me that we should be concentrating all our efforts on resourcing that change, developing the curriculum, developing the new examination system and training teachers, particularly in the skill of profiling. Unless we do that, we shall not get from the new system that which it promised and which it can give to our education system.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I, too, should like to offer my warm congratulations to our two maiden speakers. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for giving me the opportunity to speak on what many people consider to be a neglected subject; namely home economics.
In the last decade the social, industrial and commercial scene has changed. In education, in the work of the Manpower Services Commission and in the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission, girls and women are enjoined to undertake careers in wider spheres than hitherto—engineering, management, commerce, industry, the professions, 1051 banking and indeed Westminster. It seems not to have been appreciated in our schools that whichever sphere of work a girl enters, there is for every woman and indeed for every man the complementary and dual role of homemaker. Work and home go hand in hand. To be a successful homemaker requires skills in the business side of setting up a home, the procedure of house mortgage and the care of property. It requires a knowledge of healthy living, good food, catering and cooking. It requires the building and preserving of personal relationships and emotional bonding with children. Both of those matters require unhurried time if there is to be the creation of happiness and stability.
Instead of that, we have the breakdown of one in three marriages. Juvenile and adult crime have not diminished. Children who do not have school meals are having inadequate and unsuitable midday food. In The Times of 16th April 1986 it was reported that the NSPCC allocated £14 million to the training of:the parents who have never known how to care".Why has that happened, bearing in mind that all parents, when they were children, passed through our schools? There are children whose interests lie in academic subjects but they cannot live happily only in the sphere of academic life. They need knowledge of home economics. There are those children whose interests do not lie in the intellectual field, but whose capabilities are of a practicable nature.
Too often they have been made to feel of less value. Their skills are much needed in the life of the nation. There is a growing awareness of these matters, as shown in a letter to The Times from the noble Viscount Lord Ingleby, on 22nd December 1986, and also by seven articles in The Times Educational Supplement of 20th February. There is a National Association of Teachers of Home Economics Ltd. which I believe has a membership of 8,000. I believe that the Institute of Home Economics and the Association of Home Economics in Higher Education are being consulted by the Department of Education and Science concerning the poor curriculum.
I make a plea to Her Majesty's Government to give more emphasis and adequate time in the school timetable to enable our children (boys and girls) to be given skills to lead effective and happy lives as members of a family within the community in which they live and in the interests of the nation.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn
My Lords, I also welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in initiating the debate. I congratulate our two maiden speakers—the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on their excellent speeches. Each of them contributed in a different way. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, continues to preach the word as he did this afternoon, particularly on those Benches, because it will be refreshing to one or two noble Lords to hear that sort of comment coming from the government side.
1052 It was good to hear the noble Baroness coming forward from the local authority side with recent experience of the local authority. It is also good to look at the batting order today and see one or two new people contributing to the debates on education, in which the same people usually take part. I am delighted to see that a few more people have new ideas and can bring a different dimension to our education service.
Without doubt we have one of the finest education services in the world. We criticise it, pull it to pieces and say all kinds of horrible things from time to time about the people who run it, especially about Her Majesty's Government, whoever are in government. Nevertheless, at times it is good for us to acknowledge that we have such a fine system. It is a system which is looked upon universally as being very good indeed, and long may this continue.
There are many people in this country who are anxious to play their part in education. They are willing to serve in many capacities as governors, and members of local authorities, not to get reward from doing so but to put something back in return for what they received at an earlier age. Long may this continue.
In this country there are many parents who are anxious to have the best out of the system for their children. Long may this continue. I welcome the fact that in your Lordships' House we now have the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who will play a leading part in the formation of the new education Bill. As I understand it, she will have a new role in coordinating education matters within the inner cities. I am sure that noble Lords from all sides wish her well in this very important role.
During the past eight years we have had seven great Bills on education in your Lordships' House. The last Bill which came before us, the 1986 Bill which is now the 1986 Act, was probably the greatest Act since the Act of 1944. Some of my noble friends will not agree with me on that; others will. Much of the Act was based on the report that my committee made some years ago. Nevertheless, I think it was a great Act because of that. I acknowledge that it was a great committee as well—with my usual modesty!
One of the things that worries me is that we have just put the Act on the statute book and introduced it into our schools. Remember, it is a phased Act—a partnership which involves bringing in parents, teachers, the community and the government of our schools. It has only just started to be phased. We are now training governors and producing reports to parents. Some of the reports should have gone out during the past month. Now we are talking about a new Bill and a new Act to follow. This worries me a great deal because we are rushing too much. It is rather like planting something in the garden and then keep digging it up to see how it is growing. I am worried about the amount of legislation taking place in regard to our schools because there is not time to consolidate and look back.
One of your Lordships said that one of the reasons morale is so low in the schools at the present time is not just because of salaries, and I agree. It is more than that; it is due also to conditions of change which 1053 are being imposed upon teachers. One point I have always tried to put over to people in all spheres of education concerns partnership and working together. Unfortunately, at present I do not think we are getting partnership in the way we should. My plea to the Government is that they should watch the situation. By all means let there be change but not for the sake of change.
Education cannot stand still. It must go forward but in so doing let us pace our steps and make them in unison and not be out of step. I am sure that when new legislation comes before your Lordships' House shortly—even though I should prefer it to be a long time off—the majority of noble Lords will look at that legislation not merely to criticise it—because our role on this side of the House is to criticise—but also to criticise constructively so that we have something worth while. From our Benches I am sure that this is what we will do to try to improve what the Government are bringing forward.
I should have liked to spend more time dealing with teachers' salaries but this is neither the time nor the place. I have put my point over and I hope that the Government will take notice when I say very sincerely. "Please let us go forward together, remembering what we have said and repeated time and again—that we are a partnership".
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, if an author could ever find it possible to say something nice about his publisher, I would begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. As it is, I must limit myself to congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which I do with great enthusiasm because I not only learnt a great deal from her speech—as I am sure did many noble Lords—but also agreed with it.
I find myself in considerable sympathy, perhaps for the first time, with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn. I feel that perhaps we are being rushed, not into further changes but into changes which have not yet been fully worked out. It would be better if there were a great debate before the Bill reaches its final form.
I say this because we have not really had an exposition of the philosophy underlying it. When Moses led my ancestors through the desert he went up Mount Sinai and came down with the Ten Commandments, which have served us pretty well ever since. The Secretary of State is obviously a more energetic athlete. He goes up to Mount Sinai every day and comes hack with a press release. The rest of us, who are not in his confidence, have to work out what the philosophy of his education reforms is meant to be. We know what the objective is and it is shared by all Members of this House. It is to improve quality and to maximise excellence. The question is: what are the means?
So far as I can see, the reliance of Her Majesty's Government is upon parental choice. Parental choice and the involvement of parents, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, said, is in itself desirable, but it cannot of itself produce higher standards. There is no reason why we should assume that parental intervention at any level is likely to do that.
1054 I give two examples. Every educationist and many head teachers have said over and over again that one of the handicaps from which they suffer is that they have to teach children in the morning who have stayed up late watching television and who have had insufficient sleep to be able to follow the lessons with due attention. Who is responsible for when children go to bed? Not the unfortunate school teacher but the parents.
I turn now to an aspect of the curriculum. We have sitting under the chairmanship of the Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University an important committee on the teaching of English. There have been many publications and reports to the effect that there has been a falling-off in the standard of written English. Many university teachers would assent to that, yet what do the parent-teacher associations ask for? They ask that there should be no return to the schematic, systematic teaching of English grammar, without which the correct writing of English is put beyond the reach of any but the most gifted children. I can think of no way of handicapping children, particularly children from deprived backgrounds, which would be more effective in preventing their future employment at any level than this denigration of the systematic teaching of the English language which is the main qualification they will have to offer society when they go out into the world.
I maintain—and I believe that this is also part of the Secretary of State's thinking, but it has not yet been worked out—that, in conjunction with parental choice, matters must, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, depend upon central initiative, upon an agreed national curriculum and upon the monitoring of that curriculum through testing of various kinds and through inspection. Then one wonders whether or not the Secretary of State has an inspectorate either at national or local level which is capable of fulfilling that function. We have had some very curious reports as to what inspectors think should be the correct teaching of a subject like English.
I sometimes feel that the Secretary of State is rather in the position of an American city police chief who is told to launch a campaign against crime and who finds that half his policemen are also members of the Mafia. There are serious problems and this is held in common. It is delightful that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, should start again the great debate which was opened by Sir James Callaghan and sabotaged by Shirley Williams. It is also delightful that we should be able to discuss these problems across the Floor of the House. I earnestly recommend to Her Majesty's Government, as did the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, that they should give very serious thought to ensuring that the Bill, when it comes, makes clear the connection between the changes which they wish to introduce and the objectives that we all share.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty and indeed my pleasure to congratulate both maiden speakers this afternoon. I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, that outside in the Princes' Chamber there is awaiting him a Labour Party membership card. He spoke in a way which certainly commanded the universal support of Members on this side of the House.
1055 I have two small points to make this afternoon and they are both connected. They have both already been referred to during this debate and they are connected with the terms of parental choice. I start, as did the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who opened the debate, with an anecdote. In 1937 my mother, who was head teacher in a rural school on the Yorkshire moors, left the school. She resigned from her headship and took another headship because she was told that the school was about to be closed. It had at that time 19 pupils drawn from across the moors. I had the privilege, just 40 years later, of opening the gala celebrating the centenary of that school. There were further efforts made to close the school but it is to the credit of the then Minister of State responsible for education, Dr. Rhodes Boyson, that he vetoed the decision of the Bradford Council and kept the school open. We are still struggling to keep it open.
I make this point because this is an issue of parental choice. The choice for the parents in that area was to have their children bussed or sent by taxi to towns that they knew nothing of, right away from their own community. The further point that I should like to emphasise in this anecdote is that that school was the centre of the community. Despite the fact that it was in a wide area of moorland, every month, when there was a full moon, we held a form of entertainment with, in those days, a band and poetry reading and so on. That was the only entertainment in the whole of that area and it was this school which formed the core, the root, of the community. I beg the Government to look very carefully at the trend there is to close schools because of small enrolment. In rural areas the school is the centre of the community.
My second point is a specific one relating to the present situation. I gave the Government notice that I intended to raise the matter this afternoon. It concerns the Lincolnshire County Council, which is still one of those antediluvian county councils that keeps to the 11-plus examination with grammar and secondary modern schools. Over the past few years, in one particular area that 1 know very well—the area of Spilsby and Alford with Mablethorpe thrown in—there are five schools. Two are grammar schools and three are secondary modern schools. Public meetings have been held; parent-teacher associations have met and public opinion is unanimous as to what it wants. The Lincolnshire County Council is trying to insist upon the closing of all five schools and opening a grammar school in Alford, a secondary modern school in Spilsby and preserving the secondary modern school in Mablethorpe. This would mean that grammar school children would be bussed from Spilsby to Alford, but secondary modern school children would be bussed from Alford to Spilsby. In both cases, children would be taken away from their own communities. As one headmaster put it to me, "When we have a football match it will be Spilsby-Alford versus Alford-Spilsby."
The reason for that decision is purely ideological. Lincolnshire County Council is opposed to comprehensive schools. Over the past two to three years, parents and the public throughout that area have said that the obvious and best thing to do for 1056 them and their families would be to establish comprehensive schools in Spilsby, Alford and Mablethorpe. When the Government are thinking about parental choice, I ask them to recognise that there are still a number of Conservative-controlled councils which are so ideologically opposed to comprehensive education that they are going dead against the wishes of parents, teachers and the communities. They are denying parents the choice of school about which the Government preach so much. I ask them to look at the position in Lincolnshire and to ensure that the choice of the parents, teachers and public takes preference over the county council's ideology.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, the scene in the education world over the past six months or so has not been happy. It has been riddled by strikes which have had the bad effect of delaying the children's education. There are two industries which I have long felt should not be allowed to strike. Education is one and nursing is the other. We seem to have the bad habit of striking first and talking afterwards. It should be the other way round, and in the case of education I do not think that striking should be allowed.
It is right that parents should have choice. One must remember that children are the parents' property until they become older. Parents should have the choice, up to a point, as to how their children are educated. I do not say that that choice should be total, but parents should have a certain amount of choice as to which school they send their children, and what subjects they study.
As to the universal curriculum, I think a curriculum of the basic subjects would be universally workable. The basic subjects should include arithmetic, English (including literacy), which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, and perhaps a certain amount of history. Beyond that, one must remember that circumstances vary enormously according to the kind of neighbourhood in which a school is set. If the school is in a totally rural area it is unlikely that most of its children would want to study the higher scientific subjects, deeper philosophy or such subjects, whereas if it is in a town there may be many who would want to.
Above all, the headmaster should always make room for extra subjects, such as the arts and other similar subjects, which may not be studied by everyone. Those subjects should be at the discretion of the headmaster. The headmaster knows what is going on in his school, and he should have discretion as to what is studied. Some form of examination when children leave school is essential. I am not sure that the present O-level examination is the right one. It may be a little too advanced for some schools although satisfactory for others. That matter will have to be studied.
My noble friend Lord Thurlow and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned the fall in moral standards that we have unfortunately seen not only in schools but throughout the country. Some form of religious teaching is essential. It should not be sectarian. We know that children will not receive such education in their homes today. If they leave school 1057 completely ignorant of our Lord's teaching on relationships with other human beings and on the love of God, I fear that the fall in moral standards will continue. That is in our hands, not theirs.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for introducing this important subject for this afternoon's debate. I am sure that we are all learning from the contributions that have been made. I should like to compliment both maiden speakers on their admirable portrayal of the two strands within the Tory Party—the one-nation philosophy and the radical Right philosophy. I hope that we shall hear more from both wings.
We are in danger of thinking of education merely from the point of view of the child. At the national level, we must recognise that there is another component to education. It is the collective good of our society and our nation's future. Over the past 40 years there has been an explosion of knowledge. We must compliment our teachers on adapting to that increase in knowledge and passing it on to our children for the benefit of the nation's future.
Teachers are sometimes frustrated by lack of resources and the bad handling of relationships between the Government and the teaching profession. We must, however, pay tribute to the teachers' endeavour. Because of that continuing explosion of knowledge, I have grave reservations about the usefulness of a supposedly national curriculum. I fear that it may stultify and freeze a body of knowledge at a point in time and prevent it adjusting and changing.
I make one exception to that—the teaching of foreign languages. I think we all recognise that we are well behind the rest of the world in the teaching of foreign languages. I speak from experience in business and from working in an engineering firm that probably exports 80 per cent. of its production. It is hampered to a certain extent by the employees' lack of foreign language knowledge. Foreign language expertise is necessary when we are engaged in importing raw materials, converting them and exporting manufactured goods, but if, as the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Young, seem to wish, we are to move towards a service-based economy, that necessity changes to an essential requirement. There is no way that this country can survive in an international world unless our people are enabled to speak to foreigners in their own tongues.
W[...] need to recognise that this will be a long-term project, involving both the primary and secondary levels of education. Given the lack of knowledge and expertise in foreign languages that exists now, there will need to be an enormous amount of goodwill on the part of the teaching profession to engage in that project. It is at this point that we face the dilemma. The lack of morale and the lack of confidence of the teaching profession exist primarily because the interaction between the Government and the teaching profession has caused us not to have that resource available to us. I make a plea at this stage for the Government to realise that they need the 1058 wholehearted co-operation of the teaching profession to engage in the development and expansion of all spheres of education and particularly of foreign languages to benefit our nation in the future. I ask them to change tack a little, to adjust their thinking, their development of policies and their presentation of policies in such a way as to bring the teaching profession with them rather than trying to drag it kicking and screaming in a particular direction.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Quinton
My Lords, in yesterday's edition of The Times a friend and former colleague of mine was talking about the future of the Labour Party from what was described by him, or by a sub-editor, as a Fabian point of view. Among his remarks was this:It is plainly quite mad to advance into the 21st century with the most ignorant workforce in the EEC—bar Portugal, perhaps".As my noble friend Lord Stockton made clear this is a topic on which the precise position a Member occupies in your Lordships' House is not necessarily a basis for a precise prediction on what he is going to say on a topic. It may give a certain drift, but it is not entirely obvious what will be said, although perhaps more in some cases than in others.
I was very glad to hear a number of people on the other side of the House lay emphasis on this particular problem; namely, that it is a grave disservice to school children not to equip them with the essential apparatus they need. Essentially the same point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, when he referred to one rather terrifying proposition: that up to 7 million people in this country were, to all intents and purposes, illiterate, and that reading and expressing themselves in writing were matters of serious difficulty to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, to whom I am grateful as we all are for introducing this subject, said at one point—perhaps it is just the tradition of the House to be exceedingly courteous—that our primary schools are good. This seemed to me to be a slightly curious statement because it is like saying, "Everyone is tall". There must be differences of quality. Still, there might be other bases of comparison than just with one another. The first thought that ran through my mind was the magnificent passage in Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall where, at some rough educational agency, a totally unfitted young man, sent down unjustly from the university, is being offered various schools. A school is suggested to him and the man at the agency says, "We divide schools into three classes: first-class school, good school, and school. Quite frankly, Llanaaba Castle is 'school'." I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that quite a number of our schools are just schools in the sense of Gabbitas and Thring, or whatever the agency was.
I have the feeling that on what one might call an international basis of comparison our schools, our school system generally, is not a good one. There is an excellent historical reason for that. We introduced a school system into this country very late in the day, in the teeth of what I hope it is not impolite to describe as ideological obstructionism. Various religious groups resisted the introduction of a properly-organised national school system. 1059 Something of the sort was set up about 117 years ago; but the British education system has always been a highly improvised affair compared with the education system of France. Surely, by comparison with the products of the French school system, British people are comparatively philistine and often inarticulate.
In a comparison with the products of the American school system one would not say that: our relevant weakness there is idleness. It is very evident that when English young people go to the United States they are amazed at the amount of work which is asked for and secured from those in the educational process. So I suggest that we should not be too unquestioningly confident about the merits of our school system. It is probably time that we thought very hard about improving it.
We live, as we are always told, in a competitive environment; but, like every other form of organic life, we have always lived in a competitive environment. When you are winning a competition, you do not always know that that is what is going on. It is only when you begin to lose that you realise that the state of affairs you are in is a competitive one.
It seems to me that our education arrangements in this country are not calculated to keep us abreast of the great nations of the world with whom it has been our historical practice to compare ourselves, but perhaps now too often in our own favour.
I should like to introduce one small parenthetical thought in connection with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Somers. There is a constitutional prohibition of religious teaching in the school system of the United States and, so far as I understand since the French Revolution or thereabouts, the schools in France have been hotbeds of secularism. Yet it does not seem that the overall moral character of the products of these two school systems is markedly inferior to that of the products of our own system.
I very much agreed with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said. He was talking about what one might call the soft, fun, life-enhancing subjects in the school curriculum and he said that one should have faith in the children. Of course that is so. Anyone who looks back on his own education must be amazed at the curious odd corners of it which proved to be fruitful when so often, on the central diet, one just lazed or slept. One must have faith in the children. Children are, after all, enormously curious. They want to find things out. But they need some absolutely central intellectual tin-opener, so to speak, before they are let loose in the huge storehouse of knowledge and skill that is available to them in one way or another. It is probably more effectively acquired by them when they pursue it for themselves than when it is emptied over them in a purely instructional way.
Now these tin-openers are the ability to read and the ability to write lucidly. The point the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was emphasising about critical thinking is very closely tied up with the ability to write lucidly. If you do not write lucidly you have not the faintest idea what you are saying. And of course there is the third, mathematical, limb of the great three R's as well.
1060 The moral of all this is simply that it is not a matter of minor local adjustments or new bits of machinery. It could be that the total educational arrangements of this country, which have continuously reeled from one improvisation to another, need a much more radical consideration than is envisaged even in the Government's programme.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those already given to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Our education system is unusual in the amount of freedom that is allowed in individual schools, no matter what they teach or the manner in which they teach it. This system is about to undergo a radical change. We are to have a national curriculum which will in effect lose some of the flexibility which has been a major strength in the present system.
Rightly or wrongly, we pride ourselves on our education system's tradition of teacher involvement in the social welfare of the children who are looked after by the teachers. Teachers have aims which are so broad and high that some sense of failure is almost inevitable. Our present system depends upon high morale among teachers. The new system will also depend upon high teacher morale, because we are not moving entirely towards something akin to the French system, where teachers are required to instil a body of knowledge, but towards an uneasy compromise between the old and the new.
The morale of our teachers is low. They feel they have been badly treated despite the recent pay settlement. They have had their negotiating rights over pay removed and they have had rigid conditions of service imposed on them. They also have to deal with a new and inadequately funded examination system. They can look forward to possible chaos and confusion caused by schools choosing to opt out of local authority control.
The forthcoming great education reform Bill will give a very much more rigid structure to the system of education. The present system has largely failed to implement those parts of the Education Act 1981 which deal with special needs. Under the terms of the 1981 Act local authorities were required to find out who had special needs and were to provide the appropriate help for them, whether in the form of statementing, special tuition or special equipment. No extra funding was provided for this purpose. The local authorities had to show considerable ingenuity in reallocating those available funds to meet the terms of the Act. It is hardly surprising, if reprehensible, that some local authorities have shown considerable ingenuity in avoiding finding those with special needs.
We cannot suppose that academically successful schools which choose to opt out of local authority control will willingly take on board the full quota of those with special needs—around 20 per cent.—if there is no funding available for them. Local authorities ae supposed to provide this funding. It is not provided by central government. This could lead to the establishment of problem schools. Those will be the less popular ones in which those with special needs will be welcome. They will still be inside local 1061 education authority control. We shall then have schools full of problems.
If the proposed tests at 7, 11 and 14 were to be of a purely diagnostic nature they would be an unmixed blessing to those children who have to take them as this would mean that the appropriate remedial help could be given to them. If, on the other hand, they were to be simply pass/fail tests, they could lead to the institution of a system very much more unfair than the one which branded so many of the country's children failures at 11-plus. I should not like to have to tell a 7 year-old that he is a failure and that he will have to retake his exam. I very much hope that that will not occur. if you tell a child that he is a failure he will generally live up to that. Failure is generally a self-fulfilling prophecy in the case of children.
The Commons Select Committee on Education has appealed to the Department of Education and Science to monitor the Education Secretary's plan for a core curriculum and benchmark tests to see what these would actually mean to those with special educational needs. The committee pointed out:A major question arises about the prospective relationship between inability to reach the standards set, and the identification of special educational needs as defined by the act".At the present level of discovery and identification, literally thousands of students would fail these tests and be labelled failures without anyone being aware that they had a problem in the form of special needs.
Hitherto it has been possible for those with, say, specific learning difficulty or dyslexia to follow certain subjects through to public examination level. This is mainly due to the flexibility of the present system. I hope that this will still be possible under the new system and that there will be enough flexibility left in it to enable people to take examinations, and thus gain some standard by which they can be judged. If it is not they could be termed totally non-academic; and without examination passes it is not easy to find jobs. In this area alone ideas have been put forward which have not been properly thought through. Children who should already have been statemented or be in the process of being statemented will not be discovered and will then have to face these tests. You cannot successfully build a new education structure on foundations which in places are so fundamentally flawed.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for the notable and uncontroversial speech with which he opened this debate and also add my congratulations to our two maiden speakers.
The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, was very right to say that the Government must somehow win back the confidence of the teachers. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in the debate on the Queen's Speech, was also right to say that the Government, whether they like it or not, will find that this will cost them money. But I am not quite sure that I go along with the noble Earl in his analogy of the high command and the troops and his inference that if the troops are disaffected it is solely the fault of the high command.
1062 How would Field Marshal Montgomery have fought a campaign if between him and his troops there had been another body, a military trade union, that opposed every order the Field Marshal issued and argued that the troops were not to be deployed according to Montgomery's ideas but according to its? What would have happened if the commanding officer of every battalion had had his orders countermanded by the military union? For that is what happens to headmasters in schools today. That is one of the reasons why it is difficult to restore the faith of the teachers in the Government, because at least two of the teachers' unions do everything in their power to prevent it.
I have spent my life in education and some years ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that the greatest enemy of education in this country is the National Union of Teachers. Its council is largely composed of teachers who, having failed in their profession, now spend their days in protecting the interests of those in it who are also failing. Try to get rid of a pathetic incompetent teacher or of skiving teachers and you are met with adamantine opposition by the NUT. They never, but never, consider the interests of the children. Small wonder when Mr. Fred Jarvis is the head of the NUT.
Mr. Jarvis has never been a teacher. He has never taught a child in his life. He may shed crocodile tears on television but, when he calls out his members, he wrecks the chances of the children to learn the skills they will need later in life and the culture they should acquire to make life nobler and better. These are strong words, you may say, but let me call in witness one who was well placed in No. 10 when Sir James Callaghan made his admirable appeal for a great debate on education. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, has written:I never once heard the NUT mention education or children. The union's prime objectives appeared to be to secure ever-decreasing responsibilities and hours of work for its members and it seemed that the ideal NUT world would be one where teachers and children never entered school at all".The National Union of Teachers not only mugs children; it destroyed the Schools Council, that brainchild of Edward Boyle, by using its majority to stop every reform of the curriculum. The curriculum must be reformed and we must have a core curriculum. For many years now, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, indicated, the utilitarians in education have been at loggerheads with the child development enthusiasts in education. In the past 40 years the utilitarians were defeated by them. The defeats were deserved. Who can forget Dickens in Hard Times describing the teaching of poor children by Mr. Gradgrind who demanded that they should define a horse in the following words:Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely 24 grinders, four eye teeth and 12 incisive. Sheds coat in Spring; in marshy countries sheds hooves too".Learning by rote is not the way to acquire a real knowledge any more than the dates of the kings and queens of England and the battles of their times tell us much about our country's history. Children ought to learn to spell, but not if it means spending hours in the classroom being taught how to spell "eschscholtzia". Reading aloud in form is a much better way of learning how to spell than spelling bees.
1063 So if I am sceptical of some of the Government's proposals it is because I have so little faith in the bureaucracy of education to interpret a concept like benchmarks humanely. I well realise that we need to check how much children have learnt, but the benchmark scheme could end in children being endlessly coached to answer the kind of question that Mr. Gradgrind asked.
Nevertheless the Government are surely right to want the pendulum to swing back some way towards the utilitarian. We need a core curriculum. We need children to learn the use of English, algebra, arithmetic and a foreign language until the age of 18. We need children to learn the history of their own country not just in terms of social and economic change but also political change. They need to learn something about the Middle Ages and the importance not merely of the French or Russian revolutions but of our own Glorious Revolution of 1688, if I dare say so in your Lordships' House. They also need to learn the kings and queens of England. That at least gives them a sense of the passage of time and what happened when, which so many children lack today.
In the working of this core curriculum I hope that the Government will look at some shadowy bodies accountable to no-one who have controlled, or rather failed to control, the secondary school curriculum. They are the university schools examination boards which set the GCE courses. The universities do not control them. Never once in 15 years on the Committee of Vice-Chancellors did I hear their existence or work discussed. It is these bodies that have been allowed to let the number of options in the curriculum multiply to an intolerable level. They, too, should be brought under control and made, by the Department of Education and Science, to help in creating a national curriculum.
I am not much given to praising the work of that bloodthirsty tyrant Stalin, but the fact is that within 20 years of his rule in the Soviet Union an illiterate population was made literate and able to produce the weapons and train the troops which helped them win the Second World War. We need that spirit of dedication among our teachers, and the willingness to pay them and to equip our schools decently.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is always a difficult act to follow, but I have to try and I shall do so. I want to say a word to enlarge upon the subject referred to by my noble friend Lady Blatch in her excellent maiden speech; the Government's proposal that in England and Wales schools within the state system should be given responsibility for their own budgets, and that in Scotland preparations should be made for similar decentralisation by strengthening school councils.
I want to urge the Government on with this, but I also want to add a strong word of warning. I believe that this is potentially the most far-reaching of any of the Government's proposals. It is my belief that the real root of teachers' low morale, and of lack of public confidence in education, referred to so 1064 eruditely by my noble friend Lord Stockton, is not that money allocated to the service is inadeqate but the fact that nowadays fewer decisions are taken in the schools and more away from the schools within the local authority and at teachers' union headquarters.
That is not always the intention. Most local authorities claim that they devolve everything they can to schools. But the pressures on local authority officials are all the other way. Those pressures are to make the best use of staff, buildings, equipment and resources generally. The response, very naturally, is to plan across the authority though central guidelines on the deployment of staff, bulk buying of books and equipment central architectural services and even window cleaning. As a result, less and less is decided and organised by the schools.
Likewise, the political pressures on elected members are to demonstrate to the ever-present local media that they, the councillors, are responding to their electorates' wishes; that if they cannot respond, it is central government's fault. This is done of course by making more and more detailed decisions in public committee and leaving less and less to be decided comparatively unseen in the schools.
Teachers' unions are increasingly making decisions which should be made in schools; for example, when schools are asked to involve themselves in important developments like the new exam system, or the TVEI. Head teachers cannot then simply sit down, as they used to, with their own staff and, in consultations with parents, work out the best solution for their schools. Nowadays, in far too many schools, they must negotiate first in the school with the union representatives. And the unions then tell the teachers what to do.
To work in a big secondary school today, I have been told, is no less frustrating than working in an old-fashioned nationalised industry. Everything seems to be decided somewhere else and your own customers hardly come into it. That is why decentralising the budget to schools could transform the scene. Governors, parents and staff would then be able to get together to think how best to allocate resources in the interests of their particular pupils in the setting of their particular schools and with their particular staffs.
Proper line management would then again be possible in a big school. How much more effective that would be, and how much more enjoyable and motivating for everybody concerned! And might it not result in due time in teachers' unions returning to their old role, which used to be far closer to that of a professional association?
I have an important word of warning for my noble friend on the Front Bench. A good idea is one thing; good legislation and the necessary back-up are another. The Government must ensure that it is possible for head teachers to have adequate staff for financial management, and adequate training. They must go into the detailed requirement with head teachers and listen to what they say. They must consult Cambridgeshire where the "pilots" have taken place. They must consult independent schools about their practices.
1065 It is inevitable that in the state system schools are going to have more to do and local authority administrators less. What transfer of resources will be needed? So, my Lords, I encourage the Government on this proposal. It could do much to remedy the problems that your Lordships have been describing, but it must be thoroughly thought through and thoroughly resourced. If that is done, there are enormous possibilities.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, this has been a good and—on a number of occasions—a somewhat surprising debate, and none the worse for that. As the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, said, education is an issue where it is possible, and certainly desirable, for some of our thinking not to be along party lines. We have been grateful for the contributions made on both sides which have not been strictly along party lines. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peston for introducing the debate as he did in a speech of notable humanity. It was indeed no less than I expected from a fellow member of the Haringey association for the advancement of state education and a fellow parent at the same inner city comprehensive school.
We have also been privileged to have two outstanding maiden speeches today. The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, made an eloquent defence of the teaching profession from his position as an employer of the products of the teaching profession—and all the stronger for that. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made a well-informed speech as might have been expected, and she drew attention to some of the pitfalls of the core curriculum which the Government are proposing. I wish to come back to that.
It is also the right time for this debate because in the last general election education was an issue of continuing importance to the electorate. Throughout the election period people were saying to pollsters and politicians that they thought education was one of the most important issues facing the electors. It is one in which the Conservative Party's policies were treated with increasing scepticism and mistrust as the election period continued. This was partly because the education policies of the Conservative Party appeared to have been cobbled together very much at the last minute as the election manifesto was being produced. When it came to the public launch of these policies there was dispute between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education about what those policies meant. That is a matter which must be returned to.
However, it is proper since the Conservative Party won the election to concentrate our attention from this Dispatch Box on what the proposals of this Government for education appear to be, although we have not had the string of Green Papers which are expected from the Government in advance of the education Bill.
I must say a word about teachers' pay. A number of speakers have made reference to that—and it is very necessary that they should. It is quite disgraceful at this stage—many months after the Bill on teachers' pay was first presented and a number of months after 1066 it was enacted—that we still do not have the faintest idea other than rumours of dispute between the Department of Education and Science and the Treasury of the Government's proposals for teachers' pay. There has barely been an opportunity for consultation. Any further delay of this kind will only increase the demoralisation of the teachers, who, whether they are right or not, have given great attention to the taking away of their democratic rights as trade union members to negotiate their own pay and conditions. They care very much about this; they continue to care and will do so until their rights are restored.
The legislation which the Government are proposing to put forward contains a number of radical proposals which deserve some consideration. On the first—the curriculum—I agree in principle with my noble friend Lord Peston that a core curriculum, a national curriculum, is a necessary reform of our system. We have perhaps gone too far towards anarchy in our education system and it is necessary to preserve certain common standards between our schools in the way in which they teach and the subjects which they teach. I express only reservations about the extent of the proposed core curriculum and the percentage of time in the schools it is proposed that the core curriculum should cover.
As far as we can understand it, the core curriculum is to cover seven basic areas. These are mathematics, science, technology, English, foreign language (I forget the other) with, as it is phrased, time for music and the arts. As far as we can understand it, it is proposed that the curriculum should cover 80 per cent. of school time. This does not allow enough time for individual initiative by schools and by teachers with particular abilities. This will have to be reconsidered very carefully.
When we come to school budgets there are still many questions to be raised. If a school has the ability to choose between books, the roof, and teachers' pay, for example, and it chooses to neglect its roof for the benefit of the teachers' pay or the books, and the roof then falls in, will the local authority bale out that school or will it sack all the teachers in order to rebuild the roof? These problems may have been solved in Cambridgeshire but I suspect that when they come to be introduced on a national basis there will still be difficulties.
However, the fundamental difficulty is on this question of choice. Choice is not and never has been an unalloyed and simple good, as the philosophers will always tell us. One person's choice always runs the risk of being to the detriment of another person's choice. For example, the choice of going to grant-maintained schools may sound very fine because it gives the chance for those parents who so wish to come away from local authorities. But it has two effects. One is to reduce the choice of those in the remaining schools in the area; the other is to reduce the choice of the community electing its own local education authority to make collective decisions about what education is necessary in the area. It does so in effect by centralising education, and that is not an extension of choice. It makes it more difficult for remaining schools to maintain the other important element of choice: the ability to offer a full range of 1067 subjects and opportunities in every school in the area. The opting-out provision will make that provision very difficult, even if we pay no attention to some of the rumours or disputes which arose during the election about the meaning of opting out.
I have a document—Conservative Party background briefing to the education Bill—which states firmly that comprehensive schools will remain comprehensive and that as state schools they may not charge fees. I should be grateful for an assurance from the noble Baroness that that is the intention of the Government. If it is not, we can be quite clear that the situation will be a great deal worse.
I have a very short time available to me before the Minister must rise to reply to the debate. In my remaining minutes I can do no better than to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He urged the Government to think again about this. A number of noble Lords have said that the willingness and eagerness of a government to make changes in the administration of our schools has to be matched by a clear view of the kind of schools that they wish to come out of it and the principles on which they wish to make change.
Failing that clear statement of objectives and principles, and failing a much greater degree of consultation with those involved in the education service about what the changes might mean, it is surely undesirable for the Government to be putting forward a radical Bill of this kind. That may be a conservative thing to say from these Benches but in the interests of the education service it is better to be conservative than to rush into changes, the outcome of which it is difficult to predict. If it is true that some of the provisions of the Bill are the result of last-minute thinking on the education system, and that they are the result of disputes between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education, there is all the more reason for the Government to be exceptionally cautious in proposing major legislation.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Blackburn said that there had been seven major Bills since this Government came into office. I would dispute the use of the word "major" in respect of some of them but it is certainly true that there has never been a time when the education service has not been threatened with legislation. It would do no harm for the Government to allay some of the fears which are justifiably widespread at the present time about their proposals.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)
My Lords, this is the first major debate on education this Session and I should therefore like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss the general question of education in our schools at this stage. I am most grateful for the thoughtful and constructive contributions made by all the speakers this afternoon and also for the many questions that have been raised in this preliminary skirmish. I should particularly like 1068 to add my congratulations to my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lord Stockton and to thank them for giving us the benefit of their particular knowledge and expertise as parents, consumers, employers or county councillors. Their experience is most helpful and we look forward to many useful contributions from them both in the future.
There has been wide acknowledgement, both here today and perhaps in the wider world, that the Government fought the general election on our most radical education manifesto for years. We see it as vital for the country's future welfare and prosperity that standards should be raised throughout the education service and that we should build on best practice.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who emphasised something that I intended to say in any case: that on an international comparison, our best schools are the best in the world and we want all our pupils to have the best possible start in life. At the same time we need to ensure that we get the best possible return from the enormous resources that taxpayers and ratepayers contribute each year to the service.
It seems to me that the time to start to do something is now and so perhaps I might briefly outline the Government's proposals for the new great reform Bill. The Government will be introducing legislation designed to promote high standards and genuine choice in education. Our proposals for the national curriculum will build from current best practice and extend it to all maintained schools. They will allow ample scope for teachers to exercise their professional skills while offering a guarantee which can only be provided under the law—that pupils will not experience a less good curriculum just because of where they happen to live.
We shall be giving schools greater freedom to run their own affairs and to decide their spending priorities. We shall ensure that resource allocation by local education authorities rewards the popular schools and that such schools are freed from any artificial admission limits. We shall also give governors and parents in schools the chance to opt out of local authority control and to receive funds direct from the Government.
A number of your Lordships referred to the question of parental responsibility and choice; and we take it most seriously. A further element of choice for parents, particularly in urban areas, will be provided by the introduction of city technology colleges which will pioneer new approaches to school management and the curriculum, with emphasis on science and technology. We expect all these initiatives will introduce a healthy element of competition in the school system. They should act as a spur to all schools to improve their standards.
Clearly the Government cannot hope to bring all these plans to fruition on their own—that is something that has been expressed in the course of the debate today—but we are consulting with and seeking co-operation from all those involved in the education process. The first of the consultation documents on open enrolment and collective worship have now been issued. More will follow very soon.
1069 A number of individual points have been raised during the debate but perhaps I could begin by concentrating on what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said in speaking in favour of the comprehensive system as it now exists. Other noble Lords have supported his comments. Neither I nor my right honourable friend the Secretary of State hold doctrinaire views about this. We recognise that the various forms of school organisation each have their own strengths. What is important is that each area should have the system which is best suited to its local circumstances and to the wishes of parents. It should provide a sufficient range of opportunities for children of all abilities, to enable each child to fulfil his or her own potential.
In saying that, I feel I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, by saying that there is absolutely no intention of abolishing any of the types of schools that are curently available. What we want to do is to offer more choice. So we believe there should be a variety of provision made for secondary education, in accordance with the local circumstances and parents' wishes, and that the initiative should continue to rest with the local authorities themselves in matters of selectivity. This means that the authorities are free to consider the ending or the reintroducing of patterns of school organisation that include perhaps even grammar schools. If an authority publishes proposals to reintroduce grammar schools, my right honourable friend will make decisions on those proposals on their individual merits and in the interests of all children concerned. That of course goes for any type of school in the system.—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness is able to give me the specific assurance I sought that those comprehensive schools which opt for grant maintained status will remain comprehensive and will not be allowed to charge school fees. If that is the case, then the comprehensive system around them is no longer comprehensive and so loses its meaning and much of its virtue.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, there is certainly no intention of charging fees or altering the type of school which chooses to opt out. The process is still in its early days and, as I have said, the consultation document is about to be issued so there will be ample time to consult further in detail. However, I can give the noble Lord the assurance that there is no intention of change.
The national curriculum proposals, of course, occupied a great deal of time in our debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, asked why we were not doing more to solve the problems of illiteracy. My noble friend Lord Quinton also emphasised the need for an appropriate curriculum. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, gave a measured welcome to the proposals and I would assure him that the Secretary of State is in fact fulfilling his statutory duty to provide an adequate education by pursuing these initiatives and ideas—and nowhere more so than in the plans for the national curriculum, which offer a guarantee of good standards for all pupils, with a broad and balanced curriculum available to all as a right.
1070 Despite the progress made in recent years in reaching agreement on curriculum policies and all the good work which is done in our best schools, it is still possible for pupils to have a much less good curriculum just because of where they live or where they happen to go to school. This we find unacceptable; and our plans to give a guarantee to all pupils need to be given statutory backing.
The national curriculum, touched on by certain speakers, will have two principal features. There will be the foundation subjects which all pupils should study during the compulsory years so as to guarantee the fundamental principles of breadth and balance in the curriculum. These foundation subjects are: English, maths, science, a foreign language—and here I wish to say that I fully appreciate the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, in this respect but this will be for secondary pupils only—history, geography and technology, with time for art, music and physical education.
The second feature is that each foundation subject will have clear and challenging attainment targets at the key ages of around seven, 11, 14 and 16, which allow for variations in ability, together with programmes of study designed to help pupils reach those targets. Pupils' progress toward those targets will be assessed.
We certainly do not propose to impose rigidity or that there should be lack of opportunity for good teachers to use their talents to the best effect. We are offering a clearly understood national framework and not a straitjacket. What is defined will be a core. It will leave room for presentation of cross-curricular themes such as health education or home economics—a point mentioned by my noble friend Lady Faithfull—and also allow for the choice of additional subjects, particularly in the 14 to 16 age range. It will also give scope to teachers to use their professional skills to build around it, to exploit the abilities of individual pupils and to determine their own methods of teaching across the whole ability range.
Defining the foundation subjects as we have does not mean that we shall require all schools to organise their timetables on that basis. What is important is that the knowledge, understanding and skills set out in programmes of study should be covered in an appropriate way. How that is organised and delivered will remain the business of heads and other teachers.
The Secretary of State has said that he intends to move ahead only with broad agreement and we shall be consulting very soon on the shape of new legislation. Our proposals will have built into them provision for expert professional advice on such matters as attainment targets and programmes of study, and for wide consultation on the detail of what is proposed. Those consultations will involve people working within the education service as well as parents, pupils and indeed employers who must rely upon the service. It is a most important area, which makes this debate and the points that have been raised in the course of it most timely.
My noble friend Lord Stockton referred to resources, as indeed did the noble Baroness, Lady 1071 Lockwood, who also referred to their relationship to the new curriculum and the new examination system. For the year 1987–88 the education service has been given its largest ever cash increase in planned expenditure. With better management by some local education authorities, that sum should allow all pupils to be offered the kind of curriculum that we have in mind. I accept that there are particular problems concerning teacher supply in certain crucial areas, and maths, science, design and technology have been identified in particular. However, the Government have in mind a number of measures to tackle those problems. We accept that we are planning for major changes and we believe that in their wake will come efficiency and better financial management. Nevertheless, the implications of these proposals will need to be considered when allocating resources in future years.
My noble friend Lord Beloff referred in particular to the need for adequate monitoring of the curriculum and to the work of the HMI. The consultation documents take account of that. It is proposed currently that inspectors appointed by local authorities will remain the main mechanism locally for monitoring the delivery of the national curriculum in local authority maintained schools and HMI will continue with its present role and be responsible in particular for the inspection of grant-maintained schools.
The noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Thurlow referred to the importance of parental involvement and parental choice. In this context the question of open enrolment is most relevant. At present every school has a standard number of pupils, usually the number admitted to the school in the 1979–80 school year. Local authorities or governors are free to set admission limits up to 20 per cent. lower than the standard number, or lower still with the Secretary of State's approval. As school rolls have fallen, that power has been widely used in order to spread available pupils among existing schools. The Government's intention with open enrolment is to enable parents to seek out the schools which they consider will provide the best opportunities for their children and to ensure that those schools will accept pupils that will satisfy the capacity of school. The open enrolment consultative document has already been issued on the 9th July.
As regards teachers, I acknowledge that many teachers do marvellous work in what sometimes may be very difficult conditions. I think the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Thurlow, referred in particular to the environment and the inner cities. As the inner cities come within my particular responsibilities in the department, I look forward to being involved in many initiatives on that front. I am aware of what has been said about the status and importance of teachers, and I took particular note of the remarks of my noble friend Lady Carnegy; but I must point out that it is also incumbent upon teachers to ensure that they behave responsibly. We all recognise the difficulties that ensued upon the period of disruption, which resulted in much pointless harm to children.
1072 I am glad that the steps taken in regard to teachers' pay and conditions have been welcomed, in particular by my noble friend Lady Blatch as well as by other noble Lords. As regards the Bill which led to the ending of Burnham and setting up of interim machinery, I can assure noble Lords who raised queries on that matter that the announcement of the membership of the committee is likely to take place very soon. I can also confirm that the Government intend very shortly to publish a Green Paper setting out the key issues and questions about the structure of new permanent machinery, which may well explore the possibility of a no-strike agreement for teachers. I certainly noted the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, concerning the role of the unions.
At the end of a short debate it is always difficult to fit in everything in time; but I wish to reassure my noble friend Lady Faithfull that the question of home economics may be taken into account in the new curriculum in a variety of ways, in particular through foundation subjects such as science, technology and art, but that additionally schools may offer home economics options or modules in the time available at their discretion. I note my noble friend's remarks about the dual role of work within and outside the home, and particularly that this subject should be available equally to boys and girls. The noble Lords, Lord Ritchie of Dundee and Lord Addington, referred to children with special needs and dyslexia.
I understand that my time has now become extremely limited but I have noted what the noble Lords have said and will indeed draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend.
I regret that I have not been able to answer specific points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Hatch, Lord Somers and others, and in particular points raised concerning moral standards, which we regard as enormously important. Finally, we believe that the education system must respond to the changing needs of society. It must rise to the challenge of new technology and provide training and updating to enable our firms to compete in world markets. We intend to ensure that all our children are given a firm foundation on which to build a successful adult life.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Earl Cathcart)
My Lords, the time allotted for this debate has now elapsed. Does the noble Lord wish to withdraw his Motion?
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I wish to do that but I also believe that as a matter of courtesy I must thank all the noble Lords who have contributed from both sides of the House for the excellence of their contributions. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.