HL Deb 31 January 1990 vol 515 cc304-81

3.12 p.m.

Lord Peston rose to call attention to the importance of education and training for the success of the economy and society; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in introducing the debate, I hope that I have no need to persuade noble Lords of the importance of its subject matter. We may disagree politically and philosophically on what is to be done, but of the central role of education and training in ensuring the future of our country there can be no doubt. That is why I particularly welcome the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Cairns, has chosen to make his maiden speech in this debate. Like all noble Lords I look forward very much to hearing what he has to say.

I begin my own contribution by emphasising some broad propositions to which I hope we can all assent. First, we must consider education and training together; we must not act as though one can take place only at the expense of the other. As an example, the innumerate will find it hard, if not impossible, to work with the technically advanced processes that are now available, let alone those that will emerge soon. A great part of the intellectual achievements of our civilisation will also be closed to them.

Secondly, the focus must be on economic and social needs. Affluence can turn to ashes if the society in which we live is unattractive and immoral. I am at one with most of our fellow citizens who do not regard poverty as a prerequisite of the good life. To put the point crudely, I would rather read Shakespeare with a full belly than an empty one. I believe that I could persuade a person more easily of the merits of the sonnets if he or she were well fed and well housed.

In that economic and social context I must also mention the problem of discrimination against women. The subject has received its most recent airing in the excellent Hansard Society publication Women at the Top. The biases which women have to overcome may be deplored simply on the grounds of unfairness—namely, as a social problem. However, the fact that women are not employed or promoted on merit means that they are prevented from making their full productive contribution to the economy. In other words, the consequence is a deadweight economic loss. My own view is that neither our education nor our training system responds properly to the needs of women.

Thirdly, all age groups matter. Of course the young must be given priority. They are dependent on us and we have a duty to them. If Great Britain is to survive into the next century as a leading nation it is the young of today who will take the ultimate responsibility. That is why we are shocked at the physical conditions in which too many of them are taught. When they are grown up what will they think of a government that allowed their primary education to take place in buildings with leaking roofs and holes in the walls?

Having said that, no age group can be neglected. The productivity of adults can be raised so that they can make a needed extra contribution to the economy. Adults returning to education full or part time can improve the quality of their lives. There is still time to remedy the deficiencies of the past. My noble friend Lady David will have more to say on that matter.

Fourthly, all levels of education and training are important, whether we are talking of the nursery school at one extreme or postgraduate research at the other, of simple instructions to get someone started at the checkout at the supermarket or the most advanced managerial functions. None of what we do is so good that it need not be subject to critical scrutiny with a view to improvement. None is so unimportant as to deserve neglect.

This is not a debate primarily about higher education. However, there is one part of the higher education system to which I must refer. The Open University has been a great success. It has been one of the lasting contributions of the first administration of my noble friend Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. After 19 years, the university has just celebrated the achievement of 100,000 graduates. It is to be congratulated on that achievement. In that connection I cannot help coming back to the contrast between the maintenance grants and free tuition received by students in conventional higher education and the burden which Open University students have to bear. While I sympathise with the plight of all students, if there is any spare money I know where my priorities lie.

Fifthly, while we must press for greater efficiency in the use of existing resources, we cannot get far without committing a great deal more. Good education and training cannot be obtained on the cheap. I shall return to that theme later.

Sixthly, I must enter my usual plea for the mixed economy. The benefits which result from a training system larger in scale and superior in quality accrue to the individuals directly involved and to the rest of society. It is right, therefore, that the financing of training should be mixed —part public, part private. That is also true of provision. Neither side, public sector or private sector, should do what the other can do better. However, neither should be prevented from making its contribution by those who prefer ideological postures to effective action.

Seventhly, in a long list, I must remind noble Lords of the regional aspects of the matter we are discussing. Education and training must not be London biased. It must not even be England biased. I shall put in a special plea for Northern Ireland, where many of the sectarian problems could be at least alleviated in the schools and also by improved training facilities in the workplace.

Turning to resources, regrettably, over the past decade education expenditure has fallen relative to total public expenditure and gross domestic product. Capital expenditure was falling in the 1970s. I freely admit that. However, the trend has become worse, leading to the dreadul state of some school buildings to which I have already referred. Teachers at all levels have not been allowed to participate in whatever prosperity has been available to the rest of the community. We have been obtaining our education on the cheap on the backs of our teachers. Moreover, no one could be happy with the lack of provision of up-to-date school books and the poor state of libraries. On this side of the House we are aware that it will take a decade to reverse the damage that the Government have done. A start must be made to put things right, and the sooner the better.

The public expenditure White Paper appeared only yesterday. I have had little time to scrutinise it in detail. It is clear, however, that it proposes to cut back on public expenditure on training. The Government have surely taken leave of their senses. In saying that, I speak not only for myself but for all those who, independent of party, have taken an interest in the matter. I must go further. I must mention what can only be called the irrationality of parts of the Government's education policy. I shall not dwell today on the higher nonsense of the student loans Bill. There will be plenty of time to indulge our sense of the ridiculous in the next few weeks when that Bill comes to your Lordships' House.

However, the failure to accept a more sensible view of the national curriculum, especially as it had all-party support when we discussed the Education Reform Bill, now looks absurd. The Secretary of State for Education and Science is currently pursuing artificial ways of reducing the burden of the compulsory curriculum in order to safeguard other subjects. It is a pity that his predecessor did not take the good advice offered by noble Lords in 1988.

Furthermore, there is a danger that young people will be over-examined, over-assessed and over-specialised, with the examiners determining the curriculum instead of the other way round. Another example of irrationality, of which I do not expect to persuade noble Lords opposite, is the commitment of public capital funds to city technology colleges when neighbouring schools are badly neglected.

Finally, on that theme, the rigidity of the rules determining the form for budgets for locally managed schools will create quite unnecessary difficulties for some of them. It is perhaps ironic that those criticisms are shared by a great many conservatives, especially in local government.

I must say a few words, but, I hasten to add, only a few, on the economy. Economic performance has improved in some dimensions, but clearly deteriorated in others. It is apparant that there has not been an economic miracle unless rising inflation with unemployment at more than 1.6 million as measured by the Government (or at more than 2 million if measured correctly) is a miracle. As a teacher of economics, I must say that it is a kind of miracle. Again speaking as an economist, to produce the largest deficit relative to national income in modern history, despite North Sea oil, also strikes me as being miraculous.

However, my chief concern is with the future and especially with technology. That is where the economic battleground of the next century lies. Its foundation is science on which technological progress is built. Those who seek to create a conflict between the two are mistaken; they go hand in hand. We need more of both. Science is concerned with the precision of thought and careful experimentation. In its most creative guise, as Karl Popper reminds us, science also involves the most outrageous flights of fantasy and intellectual risk. In that mode it is most akin to entrepreneurship. My worry about British business is how cautious it is and how fearful of taking risks, especially those involving long-run commitment. Our businessmen compare unfavourably with their Japanese counterparts, as your Lordships' Select Committee was obliged to report last year.

However, above all, the next phase of economic development requires a transformed labour force. Physical capital is important, but no more so than human capital. The days of unskilled labour are over or, if they are not, our country is in even greater peril. In that connection, I lay particular stress on the 16-to-19 age group. My noble friend Lady Blackstone will discuss that issue in detail, as will other noble Lords.

I have been impressed by what has been revealed about Germany's efforts in that field by, for example, Professor Prais at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. The German model is not the only model worth examining. Certainly, the school-based Swedish model is equally significant, but the Germans seem to have united public and private sectors in a joint effort, have not become over-centralised, do not allow themselves to become bogged down in doctrinaire dispute as to who should pay and, while pushing the vocational side, have not neglected the more properly educational.

I have two other fears to draw to the attention of noble Lords. The first is the emerging cult of mediocrity. We accept in more and more parts of our society that we are not and cannot be at the top. That has been obvious in science and technology for some time, whether we think of computers, space and proposals that we should give up so-called big science. It is said that we should abandon our remaining world-class positions in the pure sciences and humanities for the sake of better performance in engineering. I do not believe that we need to do so or should do so. I regret to say that the Government seem to care not at all for our universities and are unappreciative of the great contributions of our leading academics. They are willing to imperil the setting of the highest standards to save a little public money. That may not matter in itself for governments come and go, but, if the public are persuaded to settle for mediocrity, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to restore the old standards. If I may be permitted an analogy, relegation is a good deal easier to obtain than promotion, as many a famous old football club has found to its cost.

My final fear concerns society. I understand that there are those who say that there is no such thing. Such a nonsensical view would have been rejected by Aristotle and, perhaps more significantly, by Adam Smith. Let us not misunderstand the Robinson Crusoe abstraction so beloved of economists. Robinson Crusoe inherited all the social artefacts. He was constrained by language, technical skills and existing knowledge. His very being was social in nature. Individualism, interpreted either as a scientific proposition or as an ethic, is predicated on the existence of society. Perhaps I may rub the point home: the free market and its essential constituents, exchange and the division of labour, are social phenomena. Education must reflect that. Only the most flawed of individuals pays no attention to the plight of his fellow citizens. If we neglect that, what is our education for? What do we seek to pass on to our children and grandchildren? We must have a sense of the value of the society to which we belong, despite its imperfections, and even though there is so much more to be done.

I am therefore led to some concluding remarks on policy. They are just suggestions. Unlike the Government, I do not claim to have the last word on anything. I am open to persuasion. Let me say immediately that this is an area in which no government have done enough. Criticism is made of the present Government because they are there, albeit temporarily. I am not saying that policy in the 1960s and 1970s was altogether satisfactory. After all, it was my noble friend Lord Callaghan who initiated the great debate on those matters in 1976. He said: I am concerned on my journeys to find complaints from industry that new recuits from the schools sometimes do not have the basic tools to do the job that is required". He also referred to: insufficient co-ordination between schools and industry". Our present under-trained and under-educated working population goes back to the beginning of the Second World War. The overall problem can be traced back to the 19th century. Our antipathy to formal training originates then, as does our lack of commitment to a first-class education system catering to the needs of all.

I accept that the present Government have tried to change attitudes. I also accept that, while we on this side would significantly raise public expenditure on education and training, our opponents do not agree. I am probably wasting my time by emphasising that matter. However, there is one other aspect of policy on which I must ask the Minister to comment. It concerns the new Engineering Training Authority. I cannot pretend to approve of the ending of the EITB. I am concerned that the new body might not include representatives from education. How well will it be funded? The EITB supported excellent research in the training and skills area. Will the new Engineering Training Authority be able and willing to do the same? More generally —I hope that this will not be regarded as pure cynicism —if all activity in that area is to be employer-led, as the Government seem to want, what grounds have we on past experience for believing that the highest international standards will be aimed at, let alone reached?

Our system of education and training must expand. It is to be hoped —I am not doctrinaire on this point —that there will be more private funding, especially of training, but a great deal of public money is needed. Some of the funds will come from ending CTCs and the assisted places scheme. The Exchequer will also gain from ending the privileged tax status of the private school sector. I am not in a mischievous mood today, but, if military expenditure is to be reduced, this country will be made a great deal more secure in the economic fight ahead by a retrained labour force than by tax cuts which stimulate a new import-intensive consumer boom. However, in the end, a first-class public system of education and training requires public money. Interestingly enough, it is apparent that most people recognise that and are willing to meet the cost. They are especially willing to do so if they are convinced of the effectiveness of the job that is being done.

Let us look more closely at training and retraining. There is the employment principle which has been advocated by the Campaign for Work. It is predicated on the active pursuit of full employment. Workers not in a job would be offered training or education and the payments system would be made more generous, acting as an incentive for them to accept it. We are not discussing "workfare", which is the insistence on the unemployed working for dole or being obliged to accept a job however unsuitable or badly paid. We propose a positive approach based on the idea that the unemployed want and need a credible counselling and training route.

Perhaps I may once again put on my economics hat. What has not been fully appreciated is both what a productive use of public money that is and how the Exchequer gains. An unemployed worker implies an annual economic loss of some £20,000. The effect on the Exchequer of reduced tax payments and higher social security benefits can be estimated conservatively at some £7,000 to £10,000 per annum. To educate and retrain someone even for a whole year at that cost, thereby preventing them from joining the army of the long-term unemployed, pays for itself very rapidly. A similar proposition applies to the 16 to 19 year age group.

It is not simply that the Government can afford to be generous to those young people. If the training and education that they receive is effective, it becomes a profitable investment. I am impressed with the similarity of the initiatives by the TUC and the CBI. Where I differ from the CBI is its fear of a mandatory approach. In my view, education and training must have a statutory basis and must be mandatory.

Before concluding I should like to pay tribute to the work of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. It has done excellent work in what was initially a not very welcoming environment. I contrast its carefully thought out and moderate approach, based on persuasion, as it were, with such educational bodies as the Schools Examination and Assessment Council, the Universities Funding Council and the Polytechnic and Colleges Funding Council. Those latter organisations, not to put too fine a point on it, seem to have gone completely haywire. They show all the signs of an uncontrolled bureaucracy, which is precisely what I thought this Government were opposed to. We are in danger through those bodies of being over-regulated in the field of education and training. We need to act quickly to rein them back, at least to some degree.

I do not wish to conclude on a negative note. I can do no better than quote again my noble friend Lord Callaghan. He got the balance right when he said: There is no virtue in producing socially well adjusted members of society who are unemployed because they do not have the skills. Nor, at the other extreme, must they be technically efficient robots". My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.32 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity presented by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, whose most interesting speech I thought contained some rare glimmers of vision, to record the Government's commitment to continuing to improve the education and training system of this country, to highlight some of our considerable achievements in the past decade and to point up the ways in which we are preparing to meet the challenges of the next decade and beyond.

I should also like to take this opportunity of welcoming the noble Earl, Lord Cairns, who will make his maiden speech today. The noble Earl has a wide experience of the City, and I look forward to his contribution with great interest.

There has never been a time when education and training have been more central to the continued economic success of this country. We face an increasingly sophisticated and technical world of work. We face fierce international competition, from Europe and from further afield. We have the prospect of fewer young people joining the workforce than at any time since the war. Competitors in the developing nations will continue to have a plentiful supply of cheap labour. We cannot compete on their terms.

Our continued prosperity depends on our becoming more and more an economy of high productivity, high skills and high wages, but only if they are earned. The alternative is low productivity, low skills and high unemployment. We must create a flexible, well motivated and multi-skilled workforce, producing high quality goods and services. Education and training are the key to that.

There is much to be proud of in our education and training system. Our best is as good as anyone's best, if not better in some cases. We have made good progress during the 1980s but we cannot put right in one decade what we, as a nation, have neglected for a century. The changes that we are introducing demonstrate our commitment to standards, quality and raising the levels of achievement of all our people —not just young people but adults as well. We must create a culture of learning throughout life.

It is a sad fact that for at least a century our participation rates in post-16 education and training have lagged behind those of our major competitors. However, in the past decade we have seen a 25 per cent. increase in participation in full-time education by 16 year-olds. That is a good start but it is not enough. We must accelerate that trend. The facilities and the opportunities are there.

No one can doubt this Government's commitment to education. We have increased spending per pupil by 42 per cent. in real terms on the 1979 level; pupil/teacher ratios have been reduced from 19 to 1 in 1979 to 17 to 1; we are giving schools and colleges greater independence and the stimulus to attract more students; we have introduced the GCSE exam and the national curriculum to raise levels of attainment; and we are producing a rational, coherent system out of the present jungle of vocational qualifications.

Education is not simply about equipping people for work, but I suggest that we neglect this aspect at our peril. I do not believe that helping to prepare young people for the demands of working life is in any way incompatible with encouraging them to develop their wider individual potential or to pursue academic excellence. We should do both. This Government have paid particular attention to ensuring that learning in school is relevant to the world of work and to building bridges between schools and industry. I will highlight just two examples.

Over half a million 14 to 18 year-olds are already benefiting from TVEI, the technical and vocational education initiative, which will be extended to all schools and colleges by 1992. This is not an alternative to the academic route. Indeed, it is playing a vital role in enriching the curriculum so that young people's experiences of work can also be related to their programmes of study.

Compacts too are making a major contribution to forging closer links between schools and employers. There are now 3,800 employers and more than 36,000 young people involved in the programme, which is playing an important part in our inner city areas in meeting the rapidly accelerating demand for adaptable and motivated young people able to reach the levels of skills required.

This Government's commitment to training is clearly demonstrated by YTS. Since its introduction in 1983, YTS has been a triumph. There are currently 400,000 youngsters in training —more than ever before. Eighty per cent. of YTS leavers go into jobs or further education and about 40 per cent. gain a qualification.

However, we cannot stand still. As the number of young people falls, it is even more important that they are well trained. We are therefore introducing greater flexibility into youth training, moving away from time serving to the achievement of recognised standards. Our objective is to increase significantly the number of young people with a recognised vocational qualification. The new youth training must build on the success of YTS and raise the proportion of participants gaining qualifications.

To achieve that, meaningful, widely recognised and relevant qualifications are a must. Four years ago the Government set in train a fundamental reform of vocational qualifications. We are rapidly moving to a situation in which vocational qualifications reflect the standards of competence required by employers. By the end of 1992 a system of qualifications will be in place covering all types of employment and all occupational levels—including the professions —which will prove practical competence and enable individuals of all ages to progress unhampered by petty restrictions and so broaden their skills.

Qualifications and training are for everyone, not just for the young or the unemployed. If unemployment were to disappear, there would always be a need to train and retrain our adult working population to help them to develop the skills that are in demand. Employers recognise that. A recently published report showed that in 1986–87 employers in Britain spent £18 billion on training. That is a massive investment in people. Employers make the demands for skills and it must be they who take the primary responsibility for ensuring that their workforces have the necessary skills. I know that some noble Lords opposite will say, "You cannot trust employers." But this Government believe that you can. The evidence is that employers are already responding to the challenge. Compulsion —through the ITB levy schemes —has been tried and it has failed. We must therefore create a framework within which industry and enterprise can thrive and which employers can lead, shaping local training and enterprise provision to meet their needs.

Our plans for this framework are well advanced. At the national level we have the Training Agency and the National Training Task Force, within industry the 100 or so industry training organisations, and, most exciting of all, at the local level the network of training and enterprise councils —in Scotland, the local enterprise companies. TECs are not another scheme. They are not another initiative. They will be the motors of economic growth in their area, with business in the driving seat. The response from business leaders has been magnificent. There are now 55 TECs in the development phase and we expect to complete the national network well ahead of schedule. Each TEC—and there will be about 80 of them nationally —will have the freedom and resources, on average about £20 million a year, to shape training provision and business growth services to local needs. They will also be required to address the needs of women, the long-term unemployed, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities. In doing so, TECs will make a major contribution to the regeneration of the local community which they serve and collectively will play a significant role in providing the adaptable, multi-skilled and qualified workforce that is undoubtedly the key to our continued economic success.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who framed the title of this debate: to call attention to the importance of education and training for the success of the economy and society". The importance of these matters has been and will remain at the forefront of the Government's attention. We are now as a nation reaping the benefits of the Government's approach to the economy and industry. The reforms in education and training that I have outlined are right for the 1990s and will lead to the raising of standards that we all agree are vital to our continued economic success.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, one would indeed think from listening to the Minister that everything is all for the best in the best of all possible worlds. I am afraid that I shall sound a less optimistic note in some of the things that I have to say.

What is wrong with our education service at the moment? We could talk about it for twice as long as we are allowed to today. I shall mention the two areas to which most of us would refer if pressed. First, why is it that so few of our young people stay on at school after the age of 16 in order to acquire higher qualifications? The number is so depressingly few compared with West Germany, Japan, America, France or any other highly civilised coutry. Secondly, how on earth is it that after 11 years of schooling such a significant proportion of our young people leave school semi-literate and semi-numerate?

How far can or will the education format improve the situation? There is no time to discuss that unfortunately. The national curriculum —when its multifarious problems have been sorted out —may help. But what worries us on these Benches are those provisions —like the old execrated 11-plus—which seem likely to encourage the notion that some children deserve a better education that others. I am referring to the grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges. They seem to be a sanction for the old outmoded idea of elitism. There may be good reasons for elitist education at certain periods in certain countries. For example, in a country with an agrarian economy depending on a vast agricultural labour force, it might be quite inappropriate for the whole population to be equally well educated. It may be that in such a country only the professions and the politicians need to be highly educated and to form an elite governing class. But we need a high quality workforce for the entire population to compete in a high technology market, as in Japan, West Germany, the United States and France, not a workforce composed of some of the nation, the chosen few, but of all.

I know that to undertake that would be a massive task. By way of illustration I shall tell noble Lords of our difficulties with regard to a school that I visited the week before last. I talked at length to the headmaster and subsequently to the education social worker, as they are called in London. Let no one suppose that social deprivation and emotional disturbance in children is without a damaging effect on their education. In this school a high percentage of the children come from one-parent families—at least 40 per cent., probably more. In many cases these children arrive back from school to an empty house, the single parent being out at work. It may be as early as three o'clock in the afternoon, for a reason that I shall explain in a moment. Such children are able to wander the street, a prey among other things to the drug pushers who abound in the area. I happened to see two when I was there.

There are children with two parents who are left for many hours in the evening because those parents are in the pub. There is also a high incidence of poverty. Of the first and second-year children, 47 per cent. are entitled to free dinners because their parents are on income support. In this school there is a permanent shortage of seven teachers. Two of them are long-term casualties from stress. One measure to which the school has had to resort in order to cope with the situation has been to finish the day at 2.45 p.m. so that the staff can plan and prepare for the next day. That is why some children arrive home at about 3 p.m. It also means that teaching time has been lost.

I have mentioned the stress of teachers. That of course affects the children's welfare and learning prospects. One form in the school has had five different form teachers in its first four terms of secondary schooling. Lack of staff increases the pressure on staff who are present. They have to do what they can to cover teacher-less classes. They are also faced at the same time with the new demands of the national curriculum: the preparing, marking, assessing and recording.

This pressure on teachers has a damaging effect on the welfare of children. Teachers are no longer able to give thought and time to the crucial pastoral work that at one time all the best teachers shouldered unquestioningly. The education social worker has to see many children who before would have been seen by the head of year. Form teachers simply do not have the time to investigate cases of truancy, for example, as they formerly did. When a case of truancy has not been investigated —as we saw on the "Panorama" programme on Monday night —that is likely to be the reason.

One of the joys of teaching has traditionally been the running of clubs after school hours—chess, drama, ping-pong or whatever it may be. I used the word "joy" because the teacher then has the opportunity to be with a group of children in an informal situation, with all of them sharing the same enthusiasm. He or she has the opportunity of forming a bond with those children that is much less easily formed in the classroom. For the children too such activities are very therapeutic. I would almost go so far as to say that they are the most important things that happen in the day; certainly for many children they are the most memorable. But they have largely had to go and the quality of education is that much the poorer.

I have touched on some of the problems of one school in order to give a concrete example —rather than a list of meaningless statistics —of the real situation in a great section of our education service, the inner city schools, as a corrective to the Panglossian claims of the Government about their education policy. The Eduction Reform Act will do little to break this cycle of deprivation whereby a child's social background impairs his chances at school, and his resulting damaged education prevents his escape from that environment. Some will be helped, but most will not.

Of course I met the teachers at this school. I had the impression that I always get: they are totally dedicated to the interests of their pupils —who sometimes, it must be said, constitute the most intractable material —in the most adverse circumstances; poor pay, under-valuation, and unappealing environment. The school has an excellent reputation in the borough and beyond. It is much in demand for its high standards and caring headmaster and staff. I was attracted to visit it because of the high standard of the art department.

I asked the headmaster what he reckoned the education service needed. Without hestitation he replied, "More high-quality teachers". We know that not all teachers are of high quality. The headmaster knows that if he employs certain supply teachers the pupils will vote with their feet and absent themselves. That is one reason why his staff are so hard pressed; where possible they cover classes themselves rather than turn to weak substitutes from the authority.

Teachers will be of high quality only if they are highly paid and honoured. That and generous resourcing are the vital elements which appear to have been left out of the equation in the Government's education policy. They are incomparably the most important. We on these Benches have consistently said that, of all things, education should be the target for investment. What is more important —except perhaps health —than a nation's education? By that I mean the education that will be needed in the years to come; not the education of an elite, such as had to be accepted as good enough for the 19th century, but an education for the whole nation. Nothing less than that will be good enough for the 21st century.

3.51 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, the churches have long had a stake in the education of the people of this country. Increasingly the word that has crystallised our approach has been "partnership" —partnership between church and society in the education of the whole nation. We do not see that partnership in terms of the church determined to teach and educate its members in an otherwise secular system; nor are we focusing, even in county schools, on preserving religious education and ignoring the rest of the curriculum. We are essentially in partnership with society, open in our concern for all in the educational field and working for balance.

One of the reasons why I welcome the debate is that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has secured balance in the words of the Motion: balance between education and training, balance between economy and society. Surely partnership, openness and balance are key words, even if a little overworked, in our contemporary concern for education and training.

Earlier this month the Secretary of State for Education made a speech to the north of England conference. He referred to having a battle on our hands. He stated: We are engaged…in a battle, that of fierce international competition. If we are to achieve the living standards and prospects that technology can bring, if we are to fulfil the aspirations our fellow citizens have for what the 1990s can offer … it is vital that our standards of education and training match those of our main competitors". That is well said. But surely it is balance by recognition of another battle on our hands —that for the minds and hearts of the people.

In recent months we have seen communism collapsing from within because it had not found a convincing place in the minds and hearts of the people of Eastern Europe. We are aware that in many countries there is a growing conflict between Christianity and Islam. We are rediscovering the power, and in some instances the frightening power, of corporate religious conviction.

Surely education is to help people develop ideas, ideologies and philosophies of life; to criticise, evaluate and establish firm roots for their convictions. Therefore, it seems to me that we must recognise both economic competition and ideological rivalry. We need a trained workforce which is at the same time an educated people who can grapple with ideas as readily as with instruments.

A genuine appreciation of training ensures that people are prepared for the real world and for available work. That is essential. It enables the less academic to realise his or her individual skills, to apply them and to have the fulfilment of doing a job and the satisfaction of contributing to the creation of a better society. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has always underlined the value of each individual in the eyes of God and has appreciated the contribution that each person can make to the community. Similarly, we have always been wary of exalting competition to the point where it devalues and deskills the less successful. Each person is of value and appropriate training can liberate and express that value.

A genuine appreciation of education ensures that people are stretched to the limit of their intellectual capacity, enabled to follow the argument wherever it leads, encouraged to make connections between different areas of knowledge and enabled to reason, judge and pursue truth. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition emphasis has always been placed on our skills as being gifts from God which must be developed to the full. Education ensures that we think of people as humans as well as hands. Education ensures that people mature to their full potential and are not merely fitted into the labour market.

We need an educated and a trained people. We must have a lively economy for a healthy society. Does that not require us to think through more carefully the nature and relationships, for instance, between universities and polytechnics? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has recently spoken on that subject. I have been asked to express his regret at not being able to attend the debate this afternoon because he is in the United States of America. I believe that he would wish to argue for financial parity between universities and polytechnics but also for preserving their distinctive traditions. Traditionally universities are, by and large, more enclosed communities, reflecting upon things as they are and asking fundamental questions about their purpose and meaning. Polytechnics are institutions traditionally more open to the local community, reflecting on things in terms of their use. Although the two traditions have moved more towards one another, there is value in securing those two traditions, distinct but complementary.

This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the church colleges of education. Their present contribution arises out of their past in teacher training. they have moved out into other vocational areas to relate rigorous academic study to the practical care of people in society. They do that in the context of a Christian conviction that each person is of value and must try to develop his gifts to the full. In that way the church colleges hope that they are attaining a balance between education and training.

In addition to thinking through again the relationship between unviersities and polytechnics, do we not need to think again about the curriculum for 16 to 18 year-olds? We should not divide that age group sharply between the academic stream and the practical stream and so prevent mutual interaction. Technology is developing so fast that if we train people to handle only today's computers they will be all thumbs with tomorrow's. The more educated, the better people should be at adapting to new developments and being more flexible, creative and imaginative.

I welcome the Secretary of State's current efforts to see whether core skills can be developed for all in the 16-plus age range. He says that the core skills include communication, numeracy, familiarity with information technology and the world of business and enterprise and the personal skills needed to function in that world as well as competence in modern foreign languages. By themselves those skills may appear to be overly utilitarian. But if they could become part of a broader educational approach surely there would be gains for all in that age group.

However, I suggest that it is not adequate for the 16 to 18 year-olds, or for any other age range for that matter, to focus sharply on the curriculum because so much depends on the ethos of the school, the morale of the teaching staff and the vision of the enterprise. In Section I of the Education Reform Act the curriculum is set firmly in the general educational purpose. The Act reads: The curriculum for a maintained school satisfies the requirements … if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life". That does not merely mean working life. I believe that there is danger in trying to achieve everything through an agreed curriculum and individual attainment targets, however well conceived, without recognising the context in ethos, morale and vision.

I wonder whether there is hope for developing a surer partnership between industry and commerce on the one hand and society on the other. Some employers encourage people to leave education at 16 or 18 in order to train them in house. That is practical and commendable, but should not that training be seen in more educational terms? Industry needs people who can do today's jobs but who also have the educational basis for adapting to tomorrow's.

The most valuable raw material which any nation has is the minds of its people. To make the most of that asset we need a developing partnership between government and voluntary agencies, between the teaching profession and society and a fuller interaction between education and training.

4.1 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, the background to this debate is sombre. In Britain, 82 per cent. of children leave school at 16 compared to 4 per cent. in Japan and about 10 per cent. in Germany and the United States. A terrifying 40 per cent. of British school-leavers have no qualifications whatever. British children in the lower half of the ability range are as much as two years behind their German counterparts in mathematical skills. Between 1964 and 1981 English children fell from third to 22nd place in an international league table of academic performance. Between 1978 and 1988 the number of adolescents gaining engineering qualifications increased by 60 per cent. in France and 35 per cent. in Germany and fell by 30 per cent. in the United Kingdom. Against that background it is hard to equate the realities with the Panglossian speech —a word borrowed from the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie —of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.

Pundits, parents and many politicians are all agreed that that is a scandal. When he was Secretary of State Mr. Baker always proclaimed ambitious targets for growth of the student population. In June of last year he said that he wanted to see the numbers of students in our universities and polytechnics doubling from 1 million to 2 million over the next 25 years. I have not heard that that ambition has been repudiated by Mr. MacGregor.

However, we have very little hope of increasing participation in further or higher education until a daunting array of disincentives, hurdles, tripwires, complications, uncertainties and other impediments are removed from the path of the potential student or trainee. Until then it is nonsense to talk of improved access to post-statutory education and training.

I start at the secondary level with the national curriculum. On these Benches we supported it in principle but urged a greater flexibility in the range of foundation subjects outside the core. It turns out that we were right. There is a large question mark over the ability to deliver the curriculum requirements given current teacher recruitment. That will not improve until the salary structure of the teaching profession is radically changed. Also, if the national curriculum is applied rigidly, it either means that GCSEs will in effect be restricted within the range of the 10 national curriculum subjects or a two-tier curriculum, with separation of streams, at 14-plus will become inevitable.

According to press comments there is serious disagreement between the Secretary of State and the National Curriculum Council on that. It raises the whole question of whether the national curriculum and GCSEs are compatible or one or other will have to go to the wall. That is a matter of great concern to parents, pupils and teachers. I must ask the noble Lord to clarify the Government's intentions on that.

When we come to the end of compulsory education the situation is extremely confusing, with many disincentives to continuing into further or higher education. With three good A-levels a school-leaver can jump straight into a degree course at university with a mandatory grant but in most other cases the way ahead is far from clear. You are in an uncertain and bewildering world of discretionary grants and a great variety of institutions and courses. At sixth form college level you will receive no financial help other than fares if you live more than three miles away under the old ILEA rules in London, and perhaps not even that now. Outgoings on travel, meals and materials for some courses can easily reach £30 per week. That minus of £30 per week must be compared with a plus of £29.50 on YTS first year. I shall say more about that in a few moments.

If the determined student soldiers on and collects enough GCSEs to make an application for, for example, a foundation course in art and design, a B.Tech. first diploma or RSA diploma in whatever subject, he or she may well be offered a place without any certainty that it will attract a local authority discretionary grant. In inner London at the moment as many noble Lords will know, the situation is particularly confused, with the final handover by ILEA to the boroughs due on 1st April but no borough is yet in a position to say which courses or what numbers it will be able to support. That makes the case for a means-tested mandatory education maintenance allowance at 16-plus almost unanswerable. We have long advocated that, but I was interested to see that the CBI in its briefing for this debate seems to advocate something very similar when it speaks of a 16 year-old cash credit entitlement for structured training, work experience or education. That really must happen if the Government are remotely serious about improving access to and participation in post-16 vocational education.

Even if the present hurdles are somehow surmounted and the student has managed to secure and somehow finance a place on, for example, a B.Tech. first diploma, arrangements for further progress to undergraduate studies with academic credit are far from widespread and certainly not national. Admittedly, the Higher National Diploma is gaining credence but there is currently no systematic attempt to ease the transferral of credit gained from further education or vocational studies into the realm of higher education.

I said that I would return to YTS because that is the main alternative to picking your way from tussock to tussock through the morass I have just described. I certainly cannot recognise the description of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the programme is a triumph. It has the attraction of a positive allowance, albeit a modest one, as opposed to a negative drag on family resources. We in the SDP were strongly supportive of the scheme when it replaced the Youth Opportunities Programme on a national basis from September 1983. Sadly our hopes have been disappointed. The scheme has never acquired the prestige or quality which young people were entitled to expect.

That is because, frankly, government training schemes, under whatever name or agency —and the name of the agency has been changed several times —have been motivated much more by political considerations than by any real concern for skills or vocational training. Removing people from the unemployment register has been given a far higher priority than equipping young people with skills or qualifications.

Low take-up and rapid turnover have been inevitable results of unchallenging jobs and no concrete qualifications at the end of the training period. Accusations of exploitation may be exaggerated, but the experience of a girl who signed up as a trainee cook and was employed for four days a week simply filling up the salt and pepper pots in the works canteen, with one day per week of sketchy instruction in a kitchen, may not be untypical.

Although the target figure has been scaled down from 600,000 to 450,000 trainees per year, a recent study by Cardiff University has revealed that, far from staying on for the recommended six months, 80 per cent. of trainees quit after six weeks or less. That is simply not good enough for a national training scheme. It is quite clear that the whole system will have to be redesigned, with vocational education and proper credits built in; otherwise it should be scrapped and the money applied to the educational maintenance allowances which I have advocated or the CBI's plan for a more coherent approach to qualifications for all 16 to 19 year olds, or almost anything other than what we have now. Will the Government please tell us this evening what they will do to revitalise or replace that miserably limping programme?

I turn finally to the polytechnics, which are bound to be one of the main agencies of delivering the skills of the future both because of their higher proportion of mature students and because of the more vocational bias of many of their courses than is found in the universities. Mr. Baker was fond of using the polytechnics as a stick with which to beat the universities, pointing to their impressive increase in numbers without loss of performance. That is not quite fair to the universities because of their responsibilities for medical training and research. Even so, the polytechnics have given excellent value for money and the margin of value is increasing. In 1979–80 the cost of a polytechnic student was 82 per cent. of the university capitation figure and by 1987–88 it had reduced to only 58 per cent. of the university figure. I am told that it may now be nearer 50 per cent., or a mere half of the university cost.

There is one way in particular in which the polytechnics ought to be helped, and that is on the capital side. Their building stock is not as good as universities. They have already improved their teacher/student ratio from one to eight to one to 15. They could improve it further if they had the physical premises to do so. As I understand it, they have been allocated only £60 million for repairs and improvements to a capital stock of £3.5 billion. Surely it is short sighted not to provide the capital which is crucial for the expansion of higher education to which the Government's rhetoric, at any rate, is committed. I gather that some of the businessmen the Government have lured onto the polytechnic boards are seriously worried. Perhaps the Government will pay attention to them, if not to us.

I do not know how many noble Lords read the leading article in today's Independent newspaper entitled "An incredible cut for education", with its withering indictment of the Government's spending plans for education over the next three years. I must say that that, coming from a moderate and well balanced paper, really made me sit up. I am no indiscriminate spender but, my God, if we do not spend more here we shall live to regret it.

4.11 p.m.

Earl Cairns

My Lords, I know my father would approve if I started by extending my thanks to your Lordships' House for the courtesy extended to a maiden speaker. My father was a very courteous man and I miss him for that, and for many other things besides.

I have spent many of the last 15 years involved in a small voluntary organisation which may be known to some of your Lordships; it is called VSO. I have been its chairman for the past eight or nine years. It sends some 1,200 volunteers to work in 42 different third world countries, each for a period of two years. Volunteers have an average age of about 30 and they have usually practised their professional skills here in the UK before going abroad. About half of them are male and half female.

Approximately 40 per cent. of those volunteers are posted directly into the formal education system of the country to which they go and no volunteers are posted unless there is a significant training element in their posts which will, in due course, allow their local counterparts to develop as their replacements. The experience we have and our primary interest in playing a role in the economic development of third world countries thus give us a broad perspective on an objective basis of a number of issues which I believe are as relevant in this country as they are in third world countries. I should like to raise just three of these.

Let me start in the Kingdom of Bhutan, where our volunteers have helped to design and to implement a relatively new primary education system. A significant proportion of pupils are Nepali speakers. The medium of instruction throughout Bhutan is English, but if the pupils are to succeed to any significant extent they must also become fluent in Bhutanese. Thus young children have to cope not only with three separate languages, but also with three entirely different scripts. Our volunteers, in designing the programme, were worried whether the children would be able to cope with this difficulty. They are both surprised and encouraged that students appear to cope with this complexity which exceeds by some distance what we ask of children in this country.

That raises the question of whether we ask enough of our students at home and indeed whether in all cases there would be a willingness to respond.

Moving to Africa, I recall visiting a volunteer on the island of Zanzibar teaching a class of 83 students who had five textbooks between them. When I asked this teacher to compare her experiences with those she had had in the UK, she dwelt enthusiastically with the commitment to learn that those children on that spice island had and, I fear, produced some unfavourable comparisons with her experience of teaching in a number of comprehensive schools in I this country. I wonder why.

Let me move on to Uganda, a country in as parlous an economic state as one can imagine. Government funding for primary and secondary education simply does not exist. Nonetheless, as the government have withdrawn, parents and the local community have moved in and perhaps the most vibrant part of the investment for the future of Uganda can be seen taking place in those local schools. The commitment of both parents and teachers has never been more apparent and, even in that poor country might be compared with the historically great university of Makerere where, as the government support diminishes, the university is at a standstill with the students on strike. How relevant is that to us?

I would not wish, even if I were not barred by the constraint of remaining uncontentious on this particular occasion, to suggest that the privatisation of education is the answer. Privatisation is a horrible word; a product of the 1980s. I should like to suggest an even worse word; that is, "parentisation". The balance between the framework imposed by education authorities in my view needs to be shifted, quite fundamentally, towards a greater involvement and responsibility of parents and their perception of the needs of their children. Without that I wonder whether the kind of enthusiasm that I have described overseas, which in many cases seems to be lacking at home, will take place.

I believe that the involvement of parents too will point the path to the worth of the things that are taught. In some parts of Africa, where educationalists hold sway, our volunteers are often asked to teach Shakespeare to children who are unlikely to pass any worthwhile examination. I am glad to say they teach other subjects too. Other countries use scarce resources to churn out arts graduates who hope to enter government service, but for whom the absorptive capacity of their economy is far too low to meet the supply. Perhaps those educators determining the courses are, at the same time, the product and the prisoners of an obsession with an academic approach to an educational system that we have exported to them.

However, all is not lost. We are working in Nigeria on developing programmes of intermediate technology training; not in the sense of purely vocational training, which is so often seen as a second-class option for academic no-hopers, but rather as an applied intellectual course which may lead either to vocational training or to specialisation in more academic subjects, but with an applied basis to it.

The lesson that I wish to suggest from watching VSO's programme for 15 years, is that we need to expect a good deal from those going to school. This stands the greatest chance of success if we can get the involvement of parents. Parents will transmit their enthusiasm to their children and challenge them to make the maximum effort. Parents will, in many cases, also be good judges of the form in which their children's education should take place.

We in VSO find a very direct correlation between the greatest involvement of parents and the educational consequences which seem to us the most effective for the students themselves and, thereby, for the economic prospects of their countries. I trust that is a lesson I can suggest to your Lordships without offending the conventions of my first speech in your Lordships' House.

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, it is a great pleasure indeed to be able to be the first to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cairns, on his maiden speech. I know that he comes to this House as a distinguished banker. I believe that his father was both an admiral and Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, so his interests should be very wide. I believe that all of us who take an interest in education are delighted that he should have chosen to make his maiden speech on this subject and particularly on the VSO. It is a most important issue. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Earl on many occasions in the future.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for introducing the debate this afternoon. I agree with him that the issue of education and training is extremely significant. It is a huge subject. As time is limited, I shall concentrate my remarks on only one aspect of it. That is one that has been touched on by most speakers who have already taken part in this debate. I refer to the 16 to 19 year-olds. Before I do so I should not like it to be thought that I do not recognise that there are many other important issues. For example, teachers are the key to the success of the education service and they are so important. I hope that all the initiatives being taken to recruit more teachers in shortage subjects are going well. I should like to enlarge on that subject but time does not allow.

I believe it is too early to judge how the Education Act is working. The core curriculum, the national curriculum, testing and assessment are important to the raising of standards. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, referred to the report of Professor Price which drew our attention to the fact that the average and below average child in this country is approximately two years behind his German counterpart in maths. It is a very serious matter and one which we must address.

There are difficulties—for example, the overlap between GCSE and A-levels. There are difficulties concerning the overlap in testing and assessment and examinations for 16 year-olds. There are also a number of problems as regards minority subjects. However, I cannot touch on them today. Neither can I say anything about higher education except that I am very pleased that we have about an additional 50,000 students in higher education and a much increased proportion of women. I believe the percentage of women has increased from 42 per cent. to 46 per cent. That is not quite high enough, but it is at least a good step in the right direction.

I now turn to two further points. There has been a great deal of criticism about expenditure on education. More money does not necessarily mean higher standards; it is the content of education that matters. It is good that spending per pupil has risen by 42 per cent. since 1979. That increase can hardly be regarded as a cutback. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that, if there is much wrong with the fabric of schools, he himself said that the Labour Government in the 1970s made very considerable major cuts in capital expenditure from which the education system has been suffering. We must put these matters right but that cannot be done overnight. I believe that the noble Lord must recognise that our inheritance was not altogether a good one.

I turn now to the 16 to 19 year-olds. It is early days to assess the effects of the GCSE examination. However, it is welcome that it appears to have encouraged more pupils to stay on after the age of 16. I believe that the numbers are up by about 10 per cent. The number of A-level students has increased from 21 per cent. to 24 per cent. The A-level examination is one of academic excellence and I believe it must be maintained. The opinion that A-levels are too narrow argues for the development of the AS examinations. That should go some way to remedying the problems.

But what concerns us all is those who are not going to take either A or AS examinations. It is for that group of pupils that I believe the education system has been at its weakest. We are now confronted by a series of problems, including that of demography already referred to by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. There is also the problem of 1992. We know how many more pupils in our competitor countries, particularly Germany and France, are acquiring a much higher level of skill. I hope that there will be a general realisation in this country that in the next century there will not be any unskilled jobs available. That will be a fact and it is one which it is no use pretending will not exist.

Therefore the issue is how we are going to deal with this matter. I greatly welcome the statement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Mr. MacGregor, at the North of England conference that it is the Government's intention that all 16 to 19 year-olds should receive some systematic education or training leading to recognised qualifications. That seems to be very much in line with what the CBI says in its report on the subject. The Secondary Heads Association agrees with that.

The question is this: how can we make the proposals work? It is necessary to have a much greater understanding and belief in the fundamental importance of education and training and to break down the artificial barriers that exist between the two. Acquiring a skill is essential for all young people. It is essential for women and the ethnic minorities. It is also essential for the disabled. Everybody must have a skill and when they have it it is a kind of passport which can be taken around. I welcome the number of students who are staying on in education. I understand that the number is increasing. I hope my noble friend can confirm that 50 per cent. of students are staying on after the age of 16 and that, if part-timers are included, the number increases to 80 per cent. I hope that my noble friend will say what the figures are. However, even if they are correct, they are still not good enough.

How can we get students to stay on? From time to time I flirted with the idea that some form of compulsion would help in this matter. But I have been told by those in education that such a measure is unlikely to work. One must accept that they are right. Therefore, I was particularly interested to read of the work of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred to it. That work appears to be quite outstanding. One of the problems for those not taking what are now nationally recognised examinations is that there appears to be a welter of qualifications though nobody knows quite what they mean or how to achieve them.

It is not that there is anything wrong with apprenticeship schemes, the colleges of further education, the City and Guilds or similar organisations. They produce very good results indeed. However, it is very difficult to know how to get into them and, having done so, it is difficult to know what the qualifications actually mean. The council is now establishing a framework of qualifications on four levels. I understand that that is expected to increase to five levels, which will make an enormous difference.

I believe that the ethos of the council is to pick up the best of what the Americans and the Germans do so that one can actually collect qualifications in the world of work. That seems a ladder of opportunity for a great many people who have no such thing now. I believe it underpins the importance which has been referred to by all noble Lords who have spoken, of the relationship between education and the world of work.

There are many young people who are unlikely to be motivated until they are actually in a job and see for themselves what is really required. Therefore, it is important to create a link. In the business organisations with which I am now associated I have taken an interest in the various compact schemes. I believe they are having a very useful effect at school level.

I conclude by saying that I believe this to be a most important area: we need to find a way of motivating and encouraging young people to stay on in order to acquire a skill, in addition to the personal skills, to give them the understanding and flexibility which they will require for the highly technical world into which we are moving.

4.30 p.m.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, in the time available I wish simply to concentrate upon the importance of training for the success of the economy. I apologise in advance for the fact that I am unable to stay to the end of this debate due to a long-standing educational engagement in Oxford.

I am pleased to begin by being the second person to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cairns, on a fascinating and knowledgeable maiden speech. He took us into fields not normally considered in an education debate and he drew relevant lessons from that. I am sure that we all look forward to subsequent contributions by the noble Earl, especially when he can be more controversial.

I also agreed with a great deal of what has been said so far by previous speakers: by my noble friend Lord Peston and by the noble Lords, Lord Kilmarnock and Lord Ritchie of Dundee, especially comparing the noble Lord the Minister with Professor Pangloss. The only problem I have with that is that we all know what happened to Professor Pangloss in the end, and I would not wish that on the noble Lord. I even found that I agreed with some of his remarks. I agreed with them because I agreed with them when they were said by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in the last speech he made in this House before vanishing; it was a debate on training on 5th April on a Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. Indeed I think that almost everybody in the House agreed with that part of the speech at the time because it was all about the fact that we need more training, that we need better training and that we have somehow to approach the record of our major competitors.

We said in that debate, as I think many speakers have said already and as many more will say before this debate is over, that we disagreed with the methods, with the Panglossian methods; that we disagreed with the focusing on employer voluntarism, believing that employers will solve the problem on an actual reduction —we now have a few more figures and I should like to ask the Minister about this —in government responsibility for funding and with this very strange eight or nine level structure of institutions to which I want to come back. As I said previously, if you try to work it out on a piece of paper, it looks like a cross between Trivial Pursuit and snakes and ladders. It is a most amazing set of institutions.

Let me turn to the funding. In the Government's blue paper, entitled a White Paper, the Government state at paragraph 4.2: As unemployment falls the level of government funding can be expected to adjust accordingly, but the training of those in employment is all the more important and employers and individuals must accept a corresponding increase of responsibility in this area. In other words, the Government propose to bail out as the level of employment rises.

That was reinforced in the Autumn Statement, which again suggested a reduction in government funding on the training side, and it is reinforced for me when I look at government expenditure plans for 1991–92 and 1992–93 for the Department of Employment, where we see that the all-time high for expenditure on training 1987–88 was £2.66 billion, falling to £2.6 billion in 1988–89, to £2.4 billion in 1989–90 and to an even lower level in 1992–93 —a reduction of 10 per cent. or so in money terms.

My first question to the Minister is as follows: is that in real terms or money terms? If it is in real terms then, even on reasonable expectations about the level of inflation the Government, through the Department of Employment intend to cut their expenditure on training by something like 50 per cent. Can that really be the case? If it is the case —and the noble Minister talked about employers spending §18 billion —does he expect employers to make up the difference? Does he expect us to have £18 billion or more from employers —£20 billion or £25 billion? What does he think will be the expenditure on training? What will be the Government's share in real terms and the employer's share in four or five years' time?

If the Minister really believes that the Government can cut all this, and that employers will take it all up entirely voluntarily, where does he get that idea from? He does not get it from any other country. No other country in Europe —not Germany, France or Sweden —and certainly not the United States or Japan, is planning to increase the volume of training and to raise the quality of training by the government cutting their contribution to training. Does he get it from his reading of our past? I must say a word or two about this, partly because he said it and partly because I want to anyway.

The record of our past is not the way the Minister sees it. By 1963 the voluntary method which the Government now urges upon the House had collapsed. The Carr Report had turned out to be, with respect —I am afraid the noble Lord is not here and I am sorry about that —a busted flush. So the Government rightly introduced the ITB system and the levy, and the levy doubled the volume of training. Spending went up to £200 million, of which only 4 per cent. was pioneered by the Government.

Of course there were criticisms of the system. Of course it did not cure the fall in apprenticeships. Of course it did not deal with cross-industry skills. Of course both large firms and small firms complained about the fact that they could not get the grants. And of course there were reasons for making changes in 1973. But on our reading of history the Government took one good decision in 1973 and one disastrous one. The good decision was to establish the Manpower Services Commission to deal with cross-industry skills and to streamline provision. With the benefit of hindsight —and I do not say that my party said this at the time —the disastrous decision was to replace the levy by the exemption procedure.

At the time it was said that this would not seriously affect the volume of training, and many of us thought so, but we now know that it did. We now know that in many industries the volume of training fell precipitately, and we now know that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the coming of unemployment, the MSC was dragged more and more in to emergency measures to deal with unemployment. Therefore the high hopes we had in the 1960s and 1970s of a marriage between public and private provision did not come into effect.

However, that does not mean that anything in the evidence suggests that the Government should go back to the 1960s. Particularly, it does not suggest that they should go back to this fantastic structure of institutions; and I apologise for telling the House about this again. At the top of the structure is the Secretary of State, at level 1, with powers under the 1988 Act. Underneath that is the training agency, largely consisting of civil servants. That is the second rung. The third rung is the national task force largely made up of friendly employers. Underneath that, at the fourth level, is the national council of NSTCOs. At the fifth level are 102 known NSTCOs; there may be more, we do not know. Underneath that there are 150 or so —there may be fewer—training and enterprise councils. That is the sixth level. Underneath that there are the contractors at the seventh level. Then there are the firms doing the training. Finally, there are the poor erks at the bottom.

This is a quite unbelievable structure for delivering an increase in training, either by the voluntary or the compulsory method. I suggest that any government needs something quite different. First, we must specify how much is to be spent on training both by government and by industry. Secondly, there must be a mechanism for raising that money by a levy, by a system of taxation or in some other way. Thirdly, there must be a much more simple framework of institutions. I suggest a training agency chaired by the Minister which is truly representative of all the interested parties.

In that way, you can push four levels into one and make the whole thing much simpler. Underneath that, not 100 or so voluntary agencies or 23 training boards, but six, seven or eight intermediate authorities, probably largely of a functional kind. At the bottom there should be a very much larger number of local training delivery agencies with their own budgets. Unless the Government are to come forward with some new institutional structure with the means for it, I suggest that they are not taking training seriously.

4.39 p.m.

Earl Russell

: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has chosen to speak about training. When the noble Lord, Lord Peston, put down this Motion, which I am very glad that he did, he used the words "education and training". I am sure he meant by that to discuss many sorts of education other than that of which I have personal knowledge. Therefore in discussing matters of which I have some personal knowledge I do not in any way wish to imply that they are more important or more urgently in need of attention than other considerations about which I am not talking because they are not within the area of my expertise. I have listened to my father-in-law comparing the educational qualifications of German and British foremen. I found that that was something that I had to take very seriously.

With that preamble, noble Lords may well expect me to talk about the under-funding of the universities. However, I have an uncomfortable suspicion that my views on the topic may be well known to noble Lords. Therefore regarding university issues, I shall confine myself to saying that in the current discussion on the funding and government of the University of London I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, who speaks for me in more senses than the purely formal one. Instead, I thought that I would take up where we left off at the end of the education debate which was initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, last April.

At that time we were all expressing regret at the comparatively small number of working class people going on to university. I share that regret. I have the normal academic bias in favour of teaching the ablest people no matter what their background. Nearly all my colleagues share that view. So far as I can see, that does not result from anything which happens at the university selection stage. We are very much concerned to select applicants, notwithstanding their teachers or their backgrounds. Indeed, we lean over backwards to try to assess the ability of the candidate and not the skill of his preparation. However, the problem is getting the people to come forward —because we cannot admit people who do not apply —and, as many noble Lords have said, in getting them to stay on at school. We must encourage such people to stay on at school, but achieving the formal statistics regarding those actually present in school is not enough.

Many people who stay on at school do so in a state of frustration. They feel a considerable envy towards their contemporaries out in the world of work who are earning, as they see it, the big money. It is not enough to keep them in school; we must attract their interest. The first point I wish to draw attention to in this respect is the school library. I speak here from my regular experience at entrance interviews of asking candidates about their school library. I also speak as an increasingly dissatisfied parent. In my own subject, the basic skill of the historian is being able to compare two contradictory accounts of the same event, or preferably more. However, that cannot be done if there is available only the account prepared by the teacher, however good that teacher may be. The facility to be able to read more books must be available otherwise, enough information cannot be absorbed.

Noble Lords will know how much quicker it is to read the Official Report than to hear the whole debate delivered in the House. That point underlines the importance of having a school library as well as a good teacher. Many candidates who come to us applying for admission have such an ill provided school library that they had not had the first opportunity to begin to learn the skills needed to be an historian. We cannot assess them on their own subject; we must assess them by asking them about something quite different.

My son is at present studying for an A-level in my own subject. However, he simply could not get through on the basis of the books in his school library. Of course, he uses mine. I am aware that that gives him an advantage. I am not the sort of egalitarian who would propose to deprive him of it; but I am the sort of egalitarian who would like that advantage extended to a few more people. At present it is not.

The course work element of GCSE has increased the pressure on books. Moreover, because knowledge is changing fast, books tend to date a good deal faster than used to be the case. Public libraries are under considerable pressure and are handicapped by limits on local authority funding. That also affects the debate on the national curriculum. Here I speak wearing a hat which may perhaps be unfamiliar to your Lordships. I am one of the vice-presidents of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the committee which discussed the interim report of the working party on the history national curriculum. Members of the committee thought that the curriculum was extremely good. Indeed, we thought that the working party had come as near as could reasonably be expected to getting the balance right between knowledge and skills. We entirely agree with the Educational Publishers' council that the books at present in print simply do not fit the curriculum. Indeed, people will have to write new ones.

The committee also felt rather strongly that the attempt to set people to do a curriculum which would be impossible without the right books would be so demoralising that if the money cannot be supplied for such books it would be better that it should not be done at all, rather than do it badly. That is an opinion from which I would be surprised if members of the working party dissent. The Educational Publishers' council estimated that £58.3 million would be needed for the books in history alone. However, that may well be an under-estimate. If the Government are not thinking of providing that sort of money, I ask them to postpone the introduction of the national curriculum in history until such time as they can do so.

We cannot introduce the national curriculum without the necessary teachers. As I remember my noble friend Lady Seear saying when we were discussing the Education Reform Bill, that is making bricks without straw. We cannot measure teacher shortages by crude numbers of vacant places —that is, classes with no teachers in front of them. We have already heard about supply teachers. Indeed, I have heard from my son about them. We have been told about teachers teaching way beyond the area of their specialist knowledge. We have been told about teachers teaching too many classes and therefore having too big a marking load.

In the end it is a question of money. It is also something which threatens the link between school and parent, which this Government are concerned to build up. Whenever I begin to know one of my son's teachers, he goes off to run a Chinese restaurant because in that way he can afford to live. As I understand it, the average teacher's salary is about £14,800. However, the average London mortgage is about £66,000. Therefore, at a 15 per cent. interest rate that means an interest of £9,900 must be paid on the mortgage. Therefore a teacher with an average London house will be paying two-thirds of his gross salary for his mortgage. Assuming that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets about the remaining one-third, that means that there is nothing left on which to live. I do not think that we can expect people to take on a skilled job which requires four years' training after leaving school unless they can afford the average house price in their area. Marking is a job which teachers need to be able to do in their homes. To do that properly space is necessary. An extra room in London costs a fortune.

It is above all a London problem; but it is a problem which affects the whole country. It also concerns the issue of negotiating rights. I am all in favour of no-strike agreements and pay review bodies. Indeed, I wish that my own profession had those advantages. However, if we are to have that procedure it must be binding on both sides. A review procedure which is binding on one side and not the other sounds uncomfortably like forced labour which we do not approve of in this country.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I must begin by congratulating from these Benches the noble Earl on his distinguished maiden speech and mingling those congratulations with an apology to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for the fact that I may not be able to be present at the end of the debate due to a previous engagement.

I should like to make three points. The first concerns schools. We shall never have a qualified and well trained workforce in this country unless there is a change in government policy towards teachers. We have an appalling shortage of qualified teachers in mathematics and physics. Moreover, many teachers who teach those subjects do not even have 0-level qualifications in them. Therefore, cannot the Government organise a crash course to train such teachers? It is not fair to expect them to teach children when they are incompetent, and it certainly is not fair on the children to allow their teachers to be so untrained.

However, we shall never have those qualified teachers unless we have a differential to increase the pay of teachers in those subjects. Of course such a differential should only be given to those who are qualified. I realise of course that that proposal will outrage the NUT. That is very much a point in its favour since the NUT has been the enemy of education in this country and its disregard and contempt for children, as opposed to its members, is notorious.

I urge the Government to increase the number of city technology colleges. I wish to take the Minister back to 1941 when the Ministry of Education was, in part, evacuated to Bournemouth. Free of any kind of ministerial interference, three prominent officials sat down to draft what became the Butler Act of 1944. They were Mr. Griffith Williams, who was in charge of secondary education and Mr. William Cleary, who was head of the elementary education branch. They were powerful, tireless and expert. They differed on the age at which children should transfer from elementary to secondary education, and the permanent secretary, Maurice Holmes, had to be brought in to rule in favour of Griffith Williams and the 11-plus.

The third official was neither powerful nor persuasive. He was in charge of technical education. And so our post-war education system virtually phased out technical schools. That was a disaster. That is why I ask whether it is not possible to recreate more technical schools and to send to them those children who display the least talent for physics and mathematics. I disagree with the way in which the Government have financed those colleges. They should be direct grant schools, as in the old days.

We shall never be able to compete with Japanese education, because education in Japan is highly technical, highly disciplined, and culturally a desert. However, we cannot ignore the fact that it achieves results. I was sad that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, in favour of a core curriculum was defeated in the House while his successor's national curriculum won the day. With the core curriculum there is greater flexibility, and it is that flexibility which would enable children to go to technical schools.

My next point is about the polytechnics. I urge the Minister to disregard the advice that he was given from the episcopal Benches. I beg the Minister not to try to fund polytechnics on the same level as universities. If the Secretary of State takes that decision, all the Government's plans for increasing the numbers of those going into higher education will fall to the ground because it will of course be followed by a demand by at least 70 of the best colleges to be funded on the same level as the polytechnics and the universities. There is no end to the escalation of costs and not one more adolescent would go into higher education.

Of course the polytechnics are the great success story of the 1980s. I am not indifferent to the splendid propaganda that they put out. How can they be helped? They should be given priority in obtaining capital grants from the department, given priority over the universities in buildings and other capital projects. But let us not confuse flexibility in the curriculum with equality of financing.

Lastly, the universities. One of the obstacles this country has faced in training its high fliers has been the reluctance of Oxford and Cambridge to recognise the need to do so. The other day I ran across an article by Mr. Goronwy Rees, a quondam fellow of All Souls now, alas, dead. It was an attack on the ancient universities for being so indifferent towards the need to train managers for British business. It was also an attack on British business. He cited some horrifying examples of the ineptitude and frivolity of boards of directors on which he sat. Writing the article in 1963, he said that he was at any rate encouraged to hear that Oxford was considering the possibility of setting up a business management school. He said that it was late in the day and that it would take several years before such a school gained the prestige of Harvard's business school but that the sooner such a place was establised, the better. Here we are in 1990. Oxford is still considering setting up a business school but blinking at the cost. I am sorry that my old friend the Chancellor of Oxford University is not here to give, as I am sure he would, some urbane explanation for that.

Cambridge has set up such a business school —but only a short time ago. At last the engineering faculty, that temple of higher mathematics, has permitted management studies to form a part of the Bachelor of Arts degree. Since such conversion on the road to Damascus took so long, is it any wonder that so many civic universities are stuffy about watering down, as academic staff often put it, the single-subject honours degree?

If one visits the University of Waterloo in Ontario one will find a faculty of English in which virtually all the students take a course in computer science. As a result, the graduates from that department obtain jobs far quicker than those in the computer department itself, because such students are not just familiar with computers. They can communicate with other people, something which highly qualified mathematicians sometimes cannot do. They fall in love with their computers instead of falling in love with the opposite sex, and have great difficulty in communicating with ordinary human beings.

My time is up. I have made my three points. I hope that the Minister will reply to them but of course I do not expect him to do so if I am not in my place at the end of the debate.

4.57 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I turn to a different subject. I wish to speak about children who experience personal, emotional and behavioural difficulties. The subject has been touched on, in part, by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie. Unless those children are wisely and skilfully helped within our education system in co-operation, as the noble Earl, Lord Cairns, said in his outstanding speech, with the parents, they will grow into a financial liability to the country as adults. A proportion of them will become homeless; a proportion of them will become delinquent and go to youth custody centres and later to prison; and many of them will become unemployed. There is not time to go into that difficult subject which causes teachers great worry.

First, I shall touch, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, on non-school attendance. Some research has been done by the education unit of the Institute of Economic Affairs in nine different comprehensive schools. It was carried out by Patricia Stoll. There is a group of children who do not attend school for social reasons. They are kept home to look after younger children or because their parents are ill and so forth. That is a social problem which should be dealt with by the social services department. However, there are children who are high post-registration truants. They register. They attend the next lesson. They do not like it. They go to the cloakroom. They put on their coats and out they go. They return at lunchtime. They register. If they like the lesson, they stay. If they do not like the lesson they put on their coats and off they go. Those children are sent to school by their parents. The parents believe that they are at school when they are not.

If a child does not attend school regularly and does not learn to concentrate, when that child leaves school he or she cannot concentrate and cannot hold down a job. Such children are a liability to themselves, to the family and to the community.

We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for this debate. He will remember that in the debate on education I recommended to the Government that figures should be compiled in every school and county and should be put on to a computer. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Annan, should note that. I do not think that teachers should be in love with computers, but those figures would show the country's problems. I regret to have to say that sadly, the reply from the Minister on the Front Bench was that it would make too much work for the teachers.

I am sorry for teachers and have great sympathy with them when they have to teach these difficult children who very often experience cruelty in the home and perhaps sexual abuse. There may be a complete disregard for their well-being; they may be unloved. These children are difficult to deal with, but they need to be dealt with, otherwise society suffers. They are often recommended by teachers, social workers or educational psychologists to attend a special school.

The Warnock Report expresses the belief that children should stay in their own home and be educated in their own area wherever possible and practicable. However, some children are so deeply hurt and disturbed that they have to be dealt with away from their home by skilled staff. In the past such children were referred to schools for maladjusted children but now many have closed down. Voluntary organisations run many very good establishments but the local authorities find that the cost is £7,000 a year when a child goes to such a school. The local authority —perhaps for understandable reasons—refuses to educate the child in a special school. By the time such children reach 13 or 14 years they are intolerable and cannot be dealt with. This is the type of child whom we saw on the television programme "Panorama" on Monday. By that time, even if they are recommended to a special school, they are not allowed to go there because the school feels it can do nothing at such a late stage.

I press the Minister for education to look into the problem, which is causing a great deal of trouble and which will cause the country much difficulty. If we examine the case histories of men in prison or of many adults in mental hospitals, these people could have been dealt with when young. If it were possible to record on a computer how much those children cost the country in terms of prisons, youth custody sentences and mental hospital stays, it would be clear that we should do better to spend the money on them when they are children in order to prevent not only the unhappiness which they experience but also the terrible cost to the country. This has never been thought of. I have to say to my noble friend the Minister that the Department of Education is not mindful of the problem. Nor do I see any evidence of it doing anything about it. I congratulate the people who formed the Charterhouse Group and also the Aycliffe Children's Centre in the north of England, who are trying to set up a course for people to deal with such children. I hope that they will be given encouragement.

I wish to touch on two further points. I press my noble friend the Minister to speak to his right honourable friend about administration. There is not so much a poor relationship as one which needs to be worked out between education welfare officers —for whom I have deep sympathy —and the social services departments.

My last point touches on the Workers' Educational Association. Many men and women leave school and at a later stage desire to follow a course. They might find it difficult to do so at the Open University and they are helped and supported by the Workers' Educational Association. At present half the money comes from the Department of Education and Science and the other half from local authorities. Many local authorities are unable, or say that they are unable, to support the Workers' Educational Association. If they do not do so then the association loses the Department of Education funding. I plead with the Minister to ask his right honourable friend to see that the Workers' Educational Association is supported.

5.5 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I wish to talk about adult education, concentrating rather more on the importance of education for its effect on society than on the economy, although the two are inextricably interwoven. Adult education can contribute to the whole of life but it is a matter which the Government seem to care very little about and indeed not to understand. I too wish to speak about the WEA and to show how the Government's action towards that association and the extra-mural boards is typical of the department trying to hive off its responsibilities to the local authorities on the one hand and the universities and the UFC on the other.

The WEA was to be handed over to the LEAs by way of the education support grants; 70 per cent. was to be paid by the department, 30 per cent. by the LEA. Much would depend on whether the local education authority could afford to make a bid and to provide the 30 per cent. which it would have to find. It was understandable that there were strong objections from the WEA, so the DES backtracked. Mr. Jackson has agreed, for a transitional period of four years, to restore some of the grant to the national association and the districts.

However, the stated purpose of the education support grant is still, to encourage authorities to put in place formal arrangements for co-operation and collaboration with WEA districts". So WEA districts are now trying to ensure the maximum bids from LEAs to minimise any shortfall of income during 1990–91. The Government have decided to put WEA districts up for auction. The resulting effects on adult education classes are therefore uncertain and an association which was started by Albert Mansbridge in 1903 to promote the higher education of working men and which has helped and inspired thousands could well not survive. How can the Minister justify jeopardising such a unique service for the sake of £million?

Losing their responsible body status will make the extra-mural boards dependent on the universities. They are in great uncertainty about their future. Already over the past three years the Cambridge board has, I know, undergone cuts of 14 per cent. and do not know exactly what funding they can expect for next year. What is certain is that more and more of their income will have to come from fees, and that is the picture everywhere. Those who can afford the higher costs of their classes will be all right; others will not.

However, the Government's greatest crime is what, with the abolition of ILEA, is being done to adult education in London. Even Kenneth Baker described it as "the jewel in the crown". HMI reported that it had both a national and an international reputation. Its courses are taken by more than 250,000 students. Inner London, with less than 5 per cent. of the population, has more than 15 per cent. of England's adult students. Abolition will mean the breaking up of the highly integrated adult service which crosses borough boundaries. Pensioners who have taken classes side by side will suddenly find themselves paying vastly differing fees depending on their home borough policies. One may perhaps pay a concessionary fee of a few pounds a term while another may pay £20, as the outer London borough of Merton now charges.

ILEA's adult literacy work, which has been developed across the country as a result of the national campaign in the '70s, was pioneered in voluntary organisations like the Cambridge House settlement in Walworth. It was developed in each of the ILEA institutes but this service, too, could now disintegrate.

The ILEA team of inspectors will be broken up. The only comparable group of specialist advisers is Her Majesty's Inspectorate, and they are shared across the whole country. It is difficult to believe that the education of adults can receive advice and concern of comparable quality through the advisory function of smaller, single borough activities, especially when the evidence of current experience in outer London is taken into account.

Speaking at a conference organised by the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education last November, Mr. Jackson urged the boroughs to maintain broadly the same level of service and to retain the cheap £3 course rates for youngsters, pensioners, the unemployed and disadvantaged students. At least half of ILEA's 17 institutes' adult students fall within that category. Mr. Jackson stressed the Government's commitment to maintaining access courses to higher education. Of the 570 access courses provided nationally, 100 were to be found in ILEA. Mr. Jackson said the boroughs should co-operate to preserve those services and ensure the free movement of students. I suppose we must be grateful that he has at last come to recognise and appreciate the strengths of adult education in London. However, it is too late. As so often occurs with this Government, legislation is produced on the hoof and ideas are not thought out or thought through. Goodness knows, we on this side of the House produced the arguments for the retention of ILEA, emphasising its adult service, when legislation was before this House. However, that was to no avail.

In that same speech Mr. Jackson went on, as one might have predicted, to say that ILEA had recovered only 10 per cent. of the costs of the adult education service. He looked for savings and pressed for a shift in the balance between cost recovery through fees and a rationalisation of courses. The message is clear: fees will increase but opportunity will decrease. The fact is, as Louis Stott said in an article in Adult Learning: adult education in Inner London has long been underfunded, is very cheap, and, if only the enterprise culture realised it, constitutes a very attractive buy". Mr. Jackson promised, however, to safeguard the four specialist adult colleges of Morley, City Lit, Mary Ward and the Working Men's College. They were to be supported by a levy on the London Residuary Body for three years while they moved towards self-sufficiency. They will have to comply with the entrepreneurial mores of the Education Reform Act from the first. One cannot help being anxious about their future.

I have one final point on ILEA. It gave substantial grants to voluntary organisations. Will those grants be maintained, particularly after the transitional period of four to five years when the £100 million for easing the transfer has gone? All this emphasis on self-sufficiency makes one gasp when one thinks of the administrative costs that the boroughs will face. One chief at ILEA is to be replaced by 12 successors at a total salary cost well in excess of £250,000 a year.

Adult education was the only aspect of education which the Government left out of an Education Reform Act concerned with the community control of education including the involvement of parents. It should of course have been pivotal to it. As there is no duty in the Act to provide adult and community education, it is bound to be at risk.

I mentioned adult literacy in relation to ILEA's pioneering achievements. I must also refer to the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, which has a particular importance in International Literacy Year. Our education system is clearly not working if 6 million adults are illiterate or innumerate. ALBSU is doing great work in encouraging people to come forward and not be scared of admitting their inadequacies. Those who went to the launch on 15th January of its International Literacy Year programme were much impressed by the video film which is to be used countrywide. However, we were not so impressed when we heard Mr. MacGregor say that the Government would give ALBSU £30,000 to help with its extra work this year. That is a miserly and meagre provision.

Finally, I wish to discuss the Open University. We have heard that yesterday it celebrated its 100,000th graduate. Of its graduates 45 per cent. are women. That constitutes a much larger proportion than any other university or polytechnic. There is growing recognition that in any rational review of the need to develop the nation's human resources to the full it is adults who are now at the centre of the stage. Personal, social and economic development must all rely on an adult population that is continually renewing its skills, knowledge and understanding. Local authorities are reviewing the total provision for adults in their areas and the training and enterprise councils are about to start. However, what is totally lacking is any coherent national strategic planning or philosophy other than reductions in government financial support and an underlying attempt to move cost to the consumer with a minimal safety net to remove a few hundred thousand unskilled and semi-skilled people from the unemployment register by recycling them through a series of training schemes.

If the Government are serious in wanting to widen opportunities and reduce the skill shortage —demographic change means the Government have to do this —they could be much more generous to the Open University, which is perfectly placed to provide the distance learning that adults need. Sir Austin Bide chairs the Visiting Committee of the Open University, the department's watchdog, which in its report to the Secretary of State on the Open University's plans for 1989 to 1991 said that it expected the university's costs to rise at an average rate of 8 per cent. between 1989 and 1990 and at a rate of 6.7 per cent. between 1990 and 1991. On the basis of indicated grants, the Open University forecasts deficits of £3 million in 1990 and £6.2 million in 1991. Substantial increases in income from fees and entrepreneurial activity could not offset the amount by which grant will fail to match the increase in costs. The committee says that it cannot determine the precise amounts required to avoid the most damaging cuts, but that they are very large. They amount to about £7 million without reckoning the costs of future pay awards.

The committee concludes that: there is the danger that crisis management is taking precedence over strategic planning … The university's inability to accumulate reserves and to generate and use entrepreneurial income as it would wish, are crippling restrictions which serve no useful purpose". Will the Government pay attention to this report from a committee that they created specifically to overview the performance of the Open University?

5.18 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has drawn attention to this subject. He has put his finger on crucially important connections. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady David, into the adult field. In an area with chronic high unemployment stretching over generations, like Merseyside, and indeed other cities such as Glasgow and Belfast, the skills gap is the factor which has held back so many attempts to establish a more successful economy.

Employers sometimes tell me they are disheartened at finding youngsters, not long out of school, reluctant to give themselves to a training which makes a demand. However, they might give due account to how enervating is the atmosphere for school-leavers of living in areas of very high unemployment.

I wish to draw attention to second chance learning and to the key role it can play for many people. Believing that they would not find a job has been a dulling disincentive to many people in their school years. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, spoke about the pressures in one inner city school. For that and other reasons, there are many low achievers. Far more of those low achievers than we can imagine have high, God-given intelligence which has been trampled on. They are not stupid.

Employers would do well to visit and to make some investment in colleges of further education. Two weeks ago I visited South Mersey College, Liverpool, where some employers have a considerable stake. I also visit City College in Liverpool and Hugh Baird College in Bootle. Employers who visited those colleges would see the growth of confidence, the release of intelligence and the way students are equipped with skills. If they looked for recruits from further education who are perhaps a little older than the people they have sought they might have some great surprises.

I shall relate the account of one young woman who was on a second chance to learn course at City College Liverpool from September 1987 to June 1988. She said: Before I started the course, I was a bored, unemployed and disillusioned single parent, with no job prospects and no ideas on how to pull myself and my son out of the rut that had developed around me. It was my mother who introduced me to the course, herself a student the previous year. On the course I gained confidence to make new friends, a lot of whom were in the same position as myself. I learned how to study. I also learned that I had a thirst for good books. I had not read a book for at least three years. One of the most important things that I learned from Second Chance was a craving to learn further and the courage to carry it out. I am studying a Maths course for teaching and a GCSE English language course. I hope to start a B.Ed. course". I should also like to mention the case of one young man. He left school with no qualifications at all, believing that he would never get over the problems that he had with English. Through adult basic education he now realises that that is not as difficult to overcome as he thought it would be. He is currently studying on an access to high education course at college and hopes eventually to gain professional employment. He feels that he can now become a role model for his children and show that an ordinary person can make it.

Noble Lords will have gathered that I am a great enthusiast for second chance learning. I want to infect your Lordships with some of that enthusiasm.

I found it discouraging that the Government's Education Reform Act, which came out at much the same time as their major initiatives on the inner cities —which in a city like ours more often means outer city estates rather than inner city —had nothing to say about further education and second chance learning. Yet it could be one of the keys that opens the door of opportunities in the inner cities.

Take the longer term question, "How can you turn around poor educational achievement in areas where for 150 years those who have achieved well have moved out of the districts?" Long-term measures will not win much political credit, but short-term steps will only help a minority of individuals to climb out of their community. They will mean that in each generation schools in such areas go back to square one to start all over again.

Changing the attitudes of parents is indeed a long-term measure. However, I doubt whether there is anything more important in order to improve achievements in such schools. I should like to quote some testimonials concerning the change that second chance learning courses brought about in parents. Noble Lords should ask themselves how much effect that might have on achievement in schools. Here is one: It is only with hindsight that I realise I wasted what talents I had by leaving too early and not working to my full capabilities. My child will get more encouragement to make the most of his education. I'm taking an interest in how he is taught and ask questions if I'm not satisfied in any way". A second testimonial reads: I always thought education was a priority. My attitude has been reinforced, not changed. But now I think parents should have more influence. I helped to set up a PTA Committee. We've won a few victories. I wouldn't have done this before I came on Second Chance. I would have left the school to get on with it". Some years ago I heard a Secretary of State for Education and Science defend the refusal of a local authority to move to comprehensive education. He said: There are some parents who care deeply about their children's education". The strong inference was that parents in other areas did not care. I do not believe it.

Research to discover the effect of second chance learning in Liverpool in 1983 showed that those parents had always cared about their children's schooling. However, they had lacked both knowledge of the education system and personal confidence because of their own poor schooling. I shall quote one more testimonial: My attitude towards my children's education hasn't changed, but my ability to influence them has. I've always encouraged them to try really hard at school but now the kids have seen me studying and my wife studying. Now studying is not something grown-ups impose on kids". I shall be very interested to learn what the Minister has to say in his reply to the debate about the value of second chance learning in colleges of FE and about the resources made available, especially in high unemployment areas. Not long ago I saw the Audit Commission report on Liverpool Education Authority. I realise that it has a limited brief in what it has to look for; but I was concerned when I read what the Audit Commission had to say about further education in Liverpool. It cited Liverpool as generous in that field. That seemed to be cited as a fault.

I thought of my visits to colleges. I have sometimes been able to arrange for grants of £50 or £100 for students. I have asked whether that really makes a difference. They have said to me that it makes all the difference in the world to their being able to take part at all because they are able to pay for fares.

I thought of my visits, when I have seen students eating their sandwiches and sitting on the narrow staircases because there is so little available space. I thought of the decorations which are frequently not done at all; I thought of the limited equipment. I thought of the constraints on taking the good news of second chance learning far and wide because there were questions about whether there was the staff to cope if too many more came.

I hope that the Minister may tell me that in their concern for a more successful economy and society in the inner cities the Government would argue that local education authorities in such areas should indeed be encouraged to be generous and private sector firms encouraged to involve themselves more.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. Having seen him play cricket in the past, I greatly admire him, and I also enjoyed his contribution to the debate today.

As a former Minister for Overseas Development I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cairns, on his important contribution. I join with others in congratulating my noble friend Lord Peston on his presentation of the important subject of education in the debate today.

There has been much dissatisfaction with the progress of education in recent years. In the great debate pioneered by my noble friend Lord Callaghan at Ruskin College in 1976, my noble friend said that the goals of our education, from nursery school through to adult education, are clear enough. They are to equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society and also to fit them to do a job of work. There is a strong case for the so-called core curriculum of basic knowledge. How should the use of resources be monitored in order to maintain a high national standard of performance?

So far as concerns the British economy, successive governments have failed to make the slightest impact on certain long-term post-war trends —the rise in unemployment, the decline in the export of manufactured goods. Different economic, fiscal and industrial action may have effected temporary changes, but the underlying trends remain the same.

Is our education system responsible for that? Can reform at the universities, polytechnics and schools arrest that decline?

The speech that my noble friend Lord Callaghan delivered helped to focus education as a live issue. The Government have kept education in the limelight but have done little to improve standards. They believe that teaching the humanities is a waste of time and that scientific research should be left to industry and not paid for by the taxpayer.

For 14 years after the last war there was a genuine commitment to science, inspired by the discovery of radar, perspex and polythene (which helped to win the Battle of Britain) and of penicillin (which held out the possibility of relief from massive infection for millions). It was an exciting time. Alas that is of the past. History will record that the near adulation of science has given place to feelings of doubt and even fear.

The aim of education should be to produce individuals able to think for themselves and not merely to follow what someone else has told them. Teachers should excite a natural curiosity in youngsters. It is by stimulating a zest for learning in general that teachers can perform their greatest service to those in their care. The zest for learning is a zest for life which allows people to live contentedly for all their days.

Teaching is a creative art and we owe a great deal to our teachers. If a doctor, lawyer or dentist had 30 patients in his office or surgery at one time, all of whom had different needs, some of whom did not want to be there and were causing trouble and all of whom had to be treated with professional excellence for nine months of the year, he might have some conception of a class teacher's job. The conditions in which teachers work are below continental standards. We need more and better training for the workforce of the country, but that is not likely to come about if we persist in paying teachers low salaries and worsening their conditions of service.

Some of my friends are part-time lecturers. A part-time lecturer teaching 11 hours a week in Category V earns £116 a week for 38 weeks of the year. He is paid for the time in front of the class, not for the time spent preparing lessons or travelling. It is not unusual for two hours to be spent preparing a one-hour lecture. Part-time teachers are not just useful to fill gaps in the timetable. They are often people of wide industrial experience who add a leaven of practical knowledge to what are often merely academic training courses. The shortcomings in mathematics, science, technology, commercial and language education are caused by the failure to provide well qualified teachers because the pay and conditions of service do not attract them.

To a large extent teachers are in charge of the future. The fate of our people depends on how well they are taught today. The local education authorities are being asked to initiate and expand without being provided with the means to do so. The need for adult and continuing education is undoubtedly growing and university extramural departments and the WEA need all the help that can be given. There is little sign that the Government are doing that. In 1990 the worst effect of their policy could be fees of over £100 for a two-year term, the closing of many courses, the disappearance of certain subjects from the programme and certain restrictions on new forms of work. It might even mean the closure of the extramural department itself.

Adult education provides an opportunity of compensating in adult life for what has been missed in earlier education. Adult education, where a lecture is followed by a period of discussion in which both the lecturer and the audience participate, is valuable. Psychologists have shown that people accept ideas more readily when conviction arises through their own argument than when they have received information passively. Further education widens one's outlook and enriches one's life. I owe a great deal to adult education.

After leaving an elementary school I took a course in economics for three years at Toynbee Hall in the East End of London. That university extension class has been served by many outstanding persons. Lord Attlee lived and taught there, as did Sir William Beveridge, the pioneer of the welfare state. Lenin, the founder of the Russian revolution, was a visitor. John Profumo, whose birthday was yesterday, has rekindled interest in Toynbee Hall and has been most active for many years. At present he is president of the council on which I also serve.

In a democracy a good education enables citizens to be well equipped to make good judgments and to exercise their privileges wisely and well.

5.36 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, I too should like to join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for introducing the debate on a subject which should be high on the agenda not only of the Government but of all companies concerned with producing economic prosperity for this country. Companies today need people who have aptitude, ability and adaptability —all qualities after all based on a sound basic education and on training, retraining and continuing training throughout their lifetime.

Noble Lords with wide experience have touched on many aspects of education and training. I should like to make a few points gained from observation and experience as an MEP who served for 10 years in the Thames Valley. Noble Lords will know that that area is a centre of high technology and flourishing industry where one problem is already becoming apparent; namely, that there is little unemployment and consequently there is always opportunity for a job in the area. That of itself creates other problems to which I should like to draw the attention of noble Lords.

I noticed in 1985 that there were several elements missing in companies' attitudes to the training of their employees. There was little or no dialogue between companies, large or small, and training providers. By "training providers" I mean polytechnics and colleges of higher and further education, the basic sources for training for those companies. According to a survey undertaken at that time, training providers had 25 per cent. under-utilised resources. The courses provided were irrelevant to the needs of local industry either of today and certainly of tomorrow. Furthermore, there was no point of reference which would create the dialogue required between those two sides of the divide.

That problem was not confined to the Thames Valley or to the United Kingdom, but was found in the European Community as a whole. There was unemployment and there were vacancies for highly skilled people. There was what one might call a mismatch. That is not only true of the United Kingdom; as we are now hearing it is even true of West Germany. East Germans are pouring into West Germany to take jobs which are available to them with their skills. It is not a narrow point.

Sponsored by the European Community, my son James, who also happens to be an MEP, and I established an organisation called Target under the European Community Comet programme with considerable support from large and small firms and other organisations, particularly the MSC. Launched four years ago, it is regionally based, industry-led, with two directors who personally deal with all problems and aides who personally assist in visiting small firms. I insist on the human and personal aspect. It is no use talking in general terms about training unless people are willing to go and talk to other people.

Over the past two years over 1,000 firms have been visited, resulting in 1,500 referrals to training courses. Those are young people who would not have had that training if the companies had not been identified, spoken to, and emphasis been put on the importance of training and encouraging those young people to attend courses in the nearby colleges. We have also had over 50 tailormade courses, if I may call them that, offered by colleges. They would not otherwise have been offered and they are meeting the demands of the firms concerned.

That policy no doubt contributed to the setting up of the TECs which come into operation in April this year. We have also had very close co-operation with the Thames Chiltern chamber of commerce which had established excellent school-industry links and which has recently set up a creche. It has also been running massive training programmes in recent years. Some lessons have been learnt from that experience at Target which is now forging a close liaison with the new TECs.

To fit my speech within nine minutes I shall have to speak in telegraphese. First, a curious anomaly has arisen in that because of vacancies one in five young people in the South go with little or no training straight into firms, because they go in at age 16. In many parts of the North, four out of five young people have been trained, because there are not the immediate job opportunities for them. The short-termism in the South will be detrimental to firms in the future if training is not given to those young people who have gone into jobs. I believe that that is very important and needs funding. It must not be overlooked.

In the search for trained personnel —the noble Lord, Lord Peston, mentioned this point —women returners are, if I may use the term, the latest "in" word. At the employment fair that we held the other day over 500 women came during the day, applying for jobs. They wanted to come back into work.

There are two points that I should like to make here. Those women lacked confidence and wanted to be given reassurance. They wanted to explore the problems that it means to families when they go back to work. We have been holding courses, which we call "second time round". They have been heavily over-subscribed. They cater for women who come in to discover the obligations and the problems involved. The courses have been very helpful for them and have opened up more work opportunities for them.

On the other side of the coin there are many companies which lack flexibility, which is essential if they want women to go back to work. They must recognise such things as school holidays, time imperatives, and so on. The companies which have recognised those factors have been able to recruit many numbers of such women returners. Small companies need not only individual encouragement but assistance in recognising that they have a training problem as well as helping, to provide the answer.

There is another point that I should like to make. I believe that there would not be a need for city technology colleges if comprehensive schools were better motivated by able heads and parent governors who were ambitious to realise their ideals for their children's future. There are several examples of that in Berkshire.

The splitting of responsibility for different aspects of training among three departments —at this point I address my noble friend on the Front Bench —is not conducive to a clear vision and policy: the DoE, deals with the training agency, the DES deals with the Comet programme of the Community and the DTI is responsible for industrial training. A Minister responsible for all aspects of training would raise the importance of this subject and avoid much overlapping and dissipation of both effort and funding through a wide variety of organisations and initiatives. That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy.

The need for standard setting is essential to enable young people to get the right kind of training to allow them to move around both the United Kingdom and the Community. I strongly commend the work of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, although I understand that the initial round of accredited courses is at a level below that of our industrial rivals on the Continent. That is discouraging but I hope that there will be a change in the next round.

The comparable figures for trained and untrained workers are starkly revealed in the recent statistics published in the European Economy of November 1989. There have also been many statistics given tonight of course. Nevertheless I believe that these are relevant. Referring to the structure of the workforces in industry, in member states the percentage of skilled workers in the workforce varies between 55 and 84; in the United Kingdom the figure is 44 per cent. Those figures are for males. For females the percentage varies between 40 and 74 in other member states and in the United Kingdom the figure is 24 per cent. In comparison with other member states that is half or less than half.

When it is realised that 80 per cent. of the workforce in the year 2000 are already in employment, it is self-evident that it is not only those coming into the workforce who need training but those who are in work. They need not only training but continued retraining to higher levels.

Finally, the Comet programme of the Community offers valuable incentives for students to benefit from training throughout Europe. Target has been able to organise joint courses in high-tech subjects which enable young people to train not only in our own areas but to attain high standards in centres of excellence on the Continent. For instance, we have formal links with Erlangen, which is one of the leading high-tech centres in Europe.

All those points make up part of the effort to put training on the map. It cannot be denied that lack of training means economic stagnation and even recession. If it is both recognised and practised that training should be made a priority, it can lead to increased prosperity. It is not just I as a Conservative who say that. As Walter Ellis of NEDO said recently, upgrading the skills of the labour force by 1 per cent. could mean a 2 per cent. increase in productivity. That seems to be an incentive that is worth going for.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I spent last weekend at a consultation on population changes and employment organised by the St. William's Foundation of York; that is the northern equivalent of St. George's House, Windsor. I mention that for two reasons. The first is because it is relevant to this debate. Many of the issues that have been raised this afternoon were raised during that weekend. Secondly, I was impressed by a comment in the report from one of the working groups which said: Work is not just work: work is more than work'. The group went on to say that work is about the application of skills, initiatives, team work, creativity and fun. In other words, it is part of the quality of life.

How true that is. If the quality of life at work is poor, the total quality of life is diminished. Yet all too often for so many people work has represented just a job, a means of earning one's daily bread. That is true particularly for that substantial section of the community who left school with no qualifications and followed employment which required no qualifications. That section of workers will soon have worked itself out of a job because, as we heard this afternoon from my noble friend Lord Peston and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, by the year 2000 there will be no unskilled jobs in the United Kingdom.

Sometime between now and the year 2000 there will be an enormous challenge facing our further and higher education systems and our training systems, whether government funded or privately funded. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool said, it is an enormous challenge to provide second chance learning for many members of our community.

There are a number of factors of which we need to take note in relation to that challenge. The first is the demographic factor, which has already been mentioned in the course of the debate. But the decline in the number of teenagers is perhaps not an unmitigated tragedy because it forces us to look at alternative sources of labour and alternative sources for training and education.

That brings me to my second point. Between now and the end of the century, despite the decline in teenagers, the workforce will continue to grow. However, 80 per cent. of that workforce is now already in place. Therefore, instead of turning youth employment into an unrealistic buyer's market, perhaps we ought to be using more of our resources to train the current workforce. I say "unrealistic buyer's market" for young people because a week or two ago it was reported in the Financial Times that the average wage for a 16 year-old male has risen by 36 per cent. during 1988–89. It would seem far better for those 16 year-olds either to remain in education or to move into a more comprehensive and well supported training scheme such as that on which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, spoke. We need to do the two things simultaneously. We need to make sure that we are investing in the declining number of young people but at the same time we need to look towards the current workforce for highly increased skills.

Thirdly, the largest sector of the workforce that will be in place between now and the end of the century, which is now underutilised is represented by women. Women's opportunities in the past for education, training and employment have not been equal to those of their male colleagues. The problem at top level has recently been documented by the report from the Hansard Society. At factory floor level the problems are no less acute. Women earn less, have less opportunity to train and are given less opportunity to seek promotion. Again that has been well documented. Recently a report from WYCROW, based at Bradford University, indicated the extent to which part-time women workers in the food and retail industry were underutilised.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said, it is now fashionable to encourage women back into the labour market because of the decline in the number of teenagers. Woman have been encouraged back into the labour market in the past at times of crisis and have been dropped once the crisis is over. But I suggest that this time women are here to stay.

Many other circumstances affect this change. The family economy is based on two incomes. In the future there will be a premium placed on high intelligence and women have an equal share of that. Again as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said, women want to work. I suggest that they want a career. They do not simply want to work but to be able to progress as well. Therefore we must begin to take women more seriously at work if they are to make their maximum contribution to their firm or organisation.

That means equal access to training and promotion. I suggest that that is not so at present. That is due not so much to deliberate discrimination as to ill founded assumptions and presumptions about what women can and cannot do and about how they will fit into the team or into the managerial role. There is a question of whether they are even seen. When managers are looking for people to send on training courses or to promote they do not seem to see the women. They overlook them entirely. That is documented not only in the WYCROW Report but in many of the Equal Opportunities Commission documents.

It is equally true at professional level. Currently there are approximately 10,000 women with a degree in engineering or technology who have withdrawn from industry. Bradford and Cranfield Universities, funded by the training agencies, have introduced an M.Sc. course in manufacturing management. It is especially for women returners. During the course the women are to spend approximately half the time in the university and half in industry. But the problem has arisen that industrial sponsors cannot be found. At a time when there is a shortage of engineers and engineering students, it seems rather strange that industry has not responded to this initiative and found placements for these women. Again we have to ask: is it a hidden prejudice against women or is it a resistance on the part of companies to invest in training and retraining? I suggest that it is probably a combination of the two.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, no government have yet successfully married education and training. But the tragedy of the present situation is that the Government are pursuing policies that will make matters worse, and at a time when there was never greater urgency to get those policies right. In the short time available I shall try to demonstrate that by dealing with only one aspect, which the Government have repeatedly told us is of considerable importance in dealing with the medium and long-term needs of the economy.

I refer to the development of city technology colleges, which have been referred to by their critics as gimmickry, irrelevant and a confidence trick. I have to say that I share those views. Even the name is part of the deception. Why, for instance, are they called colleges when they are schools? It is obviously because the word "college" tends to give status. Why "technology"? I remind noble Lords that the subject called design and technology is one of the foundation subjects of the national curriculum. I therefore ask the Minister this. If greater stress is to be given to, and therefore more time spent on, technology in the CTCs —which must surely be the case —which of the other core and foundation subjects are to suffer? We are entitled to know because such a proposal would appear to be at variance not only with the spirit but with the design of the national curriculum. Government statements on CTCs have shown the utter confusion of the thinking on the matter. When Kenneth Baker was Secretary of State he said that the target was 20 colleges. Indeed he is on the record as saying that 20 CT colleges would be in operation by the end of 1989. That would be funny if it were not such a serious matter. We all know that three are in operation. That is after three years of the implementation of the original proposal.

I have quoted the figure of 20 CTCs. However, the Minister of State, Mrs. Rumbold, is also on record as saying that there is "no limit" to the number. On the question of numbers, it is surely reasonable to ask this. If these institutions are so good and so important to the development of education in the economy, why are they to be confined not only to inner city areas but only to some inner city areas?

The financing of CTCs shows the same confusion and uncertainty as do their numbers. These colleges —as I am sure noble Lords will remember —were to be provided by private money. We were told that companies and other institutions could not wait to put their money into such projects. The public purse would therefore not come under any strain.

Government statements at some point were modified; it was to be 80 per cent. from the private sector and 20 per cent. from government. Once again, that has not proved to be the case. In 1990 government spending will be £28 million and £128 million has already been committed. That is far beyond even the 20 per cent. that I have mentioned. Those figures were given by the Secretary of State, John MacGregor, and taken from the Commons Hansard.

I wish to draw attention to one of the CTC's because it is in my own area of the North-East. The MacMillan College on Teeside has received £5.6 million towards its £7.3million costs. With another 17 CTCs yet to be established, it is not hard to imagine how much the taxpayer will be called upon to contribute, and in spite of all the fine words and assurances about private initiatives.

When those sums of public money began to be revealed there was a chorus of questions from the schools. That is perfectly understandable. Had not Her Majesty's inspectorate reported that half the children in secondary schools were being educated in substandard accommodation? It stated that in schools there is a backlog of repairs amounting to £3 billion. Have not the teachers complained about the crumbling and leaking schools in which they must work?

I should like to give another example from my area. The capital allocation to the CTC in Gateshead is larger than the amount available for all the schools in nearby Sunderland for the current year. That is an example of how to win friends and influence people in the teaching profession!

Another factor arises. During the recent Recess I had a meeting with Durham county councillors and officers about the effect of CTCs in the region. One of several important points that they raised was the effect that the Tyneside and Teesside CTCs are already having on nearby county schools. I shall not pursue the details but ask the question: what will be the views of the Department of Education and Science when the problem of surplus places in the affected schools must be met? That is a local matter about which I know the details, but it cannot be denied that the same problem will arise wherever a CTC is established.

The Government have been in power for almost 11 years and CTCs is the best scheme that they can come up with. It is a policy which has a few friends and many enemies.

This week I received a four-page document from the CBI about the debate, as will have other noble Lords. It rightly expresses deep concern about the need for improved edcuation and training to meet the requirements of the economy. Nowhere in the four-page document is there a mention of CTCs. There is not even a hint that they can make a contribution to the problems set out in it. Incidentally, noble Lords may know that the document is based on the CBI's report which has recently been produced by its vocational education and training task force.

The 21 members of the task force included the chief executive of the Post Office and senior representatives from British Telecom, the International Stock Exchange, Trust House Forte, Taylor Woodrow, IBM and British Aerospace. Those names speak for themselves in the context of this debate. I am sure that the Secretary of State has already drawn their attention to such a grave and serious omission.

There is so much to be done in this field yet the Government have chosen to spend time and money on such an ill-judged scheme. I hope that they will pocket their pride, halt it now and concentrate on the real needs of education, training and the economy.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Kirkwood

My Lords, the Government have already acknowledged the need for expansion in higher education in order to provide a trained workforce for industry. Over the next 25 years a doubling in the number has been forecast, as has already been stated. The need is therefore recognised but the problem is the implementation of the policy. Where are the extra qualified students to come from? What extra accommodation and facilities are to be provided in the institutions of higher education? Above all, how will it all be paid for?

My principal concern is with the supply of craftsmen, technicians, engineers and applied scientists because of their importance to manufacturing industry and therefore to the national economy. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, remarked on the increase in the number of A-levels taken during the past year. A more significant statistic is that recently reported by the Engineering Council that entries for A-level physics dropped by 18 per cent. between 1985 and 1987. That is a shocking statistic. It is matched by a similar decline in the number of applications for science, maths and engineering courses in institutions of higher education. Clearly a bad situation is becoming appalling.

Far from obtaining the extra supply of candidates to meet the country's needs, the source appears to be drying up. That grave situation will be further compounded by the reduction in the number of graduates who in 1989 applied for teacher training in mathematics (which was down by 11 per cent.) and in physics (which was down by 18 per cent.) —that is in spite of the bursaries offered by the Government in order to induce graduates into teaching.

The reasons for the decline in the number of science and engineering students are complex. However, among them is the narrow specialisation begun in schools at the early age of 16 and the apparent low status and poor career prospects for graduates in those disciplines. The introduction of AS-level should help to broaden the curriculum in school sixth forms. That can only help in preventing children from abandoning subjects such as maths too early. It is up to the polytechnics and universities through their entrance requirements to persuade schools and their pupils of the virtue of that route.

Similarly the Government should take seriously the recent proposals from the Higginson Committee for a broadly-based five-subject course in place of the present A-levels. The B.Tech. qualification must also become an important route into higher education. There will of course be consequences for universities and polytechnics in such schemes because the content in each subject area cannot be as great. However, the advantages to the pupils both educationally and in preventing the restriction of career choice at an early age must far outweigh possible disadvantages of lengthened degree courses.

As regards the provision of buildings and facilities to meet the expansion in higher education, the polytechnics suffer vis-à-vis the universities in that: Many years of local government controls have meant that this sector has been discouraged from building a base of private assets and sources of income enjoyed by universities. Their ability to respond to market needs is seriously limited by the relatively poor standard of their buildings and facilities". There appears to be little chance of their receiving investment funds from public sources. Admittedly, my specific knowledge of the problem is confined to Sheffield City Polytechnic in my home town. But since I am at Sheffield University I can hardly be accused of trying to support my own institution. However, I am sure that that problem must be common to polytechnics elsewhere.

At Sheffield City Polytechnic, proposals for site rationalisation and redevelopment have attracted serious interest from private sector developers, but Treasury borrowing regulations apparently prevent private sector loans being secured against publicly funded assets. That building scheme, in co-operation with the Sheffield Development Corporation, involving a major relocation of the polytechnic in the Lower Don Valley, is one of vision and enterprise. It would provide a magnet effect for firms wishing to locate in Sheffield and would have valuable spin-off for knowledge-based industries. However, time is running out for a decision on how funding can be provided. It would be a pity if a scheme failed for want of vision and enterprise on the part of the DES and the Treasury.

Another aspect of education and training which will grow more important in time is that of continuing education —again something which has been remarked on before—particularly short and part-time courses put on for employees in local industry. The consequence of deficient central funding for such courses at polytechnics has meant a dramatic increase in tuition fees. There was a 150 per cent. increase this year at Sheffield City Polytechnic.

Students sponsored by large companies may well be able to pay but the impact on small firms, the very sector most in need of a greater input of modern management techniques and technical innovation, could be very serious. Help could be given via the tax system. Tuition fees for part-time and short courses could be made tax deductible, as proposed by the CBI and the British Institute of Management.

In trying to meet the expectations of this country and UK industry for an educated and trained workforce of managers, engineers, technicians and operatives, universities and polytechnics will require some radical changes to their course and teaching methods. That will be achieved only if the Government listen and try to understand the problems generated by expansion and provide sympathetic help.

6.12 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am glad that the previous speaker laid so much stress on polytechnics. It was pleasant to hear him refer to universities and polytechnics in the same breath. That is a habit which should be encouraged. He spoke with a great deal of authority on the matter.

The House will not be surprised to hear that, yet again, I shall deal with the polytechnics. Before doing so, I must say how pleased I am to support my noble friend Lord Peston who made such a brilliant and comprehensive speech, except that he did not have time to mention what is to me the most important aspect of education; that is, the religious aspect. I am sure that the omission was simply due to a question of time. The gap was quickly filled by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and I dare say that my noble friend Lady Blackstone will deal with religion later, but I do not believe that that is an absolute certainty.

As I said, I shall deal with polytechnics. I wish I had half the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who last year launched the most searing attack which I have heard from the Conservative Benches on a Conservative Government. He accused the present Government of having a vendetta against universities. That seemed to me a good phrase. The only problem about that is that it is difficult to think of anything more severe to say. I can only say that if the universities are chastised with whips by this Government, the polytechnics are chastised with scorpions.

I approach the matter as a former university tutor with no special bias one way or the other. I have two grandchildren at polytechnics, another two are at universities and seven of my grandchildren have graduated from universities. Therefore, I speak without any bias. In view of the shortage of time, I shall come to my main point very quickly; namely, that the polytechnics are being unfairly treated, even within the limits allotted to us by this very parsimonious Government.

I must say, as I said last year, although this cannot be repeated too often, that the polytechnics and related colleges are at present providing more than half of our education. People must be told that again and again. As was brought out by various speakers, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, the polytechnics are in especially close contact with local authorities, industry and commerce. Therefore, they are playing a very practical part in all that affects the economy and industrial life of the country.

They need funds in order to do that. At present, I do not believe that anyone would deny that they are being very shabbily treated by the present Government. I provide only one example of many to illustrate that. In 1979–80 £3,000 per head was spent on each university student as compared to £2,500 on each polytechnic student. Therefore, 10 years ago polytechnic students, per head, were being treated almost as well as the university students. Today, with the further rise in student intakes, it is estimated that at present the expenditure per full-time polytechnic student is little more than half the expenditure on a university student. I cannot believe that anyone in your Lordships' House, faced with those facts, will defend them or think it right that a polytechnic student should be seen as worth only half that of a university student. When I said last year in debates —and others have said it since —that the standard of education in polytechnics is just as high as that in universities, no one rose to deny it, and yet their students are treated as being worth only half as much.

I now approach a more controversial aspect and I certainly speak without the authority of my Front Bench. At best I shall be ignored and I shall possibly be slapped down, although I believe that my noble friend Lord Peston may have some sympathy with what I say. I did not hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, but the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, was present and no doubt she will deal with his speech. Of course, he has exceptional academic qualifications, far higher than any which I attained. He was provost at King's College by the time he was 40. I do not know what happened to him after that until he came to this House but he is very highly qualified, although I was a college tutor before he went to his university, whichever that may have been. I venture to express the hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, will deal with him very firmly if he is denying polytechnics their fair share.

I am emphatic that at present the polytechnics are not receiving their fair share from the very small amount of funding which is so parsimoniously granted by the Government. I believe that there is an almost universally strong feeling in the polytechnics that it would help if they were allowed to include the word "university" in their title. Those who are best informed about them seem to agree that that would be an important point. It would go some way to remove that second-class status which hangs over them and damages the colleges and their students in the eyes of the public. That would be one step forward. I do not stop there. They ought to be allowed to compete on equal terms, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Annan, disagrees with me on this but, as someone told me, he may not be fully in touch with polytechnics these days. Perhaps he is, but anybody who is in touch must realise the very great handicap under which polytechnics are now labouring in competition with universities.

It is a straightforward issue. Should they be allowed to compete on equal terms with universities? At the present time they are not allowed to compete on equal terms, but I strongly submit that they should be allowed to do so. Whether that will happen remains to be seen. I do not regard this as a party question. The record of the present Government is shocking, but who can say how much better the record of any government which appeals to me would have been. One cannot say. I approach this not in a partisan way but as an educational issue, first and foremost.

We have a set of institutions which cover more than half of the higher education in this country. They are being maltreated, not only in an absolute sense, but even relatively compared with the rest of higher education. One is therefore bound to ask whether any drastic change is possible. Drastic changes in this country do not usually happen overnight, but what is the drastic change that we must work towards?

I have no doubt that we must get rid of the so-called binary system. Some noble Lords may remember—I hope not —that hundreds of years ago when I was Leader of the House I defended the binary system. I probably did not understand it at the time. I was probably briefed like the Minister who will be replying to the debate and I hope that will not be his fate tonight. However. I defended it when it was introduced, and that must be regarded as one of the most unhelpful speeches that I have made in all these years. I have long since come to recognise that the binary system, whatever its merits, has had its day. It should be abolished. If I say nothing else today, I say that the binary system should be abolished.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, I shall not enter the controversial subject of polytechnics for one very good reason —I know nothing whatever about them. I want to speak briefly about an area of innovation. Before coming to that may I very warmly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said about the terrible problems that we are building up for ourselves in the future from the phenomenon of truancy and the failure to do anything serious about it. That seems to me to merit the most urgent, intensive study and action.

It is a truism that science and technology are now moving so fast that more has changed in the past 25 years than in the previous 50 years and more will change in the next 15 years than in the past 25. We are on a moving belt which is accelerating the whole time. This results in physical changes which, as we were reminded forcefully yesterday in the greenhouse debate, could be disastrous. It is also possibly confronting us with social changes which could take humanity into a sort of ant-heap situation.

Whether we can keep control in this bewildering set of changes depends on mental attitudes and skills. Are our schools now focusing on the question of what additional practices, methods and subjects are necessary to produce the new or refined qualities of mind required to adapt to rapid changes, to find solutions to problems which will multiply and probably also to enable people to modify their lifestyles? Are the schools capable of meeting these challenges?

As we all know, the answer is not to pump more information into children. There is already too much information around in this so-called information age. It is all stored in databanks and the problem is one of retrieval. The object of education, even when I was at school umpteen years ago, was recognised to be to train the mind, not to convey knowledge. Our boys and girls have to develop mental habits and improved skills; they have to create more muscles in their minds and learn how to learn. The pace of change requires the addition in our schools of new skills and attitudes.

Much of the discussiosn today has been on the problem of rectifying deficiencies, but I shall not enter into that debate. The corrections are necessary and urgent but there is also the parallel need to set new targets, to develop higher capabilities and to enable the future of continuous change to be handled successfully. Unless we enable these capabilities to be developed with more understanding and greater adaptability, this country will go downwards and backwards.

Work on innovation is continuing. There is work to make schooling more relevant and more creative, to introduce, refine and promote better aims and methods. I am sure that in many schools within the state system good work is being done. My experience is in the private sector of independent schools. I give two illustrations of what our school is trying to develop. The first is thinking skills. In the context of the overflow of information thinking is still in short supply. Many noble Lords will be familiar with the interesting and, indeed, amusing books of de Bono which make the development of thinking skills into fun. We have to retain the traditional disciplines of analysis and classification, logic and all the rest of it. We have to build on the best of the past, but we must extend our horizons to lateral thinking, to conscious choice of thinking patterns, to modelling skills and all such new thinking.

Secondly, our school is trying to develop a more global perspective. We have to break out of regional mind sets. This is no threat to our own cultural heritage because the wider perspective includes the lesser. Without it I wonder what our chances are for 1992 and onwards in Europe and in the wider world.

There is one conclusion from research which I believe is important and relevant and that is the time factor; namely, how to find the time to enable new subjects to be tackled. We have found that it is possible to save 25 per cent. of school classroom time if the teaching is done in the right kind of environment. If children are relaxed, free from tension and happy they learn far, far quicker. We have been very encouraged indeed by what has been achieved.

That highlights what I and I am sure many noble Lords regard as quite a serious problem in our schools generally, which is the problem of violence, bullying and ganging-up against weak children. It negates the settled environmental factors which are necessary for quick learning. To my knowledge the innovations to which I have referred are being developed mainly in the private sector. I do not want to be drawn into the argument between state and private schooling. As laboratories for innovation the independent schools remain very important. I hope that your Lordships will keep abreast of what is happening and use your influence to promote progress.

6.31 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, in intervening briefly in this debate I wish to deal with one aspect only of the important subject introduced by my noble friend Lord Peston; namely, the improved propects of access to higher education for those who lack normal qualifications for entry. In doing so, I am keenly aware of the importance of training as well as formal education to improve our British image and prospects.

Until recently I had the honour of presiding over certain developments in Wales at university level. In Cardiff a fortnight ago we launched the first stage of a broadly-based engineering and electronics complex which in two or three years' time will undoubtedly rank in the first half-dozen in Britain. But today I am concerned with the relatively small number of men and women who for various reasons have missed out, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool so eloquently described.

They are persons who nevertheless have the inherent intellectual potential to benefit from higher education. The background difficulties and deprivations vary enormously from family circumstances, personal relationships, inadequate schooling, financial hardship and psychological hang-ups. Any or all of these can deter an adult man or woman from taking the necessary steps to realise their potential. All too often a combination of these deterrents reinforce one another. Intelligent and sympathetic encouragement is essential.

Hence the importance of the current efforts to develop specific access courses which will lead to a genuine leap forward for the individual as well as to benefits for society. For many access will be to colleges of further education, but for others the clear goal is for a polytechnic or university place. Here, with other noble Lords, I must emphasise our heartfelt gratitude to the Open University which has opened the door to so many people, particularly so many women. I received a letter from its Director of Educational Services a few days ago in which he says: The Open University is a gigantic instrument of access for those who, for whatever reason, did not gain access to Higher Education when younger. Over two thirds of all part-time undergraduates in the United Kingdom are with the Open University, 72,000 this year. Approximately half of Open University undergraduate students have (or had) "blue collar" fathers, compared with one in five for conventional universities. It is a major means of access for women who form 47 per cent. of the undergraduate body". Encouraging as that is, I hope the Open University itself will continue to recognise that the courses which it provides are not suitable for everyone. Without some reasonable basis in literacy or numeracy, plus pertinacity to a very marked degree, one cannot fully benefit from what the Open University so generously offers. Some students need much more direct and continuous person-to-person contact than they can receive from distance learning, however good. So the recent effort to organise a network of more localised access courses for higher education is of prime importance.

This very day a meeting has been held at the office of the Council for National Academic Awards which, together with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, has been supervising the official scheme. It has been considering the 600 or so access course authorities now on the validation lists. I speak only of England and Wales. As usual, the Scottish pattern is different. The England and Wales' organisation was described very clearly in the documents on access courses for higher education issued in February and April 1989. The root of the scheme can be found way back in 1978 during the term of Mrs. Shirley Williams at the Department of Education, following her concern about so much wasted talent in the inner cities.

It has taken 11 years to produce a concerted organisation countrywide. There is still no ground for complacency. The financial support for students who enrol on these access courses is precarious to say the least. The Under-Secretary of State for Education said on 9th January in Standing Committee in another place: I welcome the growth in the numbers of students on access courses, but those students are not [yet] in higher education so they are not eligible for grants and will not be eligible for loans". If they are unemployed (as many are) they are subject to the "not more than 21 hours' study a week" rule. That is one of the absurdities of our social administration. If they do not obey this rule, or they indicate that that might be the situation, they face a possible loss of benefit. Local authorities may make discretionary grants, but I am told that currently no more than 19 LEAs give the full amount. It is not an encouraging prospect for anyone who has no secure background and no adequate family support.

I turn for a moment to my own country, Wales. We have recently formed three regional consortia of those able to offer such courses —one in the North, one in South-West and the other in South-East Wales —to regularise and supervise the access course programme. Today approximately 500 mature students are studying for admission to higher education establishments which they hope to enter next October, compared with about 150 only a year ago. Next year's total is expected to be significantly higher. This is in itself a very encouraging prospect.

These numbers do not include certain "in house" preparatory courses at University of Wales units, notably in Cardiff and Swansea. Nor do they include students at our only residential adult college in Wales; namely Coleg Harlech. The right reverend Prelate has arrived in his place at absolutely the right moment. It was called "the college of the second chance" when it was founded by my father more than 60 years ago. I issue a warm invitation to the right reverend Prelate, as also to my noble friend, Lord Peston and my noble friend, Lady Blackstone, who has been to Coleg Harlech and knows about it from her own experience. But it is encouraging that this college still flourishes and is currently broadening and modernising its range of studies.

Some 90 per cent. of its students are successful in pursuing a two-year university diploma course, externally examined, which is recognised for entry by all United Kingdom universities, some of them accepting our students as second-year entry for graduate courses. When one considers that most of our students are between 25 and 35 years old, with their schooling 10 or 20 years behind them, and a number of them are older than that, I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is a remarkable achievement.

What I am trying to say is that there will always be students who need the time and attention which only a residential college can adequately provide. One has to overcome handicaps such as home conditions which make study virtually impossible; and one has often to restore shattered self-confidence which is very much part of the problem of many mature students, particularly if they have had a long period of unemployment.

The outstanding success rate fully vindicates this element of provision for those for whom the general access courses, valuable and welcome as they are, do not and cannot provide. I hope that this message will be appreciated by Her Majesty's Government.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Elibank

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Peston, opened this debate he said that there was a wide measure of agreement on the objectives although some disagreement on the way to get there, and that is manifestly true. There has also been a fair measure of agreement in the debate that the base from which we start is a poor one in relation to our competitors in Europe and elsewhere.

There are two figures that are thrown up fairly frequently and have been for a year or two. One is that 10 per cent. of our population is illiterate, and the other is that secondary school students leaving their schools emerge with only one 0-level or its modern equivalent. If that is true, even making due allowance for difficulties with ethnic minorities, it is, to use a cliche, a national disgrace.

Some of your Lordships may have seen in a recent edition of the Economist a summary of a study carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It is a comparative study between Britain, France, West Germany and Japan at various levels of education. Without wearying your Lordships with actual figures, the outcome is that at the highest level, doctorates, we are really very competitive. But as we go down to master and batchelor levels we drop to a position which, it is fair to say, is poor.

However, when we further descend to technician craftsmen, our position is really abysmal and we are totally non-competitive. That is only echoing what other surveys have shown in the past, that, at the highest levels of education we are not bad. But as we come down through the educational levels to the technician craftsmen we become very poor.

All this has a tremendous impact on every aspect of our national life. In fact, I cannot think readily of any feature of our national life which is so dominated by one element. It affects education and academic standards; if affects research, business, manufacturing and even defence, and until it can be improved our position is totally non-competitive.

So what is to be done? In my view —and I think that here I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, said earlier —the critical point is the status of teachers. It seems to me that it does not matter how far we create magnificent new educational establishments, or how far we tinker with existing educational organisations, if they are not supported by an efficient, well paid, motivated staff they will make only a quite marginal impact on educational levels throughout the nation.

How does one set about affecting the status of teachers? I think we all agree that it has changed for the worse over the past 10 years or so from being held by the public as a reputable profession of high standing and high esteem to one at a noticeably lower level. In fact, some of the public —and I am not entirely sure whether or not this includes the Government —look on teachers as a rather irritating trade union. There are reasons for this and it is useful to look at the historic background before trying to look at the future.

However, it is steps towards the future that are important. What sort of steps? The main constituent of status in most professions is pay. The highly paid professions are, by and large, perceived as of high value to the community; their recruitment problems are minimal and staff in them are highly motivated. So pay is the critical issue and here a dramatic improvement is called for.

It seems to me that a notable parallel here is the fairly recent treatment accorded to the nurses by the Government, when it was perceived by the public and by the Government that they were grossly underpaid and that adjustments in line with the inflationary level at the time were quite inadequate to raise them to the true level of their worth in society. It seems to me that a somewhat similar exercise is necessary for teachers if we are to achieve the standard that we are looking for in our educational system.

That involves two things, as it did with the nurses: a general uplift but, perhaps more important, paying substantial money to those of scarcity, of high educational qualifications and, above all, of high performance. Provided that that is done, we will raise the whole level of our teaching staff and the profession into a position where they can at least begin to combat the overwhelming lead that many of our competitors already have.

I should like to mention briefly another element in the Government's programme, as I see it; namely, the introduction of a measure of competition through independence. That seems to me to be a wholly admirable approach to the problem. I cannot see how poorly managed schools will ever improve unless they are put under the spotlight of competition and their governors and the county councils, and all those responsible for their administration, see clearly the level at which they stand.

We have had competition in schooling in the private sector for well over 100 years. Although I am well aware that by and large the 5 per cent. who go to private schools are children of the 5 per cent. wealthiest parents in the community, nontheless, it is quite a large sample to look at. When one considers the political and economic decisions that are taken as a result of polls which poll less than 1 per cent. of the total sample looked at, 5 per cent. extending over 100 years teaches us something about the merits of competition. The roles of those private schools have risen and fallen according to public perception of their quality. That seems to be no bad thing.

I should like to conclude by commending the many initiatives which the Government have undertaken to improve the quality of the education and training levels in this country. Many of them are excellent and have a notable future. However, I should say that I would be much happier if, instead of concentrating so exclusively on the organisational aspects, they were to concentrate a little more on the pay, remuneration and status of the staff. They should try to win the teaching profession over to their side. If they did that, I think we would have a much better prospect of advancement in the future.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Young of Dartington

My Lords, I should like to begin by apologising to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for the unfortunate fact that I was not able to be present in the Chamber at the start of the debate. I want to point out what has been done for less academic children on the other side of the Border in Scotland. As I see it, we have failed dismally in England to do anything adequate for those who are called less academic children. I am afraid that all the testing and measurement which will be associated with the national curriculum may only make matters worse for those children rather than making them better. They have been the victims of a general neglect. I think that that is especially so as regards the later years spent in secondary school and thereafter.

Far too many children have left school with no qualifications and the extraordinary array of MSC and training agency schemes which we have seen over the past 10 years has, in my view, produced only the most meagre results. In that respect I am afraid that I must differ from the noble Lord who spoke before me in the debate. The consequences for industry and for millions of individuals have been most serious. That is not an unfair picture of what has happened in England. But what a happy contrast is provided by Scotland.

The Scottish Vocational Education Council —of which perhaps not many noble Lords will have heard —was brought into existence by the Scottish Education Department and has advanced at a most phenomenal rate. In the past five years while we have languished it has established in Scotland a single national certificate —which is, on the whole, accepted by employers and which has been taken up very generally in further education colleges and schools —in support of precisely the kind of students which England has so much neglected.

A national certificate in any one of 2,500 subjects or clusters of subjects can be taken by people over 16 years of age and also by pupils under 16 years of age in schools. The list of subjects is overwhelming. It includes electrical installation methods, electrical plant maintenance, cast metals technology and oxy-fuel gas thermal cutting skills. I am sure that the speaker who preceded me will be glad, since he spoke about craft training, that that kind of initiative has received such solid attention in Scotland. Moreover, craft training is not the only sort of educational course available.

The best we can say about this Scottish council is that it has not just been an examining and assessing body; it has also been a teaching body. It has produced the teaching materials for those 2,500 subjects in the form of module outlines. Those module outlines are filled out, or fleshed out as it is called in Scotland, by the teachers who will use them in their workshops and classrooms. All that has taken place with most favourable results as regards the number of people who are continuing in education after the age of 16.

The work of curriculum development, based upon the guidelines from the Scottish council, is implemented in the schools and colleges where the training takes place. It is also implemented in the teachers' centres which have been set up all over Scotland, like the famous Dean Centre which was established by the Lothian regional authority in Edinburgh. Moreover, the work of the council has led to the rapid development of open learning in Scotland, with the Scottish Council of Education and Technology as another driving force behind it. It is this topic that I am especially interested in because I have with colleagues recently set up what we call an open school to help the local education authorities in the south-western counties of England to develop open learning. I hope that we shall be able to take some inspiration from what has been so well done in Scotland.

The Scottish council's modules lend themselves well to supported self-study which is at the heart of open learning, partly because a particular national certificate—and of course a person may achieve 20, 30 or even 40 national certificates in a cluster —can be gained with as little as 40 hours' diligent study. The tasks are manageable and well-defined and you do not necessarily have to commit yourself for a long period, although you can keep going for years by studying for different certificates. Therefore the modules can be used by individuals in or out of school equally well and by small groups of students in or out of school or college.

Since there is such a shortage of time available to us this evening I cannot hope wholly to convince noble Lords of my next point. However, in my view it may turn out that when the history of open learning in this century is written —and it will on the whole be a history which is very favourable to Britain —not only will the Open University, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady White, be given pride of place for what it has done for higher education but so also will the much less well-known Scottish Vocational Education Council and the Scottish Council of Education and Technology for what they have done for people at the other end, so to speak, of the education spectrum; namely, the low-achieving children. They do not need to be low achievers but unfortunately over so much of this century, at any rate in England, they have been.

If there is anyone here willing to listen to me who will carry the message so far as Queen Elizabeth House, my plea is that before long the DES should do what the SED did in Scotland and perhaps make the running which so far the Department of Employment has made and at least take the first steps towards setting up a national system for combining education and training in the same way as has been done in Scotland.

I do not say that the Scottish system should be copied because the differences between the two countries are considerable and our training arrangements in England are more complicated, but they were much more complicated in Scotland before that unifying and reforming institution came into existence. I hope that even if we do not copy we shall take inspiration from what has been done north of the Border. It is a country which is so near —our neighbour —but about which so many of us in educational circles unfortunately know so little. So skewed are our mental maps that we know more about what happens 4,000 miles away across the Atlantic than we do across the Border in Scotland. It has had a remarkable success story from which we can all learn.

7 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, when I considered the subject brought before the House by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on the importance of education and training for the success of the economy and society I felt myself agreeing with his first sentiments: that the two are so mixed as to be one. If the economy does not work, society will crumble. Therefore, we must do something about the skill shortage, especially a technical skill shortage when it is accompanied by a downturn in demography. We are running out of young people. The workforce is greatly reduced and so we must increase its training to ensure that there is less wastage. We must also look to new sources of skilled workers.

Technology has a snowball effect. When the process of industrialisation which shaped the whole of this continent and is shaping most of the world started one only had to be able to read and write. Now, one does not just have to be able to read and write properly; one must also have a basic grasp of mathematics, electronics and chemistry to be able to do half the jobs which are available. Many people have spoken about the fact that there will be no unskilled jobs left within the foreseeable future. That is probably a slight exaggeration. We probably all want someone to open doors for us occasionally, but I doubt whether it should be a career for anyone with any form of intellect.

One of the main problems in that area is not so much the facilities available for training people but the difficulty in trying to get across to people the idea that they should be trained in the new, advanced technologies. There is a custom in England among the group which has traditionally been called the working class that a person leaves school at 16 to try to put money in one's pocket and that training is not for such a person. That is an unfortunate feeling which is not echoed north of the Border, which has a far better tradition of people going into training and higher education.

We must try to encourage people to take on training after the age of 16. Much has been said about the fact that in the South-East of England people do not go into training because they can obtain a job and put money into their pockets. They become more independent of their parents. The parents will encourage them to do that if they find it a strain to support their children. The expectation of how much money people should have therefore rises. There is then a spiral which takes people away from any training that involves a classroom and supervised instruction. Against that background we have what I have already described as a reduction in the number of people available.

We are therefore being pushed away from what is required by a modern industrialised economy. We must concentrate on persuading people that they should be educated and that that education will benefit them economically in the long term. Do the Government have any plans to try to educate school-leavers and their parents, who undoubtedly have a far greater influence on their children than their teachers do as to what is available? It is worth remembering that no matter what teachers do, people ultimately look to their parents for guidance. They must be told that they will gain economically from staying in education. If we can channel people towards a knowledge of what is available and the benefits of what is available we shall be breaking the cycle. Only when that is done will we attract those people who have traditionally sought instantaneous cash rewards into the training which will allow them to become more productive.

Having established that point, I should like to draw attention to one group in society which has traditionally found itself at a disadvantage because for the past couple of hundred years people have had to be able to read and write in order to fulfil a part in society. I am talking about the dyslexics. It is believed that 10 per cent. of the population suffers from dyslexia to some degree. The degree varies greatly. It is believed that approximately 4 per cent. of those people would benefit from help. That point is stated in the education programme. That 10 per cent. of the population has a difficulty which will remain with them for life. It is not something one grows out of. That is a point which should be made repeatedly to other people.

I am often told "I knew someone who had dyslexia, but he grew out of it" or "he overcame it". One does not overcome dyslexia; one merely learns how to deal with it. Those people should be given far greater incentives and more support. We are in the middle of a campaign which is designed to raise awareness of the problem. Legislation has been passed by the Government which provides for the special treatment and education of dyslexics. We can probably berate the Government at some length over the amount of funding that they have given, but the legislation is in place.

We must ensure that those people are encouraged and brought into society. We cannot tolerate the waste of human resources any more. Not only do people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia find themselves failing at school, which is the springboard towards employment for the rest of their lives; they are written off as failures. With the expectation of failure, they will proceed to fail no matter what is done. We must ensure that we have sufficient teachers who understand the problems and who will tell those sufferers why they are failing at school. They must be told that it is not their fault and that they are not stupid. They must point out to them other forms of education for employment and skills which do not depend upon the written word and the classroom, where they cannot be expected to succeed to the same level as someone else as bright who does not have dyslexia.

I have made two related points. The first is that there is a desperate need to effect a cultural change in attitudes towards education. The second is that there is a substantial minority of the population which is at an inherent disadvantage. I hope that it has become increasingly apparent that those two points are part of one and the same problem. We must take steps towards educating people in what they can do and point out what is available to those who have learning problems. Dyslexia is probably the best example. It is probably worth stating that someone who is dyslexic is also disabled or at least disabled for work. I suffer from dyslexia. I went to acquire the green card which states that I am disabled. The person who handed it over to me was shocked to find that I had a pair of rugby boots hanging out of a kit bag. We must point out that such people are not freaks. They exist within society. We shall thus be combating the problem of ignorance of the difficulties relating to dyslexia and other similar drawbacks. We must try to raise people's expectations of what they can do.

7.9 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity provided by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to discuss the important subject of the contribution of education to the economy and society. I shall follow a number of other noble Lords and focus on the contribution made by the non-university sector of higher education. I do so for two reasons. The first is that I believe that Anthony Crosland's vision of the polytechnics as a sector of higher education complementary to the universities was essentially sound. That was a concept echoed earlier by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, and more recently by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. It is a concept of colleges with a parity of esteem with universities but with a greater commitment to professional and vocationally oriented higher education. It has more part-time and sandwich courses and greater opportunities for older students than those traditionally catered for by the universities. Although now there is an increasing blurring of these distinctions, I believe that the polytechnic concept is still highly relevant today.

The second reason I choose to spend my few minutes on this aspect of education is that, sadly, there is still no senior representative of the polytechnic sector of higher education in your Lordships' House. It seems anomalous that while there is an appropriate and impressive array of representatives from universities, there is not a single director of a polytechnic, even though there are now more students studying for degrees in polytechnics that in universities. This lack of representation of what is now the major sector of higher education hardly reflects the parity of esteem which was an integral part of Anthony Crosland's original vision.

My concern about the polytechnics can be illustrated by the fable of the farmer who fed his mule a sack of oats each day, receiving in return a good day's work. The farmer, intent on saving money, reduced the feed by half; still the animal worked and the farmer again reduced the feed. The mule showed some understandable resentment but toiled on nevertheless. "This is a splendid animal", thought the farmer, "for he appears to work as hard as ever for less and less fodder". So he continued his harsh regime, and the ailing animal struggled on until it eventually collapsed.

The Government rightly seek an increase in productivity in industry, commerce and education. I believe that this is justified and that also there has been some real slack in both universities and polytechnics. Now both sectors have been pruned. Polytechnics which, as we have already heard, currently provide more than half the nation's higher education, have already gone a long way towards answering the Government's call for a doubling of student numbers by the year 2015.

They have increased this year's intake of students by 24 per cent. over last year —a remarkable achievement. There are now 27.8 per cent. more students in polytechnics than there were just five years ago. Six years ago, the staff to student ratio was 1 to 8; now it is 1 to 15. There has also been what I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in his concern for opportunities for women would regard as a very welcome development —an increase in the number of women studying in polytechnics. The male to female ratio stood at 10 to 4.5 in 1984; it has now reached 10 to 8.

Despite this evidence of increased productivity, the fodder for the polytechnic mule is becoming increasingly sparse. Perhaps I may follow with figures similar to those given by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. In 1987–88 the per capita funding for a university student was £5,719, while a polytechnic student received a mere 58 per cent. of that figure —£3,356. Today a polytechnic student is estimated to be worth a mere half of his or her university colleague. Is that parity of esteem?

One of the reasons often given for discrepancies in funding is that polytechnics do not teach expensive courses such as medicine, dentistry and veterinary science. But that does not fully explain these differences. Twenty-one universities do not teach these subjects; what they do teach corresponds closely to what is taught in polytechnics, yet these universities still receive £400 more per year per student than the polytechnics.

Polytechnics also conduct a great deal of major research and I believe it is right that they should, for teaching at degree and post-graduate level requires direct involvement in or contact with research. But this aspect of their work receives very little support from the Government.

I would not have the temerity to attempt to deal with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, suggested I should. However, just for once I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, because I urge strongly that polytechnics should receive comparable treatment for comparable courses and that they should receive adequate resources to enable them to continue to serve the country by providing high quality higher education which is particularly responsive to the needs of the nation.

Mention of that word "quality" requires me, before I sit down, to pay tribute to the work of the Council for National Academic Awards which is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary. The council was charged with responsibility for quality assurance in the non-university sector; in other words, to ensure parity of standards in academic qualifications so that a degree from a polytechnic should represent equivalence of academic merit with that obtained from a university.

I have in the past been critical of certain aspects of the CNAA's work, especially in the social sciences. But I believe that under present leadership many of these problems are being addressed. I wish to pay tribute to the hard work undertaken by the council in its conscientious procedures to endeavour to ensure high quality academic qualifications in polytechnics and other colleges of higher and further education. Sixty thousand students graduate each year with CNAA degrees and about 1 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom now holds a qualification awarded by the council.

I have the privilege to visit many of these polytechnics and colleges, especially in my present capacity as chairman of the CNAA's Health Studies Committee. I wish to emphasise that I am deeply impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of the staff and students whom I meet, the imagination and vision with which these polytechnics and colleges are responding to the challenges of the contemporary world, and the contribution being made by so many of them to the economic and other needs of our nation.

I sincerely hope therefore that the Government will not continue to act like the mule owner in Aesop's fable, but will reward merit as appropriate and demonstrate the true parity of esteem of polytechnics with universities which was part of the original vision and which is now, I believe, well deserved.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Kagan

My Lords, education and training in skills and knowledge are not enough. We need to look at the way our educational system teaches attitudes. After all, it is not only what we know but what we do with what we know that counts in the end. The tragedy of 1945 was that we mistook the military victory for the end of the battle. The contest continued, the battlefield was merely transferred from the military to the economic field. The Germans and the Japanese won that battle not because they had more resources—they did not; not because they had more know-how or research—they did not. They won because of the way they were prepared to fight for their country, to work for it. Their secret weapon was, and is, attitudes.

To call a German lazy or slovenly is as hurtful and insulting as to call an Englishman cowardly or dirty. There is a moral element in it. The German managing director is at his desk an hour before the ordinary workers. The more senior the job, the earlier one arrives at work. Just like with children, even in industry one educates by example and not by exhortation.

Perhaps I may recall something that happened 10 years ago. A friend of mine, the deputy chairman in ICI's organic division, was sent on a tour to inspect ICI's foreign factories. ICI had started a small factory, in their terms, in Japan. It employed 400 people. When he arrived he was so impressed with its achievements that he thought he would make a gesture. As is customary in Japan he was given the opportunity to address the whole workforce from the managing director down to the cleaners. He told them that he would like to give them an opportunity to learn English. He said that the company would provide the teachers and the employees could learn English in company time. When he finished he was amazed not to receive the usual polite Japanese applause. A spokesman from the shop floor thanked the honourable gentleman for his kind and generous offer. He said that the workforce would very much like to learn English but they could not see their way to accept his offer to do so in company time as that would prejudice the efficiency of the workplace. My friend had been in management for 35 years and had encountered over 35,000 people in various countries, yet he was stunned by that response.

Our attitude in the workplace is one of "them and us". That is not the case in Germany or Japan. I believe that the most urgent challenge facing this country today is to achieve a dramatic change in attitudes. We have enough knowledge but the problem is our attitudes. If we need any evidence to show that I am not being over-anxious about this matter or trying to overemphasise it, all we have to do is look at the problems Mr. Gorbachev is facing. Russia has schools, technical schools and universities. The only thing that went wrong in Russia was the attitude of the Russian working people. That is what is besetting Mr. Gorbachev. For 70 years the danger in Russia was masked by sheer brutality. However, even the Russians learnt that one can do everything with bayonets except sit on them forever.

Unfortunately economic decline lacks the drama of war but its consequences are no less serious or even fatal. What we need is teachers who have vocations and not jobs. They must have the status that we used to give to our military leaders and to our officers. The Churches and the media should be involved and all available government resources should be devoted to this matter.

Above all, education should be taken out of the adversarial political arena and lifted above it. The nation's survival, not physically but as a first rank nation, is at stake. Can that be done? When AIDS was perceived as a national threat the means were found to alert everyone in the nation. Why cannot that be done as regards attitudes to work?

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for a few moments. This has been a fascinating debate and during it it occurred to me that we might ask the Minister to encourage the DES to explore setting up a new angle on the training scheme. That would involve offering eventually tokens for training or retraining to mothers who elected to make themselves available at home to offer a stable family background for their growing children to come home to. The worth of the tokens would obviously depend, I suppose, on the value all of us put on the family's role in society. However, I put the idea forward because I believe it would be good for the morale of all those mothers, married or unmarried, who battle on with family life when children can impose such a heavy burden on them.

7.25 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, in December 1989 the then Secretary of State for Employment, Sir Norman Fowler, made an important speech about vocational education and training. In it he said that vocational education and training are an investment. I do not know whether he had grasped the full implications of what he was saying but I suggest that the whole of education should be regarded as an investment, below the line and not above the line as we used to say.

One can make a strong investment argument at every level of education for doing a great deal more than is being done at present. Let us start with what used to be a favourite of the present Prime Minister, nursery education. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, pointed out that it is important to tackle the difficulties of problem children early. After all, it was the Jesuits who taught us years ago to take a child for instruction before he is seven. If we had good nursery education we might well save a great deal of the money, let alone the trauma, pain and human waste that result from children who are not given the best possible educational opportunities from their early years.

One could go through the whole range of education offered in this country and apply similar arguments. However, as time is short, I shall move on to the schools. They have been mentioned by many other speakers today. Anyone who has taught knows that what education turns on is the quality of the teachers. However, one must invest in education and in teachers. We all know that the number of school-leavers and 18 year-olds is falling. What is the department doing to attract from the available graduates the calibre of people who will be needed to staff the schools? If they do not make any provision in that area, they may as well whistle for any kind of educational advance. I wish to quote from an article in the Economist which summarises the findings of the recent milk round. I ask the Government what they propose to do about this situation. The article states: Most big industrial and commercial companies will be offering £11,000—£14,000 a year … accountants are offering around £11,500. Administrative grade entrants to the home civil service started, oddly, at £ 11,996". What a passion for accuracy that figure shows, or does the computer have to have such a figure in order to do its work effectively? The article continues: Those content with rewards in heaven can remain students for another year before starting as secondary-school teachers at around £9,000". If that system of payment continues there will not be an education system in the schools worth having. Unless the Government act quickly on that issue that will be the result. That is how things stand on the current milk round.

I now turn to the post-school period when people leave compulsory education and look at the opportunities for post-school education and training. I have asked the Minister in previous debates how the Government can say that 16 to 18 are years in which people should be learning and gaining competence while at the same time removing the restrictions on hours of work so that people of that age can be employed on night shifts and on any other series of shifts. As anyone who has had any experience of shift work knows, it is totally disruptive to any kind of planned, consistent training programme. Will the Government not think again and recognise that investment in the 16-to-18 age range is vital if we are to achieve the kind of things that the Government say they want us to achieve? The Government must match their aims with the means to achieve them.

We all know that we have to encourage back into training mature people who have not been given training in the past. There is a great backlog of under-educated and under-trained people in this country. Noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that I wish to concentrate on woman returners. There is a very large number of women in all sections of society, many of them under-trained in relation to their capacity, who are available to be drawn back into the labour force if training opportunities are made available for them.

The employment training scheme was not available to people who were not registered as unemployed. A great many of those women were not registered as unemployed. The Government said that there would be 15,000 places for people who were not registered as unemployed and who wanted to return to the labour market. Will the Minister tell the House how many of those 15,000 places have been filled? If he does not know, perhaps he will let us know at a later date. Would it not be a wise step to enlarge the number of places available for people who are not eligible? That would draw back into employment those people who have great potential and who need very badly to be trained if that potential is to be made available in the labour market.

Perhaps I may also make a plea for short courses for professional women who have had training in the past. Experiments are being conducted with such courses at present which are proving very successful indeed. They are short courses, often on a one-to-one basis, aimed at updating the professional skills of people who have been trained but have lost their confidence and been out of touch because they have been at home with family duties. That is an extremely valuable approach. Encouragement is needed in the form of funds for the polytechnics providing the courses and for the women while they are undertaking the training. That would be an investment. The Government would get their money back very quickly. I heard only this morning of a nine-week course run at the polytechnic in Manchester. There were 12 women on the course, 10 of whom immediately found jobs. 'They will be paying taxes, having obtained good jobs. There is real scope for bringing more people who are very much needed back into the labour market.

The then Secretary of State, Mr. Fowler, in his speech —and presumably he was speaking for the Government —committed himself to two objectives for the next 10 years. They were to be achieved through the new training programme. The confidence that the Government put in the TECs is not necessarily something that we all share for reasons that we have gone into many a time. The responsibility that they are taking on for dramatically raising the level of training —as we all know, it needs to be raised —is of very great concern to industry and employers. However, it is not only of interest to them. It is of concern to all of us. We need to know, and to be continuously informed, how those TECs are working. We do not believe that we should rely solely on the TECs to bring about the revolution in training that is needed. That is a government responsibility as well as a responsibility of the employers who will be running the TECs. Are we to be told regularly whether the TECs are achieving the objectives laid down by Mr. Fowler?

I shall not go through all of the objectives. However, Mr. Fowler, said, for example, that by the middle of the decade, by the end of 1995, the Government would secure that by the age of 18 all young people should have a recognised qualification at Level 2 of the national vocational qualification. Other objectives for young people are included in that list. So far as adults are concerned, the Secretary of State said that by 1995 at least half the employed workforce should be aiming for updated or new qualifications within the national vocational qualification framework and should have individual action plans to which their employers as well as they themselves have committed themselves.

I could continue with the objectives that Mr. Fowler laid down. However, I ask the noble Lord whether the Government are still committed to those objectives. Shall we receive in Parliament reports as to whether those objectives are being achieved, stage by stage?

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, we have had a useful and wide-ranging debate. The common strand that has run through the speeches of many noble Lords is concern about the Government's record in investing in education and training. The main points have been very well put and I shall not go over them again other than to stress that social and economic goals in education go hand in hand and that education must promote greater social equality to achieve greater economic success.

I should like instead to focus on two sectors which were largely and regrettably ignored by the Education Reform Act, both of which admirably demonstrate the economic and social functions of education in different ways. They are nursery education —and I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned it —and education and training for 16 to 19 year-olds.

The education of young children below the age of five has been disgracefully neglected, in spite of its economic importance in making it easier for women to work and its social importance in providing young children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with an opportunity to learn. Why did the Government pass over a golden opportunity in the Act to make it a statutory requirement on all LEAs to provide nursery education for all children aged three and four? It is now 23 years since Lady Plowden made the case for universal nursery education in her report on primary schools. Yet places in state nursery schools and nursery classes are available for less than half the relevant age group. That is all the more reprehensible since demographic decline and empty places in primary schools would have made it relatively easy to transform them into nursery classes.

Meanwhile, most of our European neighbours have pursued policies of large-scale expansion, leaving us with one of the worst records in Europe. Yet the Minister smugly said —if I may quote him: Our best is as good as anyone's", and claimed that we cannot put right earlier neglect in a decade. I remind him that other countries have done just that. Our failure means that thousands of young children are being denied the opportunity of access to education at a time when they learn faster than at any other period. Why are we failing so many of our small children?

Reference has been made to women by my noble friend Lady Lockwood and others. Our short-sightedness also means that women with young children who might otherwise be able to take at least a part-time job have difficulty in doing so. Not only is that a waste of skilled talent; many women also find it hard to catch up with respect to longer term careers if they cannot keep working at least part time when their families are young. Perhaps the Minister can say what plans the Government have to rectify their miserable failure in providing state nursery education for all children.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, the failure to retain more 16 to 19 year-olds in full-time education is a matter for equally great concern. As with nursery education, we have fallen behind our European partners. Again, in spite of the Minister's claims, there has been little improvement in the proportion staying on during the 10 years of this Government. The norm is still to drop out at the age of 16. Unless we take really drastic steps to do something about it we are heading for disaster, with the worst-trained and worst educated population of any industrial country. The Education Reform Act failed to address that problem. It simply will not do to argue that the national curriculum and national assessment will lead to more pupils staying on at school. That is pure wishful thinking if nothing is done to reform provision after the age of 16.

It is essential to maintain high academic standards for the most able in the age group, but the retention of A-levels is not, as Mrs. Thatcher seems to think, a sine qua non for achieving that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, A-levels enforce narrow specialisation and as such they do a disservice to clever young people who should follow a broader curriculum which need be no less intellectually demanding. Worse still, such a narrow curriculum puts others off staying at school. The voluntary use of AS-levels is not enough. Adapting the Higginson Report's recommendations is the essential first step towards a broader curriculum.

It is also important to develop continuity between the new approach to assessment in the GCSE and A-levels. The current lack of continuity between the two sets of exams means that young people are suddenly required to make an enormous jump, a feat which some will not accomplish. Perhaps the Minister will give an indication of the Government's latest thinking on A-levels. It is a matter of concern among employers as well as educationists.

A-level reform is only part of the problem. It is just as important to provide attractive and relevant courses which will mix vocational training and basic education for the many young people for whom a university or polytechnic at age 18 might not be appropriate. We must also work to raise the status of vocational courses rather than regarding them as greatly inferior to academic study. They are not. One way of doing that would be to make such courses an alternative route to a degree. That proposal would also have the merit of broadening access to higher education, thereby allowing us to escape from the shameful position whereby South Korea has 36 per cent. of its young people in higher education and we have only 15 per cent.

Not dissimilar proposals for traineeships have been put forward by the Labour Party, the CBI and the TUC. There seems to be rather more agreement these days between the CBI and the Labour Party than between the CBI and the Government. The successful implementation of those schemes, which should incidentally be made equally attractive to young women, would transform education for 16 to 19 year-olds. We would have a better trained workforce on which, as so many noble Lords have said, our economic future depends. They would also promote greater social equality by narrowing the quite unacceptable gap between those 16 year-olds who currently stay on and proceed to higher education and those who leave, never to return. Over a third of the adult workforce in this country have no qualifications at all. That position cannot be allowed to continue.

The development of national vocational qualifications and the Government's decision to move from YTS and to have a more coherent approach to qualifications for all 16 to 19 year-olds is welcome. I am not sure whether YTS can be described as a triumph, as the Minister described it earlier, but it was pleasing to see that, in a speech just before he resigned the former Secretary of State for Employment came out with a set of national training objectives. Among other things, he proposed that by the end of 1992 two-thirds of 16 to 19 year-olds should have reached Level II of NVQ or its academic equivalent; and that by the end of 1995 all young people should have reached that point and at least half should go on to Level III of NVQ. He went further and said that by the end of 1992 no young person should be allowed to go into a job without training.

We now have a new Secretary of State for Employment. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are now pursuing those objectives vigorously? The end of 1992 is quite close; time cannot be wasted. In his speech the Minister said that the proportion obtaining qualifications would increase, but he was somewhat vague as to by how much and when. Are the government sticking to Sir Norman Fowler's targets? Perhaps the Minister will give us the answer.

Much more needs to be done to create a framework in which all young people can participate, as my noble friend Lord McCarthy made clear. For example, both the CBI and the Labour Party have advocated using records of achievement for pupils under 16 which can be built on after the age of 16, which have some national currency and which embrace a credit system. Could the House be given some assurance that our fears when the Education Reform Bill went through that records of achievement would be abandoned in favour of national testing will not be realised? Can they be used for all pupils and students aged 16 to 19 as well as for young people under 16?

I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister will be able to reassure us that, after the reaction to the public expenditure White Paper yesterday, the Government might have a change of heart with respect to investment in education and training. Perhaps he will be able to tell us that in the next two years, or in the time available to them, the Government will do something to redress a grave situation which results directly from their lamentable record over the past 10 years.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we were faced this afternoon with a substantial subject and I have been impressed by the breadth of the debate. Although I think there has been a slight bias towards education, I nonetheless believe that we have developed some interesting themes across the field of education and training as a whole. I was accused at a couple of points of being Panglossian in my opening speech. Pangloss dealt with dreams of optimism; I have tried hard today to deal with reality. The Government are not complacent. We are aware of the problems, but we are also aware that we have had substantial successes. I said at the outset that we have a long way to go, but we should not lose sight of where we were, which was considerably worse.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, who opened the debate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, talked about training as an investment. The Government fully agree with that principle. That is why we have launched BGT —Business Growth Training —to encourage and assist employers to view training as a strategic investment. That is why we have launched the national training awards to demonstrate to others the benefits of training. That is why we believe that equipping young people with the skills that they need is the joint responsiblity of government and employers as demonstrated by our success with YTS. Our starting point is understanding that education and training are an investment.

I welcome the emphasis that has been placed on the achievement of balance, particularly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and many others. I am glad that attention was drawn to the wise words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, some 13 years ago when, in launching what became known as the great debate, he pointed out that education failed our young people if it equipped them with only half the attributes that they would need to cope with adult life. It was to avoid too narrow a focus and to guarantee an appropriate balance that Section 1 of the Education Reform Act introduced a requirement that the school curriculum should provide a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated education and that it should equip young people for the responsibilities, opportunities and experiences of adult life.

The achievement of that aim will be no easy task, but a good start has already been made in the work done so far by the National Curriculum Council and within the schools themselves. I am confident that that excellent work will continue. It is vital that it should and that we achieve the balance which is acknowledged in the Motion that we have debated today; for, in the words first used by Benjamin Disraeli in 1871, in another place: It is upon the education of the people of this country that the fate of this country depends. Public expenditure was mentioned by numerous Peers. We must view public expenditure in this area against a background of unemployment which has fallen by nearly 1.5 million since July 1986. The total of long-term unemployed has halved over the same period and the number of young people is falling rapidly. It is now time to secure greater employer funding. The evidence that we have from the Labour Force Survey is that the number of employees undergoing training is increasing considerably. Yet the Department of Employment spending on training is over 45 per cent. higher in real terms than it was 10 years ago. The figures on public expenditure quoted by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, were in cash terms. However, the message to stress is that 45 per cent. growth in real terms over the past 10 years is a considerable improvement. The guarantee of a place on youth training in the future is to be maintained, as is the guarantee of a place on ET for all people unemployed for over two years.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that we should try to have a compulsory statutory basis for training. We feel that the bureaucratic system of industrial training boards, established over 25 years ago, has clearly failed to generate the widespread commitment of employers that is necessary to ensure that the country maintains a skilled workforce. In fact compulsion has failed. Voluntarism in the form of industrial training organisations succeeded compulsion in 1982, and an independent study of industry training organisations in 1987 showed that the majority of them were effective. The enthusiasm of employers to support TECs —and the network is well ahead of schedule —shows that the employers must be allowed to lead training and not be bullied into action by bureaucratic watchdogs which have failed us in the past.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, asked for clarification of the relationship between the national curriculum, GCSEs and other forms of assessment. Last week my right honourable friend announced that the main form of assessment at key stage four will be GCSE. All pupils will take GCSE in the three core subjects: English, maths and science. For the remaining subjects there will be a choice between a single subject GCSE examination and a GCSE examination in a combination of subjects or a course not leading to GCSE. In addition it will be possible for students at that stage to take examinations validated by the vocational examining bodies.

The noble Lord also asked about student numbers in higher education. There has been an unprecedented expansion in higher education in the past 10 years, from 780,000 students in 1979 to over 1 million students now. That is despite the decline in the numbers of 18 to 19 year-olds. The latest projections of future student numbers predict continued growth up to 1992 and a flattening out until 1995, while the school-leaving age group is at a minimum, before numbers rise again to about 14 per cent. above present levels by the end of the century.

I agree with the noble Lord who said that the 16 to 19 year-old provision is crucial. The country's future prosperity undoubtedly depends on that age group. It is vital that education and training should successfully reach out to every person. We have made advances. The current participation rate in all forms of education and training is some 90 per cent. of the 16 year-old age group, if one includes private provision. The Government believe that every young person should be in either full-time education or a job with time off for good quality training. Every young person should achieve a recognised vocational qualification or its equivalent, with greater numbers achieving higher levels of qualifications.

International comparisons were a feature of the early part of the debate. I can tell the House that our 90 per cent. participation rate for 16 year-olds for all forms of education and training compares well with Spain's 6 per cent., Italy's 69 per cent., and France's 87 per cent. But of course we need to look at the competitors who do better than ourselves. West Germany's 100 per cent. participation should be our aim.

Some have argued that we should go down the same road as Germany but there is no one simple solution to the problem of raising participation. It is true that in Germany participation is very high but the United States has a very high participation rate —94 per cent. for 16 year-olds —without compulsion. Japan also achieves a high participation rate of 95 per cent. and that takes place with parents having to pay as much as £700 (the figure relates to 1983) for post-secondary education.

How will the Education Reform Act improve participation rates? Our curriculum and examination reforms are raising standards in schools and giving more young people the qualifications and motivation to stay on. The GCSE has provided a better experience for schools. AS-level examinations, CPVE and TVEI are offering more attractive forms of provision and the opportunities for young people without qualifications are fast disappearing. The Act is also reshaping the governance and management of schools and colleges. In turn that will lead to increased participation.

We have also asked the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council and the National Curriculum Council to work with such bodies as the NCVQ to define the common skills for A-level and AS examination syllabuses. This will lead not only to improvements for advanced level students but also to the development of links between the so-called academic qualifications and the vocational qualifications.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, complained in her winding-up speech about the participation rates and said that they were not very high. However, for 16 to 17 year-olds in full-time education the rate has increased by 8 per cent. to 42 per cent. of the age group in the past decade. The participation rate for 16 to 17 year-olds in part-time education, including YTS, increased by 11.1 per cent. in the same period to 28 per cent. of the age group.

I turn to YTS, which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, described as a "miserable and limping programme". Let me answer that criticism with three brief facts. There are about 400,000 young people in training at any one time. Eighty per cent. of leavers, not just those who complete the whole two-year programme but all who start on it, go into jobs, further education or training. Sixty-five per cent. of those completing YTS gain a vocational qualification. I wonder if the noble Lord was really thinking of that scheme when he made his unfounded criticism.

However, I agree that we must make YTS more flexible and increase the number of people who gain qualifications on the progamme. The new youth training will do that, concentrating on achievements rather than on time-serving.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, failed to understand the framework for training set out in the White Paper Employment for the 1990s. As other noble Lords are probably aware, it is not a nine-tier framework, nor yet a six-tier or five-tier framework. It is a three-tier framework designed to service the three-tier needs of our economy. However, since I mentioned that matter in my opening speech, the noble Lord will be able to read about it in Hansard.

Many noble Lords —in particular the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Addington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young, Lady Lockwood, and Lady Seear —spoke about equal opportunities, women returners, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. The fall in the number of young people will require employers to harness to the full the skills of all the workforce. The new TECs will be required to show in their business plans how they propose to help all those who are at a disadvantage in the labour market.

My noble friend Lady Young mentioned the link between demography and equal opportunities issues and spoke of the importance of the latter. The noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Lockwood, mentioned that adults were now centre stage. Of course that is quite right. Eighty per cent. of the workforce in the year 2000 are at work today. It is they who will need the skills and adaptability required as we enter the next century but it is their employers who will know what skills they need and who will benefit from a skilled workforce. That is why it must be the employers who are in the lead and pay the lion's share of the cost of training their employees.

I now turn to teacher issues, which so many noble Lords have mentioned. Good teachers are the key to the success of our educational reforms, just as they are to the success of our economy and society. Now more than ever we need an adequate supply of good, well prepared teachers. The Government determine the scale of initial teacher training and give the policy lead on teacher recruitment. It is nearly four years since the Government issued their action programme for teacher supply. These measures are having a pronounced effect. I know that there are concerns about certain areas, in particular in London, but we must keep these problems in perspective. It should be more widely recognised that the measures of vacancies and resignations do not justify the sensationalist press coverage of recent weeks.

I have said that there are particular problems of teacher supply which are untypical of the whole. In some areas of inner London, where vacancy rates are up to five times the national average, the problems are severe. They have much to do with the cost of housing; and no doubt neighbourhood conditions as they are reflected in schools also have a bearing. My right honourable friend is considering with London LEAs measures targeted to help with their particular problems. Where there are local problems arising from local factors this points to local solutions.

In so far as pay can help to provide a solution with regard to problems in the London area and subject shortages, the Secretary of State asked the Interim Advisory Committee to address them specifically this year. Apart from pay, the Government's targeted measures will continue. Bursaries for initial teacher training students in the shortage subjects of mathematics, physics, chemistry and CDT, which have a direct bearing on the needs of the economy for qualified manpower have been successful in encouraging more students to train in these subjects.

Other measures are aimed at assisting local recruitment measures. These include provision for qualified teacher returners. The Government are funding a series of "taster" courses to enable mature people considering a career switch to obtain first hand experience of teaching before deciding whether to make a move. That is a very active and responsive programme. I believe that it targets the areas that we most need to reach.

The Government have not merely set the policy agenda for education and acted where others have talked. We have provided the funds to make an effective reality of our policies. Let us look at the trend in spending per pupil. In 1979–80 some £515 was being spent on each pupil in nursery, primary and secondary schools. By 1988–89 that figure had risen to some £1,365 per pupil. That is a cash terms increase of no less than 165 per cent. The real terms increase is also impressive. Overall during that period real terms spending per pupil rose by 42 per cent.

We have a similar story with the pupil/teacher ratio, where there has been a steady improvement from nearly 19 pupils to every teacher to 17 pupils to every teacher.

As to future spending, the education share of the Government's local authority grant settlement for 1990–91 amounts to very nearly £15 billion. That is a huge sum by any standards. It is also over 9 per cent. higher than the comparable total for 1989–90. Within that total, the Government will be providing specific targeted funding, in particular through education support grants and the LEA training grants scheme, to assist the implementation of many of the important new measures that we have introduced. Education support grants were introduced in 1985 and the LEA training grants scheme in 1987. Since then they have more than proved their worth in focusing spending on priority areas.

All this clearly puts paid to any claims that this Government are not investing in schools. We are certainly not profligate. We believe that taxpayers and ratepayers have a right to expect that their money shall be well spent. It is the Government's duty to press LEA schools and colleges to achieve the best possible return for the enormous resources given to them. The record proves that, where resources can be shown to be needed, the Government will provide them.

The capital allocation for further education has increased by 85 per cent. since last year. Of major building project bids, 90 per cent. were met by allocation this year. In addition we are looking for a more efficient and effective use of resources in further education. My noble friend Lady Young said that it was not just a question of more money; and she is absolutely correct.

I thank my noble friend Lady Elles for raising the need for dialogue between employers and providers. With the implementation of the Education Reform Act, all that should change. First, business and commercial interests will be better represented on college governing bodies. At least 50 per cent. of governers will come from this sector. Secondly, the delegation of responsibility and accountability to college managers will lead to an increase in responsiveness to employers and to student needs.

The issue of second chance learning was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. Learning opportunities in a variety of sectors of education including adult education centres, further education colleges, universities, continuing education departments and polytechnics have expanded substantially over the years. We welcome this expansion and believe that it will continue.

The noble Lords, Lord Ritchie and Lord Dormand of Easington, suggested that CTCs and grant maintained schools are intended to create a two-tier system of education. That is simply not the case. These schools will introduce a necessary element of diversity into our education system and help stimulate a general improvement in standards across all schools. We are all agreed that this general raising of standards must be our first priority and that all schools have a part to play in that.

The noble Earl, Lord Cairns, in, if I may say so, an excellent maiden speech, made some thoughtful and telling observations about the depressive effect of low expectations upon children's motivation and willingness to learn. He also stressed the crucial role of parents in reversing this effect. I believe that he called it "parentisation". One of the major aims of our educational reforms is to encourage the greater involvement of parents. Their enhanced representation on governing bodies will do much, as will the clearer information that parents will have in future about the work of their children's schools and about their children's progress and achievements.

Perhaps I may briefly mention polytechnics to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and to my noble friend Lady Cox. Spending plans for 1990–91 represent a real increase in available resources of around 5 per cent. for the PCFC sector. The department has an extra £16 million to pay for the fees of the additional students we are expecting polytechnics and colleges to recruit this year and next. Despite the fact that I cannot agree with the noble Earl's views on the binary system, I hope that he will find this information generally reassuring. It rather looks as though I am stuck with the same brief as he was over 20 years ago.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, not at all.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, mentioned the national curriculum. It is being formulated in such a way as to ensure that less academic children have the opportunity to study in subjects at a level appropriate to their abilities, and in a way that enhances their understanding. Moreover, it will guard against a tendency in the past to offer these children a curriculum which was unnecessarily constricted in its scope. I can assure the noble Lord that a good deal of flexibility has been built into the planning of the national curriculum. The needs of less academic pupils have not been overlooked.

The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful], and others mentioned truancy. The Government are very much aware of the problems associated with truancy. We are introducing in April this year an education support grant of some £2.5 million of LEA expenditure intended to improve levels of attendance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, raised the question of the 15,000 places on ET specifically for people not registered unemployed. I shall write to the noble Baroness with those details. On the performance of TECs, they will be monitored closely and regularly against the targets set for them.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Seear and Lady Blackstone, mentioned nursery education. The Government fully recognise the value of nursery education. More three and four year-olds are now receiving pre-school education than ever before. We are also committed to improving the quality of nursery education. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Education is currently chairing a committee that is looking at this important issue. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, base her call for increased nursery provision on its contribution to releasing women to return to the workforce, if I heard her aright. Nursery education is a benefit primarily for the child. Often it is most appropriately given — —.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I made it perfectly clear in my speech that nursery education was of enormous benefit to young children, and that of course is its main objective. However, a supplementary benefit that we obtain from nursery education is that it allows some women at least to work part time.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, fair enough. Overall, some 85 per cent. of three to five year-olds participate in some form of education or care provision. That puts us near the top of the European league and not at the bottom, as suggested by the noble Baroness —.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Minister explain what he means by the words "some form"? Noble Lords on all sides of the House were most surprised to learn that 85 per cent. are receiving some form of nursery education.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it would be a delight to elaborate but, unfortunately, I do not have the time. I am sorry if I have not mentioned all noble Lords who have spoken or all the issues which have been raised. It has been an interesting debate and if I have missed any specific questions I shall write to noble Lords.

The debate has given me the opportunity to outline some of the many ways in which the Government are improving the quality and quantity of education in this country. We have the largest adult training programme in Europe. YTS is a triumph and has helped hundreds of thousands of young people to adjust from school to the world of work. This year government expenditure on training will be almost .3 billion. Ours is a proud record and I assure noble Lords that we shall continue to treat education and training as a matter of the highest importance — —.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, before the Minister sits down——.

Noble Lords

Order, order!

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Minister answer the question? Do the Government back Mr. Fowler's objectives?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I must write to the noble Baroness about that issue.

Lord Peston

My Lords, it has been a most interesting debate. All noble Lords who have sat in the House have been given a great deal to think about. We have learned much from colleagues who have contributed from all sides of the House. Even the Minister said one or two things that were useful!

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Name them!.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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