HL Deb 01 May 1991 vol 528 cc754-827

3.8 p.m.

Lord Annan rose to call attention to the case for significant change in the priorities, structure and content of education, in particular of vocational training, including that of teachers; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, everyone today is worried about our low educational standards. Directly the Prime Minister took office, he said that education was his first priority. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who I am delighted to see will be speaking in the debate today, was the first Prime Minister to voice his concern. Now His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has echoed the disquiet that has been growing over the past 15 years.

There is no doubt that that disquiet is justified. But do not let us assume that all our schools are sinks. There are thousands of dedicated and able teachers who lead their pupils to achieve very good results. Indeed, my college, King's College Cambridge, which has an entry of 70 per cent. from maintained schools, came top of the tripos results last year in terms of percentages of firsts and 2:1s. We may preen ourselves on the number of O-levels we achieved—or, more likely, credits in the School Certificate—but let me assure noble Lords that the syllabuses in GCSE and A-level are far harder, and the range of knowledge required far wider, than anything that we had to learn. The level of literacy today is undoubtedly lower than it should be. But let us remember that during the years of national service nearly 20 per cent. of those entering the armed services were illiterate. In fact, standards have risen.

However, the trouble is that standards have not risen as fast as those of our competitors abroad. Of course, standards have always been high in France and in Scotland too where the Church helped to reduce the illiteracy. But we do not work our children hard enough. We do not teach them how to learn. We do not drill them to write clear English or master basic mathematical manipulation. Of course, some of the new methods of teaching may be at fault, but part of the trouble, beyond doubt, is due to immigration. I visited a West London school two weeks ago in which 28 different mother tongues were spoken among the 750 pupils. The most recent mother tongue was spoken by a Kurd whose father was in hospital having shrapnel picked out of his back.

The Government are to be congratulated on taking central control of the curriculum, and for the first time making the Secretary of State really responsible for what is going on in the schools. That was a long needed change. But they cannot be congratulated on their failure to provide money to implement those changes. We cannot impose tests, order head teachers to become entrepreneurs and managers, revise teacher training requirements and, at the same time, acquiesce in reductions in LEA spending. I know that week in and week out noble Lords ask Starred Questions and demand that the Government spend more money at a time when the pound is weak and Gulf expenditure astronomical. They do so without a thought of mastering inflation. So it may appear that when I ask for more money I am playing the same game; but it is a question of priorities. Where, in regard to the NHS, defence, the administration of justice and prisons, does education stand? Unless the Minister can say that the Government put education among the first three items deserving increased national expenditure, their rhetoric that they are determined to put education first will be regarded as hot air.

Is the Minister—this is the first question that I want to address to her—satisfied with the way in which the national curriculum is being administered? A considerable number of her own party, including the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, are far from being satisfied. Many feel that the bureaucrats of education have taken their revenge by removing from the curriculum a good deal of the rigour and the learning by heart which many of us consider essential foundations for GCSE, BTEC or A-levels. The bureaucrats have also enforced grotesquely elaborate tests. Those tests lay down large numbers of the criteria that have to be satisfied.

If we force teachers to concentrate on fulfilling the criteria, they will take their eye off the one person whom they should attend most of the time; namely, the individual pupil. In America, teachers, instead of teaching the children, have to spend hours registering what they are doing to prove that it is for the benefit of the children. Do not let us fall into making that mistake. How much of the curriculum needs to be tested? I am not one of those who think it ludicrous to test children at the age of seven, but it is ludicrous to test them in more than the three Rs. Have the Government forgotten that as part of their day-to-day work teachers are always teaching children? I have some examples of routine tests, which I shall be glad to show the Minister and which are naturally done in the schools week in and week out. I have the impression that the new tests are designed to test the school rather than the child. Of course we need some tests, but if the classroom is dominated by tests we shall turn the schools into cramming establishments run by Messrs. Gradgrind and Bounderby whom Dickens satirised in Hard Times.

I want to congratulate the Government on their determination to improve teacher training. There is now a Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. It has laid down in astonishing detail how many hours a day and how many days a year should be spent on learning different topics. Teachers have to spend 75 days in the schools and then they are thrown in at the deep end in their first term so that learning by experience and by precept go hand in hand. But there is a limit to that process.

The Government want to save money by licensing or articling those with even worse qualifications to learn how to teach on the job. That is too much of a short circuit. They should instead be spending more money on training probationary teachers and on retraining experienced teachers, if necessary in the holidays. In the holidays! Surely, if a profession needs a holiday it is that of the teachers. But teachers need professional structures. They need professional status and stimulus. Cannot the Government devise some means of giving teachers more pride in their achievements? Why not in-service diplomas or a staff college for those on their way to a headship?

The devolution of financial responsibility to the schools is excellent provided that we have a head teacher who is an entrepreneur. One school I visited has a budget of £4.2 million. When the LEA was in control, lettings netted £250 per annum. This year, lettings are up to £30,000. A great deal of new IT equipment has been bought, and I am glad to say that daffodils have been planted and are blooming. Next year, the lettings will reach £50,000, so the head teacher tells me. They had better do so, because if they do not the school will go deep into debt. There is a real LEA budget reduction of £36,000 or 0.32 per cent. That is a major error that the Government have made. They have reorganised the structure of education but have given not more but less money to finance the changes.

Head teachers need bursars to help them. We cannot expect head teachers to become skilled financial managers overnight. I am aware that they have been asked to attend conferences to learn to iron out wrinkles, but they are desperately short of clerical help.

The education of the 16 to 19 year-old age group is vital to our future financial and economic success. Here again, I congratulate the Government on at last building a bridge between A-levels and the BTEC. First diplomas are already taken by 25,000 students in further education, and that system will now move, as I understand it, into the schools so that it will be taken alongside GCSE. The headmaster of one school I visited urged that all 16 to 19 year-old education be put under the Department of Employment and not the DES. I see his point, having tried to read the DES document BTEC for Diploma Courses in Schools Consultation Document. Will the Minister get her department to translate that document out of education-speak and into English?

One understands the wish of employers that young employees should arrive with employable skills, but they should also learn some processes fundamental to those skills. That is what a lot of academic study is about. The NCVQ (National Council for Vocational Qualifications) already holds the whip hand because the Department of Employment has far greater funds to allocate to such matters than the DES. So on that matter at present I remain an agnostic as to which of the departments should rule, but one or other should do so.

Will the Government also put on the rack the General Certificate Examining Boards and force them, under torture if necessary, to reduce the gargantuan number of A-level options? Those options have multiplied solely to satisfy the dons and their former pupils who teach in the sixth forms. No wonder the system of national examinations costs so much.

I turn last to higher education. The Government are slowly moving towards the day when universities and polytechnics will be funded by a common body, and the binary line will vanish like the Berlin Wall. It is possible to do that because the research element in the universities' finance has now been disentangled from teaching. However, should the research element now from the block grant be given to the research councils to distribute to whichever department in universities or polys they may consider deserves it?

Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, the retiring chief executive of the UFC, doubts whether the research councils are psychologically capable of distributing non-earmarked money for the support of research. When Sir Peter, the most distinguished functionary in higher education, a man of great courage as well as intellectual distinction, says something, it is worth listening. Perhaps the noble Baroness may care to comment—or perhaps not—on Sir Peter's worry that the UFC's policy of driving down unit costs will produce, a lowering of standards because the object will be t0 go for cheapness, even if it is nasty. How can the noble Lord, Lord Chilver, and his council judge where the shoe should pinch when they have dissolved the subject committees of the UGC which alone could tell them the answer?

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has issued a grave but informative document explaining that the Government are faced with a choice. They can preserve standards and admit more students if they give the universities more funds; or they can lower standards by forcing universities to take more students at less cost. However, nowhere in the document is it admitted that the proliferation of courses may make costs higher. There is no admission that Open University teaching methods might be employed; no recognition that changes in the structure of the university year might be needed. In the 1960s some of us made feeble jokes that the academic year was dictated by the harvest. All hands were needed to gather i the harvest and to sow the seed in the spring. That was the reason for the long break between terms. We asked whether times had changed since the Middle Ages.

Much to his credit, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, at the university at Buckingham, showed that a four-term year could work well and that academic staff would still have a full term off by rotation for research. I only add that Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer's valedictory lecture contained almost as many brickbat s for the universities as for the Department of Education and Science and the UFC. The universities have made great progress since my day in becoming more flexible and receptive to national needs, but they still have some way to go.

I conclude by making one further plea to the Government. I implore them not to continue to regard teachers as scumbags. I do not doubt that the noble Baroness will indignantly deny the charge and say that the majority of teachers are the salt of the earth. I do not doubt that in saying so she will be entirely sincere. However, that is not the impression that the Government and the Secretary of State give. Teachers knew that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, cared about education. They had a fleeting but encouraging glimpse of Mr. MacGregor before he was transported to higher spheres of uselessness. However, you cannot lead people if all you do is kick their bottoms. You must give them incentives and encourage them. Whenever you criticise and order them to change their ways, you must find something to praise. At present, teachers feel that they are drowning under a sea of paper. You put new responsibilities on head teachers and governors, but you do not give them help. Teachers should not be identified with the wild men in the NUT. I beg the Government to give them incentives and some positive encouragement. I beg to move for Papers.

3.26 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, time constraints dictate that I shall not be able to cover all the subjects dealt with in the excellent speech from the noble Lord, Lord Annan. My noble friend and colleague Lord Cavendish will pick up some of the issues that I miss. However, I shall quickly deal with one or two specific questions posed to me.

First, I was asked whether we were satisfied about the implementation of the national curriculum and also the first year of testing. We are satisfied that progress is being made on the introduction of the national curriculum. Clearly, this is the first year of testing and lessons will inevitably have to be learnt from the introduction of the testing system, particularly at the age of seven. However, the tests were devised by teachers based on current good practice. All elements of the tests will have to be maintained rigorously.

I take the point made about jargon, but the BTEC document referred to by the noble Lord is not a DES document, it emanates from the Business and Technician Education Council. I also very much take the point about the perception that the Government apparently have of teachers. The noble Lord said that I would say that, wouldn't I, but we have a high regard for teachers and do not perceive and judge all teachers by what we see on our television screens emanating from the NUT conference.

The last point concerned A-level syllabuses and the proliferation and number of options. The Schools Examination and Assessment Council is working on reducing the number of options.

The Motion for debate calls for a significant change to the Government's policies for education. I cannot agree that significant change is what is needed. However, I agree that we need to build on the work we have already done. We need to make education more relevant to adult life, and especially working life. We must ensure that more young people achieve useful qualifications, especially higher level qualifications. As new qualifications are offered we must ensure that their content, relevance and quality are understood by students studying them and by parents, business and commerce and the wider world generally.

Too many of our young people have not benefited as they should from their schooling. In the years immediately preceding the introduction of the new GCSE examination, about half of all 16 year-olds thought that school had failed to teach them things that would be useful in a job and around 10 per cent. thought that school had been a total waste of time. Now, following the introduction of GCSE, more young people are satisfied with school. More importantly, the percentage staying on full time after age 16 increased by 3 percentage points to 52 per cent. following the introduction of GCSE. GCSE was intended to make the curriculum for 14 to 16 year-olds more interesting, worthwhile and vocationally relevant. I pay tribute to the hard work that many people, and most particularly teachers, put in to introducing that change in examinations. For GCSE, as for all other examinations, we are determined to maintain and where necessary improve standards.

Our major innovation in education is the introduction of the national curriculum. It will ensure that all pupils aged five to 16 receive a broad, balanced education. The national curriculum is designed to raise levels of achievement to ensure that all schools meet the standards attained by the very best. It will do so by establishing clear and widely agreed national objectives for the curriculum; giving teachers a means of monitoring how those objectives are being met; and allowing schools to decide for themselves how to meet them.

The feedback from Her Majesty's inspectors is that there has already been a favourable impact on standards. We plan to have the national curriculum fully established by 1997. This is a substantial undertaking and we cannot expect overnight success. But the Government are confident that we are on course to provide all our children with an education which will match them to the opportunities and challenges of the 1990s and beyond.

When the national curriculum is fully in place it will ensure that, throughout all their compulsory schooling, pupils are given the opportunity to acquire the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to prepare them for adult life. The technical and vocational education initiative is already increasing the relevance of school to working life by ensuring that studies focus on practical and problem-solving skills and that pupils receive work experience.

After the age of 16 there are a number of routes to higher qualifications and better jobs: A-levels, vocational qualifications, and various combinations of the two. A-levels are well known and well understood. A very wide variety of vocational qualifications are available offered by City and Guilds, the Business and Technician Education Council, the RSA Examinations Board and a large number of other awarding bodies. The Government have set up the National Council for Vocational Qualifications to reform vocational qualifications into a rational comprehensive framework of national vocational qualifications.

Post-16 students can choose between full-time and part-time study. The great majority of young people studying for A-levels do so full-time, although small numbers attempt these qualifications part-time. Part-time study is as popular as full-time study for 16 and 17 year-olds aiming for vocational qualifications. Both A-levels and vocational qualifications can lead to higher education. Last year around 10 per cent. of those starting degree level courses entered by the vocational route and we expect the numbers entering in this way to increase in future. It is essential that the A-level and vocational routes are equally valued.

The A-level route is well established and well understood. We intend to maintain it very much as it is at present. We have introduced AS examinations to achieve the greater breadth that many employers, teachers in higher education and young people say they want. Most young people will look to the vocational route for progression to higher level qualifications and better jobs.

The National Council for Vocational Qualifications is reforming vocational qualifications into national vocational qualifications. The aim is for everyone to understand, for example, NVQ levels 2 and 3 as readily as they understand GCSE and A-levels. The reform is now gathering momentum. By February 1991 nearly 250 qualifications had been fully accredited as NVQs. By 1992 we expect to have the NVQ framework for levels I to 4 in place, and to have accredited nearly 1,000 NVQs.

Many young people are taking either A-levels or vocational qualifications or a suitable combination in order to improve their prospects. But too many leave school at the age of 16 and go into jobs with very few opportunities for education and training, and training opportunities often stop at far too low a level.

We have made good progress in ensuring that more 16 to 19 year-olds stay on in education and training. Existing participation rates are frequently misquoted. In putting the record straight I want to stress that young people staying on at school and those studying full or part-time in FE colleges are all participating in education and training post-16. Taking account of all forms of publicly funded education and training, the participation rate for 16 year-olds is nearly 90 per cent. But this rate drops to 70 per cent. for 17 year-olds and to below 40 per cent. for 18 year-olds.

However, the levels of qualification achieved are even more important than the numbers pursuing them. We need far higher proportions of our young people gaining basic vocational qualifications at NVQ level 2. We also fall badly behind our competitors in the numbers gaining technician qualifications at NVQ level 3. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. We must improve if we are to compete successfully in international markets.

We want more vocational qualifications to be offered in schools. Another option for sixth form students is the Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education (CPVE). This is offered in about 60 per cent. of all sixth forms and taken by around 25,000 school pupils each year. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has asked City and Guilds to take responsibility for the CPVE with a remit to improve it to secure greater rigour and better progression routes to higher level qualifications.

Maintained schools are now able to offer the Business and Technician Education Council's First Diploma to students aged 16 to 19 from September 1991. BTEC Firsts provide a good general education and sound preparation for work in areas like business and finance, engineering, leisure and design. They also offer opportunities for progression to higher level qualifications. Around 100 schools have applied for accreditation to offer the BTEC Firsts from September 1991 and I hope that many more will do so from September 1992.

There is much talk of the Government's failure to invest in education. The facts are that spending per pupil in primary and secondary schools in England has risen by over 40 per cent. in real terms between 1979–80 and 1989–90. Within that, spending on a number of key areas has risen over the past decade —for example, spending per school pupil on books and equipment has risen from £20 in 1979 to nearly £50 in 1988–89; and spending on repairs and maintenance from £28 to £64. The local authority finance settlement for 1991–92 allows for nearly £17.5 billion 10 be spent on education in England. That is 16 per cent. higher than the 1990–91 settlement.

The national curriculum is being put into place for younger pupils and vocational qualifications are being reformed for the post-16 sector. I believe these developments bode well for the future of our young people. We also have comprehensive proposals for improving education and training particularly for 16 to 19 year-olds which will shortly be published in a White Paper. Many of the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will be addressed in that White Paper.

We are neither apologetic nor defensive about our record on education. This Government have introduced the national curriculum. We have also introduced the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, BTEC Firsts in schools and have taken steps to improve CPVE. We have set up the National Council for Vocational Qualifications to improve vocational qualifications for the post-16 age group. We are encouraging more young people to take vocational qualifications, and we are raising the status of vocational education generally. We are introducing more flexibility, and more scope for vocational work, pre-16. We are committed to maintaining A-levels and have introduced AS examinations to ensure greater breadth. We take the point about rigour made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. Spending per pupil in primary and secondary schools in England has risen by over 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979. However, we are riot resting on our laurels. Our mission is to build on these positive changes.

I apologise to the House most profusely for the fact that—this matter has been discussed with the Opposition Front Benches—I cannot be present at the end of the debate. However, I shall listen to as many of the speeches as possible. I particularly look forward to hearing the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Seccombe.

3.37 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, like the Minister I, too, greatly look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. There can be no time in living memory when there has been so much public concern about the state of our education system. The heir to the throne, senior industrialists, newspaper editors, the CBI and the TUC, Conservative Party ginger groups, the British Association, and above all ordinary parents who day by day experience what is happening in our schools and colleges, are all worried. Whatever the reality, the public perception is that we are failing our children and young people. In terms of public confidence in the system, the Government have not just failed but have failed miserably. After 12 years in power and after the passage of one of the biggest pieces of legislation to reach the statute book for many years, the nation is consumed with gloom and pessimism about our education system.

I do not wish to claim that everything in the Education Reform Act 1988 is misguided or wrong. I would argue, however, that much of the underlying philosophy behind the Act was both misguided and wrong. The main reason for that is that the Act relied too heavily on the philosophy of the market place, which led it into damaging irrelevancies such as open enrolment. An obsession with parental choice of schools at the expense of focusing on much needed policies to bring the standards of the worst schools at the very least up to those of average schools was another consequence of this mistaken philosophy.

However, perhaps the biggest failure of all has been the seeming inability of this Government to recognise that good teachers are the key to higher standards in education. I was surprised to hear that the Minister was satisfied with the implementation of the national curriculum. The Education Reform Act should have devised ways of building on the professionalism of teachers instead of producing a prescriptive, top-heavy national curriculum. It runs the risk of deskilling our teachers by denying them the opportunity to play their part, creatively and imaginatively, in improving the content of what children learn. I do not wish to knock the concept of a national curriculum, which we support. Indeed the idea of a core curriculum was first developed during the government of my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff.

This week the Labour Party confirmed that under a Labour government there will be a national curriculum. However, it will not try to do the impossible and lay down as in the 1988 Act 11 core and foundation subjects for secondary school pupils. There will be five compulsory subjects—English, maths, science, technology and modern languages. All pupils will have to take those subjects but they will be able to add to them according to their interests and their talents. Thus those children who are good at science will be able to do more science and those children who are good at languages will be able to do more languages, and so on. Teachers will have more scope to shape the curriculum rather than being mere ciphers responding to diktats from on high.

That brings me to the core of what I want to talk about this afternoon and the point on which I want to focus. I was glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said about teachers. Most of the individuals and organisations who have been attacking our educational record have not criticised our teachers. They have recognised the impossibly difficult conditions under which many of them are working and they have nearly all identified low pay relative to other professions as a problem.

Who can be more important in our community than those to whom we entrust our children's future? Surely we should reward them more generously? Above all, we should create the climate and conditions in which teachers want to stay in the profession rather than leave it. Is it not a truly shocking statistic that two out of every three people who start training to be a teacher have left teaching within five years? Is it not equally shocking that there are more qualified teachers working outside teaching than in it? That is a serious indictment of a government who have been in power for 12 years.

No massaging of the statistics about pay and conditions will convince the public that we are doing enough to keep our teachers working in our schools in the face of those facts. We are facing devastating teacher shortages in many crucial subjects in the years to come, far greater than anything we have experienced so far.

What should we do about this? First, we must improve the training of teachers and their induction into the profession. Our teacher training is not just about preparation for the job at the outset, it is about retraining throughout a teacher's career. No manager, no professional person can expect to live forever on the capital entailed in initial training. He or she must return from time to time to upgrade both knowledge and skills. It is vital to tie initial training into subsequent courses, including those which are based in schools, so that teachers can develop their expertise and feel that they are advancing professionally. If that happens, they are more likely to remain teachers rather than moving into other jobs.

There is a good case for shifting the balance of initial training, especially of graduates taking the postgraduate certificate, towards the schools. The Labour Party's policy is to set up teacher training schools, which would allow greater emphasis on practical experience in the classroom. At present too much initial training takes place in schools with many vacancies and a high turnover of teachers. Those schools are not the best places to train young teachers, if only because the teachers in them are already working under pressure and are more likely to be suffering from stress and less likely to have time to give student teachers the support they need.

Once teachers are appointed, their period on probation must be properly supervised rather than leaving them to sink or swim, as happens so often today. Our policy will be to appoint teacher tutors —experienced teachers who will be paid for taking on that responsibility.

A vigorous but fair system of teacher appraisal is a vital part of creating a worthwhile career for teachers. The long delays in getting this off the ground are another manifestation of the Government's failure to attach enough importance to our teachers as the most vital resource in the system. If only the Government had concentrated more on those fundamentally important reforms instead of being distracted into gimmicks like city technology colleges.

We intend to provide more support for highly qualified teachers through the appointment of people to assist them so that they can concentrate their efforts on the task of teaching. Here again I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan. We need more support staff such as nursery and classroom assistants, technicians and librarians.

We also need to take urgent steps to improve the physical environment of our schools. The deterioration of school buildings, the decline in spending on textbooks and equipment, in spite of what the noble Baroness the Minister has said, and the failure to provide adequate school libraries are sources of falling standards in our schools. They are also important factors in the demoralisation of the teaching profession. They drive good teachers out and keep talented young people from entering.

We must also encourage and reward teachers who make a career of classroom teaching and do it successfully. So often the best teachers are lured out of the classroom into administration. We intend to provide bonuses for those who stay in the classroom.

We need to monitor standards in all our schools and work to improve ineffective schools by the dissemination of good practice. That will do far more to ensure that every child gets the education he or she deserves than this Government's fiddling around with structures through devices such as opting out. It is not who funds the schools that really counts, it is what schools do—to involve parents, to encourage staying on after 16, to deal with truancy, to ensure good discipline and to motivate children and young people to learn for themselves.

Effective schools are not necessarily schools which eschew the child-centred approach. Too many commentators assume that to be child-centred is bad. I do not believe that that is the case. To have low expectations about what children can achieve is of course bad because it produces self-fulfilling prophecies. What is needed is teaching that is child-centred in the sense that it focuses on motivating individual pupils to achieve, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has implied. That is why records of achievement, which are certainly child-centred, are so important.

Nursery education and education for 16 to 19 year-olds are the two areas where structural change is most desperately needed. Perhaps in his reply the Minister will say why the Government have done so little in 12 years to reach the target set by Mrs. Thatcher when she was Secretary of State for Education. Why must half our three and four year-olds be denied the wonderful start to their schooling that good nursery education can provide?

The Secretary of State for Education appeared a little tetchy earlier this week when the Labour Party announced the changes it intends to introduce to increase the numbers staying on at school and to deal with the chaotic and divided system of qualifications for 16 to 19 year-olds. He implied that the proposals had been rushed out to steal a march on the Government. I can assure the Minister and the House that they were certainly not rushed out but have been the subject of considerable internal debate and discussion. The problem for the Government is that they have had 12 years to deal with the problem and very belatedly, under immense public pressure, are now addressing it.

I was disappointed to hear from the noble Baroness that the Government are leaving the A-level system unreformed. The Government are out on a limb on this matter. Nor was I convinced by what she said with respect to vocational qualifications. I am not convinced that that will get us out of the terrible jungle of qualifications for that age group. While DES and Department of Employment Ministers bicker over who is to be responsible for running the reformed system. the publication of the White Paper on further education is delayed.

Improved education and training is urgent and we can wait no longer. Unless the Government take real action to give education and training the priority they deserve and make available more money, there will be mounting public concern. We cannot go on failing our children and young people any longer.

3.48 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, one thing is certain. Everyone in the country now agrees that education is of the highest importance and that we have to improve it. That being so, it is rather sad to turn it into an electioneering issue. Surely this is an opportunity for us to get together and discuss the ways in which we can improve it. I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that her speech is too late to affect the local government elections tomorrow and, since it is now pretty obvious that we shall not have a general election until the autumn, it is too early for that.

We are all agreed that education is of the highest importance and that we are far and away behind. I appeal to the Government to consider all-party discussions on this issue to see what can be done, since there is now such a large area of agreement. The subject today includes vocational qualifications, but let us get one matter clear: no amount of reform of vocational training will be successful unless it is based on a thoroughly good general education. The days are long passed, if they ever existed, when what people needed for vocational success was a series of easily-learnt gimmicks that could be applied on the job.

I remember, when I was concerned with the unemployment report in this country, going to the Engineering Employers' Federation and asking, "What do you want from the schools?", to which it replied, "Not to teach them the tricks of the trade. You would get it wrong if you tried to do so, and it would be out of date by the time the youngsters got to school". We need well-taught, numerate and literate youngsters and—this is the most important point of all—youngsters who are able to go on learning.

The ability to go on learning means a thoroughly good basic education. Here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone: that starts very early on. It starts, particularly for children from deprived and limited homes, with nursery education. I do not deny that my proposals require a great deal of money. We had better accept that. There is no way that you can get good education on the cheap. It is not cheap now. I can only say that it will be more expensive.

Some progress is being made in the primary and secondary schools with the national curriculum. I regret that there is not more flexibility in it, particularly between the ages of 14 and 16. My impression was that, when Mr. MacGregor was Secretary of State for Education, he was moving towards greater flexibility for the 14 to 16 year-olds. By that age youngsters, their parents and the people teaching them have a pretty good idea of their strengths, weaknesses and interests. It is surely true that by that time some youngsters should be adding additional science subjects or, on the other hand, additional languages. It is a pity that we cannot incorporate that flexibility which would be a way of improving on the improved basis which is being introduced into the schools at present.

Like everyone else, I want to talk particularly about the 16 to 18 age group to whom vocational qualifiations are particularly relevant. We all agree that those years should be years of learning and training rather than of producing. That is not to say that the youngsters will not do some producing at the same time, but the focus at that time should be on learning and training, rather than on production and wealth creation.

I have a strong bias in favour of using the tertiary college at that stage. The tertiary college for 16 to 18 year-olds has a great advantage over the other places of learning—the school or the sixth-form college—because there is a much greater mixture of people coming to it, including people who are doing straight A-levels, those who are doing BTEC and those who come from industry for part-time courses. That introduces realism and contact with the world of work outside, because the youngsters mix with people who are already involved in work and who come for their courses from places of work. It is an adult environment which enables the youngsters who have left school to see what the people who are already in employment do, what is interesting and worthwhile in what they are doing and what appeals to them individually. It is a good, maturing process to have them mixed in that way.

There are a number of tertiary colleges in this country. I should very much like to see them expanded, but they should not be the only instrument. Some youngsters will wish to stay on at school full-time. That is as it should be, but it is humbug to talk about the matter unless we make the choice between staying on at school, going to work and having your training work-based or going to a tertiary or sixth-form college financially level-pegging.

If a family loses considerably because the young person stays on at school, he or she is influenced to go to some other form of education or straight into work. We know that far too many young people go straight into work because the money is there, and because some of them are not very keen at that stage to stay on at school and do other work. It is not as if they are straining at the leash to stay on at school; a good many of them strain at the leash to get away from it. But we need to bias the odds against staying on at school by making it no longer financially disadvantageous for them and for their families if they stay on at school. That matter should surely be examined.

Another reason why the tertiary colleges are valuable relates to the expansion of higher education. The work of the Council on Higher Education and Industry, which includes among its members some of the most prominent figures from industry, has stressed strongly the great importance of expanding the number of people who go on into higher and further education in early adulthood. I refer not only to young adults, but to people who come back later to take part in that kind of education. However, that is another issue.

There must be a different kind of higher education, as the council made clear in its publications. We do not want more people coming out with thirds in sociology which is almost a recipe for disaster. We need far more people who are able to take to a much higher level the subjects that they began to study at tertiary college.

That will take a great deal of money. It will need great changes in the higher education field. My party has long been in favour of removing the division between polytechnics and universities and we are now practically there. There has been a great deal of exciting expansion in the polytechnics which, with hindsight, we shall probably learn contributed more than anywhere else to the advances in that sector of education in recent years. Expansion here is very important with innovation as to the kind of work to be done and the way in which it is to be done. That will take money and time.

Having spoken about the importance of vocational qualifications, tertiary colleges and different kinds of higher education, perhaps I may make a plea; namely, that we remember that education is not just about people obtaining jobs and learning things which will be significant in the world of work. Education has failed if it does not turn out people who have been critical of the society that we have created. If it does not turn out people who know how to enjoy themselves and how to go on living and to enjoy studying things which are useless in economic terms, education will again have failed, and do not let us forget that. There is tremendous emphasis on being useful.

Last night I was at an adult college in which people who worked all day boasted about how marvellous it was to study things which were not useful in the sense that we have expressed today. I pray that we do not forget that, but we are in great danger of running down adult education in this country at a time when we have never needed it more. We need it because people work shorter hours and they want to have other things to do. As they live longer, they want to have interests and activities which are not useful in the narrow sense.

I beg the Government to think again about the funding of adult education. It has been one of the joys and prides of London that we have provided such a good system of adult education. The way things are going at the moment, it will shrivel unless more is done. It is not a statutory obligation. Local education authorities, knowing not where to look for the money for the things that they have to do, are seriously tempted, as I would be if I were on a local education authority short of money and with urgent demands from schools, to let adult education run down, but it is an essential element in a civilised society. I beg the Government to look again at the matter.

4 p.m.

Lord Flowers

My Lords, there is always a danger that these wide-ranging education debates sooner or later will be hijacked by the universities. Therefore I should like to celebrate my recent retirement from university life by speaking only about the school curriculum. I shall argue that the national curriculum, though welcome in principle and long overdue, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said in his most stimulating speech, has faced the schools with problems that are frequently underestimated. Moreover, it is too narrowly based to address the real problems of the 16 to 19 year age group.

On the whole the national curriculum has been welcomed by teachers and those outside the education world. It seems to be widely agreed that both the structure of the national curriculum and the specifications for individual subjects are broadly on the right lines. However, many teachers, especially those in primary schools, are being asked to teach subject matter which is entirely new to them. For example, design and technology hardly exists as a teachable academic discipline. Yet it has been introduced into the curriculum of both primary and secondary schools. Other subjects such as science and history have been radically reorganised.

Moreover, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, emphasised, not much attention has been paid to the way in which the national curriculum should be implemented in practice. The whole exercise has been rushed, so that, for example, attainment targets for science have had to be revised after only two years. However enthusiastic teachers may be, they need support, particularly in the form of training and the provision of books and other teaching resources. In response to that need, the Nuffield Foundation, of which I have the honour to be chairman, has embarked on a substantial new programme of curriculum development. We wish to help the national curriculum in a practical fashion.

Eight major projects are under way and a further five are in various stages of preparation. Most but not all concern science and mathematics—GCSE level mathematics, advanced mathematics, modular science and so on—but economics and history are also represmted. The total budget will exceed £5 million of which the foundation expects to meet about half. Much of the remainder comes from the publishers of school texts. We have sought to involve actively people from business as well as teachers and have met with an encouraging response on all sides. Those projects take the best of current educational thinking —and some of the best of our teachers—and translate it into a form which is immediately usable by teachers in the classroom. The books and other materials are tested in trial schools and are supported by in-service training and other forms of aftercare. It is a painstaking and expensive process but the minimum that must be done if teachers are to be given the means to do what is expected of them.

While the scale of the foundation's initiative is substantial, it is nowhere near sufficient. The Gatsby Trust has contributed generously as have one or two other private charities. The Government and LEAs have committed funds on a large scale to the development of structures which support the national curriculum the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, described some of them—but have given little to the development of new teaching methods and materials. For example, the Government have committed over £25 million to the development of assessment procedures; but that is not for curriculum development. By contrast the Dutch Government have committed substantial sums to a five-year programme to support mathematics teaching; the US and Sweden are planning to do likewise.

Teachers should not be expected to work in a vacuum. Nor should the Government demand massive changes in the curriculum and not contribute to the teaching implications. The foundations cannot continue to carry the burden alone. Therefore I ask the Minister to consider committing the Government pound for pound to curriculum development. I do so with the encouragement of my fellow trustees.

Moreover, the national curriculum applies only to pupils within the age range of five to 16. The first cohort started in September 1989 and will reach the age of 15 in 1994. It is clear that their needs will be very different from those of present sixth-formers. Changes in provision post-16 will therefore be unavoidable. There is now an opportunity to bring about some much needed systematic changes. It must not be lost.

The shortcomings of this country's provision for the education and training of 16 to 19 year-olds have been well rehearsed and the essential findings are well known. Our A-level system has much to commend it, particularly the depth and rigour which it demands, but the courses of study are too narrowly academic and do not reflect the real needs of the 1990s. Above all, A-levels are suitable for only a small fraction of the population. Failure rates are high, deliberately so, and the many students who obtain the lower grades have achieved very little. There must be grave doubts about a system which takes the brightest pupils in the country, puts them through two years of full-time study and then deliberately passes only a proportion of them, leaving the rest with no sense of competence or mastery of their chosen subjects and no recognised route for the future.

Although there are problems with A-levels, our failure to provide adequately for the 80 per cent. of 16 year-olds who do not follow academic courses of study is a much greater weakness and one that has serious consequences for the economy. There is a well established link between the levels of training of a workforce and its productivity. At nearly all levels our workforce is less well trained than the workforces of France and Germany. Fewer of our 16 year-olds stay on for vocational education and those who do so stay on for a shorter time and emerge less well trained than their Continental counterparts.

The message is clear. If we are to avoid becoming a low skill, low wage economy, it is simply not good enough to have a system which—to quote Sir John Cassels— educates to a high level and a good standard a rather small proportion of each age group, while neglecting the needs and capabilities of a great many of the rest". Moreover, too many of our 16 year-olds go straight into jobs and receive no further education or training. Even if they do undergo some training they will often find that it is too job specific. But it is the continuing training of general skills that is so necessary for a flexible and adaptable workforce.

The boundaries between academic and vocational training are too rigid. The distinction itself is unhelpful. Yet our educational structures serve to preserve it, to hinder transition between the two and to accord higher status to one than to the other. We cling unthinkingly to terminal assessment at age 16 as though nothing else were possible. Other countries do not suffer from such archaic distinctions and their better economic performance perhaps reflects that. The Nuffield initiative to which I referred earlier will by contrast attempt to give equal attention to academic and vocational education within a common programme.

There is some urgency in the matter. Much of the work supporting the national curriculum of necessity has been done in great haste. So far as concerns post-16 education, 1994 is the key date and there is time to approach the issue a little more thoroughly. But time is still short and in that respect the Government's delays in publishing their thoughts on the future of 16-plus education are distinctly unhelpful. The Schools Examination and Assessment Council published its draft principles on the future of the A and A/S-levels as long ago as last September. That document was revised in the light of public consultation and the Secretary of State's comments, and the conclusions were published last December. The Government's response is still awaited. Such delays and the uncertainties that they engender are damaging. Much of the work being done could prove abortive and the money wasted.

Before I sit down in lively anticipation of the maiden speech that is to follow, I urge the Government to stop messing about and announce their decision as soon as possible. Perhaps the Minister, or the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, when he replies, will be good enough to indicate the intended timescale.

4.10 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, it is a great honour for me to be making my maiden speech in the House today as a Member of your Lordships' House. The privilege is somewhat tempered with humility. It is a particular pleasure for me to be speaking on such a vital subject as education. My own special interest is the role of education in the life of women today. Equality of opportunity should form the bedrock of a free society; it is important that our educational system ensures that it provides women with that equality from the start.

Like their male counterparts, women today have to be trained to meet the demands of an increasingly technological society. The Government's educational reforms do much to help that process. In particular the new national curriculum will ensure that girls learn science subjects from an early age. That should help to correct the inadequacy of grounding in the sciences that historically has been one of the worrying features of girls' education in Britain.

The opportunities provided by the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative and the Youth Training Scheme both provide new and growing opportunities for girls to embark on scientific careers. Other reforms aim to address present deficiencies. I know that we are all concerned to remedy them and to achieve higher standards throughout our education system.

There are already many good things happening for women in education today. There are now 100,000 more women in higher education than there were 10 years ago. The figure is 46 per cent. of the total compared with 42 per cent. at that time. Increasingly women are achieving more and higher representation in many professions and careers. To take just one example, there are now 45 women in the Civil Service at under-secretary level and above. Ten years ago there were 31. All that is good news although we know that there is room for greater progress in those fields.

I crave the indulgence of the House today. Not only am I making a maiden speech—an awesome event in itself—but I speak before many noble Lords who have particular expertise in education in a way that I do not. I wish to speak not just about facts and figures but about my own views on the importance of the subject.

Education is not just vocational training, vital though that is. It is a preparation for every aspect of life, and in that respect is particularly important for women. It is essential that a woman's education prepares her not just for her work or profession but also for her traditional role as wife, mother and—dare I say it?—home-maker. Perhaps if there were training for marriage we would not see the ghastly divorce figures that bring misery to everyone concerned.

I know that many families decide in the early years that the mother stays at home with the children. However, many women combine their traditional role with a job outside the home. I see no conflict between the two roles. It is important that we stop thinking about the roles as alternative or conflicting. I believe that both home and work can benefit and both spheres can be enriched. Government and employers can help by imaginative approaches to such factors as job-sharing, career breaks, part-time working, flexi-time, child care and nursery education. Again good progress is being made.

I believe that all those are excellent initiatives. In simple economic terms they mean that highly trained and skilful women are not lost to the workforce. However, much more importantly, they mean that many women can now lead richer lives than they have sometimes been able to do in the past. Not only are their own lives enriched, but as a consequence so are those of their families and their professional colleagues.

Another sphere where I regard the contribution of women to be of significant importance is the voluntary sector. I speak with some knowledge about that through my 22 years' service as a magistrate. I believe passionately in the voluntary principle and I believe that the strength of our voluntary sector—led perhaps by this House—is one of the great strengths of our country.

The voluntary sector continues to flourish. I see an increasing demand for people of calibre to serve as trustees, magistrates, in citizens advice bureaux, as school governors and in youth work. There is also the vital contribution made to our great national charities such as the NSPCC, the Samaritans, and the St. John's Ambulance Brigade. That generous and important work helps the conservation of our heritage and environment. Work in all those fields demands skill and knowledge as well as specific personal qualities of leadership.

Women are well represented in all those spheres. I believe that the more we can educate our women, the more they will have to contribute to that vital sector.

I thank your Lordships for the courteous attention that you have given me. I am extremely glad to have had this opportunity to speak on a subject about which I care so deeply.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I congratulate the noble Baroness and welcome her to this House. She comes to us with a fine record of experience in the public sector in the Midlands. I am sure that she will be able to contribute a great deal. When I read that she was the daughter of Robert Owen, my heart leaped until I realised that perhaps I was in the wrong century. However, I am certain that her Robert Owen would have been very proud of the noble Baroness today. We look forward to hearing her again on many occasions, especially if she continues to espouse women's causes in a way that, I am sure, is accepted and agreed by every one of us in the Chamber.

Yesterday we spent 12 hours discussing the possible prosecution of three old men. We are now discussing the education of future generations. I do not know whether the noble Baroness noticed that in contrast to yesterday's debate nine women are taking part today. That is not a bad average for this House. I am sure that she will feel it is not enough, but at least it is getting better. In my capacity as President of the University College of Swansea, I attend the presentation of degrees. I am illustrating the noble Baroness's point. On the first two days, when we have the science graduates, I find myself shaking hands with a lot of sweaty men. It is not until the third and fourth days, when we reach the humanities, that it is predominantly the delicate hand of ladies that I shake. I congratulate and welcome the noble Baroness to the House

The best of our young people can hold their own with their contemporaries in any other country in Europe or in the United States. Our academic system fits them admirably and they succeed in every way. However, for too many of our young people our education system fails to awaken their interest, fails to appear relevant and fails to unlock their imaginations or concern. It fails to fit them for the world of work into which they move. By the age of 15 or 16 too many of our young people are bored with their school and education and find it irrelevant to what they want to do. In some cases they are alienated for ever from the prospect of further learning.

Perhaps I may illustrate the point by quoting the attendance record of a number of schools in a medium-sized city about which I know. The figures relate to the 11 to 16 age group in 23 comprehensive schools. During February the record of attendance in the best three schools was 88 per cent., 86 per cent. and 93 per cent. That is not bad. However, the record of attendance in the worst three schools was dreadful. Their average during February was 66 per cent., 67 per cent. and 68 per cent. On any one day throughout the whole of February about one third of the pupils were absent.

In my judgment it is no accident that there is a correlation between the best and worst figures. Schools with the best figures are situated in areas of the city where incomes are highest, the streets are wide, clean and tree-lined, the gardens are neat and the graffiti is minimal. Your Lordships can guess where those schools with the worst figures are situated. They are in areas where amenities are few if not non-existent, where incomes are low, where unemployment is usual, rife and expected and where the graffiti disfigures every public building. No one should blame the teachers in those areas or try to make false comparisons by publishing results without taking into account the difficulties with which they are labouring. I have seen how teachers battle against indifference. They are overloaded with work, part of which has been created by the national curriculum which I supported. There is no wonder that some teachers have become disheartened. One is surprised by the great degree of commitment to be found in many of those schools

I wish to call attention to two issues. The first is the crisis of educational overload in many of our schools brought on not only by the factors about which I have spoken but by the changing nature of society in those areas. In some areas teachers have become almost substitutes for the family. They are having to assume new responsibilities which were previously undertaken by the family in the natural course of events. Teachers are taking on responsibilities for performing social and welfare functions and undoubtedly that has increased the load that they must bear.

The second issue to which I wish to call attention is the crisis of under achievement. There is no doubt that in today's economy unskilled and semi-skilled jobs are declining. The nation cannot afford to continue accepting the dreadful fact that 30 per cent. of our school leavers are alienated from any idea of further learning or training. It is increasingly accepted that compared with other countries Britain's workforce is under educated and under trained. We are not doing enough to fit our young people for the world of work in the 21st century.

I beg Ministers not to bandy about statistics showing increases here and there. Of course they are right to boast about what they do; we all do so when in office. However, that is not addressing the seriousness of the problem of under achievement in education. Furthermore, I strongly dispute the views expressed by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Fallon. He spoke as though all would be remedied by the discipline of the market place, the power of the customer and the engine of competition. That belief is ludicrous—we shall need far more than that.

I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to a most disturbing economic study. The case has not yet been proved but the study points in an alarming direction. When comparing British competitiveness with that of our industrial rivals, evidence shows that the levels of skills of our workforce are lagging to the extent that it may now be necessary to maintain a higher level of unemployment than was previously the case if we are to keep Britain's trade figures in balance and inflation stable. If that is the position that we have reached, what a dreadful prospect! I am not attacking the Government but we must face those facts. The study points to that being the case although it has not yet been proved. Such a situation would be calamitous for this country.

In that regard the Labour Party has made a start with its proposals to raise the levels of education and training for our under achievers as outlined this afternoon by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. Her comments gave me hope that we can move in the right direction. The academic and non-academic will be lifted and trained to the same level by achieving a common standard and qualification. That is not a cosmetic but a real qualification that will be regarded as being equal in status and value. If we can achieve that aim, we shall be doing very well.

I must utter a cliché because I believe strongly that it is true and needs to be repeated. Education is not only a private concern but a public good. It is an approach that has been recognised in the past by every Conservative Government. Education is a leveller. I speak as one who wishes that he had had the opportunity of higher education. I assert that it is the right of every child. Until our education system can provide for every youngster in the meanest streets of our cities the same opportunities as those provided for children in the affluent suburbs we shall be failing the next generation.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on raising this most important topic. He has called for a significant change in the priorities, structure and content of education. That is a wide remit. I support what was said by Sir Claus Moser that the time has come for a profound and systematic study of what we need as a society from education and what our children should be receiving from education. Such a study would benefit us. Although royal commissions are an excuse for doing nothing I believe that if such a commission were given 12 months to produce some of the answers that are required we should obtain an agreed and powerful report on the issues. A royal commission would then be worthwhile and perhaps we should be able to proceed with common agreement about what is required and would be willing to make available the necessary resources.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, for her extremely interesting and valuable contribution to the debate. She put her finger on a critical point about which we all agree. Although the majority of Members of this House are men, none of us disputes the fact that women are far more important in our society. They are the first educators; our mothers were the first to influence us and bring us up. Education at that level is more important than at any subsequent level. Therefore, we welcome the contribution of the noble Baroness and look forward to many more.

May I also endorse the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Annan—to whom we are all most grateful for introducing this important debate—in his acknowledgement of the value and importance of what the Government have done in their improvements and changes in recent years. These no doubt are making, and will make, an increasing contribution to the solution of these problems. But we can none of us delude ourselves. The problems are so vast, the arrears to make up from the deficiencies over the last 50 or 100 years are so great, that we still are only scratching the surface.

The noble Baroness referred to the alarming report of the views of school leavers about the relevance of their education. We are all familiar with this phenomenon. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, reminded us that the public perception, whatever the value of what our dedicated teachers are doing, is that we are failing our children. There is a long way to go.

I should like to concentrate on the sector of secondary education and make one concrete recommendation. We have been much concerned at all levels in society about the problem of maintaining standards and of remedying deficiencies. This is to some extent looking backwards. It is necessary, but it is looking backwards to bring things back to a better level. But meanwhile there is the continuous and challenging problem of innovation to match progressive and accelerating change: change in society, change in employment, change in industry. Education has to adapt itself and take on board innovations that enable the school leavers to meet the challenges of change.

My proposal is that within the state sector Her Majesty's Government should identify a small number of selected schools and approve them, recognise them, as special research and development schools in the area of innovation. This is not my own idea; it comes from a respected authority with whom those particularly familiar with the educational profession can probably identify. It would take a certain amount of new money if particular schools were to be able to focus on innovation, new methods of learning and new methods of teaching. There would have to be a certain amount of special facilities, a higher ratio of staff and, probably, a certain number of specialists.

The selection of schools for the purpose would not necessarily be easy, but it could be a matter of competition. The best schools would be glad to have the opportunity to show that they are on the frontier of progress. The results would have to be assessed. If additional funds were given to such schools it would not be for more than a limited period, say two to three years, and then the results could be assessed. In the light of the assessment some schools would be approved with this special status and special funding for a considerable period ahead, and perhaps others would fall by the wayside.

My point is that we need to put deliberate effort into encouraging constructive innovation. We know that it is taking place in many schools through many dedicated teachers, but this is on a piecemeal basis and, as often as not, the results are not carried on. They are not available to others. I suggest that by the means I have recommended there might be an opportunity for schools generally to take advantage of useful innovation and lead to the application of such innovation generally.

Innovation is not antithetical to the maintenance of standards. What can be better suited to future needs and changes must have a firm foundation on the basic standards and skills that have been proved in the past; literacy, numeracy, scientific method and traditional moral values. But we shall either go forward or backward as a society. In a competitive and closely knit world we cannot stand still. Noble Lords and noble Baronesses have pointed out that our other western partners have a start over us. We have to make up ground.

To go forward there must be a deliberate policy of encouragement of innovation and adaptation to change, and general application of those innovations that prove themselves. At present innovation is, to a great extent, left to the private sector where resources are perhaps sometimes greater, but the public sector is what matters most to us all because that is where most of the future generation will come from.

This will require funding. An estimate has been made of perhaps £5 million to £10 million a year. I hope that, as we have been told that the massive cost of our educational budget is something of the order of £14 billion, that kind of money would not be regarded as impossible.

4.40 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, to this House and I look forward to hearing her on many future occasions.

No review of possible significant changes in the priorities of education can ignore the urgent need for better support in real terms for postgraduates—the seed-corn of our academic life and a major end product of our whole educational system. I am sure that the Government share the general concern. Too many gifted young men and women, well fitted to make their career in research and in teaching in universities, and needed there, are turning instead to the City or to industry.

If they become postgraduates they cannot count on adequate, or sometimes any, support to do their two or three years, or rather three or four years, of postgraduate work and yet they represent our richest asset—knowledge and the ability to look beyond the horizon. Industry's valuable partnership with universities, which I have always promoted, rests upon an adequate supply of such people. The Government's assessment of their value, I fear, can be measured in a practical way.

First, there are no loans available to postgraduates to replace the social security benefits which were withdrawn this year. Yet those doing postgraduate work need food, a roof over their heads and such necessities as heat and light as much as other graduates. These people are required to carry out academic work for all the year. Those who have grants are funded for 48 weeks out of the 52. They cannot simultaneously work to complete their doctorates in the period allowed and, at the same time, work to earn the money they need to stay alive, if they are not among the few holders of awards. Therefore it is only the dedicated who would contemplate the stress and hardship of such a life.

The Universities Funding Council allocated access funds for universities to provide support in 1991 for postgraduates as well as undergraduates who are in financial difficulty, and thus partly to cushion the blow of the withdrawal of benefits, including the all important housing benefit. The Universities Funding Council allocated £360,400 to Oxford for the relief of undergraduates, and notionally £201,000 of that was intended to help postgraduates, although the university was left the choice of how to spend the money finally.

The university has already paid out all but £26,000 of those access funds. That sum will be allocated on 9th May. There will then be no more money until the 1991–92 allocation reaches the university. There were 1,750 applications received and of those 1,173 were eligible for help under the UFC and DES rules. Of those 1,009 were undergraduates and they received £279,900 of the allocation. A further 58 were clinical students and they received £15,000-odd. There were 106 post graduates who received £34,225. The balance of £26,100 will certainly need to be used to meet applications from postgraduates. It will not be nearly enough. A number of postgraduates can be expected to encounter and declare severe financial difficulties in the coming long vacation, and to appeal for help. They will have to be treated as a first call on the 1991–92 access funds.

Several points emerged from the experience of the first year of no benefits which I devoutly hope will influence the Government to be more generous in setting the level of access funds for next year. A high proportion of the funds went to undergraduates under the university's arrangements. That is because undergraduates living out are unable to obtain a lease unless it is for 12 months. That is a heavy commitment. The government loan does not go far to meet a total annual rent in the region of £2,400.

Postgraduates have the same problem, but they may occasionally have a husband or wife working to support them. Another point of interest is the high proportion of clinical students who applied; there were 87 out of the total of 300 in Oxford and 58 received support. Those undergraduates know only too well that it must be several years before they are able to complete their training and can earn. Meanwhile they are steadily getting further and further into debt.

It is worth noting that of the 1,173 students who were helped, 782 have negative disposable income ranging from minus £31 per year to minus £1,264 in the year under review. The total indebtedness of the students who apply in terms of that negative disposable income—that is, setting income against expenditure in that year—was £415,000. Real indebtedness, loans taken out or accumulated debt from previous years, is substantially greater. I do not know what the experience has been in other universities, though I understand that the access funds are everywhere inadequate. I urge the Government as strongly as I can to make a much larger sum available next year. It may be the only way to save a number of young scholars from giving up the struggle for academic achievement.

It ought to come as no surprise to the Universities Funding Council and the Department of Education and Science that this year's allocation proved to be a drop in the ocean. The degree to which they remain out of touch with reality has been made clear in two ways. First, they required the universities to spend by March 1991—that is, only two-thirds of the way through the academic year being funded and only half-way through the calendar year—85 per cent. of the allocation or else forfeit it. The rule was finally waived but for this year only.

Secondly, I understand that the Government intend now to remove under statutory instrument the vacation hardship allowance which it is possible for students to secure from local education authorities. They are proposing to do that before a full year of the new arrangements for students' support has been completed. It is the more difficult to understand and justify that proposed withdrawal since only last year, when the housing benefit was withdrawn from students, the Government adduced this very allowance as the safety net of help on which students could rely in order to make up in some degree for the loss of housing benefit.

I very much hope that the Government will think again and abandon their intention to withdraw the allowance. There is ample evidence that the existing arrangements for funding postgraduates are inadequate. As postgraduates do not qualify for loans the only way to redress that is through the allocation of a realistic level of access funds. Before I sit down perhaps I may apologise to the House, as I have done to the Minister, for the fact that a long-standing engagement will require me to leave before the end of the debate. I am extremely sorry about that.

4.47 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like first to congratulate the noble Baroness who made such a splendid maiden speech. She said she approached it humbly. I can only say that in all my years in public life—though nobody will believe this—I approached everything humbly. We continue to learn all the time. I particularly agree with the noble Baroness about the necessity to educate children for marriage and parenthood. I remember making that point 20 years ago when speaking to one of my women's organisations. So far it has not happened. Perhaps together the noble Baroness and I could still press the point. I hope we shall hear from her many more times in this House.

Education is news. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, with whom I always agree, was one of the first people to draw attention to the ghastly buildings we must all look at. He has now turned to another subject with his usual common sense. He is a very understanding and dedicated man, often unable to use his full potential. He is accused of being political. What he said in regard to education was absolutely right. There now exists a group of people who are semi-illiterates. They certainly do not know their Shakespeare, their Shaw or their Bible. I am not sure how one communicates with them when one speaks to them. Why is that?

I noticed that the nature of the debate today was to bring change. That is a magic word. We are always changing things. Societies change but human beings do not change. That is why the stories one reads in the New Testament are as topical as though they had been written yesterday. Human beings do not change. Only societies change and mostly for the worse.

All governments have a go at education. Members of government have all been to school and think that they know all the answers. For this debate I counted how many reports there had been on education in only a few years. There had been 40; most of them costing thousands of pounds. Have noble Lords ever looked at the cost of producing these reports and White Papers? One is pending now and it is to cost £450,000. Yet the Government have not got enough money to pay the teachers. Some of that money could have been put to much more sensible use. I do not want to go through all the publications because I have only a few minutes in which to speak. There was the James Report, the Plowden Report, and others. My noble friend Lady White produced a splendid report on further education. I introduced that report into this House. It has been lying on the shelf for about 18 months: nobody bothers about it. That is what mainly happens to reports unless governments wish to bring them out to support something they want to do.

There is no magic in change unless it is for the better. Generally change is for the worse. Perhaps we may now look at some of the expressions which the unfortunate Minister had to use. I asked my colleagues what they meant. I refer to the BETG, the NBQ, the National Council for VE, and so on. The Labour Party was no better. I was in government with Shirley Williams who dominated education and then left the party. She was a product of a private school; so naturally she knew all about state education. She immediately changed to the comprehensive schools system. It sounded marvellous, but some of the schools are based on three separate sites. The children spend all their time wandering about from A to B and some disappear. As one teacher said to me: "We lose two pupils every changeover."

There was no particular value in that change. As I recall, Shirley Williams abolished the direct grant schools or did something to them. Some of the best people I have met came through the direct grant system. The government at that time took away from a working-class boy or girl the opportunity to go through the direct grant system. That could not have been right. My noble friend on the Front Bench nods his head. Perhaps he will correct me.

Lord Peston

He shakes his head.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, that is right; he shakes his head. Anyway, he is disagreeing. All the examinations were changed. Every government does that. However, they leave alone certain people. For example, no one investigates accountants, public relations' agents or surveyors. Governments always go for health and education. I can only assume that that is because they are the only subjects which most governments know something about. When I went to college it was very simple. You matriculated in six subjects, some of which were compulsory. Not unreasonably, English was compulsory. Now our teachers are expected to teach about six languages and English has become the lowest of the lot. Teachers have to teach Urdu and other languages.

English is still our language—the language of Shakespeare and of Shaw. It is a beautiful language. Unless you can communicate in your own language, then all doors are closed to you. The ability to communicate now is taught by business schools which are a terrible eruption dooming our present generation. The first thing the students are told is to be aggressive. If you want to sell, you must be aggressive. They are also taught to use jargon and initials. The one thing that they do not use is understandable English. We are doomed unless we recognise that we need to have a totally literate society.

The other day I found a book given to me by my father when I was four years old. It was Grimm's stories. On the fly-leaf was written "To my darling little daughter, as I know she reads this book with me". In other words, it was accepted that children should be able to read a certain amount before they went to school. When I was a teacher it was accepted that children came to school at the age of five able to read a certain amount. As a teacher, when I passed on my pupils at the age of seven, I felt it was my duty to ensure that every one of those children could read. Until children can read and are numerate, various avenues are closed to them.

Where did the standards go so that now, suddenly, we have to reintroduce what happened 30 or 40 years ago? The ability to communicate is absolutely vital. This debate is to call attention to the, change in the priorities, structure and content of education". What do we have to change as regards priorities? I adopt the NUT's statement on what education is about. It was introduced a few years ago and is still valid. Education depends on the growth, freedom and happiness of the human being; the quality of society and the wealth of the nation. If that is kept in the front of one's mind as a teacher, he or she is not going to go very far wrong.

What is interesting is what has not changed. I refer to the private school system. I am a product of that system. My mother is a good socialist who stitched into the small hours of the night so that I could have the best kind of education. At the same time she tried to change the state education system. Why is the private system still producing the best people? It is because that system has small classes and change is not made every five minutes.

For heaven's sake, let us stop changing our system of education! The poor teachers are harassed with forms. Everyone is harassed with forms. I had three in the post yesterday. When we pass laws we must leave it to the practitioners to carry them out. I was talking to one of my grandsons the other day about his five year-old. He said that in his class the children were worried about a test. Someone had said that they were going to be tested. It was not the teacher who said that; but the story got around. Two children have stopped away from school, crying desperately, because they do not want to be tested. They have some vague idea of this horrific test.

What is this enthusiasm for testing? I can tell your Lordships that at seven years of age you do not need to bother to test the children. Some children progress very early; some do not until they are nine, 10, or 11 years of age. The levels of intelligence are very quickly discerned. Teachers always kept records of their pupils. What is so new about that? I can remember sitting in the staff room and discussing whether we could help so-and-so. What is so new or different? The answer is, nothing. So let us forget that change.

As regards teacher training, apparently the poor teachers are again going to be subjected to all kinds of new ideas. The noble Lord who has just spoken suggested another report. As a Roman general said, if in doubt say that you are reorganising. That always covers up inefficiency and various other factors. We do not need another report. For once in a while, leave teaching to the teachers and do not make them redundant. Why are teachers now being made redundant? It is because they have not got enough childrer in the classes.

This Government are philistines. When did you ever see them going to the opera, the ballet or even playing a game of tennis? They do not believe in education as I understand it. Education is for life and not merely for earning a living. If we are not very careful we shall churn out thousands of computer literates but illiterates in the full sense of the word. I am sorry that I also have to apologise, as did the noble Baroness who has just spoken. I am going to give prizes to children. I shall tell them my four rules. The first is: keep on learning. The child has to be inspired at school to keep on learning. The second is: keep on living and get in the mainstream. It is necessary to argue with people and ask them why they are doing this and not that. The third rule is to keep on loving —in other words, work in the community. Most important of all is to keep on laughing.

Change appears marvellous on paper but, God help us, do not let us have any more change in education! For once let the teachers do the job which they are paid, rather badly, to do.

5 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for initiating this debate and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to it. Both my parents were teachers and I believe that I benefited a very great deal from much of the inspirational content and the encouragement to learn that I received in my education in my youth in the north-east of England. Perhaps I may follow other speakers by apologising at the outset to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and to the House for the fact that I, too, may have to leave before the very end of the debate because of a long-standing and unavoidable evening engagement.

While opinions about causes and potential solutions may vary I do not believe that anyone can claim that all is well with education in the United Kingdom today. Each of the principal political parties, as we have heard this afternoon, see education as requiring priority attention in the near future. Much comment and debate was of course engendered by the detailed and thoughtful analysis of the state of British education included in Sir Claus Moser's presidential address about our need for an informed society, delivered to the British Association in 1990.

The figures quoted in that report have been widely ventilated in the national press, but some are so important that they bear repetition. While the provision of nursery education has steadily improved in this country, in that something like 50 per cent. of three to four year-olds now receive it compared with 20 per cent. in 1970–71, we are still in this respect far behind France, Italy and Belgium where every young child receives nursery education at state expense. In primary education, as Sir Claus admitted, there is now much to admire. Nevertheless, there has been in recent years a rise of 50 per cent. of seven year-olds in school shown to have severe reading disabilities, and about one child in seven leaves primary school functionally illiterate.

In our secondary schools the chief inspector, in his report for 1989, found some 30 per cent. of what he saw, especially, it would seem, in relation to the teaching of mathematics and science and the acquisition of numeracy, to be poor, or very poor. Some of his comments admittedly related to unsatisfactory buildings, libraries and general facilities. Nevertheless, it was clear that whereas some schools were consistently achieving very high standards and many others were satisfactory, an unacceptable percentage appeared to be failing their pupils and the community. Sir Claus drew particular attention to the fact that in the United Kingdom most children leave full-time education at the age of 16. Of those aged 16 to 18, some 40 per cent. were until recently in full-time education, the lowest in any advanced country.

I was interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, say that she thought that that figure had now increased to 52 per cent. However, that figure should be compared with 79 per cent. in the United States, 77 per cent. in Japan, 66 per cent. in France and 76 per cent. in Sweden. In 1988, 8 per cent. of the 16 year-olds leaving school were unemployed for long periods.

Sir Claus in his speech, which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, also had much to say about higher education as well as continuing education and training. However, perhaps I have said sufficient about his thought-provoking contribution to make my case when I say that action needs to be taken to improve what virtually everyone agrees is plainly a serious and unsatisfactory situation. One's concerns must be heightened by the fact that some 6,000 secondary school teachers left the profession in 1989 and one-third of the profession in 1990 suggested that they may wish to leave. In 1960, 34 per cent. of male university graduates and 61 per cent. of female graduates went into teaching. Twenty years later the figures had fallen to 14 per cent. and 35 per cent. respectively. Clearly, therefore, teaching seems no longer to be a prestige profession, nor to be as attractive to well qualified graduates as was the case in the past.

I do not believe that I could even begin today, having posed these problems, to offer any easy or immediate solutions to what most authorities recognise as being a deteriorating situation. This was splendidly highlighted, as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has said, by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in his Shakespeare lecture on 22nd April, where he quoted some of the figures that I have mentioned, but also drew particular attention to the lack of literacy and the lack of knowledge of our literary and cultural heritage and history demonstrated by many of those now leaving school in this country.

That this country is not alone in its concerns about education has been clearly demonstrated by several publications coming from the United States, where the President, Mr. Bush, has established an impressive new team in his education department led by Lamar Alexander who pioneered education reform when Governor of Tennessee in the early 1980s. Peter Stothard, US editor of The Times, writing recently, pointed out that whereas funding for education in the United States is 30 per cent. higher in real terms than a decade ago, the measured results of American pupils are no better, and against the rising standard of some international competitors—not, I believe, including the United Kingdom—American children are falling fast behind.

Some schools, perhaps driven by the demand of parents and employers, are models of excellence, but overall American children do less homework and study fewer languages than in the past, so that their insularity and ignorance of the world around them has tended to increase. It was for this reason that a group of independent individuals brought together by President Bush recently established six national educational goals, proposing, first, that by the year 2000 all children in America would start school ready to learn; secondly, that within this decade the percentage of students graduating from high school should be increased to at least 90 per cent. and that within the same time period American students should be able to leave grades 4, 8 and 12 in school having demonstrated competence in challenging subject matter, including English, mathematics, science, history and geography. They also wished to be confident that within that decade US students would become first in the world in science and mathematics achievement, that every adult American would be literate and would possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and that every school in America would be free of drugs and violence and would offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning. I cannot help but feel that some, perhaps even all, of these goals suitably modified, may be relevant to our needs in the deteriorating situation we see before us in this country at the present time.

As some of your Lordships will now be aware from recent press comment, I have been honoured by being invited by the British Association for the Advancement of Science to chair a national education commission to be generously funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. That commission hopes to complete its task within about two years. A statement about the terms of reference and other details of the commission is to be issued tomorrow morning. I hope that this body will be able, in the light of the opportunities and challenges that will face the United Kingdom over the next few years, to identify and consider key issues. First, it will need to define educational goals. Secondly, it will need to assess the potential demand for education and training which must be satisfied if we are to meet the economic and social requirements of the country and the needs and aspirations of our people. Thirdly, I trust that it will be able to define policies and practical means whereby opportunities to satisfy that demand may be made generally available, taking into account all of the implications for resources, institutions and for teachers, trainers and all of those involved in the education and training system.

I am of course fully aware of the magnitude of the task. The commission has not yet begun its work, but over the next month or two members will be recruited, key issues will be defined and a modus operandi will be established.

Plainly it will need to look carefully at issues relating to the priorities, structure and content of education and vocational training, the subject of today's debate so splendidly and lucidly introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. While in my own contribution I have identified what I see as certain current problems which have been brought to my attention, I can assure your Lordships that I take on this not inconsiderable task with no preconceived ideas and that I and my fellow commissioners, when appointed, will be willing to read and to listen to such material as may be presented to us from any relevant source and that we shall take full account of what we see, hear and learn in preparing our reports and recommendations.

5.10 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, like other noble Lords I greatly welcome this debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing it. He did so with his usual wit, wisdom and spirit. I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Seccombe on her maiden speech. She struck a warm chord in all parts of the House and certainly among the women Peers. I believe that in this Chamber there is a true recognition of equality. Everyone recognised the important point that she made. It is one which no other speaker has taken up. We all appreciated it and we look forward to hearing from her on many occasions in the future.

There is no doubt that education is now at the top of the political agenda. I for one greatly welcome that fact. I was very pleased that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of having excellent public education in this country. I was delighted that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales leas taken up this cause as well. Like so many people, I found myself in agreement with so much of what he had to say on the content of education and on the importance of understanding our history and passing on to future generations not only our history but those great cultural influences which have made us what we are.

This is a wide-ranging debate with a short timetable. Although the noble Lord, Lord Annan, talked about changing priorities, the priorities have been defined quite clearly. One priority has been raised by a number of speakers but I think it bears repeating. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will pay attention to the importance of nursery schools. I strongly believe in them for their educational value. It would be a great mistake if we did not recognise the important part they play in a fast changing society.

I should like to take up three issues which I consider to be most important. The first is standards which I think lay behind what the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has just said. Tremendous efforts have been made by the Government to raise standards. I congratulate them on what they have already done. We know what the background has been—the depressing fact that the average and less average child in Britain is about two years behind his counterparts in Germany and Japan in maths. The HMI reports, although giving much encouraging news which is welcome and which we should not forget, do show that much more needs to be done. However, it has taken us quite a long time to get where we are, and it will take quite a long time to raise standards as we should like to do. Nevertheless, the Education Reform Act 1988 was a turning point in this debate. I cannot accept the strictures of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on this point. Its centrepiece—the national curriculum—means that pupils will not be allowed to drop core subjects. That is crucial. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about making the curriculum more flexible at 14. This has been done. I hope that my noble friend Lord Cavendish will explain to us how this has been achieved.

The development of grant maintained schools and city technology colleges has been immensely popular with parents. They have not the slightest difficulty in recruiting teachers. Every CTC has been oversubscribed. These experiments are working very well indeed and I have no doubt that we shall go on to see hundreds of schools becoming grant maintained in the future.

I was immensely interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, had to say about curriculum development. If there is an anxiety it is that there is agreement generally about the national curriculum but there is concern about its content. There is no point in laying down a number of subjects unless what is taught is relevant. I am concerned about the testing and assessment arrangements. Testing and assessment of seven year-olds seems to have got into the hands of various education quangos. Although the principle may be right it seems to be lost in an absolute welter of educational bureaucracy and sociology. Like many of your Lordships I have seen what teachers are required to do in the tests. I considered much of it simply absurd. At one point 42 questions have to be answered. We do not have this right. I hope that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be able to look at this matter again. It is extremely important to get it right at this stage for testing at 11 and 14, quite apart from teacher assessment. The whole matter must be looked at thoroughly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, stressed the importance of reaching agreement on what standards we are looking for. The great education divide has been over the education philosophy which is based on a child-centered philosophy, however we have reached that stage. No one who knows anything about education believes that an unhappy child will learn. However, not all learning is easy, Frequently it is difficult and not all of it can always be enjoyable. Young teachers coming out of teacher training colleges even as recently as last year have been taught that every lesson must always be interesting and enjoyable. They are put into a virtually impossible position. We then find the difficulty that education has ceased to have academic rigour. That is one reason why graduates are not so interested in going into it. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, asked why parents send their children to independent schools. They do so because independent schools teach, as children were taught some time ago, certainly at primary stage, the three Rs. That is what parents want. We should try to reach agreement on this philosophical debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred to children who do not go to school, which is in any event illegal. One of the more promising developments has been the compact schemes. I chaired a conference in the North West not so long ago in which some support for the compact scheme was being given by Marks & Spencer. I spoke to some of the young 15 and 16 year-olds. They explained what they thought they got out of the scheme. They were guaranteed a job at the end of it provided they put in a given number of days at school. The teachers thought it was valuable too. I do not say that this is the answer to everything but it is a valuable and worthwhile development.

I turn now to the 16 and 19 year-olds. The good news—I was most interested to hear the statistics mentioned by my noble friend Lady Blatch—is how many more 16 year-olds are now staying on in education. I was given the figure of 53 per cent. but it is clearly higher than that for the 16 to 17 year-olds. It is encouraging to note that one-third more students are staying on in further and higher education than was the case in 1979. In that regard, I greatly welcome the development of independent colleges of further education which will, I believe, lead to significant increases in participation rates. But, again, I think that there will be very much debate about what should be done in the content of education for the 16 to 19 year-olds. Much of our discussion has focused on that point.

I am not at all sure that the proposals which were outlined today by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about A-levels and the expectation that 50 per cent. of the population will attain A-levels in 10 years' time on a different course, mean other than the fact that we shall have a lower standard. I say that because it is a very difficult exam at present. Only about 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of pupils take it. There is a very real danger that we shall follow the GCSE course where some of the examinations are not up to the academic standards of their forerunners—namely, O-levels—and that we shall be lowering standards and not raising them.

On the other hand, it is not good enough just to keep A-levels; one must offer something else. I welcome the combination of A-levels and AS-levels, and in particular the development of the BTEC courses. We look forward to reading the Government's White Paper on that development. However, what I believe is important is the national diploma which I understand will qualify young people to go either to universities or to polytechnics and which will be able to be taken in modules. It will be possible to bridge the academic-vocational gap. Two qualities are needed: first, rigour applied to both; and, secondly, flexibility. We must find a way to facilitate a good mixture.

I conclude by saying that without the underpinning of the teachers none of those improvements will be possible. I can understand that many of them may feel that they are being asked to work extremely hard and undertake many new developments. But, nevertheless, with all of that, many of them are doing excellent work in our schools. I am glad to say that the Government are managing to fill some of the vacancies in shortage subjects. That is most important.

I am also very pleased to note that there are now many more opportunities for students. For example, I have been involved in a scheme which is trying to get students at university to visit and work in schools for about three weeks in September to enable them to get some idea about what teaching is like.

Very often students gain the impression that schools are totally undisciplined and that pupils are not learning anything. That is untrue and unfair. One of the results of the scheme that was started last year has been to show many young people that it is, in fact, a very important task and an immensely interesting and worthwhile occupation. For all of this to succeed, we need the support of our teachers.

5.23 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, who was such a popular and successful Leader of this House. However, I am not sure how far I can go along with her presentation of the Prime Minister as being a great friend of education. When he was interviewed on the subject, he emitted a rather equivocal sound. I suppose that those who failed in education might draw consolation from him, because he said that he could not remember how many O-levels he had attained, that it was not important anyway, and that what matters in life is something totally different from education. He reminded me of Lord Nuffield. I recall him once saying to me, "Trade unions? I did not need trade unions. Look where I have got. Where were the trade unions?" Of course, they were not at that time in the Morris works.

That is one way of looking at the matter. I am afraid that the Prime Minister poured scorn on educational qualifications. I do not think that that was a service to education in any conceivable way. However, I wish him well. He has heavy responsibilities. Like others, I pray for him in Church with no difficulty. Let us hope that his attitude to education improves markedly now that he is in touch with his new responsibilities.

I have listened to a string of speeches beginning with the oration of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who would certainly be selected for any debating team against the House of Commons or on Mars, if such a situation arose. Naturally, among all the excellent speeches, I preferred those made from this side of the House. My noble friend Lady Blackstone was as distinguished as ever, as were my noble friend Lord Callaghan and my noble friend Lady Phillips. However, all the speeches were good and I have no complaint about them, except in one respect and this is rather hypercritical.

The Motion on the Order Paper calls attention, to the case for significant change in the priorities, structure and content of education". But what is that change? I should like to see more emphasis on religious education. But I shall not dwell on that matter, although we have a right reverend Prelate. in the Chamber. I may provoke him into speaking I say that because, on a previous occasion, I mentioned the absence of any speaker from those Benches; but this time there is no speaker on the list from the Episcopal Bench. However, unless we hear from him, I shall leave those matters aside.

The House will be surprised to hear that I now propose to say a word or two about polytechnics—"Surprise, surprise", as some people used to say. In the past I have been singularly pure in my approach to the question. There was no advantage offered to me and none to be gained by me. However, I am now bound to declare an interest since I have recently had the supreme honour of being offered an honorary fellowship for the Polytechnic of Central London. I hasten to add that the same honour has been bestowed upon the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, whose record in the world of polytechnics is a good deal more distinguished than mine. Although I have declared an interest, I shall in fact be saying the same as I said before when I was not influenced by such considerations.

It seems that there will now be a new emphasis on vocational training. Without going into the matter in great detail, one is bound to think that polytechnics are obviously very important whether we are considering schools or higher education. Indeed, one can hardly distinguish the two of them. I should point out that the bulk of vocational and professional higher education, with the exception of medicine, is delivered by polytechnics at present. That is a fact. Therefore, if we are to lay more emphasis on vocational training, we hope that more encouragement will be given—as it should be given—to the polytechnics.

There is no time to dwell on many of the points which should be made. However, I should like to mention one matter about which I was not fully aware until I was given some assistance in the preparation of my speech. It seems that 60 per cent. of students entering polytechnics in central London are aged over 21. They have qualifications other than traditional A-levels. I think that that is a relevant consideration which should be borne in mind when we try to work out the connection between so-called academic and vocational qualifications.

Having taught in an ancient university, I suppose that I started with a kind of mistaken underestimation of the importance of vocational training. If anyone had said to me at Oxford when I was teaching that a particular tutor was a vocational tutor—that is, a tutor who was especially good at preparing students for their future life—that would have been regarded as a slander of a very unpleasant kind.

The Greats were supposed to be remote. I refer not only to he modern Greats. The Greats were supposed to be far removed from considerations of worldly advancement, a career and so on. Therefore, if we are to move into the new world which we are all now discussing, we must harmonise the old academic considerations with these vocational considerations. However, I venture to think that polytechnics do that very successfully, although they are not perfect.

One fact that I should stress, and one with which we are all familiar, is that the polytechnics are badly treated at present. Their funding amounts to 60 per cent. of university funding in relation to the number of students. That is inexcusable. There are other aspects of the matter which should be gone into. If they were called universities, they would be given the status that they deserve.

The crucial point is the one that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, began to touch upon; the fact that there is a need for a common funding council. That seems to be coming along. There is a spirit of optimism in the world of the polytechnics and a feeling that things are going their way. I hope that they are not mistaken. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, who is well informed, implied that they would have a better deal in the future. Whatever happens in the future, one thing is certain: the binary line must go. It is the nigger in the woodpile. So long as the binary line remains, polytechnic students will be regarded as second class compared to university students. The binary line must go. If I have to keep on saying that, I shall do so.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walton, mentioned the advent of a new Secretary for Education in the United States. As it happened, I was in the United States on the day upon which his appointment was announced. As one might expect, and as would no doubt happen here if a similar change were made, he appeared frequently on television and radio programmes as did other figures from the world of education. It struck me forcibly, there in the heart of south western United States, how similar were the discussions that were taking place on television and in the press to the discussions I knew that I should be returning to here and which we have heard in the House and elsewhere over the past few years.

On the one side there is a new Secretary, believed to have the backing, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, said, of his President, urging the country to equip itself with a better educated population, deploring the declining standards, insisting on national targets, and using competitiveness on the world scene as a major argument. On the other side we have the professional educators, headmistresses, and representatives of teachers' unions going on about how important it is for children to be happy, the importance of creation in the classroom, the undesirability of imposing standards, and all that we have come to associate over the past few decades in both countries with so-called progressive education. The division was the same.

The nation, through its elected representatives, was making demands upon education. The educationists through their representative figures were denying the necessity for complying with those demands. So one confronts the propositions which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has brought before us with the question: how did the decline, which is generally admitted in the United States, come about? Indeed, the statistics are not all that different given the differences of country to the statistics quoted from Sir Claus Moser; in fact, in the United States, because of the extremely disadvantaged position of the black population, the urban statistics are worse. My noble friend Lady Young was right. It is largely a matter of philosophy.

Over the past half century perhaps, the doctrines originally promulgated in the Columbia Teachers College about child-centred education, which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, finds to be all right, have generally triumphed, and so one is told that it is wrong to teach children reading by the normal method, which is the alphabet, in all countries other than Anglo-Saxon England and America; it is wrong that they should learn their tables; it is wrong that at a later stage they should learn spelling and grammar, because they impede the flow of creativity which Rousseau perhaps discovered in his ideal child. It is based upon lack of observation, because those conclusions were not reached in the classroom. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, could have torpedoed any one of them. They were reached by theorists reading psychology, educational theory and works of philosophy and then made applicable. Who applied them? Both in the United States and in this country —professors of education.

There is no need for professors of education. If the Government want to save money to spend on education they might begin by abolishing such posts. Education is a practical skill, applied to children by people who know a subject and have it as their business to make children aware of the content of that subject. There is no more reason to have a professor of education, which is not in itself an academic subject —it has no recognised content, no recognised methodology and no recognised philosophy—than to call those very necessary people, driving instructors, professors of locomotion. We could also then get rid of institutes of education through which the training of teachers is now organised, or, perhaps one had better say, disorganised. There again, there would be a great saving.

The London University Institute of Education, with which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was at one time connected, recently gave a platform to a Mr. Smith from Canada who believes that children can be taught to read by being placed in contact with books. Somehow a process of osmosis will make it unnecessary for them to learn the alphabet. That is rather like the way it was at one time thought desirable that girl babies should be placed close to where they might catch one particular form of childish disease which it was hoped would prevent more serious ones in later life: the idea that one acquires things by close physical contact. If the Institute of Education of London University, which, after all, is quite a good university, can take that charitable view of Mr. Smith, what is one to expect of other institutes of education? Let them go!

The question I would then ask is: what are the prospects for our Secretary of State for Education and Science, or his American counterpart? His American counterpart starts with one disadvantage from our point of view: he controls only a tiny part of the education budget of the country as a whole. I believe that it is something like 6 per cent. He has the advantage, on the other hand, that he can choose his immediate collaborators; and the original choices of the new Secretary for Education in America seem, from all I could gather, wholly admirable. Then there is the question of whether it is an advantage or disadvantage, that because the country is so large and so varied, it is possible for educational experiment to be made within a given area—the noble Lord, Lord Walton, referred to Tennessee—whereas here, because of our centralised system of education which has in a way been forced upon us by the failure of LEAs, we have to move the whole convoy at the same pace.

On the whole, I feel that the American Secretary of State starts with some advantages. What are the disadvantages which our successive Secretaries of State—and we have been watching them come and go —suffer? The principal one is that they are surrounded by an educational establishment which is so deeply impregnated with the ideas which I have sought to show are to the disadvantage of schooling that it is hard for them to find the appropriate instruments with which to carry out reforms like the national curriculum and regular testing which are desirable in themselves.

Teacher training or the education of teachers, if that is preferable, is now controlled by a body called CATE. Nobody will ever say, "Kiss me CATE" to it because it embodies all the fallacies which must be outgrown if teaching in this country is to prosper.

I do not know how we go about organising a system when there is such a poor set of instruments. We can imagine that it is like the commander of an army, perhaps in the middle ages, with mercenaries and feudal levies. He never knows whether one of his regiments is secretly thinking of going over to the enemy. When one looks at the mess that has been made of the testing of seven year-olds, one sometimes wonders whether it was not deliberate rather than accidental.

Similarly, there is no serious study of the proper distribution of the education budget or we should not have the appalling situation to which the noble Baroness, Lady Park, called our attention. Starving postgraduates may mean that higher education, far from expanding in this country, will have to contract because it will not have appropriate people of the right standard to fill the teaching posts in the next generation.

Given all these disadvantages, the Government are perfectly entitled to claim credit for some considerable achievements and some desirable initiatives. However, until the problem of personnel is solved and there is a generation of teachers, education will not expand. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said, "We don't want change", but if change means to go back to what was sensibly done previously then change is what we must have.

I agreed with practically all of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. He will find that the task facing future Secretaries of State may become easier than at present. However, it will be an uphill task to demolish the idea that children cannot be taught, cannot be disciplined, cannot be made to realise the importance of endeavour. These heresies should be chased out and the teachers who still believe in them should find other occupations.

5.44 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I wish to restrict what I say to local authority education, its schools and its structures. This is the area I know about at first-hand, and it is the area which is most under the critical spotlight at the moment. Higher education is well represented in your Lordships' House; indeed, I remember during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988 lamenting the imbalance, with so few speakers available to argue from experience of the maintained system.

It was the word "change" that caught my eye on this Motion and impelled me to take part in an education debate for the first time since those heady days of 1988. Before considering the case for change, I think we ought to look for a moment at its implications for schools in the 1990s.

As any good management consultant or doctor will testify, no organism, however resilient, can take more than just so much change. When I left the classroom in 1977, I found it hard to see how anything more could be crammed into an already overfull working day. Since then, under the present Government, there has been a succession of major reforms: the 1980 Act dealing with admissions, information and related matters; the 1981 Act changing the whole scene of special needs; the 1988 Education Reform Act, bringing in a multitude of changes on many fronts which will rumble on for years, with which your Lordships are of course familiar; and the examination change to the GCSE, often involving nothing less than a complete change in teaching style.

Teachers are reeling. That they are still on their feet —most of them—owes much to their stamina and determination, and perhaps a little to the efforts of LEAs in the past to save them from a lot of the deluge of paperwork from the centre. But we cannot go on like this. Apart from anything else it is not wise, if one wants L plant to develop well, to keep pulling up its roots every few days. There is a long lead time before one begins to see the benefits of educational change.

The stress on teachers is very great. Retirements from ill health have gone up by a factor of 24 over the past 10 years, with a large jump at the time of the Education Reform Act. Recent research from the Maudsley Hospital and the University of Manchester has found that teachers have the worst mental health and the least job satisfaction of any profession. I quote the words of a researcher: Their body chemistry showed that they began the school year still showing the effects of chronic stress from the previous year". One recommendation of that study was that the Government should, stop changing things for a while and involve teachers when changes are made". Teaching was never an easy job. Imagine, if you have net done it, chairing seven successive meetings throughout the day, some of them tricky, most of them on a different technical subject-matter. There is the detailed preparation to be done. There is the follow-up work as well. There is no secretarial help. What is sometimes forgotten is that teachers also run the schools. Meetings have proliferated during the 1980s. A survey early in 1990 found that on average a bare 45 per cent. of a teacher's working time is now spent in the classroom.

What adds further to present-day stress is the working environment. There has not been the money to provide sound, functional, permanent buildings to teach in or proper books and equipment to help the learning process, despite what the Minister may say. The inspectorate in its yearly reports has repeatedly pointed this out, and I can confirm from my own experience the lowering effect of poor conditions. Salaries are not sufficient to attract and retain the people we need in the classroom. But it is not just about money.

We are at present in one of those phases—they seem to go in cycles—when it is the accepted thing to talk down our educational achievements and to lay the blame for our national ills on the teaching profession. Can noble Lords imagine the effect of this criticism on a section of society which is already staggering under the burdens I have mentioned? One would never believe, to hear some of the talk, that examination standards at 16 have been steadily rising and that the pass rate at A-level continues to increase. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Annan make that point. One would never believe, listening to professors of history savaging professors of education, that the "real books" issue involves a mere 5 per cent. of primary schools, just as the much criticised mixed ability teaching in the 1970s made virtually no impact on classroom practice. On 23rd April I read in the paper of the particularly good work in the teaching of writing, speaking and listening". The quality of English teaching overall was "encouraging", said the inspectorate. Pupils are making marked improvements in maths". That is another quotation. Why do we not give credit for this? Why do we always highlight the criticisms? There are valid criticisms to be sure, because I am not arguing that all in the garden is lovely. But it is the down side, I believe, of the rising expectations of society which in themselves are good. I vividly remember in one of our debates on the Education Reform Act a prominent Member on the Government Benches—he is not in his place today—producing the statistic that 80 per cent. of lessons in a certain subject had been shown to be satisfactory or better. I thought that was rather good, and wondered how many other professions could claim as much. He thought it was awful, which was why he had quoted it!

There never was a golden age when children did their sums properly and everyone could spell and recite by heart. It is one of those myths of advancing years, when spectacles turn rose-coloured and nostalgia plays tricks with memory. It is amusing to read reports from the 1960s, 1930s, even 1900 (as I have done) and see industrialists complaining that the schools are not doing their job, and that they have to teach everything again from scratch. It is an old cry, and it will be with us in the year 2020 whatever we do. But of course that is no reason to be complacent.

So where does that leave us on the question of change? From what I have said, it will be clear that I believe stability to be the single most important ingredient of the classroom scene in the early 1990s. It will be very tempting to propose yet more reforms, but I believe it will be counter-productive because the system and the people in it cannot sensibly cope with more. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, made that point. Outside the statutory school years of five to 16 I think there are things which should be done, but I shall not attempt to deal with them here. Others of your Lordships have already done so.

I realise I am talking as though change were not a constant feature of the classroom scene: teachers are experts in change. They see it, they initiate it all the time and they promote it. But when significant changes do come, let them be targeted where there is sound evidence of benefit. It is quite true that some changes have come in over the last 20 years that were mostly fashion and theory—not necessarily the ones that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to—often in reaction to the opposite excesses of the previous generation. But a belief in the improving effect of market forces is pure theory too. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, made that point.

Above all, as I have said, any change, to be effective, must carry teachers with it. A study carried out in the United States on successful secondary schools, which reported in February 1989, made it very clear that if reform was to be successful, teachers must be committed to change rather than having it forced upon them. With this went the need for good working conditions, good leadership, autonomy and a sense of being professionally valued—I particularly agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on that—as well as high involvement with the local community and parents. The newspaper headline proclaimed "Carrots work, sticks do not". I suggest we have been seeing too much of the stick in recent years. Perhaps that is why—again the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, pointed this out—there are more qualified teachers outside the profession than in it.

I should like to end with a word about local education authorities. I had 10 years as an LEA officer, and not surprisingly my view of their role differs a bit from popular perception. I am alarmed at all the talk about abolition while so little thought and discussion is taking place about the issues involved. Consider some of the things an LEA does at present. It ensures proper special needs provision, with all the assessment, consultation, appeals, and nowadays often litigation which go with it. It sets a framework for school admissions, also with its appeal procedures. It oversees and facilitates pupil transfers at whatever ages they may happen. It provides school transport. It pays teachers. It deals with the whole area of truancy, and exclusion from school. It manages the overall capital programme between competing schools. It provides a clearing house for teachers at a time of fluctuating school rolls. It helps train governors. That is an enormous task nowadays. Economies of scale allow it to provide value for money over a number of services, as the Audit Commission has pointed out: in particular, empty places in an unmanaged system of local schools can waste large sums of money. Above all it has a statutory role in planning school provision, and in monitoring and evaluation, with a wealth of accumulated expertise to which schools can and do turn over a range of educational matters. Now it does not have to do all these things. But it is quite certain that Whitehall could not do many of them. If LEAs did not exist, something very like them would have to be invented so far as the strategic local issues were concerned.

What I have been saying will appear unadventurous, but it reflects the needs of the situation after a decade of upheaval. In schools at least, we desperately need stability. There is plenty of good from the 1980s to build on. But a change I should like to see would take place at the heart of government—a change towards a deeper appreciation of the work that teachers do, towards a real understanding of the concept of a system of local schools (as I remember trying to argue three years ago), and towards a real commitment to the maintained sector, both morally and in terms of resources.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Holderness

My Lords, I hope my noble friend will allow me to add my own congratulations to her on her maiden speech. We all recognised the speech to be one of great substance, delivered with much charm and with a quality inseparable from all the most admirable speeches I have ever listened to in my life —the quality of brevity. We look forward very much to hearing her speak again. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will not think that I am taking advantage of his wisdom in choosing and his good fortune in securing this subject for debate, if I speak about one aspect of it that is not directly the responsibility of my noble friend who is to reply to the debate, but one that has been close to my heart for a long time.

I must declare an interest as regards my close connection with a foundation which includes within its units Queen Elizabeth's Training College for the Disabled. That is one of the four residential colleges that performs that task. Until last year, I would have had no basis at all for complaint or concern about the circumstances in which that college provided its training. I should certainly like to have seen more training provision, but its content was admirable. My present anxiety relates solely to its future method of financing. Queen Elizabeth's Training College and other similar colleges used to be funded by the Training Agency: more accurately they were funded by a subsidiary of that agency known as the Residential Training Centre Unit.

Each year's contract covered all running costs and in exchange the college agreed to train a certain number of students. If it fell short of that number it paid a penalty, but it did not obtain a bonus if its figure was substantially exceeded. It was a kind of "Heads I win; tails you lose" arrangement. That will not be entirely unfamiliar to those of us who have dealt with similar situations. I had no grumble because generally the numbers were on the right side. That was not the whole extent of the Training Agency's involvement, because all the major capital additions that were necessary for the training were partly financed by government, although sometimes a considerable amount was required from voluntary giving.

However, last year we heard there would be no more money for capital investment and that the usual annua contracts would continue until the end of this financial year, but that negotiation thereafter would no longer lie with the Training Agency but with the one or more of the 82 training and enterprise councils.

In my opinion, the concept of the TECs is imaginative and deserves support. But for men and women who suffer disablement and need further training after illness or accident, the prospects are less bright. The obvious immediate difficulty is that the four residential centres must now deal with 82 different bodies, all run by businessmen who are unlikely to be wholly enthusiastic about paying substantial sums for residential training when they consider that they can buy a comparable service down the road.

Therefore, the Government's immediate and commendable response was a readiness to test those anxieties by setting up a small pilot scheme, which covered the four residential colleges which I have mentioned, and 11 training colleges for the blind and the deaf. Six of the TECs were asked to accept extra funding specifically to help them train disabled people, although not necessarily at any of those 15 colleges. In the case of Queen Elizabeth's Training College, if it does not train 12 students in the year from one or more of the six TECs it faces a financial penalty.

The scheme started last October. The results of the first six months are not very encouraging. We have admitted two students, two more have been accepted and a Further two may come later. However, those meagre figures increase my doubts as to whether, as presently constituted, any of the training and enterprise councils can be expected to pay well into five figures for the residential training of one student, when they can find what they consider an adequate alternative at about £60 a week.

Yet it seems unlikely that successive governments would have treated residential centres in the past with such sensible and reasonable generosity without being convinced of the intrinsic merit of such training. Many people who, like myself, have seen over the years what they can achieve can point with certainty to a considerable number of individuals whose success in training and in subsequent employment owes much to the environment and atmosphere in which they were able to pursue their studies; in many cases after the trauma of injury. It is hard to see how they could have made such significant progress without the constant encouragement of trained teachers and without being away from the familiar framework of home.

I fear greatly that vocational training for disabled men and women, if left to the new councils, will lack the quality provided by the residential centres and fewer will be trained. That will obviously be to the disadvantage of the disabled themselves. Less obviously, but I believe equally certainly, it will handicap the industrial and commercial capacity of this country, which all agree needs improvement.

It is my conviction that with suitable training, and if necessary with the technological aids now readily available, a very large proportion of disabled men and women can work on terms of absolute equality with the able-bodied. In many cases, disabled people may have the edge because a pair of paralysed legs in no way affects one's mental ability or manual agility, while the restricted mobility that it brings, for obvious reasons, frequently adds to the concentration which a man or woman can devote to work.

Therefore, my conclusion is that any threat to the training of disabled people, especially in the residential centres, would not only be a social blunder but also a potential industrial handicap. I suggest that it would be wise for the Government not to burden the TECs with that specialised task, which I suspect they are ill fitted to discharge. However, I hope that my noble friend will bring to the attention of his right honourable and honourable friends the possibility of returning that task to the Training Agency, which from long experience sees it not only in social terms but as a means of producing a significant increase in the country's economic capacity.

6.4 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, the debate today is particularly opportune and we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing it. As a number of noble Lords have said, education is now a very high priority in the political field.

It is interesting to note that there is growing unanimity about, first, the need to reform the education and training system for 16 to 19 year-olds, and, secondly, the need to bridge the gap between academic and vocational education and training. That unanimity includes educationists, leaders in the field of training, independent commentators and the political parties. The route we choose to follow to arrive at that objective may not provide such unanimity. Nevertheless, I hope that at the end of the day, after a full debate of all the issues involved, we shall be able to arrive at a system which is broadly acceptable, which suits the needs of young people and which can remain in place for a number of years to come.

We are told that the Government will be producing their White Paper in a few week's time. I understand that it will cover largely that age group. Meantime, the Secretary of State has announced his intention of removing further education, tertiary and sixth form colleges from local government control and giving them independent status. They are to be funded by a new funding council. While that is a very significant structural change one is bound to ask whether it is the right change, the right priority and whether it has been sufficiently thought through.

The model for the new structure is that of the polytechnics and their funding council. However, unlike the polytechnics which, following the pattern of the universities, have recruited their full-time students nationally the colleges are purely local. Moreover, there are more than 600 colleges, including 120 sixth form colleges, whereas there are only some 30 polytechnics and colleges with independent status under the PCFC. Is that the right analogy on which to base a new structure for further education colleges? I have some reservations.

A number of questions have to be asked. First, how can an independent sector with over 600 free-standing colleges provide a guaranteed level of standards? Who will assess their quality? Who will co-ordinate provision of services to meet local needs?

The Secretary of State, as is his wont, appears to place his faith in competition. At his press conference, following his statement to Parliament on 21st March, he is reported as having said that colleges would be funded partly according to the number of students enrolled: as a powerful incentive to recruit additional students and reduce unit costs". Student numbers already feature in funding, but if the purpose of the new structure is to reduce unit costs then it will not successfully meet the objective of bridging the gap between academic and vocational courses. A quality system cannot be had on the cheap, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, indicated: it needs the priority of adequate funding.

In any case, it is interesting to note that an analysis of education costs and performances by Hywel Thomas, a reader in the economics of education at Birmingham University, showed that sixth form colleges are the most cost-effective. Tertiary colleges come second, although they have the greatest success in examination effectiveness. Sixth forms in schools, in terms both of cost effectiveness and of examination performance, come at the end of the scale. It is rather ironical to note that local education authorities, which have successfully pioneered alternatives to school sixth forms, now look as if they will be left solely with the sixth forms in schools. We might also ask what co-ordination there will be between the sixth form colleges and the sixth forms in schools and what relationship the independent colleges will have to the local TECs which also have some responsibility for vocational training. What relationship will they have with the local careers service?

I want to expand a little on the careers service because that is another area where the Government propose changes and have issued a consultative document. As your Lordships' European Communities Select Committee recommended in a recent report, the careers service needs to be given higher priority and extended responsibilities to cover adults as well as young teenagers. Increasingly, the careers service is concerned with career patterns and not just with jobs for school-leavers. It must be fully involved with the development of the local education system as well as with the needs of local industry, commerce and the professions. In the future it will increasingly have to guide young people through career opportunities and related education and training needs, including a first and subsequent qualification based on a combination of full and part-time education and training and possibly modular courses and credit transfers—a complicated system which is now rightly emerging.

This is not the one child, one single interview situation which is all that is currently available in some of our schools. It needs much more than that, both in school provision and in following children through into adulthood and later meeting their needs for continuing education and training as part of their career development as mature people.

There is nothing in the consultative paper on the careers service about the quality of the service, nor about expanding the service to meet the changing content and responsibilities of careers officers. The paper is concerned solely with its structure. It offers three options: first, that the service should become the full responsibility of TECs; secondly, that the LEAs and business together should be responsible for the service through education/business partnerships; and, thirdly, that the service should be contracted out through competitive tender. The paper does not offer what I would regard as the appropriate option; namely, extending the present system and giving it expanded resources to meet its expanded remit within the control of the local authority. So, once again, we are here faced with structural changes rather than concentration on the real needs of young people.

My priorities would be quite different from the Government's proposals. They would be concerned with increasing the participation rate of young people. There is a particular need in the northern region and in my region of Yorkshire and Humberside where the staying-on rate of 16 year-olds is lower than average. To achieve a staying-on rate on the scale required, we would need a number of changes. As the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, explained at some length, changes would be required with regard to curriculum development. In her opening remarks, the Minister put rather a gloss on the staying-on rate when she quoted a figure of almost 80 per cent. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young; I thought that the rate was 53 per cent., but, when one adds the 20 per cent. or so of young people who are in YTS, one approaches the figure of 80 per cent. However, YTS does not provide the kind of service that we need.

In order to attract young people to stay on, we need better careers advice and more attractive curricula to keep them within the system. We also possibly need an extension of the training credits scheme, an improved and expanded careers service and again, as your Lordships' Select Committee recommended, a legislative framework which would make it impossible for employers to take on young people into work without providing adequate training leading to a recognised vocational qualification.

Those are the issues on which we need to concentrate rather than, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, said, structural changes for their own sake. If we are to meet the needs of young people and not fail them once again, we need to tackle urgently the priorities that I have outlined.

6.17 p m.

Lord Quinton

My Lords, my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing this subject was somewhat diluted—I expect that this must have been an experience of many of your Lordships—on finding myself so low down on the list of those wishing to speak; not, I hasten to assure your Lordships, from any unwillingness to discharge my duty, but because I feared that everything I had to say would have been said before I rose to my feet. However, I had underestimated the imperial expansion of the view of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. The terms of reference that Inc has drawn for our debate are so wide that a vast variety of points have managed to be accommodated. My small contribution has been almost untouched, except by my noble friend Lord Beloff. I want to approach the matter in a somewhat indirect way.

I expect that most of us today have used or will use the expression "the English educational system". That is a euphemism. The arrangements for education in England are as E. M. Forster described the novel; in other words, a loose baggy monster. The cause of that is sectarian strife in the late 19th century. I do not raise that point out of any desire to belabour dissent, although it is a desire that I have, but because it is relevant to something that is going on at present to which I shall come shortly.

A reasonable way of approaching the matter would be through a kind of mental diagram. It is in the nature of a compass in the centre of which is the child or pupil. At the north end are the parents; to the west is the general environment (we might even call it the Zeitgeist in a European spirit); to the east are other children; and to the south are the teachers. I do not pretend that those are all the points on the compass, but they are the ones that I want to mention today for my purposes.

I mention them because one tends to fall between two stools when discussing this subject. On the one hand there is the advice of that great man, Matthew Arnold—a man much admired by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and by me—that one should not be too much obsessed with machinery. An enormous amount of machinery inevitably encumbers the educational scene and is susceptible of endless discussion. At the other extreme there is much to complain about but, then, there always has been. Many noble Lords recognised that our system—perhaps for consistency I ought to call it our set of arrangements—is inferior to the systems in France and Germany. But then, it always has been—certainly since the middle of the 19th century—because of the chaotic circumstances which attended the introduction of effective compulsory national education.

I return to my compass and start in the west; namely, the environment, or the circumstances in which children go to school nowadays. One has to admit that many things about the modern school that upset the elderly are attributable to that environment. The feat ures that bring about what we do not like—the lack of insistence on effort, the failure to enforce attention and the whole business of pupils sitting about in circles and moving around the classroom rather than in an orderly way looking toward the instructor—can be attributed to some extent to television and the Walkman, to take just two technological innovations.

I have no suggestions to bring before your Lordships today about how to stop television and the Walkman. However, they do have a bizarre effect. Television is watched as people wander about. That is not like the old-fashioned theatre or even the cinema of one's own childhood experience, which required attention from a fairly fixed point—though perhaps I am romanticising a little since children's programmes in the 1930s were a scene of somewhat mobile character.

However, in general there has been a rather McLuhan-like change in the habits of attention of young people which has been brought about by the television experience and the racket in their ears. I mention that point only to dismiss it. I acknowledge that not all that one complains of in the looser texture and less targeted style of present-day school education can be attributed to some defect on the part of governments, teachers, parents, even local authorities, or whoever.

Let us now turn to the parents. They make two contributions, one of which is genetic. Again, I have no suggestions of genetic engineering whereby the attention span and effortfulness of our young people can be improved. I shall leave that for further research. But the issue of direct personal parental influence and example set by parents is surely very important. Have they not deteriorated in our own age?

Here perhaps I may take issue slightly not with the substance but with an auxiliary element of what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. Of course there is terrific stress in schools. One of the reasons might well be lack of parental support compared with that in the past or perhaps not quite so grand—parental indifference. Nowadays teachers have to put up with infuriated parents coming into school and berating them for not having given a child a sufficiently good mark or, if the child is in any way punished or penalised, offering verbal abuse and, in extreme cases, assault.

I have heard it suggested that nowadays one of the skills that a young teacher needs to acquire is self-defence, partly against the parents and partly against knife- or bat-wielding pupils. In other words, the general atmosphere of school life now is not nearly so subdued, docile and amiable as it used to be. I should think that a big factor —certainly it would have been when I was a teacher—in the stress that teachers undergo is that the environment is not as agreeable perhaps as it used to be in relations with parents.

That takes me round to the eastern fringe of my diagram; namely, the children. I suppose that a kind of Gresham's Law operates that, as in a cowboy film so in a school, the worst elements tend to dominate the community and they need to be dealt with. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, mentioned the phenomenon of truancy and he—or it may have been some other noble Lord gave some figures of a terrifying character. Presumably, truancy is either endorsed or permitted by parents. Certainly some steps need to be taken to ensure that there is much less truancy by penalising parents whose children are persistently truant.

In the case of children who are violent or disruptive, other measures could be taken. I have in mind special schools, possibly of a residential nature, to which disruptive children could be sent for what I might describe in the language of American trade union negotiators as a cooling-off period. That would enable the reasonably biddable majority in the school from which they have been removed to get on with the primary task.

Now let me go round to the south and the teacher. I shall say less about the teachers themselves than about the institutions in which they are taught. I agree on the whole, but perhaps not in quite such boldly categorical terms as my noble friend Lord Beloff, that it might be better if teacher training colleges were completely abandoned. If teacher-training is to take place, perhaps it should take place on a new basis. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction by the products as to what happens to them in those colleges. They put their finger on their dissatisfactions.

First, I suspect that this is not the major issue but it catches a good deal of attention because it is so colourful —there is ideological indoctrination. This is where we return to sectarian dissent. In some colleges of education there are tutors—usually called Chris or Mick—who offer as academic courses of instruction, broadly speaking, training for terrorists, anti-imperialist indoctrination, pointing out that the United States of America is the devil incarnate, as in the language of the Iranians.

If they have come to such conclusions, it is absolutely right that they should hold those opinions. Over coffee in the Common Room, or even at a meeting of the revolutionary society at the college of education, they could express those opinions. But I do not want them to give people marks for examinations on those opinions and for exhibiting the correct reactions to them. I have seen some syllabuses which are of a quite hair-raising character.

However, that is not the main objection. As my noble friend Lord Beloff said, mainly it is the very large part that educational theory takes in the curriculum of the teacher training college. That is of no use whatever to the beginner. I am not quite so sceptical as my noble friend about the long-term interest. Although a driving instructor does not need courses on the history of the motor car, the psychology of overtaking and such things, as he becomes expert in his task, he will want to reflect on the skill that he exercises.

The refresher courses about which one noble Lord spoke seemed to me to be an excellent idea for schoolteachers. That is exactly the kind of material that would be appropriate there, along with more substantive matter. But, in fact, the great need in teacher training is for substantive training for teaching in a subject which they will pass on to their pupils and training in how to do it—practical experience, including, as I said, self-defence.

As I think I said at the beginning of my remarks, and it is always in the back of my mind in discussions about these matters, the child in the centre of my compass is a fairly malleable object. But malleability goes with another perhaps more positive quality; namely, resilience. Few can forget the passage in the late Sir Osbert Sitwell's Who's Who? entry: "Educated during the holidays from Eton".

On the whole, education continues in many ways out of school. I doubt whether there are many noble Lords who cannot produce wonderful horror stories about inept, badly qualified or variously absurd teachers to whom they have been subjected in their youth.

I do not believe that we ought to view the current situation as a final collapse of civilisation. I urge the Government to continue the actions that they are already undertaking and to clear away various obstacles. For example, by the way in which they operate, most colleges of education prevent the programme put forward in the Education Reform Act from coming to fruition.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, I wish to take a quite different tack. I shall argue that consideration be given to the establishment in this country—20 years behind Scotland—of a general teaching council. I believe that that could have a very profound and useful effect. It would be a useful change in the structure of education in this country. Before doing so, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, on her wonderful maiden speech. I too hope to her her many times again. I should not like my hero, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, not to realise how grateful I am to him for initiating the debate and for making sure that we all have the opportunity to state views and to be shaken up on this important central theme.

Like, I am sure, all noble Lords, I view education as very much concerned with investment in the future. I am convinced that we are moving towards a new century which will require professional people. I am aware that the participation rate in higher education in rival communities such as Japan, America and Germany is much higher than ours. I believe that those countries will drive forward the idea of professionalism in our community. Because of that, I believe that we ought to give some consideration to the official encouragement of professionalism among our teachers.

When I knew of the debate, I began to think along these lines. I realised how fortunate I was to be one of those people—like the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant—very much helped by those who encouraged me at school. I had also been in a profession where in 1858, through the General Medical Council, we had been given some general concepts and rules about what was expected of the medical profession. We were expected to have standards and to improve

the quality of our training. We had to become registered. As a profession we had to learn to discipline ourselves.

In 1956, the General Dental Council separated from the General Medical Council. It has the same general approach and ethos as our profession. It is important to note that in 1984 the General Nursing Council brought together nurses, midwives, health visitors, and the community district nurses and those who work in the hospitals and allied professions.

Noble Lords know that professions are in the warp and weft of the community in our civilisation. We do not expect to hear that the professionals will go on strike. In the early 1970s there were moves for the establishment of pay review bodies to consider the pay of the Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament and the top people—I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is not present to remind us of that time because she served on such a body—and the armed forces, the doctors, the dentists, and, more recently, the nurses. I believe that the teachers in this couintry need some help in their present state of doubt and poor morale.

My sister-in-law was in her day a very busy teacher in the city of Bristol. For many years she said, "You are rather immune from my appeals to you to realise that you have a more solid base for your professional activities than we teachers have ever had. If you ever have the opportunity, do make a plea for consideration of the establishment of a general teaching council". Since the noble Lord's debate was announced I began to talk to people on that subject. I was astonished that everyone said, "That seems a good idea". But it has been only in the past day or so that I have spoken to the professionals, to those who operate in schools of education. What do I find? I find that such an idea has been discussed in the education world for some time. There have been no big press headlines. None of the recently graduated students from the certificate of education courses in Cambridge seem to know about the idea.

Through our new professor of education, Professor Hargreaves, I was put on to Professor John Tomlinson at the University of Warwick. He has given me information which I shall try to summarise. In the past there have been attempts to get people around a table with a view to finding agreement among all the associations concerned with teaching because it is clear that Government will not establish a general teaching council if the profession's associations are fragmented. Seventeen professional associations have met around the table over the past five or six years. John Tomlinson is pleased to find that this year he can mobilise 31 professional institutions to come to the table. Id e used that wonderful modern equipment, a fax machine and provided me with a list of those bodies. I had wished to show noble Lords how long the list was, but I am unable to do so. It would be a great "kg up" to the teaching profession if before long it could have the same status as those young doctors, dentists or nurses have.

My sister-in-law has made what I consider to be a good point. If all the professional people who attend universities pass through the hands of teachers, surely the teachers need to feel that they are part of the professional stream. When I was made a professor in the University of London, one of the young men in the world of social medicine (as it was called in those days) sidled up to me and said, "I wonder how you feel now that you have gone down from a professional doctor in class 1 to a teacher in social class 2". I had never considered that factor but it came as a shock to realise that all those admirable people who are concerned with taking care of our young people are classed below the professional classes of this country. I therefore hope that we can move soon in the direction that I have indicated.

Your Lordships will remember that on 17th April in another place the Secretary of State for Education and Science offered to set up a pay review body for teachers. However, a string was attached: the Government did not wish to have any strikes. It is sad that the teachers had not already achieved professional status, as had the other professions, before the review body was set up.

If my suggestion will help to get a general teaching council built into the warp and weft of our education system it will not be a bad thing for children and parents in particular to return to having the kind of respect for teachers that my parents had. When the doctor came my mother put things straight, and when the teacher came she made sure that the house was not looking too untidy because of my mess. I want teachers to have such an impact as they move around in society.

I wish to ask the Minister whether the time is right to establish a general teaching council in England and Wales. The Scots believe that they are miles ahead of us—20 years is about right. By establishing such a council we might catch up with them. If the time is right, what can I and people like me do to help it come into being?

6.40 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, at this point in such an excellent debate on education I feel in danger of becoming a picker-up of unconsidered trifles. At least I have been given a compass to help me in the picking up. I thoroughly agree with so much of what has been said today. I wish only that I had been able to express those arguments so well. In particular, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, in suggesting a general teaching council. I look forward to hearing the Minister's answer.

I am sad that today we shall not hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Her Richard Dimbleby Lecture of 1985 entitled, Teacher Teach Yourself was an inspiration to all of us who heard or read it.

The great debate initiated many years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, continues. It is child-centered philosophy versus traditional philosophy. I am surprised that there has been little mention of the methods of teaching reading, although the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred to that most basic aspect of all education. There is the question of A-levels versus B-Tec. So often the answer is not either/or but it is both/and. I believe that we need both child-centered philosophy and traditional methods even in respect of school sixth forms and sixth form colleges. We must use every possible method of teaching, cajoling and disciplining children to encourage their reading in order to enable them to enjoy their later lives. We should value A-levels, B-Tec and, I suggest, the international baccalaureate. Kipling said: There are nine and sixty ways of composing tribal lays and every single one of them is right". If only we could take education out of politics and politics out of education! If only as a nation we could be less critical and snide!

I agree with so much that has been said this afternoon. I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. As a former head of a girls' school, I was delighted to hear her comments about girls' and women's education. I should wish to take her suggestion further; boys too will become parents and will need education for life and social responsibility.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke about city technology colleges and I agree with what she said. CTCs are not gimmicks. They are innovating, pilot schemes that can help to raise standards throughout the system. They provide a much needed opportunity for experiment. Djanogly CTC in Nottingham has longer school terms and a five-term school year. Kingshurst CTC is developing the international baccalaureate, an alternative to A-levels, of which many noble Lords might approve. All CTCs have a longer school day. They are the opposite of places of gloom and pessimism. They are a ray of hope often situated in or near city centres.

I too wish to concentrate on teacher training. In the distant past student teachers learnt by teaching, as did I. In recent years they have been the responsibility of teacher training institutions where, according to an article by the education correspondent in yesterday's Daily Mail, student teachers should discuss issues such as: creating a reading environment…the place of books in primary school…the use of reading and writing in primary school". "Forget the theory, just teach us to teach", is the headline cry of our student teachers today. The best place to learn to teach is in the classroom. The best people to learn from are the classroom teachers who are the exponents of good teaching practice. There are still plenty of them about. The classroom teachers know the little tricks and ways to catch the pupils' enthusiasm and enable them to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. They also know how to deal with the disruptive elements. Despite the low morale within the profession, there are many dedicated, experienced teachers who as tutors or mentors, to use the current educational jargon, can help others to teach. I like to think of the learner teachers as apprentices; academic apprentices learning by doing.

The Government say that they would like to see more emphasis placed on practical experience in the classroom and less time spent by students learning theory in the college. We are beginning to see some interesting teacher training initiatives. I think in particular of the professional training programmes for teachers that are mainly school and classroom based.

The Council for National Academic Awards validates many of the best and most interesting degree courses in the country. Since September 1990 a number of institutions in England have been developing new schemes which offer graduates usually in mathematics, science, technology and the languages a two-year full time course of study leading to the postgraduate certificate of education. That is instead of the standard one-year postgraduate certificate of education course based in a teacher training institution with at most 15 weeks' practical teaching experience in schools. The articled teacher scheme calls for four-fifths of the course to be undertaken in schools with only one-fifth being undertaken in college studying the academic theory. It is good to see schools and training institutions co-operating. It is good to see the recognition of good teaching practice. But there are difficulties; too often the input from the training institutions is of poor quality and the problems of timetabling and the financial cost to the schools are far too great a burden.

I suggest that initial teacher training should actually be directed by the participating schools. There would have to be careful selection—perhaps by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of those schools capable of providing the training; those with strong management to mastermind the organisation and day-to-day planning, and with the experienced and enthusiastic master teachers to look after the apprentices. Such schools would need proper funding; a professional level of investment for a professional scheme of training.

Without proper resources, without the recognition that an effective training course costs not only money but time and effort, no scheme, however enterprising, has the faintest chance of succeeding. But with the resources the school management can plan ahead; integrate the timetable; bring-in or buy-in, perhaps from the local authority, the professional services of the teacher-training institutions to provide the theory, the backup, on a modular basis. We would then have a training scheme which is not only co-operative but is truly co-ordinated.

And as master teachers develop their skills and experience in helping their apprentices, the entire teaching profession could regain its former status and self-confidence, making true once more the American adage, which I see on cushions, car stickers and tea towels everywhere in the States, "Teachers never lose their class".

6.52 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, it may be that some of your Lordships do not wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed on a Friday morning, in joyful anticipation of being able to thumb through the latest issue of The Times Higher Education Supplement. Or it may be that for other reasons a few of you failed to take note of the report in last Friday's issue, page 6, which presented evidence in support of the claim that British science has fallen to its lowest ever level of international esteem. If indeed it has, it is an indictment of our science education from primary school to PhD, and I wish to speak about science education at both ends.

That report was produced by the Institute for Scientific Information, a non-political, disinterested, American organisation, which monitors performance in scientific research. It stated that the declining scientific influence of the United Kingdom is particularly evident in medicine and physical sciences, including physics, chemistry, and earth sciences.

The ISI study demonstrated that during the 1980s the United Kingdom, suffered the biggest fall of any major developed nation in its percentage of citations in three thousand learned scientific journals". Citation index, as your Lordships will know, is a sensitive method of measuring the influence of an article by listing all other publications which find need to refer to it. We are all aware, of course, that citation indexes can be fiddled: you quote my article and I will quote yours. And if you sedulously and relentlessly shower your competitors and colleagues with off-prints of your latest publication, you may stand a slightly better than average chance of a reference to it filtering through into their work.

But in the sciences, in particular, citation index has for quite some time been used as one of the more sensitive "performance indicators" in establishing the quality of published scientific research. And there now seems to be clear evidence of a decline in quality in the research published in many of the scientific disciplines in this country.

However, the picture is not uniformly black. The ISI figures demonstrate that United Kingdom researchers in applied sciences, including engineering, did very much better in the 1980s than any of their colleagues. Their share of citations rose by 8.2 per cent. through the decade. And the reason for that may well emerge if one's eye skips from page 6 to page 7 of last week's The Times Higher Education Supplement, where the same science correspondent describes the impact of the so-called "Dainton scheme" for widening the training of undergraduate engineers.

The M.Eng. course in mechanical engineering, manufacture and management, known familiarly as the Dainton course, exists in seven British universities, since it was set up in 1977 at the behest of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, who was then chairman of the University Grants Committee. It was meant to meet the anticipated demand for engineers capable of dealing with business problems as well as engineering problems.

It did far more than that. It gave, at long last, some status, prestige, glamour and sense of purpose to the study of engineering in higher education. Throughout the last century, it has been a particularly British myopia to regard the engineer as socially inferior to the doctor, the lawyer, the schoolmaster, or certainly the clergyman. The engineer is the kind of person who goes around with a grease gun in one hand and a piece of oily waste in the other; he is distinctly not the kind of person that a well-bred hostess includes on her dinner invitation list.

The Dainton courses have been a remarkable success in changing the image of the engineer, and they seem likely to remain well ahead of the field in terms of the students they attract and the way they work. It may well be that their research work is now feeding into the mainstream of British publications and helping to raise the quality of British work in the applied sciences.

By contrast, the ISI study shows that the United Kingdom's share of clinical medicine citations fell by 8.6 per cent. in the 1980s, and there were smaller falls in physical sciences and in agriculture, biology and the environment, while there was a "steady state" rather than an improvement in citations in the life sciences.

What are the reasons for this decline? Your Lordships may well be weary of Starred Questions in your Lordships' House on "the brain drain", when the Government are regularly asked how many of our graduates and researchers are seduced by large salaries into working in the United States and elsewhere, and reply, blandly, that there is no such thing as a brain drain, and that we are net importers of scientists. The real question, of course, is whether or not we recognise, retain, encourage, promote and fund properly the really top-class, internationally-acclaimed, creative scientists; those, precisely, whose discoveries will be necessarily cited by everyone else working in their field. Are we importing duffers and exporting Darwins? Or are we simply underfunding the work of a very wide band of our top scientists, as the Save British Science campaign repeatedly tells us?

But it is an undeniable fact that the teaching of science in schools, from nursery schools to sixth form colleges, leaves a great deal to be desired both in practical efficiency and, more importantly, in creative vision. Let me offer but one melancholy observation which does nothing to increase our confidence in the Government's determination to revive the quality of British science teaching. The cutbacks and shortfalls in the budgets upon which our schools operate have compelled many of them to cancel, or drastically to reduce, the number of visits that schoolchildren can make to local and national museums.

More than half the collections in the museums of this country are scientific collections, and they have informed and inspired generations of young people in their understanding of scientific method. They have done it for free. And museum curators are now expert in the educational use of their collections, and highly imaginative in their instructional techniques.

Let me give your Lordships just one personal example. I was introduced to physics at the age of 11 in a secondary school during the war, when a retired science master, who had been brought back for the occasion, attempted to prove to us that metals expand when heated. He showed us a large iron ball. He proved that it could pass through a ring. He then heated it extravagantly with a bunsen burner, and declared that it would now be unable to pass through the same ring. Of course it fell straight through the ring and set fire to the laboratory bench, and I lost interest in physics for 20 years.

A child's interest in science could hardly fail to be stirred by the marvellously professional exhibition in the Human Biology Gallery of the Natural History Museum; I hope all your Lordships have seen it. The child-centred, hands-on, all-action "launch pad" exhibition at the Science Museum is precisely the kind of experience which is beyond the capacity of any individual school, but which will, if anything will, inspire children who experience it to go on with the great voyage of discovery. Even better, and more basic in some ways, is the Exploratory at Bristol which not only gives first hand experience of scientific objects and methods, but teaches, in depth, the concepts and abstracts which underlie the physical impedimenta of science.

It is surely false economy when we have superb facilities of that kind to restrict the widest possible access to them by children at all stages of their education for want of a few pennies in a school budget. It is no good saying, "Let the parents pay for these out-of-school activities"; that attitude is divisive and destructive. Many parents will willingly pay, while others, for a wide variety of reasons —not excluding poverty—will refuse to do so, and those children suffer. And schools simply do not have the time or the resources to educate the parents as well as the children.

I began by quoting the ISI report, and I come back to it. There is one key discovery in it which underlines the fatuity of the "publish or perish" philosophy as currently peddled by the Universities Funding Council. The declining British influence in research in clinical medicine has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the amount of such work being published. British research papers in the subject rose by 31 per cent. during the 1980s, but more of them than ever are now receiving no citations at all. In clinical medicine, as in many another subject, researchers are churning out inferior research papers because their funding still depends upon doing so. That market place mentality is the intellectual equivalent of the marketing philosophy of Mr. Gerald Ratner in the highly successful commercial chain of jewellery shops which he has built up. Government pressures on funding force far too many of our scientists to publish research which can only be aptly described in that pithy and powerful phrase immortalised last week by Mr. Gerald Ratner himself —

7.3 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for the most original ending to a speech that I have heard for a long time. I would like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing the debate and for doing so with such serendipitous topicality. As a serving university teacher I must declare an interest in any debate involving education.

I listened to the debate with a great deal of interest, and with particular interest to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, who made a powerful and important speech. When he speaks of innovation fatigue, this House, today of all days, ought to understand what he is saying; it is suffering from the same disease. Today we are not in a great state for a major new initiative and we must therefore sympathise with other people who are in the same state.

I listened also with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Quinton. Listening to him I started to wonder, as I often do, whether the Government are unfortunate in their public service professions. Listening to them talk they seem to be beset with public service professions that have the wrong standards, are overmanned, obstructive, selfish and so forth. It may be that all those criticisms are independently true; but one wonders sometimes exactly who is out of step.

The Secretary of State, when he was Secretary of State for Health, gave a paper to the Tory Reform Group in which he set out that the Government have a general policy for public service professions. It is some of that general policy which might be re-examined here and there. As the Secretary of State set it out, one part of it was diminishing the influence of what he perhaps rather misleadingly described as "the producers". The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, illustrated some of the arguments behind that. I listened with some sympathy to much of what he said; and with much sympathy to some of it. But I would like to say to him that it is not quite that simple.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke. This is a case not of either/or, or of both, but rather of both/and. If the noble Baroness will forgive me one digression, I must say that I think that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, cannot accuse her of lack of devotion to academic rigour. The most rigorous academic examination I have ever had from any audience I have addressed was from the history students in the sixth form of the school of which she was so distinguished a headmistress. I finally persuaded them on all points except one, on which I was in fact wrong.

The other item in the Government's policy as set out by the Secretary of State is what they call efficiency —reducing unit costs. That is common also to the whole public sector. As the Prime Minister put it in the Sunday Times this week; the objective is to get more health care for every pound spent. For "health care" read "education" and it is of course the same policy.

Either that involves the Government in clinical and academic judgments that they are not competent to make, or else it is a blunt instrument falling like the rain upon the just and the unjust. When we find similar complaints coming from all the public services and from a large number of their users, it is perhaps legitimate to ask whether it is not so much that the Government are singularly unfortunate in their public service professions, as possibly that the policy is mistaken; and whether perhaps the damage done already is a great deal more than even the Opposition are yet aware. If they were so aware they would not be quite so confident that they could go on and do new things before the damage already done is put right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gave us a long series of figures for increases in real terms. I am sorry to come back to the point—I know it has been discussed before—but if we cannot get through on this it is not worth talking about anything else. If the Minister looks at the universities' pay and prices index, or indeed at equivalent indices in the health service or anywhere else, he will see that costs in most public services, for reasons which are more often the fault of the Chancellor of the Exchequer than of the universities, go up faster than the retail prices index.

The increases in real terms that are quoted to us are in terms of the retail prices index. It is clear that the policy of the 1980 public expenditure White Paper of reducing public service expenditure and making increases in line with the retail prices index has been a failure I must say—and I address my academic colleagues as much as the Government—no public service has an automatic right to increases in funding above and beyond the retail prices index. However, what they do have a right to and what this House has a right to is a rational discussion of the alternatives which arise if we accept that for reasons which are not part of inefficiency, costs in many public services go on rising above the rate of inflation.

We can do three things. We can bite on the bullet and accept that the extra money must be found. We can have less quantity, fewer services. Or we can have less quality and worse services. The policy of the Liberal Democrats is the first. We are entitled to ask of both the Government and the Opposition to which of those three alternatives they are devoted.

The damage in quality which has been caused by this tying of funding to the retail prices index is such that in the universities—which is the part I know best though I do not think it is a special case—it may be about 2 5 years before we get back to the standards we were at in 1979. I shall not dwell on details. I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, said about the funding of postgraduates, which i s particularly unfortunate when we have such a gross shortage of junior staff. But if we consider people under 40 years of age, we have fewer than one historian per university in the British Isles, and we are rather better treated than some other subjects. We simply do not have the junior people to carry on into the next century.

The worst way in which the decline has hit us this year is in student support. In this country we have a three-year degree as against a four-year degree course which is on offer in most other countries. That is because our system has always depended on undergraduates being able to do academic work intensively during the vacations. I have found that this year, since the loss of the students' social security entitlement, that is almost impossible. The amount of work done by the people I teach has dropped dramatically for reasons which I believe to be mainly no fault of theirs, but of course not entirely.

When I mark the exam papers, which I should be marking now instead of being in this House, I shall have a very painful choice on which I would welcome your Lordships' advice outside the Chamber as well as in it. I can apply the same standards as I have always done—in which case I penalise some people for things which they could not help—while other people, because their parents are better off, have been able to do the requisite amount of work in the vacation. So I award degrees according to the size of the parents' pocket. I find that repugnant.

The alternative is that I lower standards to what the students can realistically be expected to do and then I devalue the degree. I find that repugnant. Which of these courses should I take? I am now going to say something that I have been refraining from saying since 1985. I have not been sure that it is true, but now I am. I believe that it is now no longer possible anywhere in the British Isles to get a degree of equivalent quality to what is on offer from Harvard and Yale. Probably sooner rather than later the school teachers teaching the children of Members of the Cabinet will tell the parents that if they want the best for their children they must send them to the United States and pay the fees. They will not be able to do it on a Cabinet salary. So much for it being cheaper in the private sector. I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State explaining that situation to a Conservative Party conference. I should find it amusing if it were not so tragic.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, it gives me enormous pleasure to add my voice to that of other noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, on her maiden speech. I am very tempted to follow her concerning women's issues, which interest me a great deal. I agree so much with what she had to say. I particularly agree with the view that we have made progress in that area. Things are better than they were. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree with me, however, that there is still an enormous way to go. I was reflecting on two matters of exactly that kind while she was speaking.

It is surely still the case that, within the marital partnership, if the children are ill or someone has to be at home to see the plumber, it is the female rather than the male who is much more likely to have to go home from work to organise things. My noble friend Lord Callaghan referred to today's debate compared with yesterday's. I am pretty sure I am right in saying that there has not been a law Lady—or is it a female law Lord? That is a very good example of the difference in our society. Despite the fact that the world is full of brilliant female lawyers, some of whom I have met, the system still does not enable them to rise to the top. Therefore, I am totally with the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, in what she said. I hope that before she or I leave your Lordships' House in, I trust, the distant future, there will be a great deal more progress to report.

In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing the debate, I am like other noble Lords limited as to the different fields that I can cover. Perhaps I may begin with the word "priorities", which the noble Lord included in the title of the debate. I emphasise that once we look at priorities we are confronted with harsh choices. There is no way of avoiding that. All I can do is to say what I favour while recognising that there are other possible ways of making the decisions. Since we are discussing education we have two kinds of priority to consider. We have to consider education and what priority that can have within the whole of expenditure. Then, within education, we have to consider the different parts and what priorities they have.

While recognising how difficult it is, I can do no more than tell noble Lords the way I would go. I would certainly raise the priority of education within total expenditure. I have no doubt about that. I and my noble friends recognise that if one is to do that one has to finance it by higher taxes. In that case one is actually saying that one would rather see the resources devoted to education than to consumer spending. I am not afraid of saying that because that is my priority. I am equally well aware that, if one wants to do that, one has to persuade the electorate that that should be its priority. There is no doubt that that is how one has to approach the matter.

I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, that she wished that this matter was not political. So do I. I am afraid that the subject always becomes political, especially when I speak. I do not believe that the Government are being very helpful when some of us say that we would like to do more in this field and they make all sorts of scare stories about the Labour Party wanting more taxes and so forth. That does not help the education debate or rational decision-making on priorities.

I recognise that if one wants to spend more on education it has to be paid for out of taxation. I should like the Government to recognise that as well. I say with a heavy heart that within education one has priorities. One cannot have what one finds in the normal dinner party conversation; namely, that everything should have priority, as it were. That is what one normally hears, but it is not available. I see that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has gone. He told us that he is a practising university teacher. I have done my practice and I am a quite successful university teacher. However, important though higher education is, I would not place it at the top of my list of priorities. I would go much more with my noble friend Lady Blackstone. My first priority would undoubtedly be for nursery education. I am convinced by the economics and by all the other evidence that nursery education remains far and away the best investment we can make in this country. That would have to be my first priority.

I wish to say something about the expenditure figures which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned. She referred to a real rise in expenditure per pupil of 40 per cent. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, rightly pointed out, that is a real rise where the deflator is the retail price index. However, in terms of measuring resources, it has been commonplace for 25 years that the relevant deflator is not the retail price index. Therefore that is not a helpful figure. One would like a much more accurate measure of resources available per pupil, which is a different measure.

In replying, I wonder whether the noble Lord can give us the following three figures. First, can he tell us broadly what over the decade has been happening to education's share of the gross domestic product? Secondly, can he tell us what has been happening to education's share of total government expenditure? In order to place it in context, the base line I should like to have is what has been happening in real terms to expenditure per pupil in the independent schools. That would be a good comparison to make if we want to see how seriously the Government take what is happening in the maintained schools.

At this point, I have to be more acerbic than usual when I refer to remarks made by the Secretary of State for Education and Science as reported in yesterday's newspapers. The remarks were made in an interview that he gave to Woman magazine. As a statement of the Government's philosophy I found it quite horrifying. He said that he had not met any people who could both afford to send their children to independent schools and did not wish to do so. I have met the Secretary of State. I can tell the House that my wife and I could have afforded fees for our children, but we had no wish whatsoever to send them to independent schools.

Then the Secretary of State weasled a little by saying that those who met his preconditions—namely, me and my noble friend Lady Blackstone and did not send their children to independent schools were either hypocrites or politically ambitious. Those were his words. I have to say, and I think I speak for my noble friends, that I found that remark personally offensive. I also add that it is a little rich for this particular Secretary of State to claim political ambition as a sin.

However, what is disturbing is that the present Secretary of State for Education and Science should not be aware that many people send their children to state schools because they believe that those schools offer a better education. They believe that to be the case even within the confines of education defined in rather narrow academic terms. I do not say that all schools offer a better education. The whole point is that the Secretary of State should do something about those schools that do not.

However, it is the case that very many schools in the maintained system do an extremely good job, and that a rational person would wish to send his children to these schools for educational reasons is undoubted. It is a pity, to say the least, that the Secretary of State for Education and Science seems to be unaware of this. I think he owes us an apology. If he wants to demonstrate to us how well he is doing and how well the schools of this country are doing, and if he wishes to validate the claims for education on the part of this Government, perhaps he should send his children to the maintained schools. That is up to him.

I turn now to another slightly controversial matter which, again, has been raised by the Secretary of State but which no one has raised in the debate today. I refer to academic selection for secondary schools. My recollection is that when we debated the Education Reform Act 1988 I was left with the impression that the character of opted-out schools would not change, other than in the rather longer term. Now the Secretary of State appears to be saying that he will allow such change from now on and will not prevent the re-emergence of academic selection; namely, the reappearance of the 11-plus.

I must ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government to state whether the Government's policy is now the restoration of the 11-plus. Is that the policy of the Government? Will it be in the manifesto for the general election, whether it is in a few weeks or a year or so?

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of past experience of the 11-plus. It was selection by LEAs and by schools. It was not parental choice. Noble Lords apposite often seem to suffer from the delusion that the 11-plus examination involved parental choice. It was, in fact, about as illiberal or totalitarian a system as one could possibly dream up. Academic selection at 11-plus was social engineering par excellence. I am interested to know whether that is what noble Lords opposite and their party have now decided they want. I must re-emphasise to them that restoration of the 11-plus is incompatible with parental choice rather than an enhancement of it.

It is also worth pointing out to those noble Lords who wish for the good old days how inaccurate those tests were. They were not good prognosticators of a child's educational potential or of his needs. We know that so-called 11-plus failure was immensely damaging to children. We also know that it was arbitrary because it depended on how many grammar school places in a local education authority were available. It is also well known that the 11-plus was socially and racially biased.

I repeat my central point on education: what parents want is the best education suited to their children. For this to happen one repeats that the whole community must be committed to the schools. One group of the community, including noble Lords opposite and now the Secretary of State, opt out. They send their children to fee-paying schools. If the 11-plus is reintroduced, a second group will opt out. I then ask who will be committed to the education of the overwhelming number—some 80 per cent. —that will be left.

I ask those who hark back to the alleged better days the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was of that sort.—do they really believe that they were better days? When the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to how well reading was taught, does he not know that in the 1960's we discovered a scale of adult illiteracy that was so vast that one had to start to develop new adult literacy schemes. That adult illiteracy was the result of those traditional teaching methods to which he wants us to return. It is sheer nonsense to want to do that. It flies in the face of all the research evidence that we have.

I turn now to one other point which other noble Lords raised. It is a matter of great urgency. I refer to the future of A-levels. Everyone agrees that something must be done to reform the post-16 curriculum to make it more relevant to young people, so as to broaden their educational experience. This consideration of broadening applies even to the most academic pupils. I say that everyone favours reform. I exaggerate. It is to be regretted that it is not everyone but rather almost everyone. It is also to be regretted that included in those who are dragging their feet are the current Administration and not least the Secretary of State.

I notice that they wave the flag of maintaining standards. They fail to see that standards are multi-dimensional. It is simply not the case that knowing a good deal about a narrow range of subjects represents a more significant educational achievement than possessing a wider range of knowledge. The point holds a fortiori if all we are guided by are examination results. Of course pupils must begin to appreciate the nature of advanced work and they must be stretched. That can be done without leaving them ignorant—

Earl Russell

My Lords, I left out considerable portions of my own speech to allow time for the noble Lord. Will he allow the same courtesy to the Minister?

Lord Peston

My Lords, I beg the noble Earl's pardon. The Minister will have 25 minutes if I go on for another 10, which I do not propose to do. However, I appreciate the point that the noble Earl is making; that is, that he finds my speech extremely boring. I shall try to speed up. I was not finding it so boring myself, but he knows how biased I am in my own favour. I shall speed up. If he will allow me just to finish what I have to say on A-levels.

Noble Lords

The noble Earl is not in charge of the proceedings!

Lord Peston

My Lords, I know he is not in charge of the proceedings, but I always hate to upset the Liberals under any circumstances.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me? This is a matter which clearly noble Lords must take to the Procedure Committee at some stage. However, there is a problem with time left over where only the Labour Party Front Bench appears to be able to extend beyond the time which is allowed to other noble Lords.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I must admit to the noble Lord that we are now using up the time quite nicely. I am sure that makes him very happy. I have never come across any problem before. I occasionally go over my time and other noble Lords occasionally go over. I have actually heard the odd Liberal speak longer. However, I am still going on, I have to tell the noble Lord, because it would be useful if I finished the three or four continuous sentences that I have prepared.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Minister does have to reply. He has been asked a number of questions which I am sure my noble friend wishes to answer. Therefore, in order for him to have the maximum time to answer and satisfy all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, if the noble Lord could finish his excellent speech briefly we should be most appreciative.

Lord Peston

My Lords, it is most kind of the noble Viscount but the Minister will have plenty of time to reply. Perhaps I may add that he seems to have committed himself now actually to replying.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? We do not have a senior Whip in the House but I understand that "11 minutes" has nothing to do with enabling the Minister to make his speech. It is the time allotted to each speaker. I could have spoken for longer. I would have given a better defence of A-levels than the one that has been foisted upon me by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He is abusing the procedures of the House in order to prolong his speech when the rest of us—the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, himself —could have spoken for longer. We keep to the rules; the Labour Front Bench thinks that it does not need to.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am sure that we would all wish to allow the noble Lord, Lord Peston, briefly to wind up his speech.

Lord Peston

I am sorry, my Lords, but I am now not very happy. I have been extremely equable, but I refuse to accept remarks such as "abusing the procedures of the House". Perhaps the noble Lord might care to withdraw that; otherwise I shall withdraw from the debate. I do not think that this is tolerable.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, as a fellow member of the Front Bench of a very reputable party, and one who loves the traditions of this House as much as anybody, perhaps I may suggest that tempers are a little calmed. I am sure that my noble friend, who is always worth listening to on education as are all those who have participated in this debate, will very shortly bring his excellent speech to a conclusion.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I shall bring my excellent speech to a conclusion by saying that I have no more to say.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Seccombe on a memorable maiden speech of great charm and eloquence. I also join other noble Lords in hoping that we shall hear much more from my noble friend in the future.

I should like to thank all those who have taken part in the debate. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing it. The Motion is a broad one and, not surprisingly, speeches have ranged over many aspects of education. I have listened with interest to all the points raised and will want to answer some of them in the course of my reply.

First, I should like to say more about our plans for strengthening vocational education. Pre-16, as my noble friend has already explained, our key reform for younger pupils, who are required by law to go to school, is the national curriculum. All pupils must study the national curriculum from age five to age 16. Up to 14, all pupils will do all 10 national curriculum subjects. By 14, however, pupils are beginning to look beyond compulsory schooling to work, training or further study. We must not waste that sense of anticipation and the motivation it provides. We have taken steps to ensure that pupils aged 14 to 16, while

pursuing further the essential studies, can still have enough time to devote to subjects of their choice outside the national curriculum.

Some pupils, whatever their abilities, are best motivated if their studies have a more overt vocational slant. They should have the option of pursuing studies which are less academic in nature but which are also recognised as of equal quality and value. We are looking to vocational awarding bodies like the Business and Technician Education Council, City and Guilds and RSA to develop a range of high grade qualifications for the 14 to 16 age range. These could include qualifications equivalent to GCSE in subjects both inside and outside the national curriculum, but set in a more vocational context. They could also include shorter courses in a variety of subjects, which could be combined imaginatively, and might lead to free-standing qualifications or contribute to a broader vocationally oriented qualification. All national curriculum subjects will have to be assessed against relevant attainment targets and against all 10 levels of attainment. All syllabuses intended for this age group will need to be approved by SEAC against criteria promulgated by it. This should go a long way towards ending prejudices about the relative worth of vocational study. I hope that I have answered in part one of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

Post-16, our key reform to qualifications is NVQs. NVQs must conform to criteria set by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. These criteria ensure that NVQs conform to very precise standards set by industry-led bodies representing employers. NVQs recognise the achievement of competencies needed for jobs. Underpinning knowledge, understanding and skills are covered in so far as they affect performance in those jobs. Performance in all aspects of the job and the required underpinning knowledge, understanding and skills are assessed. NVQs are assessed in the workplace, or in conditions which closely simulate the workplace. This approach to defining NVQs has great value in concentrating on the important features of a job and eliminating irrelevances. It ensures that employers themselves define what is important, and links them into the assessment process.

Some NVQs have been introduced very successfully in further education colleges. Others have had their teething problems. Assessment has sometimes proved unduly mechanical and burdensome, a point made by several noble Lords. Some of the early NVQs were much too narrow. The National Council for Vocational Qualifications is working to address these issues.

For NVQs, as well as for A-levels, many employers, young people and others want greater breadth. For some purposes, some NVQs as currently defined fail to provide broad enough preparation for careers. We need more broad-based NVQs, for young people especially. We also want to see ways of making assessment more practicable for full-time students in further education and schools. NCVQ must ensure that broader qualifications are brought into the NVQ framework. The forthcoming White Paper will set out the next steps. I hope that those remarks will encourage the noble Lord, Lord Flowers.

The A-level route is well-established and is rightly held in high regard—at least by some. But those young people following that route need breadth as well as the depth and rigour that A-levels offer. That is why the Government introduced AS examinations which demand the same standard as A-levels but require about half the teaching and study time. The AS examination, although still in its infancy, is growing and becoming established. About one in seven A-level students now take one or more AS examinations; last summer saw a 20 per cent. increase in AS entries with key areas like modern languages and science showing quite dramatic increases; and nearly two-thirds of schools with sixth formers now offer AS courses. I hope that that will give encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has mentioned in previous debates., if not in this one, the importance he attaches to languages.

Employers say that they want breadth. Encouragingly, candidates offering a mix of AS and A-level; are enjoying slightly more success than their "three A-level" counterparts as applicants to university. The provision of A-level and AS examinations encourages young people to broaden their studies while building on the tried and tested strengths of our A-levels. It allows young people to have confidence in the courses and examinations on offer and promotes evolution of the system to meet changing needs. I hope that that goes some way to meeting the point forcefully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

I turn to vocational qualifications. A very large variety are on offer to young people aged 16 to 19. However, there has been a shortage of vocational qualifications in schools. This has limited the number of young people studying for them because, for whatever reason, many young people prefer to stay in school rather than go to the local FE college. The time is right Lo make vocational qualifications more widely available in school.

We hope to see a large number of schools take the opportunity to offer BTEC Firsts to their pupils over the next few years. This course has proved very popular in colleges; nearly 32,000 students received the award in 1989–90. BTEC Firsts provide a worthwhile preparation for jobs, and also offer students: the chance to move on to study for higher level qualifications.

We also hope to see more schools offering the certificate of prevocational education. This course is already popular in schools. We believe it should become even more so as City and Guilds makes improvements to give it greater currency with employers, and to ensure that it offers students a clear path to higher level study.

As my noble friend indicated earlier, we want to secure significant improvements in participation and attainment post-16. A number of noble Lords have mentioned this point. A key step will be the creation of a new independent sector of post-16 education. My right honourable friend announced on 21st March

that from April 1993, sixth form colleges and all colleges of further education offering full-time courses will be transferred from local authority control and funded directly by central government through a statutory council. Appropriate legislation will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity. The forthcoming White Paper on education and training will give more details of the proposals. We shall also continue to support those schools which have flourishing sixth forms.

The main aim is to raise participation, by giving colleges strong financial incentives to recruit more students. The creation of a dedicated post-16 sector will also give FE colleges the higher public profile they deserve and focus more attention on the particular educational needs of the 16 to 19 age group.

Since 1984 initial teacher training institutions have had to conform to rigorous criteria before being approved by the Secretary of State. In particular: courses now have to be more practical and less theoretical; tutors are required to update their own classroom experience regularly; students cannot be awarded qualified teacher status unless they have successfully completed a period of teaching practice in school; serving school teachers must be involved in the selection of students and other aspects of a course; and courses are now required to prepare students to teach the national curriculum.

Courses are constantly scrutinised by the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education and inspected by HMI to see whether these and other requirements are being met. National curriculum subjects like technology, science and modern foreign languages have a clear vocational relevance. Cross-curricular themes, such as careers education and guidance, economic and industrial understanding, political and international understanding and environmental education, are also vocationally relevant.

The criteria for the approval of initial teacher training courses require that subject specialists should be equipped to teach the full range of national curriculum programmes of study and attainment targets relevant to the ages of the children that they will teach. They should also be trained to incorporate cross-curricular themes in their teaching. Students should be aware of the significance of links between schools and industry.

The Government have also supported the Enterprise Awareness in Teacher Education project which seeks to help institutions train their students in these issues. The project provides staff development programmes, general advice and guidance, and funds for individual institutional initiatives.

As my noble friend said, our record on funding is good. Spending per pupil has risen by over 40 per cent. in real terms since 1987. I accept that there is an argument about what "real terms" might be. This year's local authority finance settlement allows for nearly £17.5 billion to be spent on education and is 16 per cent. higher than the 1990–91 settlement. I do not accept that our education reforms require massive extra funding, but we will support over £270 million spending on various aspects of these reforms this year.

Some noble Lords, especially those opposite, point as they often do to cases of alleged underfunding. First, as I said, I do not accept that increased funding is always the answer to better provision in education. Secondly, I believe that the total we spend on education in this country compares favourably with other countries. That is borne out by a recent OECD report, although I acknowledge the fact that international comparisons are not always easy. Thirdly, speculation is at an end. We heard only last Sunday from the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that there will be no additional spending on services other than family allowances and pensions. In the words of the right honourable gentleman, there will be no "quick fix". I feel bound to point out that when Labour was last in office spending on education fell in real terms, comparing like for like, by £1.6 billion and by 1 per cent. as a proportion of the country's GDP.

I shall now try to respond to some of the points which have been raised by noble Lords during the debate. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was largely answered by my noble friend before she had to leave the Chamber. He spoke of fund shortages as regards schools. I should remind him that spending per pupil in primary and secondary schools went from £515 in 1979–80 to an estimated £1,485 in 1989–90. That is the real terms increase of 40 per cent.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, implored us not to treat teachers as "scumbags". This is a difficult problem. I agree with him that it is time something was done to raise the morale of teachers. I totally accept that fact. I strongly support the view taken by the Interim Advisory Committee that it is vital to have a means of rewarding good performance of all teachers. Within the present pay arrangements, good performance may be rewarded through incentive allowances and incremental enhancements to a standard scale of pay.

I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was criticising somewhat the methods of articled teacher pilot schemes and licensed teachers. The articled teachers' scheme is an example of a scheme designed specifically to meet the needs of schools in a practical way. The scheme is a new form of post-graduate certificate in education which started in September 1990. Students spend two years on the course and 80 per cent. of their training is based in a school. The emphasis on work in schools is intended to improve the quality of training. The immediate experience of teaching is intended to encourage different people to come into teaching, including those who might not consider attending an institution to undergo training on a full-time basis.

So far as concerns licensed teachers, the route to qualified teacher status is designed to enhance quality by requiring that such teachers receive a minimum appropriate level of training and are not granted qualified teacher status until they have demonstrated their fitness for it in the classroom. The availability of that route should also help to increase the number of mature entrants into teaching.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, other noble Lords and especially the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the question of the binary line. It seems to me that this is all but functioning. However, I hope that noble Lords will accept that there has to be a slightly different basis of funding between the universities and the polytechnics.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, as the Minister referred to me I feel entitled to say that I do not see any reason at all for that situation.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I think that I had better write to the noble Earl on the matter. I understand that it is largely to do with accommodation, board, fees and so on. It is just that it is worked out on a different basis. I do not know whether the noble Earl is trying to say that it reflects somehow on the worth of the two institutions. In that connection, I give the highest possible praise to the work of the polytechnics.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke, as she often does, of endless failures and of no confidence. I make a contrast between her remarks which talked education down nationally—that is hardly a debate; it is a political enterprise—and those made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who certainly criticised the Government but who also talked education up. There is much talk about teachers being demoralised.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am sorry, I did not wish to interrupt the Minister, but I think that what he said is quite extraordinary. I spent most of my speech talking about the importance of teachers in our system. I talked about how we ought to support them; why we ought to find ways of improving the conditions in which they work; and how we ought to find ways of improving their training and the rewards which we give to them. Can the noble Lord say what he means when he refers to me talking the education system down in some way? In fact, what I was trying to do was to suggest that teachers are our most important resource and that we need to give them more support.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

You were talking the Government down.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness was certainly talking the Government down; but I think that education was also being talked down. However, I shall read carefully in Hansard what the noble Baroness said. I felt that the tone of her speech was rather negative in contrast to other noble Lords who gave a more balanced view. She talked about her own curriculum policies. But it is interesting to note that under Labour's curriculum there is no mention of history or geography.

Mention was made of extra pay for teachers. I think that teachers' pay is not as bad as some people believe. For example, secondary heads receive £32,000 (typical) which rises to £47,000 maximum and primary heads receive £23,500 (typical) while primary teachers on the top scale receive £18,300 on average. Secondary teachers on the top scale will, on average, receive £20,201 That is not a great deal, and a good teacher is worth that sum. The rates I read out are not scandalously low.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and my noble friend Lady Young talked about nursery education and Mrs. Thatcher's targets. The 1972 White Paper A Framework for Expansion envisaged a gradual movement towards nursery education for all three and four year-olds whose parents wanted it. That objective was effectively abandoned by the Labour Government in the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, during the past 12 years the number of pupils under five in nursery education increased by about 33 per cent., Current expenditure plans allow that increase to continue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, talked about the turnover of teachers. The annual resignation rate is about 14 per cent. That figure has remained about the same for over five years. Of the 14 per cent., more than half resign to move to other teaching posts. Of the remaining 7 per cent., the vast majority are retirers. That leaves less than 1 per cent. who resign to move to another profession. That has not changed over the past five years. It is not a high figure. It is one that many other professions would like to achieve.

It was alleged that students on teacher-training courses are not moving into teaching jobs; but 78 per cent. of students who started the Bachelor of Education course complete it; and 87 per cent. of those who start the shorter one-year postgraduate Certificate of Education complete the course. That compares favourably with any other vocational training. area within higher education. Of those who complete the B.Ed. and the other course, 70 per cent. move immediately into a teaching post in the maintained school sector. A further 10 per cent. do so after a year or so, and a further 5 per cent. move into the private sector. Of the remaining 15 per cent., a number move into teaching in further and higher education, others move and teach abroad and others move into occupations allied to teaching.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, spoke of the need for young people to continue to learn and train. I entirely agree. She also talked of the need for people to leave school with a keen critical faculty and to be able to enjoy themselves. With that I also agree. She spoke about adult education. I have only one piece of information which relates to the funding of adult education in inner London. Inner London has been given special help through a £70 million education transfer grant. There is also a generous allowance for inner London costs within SSAs. It was always clear that inner London boroughs would need to provide a more efficient service than the ILEA. The SSAs for inner London boroughs should enable them to finance a high quality education service if they manage their affairs well.

The noble Baroness mentioned the polytechnics. The Government applaud the polytechnics' achievements over the past 20 years. They have led the way in the unprecedented expansion of higher education during the 1980s by improving their efficiency and increasing their enrolment of students. They are now mature institutions and have earned the right of parity of esteem with universities.

The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, spoke about the national curriculum and asked for extra funds to support it. We are spending £170 million on the national curriculum through education support grants and LEA training grants. He spoke about the 16 to 19 year-old pupils. I agree that we need to improve education and training for them. We want more to stay on at ages 16, 17 and 18 and we want more to achieve higher-level qualifications.

I was encouraged by what my noble friend Lady Seccombe said in her maiden speech about the progress of women through improved education. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, spoke about attendance and non-attendance, and said that attendance was good in prosperous areas and less good in deprived areas. I acknowledge that we must admire teachers who work in less prosperous areas, and accept that they bear a greater burden. He said that teachers almost assume the role of the family. One must acknowledge that that is a burden that may be stressful. He said that he had heard that skills in this country were at such a low level relative to other countries that we need to maintain a higher level of employment to achieve the same results. I have not found any evidence of that, but I agree that it would be extremely worrying were it true.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me a moment. A considerable study of the position has been made by Mr. Nicholls. I should be happy to provide him with a copy of it. As it is basically on econometrics, I do not believe that I understood the argument—the noble Lord probably would—but I understood the conclusion.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I shall make a point of looking at the study and will perhaps write to the noble Lord if I have any further comments to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, wishes to find a framework and new funding for innovation work. I listened with great interest to his ideas, which are new to me and original. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, ranged widely over education, and courageously from where she sat. She is no longer in her place. She asked whether change was in order.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, gave a number of figures relating to staying-on rates. They appeared to be alarming but I think he included people who continue in part-time education, and that distorts the figures.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Young for the remarks she made about the Education Reform Act. I noted that she found some of the tests absurd. They are still top-heavy, and, as she said, we have lessons to learn from them. We shall be learning from them.

I shall have to look at the rest of my notes and write to noble Lords if I have not been able to answer them. I was sad not to hear the conclusion of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

You will!

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I always enjoy having the noble Lord, Lord Peston, opposite me. I hope no one has given him too much offence. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, laid the terrible indictment that we had no degrees to match those of Yale or Harvard. That is a terrible charge to make, and I am in no position to challenge him. Such matters are always dealt with against the background of difficult resources. We must also talk about the need for all institutions to increase efficiency.

As the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, said, we should never be complacent. We can never say that we are doing full justice to all our young people. Of course our education system should be improved. We must do more to ensure that everyone knows about and understands NVQs and that a full range of NVQs is available to meet all needs. Those qualifications must also be given the esteem that they deserve. We must increase participation in education and training post-16 and increase the numbers achieving higher level qualifications. The forthcoming White Paper will set out our plans. Once we have tackled those issues, we shall be well on the way towards building a society which gives full and equal opportunity to all our young people to make their contributions to the best of their ability and individual talents.

Lord Annan

My Lords, we had a punishing debate last night and I do not feel I should try to reply to any of the points which have been made today. I thank noble Lords for having taken part in the debate. They have displayed not merely their usual knowledge and extraordinary variety of experience and expertise but sometimes also, as they did last night, great elegance, fire and emotion in their speeches.

In particular, I thank two Members of the House: first, the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, who made a notable maiden speech. The sagacity of her remarks was matched by the charm of her delivery. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. He has been a great friend to education for many years and I was touched that he decided to take part in the debate tonight. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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