HL Deb 02 February 1994 vol 551 cc1307-52

5.36 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant rose to call attention to the report of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation National Commission on Education, and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the last century Lord Melbourne, when Prime Minister, said to the Queen, "I don't know, Ma'am, why they make all this fuss about education; none of the Pagets can read or write and they get on well enough." Thank goodness attitudes have changed. I believe that the topics carefully analysed in the report of which I have invited your Lordships to take note are of fundamental importance to the future of this nation and its people.

The industrial revolution did not depend on education and training. We are in the midst of a new revolution—the knowledge revolution—and education and training are at the heart of it. The well-being of every individual in this country, the well-being of society, even the question as to whether it will be cohesive or hopelessly divided, and the well-being of the economy, business and industry all depend upon whether education and training match the challenge of the next 25 years.

That conviction convinced the commission of the urgency of its task. That conviction, too, led me to write that, we earnestly invite the endorsement and collaboration in pursuit of our aims of present and future Governments, of all those involved in the provision of education and training, and indeed, of the public as a whole". Today I can but highlight some of our principal recommendations without presenting the detailed information upon which they and our conclusions were based. I acknowledge that while some of our proposals could be acted upon immediately—I regard it as urgent that they should be—others will inevitably take time and some money to adopt as we have directed our attention not just to the next few years but to the early decades of the next century.

The history and background of the establishment of the commission, the support of major scientific, literary and other bodies, the endorsement by political leaders and the membership of the commission are all set out in detail in our report. Our stance was totally apolitical and I believe that our choice of the other 15 commissioners was inspired. They proved to be a dedicated and thoughtful team. I pay a warm tribute to their exceptionally hard work and distinguished service, to the Hamlyn Foundation and also to the very able staff we recruited.

When we began in 1991, we established a research committee and seven working groups, each strengthened by associate commissioners, which were asked to examine respectively effective schooling; schools, society and citizenship; the teaching profession and quality; higher and further education into the 21st century; work today and tomorrow; better ways of learning; and resources.

In the course of our work, I and other commissioners made several overseas visits. We also visited many parts of the UK to examine education and training. We received written evidence from some 250 organisations and individuals, and held over 50 oral hearings. Our working groups took oral evidence throughout the UK, and many conferences, seminars and lectures were held to illumine our findings.

We soon identified persisting problems relating to the acquisition of literacy and numeracy, to staying-on rates at 16-plus and entry into higher education, although within the past three years the latter has improved greatly. Nevertheless the country's economic record plainly left much to be desired. The nature of work is, changing rapidly and we are still too often obsessed by a low skill economy. Too many young people do riot possess the communication and other skills required by employers. We also found in some communities a persisting and powerful anti-education ethos, sometimes, but not invariably, related to poverty, family and societal breakdown and unemployment. We concluded that the structure of our education and training system remains too fragmented and diverse, with too sharp a divide between the academic and vocational routes to higher and further education. In virtually all the oral evidence, even from learned bodies such as the Royal Society, the British Association and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, we heard no significant defence of the current excessively narrow A-level system for entry into higher education.

Adherence to A-levels, alongside a multitude of other qualifications, including, for example, BTEC, NVQ, GNVQ and many more, inflames the academic versus vocational divide and is detrimental to the integration and better co-ordination of education and training which we all seek.

I do not propose to deploy tonight detailed statistics. Some are given in our report; some in other publications, including one to be published next month. I simply quote, for example, that in 1990 the percentages of young people at 18-plus in four countries reaching a comparable upper secondary qualification were: 68 per cent. in Germany; 48 per cent. in France; 80 per cent. in Japan and 29 per cent. in England. While UK public expenditure on education has risen a little as a proportion of GDP we spent less in 1988 than did the United States, France, the Netherlands and Denmark. Japan and Germany spent less, but in those countries private provision was much greater. However, we devoted almost twice as much per capita to higher education as did many other countries. This discrepancy was largely accounted for by student maintenance grants and fees.

Perhaps I may now itemise our vision. First, in all countries knowledge and applied intelligence have become central to economic success and personal and social well-being. Secondly, in the United Kingdom much higher achievement in education and training is needed to match world standards. Thirdly, everyone must want to learn and have ample opportunity and encouragement to do so. Fourthly, all children must achieve a good grasp of literacy and basic skills early on as the foundation for learning throughout life. Fifthly, the full range of people's abilities must be recognised and their development rewarded. Sixthly, high quality learning depends, above all, on the knowledge, skill, effort and example of teachers and trainers. Seventhly, it is the role of education both to interpret and pass on the values of society and to stimulate people to think for themselves and to change the world around them.

We define our vision in relation to global yardsticks and economic imperatives. We urge increasing teacher professionalism, combined with the right and responsibility of self-regulation, through a general teaching council. We also commend partnerships among schools, industrial and commercial networks, and the community, including greater involvement of parents.

We were not content, however, to state a vision and leave it at that. We formulated seven goals to be achieved to turn it into a reality. We state those goals in clear, even stark, terms and examine in a practical way the means of achieving them. Our first goal is high quality nursery education for all three and four year-olds. Research evidence, especially from the United States, shows that those receiving such education consistently perform better later. Even if resources were infinite that could not be done overnight. High quality is crucial and involves training many professionals at graduate level. Suitable premises must be acquired or adapted and national standards laid down. We put forward a programme in our report which we costed and through which that goal could be achieved early in the next century. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has stated that it is his ambition to move to universal nursery education as more resources become available.

We commend also a national curriculum, modified from the present structure and much in line with the recent proposals of Sir Ron Dearing. We commend testing and in-course assessment, which should be much less ponderous than that at present prescribed.

We accept that raw league tables have some value, but they take no account of the important value-added factors so lucidly explained in our first briefing written by Andrew McPherson. We also believe that the present GCSE, A-level, BTEC, NVQ and other qualifications available at the ages of 16 and 18 should be gradually replaced by an integrated system of credits available under a modular general education diploma in a system ultimately to be integrated over the 14 to 18 year age range, but also allowing those who leave school at 16-plus to continue to accumulate credits towards the diploma. Every individual, too, should have a cumulative record of achievement.

The diploma would still enable exceptionally talented and highly motivated young people to take a fast track in subjects not notably different from those in the A-level system, but with a requirement of additional breadth. A mix of academic and vocational subjects would also become possible, even common, within this modular structure. We acknowledge the contribution made by A-levels to British education. We would use the best features along with those of primarily vocational qualifications to develop a high quality diploma. The key will be to provide something to motivate all learners, not just a small minority.

We also recommend that for those who leave school at 16-plus, time and funding must be made available by employers to enable such young people to continue part-time training at least up to 18 and often later so as to achieve additional credits towards the GED. In return, 16 to 18 year-olds leaving school should be paid a trainee wage significantly less than the high incomes which are now available to this age group.

The importance of the education-training partnership is stressed in our firm recommendation that the governance of training programmes should be transferred from the Department of Employment to the Department for Education, which would become the Department of Education and Training.

It follows that we propose local education and training boards to which training and enterprise councils would become affiliated. Those boards would replace local education authorities and would supervise the activities of all maintained schools, including those which are grant maintained. It is wrong that no intermediate authority should exist between the Secretary of State and grant-maintained schools, apart from a tenuously defined Schools Funding Council. Such boards would have a majority of locally elected members, and others appointed to represent speific educational, industrial and religious interests.

We also noted with concern the present imbalance in funding between primary and secondary education. We believe that more resources must be devoted to the primary sector to reduce class size. Research evidence supports the importance of small classes, especially in the first two years. We also go on to discuss the crucial importance of improved provision of computing facilities, with consequential implications related to teacher training in educational and informational technology. We are failing to capitalise fully upon such developments which will never replace, but will inevitably complement, good quality teaching in the classroom, lecture theatre and laboratory.

The implications for teacher training are highlighted in our report. While we commend the internship programmes and other comparable methods of in-service training within schools themselves, provided the mentors are carefully chosen and properly trained, we are satisfied that a significant component of training must continue to be provided in higher and further education institutions, in partnership with schools, because of the increasing need for, and importance of, specialist teaching, not least in science, technology, and modern languages in the schools of the future.

Turning now to the higher and further education sectors, we identified many anomalies related to public provision of fees, grants and loans and propose a much improved structure involving a substantial shift of funding from the public to the private purse. That would involve a phasing out of student maintenance grants to be replaced by enhanced loans as well as a flat-rate contribution to fees for which loans, when needed, would also be available. Those should be repaid, not through a lifetime graduate tax, but through the tax system, with repayment beginning once the individual's income reaches a minimum level. Such support must be made more widely available for courses not at present attracting fees or grants and it must be possible for the clock to be stopped during periods of reduced income or unemployment. Australian evidence suggests that such a method is not a significant deterrent to the continuing expansion of higher and further education that we would all wish to see.

Inevitably, some of our recommendations will demand a gradual increase in resources which will be hard to obtain. But much that we recommend involves redirection of resource instead of new money, although a gradual increase in the education budget will be needed if this country can begin to restore its competitive international position in education and training with consequential benefits to our economic and commercial future.

Perhaps I may sum up the task ahead. The United Kingdom must move to the front rank of educated—and educating and training—nations. We cannot claim to be there today; we must become so tomorrow, or if not tomorrow the day after.

Let us not be daunted. If we compare where we are today with where we were a few years ago, much has changed for the better. People are generally more convinced about the value of education and training, which now stand high in the political agenda. Front-rank employers, for the first time in history, are totally persuaded. The number of young people going to university is rocketing. Further education is emerging as the force it has always promised to be. We have a national curriculum becoming firmly established as a rock on which schools can build for the future. We have a teaching force deeply dedicated to the needs of children. But there is far, very far, still to go. Twenty years from now we must be prominent among the leading countries of the world. Virtually every child must emerge from school with good standards of literacy and numeracy. All young people must continue their education to 18 or 19 and most of them will acquire an up-to-date equivalent of A-level. Half and perhaps 60 per cent. or more will move on to graduate study. Everyone will see education as their own, not someone else's, private garden. The status of teacher, wherever employed, will be much enhanced. In short, we shall be the fully civilised nation we have always at heart felt we should be. This will nourish the happiness and fulfilment of our children, our children's children and generations yet to come. We await eagerly the Government's considered response. I beg to move for Papers.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it falls to me to be the first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, for giving the House an opportunity to discuss this important report. However, my thanks are limited to the opportunity rather than to the report, which, regrettably, I find disappointing. I find it disappointing because in my view it does not live up to its subtitle. Noble Lords will be aware that it is called, Learning to Succeed, which is fine. But it then says, A Radical Look at Education Today. I find it far from radical. It seems to me simply to encapsulate the progressive notions that have dominated the educational establishment over the past 30 years. Wherever one picks it up, one finds examples to make that specific point.

For instance, on page 181 we learn that, the task for the future will not be to concentrate on producing a highly educated élite but to achieve higher learning outcomes for all". Why are the two contrary? Could not one easily argue that it is in the course of finding a system which produces a highly educated élite that at the same time one raises the general level? After all, that is how people who look after sports teams in schools, where current ideology permits them to persist, also operate. Or we read, Increased selection by ability must be discouraged if we wish to promote a less divisive society". Why is it thought that selection by ability is not one of the factors that must constantly intervene in the choice by children of courses, by schools of children and by parents of the route they wish their offspring to follow? The word "divisive", introduced into our vocabulary in education 30 years ago, is one which one would have hoped that a radical report would have looked at askance.

The commitments to an establishment ideology are manifest in some of the recommendations. Wherever recent governments have tried to break out of the strait-lace of the comprehensive system—whether through city technology colleges, assisted places or grant-maintained schools—the whole tenor and proposal of the report is to bring them all back within a single, undifferentiating schooling system. In my view, that way lies not progress but further trouble.

It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Walton, referred to a wide range of input from various organisations and minority persons into the thinking of the commission. One body which has done some work on the problems of schooling is the Campaign for Real Education. When it offered to provide the results of its research, the offer was ignored. It was never summoned to give evidence to the commission, whereas every left-wing pressure group one has ever heard of figures in the opinions.

There is also a kowtowing to some aspects of modern society which many regard as inimical to education. For instance, no notice is taken of the great damage—many school teachers at all levels will corroborate this—done to children by their spending hours and hours before television screens. It is bad for their health., bad for their performance in school the next morning; and bad for any chance of them completing their homework. But we are told that this really does not matter because children benefit from watching television and videos. They are better informed, so the report says. However, the mating; habits of Australians do not seem to be a part of the information absolutely essential for English schoolchildren.

The other thrust of the report is the anti-intellectual bias. I do not hold any great brief for A-levels. They were invented long after my school time. We did London matric, which was a jolly good exam, in those days. I am talking now about the 1920s. But not only is there an attempt to say that there is no real differentiation between training and education and between the vocational and the academic but there is apparently an unwillingness to see that the two do necessarily go together; that they should be married closely but not at the expense of the intellectual component. It is, after all, generally admitted that one of the weaknesses of our vocational training, particularly by comparison with Germany—there has been a recent report on that—is that we do not demand the same degree of theoretical competence among those who are seeking vocational training in a variety of trades. There is less of this anti-intellectual prejudice among our competitors, which is one of the points which the commission has not taken fully on board.

It is impossible to dissociate education and training from the social context. Indeed, the report makes that clear. But then one has to ask what needs to be done to remedy this; how are we going to re-inculcate a desire to learn if indeed it has—the evidence is there—declined? Not, I think, by saying, "Well, after all, almost anyone could be a scientist". I shall give only one example. The report giving the possible content of the advanced diploma for a variety of students takes student B, who wishes to read engineering. What is he to study at secondary level for this diploma? Science —that is all right, though we are not told exactly what science—mathematics; Gujarati; and theatre studies. I know of no major work on engineering in Gujarati, but perhaps the commission has discovered something more important than the literature on engineering which is available in German, in Japanese and no doubt in Russian. Theatre studies—well, of course, revolving stages—

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will my noble friend bring his speech to a conclusion as this is a timed debate?

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am only following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Walton. I shall complete the sentence. We need to know exactly why this is better than what Cambridge demands for engineering—three As at A-level.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, when Sir Claus Moser suggested a Royal Commission on education the Government rejected it almost before he had finished speaking, although it was obvious to most people that such a commission was overdue. The report before us today is at least the equivalent of a Royal Commission. The national commission members, its assistant commissioners, its staff, the evidence given to them and the quality of its research could not have been better in any Royal Commission report.

If the Government were against a Royal Commission, they obviously will not give much of a welcome to this report. That is not surprising because perhaps more than anything else its contents demonstrate the irrelevancy of much of the Government's legislation in education in recent years. However, I hope that the Government will listen to what is said by the commission.

The report combines idealism with practicality and it gives the most comprehensive overview of education seen for a long time. The commission has set out what it calls its vision for the future development of education and training in the United Kingdom. No one can argue with the seven points. All are fundamentally important if significant progress is to be made.

I disagree almost entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said. He is extremely knowledgeable in what he says, but it seems to me that he has ignored some of the most important points—indeed, all the important points—contained in the report. If, like the noble Lord, I had been allowed to speak for more than eight minutes, we could perhaps have developed the debate a little more. But that is part of the conventions of the House.

I have to say that I do not find anything particularly new in the report—and that is not meant as a criticism —but two aspects of it give new meaning to the vision. The commission proposes seven goals to make a reality of the vision—that is something which in education particularly more than anything else is of great importance—and, in addition, stresses the all-important ingredient: the need for political will to bring about changes.

Those things have to be said, but I am sufficiently long in the tooth to know that they can be promised and then fade away. John Major, when he was bidding for the leadership of his party some three years ago, declared that he would make education his number one priority. We spent proportionately less of our national wealth on education last year than in 1980. So much for his fine words.

There is a continuing problem about education, particularly as it is such an expensive service. That problem is in dealing with priorities, and of course those priorities also have to be considered in the context of any government's other commitments. One of my party's criticisms of this Government's education policies is that their priorities could hardly have been more wrong; and that is another reason why the Government should give this report more attention than they appear to be doing.

The Government are reminded that some of the recommendations do not require significant expenditure and can be implemented speedily. Perhaps the best example is the proposal for a new department of education and training for England—that comes through in the report on a number of occasions. But there are others which are significant, not least its recommendation that the national curriculum should be made compulsory for independent schools, a glaring example of this Government's bias and inconsistency. But there are more important issues.

Anyone with an interest in education must be pleased at the importance the report places on nursery education. The case for nursery education is now proved beyond doubt. Research undertaken worldwide confirms that and it would at least be some progress if the Government were to say this unequivocally. They appear to have moved a little way towards it but now say that it is too costly. The report, and many educationists and researchers, say that we cannot afford not to expand nursery education. The evidence now clearly suggests that nursery education is highly profitable. It eliminates a number of costly problems which may arise as children get older and it releases parents, in many cases to work, which in turn, one would hope, will produce extra revenue to the Treasury from taxation.

It is surprising too that from time to time the Government can suddenly produce millions of pounds—like rabbits from the magician's hat—often for purposes which many people would consider to be much less worthy than nursery education. I find it incredible that in the year 1994 we still have to try to convince the Government of the value and necessity of pre-school education. Let us hope that the report we are considering today will prove the final piece of ballast to tip the scale in this most important aspect of educational provision.

One would not wish to go through all of the proposals and ideas in the report, but it is heartening to see that so much importance is placed on teachers and, perhaps a little surprisingly, on adult education. On the latter point, I was speaking at a meeting on education with a colleague of mine recently and in the course of his remarks he said that the school-leaving age ought to be raised. That surprised me a little because it is not a topic which is discussed very much at the moment. He paused, and then he said, "It should be raised to 90". Why not? That would be real adult education.

The report does not say that specifically, but it gives no fewer than seven of what it describes as "pressing reasons" for continuing education. It is interesting, even astonishing, that there are now even more undergraduates over 21 years of age than under 21. The report does not mention that statistic either, but that demonstrates the way in which higher education is moving, should be developing and should continue to develop. What the report does say is that adult learning needs to be on an even larger scale, and again I quote: The topic is of such great importance that it should be receiving continuous and close attention from anyone concerned with education and training". The Government ought to be giving close attention to that view, even if it is only for the economic benefits which would accrue to the country.

Perhaps the biggest failure of the Government has been in their alienation of the teaching profession. It has taken this Government to bring all the teacher unions together, which is something that very rarely happens in this country. It is not surprising therefore to read in the commission's report, morale is low in the teaching profession". Many people in this House have been telling the Government that for some considerable time but it has fallen on deaf ears. I wonder whether the evidence in the report: will convince them. It is substantial: the increase in the number of resignations due to ill health, a disturbing incidence of job-related stress, the high rate of turnover and several other important factors.

The report brings a realism to what a teacher has to do. I could not help but smile when I read the paragraph beginning on page 193 and continuing on page 194. I shall not quote it now, but I mention it because it demonstrates that the commission has its feet on the ground when dealing with the work of teachers. It states: High quality learning depends above all"— note those words— above all, on the knowledge, skill, effort and example of teachers and trainers". I believe that teachers are doing very good work despite, the many difficulties they face. But there is certainly no room for complacency. The nature of initial and continuing education, training, higher academic standards in the profession, personal enthusiasm and commitment and support services in the schools are all fundamental to achieving the objectives. It is heartening to see that all of these are dealt with in some detail in the report.

This report could not have come at a more opportune time. Some of us may think that there are omissions and we may not agree with every word. But it is a major contribution to educational practice and arty Secretary of State would do well to keep a copy of it permanently on his desk. We must be grateful to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for providing so much money to finance it.

Finally, I pay tribute to the members of the commission and to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, whose leadership is clearly stamped on the report. It gives me particular pleasure to refer to the noble Lord because he and I are County Durham men. We attended our county's schools at the same time. Durham's commitment to education for its children and young people was and is total and the education committee which sent the noble Lord to school and university would be mighty proud of his momentous achievement today.

6.14 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, on his chairmanship of the National Commission on Education and in congratulating the members of the commission on a report which is wide-ranging, provocative and comprehensive. I would like to thank the commission for its courtesy in receiving the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, a post which I shall shortly be assuming, and officers of the board. I note with satisfaction that the commission foresees that representation of the Churches on the proposed education and training boards will be important.

This comment represents a theme which is recurrent throughout the report; that of partnership. The commission was set up because the Government refused to set up a Royal Commission and appeared to be uninterested in a real dialogue, frightened perhaps of an educational establishment which they believed was discredited. The national commission was set up in the absence of a government initiative and is to be thanked for raising the level of debate and for recognising the broad range of partners who need to be involved in education and training.

Many churches last Sunday observed Education Sunday. The suggested theme was a renewal of partnership in the year of the 50th anniversary of the Education Act 1944. I have just been re-reading R.A. Butler's account of his conversations with Archbishop William Temple which resulted in the partnership of Church and state in education which has held to this day. The list of submissions to the commission indicates that the time is right for a renewed commitment to the principle and practice of partnership. To quote from the report: Our first hope is that our vision will be very widely shared by political parties, by teachers and educationalists, by parents and students and by the public at large". It may be, as I will suggest in a moment, that a modification or enlargement of that vision will make it more powerful. But any vision will only bring about change in so far as it is shared widely and partners engage with one another in realising and embodying it.

If partnership is a key theme of the report, innovation is another one. Page 108 of the report states, The country needs full-blooded commitment to innovation in education and training, which is supported by good quality research and by that element which is most conspicuous by its absence at present, the determination to implement new advances in teaching and learning and applications of new technology systematically and on a large scale". Amen to that! But I question whether the report has sufficiently faced its implications. For instance, substantial research on the study of the brain and the ways in which effective learning takes place is revolutionising our understanding of the learning process. We are also realising that learning is an activity which takes place as much, perhaps more, outside the school or the institution as within it. We still live in a dependency culture where the teacher and the institution are believed to hold the keys. Education is about giving youngsters and adults the confidence to handle their learning in the context of their social, emotional and experiential development. Within a proper development youngsters acquire self-esteem, responsibility and motivation, all of which are key if learning is to take place.

Perhaps I may take one example only. The report majors on the provision of nursery education without a corresponding recognition of the necessity for a proper home environment and parental involvement in education at an early age. I have argued in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion that nursery provision on its own will do little for children's learning. What is needed is an understanding of the complementary experiences of home, community and school which together provide a total learning environment.

These and other ideas are the chief thrust of a national initiative, Education 2000, which places at the heart of its work the need for the proper use of IT and a very considerable IT component in secondary and primary schools. It places emphasis also on the need for staff development in the use of IT; for the involvement of parents and the community in the total learning environment. It believes that there needs to be an embodiment of these ideas in particular schools to show how they work. A number of consortia of schools throughout the country are affiliated to Education 2000. One of these is a pyramid of feeder primary and one secondary school in inner-city Leeds. There, a management committee, of which I am chairman, has made available a high provision of IT equipment, together with opportunities for staff training and curriculum development, parental involvement in education, accountability by the schools to the community, involvement of the business community, together with monitoring to see what change is brought about.

One of the key elements of Education 2000 thinking which distances it from the national commission report, is that it believes that what is required is not more money but a switch of resources so that money is used more effectively. For instance, the argument which the commission advances about primary and secondary class size, with the implication of a shift from secondary to primary schools, is not carried to its conclusion in the report. However, it is in Education 2000 thinking—namely, that a shift of teachers is needed from the secondary to the primary sector. Might we come to a recognition that the chief resource which children need is not so much people's money but the time and attention which people, including parents, teachers and many in the community as a whole, are able to give them?

I have spoken of the social, emotional and experiential development which is necessary, I believe, for a proper learning environment. This leads me to what I believe is an extraordinary gap in the report: the whole dimension of spirituality, of people as having a spiritual depth, is missing from the report. The briefings published alongside the report include a chapter on moral and spiritual education, submitted by the Reverend Dr. Kenneth Wilson of Westminster College, Oxford. I endorse his view that religious education should be part of the national curriculum and not a compulsory subject standing outside it, and that an understanding of humanity as spiritual, whatever faith system or belief system that understanding is rooted in, needs to be reflected in all subjects of the curriculum.

Religious education gives an insight into particular faith communities and their beliefs and practices; but members of these communities do not exist isolated from the rest of society. Their beliefs are an integral part of their self-understanding, self-confidence and motivation. It is odd that the week after the launch of the national guidelines on religious education we should be debating a report which makes no mention of religious education as a subject and no reference to the profound depths of human nature which are indicated in the word "spirituality".

This leads me to a final comment: Learning to Succeed. Yes, but to succeed for what? What will success involve: economic growth? I understand the need for economic growth but, as a goal in itself, surely it stands as barren and arid. Perhaps alongside this report we need another one which would be about the future of work. It would indicate what kind of a world we are moving into and what kind of opportunities there will be in it for fulfilling ways of living, especially for those who are at present unemployed and those whom I believe may well continue to be unemployed in the future. Education, yes; but education stands in danger of seeing people only as tools for economic progress unless it is accompanied by a vision of individuals as creative, responsible and spiritual, and society as the matrix within which genuine fulfilment is the goal for all. "No time to waste" says the commission and I endorse that sentiment. But I would add to it another one: "No people to waste". I believe that at the moment our society is in danger of wasting people.

Clearly this is a substantial report with many significant and important recommendations in it, but I hope that we shall he prepared to press the debate further to a more profound understanding of the world into which we are moving and of human nature on the part of those of us who are going to have to shape that world.

6.24 p.m.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I welcome this report and I warmly commend my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant on having initiated this debate. Its title intrigues me: Learning to Succeed. Those words encourage me to make a modest contribution based on my presidency of the Institute for Citizenship Studies and my membership of the Prince's Trust and of the Prince's Youth Business Trust. I use the word "modest" with good reason because I ended my school career with no academic distinctions whatsoever. At the age of 17 I was eventually written off and given the title of "the senior inferior". So your Lordships will understand that I have a great interest in any report which refers to learning to succeed.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walton, that, with only a tiny proportion of the world's population, these islands must rely on brains rather than brawn for their future prosperity. All our efforts must go into cultivation of those brains if as a country we are to grow and prosper. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon has drawn attention to the importance of universal nursery education. I applaud this aim and am delighted to see that the Prime Minister does so too. However, I should like to draw attention to page 334 of the report, which states: Expanding educational achievement and opportunity is a community issue. For many people, continuing education is the means by which they may find a sense of personal worth by contributing within the community, rather than by taking". The Commission on Citizenship, which I established during my Speakership and which reported in 1990, called for a form of community service available to every young person who wished to take part. In my retirement I have been honoured to become a trustee of the Prince's Trust, which, encouraged by the Commission on Citizenship, has launched the Volunteers, giving young people from a wide range of backgrounds an opportunity to serve the community, gaining in the process skills and also qualifications.

The Volunteers are in effect a kind of voluntary national service and the scheme has been a great success. The idea is that participants should have an opportunity to learn more about life, more about the different people who make up our community, more about putting things back rather than taking things out and, most crucial of all perhaps, more about themselves. One day I hope it will be the norm to give service in this way, and I am pleased to see that this objective was endorsed by the report of the National Commission on Education.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned that thousands of children spend hours in front of television sets. The trouble is that frequently, when they return from school, the television sets are already switched on and if they want to do their homework it is almost impossible to concentrate. The Prince's Trust recently inaugurated a scheme to provide homework centres to which these children can go and where, in a quiet environment and perhaps with a little help, they cart get down to their work.

In the words of R.W. Emerson: The true test of civilisation is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops—but the kind of men and women the country turns out". Many people in our country are concerned about declining standards and about social and moral behaviour, which seems to be deteriorating. There is concern that there is an impact on all corners of society. I believe that we need to get this into proportion. Our country, it seems to me, has always been in a frightful mess. In the last century, when it was in a terrible mess, they sent for the only man who could sort it out, the Duke of Wellington; and he failed. He said on his deathbed: I thank God I am going so that I shall not see the consummation of ruin that is gathering around us". Of course that was at the very height of British influence and power in the world. Nevertheless, there are concerns today and the answer does not lie simply with the Government.

There is the cry, "The Government must do something about it". In a democracy "they" means all of us. I hope that this debate will be well reported and that the report will be widely read and acted upon. There is an old adage well known to your Lordships. I am sure: Sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny". It seems to me that that is the essential message of this report.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I join in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Walton, and all those who envisaged, funded and set out this massive project. The report itself is beautifully written and wonderfully free of judgment. With its background reading papers, it will be a most useful source of information and discussion in the years to come. Despite entitling itself a "national" commission, the commission's report explains that it deals mainly with England and Wales, but it points out that there is much of relevance to Scotland too. That seemed to me, if I may say so, extremely sensible. The references to Scotland are both well informed and accurate. The suggestions as to how Scotland might benefit from the report are dealt with sensitively and adroitly. It could indeed hardly be otherwise since the research committee includes Professor McPherson of Edinburgh University, and the commission itself, Professor MacFarlane, the Principal of Heriot Watt University.

There has been a widespread welcome for the commission's analysis of the problems that have to be addressed. I, too, welcome that analysis. What concerns me are some of the proposed solutions. I confine my remarks to areas where I can speak, I hope, with some experience. It seems to me that the commission has done well and bravely to have grasped the nettle of how higher education might be funded. As the number of students grows, public funds cannot expand to match. To ask students partly to fund themselves at the time of their course or later when they are earning is a way that could work, especially if Parliament could bring itself for once to offer all-party support to the idea.

Likewise, I am not against a government department which covers both education and training. We are moving that way. As academic and vocational learning come closer together—and that is happening fast in Scotland—policies have to be dovetailed, and that would help. A proposal which worries me, however, is the call for a general teaching council for England and Wales. The report agrees, in my view rightly, that if teachers' professionalism is to grow, they should take more control of the profession themselves. The proposal in the report is that a statutory GTC be set up with initial responsibility for maintaining a register of qualified teachers, for professional standards and discipline and as a statutory source of advice, for example, on professional training, levels of teacher qualification and changes in the curriculum and assessment.

In support of that proposal, the Scottish General Teaching Council, which has existed since 1968, is mentioned. It has similar powers, although slightly more limited advisory functions. Membership of the council consists of 30 full-time registered teachers elected in a specified number of ballots by primary, secondary, further and higher education teachers. The teacher unions take a keen interest in those elections, drawing up and canvassing so-called "slates" of candidates. When the Scottish GTC is asked to advise, for example, on government policy, the unions do not hesitate, naturally, to take their wars with one another and with local and central government into the council. That does not enhance the council's status. In fact, it is counterproductive.

The commission's briefing paper confirms that the Scottish council controls the profession well but that its advisory function does not work so well. Should a GTC for England and Wales be set up, I suggest that its initial statutory functions should not include the giving of advice. It should be charged only with the crucial role of controlling the profession, maintaining the register, the oversight of standards of entry and the maintenance of professional discipline. That would work better.

On the proposal for education and training boards —quite apart from whether they would work better than the arrangements just established under the 1993 Act —I suggest that to have a majority of elected councillors on the board and a minority of others is not a promising arrangement. That used to be the practice long ago on, for example, governing bodies of further education colleges and the like. What happened increasingly was that councillors, necessarily and rightly, did their political thing, and employer representatives soon lost interest and did not turn up. That part of the proposal seems to me unwise, and perhaps a little naive. Unfortunately, it appears to be a key part of the proposal.

My other principal doubt is about the notion that state-funded nursery education for all would be a sensible and cost-effective step. I believe that the case is as yet not proven. The benefits of nursery schooling to individuals are notoriously hard to quantify when home background and home support are a stronger influence than any school. International comparisons—the commission cites a number of them—have a limited value because one is not comparing like with like. Nursery school teachers—the right reverend Prelate touched on this point—do not see themselves as needing to involve parents, yet a parent's lack of understanding can counteract much of the benefit of nursery schooling. We need more research into what expertise nursery school teachers need in that area. We need more research into its cost-effectiveness. I am glad that the commission suggests a slow build up of nursery schooling. That is important.

It is a useful report. I hope that it will be much studied and much used. I commend those who produced it.

6.37 p.m.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, for drawing our attention to his report, which I have read with great interest. I should like to contribute to the debate from the point of view of an industrial employer and shall refer to those parts of the report which discuss the need for a basic education and the requirement for an effective and consistent link between industry and education.

We all agree that unless industry becomes more competitive, manufacturing will continue to move out of this country. Industry is trying to become more competitive in several ways, but the most important is possibly the introduction of improved management practices. That is hardly a controversial observation. The Minister's right honourable friend, the President of the Board of Trade, has put encouraging best management practices near the top of the list of work for his competitive taskforce. Almost everyone has heard of those practices: quality circles and just-in-time delivery are already part of everyday speech. Total quality management, quick response, and electronic point of sale are now common management tools. There are many more on the way. Indeed, an electronics company is going public this month, and the secret of its success, according to the prospectus, is a management technique called partnership sourcing.

But I can hear your Lordships asking, "What has all that to do with education?" The answer is, a great deal, because at the same time as all those techniques are being introduced, layers of management are being removed, with the result that much more is demanded of the workers on the shop floor. They have to supervise one another now; they have to carry out their own quality controls; react to the electronic point-of-sale data; plan their own production flow; keep their own records; do their own ordering; and, with partnership sourcing, deliver their own work.

For that to be successful technical skills are not enough. Workpeople have to use much more initiative arid judgment and have to be numerate, articulate and computer literate. In short, they have to be better educated. That is industry's case for the need for better education. That is why the national commission applauds the progressive companies that encourage employees to undertake education, whether or not it is job related. To my certain knowledge that message has been sent out from these Benches for the past 10 years.

The second point I raise concerns the link between industry, education and training. The Government have made significant moves towards the development of this interface with the establishment of training and enterprise councils and national vocational qualifications. I join the report in welcoming those moves. It is perhaps too early to draw conclusions because both are fairly new and should be given every opportunity to succeed. Their success is crucial to the future of our industry. I understand that the standards vary, with some TECs doing excellent work and others whose work is less than good. It is essential that the standard is consistently high. TECs are important suppliers of training to small and medium size companies, and we all know how important they are. Obviously, all TECs must work to the same high standard. We cannot leave to an accident of birth whether a person receives good or bad training.

I turn to the NVQs. I welcome the radical departure of the Department of Employment in involving business and industry in the lead bodies. I also welcome schemes such as Investors in People which lay down and plan objectives and standards in an interesting way. However, I am not sure whether or not there is strength in diversity of training. As the report points out, they are designed to train people to do jobs as they exist at present. They do not deal with the essential requirement for work people to improve their general education so that they can cope with the increased demands placed upon them by management today and with future changes.

To bring together a young employee's education and training needs, industry looks to the careers service. The training and education of 16 year-olds and beyond is too important to be left to casual, uninformed or biased advice—or even no advice at all. This is where a good and impartial careers service is invaluable. At this point I should perhaps declare an interest—indeed an advantage—because my wife works in the careers service. Industry's young people are a valuable and scarce resource that has to be nurtured. It is vital and more efficient for each person to have the support of a professional careers adviser. It is the careers adviser who is at the interface between the individual and his or her job, training and education. Careers professionals know about the needs of industry, the training and From the point of view of industry, the recent changes both in school funding and in the operation of the careers service provision may mean that this vital service rendered by qualified practitioners is not available to all. The proposed guidance vouchers, like training vouchers, may not solve the problem but just lead to a system of government-directed favouritism. I believe that the report could have emphasised rather more the importance of the careers service.

I have addressed only a small number of the issues that are raised in the report. The commission is to be congratulated because it looks at the education process as a whole. Industry will also welcome the sense of urgency in the report because it needs a well educated and highly skilled workforce quickly. Present policies have delivered a low paid workforce, but that advantage is already slipping away. To regain it, we need a better educated one.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Gibson

My Lords, as the next speaker on the list is not in the Chamber perhaps I may proceed. I should like to add my voice to those who welcome the report. One does not have to agree with every sentence in it to endorse the goals arid a great deal else that is in the report. I do so most warmly. I should also like to pay a tribute to Sir Claus Moser who a few years ago in his presidential address to the British Association took as his theme our educational deficiencies. Thus, he is the originator of this inquiry, so generously financed by the Hamlyn Foundation, which has so distinguished a figure as my noble friend Lord Walton as its head.

Personally, I have no qualifications to talk about education except as a consumer rather a long time ago, and later as a parent and grandparent. I will address one issue to which I attach a great deal of importance. The Government, absolutely rightly, demand more and better scientists and technologists and more and better vocational training for the workforce. If achieved, both will improve our economic performance, especially if backed by adequate investment. It is worth observing that in the past we have lost scientists produced in this country to countries better able or more willing to back them with the necessary investment. Of course we need more technologists and the Government are right to make vocational training an important element in their educational policy. In my view, they are not wrong to use, at any rate to a limited degree, the power of the purse to encourage universities to provide better facilities and more places for people who want to study science.

The crucial point is that neither turning out more scientists nor improving vocational training should be given priority, whether through funding or in any other way, over the basic need to improve the general educational level of the whole population. Included in that must be an improvement in the general level of literacy in scientific matters. Let us not allow the very real need to produce more and better technologists to obscure the basic need to improve the general educational level of the country. If it be objected that an education in the humanities will not produce the people needed for our industrial enterprises and service industries, then ask industrialists what kind of people they want to recruit. I am particularly interested in the commission's report as to what industrialists say. They say that they want well educated people who can express themselves accurately, speak foreign languages, have some knowledge of history, geography and other general subjects, and have basic literacy in scientific matters. It seems to me that those who have a wider education will be far better equipped to adapt to the changes which are certain to be a continuing feature of their working lives.

The commission's report has some very wise things to say about wider educational experience for all alongside better vocational training. In that connection, I strongly support their proposal to bring the teaching of vocational studies into the mainstream of educational provision from the age of 14. It seems to me that their recommendation for an amalgamation of the school curriculum, assessment authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications is very sensible. I am sure that we must leave behind the old society of two cultures—science and the humanities—which are mutually antipathetic, even incomprehensible to each other. That state of affairs was brilliantly described by a late Member of your Lordships' House, C.P. Snow, in so many of his works.

Speaking as the product of an academic education in the 'thirties, I am deeply ashamed of my ignorance of the most elementary scientific knowledge. As I shall be 78 before the end of the week I doubt whether I have the time or the capacity to rectify that deficiency. But I am encouraged to notice that today's young people, even when their chosen subjects for study are among the humanities, tend to take much more for granted the fact that they must know something about science.

What we need, first and foremost, is a better educated society as a whole. That means avoiding specialisation too early. We must widen students' educational experience. I am disappointed to note that music is to be designated as an optional subject. The arts do wonders for young people, as for us all, and music is especially important where a child comes from a home where no good music is heard.

As regards higher education, it is my contention that merely increasing the number of places for science students in higher education at the expense of young people who want to pursue humanist studies will not produce a better educated population, which must be our primary objective. I am told by my university friends that many able children who want to pursue a course of study in the humanities at university are being turned away because of a lack of places while places available for those who wish to study science go unfilled or are filled by less gifted students.

So all that I am pleading for is that whereas our past mistake has been to underrate the importance of science in our education system—and, incidentally, to under-reward it in the industrial sphere—we should not over-react by underestimating the important part that the humanities must play in producing a better educated nation as a whole. It is that which should be our principal aim.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I too welcome the report and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and his colleagues on its nature. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I find the report most refreshing. It looks at education in social and economic terms and in the context of the problems of the UK today. It does so from a historical perspective while at the same time taking account of the real needs of the future. It looks at those needs in a holistic way. From nursery to tertiary education and beyond, it sees education as a continuing process.

I join other noble Lords in expressing pleasure that such a high priority has been given to nursery education. The report gives a variety of reasons why it is important that nursery education should become an essential feature of our education system. We should look at those closely. Of course, that does not rule out what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, about the need for further research. We need further research on nursery education and all aspects of education. That must be continually built into the system.

During the past decade a series of education Bills have dealt with education in a piecemeal fashion. This report is different; it is comprehensive and looks at education in the framework of societies and the needs of individuals. The philosophy behind it is important. It is the philosophy of succeeding in learning. I was rather surprised by the approach of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon because the report made it evident that success in learning applied to the fulfilment of the individual as a whole as well as to the needs of society. That is important, and it is an essential part of the report.

To date, our education system has been a process of weeding out. Those who have passed academic examinations have been successful; those who have not have been failures and have been left largely to fend for themselves. As the report indicates, that is both divisive and wasteful and emphasises the already existing social divisions in society. The philosophy of the report is the exact opposite. It seeks to build bridges between the sectors of education and training, embracing both academic and vocational needs, on the assumption that each individual can succeed in some way and to some extent, thereby enhancing his own life and the contribution that he can make to society. Of course, a cost is involved but, as chapter 14 indicates, that need not be unbearable. It is a question of sorting out the priorities and of additional funding which could be met if the country were determined to do so.

The report and the implications of the philosophy are so important that they should generate a nationwide discussion. I do not mean a discussion among educationists and legislators only but a discussion among parents so that they can see what is in it for their children and can understand that there is every possibility of their child succeeding. There are, and will be, differences of opinion about the report's recommendations. However, it is important to start the debate in the context of the overall philosophy of the report.

I turn to one or two specific items. First, I welcome the recommendation of a new general education diploma. Our present system of multiple qualifications, with A-levels at the summit, is most divisive. In recent years there has been much talk of changing the system but, despite the weight of academic opinion in favour of change, the Government have not been convinced. Again, we have a report from a distinguished group of people who recommend change, and I hope that the Government will take note.

The recommendation of a general education diploma is framed in a way that need not diminish the academic content of A-levels. Those who are afraid that we should lose out by dropping A-levels need not worry about that recommendation. Indeed, the academic content could be enhanced for those who wished to take it because the modular system and the flexibility which is advocated would help.

Moreover—and this is very important—it would open the door wide for that vital change which is most necessary in our system; namely, raising expectations. As the report indicates, and as we are all aware in your Lordships' House, the expectations of young people for themselves and of teachers for young people are far too low except for that 21 per cent. or so of young people who take two or more A-levels. It presupposes a level of failure which, as a nation, we cannot tolerate. To span the academic, vocational and voluntary and social work, which the report also recommends, on a modular basis would mean that all children would have some chance of success. I suggest that the habit of success and learning begets further success and learning. That is surely what we need in the complicated system of society in which we live today.

7.1 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I express my gratitude and congratulations to my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant both for initiating the debate and for chairing the commission.

The report as a whole seems to be such a mixture of vision and common sense that one cannot help but read it with excitement and pleasure. I wish to speak briefly on just one aspect of it, although there are many others which are interesting. I wish to concentrate on an aspect which I believe is fundamental to all future educational policy: that is, the education and training of teachers, without which the aim that every child should want to learn cannot possibly be fulfilled or even kept in sight.

Chapter 8 of the report is the relevant chapter. It is entitled "Teachers and Teaching". The overall goal for teachers in the 21st century is stated in the report in terms which could not be improved upon: In our vision, a teacher in the twenty-first century will be an authority and enthusiast in the knowledge, ideas, skills, understanding and values to be presented to pupils". All the elements in that statement are worth pondering. I wish to point out in particular that the stated goals presuppose that the teacher will be a certain recognisable kind of person: an enthusiast and an authority, and one who is not ashamed to introduce overt value-judgments into teaching. In turn that means that the teacher must be well educated and thoroughly familiar with the knowledge and ideas which he is to teach. He must be sufficiently confident to convey those meanings and values to his pupils.

The role in society as a whole of the teacher thus envisaged is of overwhelming importance. We know, not by relying on common sense or guess work but from hard evidence, that school makes a difference to the life chances of its pupils. It is the general academic and moral ethos of the school which separates good influences from bad. It is only from the teachers that such an ethos has its source. Therefore, how teachers are to be selected and prepared is of fundamental importance, not only for the education: system. but for society as a whole.

It used to be fashionable in universities to adopt a snobbish and dismissive attitude towards the training of teachers. "There is no such subject as education", the aged dons used to say, looking with great scorn upon university education departments. They would say, "There are only subjects to be taught". The implication was that anyone who knows something can teach it and that training is a waste of time.

That attitude has had a disastrous effect, especially upon less able children and upon primary education. After all, the same old dons used to argue, "We can all read and write and do simple arithmetic, so we could all teach it"—except that, of course, it would be beneath them to do so. Although that attitude was common, it was antiquated, even when I was an undergraduate. But I am afraid that there are some, perhaps even in your Lordships' House and certainly in another place, who remain fixed in that attitude. That attitude lies behind the suggestion that the preparation of teachers need have nothing whatever to do with higher education and that not only can it be separately funded but it can be carried out entirely by the schools with no part played by the universities or colleges.

However much schools are rightly drawn into partnership and collaboration with institutions of higher education—and they should be so drawn—they have by themselves neither the time nor the resources to devise courses or assess and accredit teachers. I am wholly in favour of the increasing involvement of schools that we are seeing at present, with nominated mentors in the school, and I should be in favour of designated teaching or training schools analogous with teaching hospitals. But, after all, teaching hospitals work in partnership with university departments. And so schools must work with universities to ensure a graduate profession thoroughly able to take its place among and alongside other professions. There must be people who are able and confident to fulfil the vision for teachers which 1 believe is so admirably expressed in the report which we are debating.

I believe that part of that renewed confidence which the teaching profession must acquire will be reflected in time in a general teaching council. That must be the next step. I have so far heard no single argument against it. I have heard statements that it will not happen or that it should not be a statutory teaching council, but I have heard no argument to support such statements. The training of teachers within schools but in partnership with universities means that the next step must be the establishment of a general teaching council which will accredit the teachers and keep alive the standards.

I am aware that there will be another opportunity to debate the training of teachers at a later—riot much later —date. But the issue is of such fundamental importance, not just to the education system but to society as a whole, that I end by merely expressing the hope that your Lordships will read what is said about teacher training on pages 214 to 216 of the report, (I say that in my most helpful donnish way). Indeed, read no more. An overwhelming argument is there made for the kind of equal partnership between schools and higher education which is already proving to be the most effective means of preparing our teachers and which I believe it is absolutely essential that we should continue to provide and fund with a particular view to the production of teachers at the end such as are outlined in the report.

7.9 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, we have many reasons to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and to his commissioners for this well-argued, well-researched innovative and non-political report. The report is generous in its praise of many of the great educational advances made by this Government but is trenchant in its criticism where it thinks we have gone wrong. However, its main purpose is to persuade us all to press onwards: to do more, to do better and to do some things differently. I am sure that all noble Lords present will find something in the report with which they do not agree. But the report expresses its arguments so reasonably that it invites discussion and not dissent. The report is a true basis for consensus.

It is interesting to contrast it with the Labour Party's Green Paper, which claims to have the same high aims but which remains stuck in the marshland of party politics. I hope that we shall have a chance to debate that paper on another occasion. But, for now, I shall just offer your Lordships one, albeit quite lengthy, quote from it on the 1944 Education Act: Neither a nation nor an education system can tell people what talents they have; it cannot say that 30 per cent. of the population will be 'good with their hands', it cannot say that another 30 per cent. will be good with their heads and yet another 30 per cent.…? —presumably those who are neither good with their hands nor their heads— will make good managers".. That is an interesting comment on what it takes to be a good manager in a socialist society. The extract continues: British education tried to do that in the 20 years after the war with disastrous consequences. It wasted talent in every street in the country. It set our nation back a long time". The next time noble Lords opposite call on the shades of the 1944 Education Act, I hope that they will remember what their party really thinks about it. However, time is short I must turn my attention to the report at hand and to two or three areas where I support what the report says in the hope that we may persuade my noble friend to follow, at least to some extent, its advice.

My first point is teacher education. I very much commend to my noble friend what the report says on the importance of educating teachers. In almost all the schools and colleges that I visit, even the very good ones, teachers do not learn as much as they should. When the door closes on the classroom the teacher is on his own; you do not find other teachers wandering in to watch what he is doing and offer advice. Nor does he offer his own insights to colleagues. There is very little measurement and informed self-criticism.

If you talk to people in a good school about why one particular department is failing and what can be done about it, you receive a lot of hand-waving arguments and some references to the black arts of education. If it is a good school, you know that they will get it right in a year or two, but it is never quite clear what their understanding of the problem is. However, when you visit a college that really understands measurement—for example, Greenhead College in Huddersfield—the difference is extraordinary. First, those concerned are not talking about results or about the students who have gone and are past recovery; they are talking about the students who are with them now, from their first half-term and onwards. They are looking at figures and information which indicate the students who need particular help or the teachers who may be failing the less able students in their class. Teachers respond to that information because it tells them what their students need and what they can do about it. Teaching is a vocation and teachers care about their pupils. If we give teachers the information, they will react to it in a wonderful way.

The Government have made a good start in teacher education and in improving the way teachers understand their job. The new inspection system encourages them in that direction. Teacher appraisal is also a good start. Where the project "investors in people" has been taken up in the education system it has played a great part. However, we must go on. There is so much to be gained from helping teachers to learn.

Secondly, I should like to support the report's advocacy of integrated, lifelong modular examination systems. It is the universal wish of the principals and head teachers whom I meet to see an end to the arts-science divide; to see an end to the divide between the academic and the vocational; to see an end to the divide between teaching the young and teaching the more experienced. They want their students to have a broad base to equip them for the world and to provide them with a better foundation for their more specialist studies later on.

It is not a question, as my noble friend Lord Beloff seemed to imply, of abandoning the academic; the academic remains one pure route for people who wish to follow it. However, some people like me who are good at the academic route regret being cut off from half the academic world. Because I was a scientist, after the age of 14 I hardly touched arts subjects at all. I was cut off from the practical and from the chance to return and learn a language in the way that I would have liked.

The examination system also needs to recognise the other end of the spectrum; that is, the people who are currently labelled as drop-outs and failures. Well, perhaps some people deserve those labels. But many students have worked long and hard before they achieve such labels. Indeed, we have spent much money on them before we regard them in that way. We should not waste that effort and money if we can possibly give them something; if we can recognise what they have done and if we can give them a base upon which they can build later in life. Again, this Government have made good progress in that direction with the introduction of GCSEs, GNVQs, AS-levels, and so on. However, we must move onwards down that path.

Finally, I should like to offer some thoughts on education and training boards. They appeal to me as a concept because I should like to see the combination of education and training to make education lifelong. I like the way that they offer a route for incorporating the local dimension in education as opposed to just the school or the nation. I speculate that they could offer an answer to one of the reasons why so many LEAs have failed to provide good education: they are too close to their electorate.

Many people who send their children to schools which do not do well are, as we saw with the reactions to the report on Crook Primary Schools, content with the bad education that their children receive. They have come to share the low expectations that are prevalent in such schools and in the educational system. The politicians who are in charge of those schools challenge the contentment of the electorate at their own risk. If you make your electorate discontented, they will merely chose someone else. Perhaps if we had education and training boards we would find that they were sufficiently distant from local politicians to enable the latter to regain their role as champions of their electorate and yet sufficiently close to enable those same politicians to have a clear influence on the policies of the education and training boards.

In summary, this is an excellent report. There is a great deal in it that we shall use for many years to come.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, I should like to follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, by saying that his final sentence summarises the situation about this splendid report. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, will not mind if I say that, although I understand his point of view, I believe that my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant and his colleagues have stimulated the structural side of the educational arrangements in this country.

I should like to talk a little about individual children. I believe that many important points about recognising talents and developing aptitudes were raised both in the report and during this evening's debate. At the end of the day, I doubt whether there are many people in the Chamber who do not realise that some teacher somewhere along the line in their development spotted whatever talents they had and encouraged them. Perhaps I may stress to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon that that is related to the spiritual side of education. I understand that he was worried because the latter was not thrown into the report as firmly as he would wish. In my view, this represents an important part of the experience of being educated, being embraced by someone other than your parents, being looked at dispassionately and being given guidance.

The point has been made about the variety of people who require education. Noble Lords have referred to manual skills, mental intelligence and the capacity to be managers. I wish to tease your Lordships by asking you whether you can identify my following general quotation. I ask you not to shout out! The quotation is as follows: The educational services should encourage the development in each child of reasoning, self-discipline, work habits, consideration for others, initiative, sensitivity arid flowering of talents". Those were the words of a former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, I mention that quotation because I wish to soften the Minister's heart as I know she will be cross with me when I speak presently in support of a general teaching council.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

It will take more than that.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, the noble Lord says that it will take more than that.

I believe that the flowering of talents that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, mentioned in the quotation I have just referred to is associated with the title of the report, Learning to Succeed. When I was at Cambridge I used to talk a lot about the uncovering of aptitude until. I discovered, to my horror, that that was a foolish thing for an educationist to say because it implied that you thought that people had ingrained genetic abilities and you should not give the impression that you were dealing with genetic characteristics.

I must confess that I found the report what I believe the newspapers refer to as a jolly good read. There was much research behind it arid I am sure that we shall consult it from time to time in the future. I congratulate the famous international publisher, Paul Hamlyn, on raising the funds for this project through his foundation. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Walton, on gathering together such a splendid group of colleagues.

There are certain matters that I wish to tease out of the report as I believe they are relevant to my addiction to the idea of a general teaching council. The report places great emphasis on high quality learning; and that depends on what learning is on offer and to a certain extent on the leadership of the teaching profession.

We must remember, of course, that Her Majesty's Inspectorate has observed on visits that there are, sadly, some teachers who fail to identify the needs of their individual pupils, whether they be the less able or the very able. In a way it is rather daunting, when one thinks about the process of education and the structure of educational institutions, to realise that in the end one is talking about an almost magical relationship between an inspiring person, the teacher, and a child whose interests are being awakened and the enormously heavy structure of organisations which are interested in and have a voice in the educational process. Appendices 1 and 2 of the report enable us to identify easily 100 organisations, associations and groups of people who are concerned with education and are presumably all committed to their projects and feel they have the right to have a voice in education. There is a wide diversity of people interested in education, whether education in infant schools or universities. I feel that that is a good reason for having an organisation such as a general teaching council which can act as a sorting house for all these diverse points of view.

In their remarks about a commitment to innovation the commissioners talk about, the creation of a community within the teaching profession, dedicated to innovative teaching, to the development of new methods and the imaginative use of advanced technology". It seems to me that those things could be developed if we could achieve representation on a general teaching council in an acceptable balance for government.

When I first proposed an amendment urging that we incorporate a general teaching council into the previous Education Bill, I received nods of approval from all around the House. Unfortunately, in the ensuing discussion some people made the point that the trades unions controlled the teachers and that the teachers had struck. That pulled the carpet from under my feet and I never really recovered from it. I have since been told that no sensible mover of an amendment would have sought a vote after dinner.

There is wide support for the concept of a general teaching council. There was recently a meeting in St. George's House, Windsor, which some of those present in this Chamber attended. Those of us at the meeting felt that a general teaching council should have more rounded representation, comprising members drawn from the general public, pupils and governors and of course representation from employers. I believe that a general teaching council could through that more rounded representation develop arrangements for on-going training and could foster a relationship between teachers on the ground and the local university departments. I am not speaking of whole universities, or necessarily universities' education departments.

It is intriguing to read the comments of D.H. Lawrence on the University College of Nottingham. He and his friends who attended that university were reaching out for better knowledge. That is the very matter which the commission is keen on and which is mentioned frequently in the report.

Many people have said that the developments we are discussing will require partnership. I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, when she said that the development would require a good partnership between those in the universities who have striven and achieved certain levels of learning and the teachers on the ground. I regret that there was not a chapter in the report on the integration of local schools with all the new local universities. The staff in those universities could pick up where the dons lost the opportunity to have an influence. I support the report.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, one of the advantages of speaking towards the end of the debate is that many of the points one wished to make have already been made. The noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Gibson, have encapsulated much of what I wished to say. There are two areas I wish to touch on this evening. The first is the training of scientists and engineers—here I speak as a practising engineer—and the second is the proposed education and training boards.

Over the past weeks I have spent some time speaking to colleagues in my industry, the oil industry, and with people in other industries on their view of education and training. It seems that there is a consensus about which we have heard quite a bit, and I believe that it can be summarised into three main sections. The first is a requirement for basic numeracy and literacy. I do not think there is any question that that is a basic requirement for any employer.

The second is a desire for a continuum of educational opportunities between the academic and the vocational, between part-time and full-time education and between the definitions of training and education. There seems to be a desire for a continuum of opportunity and that there should not be a division between these various forms of education. Indeed, the report makes many suggestions on methods of achieving this goal.

The third point is that inevitably none of my colleagues wanted to pay any more money towards achieving those goals. Many felt indignant that, as they saw it, the Government were shifting on to them responsibilities for which they believed they had paid their taxes.

It is often asserted, as it is asserted in this report, that there is a link between educational standards and economic growth. I believe that it is true there is such a link. However, it is wrong to suggest that increasing standards alone will lead to greater economic growth. There is a danger of such assertions becoming platitudes. Perhaps I may give two examples from my own experience.

I have recently worked in Russia as an engineer. In Russia there is a well-educated population yet there are extremely poor living standards. In many areas I visited they are comparable to third world living standards. Secondly, I used to work in Indonesia. My company, like many others, put considerable resources into training the members of the local population it employed. They were all graduates, and the company made sure that they were supplied with computers and software. However, those employees were not capable of moving up to run the company. The reason was quite simple. They were not exposed to the decision-making process and the practicalities of planning and running a business.

The message I draw from those two examples is that, of course, continuing training and education are vital. That is something we must all strive to improve. But they are not sufficient in themselves. They are not a substitute for practical involvement in the decisions and planning of any enterprise. I can recall the warm feeling that comes over managers and training managers who have sent employees off for their one or two week annual training course. It may make people feel worthy and conscientious, but in my view it is not sufficient training. What is needed is practical involvement. Individuals should be involved in the decision-making process within the organisation in a way which exposes them visibly to the direct financial impact of the decisions in which they are involved.

I return briefly to the proposed education and training boards. Here I am slightly disappointed with the conclusions of the report. I should like to quote from two paragraphs on page 350: We find this proposed erosion of local accountability both unnecessary and in principle undesirable … The reason that it is undesirable is that accountability for many decisions about local schools will be taken away from the locality and invested in a remote funding body which is accountable to the Secretary of State". I agree that that is true, but I do not consider the proposed education and training boards, to be set up in a similar manner to the training and enterprise councils, an adequate response. I believe that the commission should have abandoned its politically neutral stance and come out firmly in favour of local democratic control of education. That debate has had a long run in this House and in another place, but I was disappointed that the report did not live up to the views which I have just quoted.

I notice that I have a couple more minutes and I feel stimulated to respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He has stimulated many noble Lords to respond to him this evening. I have seen many young people whom one might not expect to be academically inclined entranced by many of the computer programs available on PCs—games and the like—which are extremely educationally beneficial, particularly in the areas of mechanics and electronics. I do not believe that the noble Lord did so, but one should not sneer at such opportunities. In many cases one cannot drag children away from such programs.

The noble Lord went on to say that three grade As at A-level should be required to study at what I believe to be the second best engineering college in Britain. I understand that that was a rhetorical comment, but it does not address the main problems facing scientists and engineers. The main problem is encapsulated in the statistic that 50 per cent. of those who start science at A-level fail to finish their course. That is the problem which we must face and which the report addresses.

I shall wind up by referring to the combative speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I certainly would welcome an opportunity to debate Labour's Green Paper, which is out to very full consultation. That consultation is much fuller than that provided for government documents. I believe that we should have a debate on that report at an early stage. I conclude by welcoming the report which we are debating.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, I join those noble Lords who have paid tribute to the national commission and my noble friend Lord Walton in particular. The grounds on which I add my congratulations to the commission are mainly for undertaking the enterprise at all. Perhaps it would have been better still if we had had a Royal Commission, but I quite understand why the Government did not want that. Looking back to 1980, I am glad that reference was made to the ideals and principles of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph.

Much progress has been made in many fields, but it must be faced that the education system inherited by the present Government was in a lamentable state. I take the analogy of a broken-down car. I am moved to take that particular analogy because, on my way to London for the debate, an articulated lorry with a laden trailer came round a right-angled corner on my side of the road and, before overturning, smashed my car. I suppose that have the choice of repairing the car or, as I hope, having it declared a write-off and obtaining a new car.

Analogies have their limitations. No one wants to write off the inheritance of our educational structure. However, as I believe many noble Lords agree, we need a radical transformation. Why? Because the world is moving at a rate of accelerated change. We can have no idea what it will be like in 20 years. All we know is that it will be very different. The qualities and capacities that students should acquire for a world of accelerating change are above all the capacity to learn, to adapt, to engender creative imagination and flexibility.

How does one set about acquiring those qualities? Chapter 5 of this admirable report deals with innovation in learning. It states: It is constant innovation that will drive provision … up to the highest level of quality, while also opening it out to all who can and should in future benefit". A few pages later the report states: Effective learning requires the development of thinking skills". I shall confine the remainder of my remarks to that aspect of innovation. If we are to keep abreast and if we are to make our living in a changing world, it is absolutely basic to the future of this country that we keep a jump ahead of all our competitors with regard to thinking skills.

Until recently it was supposed that thinking skills could and should be taught only as a by-product of content. Certainly in my own lamentably narrow education it was assumed that the muscles of the mind were sufficiently extended and developed by focusing on the narrowest possible range of Greek and Latin studies. How wrong we were, my Lords. Look at the product! However, it is now acknowledged that thinking skills is a curriculum subject in itself. Professor Nisbet, a distinguished educationist, said that no curriculum will be acceptable soon unless it makes a contribution to the teaching of thinking.

I am involved with a very small school which has made a considerable effort in that direction. There is a range of thinking skills now which can be tackled direct: lateral thinking; modelling; mapping thoughts, arid widening perception. Those skills can be enormously enhanced by the use of the latest visual aids and IT. IT is a subject in itself. The National Council for Educational Technology states that we need a strategy for the use of IT. Her Majesty's Inspectorate says that there is a limited diet of IT at present and at a relatively superficial level. I have no doubt that information technology in education will develop at a tremendous rate and perhaps revolutionise most of the teaching methods in schools in the next 10 or 15 years. I therefore support the commission's recommendation that a council for innovation in teaching and learning should be set up to advise the Secretary of State on innovation policy, to develop national policy and new approaches, and to secure Government commitment to give support. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will pursue that recommendation.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, first, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Addington, who was unable to take part in the debate having become unwell. I know that he would like me to express his apologies to the House.

Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. I wish briefly to point out that in the much maligned 1970s there was a consistent increase in the proportion of children attaining GCE O-levels and A-levels—the current examination at the time. Therefore, to give the impression that it was a period of steady decline in educational achievement is, to say the least, not quite consonant with history. However, I agree with much of what he said including his impressive remarks about information technology.

Perhaps I may add my congratulations to the many extended to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and to his entire team. It is an impressive team of people with knowledge of industry, business, science, the universities and teaching. He and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation deserve the greatest possible credit for bringing together such a broad spectrum of people who have contributed to the findings of the national commission. I almost referred to it as the Royal Commission; that is perhaps my fault as I wish that it had been so.

I congratulate Sir Claus Moser who was in some ways the inspiration of the national commission because of the moving and passionate speech which he made to the British Association for the Advancement of Science three years ago. As I understand it, that was the genesis of the national commission. It seems right and proper we should all pay tribute to his far-sightedness and commitment.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I was impressed by the tremendous range of evidence that the commission heard. Any commission which listens to everyone, ranging from members of the National Union of Teachers to the Confederation of British Industry, from the Engineering Employers Federation to the Headmasters' Conference, cannot for one moment be described as having listened only to one side. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, might wish to look again at Appendix 1, which lists all those who gave oral evidence, and at Appendix 2, which lists all those who gave written evidence. It is impossible to argue that the commission listened only to one point of view.

Perhaps I may pick up some of the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate and by the right reverend Prelate who preceded him in the debate on 7th December, making much the same point. I believe that there should be three purposes in education. I wish to say a few words about each of them. I assess the purposes with no priority; I merely list them.

The first is the purpose of creating a highly skilled, adaptable, flexible and well qualified workforce. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, spoke eloquently about that. I shall later follow some of the points that he made. No society and no nation can hope to survive or flourish if it is not competitive in terms of the abilities and skills of its workforce. Let me make it plain: when I talk about a workforce I include professional scientists and managers as well as people on the shop floor, in craft, and in other trades.

The second great purpose of education is, as the national commission said, to instil the concept of full citizenship in all the people of a society. Citizenship involves more than being the passive customer of services. It is the participation and sharing in the public deliberation which leads to the decisions that a society in a democracy makes. I believe that to be one of the most important points made by the national commission; we should not neglect it in our debate this evening.

Many of us would echo the words of the right reverend Prelate that the third purpose of education—I refer to the purpose, but not to the order of priority—is to achieve the spiritual and moral development of each individual. It is to recognise in each individual what Dante described as divine discontent: the quality that lifts human beings above the level of all other species. The right reverend Prelate rightly pointed to it as one of the objects of education.

I now turn to each of the headings. The first was the need for a skilled and qualified workforce. I can make my remarks, relatively brief because the subject was dealt with so well by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. I wish to say a few words drawn from the report which is about to be published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD. As noble Lords know, it is the over-arching organisation of the industrialised countries of the world. The report, foreshadowing what the organisation will say for the purposes of the so-called "job summit" in a few months' time, stated that the collapse in the demand for unskilled workers in developed economies is a serious problem, regardless of the form it takes—low paid, low quality jobs or overt unemployment". In launching the draft report, the Secretary-General of the OECD, M. Jean Paye, said precisely that he believed that there was a link between unemployment, on the one side, and drugs and crime on the other. That comes from a man who is respected in international organisations for his sense, reason and obvious avoidance of any exaggerated claims. He asks for a mandate from OECD members so that that link might be more closely studied.

However, the fundamental point is the disappearance of unskilled jobs, which means that for a large part of our society there is literally no future in employment prospects towards the end of the century and beyond. As the national commission pointed out, we have the highest proportion of young men and women with no qualifications as they leave school of any of the leading European and Atlantic industrial countries. The national commission pointed out that our figures for both 16 and 18 year-old pupils with higher qualifications fall well below those of virtually all our major industrial competitors.

The national commission might have extended that beyond the countries that we normally think of as our competitors—namely, the United States and Japan—to look at the so-called Asian tigers. In countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, the levels of educational achievement are beginning to surpass our own. That will give them a tremendous advantage in the next century.

I wish to make one other point about the problems of our pattern of industrial development. One problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and many others pointed is that we are moving into an industrial pattern where hierarchies are flattened, where each individual worker has far more discretion than he had under the old Taylorian industrial system. As a member of the Educational Development Institute in the United States, every time I attend a meeting at which we receive reports from high technology industries I am conscious of the extraordinary level of responsibility now given to workers in those industries because they cannot work in any other way.

I turn next to the second major aim of education to which I referred; namely, the aim of citizenship. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said when he outlined the work being done by the Prince of Wales trust in the field of community service. Citizenship should be taught in the schools in a deep and profound way, by showing young people how they can contribute to the community. I should like to congratulate the Prince of Wales trust on the work it is doing in that respect.

It is perhaps worth mentioning to the House that the new Administration in the United States has also adopted a community service structure in which, interestingly, it is inviting graduates as well as young people from the inner cities to work side by side in community service, allowing graduates to have some part of their student loans waived in respect of their commitment to community service.

Perhaps I may make two final remarks about citizenship. I welcome the fact that the national commission recognised—and it is strange to have to say this after nearly 20 years —that Britain is a member of the European Union. In that respect, we need in our schools not only to teach languages —and we will pay a terrible price for the lack of priority that we give at present to foreign languages, particularly European languages—but also to teach our children something about European history, geography and culture. I wish that the national curriculum reflected that a little more brightly than at present.

One other point on citizenship is that the national commission refers to the emergence—alas, I have to say —of a growing underclass in our country. The national commission says that 20 per cent. of our people leave school without any qualifications. That has been true for a long time; and I say that because the Minister might say that I did not, as she would be entitled to do. That 20 per cent. constitutes a serious social threat of the breakdown of social cohesion; for the underclass—be it here, in the United States or in France—is becoming increasingly detached from society, increasingly sucked into a world of crime, drugs and dissociation from the main objectives which the rest of us are fortunate enough to continue to pursue.

I make no reference to the previous debate in this House, except to say that it seems to me tragic that we can find the money for more prisons but not for more nursery education. With respect to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lockwood and Lady Carnegy, I have to say that there has been more research than there have been hot dinners on the usefulness of nursery education. I do not believe that we need any more; we need action, not words, to quote a famous Conservative.

I now refer to the final objective of education: the moral and spiritual development of young people. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that it depends on the family as well as schools. However, in many cases the family structure for which we may wish is simply not there. We have to address the situation as it is—harsh, tough, disagreeable. We know that good schools provide youngsters whose families have crumbled with some kind of structure, challenge and opportunity to get out of a spiral of decline.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred to the significance of teachers in that respect, and there is no possible substitute for excellent teaching. I conclude by saying that we do not just need a general teaching council, although we do. We do not just need a renewal of the partnership between higher education and teacher training to which the noble Baroness referred; and heaven help us if we break that link. Teachers need more than just to. be trained in the narrowest professional skills; they need a rich and broad education. We also need respect for the teaching profession and that has to begin with teachers' respect for themselves.

I wish to end my remarks by once again thanking the chairman of the national commission and its members for having provided all of us in this country with an opportunity to revisit the issue of education over the long term and to see how we can save a nation at risk from the possibility of decline.

7.58 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has asked me to say that he very much regrets that he cannot be here to take part in the debate today. He had a long-term commitment in Mexico which he could not avoid.

I too wish to begin by thanking the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Sir Claus Moser for making the report of the national commission possible. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Walton, for chairing it, for giving so much of his valuable time to it, for providing such a comprehensive survey of education and for giving us the opportunity today to debate it. It turns out to be a most appropriate time situated, as we are, in the curious limbo between Second Reading and Committee stage of the unpopular Education Bill. The debate gives us another opportunity to talk about teachers.

The Labour Party welcomes the report. A large proportion of its findings coincides with party policies and aspirations set out in the Green Paper produced last October. I look forward at some point to discussing that further with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Nursery education has been mentioned a great deal. It is our priority as well as that of the report. We have conflicting statements from the Government. The Prime Minister makes a speech totally in favour; the Secretary of State for Education will make no firm commitment; and the noble Baroness continues to mislead on the numbers. There are only just over 50 per cent. of three and four year-olds in state nursery schools and classes —and those are government figures—but the Minister constantly quotes the figure of 95 per cent. as being the number receiving some form of pre-school education. We must emphasise that playgroups do not provide the same quality of education and are very much a second best.

We have always been keen to make the national curriculum less prescriptive. Indeed, at the time the reform Act was going through this House in 1988 we did our best, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, to reduce the number of subjects that must be taught. But to no purpose. Saying "I told you so" does not give much comfort. Since then almost everyone—certainly the teachers who were most actively involved in producing it—has been highly critical. The curriculum could not be made to work. The Government refused to listen until they were absolutely forced to. They then called in Sir Ron Dearing to make proposals to sort out the mess. He proposed a much slimmed-down curriculum, giving to the schools the opportunity to choose what use to make of the time not being taken up with the six subjects remaining compulsory. The Government accepted those proposals. That is a complete climb-down; a complete U-turn.

The proposals for the general education diploma need further consideration. The GCSE was a success, but there is much to be said for the call for coherence within the 14ߝ19 age range and no arbitrary break at 16. The education and training of 16 to 18 year-olds has been a disaster area. There must be A-level reforms, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, said. A broad and balanced curriculum must be produced for that age group. The Government's obstinacy in hanging on to A-levels after the Higginson Report - which they commissioned—and the disillusion felt by practically everyone involved in education is incredible. Now Mr. Patten wants a super A-level which would lead to even more specialisation. That was laughed out of court by the heads both in the independent and the state sectors.

The system as it is condemns young people to failure. According to the report only 21 per cent. of 18 year-olds in 1991–92 gained two A-levels. The emphasis should be on success and not on failure. The encouragement of those not in social classes I and II to continue in some form of education or training, or both, is vital, not only for their own satisfaction but also for the needs of the country. That has been pointed out a number of times today. The Labour Party wants a proper integrated system where young people can select different combinations of vocational and academic study. That is perhaps one point on which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and I agree. And lack of finance must not be a deterrent.

There is a chapter on teachers and teaching, as mentioned by a number of speakers. High quality teaching is the most crucial factor at the heart of high quality learning. Every pupil should be entitled to be taught by a teacher with the knowledge, training, competence and enthusiasm to teach that lesson well. The profession is not in a happy state at the moment. Morale is low. The frequent changes to the national curriculum and to assessment, often at short notice, caused a huge increase in the workload, especially administrative paperwork which is not what teachers entered the profession to do. The suggestion of classroom assistance is eminently sensible.

There has been an increase in resignations due to ill-health and the taking of early retirement. The present Bill makes matters worse. It de-professionalises the teacher. As the report says, There seems no doubt that the most successful teacher training occurs when there is a genuine partnership between schools and higher education institutions, each playing a distinctive part". We need to secure a supply of high quality entrants. The report provides evidence that we do not have that at the moment. Many secondary subjects are being taught by people not qualified in the subject. The recession probably encouraged more young people to go into teaching and accounts for the supply of teachers in shortage subjects being at least better than it was. But we want the supply to continue even if the economy perks up. There is evidence to show that if the demand for really high quality persists, if the training is demanding and if we insist on keeping an all-graduate profession, the number and quality of entrants will rise and the 350,000 teachers in the PIT—pool of inactive teachers—may be enthused to return to the schools.

I am glad that the report recommends the setting up of a general teaching council, supported by a number of speakers with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. I attended the seminar at St. George's, Windsor, last week, conducted by Professor John Tomlinson, as did the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Butterfield, and the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Guildford and Ripon. We were all impressed by what we heard. I believe that the setting up of a GTC will not only raise morale among teachers but will also greatly improve the quality of teaching in our schools and colleges. That would assist the Government. I hope therefore that Ministers will keep an open mind, that they are ready to think again on the matter, and that they will not reiterate their fears that it would be a creature of the unions.

The commission wants funding council quangos to go. After all that we heard last week from the Public Accounts Committee regarding inequities and inefficiencies, that can come as no surprise. The report rightly stresses that the power they have been given will erode local accountability. Decisions, it says, are best taken at local level. I believe we had agreement on that from my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and others.

The commission's solution is to create an intermediate tier of locally accountable bodies between the Department of Education and Training—and we wholeheartedly support that amalgamation—and the individual schools, which would be the educational training boards. I cannot see why the LEA, perhaps slightly reconstituted, cannot perform that task. It is said that the representation of Churches will be important. Education committees have long had representatives on them of the Churches and of teachers. There is no reason why members of the local TEC cannot be co-opted. The LEA would have the experience and knowledge of officers and members and would be a truly democratic body. More reorganisation and more new bodies can only be disruptive.

We have had an interesting and important debate. Many of the recommendations have been mooted before, as my noble friend Lord Dormand said. But in Learning to Succeed they have been brought together in a masterly and readable way. There was input and a great deal of work done by a wide range of people from industry, commerce and education. The report contains vision. The objectives are excellent. My only query is whether a structure exists to put those objectives into practice. After all, we want action. I understand that funds are available for some follow-up. There is certainly an obligation on the Government to examine the recommendations in detail and to come up with reasoned arguments as to why they will or will not support them. We eagerly await the first response from the Government.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down perhaps she will agree that I did not say that I disagreed with the idea of a general teaching council. I merely commented, I hope constructively, on one role that the commission suggested it should have.

Baroness David

My Lords, I apologise if I misinterpreted the noble Baroness.

8.9 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity of replying on behalf of the Government to this most interesting debate, which I believe reflects credit on your Lordships' House, showing once again the expertise and dedication which your Lordships apply to the question of education. I congratulate in particular the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, on his excellent opening speech setting the context for your Lordships' debate and of course for the service which he and his fellow commissioners performed in the course of their work leading to the report, Learning to Succeed.

In the short time available to me I shall attempt to respond to as many as possible of the important points made by noble Lords during the debate, and it may be convenient if I make my response in the same sequence as that used by the national commission in its report; that is, in the order of the topics covered by the seven "goals" which have been identified.

On the first goal, I understand the thinking behind the commission's call for an expansion in nursery education. But let us not lose sight of how much has already been achieved in this area. More than half—not 94 per cent. —of all three and four year-olds experience some form of nursery education provision. When the excellent work done by the Pre-school Playgroups Association—when I use these statistics I always regard this as provision and not education, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, said—and other voluntary bodies is added—and not forgetting the independent sector—the number of under fives involved in pre-school activity—education and other provision—rises to more than nine out of 10 children.

And, of course, children in this country begin their formal school career at the age of five, much earlier than the age six or seven in most other European countries. Compulsory schooling also lasts longer in this country —for 11 years —than in most European countries. We are, I believe, equalled only by the Netherlands. And international comparisons of pre-school playgroup provision often overstate what actually happens in other countries. For example, the OECD's analysis shows France as securing 95 per cent. take up of nursery education for all three and four year-olds for up to eight hours a day. But I doubt whether in practice most French under-fives actually receive that amount of education; and it says nothing about quality. In other countries pre-school provision is not necessarily free: it is often privately funded, with varying degrees of public subsidy to providers or consumers. Britain therefore compares more favourably than people sometimes think.

That said, as I indicated in the debate initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on 19th January, we are keen to find ways of helping to extend over time the amount of nursery and other pre-school provision available. But universal free state provision is not the whole answer. There is no case for replacing or discouraging some of the excellent voluntary and private provision that now exists. Parents are best able to judge what they and their children need; what suits one child and one family may not suit another. That is why we have encouraged diversity of provision, involving public, private and voluntary sectors. What unites us is the importance of provision for under fives.

We recognise that the picture of provision across the country is somewhat patchy. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and indeed my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education have said that we intend to explore ways of adding as resources allow—a phrase now in vogue with honourable Members on the Opposition Front Bench in another place—to the choice already available to parents from all sources. At this stage, nothing is ruled out or ruled in. The options we shall look at will be judged against our guiding principles of choice, diversity, quality and cost-effectiveness. Pre-school provision must be of high quality, preparing children well to start their primary school learning. Full-time, universal, free state education will cost more than £2 billion, and that figure does not include capital costs. Nor does it include, if we are talking about it being universally available to all children, transport costs.

Perhaps I may now move on to the second goal. I am grateful for the constructive comments from noble Lords on matters referring to the curriculum. The commission's report was of course published during the course of Sir Ron Dearing's wide-ranging review of the national curriculum: Sir Ron will no doubt have taken account of the commission's proposals.

Sir Ron has now published his final report. His recommendations reflect the views of teachers whom he has consulted with thoroughness. His report has been widely welcomed and the Government have accepted in full his main recommendations. He has confirmed that the key principles of the national curriculum should remain fully intact: a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils; rigorous national tests in English, mathematics and science; accountability to parents and the wider community.

But over-prescription will be removed: testing arrangements have already been streamlined, and from 1995–96 the curriculum itself will be slimmed down, especially outside the basics of English, mathematics and science. That will leave teachers more time to use at their discretion and greater flexibility at 14 to 16 to match courses—this is an important point—to the aptitudes as well as the abilities of individual pupils.

The national curriculum and national tests in the basics are at the heart of this Government's policy to raise standards in our schools—a policy which, as the Chief Inspector of Schools has reported, is already bearing fruit. The drive to raise standards in turn goes to the heart of Britain's future economic and social progress, as the national commission itself has recognised.

We cannot hope to compete effectively in the modern world without a properly educated and trained workforce. That means, at the very least, ensuring that no young person completes 11 years of compulsory schooling without mastering the basics of English, mathematics and science. Beyond that, it means providing young people at school with broadly based knowledge and skills and, perhaps even more importantly, with a capacity and enthusiasm for education which they can take forward into further education and training post-16, into the work place, and on into adult life in general.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that it is a conundrum why, after 11 years of compulsory schooling, so many young people leave school with a serious level of under-performance. That must unite the whole House in looking for ways of making sure that we make serious inroads into that area of education.

The national curriculum provides a national entitlement to education for every child in this country, whether they live in inner city, affluent suburb or rural village. It provides the common foundation for the learning society that Britain needs to become. And it provides the means by which young people can play their full part in that society. As such, it is vital not only to our economic success but to our social and moral well-being as a nation. I share the concern of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. He was worried about the omission from the report of the spiritual dimension of education. Education without that aspect is no more, and can be no more, than a clinical and arid experience.

The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, regretted that music was to be optional. I give him the assurance that that is not so. Music remains a compulsory subject within the national curriculum from the age of five through to the age of 14. It simply, at the age of 14, gives way to allow flexibility for more choices of education—whether vocational, arts and social sciences or more academic subjects—and again to build on the aptitudes and abilities of young people.

Education and training post-16 needs to build on the national curriculum, and Sir Ron Dearing's proposals for greater flexibility for 14 to 16 year-olds, including the development of vocational options, will make for a more effective transition. I welcome the attention given in the report to the needs of 16 to 18 year-olds but I have reservations about specific proposals, which do scant justice to the progress already made.

Substantial increases in participation have already been achieved; we have a buoyant and energetic further education sector; we plan to expand student numbers further by as much as 25 per cent. over the next three years; and we are introducing modern apprenticeships to provide a high quality work-based alternative route.

We are addressing quality as well as participation. The national targets set a challenge to the education system and we are encouraging schools and colleges to design high quality learning programmes, drawing upon an evolving framework of post-16 qualifications. The GCSE is well-established; GCE A-levels are tried and tested, well-suited to the group for whom they are designed; we are establishing new high quality vocational pathways alongside them in GNVQs and national vocational qualifications. These efforts to enhance achievement would not be helped by a mismatched overarching qualification along the lines of the general education diploma proposed by the report. That would lower the important and useful distinctions between kinds of qualifications and make it more difficult for higher education and employers to recognise achievement. Many of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Beloff reinforce that point.

The Government's proposals, on the other hand, open new qualification pathways giving schools and colleges and young people themselves flexibility while maintaining standards within a coherent overall structure, a system which exploits both the aptitude and abilities of young people. Again this is an example where there is a meeting of minds about this issue with some differences of view about means to ends.

The report covers a wide range of topics under Goal 3 each bearing in a different way on the important and complex question of good teaching. Some of the most important recommendations in this section deal with the issue of teacher training and closely related matters. I believe that noble Lords will understand if I say relatively little about that, given the constraints of time and the extensive coverage that the subject has been receiving, and will continue to receive, in your Lordships' House in discussion on legislation currently before us. I shall not repeat what I have said elsewhere about the reforms that the Government propose, including the creation of the teacher training agency, except to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, of the important place of higher education in teacher training. Indeed, it is inconceivable that it should be otherwise. But that should not preclude the importance of school-based experience when young people are training for teaching as a career.

I have stated our position a number of times in the past 12 months, most recently when winding up the Second Reading debate on the current Education Bill on. 7th December. We fully support the national commission's emphasis in its report on the crucial importance of a high quality teaching profession. That is a key objective of the Education Bill currently before your Lordships' House. But we are not persuaded, as indeed my noble friend Lady Carnegy was not, in her characteristically informed speech, by the call of the national commission and others for a statutory general teaching council.

I shall repeat what I have several times said. I believe that a body for advancing the professional development and interests of teachers should come from the teachers themselves and not from government. I am certainly not angry with the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, and I do not believe that much divides us on this. Again, we are talking about means to an end. The only proposed functions in the commission's proposals which require statutory backing would be those of maintaining the register of teachers and taking action in cases of misconduct. I am not convinced that it would be in the best interests of education or teachers to do away with a well-tried system of dealing with misconduct which is the responsibility of my right honourable friend, who is answerable through Parliament, to the teachers themselves and to the whole of the education profession. Transferring this function to a new body representing that profession is not the right way forward.

The commission also suggested that the general teaching council might be a source of national advice on educational issues. This is surely a function which could, if the teachers themselves wished it, be carried out without legislation. If the teachers decided to make representations on educational issues to us through such a unified body, and not as separate groups, we should be very ready to take full account of them. It is for teachers themselves to decide whether and how to take that opportunity forward, and not for the Government.

One particular issue highlighted in the report is the importance of the selection of head teachers. I agree with the authors of the report that the head teacher is the key figure in the school and selecting a new head is a very important task. The Government believe that it is right that governors, who are best placed to consider the needs and the interests of their school, should have the responsibility for selecting a head. Governors should be, and are able, to call upon expert professional advice to inform their decisions. I can tell noble Lords that many do.

Perhaps I may note in passing that, though the report is generally a very comprehensive and full one, there are important educational questions which are not dealt with extensively in it. If I may venture a criticism, it seems to me that insufficient account has been taken of recent reforms in this area, in particular the creation of the grant-maintained schools sector, other than to deny them the very independence that they not only fought for, but voted for.

More generally, there is perhaps less about matters of school organisation than one would expect. One important issue the commission has highlighted, however, is that of choice of school, raising issues of diversity and equity. Parents want to be able to choose the school that best suits their children's needs. The Government's policy of more open enrolment allows parents to apply for the school of their choice and to make sure that as many places as possible are available at popular schools. The expanding grant-maintained sector allows an ever-increasing number of schools to respond directly to the wishes of parents. The growth of these schools, and the schools developing and building on different specialisms over and above the national curriculum, is a valuable extension of choice and diversity.

The Government are not attracted to the structure of education and training boards recommended by the commission nor that these might allocate 10 per cent. of school places. That would create a bureaucratic two-tier admissions system. It is essential that admissions criteria, whether operated by the local education authority on behalf of its schools or by the governing bodies of voluntary aided or grant-maintained schools, should be clear and objective.

I welcome the attention given in this section of the report both to the raising of achievements in deprived areas and to special educational needs. As the commission recognises, raising standards is not simply a matter of resources, but more important factors such as quality of leadership, the school's ethos, the high expectations. of pupils, clear targets for learning and assessment and close links with parents.

The same message is clear in the recent report of the independent schools inspector (Ofsted) on access and achievement in urban education. Ofsted found that a key weakness in schools they visited was that teachers had low expectations of their pupils. Many were just not challenging their pupils enough, but those who did challenge their pupils achieved better results. Ofsted also stressed the need for good leadership, sound planning and organisation and an approach which puts raising standards at the heart of school management. Deprived areas also benefited from the extra resources provided through the weighting of standing assessments to reflect their additional needs. On top of that the Government are providing grants to support projects worth over £10 million in the current year to raise standards in inner city schoolls with a particular focus on reading, home-school links and school management.

As regards special educational needs, there is much common ground between the Government and the authors of the report. I am pleased by their recognition of the progress that has been made since the Education Act 1981. We have continued to advance in that field with Part III of the Education Act 1993, which addresses many of the issues raised in the report. Early identification is the key and our reforms emphasise that.

We are also seeking to publish regulations governing the provision of information to parents and guidelines on the identification of, and provision for, children with emotional and behavioural difficulties and on the education of sick children and children who are being looked after by local authorities.

This package of legislation and guidance further refines and improves the system of caring for children with special educational needs in this country which I strongly believe is among the finest in the world.

As regards Goal 4, even while the commission has been formulating its recommendation that higher education should be expanded and that additional capital investment was needed, the Government have achieved an unprecedented expansion of higher education. In the autumn of 1993, for the first time ever, over 30 per cent. of our young people entered higher education. There has also been spectacular growth in mature students. We are committed to maintaining this record level of participation.

The commission favours a wide diversity of higher education institutions. The Government share that view as we have made clear in the White Paper A New Framework in May 1991. We agree also with the commission on the need for clear, flexible routes for progression into higher education, as we have demonstrated by the development of the new vocational A-level to sit alongside the traditional A-levels. A number of institutions are developing modular courses and credit accumulation and transfer schemes which provide flexible routes for programmes through higher education.

I would like to encourage noble Lords to visit Anglia Polytechnic University, as I did recently. It is breaking new ground in offering high quality higher education imaginatively and with great innovation and reaching many young, and not so young, people right across East Anglia, who might otherwise not have found their way into higher education.

We welcome the commission's conclusion that graduates should contribute more to the cost of their attendance at higher education courses. The Government announced on 30th November last year that the shift in the balance of maintenance support from grant to loan would be accelerated. The overall level of funds available to students through the main rates of grant and loan for this year has increased by 4 per cent. I shall leave the complexities of the system suggested in the report to correspondence between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. I shall make any correspondence available to the whole House.

Perhaps I may now touch on Goal 5. The report sets out some radical new ideas for structural changes in the educational and training world involving the creation of new organisations and new assignments of responsibility. While the Government entirely agree with the commission on the underlying need for proper integration between education and training, the suggestion that the department should be merged to create a new department of education and training, is a matter for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

There is excellent co-operation by the School Curriculum Assessment Authority, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, my department and the Department for Employment. However, I must say to the House that we have to continue to strengthen that co-operation and we intend to do so.

However, we are unconvinced by the recommendation for new structures at local level. The Government have no plans to establish entities along the lines that are recommended in the education and training grades. Our aim is to encourage choice and diversity in education. A key element in that is the increasing number of schools opting for grant-maintained status. At the same time we must not forget the continuing role of the local education authorities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State went out of his way to emphasise this in his recent speech at the North of England conference. The local authorities will continue to have responsibility for schools which do not opt out and continuing powers and duties in the areas of planning, special needs, teacher appraisal, the under-fives and a whole range of other important matters. The local education authorities remain well placed to carry these responsibilities and the Government see no place for establishing novel forms of organisation to attempt to take them over.

Goal 6: the report rightly places importance on public and private investment in education. The Government have clearly set out their objective that one young person in three should benefit from higher education by the end of the decade. That has almost been achieved. We have made it a priority to increase the number of students in further education by 25 per cent.

The commission's thinking in Goal 7 is entirely in line with the Government's thinking: greater openness and information about the performance of the public sector is a vital theme in our overall policies, going far beyond education. Within that sector the publication of school performance tables has brought about something of an information revolution. For the first time, parents and students, employers and taxpayers can compare the results achieved by schools and colleges across the country. Not only does this inform choice and accountability but it has stimulated many schools to take a hard look at what their pupils actually achieve by the time they leave school and how they can be helped to do better. It is no good us wringing our hands and complaining about other countries outstripping the performance of this country. It is only by getting and collating this information that we are going to be in a position simply to know where we are and how we can meet the challenge of doing better.

There is of course much more to good schooling than success in school performance tables but, by requiring schools to publish prospectuses and reports and to report to parents annually on the achievements of their children, in addition to all the other aspects of school life, the Government have helped to ensure that parents can take informed decisions and can support both their children and the schools more effectively.

At this point I had hoped to pick up more individual points that have been raised, but I am beaten by the clock. I have had to respond all too briefly to only a selection of the excellent points brought forward by your Lordships; but what I do believe is absolutely crucial and very important is that we should join together tonight in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and his colleagues who gave their time and energy to think in depth about education and who have produced their findings in a way which has opened up this important debate, not just to the educational establishment but to all who have an interest in the subject. Education is a dynamic. Much unites us, but there will always be differences of viewpoint about its funding, its structure, its content and its delivery. However, I would wish to record my thanks for the opportunity to debate these issues. I know we shall return to them before too long.

8.36 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, it would be inappropriate, and indeed impossible, in the three minutes allowed at the end of this debate to reply to all the points that have been made so expressively by so many of your Lordships. However, I wish every one of you to know how grateful I and the members of the national commission are for the care and attention you have given to discussing this report upon which we laboured for so long.

May I reiterate what others have said: thanks are owed to Sir Claus Moser for initiating the commission, to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for so generously funding it and to all the commissioners who worked so hard to bring out a report which I am glad to hear many of your Lordships believe will stand the test of time. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for the careful and detailed consideration she has given to the points that have been made in the debate.

I cannot forbear, however, from saying to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, whose sparkling and mordant wit has enlivened so many debates in this House, that he will not expect me to agree with him. Some commentators in the press have said that we have put forward a full Left-wing agenda: a charge which I vehemently reject. Our apolitical stance was true throughout; our report was unanimous. I believe that no fewer than four members of the noble Lord's party are members of our commission and therefore I cannot accept that that was the case.

I can only add that I believe that in time the A-level system, which has served the brightest of our youngsters pretty well, will go and be replaced by a broader system of education along the lines recommended by the commission. The GCSE I wholly support as having been important for those leaving school at 16, but I hope and believe that the general education diploma that we have described in detail requires much deeper and more earnest consideration.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that you cannot expect a former dean of a medical school and a former head of an Oxford graduate college to take an anti-intellectual stance. My point is this. Many young people whom I have met who have high qualifications in A-level science subjects are nevertheless linguistically inadequate and lacking literary skills; and all too many of those trained in the arts to a high level of competence at A-level are scientifically illiterate. This is the kind of thing we would wish to see overcome in the future, just as we believe that the importance of the vocational qualifications, NVQs and GNVQs cannot be underestimated. As he himself said, the theoretical basis of some of these qualifications at the present time leaves much to be desired.

Our aim in this report has been to see that everyone should be enabled to succeed. In view of the time, I would only say that we want these issues to be the subject of further debate and discussion in your Lordships' House and in the country at large. I beg leave to wihdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.