HL Deb 22 February 1995 vol 561 cc1140-215

4.38 p.m.

Debate resumed.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, although it seems some time ago, I am grateful to my noble friend for opening the debate on education so very well. The qualifications, experience and wise counsel of my noble friend are well known and highly respected by so many both inside and outside this House. She adds greatly to our debates.

The level of education achievement of our young people is rising. Look at the trend in qualifications. The proportion of 17 year-olds achieving two or more GCE A levels has doubled over the past 15 years, rising from 14 per cent. to 28 per cent. and at the end of compulsory schooling in 1993 41 per cent. of 15 year-old pupils gained five or more GCSE grades A-starred to C compared with almost 33 per cent. in 1989.

These are real achievements by thousands of individual young people and we should be proud of them. But the Government are not complacent in the face of the ever-present need for a highly qualified workforce. Standards must continue to rise if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. At the same time, these qualifications must represent real achievement, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently announced a comprehensive package of measures to underpin standards of GCSEs.

Educational achievement can be demonstrated in many ways. It is not limited to traditional academic forms. The Government recognise that fact and have put in place a framework of qualifications for all types of student from the age of 14. Job-related national vocational qualifications and broad general national vocational qualifications now stand alongside GCSEs and GCE A levels to offer a richer menu of options to our young people in schools and colleges.

General national vocational qualifications are the latest arrival on the scene and are proving popular with students. There has been an impressive take-up: almost one quarter of a million students have signed up since the first courses began in 1992. The Government are matching this personal commitment by thousands of our young people by making available £23 million of new money to support development of those new qualifications.

Before the age of 16, we are also tackling the problem of how to challenge and motivate not just academic but all pupils through the Part 1 GNVQ for 14 to 16 year-olds. Pupils will study for that qualification alongside a core academic curriculum and will be able to broaden their experience of different kinds of study before important decisions have to be made at 16. It is a new development and we are conscious of the need to guarantee standards in that crucial stage of the education system. That is why we are setting up a full and careful pilot from September of this year to see how Part 1 operates in schools of all kinds.

The new focus on achievement is most obvious in performance tables. After three years they are now an important part of the information revolution that has been brought about in education, helping parents and young people to make informed choices. The regular publication of information about achievement is helping to change the culture in our schools and colleges. Expectations are rising. The 1994 table shows that almost 60 per cent. of schools have increased their score of GCSEs grades A-starred to C between 1993 and 1994.

There are those who see the publication of actual results as an unfair concentration on raw data, but the Government do not see it that way—and neither do parents or employers. Schools and colleges take the tables seriously as they allow direct comparisons between local institutions and with local and national averages. They must also be seen as part of a bank of information, which combines to give a comprehensive account of the performance of each school—for example, annual reports to parents, school inspection reports, and annual governors' meetings. Those who consider that raw data to be unfair should see that it would be a greater injustice to try to keep the results out of the public domain in some way. In the real world, we are all interested in actual outcomes. The popularity of performance tables cannot be challenged and, in due course, we shall extend their coverage to include the results of the national curriculum assessments of 11 year-olds when those tests, which take place for the first time this year, are bedded down.

Nevertheless, we continue to look at ways of making the tables more helpful to parents and others. One idea on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed to consult is a kind of improvement index which looks at one year's results for an institution as compared with another year for the same school or college. We know that a number of local authorities are interested in such measures. There may be a place for something similar in the national tables.

I have said that we need to know actual performance and the school and college tables provide, and will continue to provide, that information. However, we must also recognise the need to reflect on the value added by schools and colleges. That is rather different from simple improvement. Perhaps everyone agrees on the principle of value added, but there is a wide range of views about exactly what that term means in the context of education. What we are looking for here are reliable measures of what schools and colleges add to the knowledge and understanding of a particular pupil or student from one age to another. The Government believe that such measures must be based firmly on the differences in actual achievements as measured by national tests and examinations.

At the national level the indicators must be simple to collect, so as not to add to the administrative burden on schools and colleges. Above all, value-added indicators must be easy to understand for parents, employers, Ministers, and others interested in our educational system, making sure that ultimately it is serving our young people. The principle and practice of measuring achievement matters equally in further education. Universities are also interested in developing performance indicators, and will be publishing a report later this year.

Noble Lords will be aware that we now have national targets for education and training. Indeed, my noble friend referred to them. They, too, can act as a spur for individual achievement within the national context. One target is for 80 per cent. of young people to reach the equivalent of five good GCSEs or an intermediate GNVQ. In 1994, 64 per cent. had reached that target. Schools and colleges have a crucial role to play in that process and we encourage them to participate in their own target-setting exercises to help to raise the achievement of their pupils and students. As a nation, we cannot afford to set our ambitions in that area at too modest a level. The targets are being reviewed to see whether they are keeping pace with international competitiveness.

The emphasis on raising achievement is essential. We have put a great effort into laying out a framework within which our children can show what they can do. I refer, of course, to the national curriculum, now revised to strip away bureaucracy and excessive content. There will now be more time for teachers, especially in primary schools, to teach the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Rigorous tests at the ages of seven, 11, and 14 will ensure that the focus on pupil achievement is to the fore. I cannot emphasise too much the importance of those basic skills, especially reading-the cornerstone of all learning. No child should pass the age of seven not able to read, unless there is a good reason, such as a particular learning difficulty. Certainly no child should pass the age of 11 unable to read. Rigorous testing will expose positive achievement, but it will also expose areas of weakness. Building on children's strengths and addressing their weaknesses will be more focused and is, of course, a job for the teacher.

At the same time, the Government have set up the new inspection regime under the Office for Standards in Education. This has started well, and by the end of this school year about half of all secondary and a significant minority of primary schools will have been inspected by independent teams. We can see already that that process, by which every school in the country can expect an independent inspection on a regular basis, is stimulating schools to improve.

Inspections cover all aspects of school life, not least pupil achievement. In his recent annual report, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector highlighted the need to continue to strive to raise standards in that area. There are still too many pupils being taught badly, with around one-fifth of all lessons judged to be below an adequate standard. How can our children raise their personal levels of achievement in that situation? We must all do more to help: teachers, governors, local authorities, parents and the Government. I welcome Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's proposed action to promote effective teaching.

The Government are concerned with achievement in all schools. We are therefore promoting measures designed to improve school effectiveness—measures such as financial benchmarking, advice to governors, and a register of consultants able to help schools with serious weaknesses.

One area in which Ofsted has identified weaknesses is in planning. The Department for Education and the inspectorate are organising a series of regional conferences to provide practical help to schools and local authorities in that area.

However, we all know that there are some schools which are failing to provide properly for their pupils. The new inspection arrangements introduced by this Government clearly identify such schools. If a school itself or the local authority cannot improve matters, my right honourable friend can appoint an education association to bring about the necessary improvements in the state of the school concerned. This is more evidence of our genuine commitment to raising achievement even in the most difficult of circumstances.

There are those who doubt that commitment and complain about rising class sizes as a constraint on pupil achievement. I am glad of the opportunity to deal with this criticism today. First, the facts. Since 1990 there have been slight increases in average class size: from 25.9 to 26.9 pupils in primary schools, and 20.3 to 21.4 in secondary schools. That is hardly the massive deterioration that some would have us believe.

The pupil:teacher ratio is actually better than in 1979. Moreover, it is the case that while pupil numbers are rising, so are the numbers of teachers (by 1,300 full-time equivalents in 1994), and support staff (by nearly 5,000 full-time equivalents).

Many people believe that smaller classes must automatically lead to pupils achieving more. I have to tell your Lordships that there is no evidence from inspections or research in this country that proves that alleged causal link. Of course, it may be that if one were to reduce average class sizes from, say, 27 to below 20, an effect would be noticed, but we do not know that for sure, and the costs would be prohibitively high. What we do know is that more significant influences on pupil achievement are the quality of the teacher, the quality of the teaching, and the techniques employed.

We are all aware that some commentators are observing that the age of the information super-highway is upon us and we are concerned to ensure that our schools and colleges can play a full part in that process. Again, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has announced that the Department for Education will issue a consultation paper in the spring which will address the opportunities for access to high quality teaching, training and materials presented by the convergence of information, telecommunications, broadcasting technologies and broad band networking.

It has been said that education is no longer a secret garden. Our reforms have increased the role of parents, creating an environment where a virtuous cycle of rising achievement, built on active parental support, can be developed. At the same time, parental power has been enhanced by greater access to information, not least through the Parent's Charter which was updated last year. It was distributed to all parents in the most cost-effective way—to every household in the country—but such is the interest in our reforms that the DFE has still received, in addition to that, requests for over 50,000 more copies.

We now have a greater diversity of schools for parents to consider for their children's education. The very existence of over 1,000 grant-maintained schools has put LEAs on their mettle to raise standards. That new type of school is popular with parents and, it would seem, with a number of the Opposition Front and Back Benchers in another place. We now see grant-maintained schools producing better results than comparable LEA schools. We look forward to universal acceptance of choice in education by all political parties.

We recognised the diversity of educational achievement through the introduction of the CTCs, now with over 13,000 pupils across the ability range. And the CTCs have been the model for the specialist schools initiative. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently announced new money for that programme—£15 million in 1995–96, rising to £25 million in 1997–98, allowing for over 200 specialist schools within three years. Building on the success of nearly 70 new technology colleges that initiative is being opened up to all maintained secondary schools which will be eligible to apply for designation. At the same time, we are broadening the programme to encompass not just technology, science and mathematics, but also to allow schools to specialise in modern foreign languages.

This is perhaps the point to acknowledge the constraints of finite resources. In a tough public expenditure round, the Government have given priority to education. The DFE and Ofsted budget is rising by over 4 per cent. in cash terms in 1995–96 to almost £11 billion. That is a 1 per cent. increase in real terms. Total local authority spending allowed for education is over £17 billion, a 1.1 per cent. cash increase over the equivalent figure for 1994–95. The total expenditure on education in 1994–95 is over £28 billion.

Of course, noble Lords will be aware of the current debate over the adequacy of that provision, but education cannot be immune from economic reality. To help, LEAs can cut their costs on their central bureaucracies and surplus places. Many schools can help themselves. HMCI pointed out in his recent report that some schools—it is some schools—are carrying forward large sums of money from one year to the next without any clear idea of how that money is to be used. I quote from paragraph 20 of the report: Although there may be good reasons for individual schools to carry forward large sums of money from one year to the next, some schools do so without any clear idea of how this money is to be used". It is clear that local authorities and schools can mitigate the effects of a tough settlement by drawing on reserves and balances.

I include teachers' pay in this. The Government have accepted in full the pay increase of 2.7 per cent. recommended by the School Teachers' Review Body. But that award has to be met from within existing funding. It is a fair settlement. The average teacher's pay, following the 1st April pay award, will be about £22,200, but the Government are determined to control public spending to help reduce the PSBR. We all have to contribute to that, and as I have said, education, representing such a large part of public expenditure, cannot be immune. Whatever the merits of the arguments being deployed on that issue, the breadth of the debate and the number of people taking part highlight how much parents and governors are now involved in education at the local level. That is a new phenomenon, and it must be a good thing for education in this country.

In the current debate on educational expenditure we should remember the comment in the recent HMCI report that, in overall terms, the provision of resources is satisfactory. And we should also note that, in international terms, education in this country is by no means a poor relation. OECD figures show that the UK government invest more in education than many of our main competitors. Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is higher here than in Germany or Japan.

One of the most dramatic changes we have witnessed in education over the past 15 years is the increase in post-school participation. The figures are impressive: a 55 per cent. increase in 16 year-olds' participation in full-time post-compulsory education over the past 10 years. Now, most of our young people aged 16–19 stay on in full or part-time education and training. Indeed, the UK participation rate of 94 per cent. of 16 year-olds in some form of education or training puts us well up with our major competitor countries. That expansion has been assisted by the Government's creation of the new further education sector independent of local authority control.

In higher education we have already virtually reached the target of one in three projected in the 1991 White Paper. Some 30 per cent. of young people now enter full-time HE, compared with only 12 per cent. in 1979. Part-time participation is up, too. These students are part of an efficient HE system with lower drop-out rates and shorter courses than elsewhere. By 1991, our graduation rate had become the highest in the European Union.

For students in colleges, quality pull from customers rather than governmental push from the centre is helping to sharpen the focus on individual achievement, but government still have a role to play by setting in place arrangements to reinforce employers' influence on the further education sector. The White Paper Competitiveness: Helping Business to Win did just that. The strong relationship between further education colleges, TECs and the business community will help to ensure that students acquire the skills and qualifications needed by employers.

A great strength of our HE system is its diversity. A wide range of institutions now exists dedicated to different missions, and entrants to HE now come from a much wider range of the population with a wider variety of entry qualifications. Universities are responding to that through devising new course structures often built on a modular pattern and increasingly with opportunities for credit and transfer. Institutions have responded well to the increased freedom given to them by the Government by identifying and meeting a wide range of demand from students and employers.

No doubt we shall hear during the course of the debate that more resources are the answer to good education. The level of expenditure on education is very important and this Government's record on according priority to education bears favourable comparison with any previous opposition government. However, it is simply wrong to believe that more money is equal to higher educational achievement. One needs to look no further than the ILEA which spent at a much higher level than most parts of the country and produced some of the worst educational results.

Our children's education is the single most important task for us all, starting with parents. We have put in place the national curriculum, regular assessment and testing, systematic inspections, a rich menu of qualifications in schools, FE and HE to develop the skills and talents of all our children. A rich combination of academic, cultural, art and music, physical challenges and the spiritual dimension through RE is provided through that framework. On a good education depends a wholesome, healthy and successful economy. Its importance cannot be understated.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

: My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject. The young people of this country are, as has just been said, its greatest asset because, as Goldsmith put it in The Deserted Village: Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay". Yet one can only wonder at the sagacity of a government who announced recently their intention to appoint an image-maker to change the public perception of teachers. This functionary, we are informed, will rejoice in the style and title of "The Chief Contractor", an ominous dignity suggesting that he can run the system down faster than anybody else. A DFE spokeswoman is quoted as saying: The main job will be to improve the image, present teachers as the experts and help recruit dedicated professionals". One cannot but remember Quem Iupiter vult perdere, dementat prius—whom God wishes to destroy, he first sends mad.

There are so many more important and more difficult things which urgently need to be done than to appoint a chief contractor. Let it be conceded among us that it is difficult to measure educational achievement. Examination results alone will not do it; the concept of "value added" is complex and is open to subjective judgment; so are school reports or "student profiles"; and probably nothing can measure spiritual, emotional or cultural development. Teachers can often recognise it, but you cannot mark it out of 10. Yet some measure or measures of achievement there must be, and some instruments are better than others.

Plainly, the school performance tables devised by the Government so far are blunt and misleading instruments. We have had tables based on examination results alone. But teachers and, above all, parents need to know far more about any school than its GCSE results. The Government have published truancy rates, but those told us very little about any school, especially as so many teenagers go to school, sign in, and then walk straight out again, or stay in the building but do not attend lessons. But the first prize for a really crass list must surely go to Ofsted's array of 52 improving schools published this month. In Ofsted's table "improvement" means a 10 per cent. improvement in A to C grades at GCSE over three years: nothing more, nothing less. A socially deprived child from an ethnic minority whose first language is not English, in an inner city school, who reaches a shining grade D against all the odds, is not recognised as contributing to a school's "improvement". Yet, as Choice and Diversity puts it, pupils with only a few GCSEs may have derived far more from school than those with two 'A' levels". The crudity and incompleteness of the table has been exposed by Mr. Charles Bell's analysis of it for the pressure group Article 26. We shall need to study it carefully, but it seems clear that in 20 of the HMCI's "improving" schools the percentage of pupils who got no GCSEs or who got fewer than five GCSEs actually increased. And in the worst of them the number of pupils who got no GCSEs increased by 11 percentage points and those with fewer than five GCSEs increased by three percentage points. It does indeed look as if Ofsted identified these 52 schools simply on the basis of a computer search which looked for a difference of 10 or more in two figures, the 1992 and 1994 figures, for pupils scoring more than five grade C GCSEs. This is not a serious, responsible statement about improvement.

An improving school should be achieving improvements right across the ability range for all pupils and it should surely also be sustaining those improvements year after year, which some schools in the HMCI's list were not. Any teacher will tell you that "improving" a highly intelligent child from a highly-motivated middle-class family in a class with others of the same ability is dead easy. They need very little teaching. The real teaching achievement is to enable and empower a depressed child, conditioned to failure by below average ability, to achieve more than anyone ever thought possible. That requires expert teaching, and it is jolly hard.

We must look at the whole picture. The new vocational qualifications are a good thing. It is good that most LEAs registered a significant rise in the number of pupils passing at least five GCSEs with grade C or better. But in the vast majority of LEAs the numbers failing to achieve any GCSEs at all also rose last year. Only 20 out of 109 English LEAs registered an improvement in the number of school-leavers with at least one GCSE last year. The most serious deteriorations were in Kensington and Chelsea, almost doubling from 6.6 per cent. to 12.3 per cent.; Rotherham, rising from 6.1 per cent. to 10.1 per cent.; and Newcastle, which rose from 14.1 per cent. to 17.5 per cent.; while the national average rose from 7 per cent. to 7.7 per cent.

The reason is simple. If DFE publishes, and trumpets, the "Five Cs" table, and implies that schools who score well on that table are good schools, then teachers and headteachers (whose money depends on these things) will see to it that they score as well as they can, by shifting resources into that area of work, to the detriment of the less able pupils. Just as, in this country, the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer, so, by such tables, the ablest will do better and the least able will do worse. Mr. Bell pointed to, an increasing polarisation of achievement induced by the publication of performance tables". If the Government are interested in telling the truth, and the whole truth, even about the GCSE results, there are two things they should do. They should seriously consider Article 26's suggestion about publishing two further pieces of information now: first, the GCSE average pupil score indexing all the GCSE grade achievements of all pupils, alongside the current three partial indexes of GCSE achievement; and, secondly, the percentage of pupils in each school who are entitled to free school meals, since this is a very sensitive index of real poverty, and does, I believe, correlate very closely with academic achievement. It would distinguish between schools which improve their examination results by selecting academically capable pupils from those which are improving provision for all pupils, regardless of background.

I must allow that establishing the facts and trends, telling the truth, in this area is very difficult. But the Government have no one to blame but themselves. Introducing the national curriculum and its many, many changes between 1988 and 1995 not only cost some £744 million and alienated the entire teaching profession; it also made statistical analysis very difficult. I am relieved to learn that the DFE has realised at last that it is incapable of solving the performance table problem alone and that SCAA is commissioning research from Professor Carol Fitzgibbon of Newcastle University, though even she cannot promise to report before December 1996.

At all events, the DFE and the Secretary of State have enough trouble. Precisely when we desperately need to create partnership between parents, teachers, schools, governors and government, we find ourselves in a Mexican standoff over the local government "cuts". It is quite different from the wearisome battles of earlier year. Until 1995 it was the local authorities or the teachers' unions who tried annually to convince Whitehall that there was not enough money to preclude sacking staff. Now parents and school governors have joined the campaign, and there are serious threats of rebellion and illegal activity in some, though not all, areas of the country.

In Derbyshire, Conservative councillors voted with their Labour colleagues to make a special appeal to the Secretary of State over the £23.5 million cut in their education budget, which threatens 400 teaching posts, and may put some schools on a three-day week. In Warwickshire, governors in 92 schools have pledged to set illegal budgets, rather than sack 250 teachers, and they are being backed by a specially formed pressure group of parents, Fight Against Cuts in Education. In Oxfordshire, more than 3,000 demonstrators, including teachers on strike, school governors, and children, lobbied county councillors discussing cuts of over £23 million. And in Cambridgeshire, a 16th century charity trust had to step in with £70,000 to help children, in school, who had special educational needs.

We on these Benches deplore all forms of violence, including violence in language. But we must confess to a certain rueful respect for that chairman of an education committee who wrote to the Chancellor, describing him as "smug, complacent and stupid". He challenged the Chancellor to find savings to fund the award within 72 hours, and said, otherwise we will know that you are what we see, a blather of lard in the melting pot of hot water generated by the sweat you create doing nothing, knowing nothing and thinking you know everything". Tut! Tut! But the irony is that these strong words come not from some loud-mouthed lama of the loony Left, but from none other than Mr. Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the education committee in Trafford, the flagship Conservative council in Greater Manchester.

He, and the governors, and the teachers and the parents, are angry as never before because they care about the quality of the education their children receive, and they know that achievement in our schools is threatened as never before. The Secretary of State has acknowledged the difficulty. She has invited local authorities to make a case to her for special help. She is reported as saying, "I promise I will listen very carefully to what they have to say". As the honourable and knowledgeable person I know her to be, I am sure she will. But my advice to her is that, armed with that information, she should go back to her Cabinet colleagues, and bang the table, and swing her handbag until she gets justice for our schools.

The Government are yet again in a crisis of confrontation; this time with teachers, governors, local authorities and parents. What a waste! The Labour Party is totally committed, in print, to partnership in education because it works.

Last week I read the annual report of Parent Network. On an income of £266,000, mostly from trusts and the DOH, it does splendid and extensive work teaching parenting skills and encouraging links between parents and schools. That is partnership. Other organisations, like the City Literary Institute, do excellent work providing teachers who can teach and accredit parents. There are only a few hundred such teachers in this country, and, as sure as fate, they will be high on the list for the axe next year. Yet think what they do for parents in the ethnic minorities, many of whom cannot read English sufficiently well to help their children read. One such woman said to a teacher: It hurts me in my heart when my child brings home a book". Those teachers should not have to spend (as they do) nearly 50 per cent. of their time looking for funds, from charities, from jumble sales, to do their vital work.

The need is great. As Milton said: The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed". And what a flock! At the end of BBC Education's "Read and Write Together" week, last Saturday, viewers and listeners were invited to ring a special line if they wanted help with their children's reading and writing. Nearly 340,000 calls were received. Officials at the DFE will have to dig deep into their pockets to find the extra Read and Write Together packs to send out—340,000! It is staggering that so many should ring. It is staggering that so many should need this help. It is staggering that all they are going to get is leaflets.

5.13 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, for introducing the debate, although I cannot share all her views. In particular, I find her attitude towards LEAs quite foreign to my experience. I was a member of my county's education committee for several years and I have been a school governor for 10 years. Perhaps I should declare that as an interest, but I am sure that I do not need to tell your Lordships that it is a non-pecuniary one.

In the course of those 10 years spent close to my county's educational life I have been extremely impressed by the initiatives which the county has started and brought to a successful conclusion to improve standards. In case your Lordships may have heard of it, I mention the Reading Recovery Programme, which is an absolute pathmaker in this country, and our new Reading for Younger Pupils Programme, which is not just for those who have fallen behind but for pupils as they come into our schools. LEAs do understand the importance of achievement and of literacy. It is rather unfortunate that they tend to be swept aside in certain people's criticisms of the past as though they no longer have a useful part to play in the present and in the future.

I found it strange also that governors were not mentioned in the list of people or organisations referred to in the Motion for the debate who play a part in achieving standards. The considerable burden of time which now accrues to everybody on school governing hoards is not always recognised by those who are not school governors. There is also responsibility to such an extent that it is becoming more, rather than less, difficult to find people to serve in that very demanding role.

Governors lack somewhere to turn when things get really difficult. We should consider what resources we could make available to them. Sometimes those resources must be outwith the local education authority's gift. My local education authority puts a great deal of effort into training governors. But sometimes there may be disputes to which the local education authority, for good or ill, is a party. Therefore, the governors need an independent source of advice. They are trying to do a good job; they are listening to what they are told; they are taking an interest in school plans and all the matters which the two noble Baronesses on the Conservative Benches mentioned.

During the past 10 years I have witnessed and been involved with a number of events which bear upon the role and importance of schools in achieving higher standards of education. Perhaps I may refer to the reforms of the examination system, which is the only measure, unsatisfactory though it may be, of performance in schools. It was not a bad idea to start thinking about how that measure should be structured. But what sensible person would have started with the 16-plus examination, which is right in the middle of the education process? One might have started at the beginning or by altering A-levels and asking universities what they require. But no, the process started in the middle. Later, along came the national curriculum, which I always supported, and the testing of seven, 11, 14 and 16 year-olds. For a long time there was confusion as to whether that was the same as GCSEs or different. That was followed by seemingly interminable arguments and counter-instructions about who would test what and, above all, how at each stage.

The process has not stopped even today. The Minister referred to stripping away excess requirements in the national curriculum. GCSE English is part of the core curriculum. The 1994 cohort of examinees was the first for which the written/oral coursework was reduced to 40 per cent. of the total of English language marks and 30 per cent. of the total of English literature marks. Now consultation is taking place which may result in an increase in the maximum percentage of coursework in both those syllabuses, which will first be examined in 1998.

It is very difficult for schools, when told one thing for one set of cohorts and another for another set, with a very quick turnover, to cope in the way that they would wish. At present the possible reform of A-levels is being discussed.

Secondly, there has been a constant stream of instructions, often printed on the sort of glossy paper which few schools or local education authorities could afford. Often those instructions arrive late. For example, when the 14-plus curriculum for English was introduced into secondary schools, it did not arrive on the desks of teachers until about June of the year in which it had to be introduced in September—and yet anybody who knows about schools will know that the main order for books for the following year goes in in May. That was not in accord with ordinary school practice. Every now and again those instructions are recalled or reissued, and they have covered an enormous range of subjects.

Thirdly, teachers have been subjected to an unprecedented torrent of abuse, often orchestrated and stimulated by the Government. I should stress that I was particularly glad to hear a very different tone of voice from the Minister when she spoke in today's debate. It is very much time that teachers were accorded the respect that they deserve. If there is something wrong with their training, I take leave to point out that that is a part of the education system in which the Government control what is going on; and, indeed, have always done so. Therefore, one might have thought again that a different approach would be taken to the training of teachers rather than slamming them once they got into schools.

Some of those criticisms appear to be what one might call "totally uninfected" by any actual contact with teachers or schools, which of course display the variety inherent in all humans and in all human institutions. When one considers the pressure under which teachers have been placed, it seems to me that we ought to be commending them for their part in the increased performance of schools at examinations which has been recorded with such pride by previous speakers. It was very difficult in a period of enormous upheaval, when teacher morale certainly did sink to a severe low two or three years ago, for teachers to keep their sense of proportion and, above all, their pupils' interests always in the forefront of their attention when they had to make such rapid changes under such difficult circumstances.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Morris, I have to ask whether we should be concentrating so much on achievement in exams. Large numbers of young people still leave school without any qualifications. What about the introduction of trained-on-the-job-only teachers? Will that contribute to high pupil achievement? Does competition between schools for pupils really assist under-achievers? The rapidly growing number of exclusions suggests that it does not.

Do growing class sizes augur well for future achievements? The noble Baroness suggested that they were irrelevant. I cannot believe that anyone who has sat in a school and watched a teacher trying to teach, single-handedly, a class of over 30 five, six or seven year-olds could be in any doubt whatever that their achievements depend to some extent on the size of the class.

Who—and this is a curious point—is interested in addressing the under-achievement of boys? I do not refer to girls; I refer to boys. For years I have been banging the drum for women and their access to education. However, today it is not women who are under-achieving; it is boys. That is something to which we should pay attention. It is precisely the sort of thing that LEAs are well placed to take a lead in. An individual LEA, looking at its exam results and knowing the head teachers in the schools, is very well placed to put together programmes which will assist in redressing that balance and ensuring that our young men are as well qualified as they ought to be.

Various speakers mentioned CDT. However, everything is not rosy in that area. Even well-supported schools like those in my county are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for the very expensive new machinery which is required today and to keep on updating such equipment, for example, for computer-aided design and so on. The Government may be correct in their self-congratulatory mood, but I suggest that for many of the things that I have mentioned the jury is still out.

I spoke about where we might have started to improve the education system. I would have directed some of my money at the younger age group. I believe that I would have done a great deal more to improve nursery education and to broaden its accessibility to the ordinary young child. To me, it was a disgrace that in my own county we had only eight nursery classes up until very recently. We then began to bring into our schools rising-fives, and now we are helping to fund rising-rising-fives. I hope that noble Lords are managing to follow the technical language. I mean that the children coming into many of our schools are getting younger and younger; indeed, some of them are only just over four years old. In addition, last year we funded five new nursery classes and we intend to fund five more during the forthcoming year. I believe that there are many other local authorities which take nursery education very seriously.

Not so very long ago it would have been true to say that nursery education was more available in the north of England than in the south and more available in urban than in non-urban areas. I do not want to make the kind of generalisation which I am not quite fitted to make, but that was my impression. In other words, local authorities at present, and in the past, have actually led the way in the provision of nursery education, although it is not a statutory obligation upon them: they have seen the need.

Recently the Prime Minister trumpeted his commitment to improve education. A friend of mine inquired about how that policy was going and received a quite interesting letter, one paragraph of which said, more or less, that studies were going on but that nothing had been ruled in and nothing had been ruled out; that no decisions had been taken; and that a statement would be made soon. I hate to take away from Mr. Major's very understandable triumph in Ireland, but it sometimes seems to me that on some subjects he is rather like the Duke of Plaza Toro in that he prefers to lead his regiment from behind: "He [finds] it less exciting".

Other speakers briefly mentioned money. Money is not the cure of all the problems which face any human activity. I do not believe that there is anyone on either side of the House who would claim that it is. However, there is no doubt that it can make a difference. I certainly was educated at a public school, and I dare say that there is perhaps a preponderance—if everyone were present—of Members of the House who were educated in the private sector. One has to consider the balance of cash which goes into the public and into the private sector.

My good education authority spends approximately £3,400 per annum on a secondary school pupil—that is the ball park figure. One would not get very far if one was trying to purchase any form of private education, even day-school education, with £3,500 per year. That difference regarding the money which goes into education in the private sector is seen every time one visits a private school. One sees the quality of the equipment with which teachers are delivering a curriculum to a body of pupils which, on the whole, is extremely well motivated and very well supported by parents.

I should like to see the same emphasis—indeed, greater emphasis—placed upon the education of those to whom the noble Lord, Lord Morris, drew our attention as is placed upon the education of those who are, in any event, privileged in the field of education because of their privileged background.

I believe that we ought to be enabling equal choice and access for all to high quality education, irrespective of financial resources or, indeed, even the IQ of the pupil or child. A Rowntree Trust report recently laid stress on the role of education in bridging the increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

We have in the past—we have continued it to this day—made a commitment to increase the amount of money which goes to education. I believe that that was a commitment which was well understood by the electorate and which has been maintained in subsequent shadow Budgets and so on. What do we look for in the future? We look for well motivated pupils and students. Dare I say that the prospect of a job at the end of their education might be one thing which could motivate them rather well? We look to parents who really support their kids. We look to teachers who are well trained, decently paid and enabled to continue to update their craft and who strive to assist their pupils to achieve their best in every way that the individual pupil can. We look to schools which are well maintained and well equipped. We look for governors who understand and accept and are able to perform their tasks. We look for local authorities still able to provide their expertise and in particular to deal with the day to day problems of education; and we look for governments who give education truly the priority it deserves.

5.31 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for placing this subject before your Lordships' House and for the able way in which she introduced it. I join with her, and also with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who has just spoken, in expressing appreciation to those who are working within the educational system, both to staff and to governors.

In speaking of governors I recognise that many of my clergy are governors of schools. Indeed I suppose the majority of them chair at least one governing body. This afternoon the intervention I should like to make is perhaps of a rather more exploratory nature. In making this intervention I must make it clear that, although I am mandated by the Churches to speak on behalf of them in educational matters, this afternoon I make a private contribution to the debate.

I remember 30 years ago being in Sri Lanka and being accosted by those in education there who were talking about the system then in place in this country. They painted a picture of unwilling youngsters, misbehaving classes and stressed staff. They asked me how people in England could show so little regard for education. I had to say that I could not understand it either but that nevertheless the picture they painted was largely an accurate one and contrasted of course strikingly with the way in which education was viewed in Asia. I wonder whether 30 years on very much has changed. The eager, enthusiastic youngsters of primary schools become the reluctant, rebellious young people of secondary schools. I exaggerate to make the point. I am well aware that there are schools which could not be included under that heading. Nevertheless I believe it to be a general picture.

I quote from Mr. John Abbott, the director of Education 2000, who asked in an address to the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry, Why is it, I am often asked, after years of conventional teaching do so many young people appear to have little personal initiative, seem so unwilling to accept responsibility…after all, at the age of eleven so many of them left their primary schools alert, excited, inquisitive"? The clue, he suggests, is in the word teaching. Good primary schools encourage children to want to learn, to explore relationships, to treat the world as their expanding oyster…the child becomes excited—and motivated. Secondary schools have been saddled with the artificiality of single subject disciplines, each with a heavy load of content—the teacher takes control, the pupil does as he is told…'it is the only way to cover the syllabus'. The integrated view of knowledge is easily lost…very many pupils lose interest, they do as they are told because…'teacher knows best'…not because they any longer feel responsible. A vital attribute—that of responsibility—is destroyed; many never recover—learning is associated with failure, and this bugs them for all time". A number of his hearers at the CBI conference recognised themselves in the picture painted there. Indeed I dare to say that some of our best achievers have managed to achieve in spite of the educational system rather than because of it. I suggest that the word "achievement" might be translated by what young people learn. What they learn, as has already been said in your Lordships' House, is, in part but certainly not in whole, measured by examination achievement. What they learn begins in the first place in the home.

I shall return to schools later but I wish to begin with the notion of parents as first educators. It is from parents that children learn how to speak and learn their language. It is from good parents that children learn curiosity. There are marvellous educational methods in the very simplest of operations such as sorting clothes for the washing machine or buying food in the supermarket. From all of this attention and learning in the very early years children gain self-worth. The point has already been made —I reiterate it—that at the base of all learning is a sense of self-worth and self-esteem and if that is lacking learning does not take place.

I would therefore dare to suggest that we need to place emphasis on parents not just as first educators but as educators throughout the period of their children's learning. Do not let nursery schools become a way of drawing our attention away from what I believe to be the absolutely crucial role of parents, particularly in these early years. If I had control of resources—which I do not—I would allocate substantial resources to this area of the first years in a child's life. We recently had in your Lordships' House a debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Many of your Lordships made contributions on the theme of the enormous significance of parents as educators of their children.

The schools, of course, pick up the theme of learning, which I believe to be a natural activity. The capacity of the brain to learn is extraordinary: for example, the way we pick up a language in the early years and the way we learn to be social beings. All this demonstrates the enormous capacity of the brain to learn. It is the task of schools to harness that activity and I believe also to allow young people steadily, through the years of schooling, to take increasing responsibility for their own learning. If there is a weakness in the present system, I believe it is precisely at this point that it does not encourage that sense of responsibility which, once accepted, continues throughout life. We are well aware as we move into the new world that we are all required to be learners throughout life.

Of course there are basic competencies that have to be acquired at primary school such as numeracy, literacy, calculation and communication, but primary schools do more than this. They encourage exploration, they excite and they motivate. I would argue, as other noble Lords have already argued, that the resources necessary at primary level to achieve this effectively need to be larger than they are at the moment. However, I would dare to suggest—I realise this will be a highly unpopular suggestion—that the corollary of that is that resources at secondary level may need to be smaller. If we are encouraging young people to take responsibility, they do not need teachers in the same way as they do in those early stages. The figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, earlier illustrated the discrepancy between primary and secondary education. Perhaps if those figures were reversed that would be a more proper application of resources.

The problem of secondary schools is, of course, that they feel they must cover the subjects. As I have already said, they must get through the syllabus. But I would suggest that perhaps in the new age the task of teachers will not be so much to impart knowledge as to encourage young people to think for themselves. I shall have more to say in a moment about knowledge acquisition. But I would dare to suggest that there are other ways of acquiring knowledge than simply sitting at the feet of a teacher and hearing the teacher speak.

My own experience of education has been in the higher education sector. I always felt when lecturing that I was wasting my time. Those who sat at my feet could just as well have acquired the information from elsewhere. However, I felt that when I was working with them in seminars or on essays they had prepared I was doing something profoundly important because I was helping to stimulate and encourage them.

The system we have now begins with the parent as early educator in a one-to-one or two-to-one situation. It finishes in universities with a large number of students and a very much smaller number of teachers. In universities today the system might be described as "go off and find out for yourself". In between we have a system which does not encourage that steady independence and control of one's own learning which ought to lead towards the situation that we have in universities.

If we followed that line we would need not only reallocation of resources but also a change of attitudes. That is very difficult to bring about. How might that be driven? The one thing that was missing from the introduction to the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was an emphasis on the community. I felt that she spoke too much of education as institution bound. I am told that 80 per cent. of what we learn is acquired in the community as a whole, not in our educational institutions. Therefore, we need to see the community as a primary educator and as a driver of what happens in education.

We are well aware that the future will require young people who are flexible, collaborative, innovative and continuously learning. It is not at once evident that the present examination system encourages all those attitudes. But a community which is obviously concerned about the future will function in that way and will help schools to enable youngsters to learn some of those skills. When members of a community —parents, business people and a whole variety of people—participate in schools, attitudes begin to change.

The other driver of change, and perhaps the most important one, is technology. I was most interested in what the Minister had to say earlier and her emphasis on information technology. Of all the changes in knowledge acquisition that have taken place over the centuries, the introduction of information technology is the greatest since the arrival of printing. One would suspect, therefore, that changes in education would be as great as that which followed the arrival of books.

That is not merely a matter of the skills required to handle a keyboard or a visual display unit, it is also a question of the way in which young people are able to use IT to obtain the knowledge that they need. CD-Roms are available on an immense array of subjects. That releases the teacher from being the knowledge provider to undertake the far more important role of inspirer. That has been the traditional role of teachers throughout the ages. I believe that teachers have to give young people not so much knowledge as inspiration. Sometimes we have a model of teachers as knocking into unwilling heads the information that pupils need. I do not believe that that is a proper model. The teacher should be a stimulator, enabler and, above all, inspirer. I suggest that those two drivers may bring about the kind of changes which in future our world will inevitably require.

I shall not speak at any length about Church schools. I point out simply that it needs to be remembered that one third of the schools in our educational system are Church schools and among many of those which are highly sought after.

I should like briefly to mention the matter of values. It is in such schools that value systems are not only taught but are embodied in the life of the school and in the curriculum. The subject of values in the curriculum is one to which we shall have to return.

I should like to speak at slightly greater length about another area which I believe to be of enormous significance. That is the interior life of the spirit. It was alluded to most marvellously a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. I am grateful for what he said.

What matters is how we are motivated and what inspires us. That is what will enable us to learn and to achieve. The first dimension of the Education Act 1988 was that of spiritual education. That embraces a wide variety of activities. I have in mind religious education. That provides young people with ideas which they can relate to themselves about interior motivation and the life of the spirit. I believe that collective worship has a central part to play. But I also believe that there is a whole range of other activities such as poetry, literature, drama, music and art which stimulate young people's interior life.

Last month the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York gave an address at the northern educational conference which he entitled "Maps and Dreams". The maps were the ways in which we relate various kinds of knowledge to other knowledge, which is connected to the neural networks in our brains which enable such relationships to take place. He also spoke of dreams and the ways in which we are fired up, excited and motivated. We are not functional entities. We are not machines which can somehow be fed so that the right functions come out at the end. We are people who feel, achieve and suffer. Any educational system has to come to terms with that truth.

The creation of wealth is not merely the acquisition of money. It is a much wider concept. It is something in which all share and in which all find fulfilment. In that sense the interior life of the spirit has a great deal to contribute towards the creation of wealth. As we look at this matter of education, we need to pay great attention to the life of the spirit and to spiritual education.

The prophet Joel painted a picture of a society renewed by the dreams of its older people and the visions of its younger people. Perhaps our teaching staff may be regarded as the older people dreaming dreams which they communicate to the younger people, who then have visions which they will embody in the society of the future.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I am among the many who are grateful to the noble Baroness for the terms of the Motion before us, dismayed as we are by so much that is appalling in our education system.

Of course, it would be nice to think that the bitter complaints we hear spring only from that familiar masochistic urge to denigrate ourselves. And certainly, as some of your Lordships have already said, many of us have had little to complain about—we in the lucky 15 per cent. who were well served, perhaps through a grammar school scholarship.

But for the remaining 85 per cent., education in this country has indeed long been deeply unsatisfactory—and is judged internationally to be so still. Earlier this very month the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warned against the danger of falling standards in some of the German Länder by citing specifically the atrocious performance of British 14 year-olds in reading, writing and sums.

Work last year by Professor S. J. Prais and others in the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, compared us with France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. They showed England to be seriously inferior, not only in the key areas of literacy and maths, but also in classroom organisation and management, as well as in teacher skills and educational methodology. All this, moreover, strictly comparing like with like, matching inner city schools, class sizes, ethnic minorities, social deprivation and single parent families.

It is essential that we increasingly study and respond to such international comparisons, both so that we can try to catch up with our continental neighbours with whom our youngsters will be competing for jobs, but also to have an external check on our own progress at home, where there may be some danger of misreading grade inflation in public examinations with genuinely improved achievement.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Mr Chris Woodhead, has recently made it clear that in his view our educational failure is (in part at least) to be attributed to an influential minority of the teaching profession. Professor Prais of the National Institute has no doubt about it and says he has little hope, that substantial improvements will be made without a fundamental rethinking of teaching methods". A generation ago it was thought that the answer was to make teaching an all-graduate profession. Well, it now virtually is, my Lords. But as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, noted in another connection in this Chamber, on 1st February, a lower second, from the University of Loamshire [is no] guarantee of high intellectual preformance".—[0fficial Report, 1/2/95, col. 1554.] Of course, if all graduate teachers had what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, on the same occasion (at col. 1531 of the Official Report) called the, articulateness, both on paper and in speech", together with the, critical methods of thought", associated with an Oxbridge degree, it might be a different story. Our current problems may indeed be related to the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, went on to give: the proportion of Oxford graduates becoming school teachers has fallen from 30 per cent. 50 years ago to only 2 per cent. today.

But in the Motion before us we are rightly urged to look beyond the teaching profession: to parents, for example, and, I would certainly add, to school governors and school inspectors (both in short supply, where, arguably, they are most needed—for inner city primary schools). And we should take account too—and I am the first, I think, to mention this today—of the views of employers, who look to our education system for properly equipped recruits.

A few months ago, Sir Ron Dearing completed what he called, the largest formal consultation exercise in education", ever mounted in this country. It was striking that three groups consulted (parents, governors and employers) spoke with one voice, insisting on rigorous standards in English and maths, whereas the fourth group—the teachers—had sharply different priorities. More than half of the thousands of teachers responding demanded less emphasis, on correctness, standard English, and grammar". Yet it is known that deficiencies in such areas trap the least affluent in continued deprivation and hamper them in their attempts to find work. Let me quote from material submitted by three major employers. The first reads as follows: It is a great surprise and disappointment to us to find our young employees are so hopelessly deficient in their command of English". The second speaks of failure to recruit junior staff, who can speak and write English clearly and correctly". The third concludes sadly that, the teaching of English in present-day schools produces a very limited command of the English language". Job applicants, do not appreciate the value of shades of meaning, and…show weakness in work which requires accurate description, or careful arrangement of detail". The tenor of such complaints may be depressingly familiar, but these are not from the evidence to Sir Ron Dearing last year. They were submitted by Messrs. Lever Brothers, Vickers, and Boots respectively to Sir Peter Newbolt's Board of Education inquiry 75 years ago. They were reprinted some 50 years later when the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, (then Sir Alan) noted with dismay that his committee on the same issue was receiving from employers the same sort of complaint—often virtually word for word. He further noted that many contemporary teachers (that is, teachers of the early 1970s) were reluctant to treat English lessons as the occasion for, direct instruction in the skills of reading and writing". Rather they had absorbed fashionable educational theory and, prefer English to be an instrument of social change". For them, the ideal of 'bridging the social gap' by sharing a common culture is unacceptable…as implying the superiority of 'middle class culture'. No wonder that in 1976 the then Prime Minister felt it necessary to take a personal initiative and thus was launched at Ruskin College, Oxford the Great Debate—for which to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, we remain indebted.

Another dozen years and several Secretaries of State later, another committee was set up in 1988 to look yet again at the teaching of English. Its chairman, the eminent mathematician, Sir John Kingman, was astonished to find teachers of English belligerently asserting that, any notion of correct or incorrect use of language is an affront to personal liberty". The Kingman Committee's work was immediately followed by a working party charged with manipulating its findings into curricular form for teacher use within the emergent national curriculum. Since the resultant English Order survives to the present day and will in effect be still operational until the much sounder Dearing curriculum starts to be implemented in August this year, I hope I may be allowed to quote from it. I should add, however, (to adapt the warning used with television reports from disaster scenes) that your Lordships may find some of what follows disturbing. Teachers are told that they should never treat "non-standard" as "substandard" but should recognise "the damage to self esteem" that can be caused by "correction". (And this last word "correction" is put in quotation marks, in apology perhaps, or even contempt).

But in case not all teachers are au courant with the politically correct marginalising of standard English as just one dialect among many that are equally valid, the document explains the position in grim detail. It presents the examples, "we was", "he ain't done it", "she come here yesterday" and "they never saw nobody", and goes on to remark, All these are grammatical and rule governed…but the rules are different", different, that is, from those observed in some other varieties of English.

Recently in this Chamber (at col. 1493 of the Official Report of 1st February) the noble Lord, Lord Pym, referred to English as, one of our most valuable national assets", and as, gradually becoming the language of the world". Is there not a cruel irony that, when children around the world, from Antwerp to Osaka, are vigorously perfecting their command of standard English, its teaching here is regarded by some of the most influential teachers as a class-based intrusion and, to quote Kingman again, an affront to personal liberty"? How different from the corresponding curricular document issued to teachers in France. There, so far from thinking it desirable to shield disadvantaged groups and ethnic minorities, the standard language is forthrightly prescribed as: le premier instrument de la liberté et la réussite", that is, of success, as the curriculum goes on to say: in social as well as occupational life; in particular for those children whose dialect at home or among friends is far removed from the standard language of school". The contrast with a still fashionable orthodoxy in this country could not be more stark, nor the lesson for us more clear.

6.1 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lady Perry very much for introducing the debate today and going right to the heart of the educational debate, which, above all, is about standards. Her speech was so clear in setting out the difficulties of the past and the great efforts which have been made to raise standards that it will be something worth studying at length when one has more time to read it.

I take as my starting point this afternoon my memory of speaking at the Second Reading, when the education Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House in 1988. I started then by saying that the backdrop to the Bill was the real concern about standards, those standards quoted—as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, has just said—by Professor Prais which showed that the average or less than average pupil in this country was something like two years behind his equivalent in either Germany or Japan, as well as in France. Those are alarming figures and, of course, as we know, the real sufferers at the end of the day are the children themselves, growing into adults, unable to compete adequately for jobs, not only in this country but in the world.

My noble friend Lady Perry set out clearly the important steps which the Government have taken to try to set those matters right: the national curriculum; testing and assessment; examinations; regular inspections of schools—Ofsted must inspect every four years. As we know, previously primary schools were lucky to be inspected once in 240 years. Further steps include giving a much greater choice, variety and diversity of schools. I was interested to hear from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon not only about Church schools, but also of the great importance which parents attach to those schools and the great demand for them because they set a real standard in the spiritual and moral side of life and discipline, as well as in academic attainment.

In a moment I shall say something more about grant maintained schools. I am, of course, absolutely delighted that the party opposite has decided that they are now a good thing, considering how hard the Opposition fought against them only a short time ago. I am pleased to think that they have undergone a conversion and recognise how valuable the schools are.

Noble Lords


Baroness Young

My Lords, I now discover that noble Lords opposite are against them. Is that right? Perhaps they will clarify the point. We are never quite sure who in the Labour Party is speaking on the matter and whether they are for or against. However, one point on which we all agree is how valuable it is to have the choice of where you would like to send your child to school, and to be able to exercise that choice.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, if it would help the noble Baroness, we on this side of the House are committed to bringing grant maintained schools back under local democratic control.

Baroness Young

My Lords, if I may say so, I do not think that that is a satisfactory answer. Never mind.

Lord Peston

It is the best the noble Baroness can have until I speak!

Baroness Young

My Lords, I shall think of an answer to that too. The importance of all those matters—the national curriculum and testing and assessment—is to try to meet the real issues which the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, identified and also the concern which we all feel about helping the least able and the average child. The fact is that they all have to study the same curriculum. It is extremely disappointing to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, said about the English curriculum, because I very much share his view that it is no help to any children to bring them up to think that if you speak ungrammatically and write without grammar or punctuation you will help yourself in the world into which you are going.

The object of all the reforms is to help all the children to set a standard in which all may benefit, and to set a series of objective measures. I would be the first to recognise that we have a long way to go, but we have made a great many improvements, as the recent Ofsted report shows. Even if there are failures which we all regret, we must hope that as year succeeds year, standards will rise, provided we keep on the course that we have set ourselves. Also the work of the teacher training agency, set up to raise standards of teachers—one of the criticisms in the Ofsted report is that a great deal of teaching of reading is not as good as it should be—is one way in which we shall help that.

It is also encouraging that the NVQs are developing well. As some noble Lords may know, I serve as a non-executive director on the board of Marks and Spencer. I was interested to hear how many of their staff have now decided to take NVQs, not just the young staff coming in at the beginning but older people who realise quite suddenly that it is a qualification that they can achieve which will help them towards promotion. In five years' time we shall have the first national results, all schools will be inspected by Ofsted and we shall have a real measure of where we are going.

Those are important matters and I say to those who have been critical today—the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas—that all those reforms were fought line by line, by the parties opposite. Many of us recall sitting up all night over them. It is extraordinary that so few Members on the opposite Benches have troubled to take part in the debate today. I always understood that education was something they believed in and that education and training, above all, would help people back into employment—a view with which I have considerable sympathy. I am only surprised that more Members opposite do not feel that it would be worth while to contribute to a very important issue.

As regards teachers, I should like to pay my tribute to what they have done. As my noble friend Lady Perry said, standards have been rising and that is a measure of the success of teachers. Good teachers produce good standards. I very much regret the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, when she suggested that those of us speaking on these Benches somehow abused teachers and that that abuse was stimulated by the Government. I do not believe that that is a fair comment. What we have all said is that the majority of teachers do an extremely good job in a very difficult world today, far more difficult than when I was at school. If a minority do not do so well, we want to improve standards for the benefit of the children quite apart from anyone else. I believe that we shall.

I was very interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon had to say about the role of parents. One provision which the various Acts of Parliament have introduced is the role of parents as elected parent governors. It has given parents the right to know through publication what the school results are, and to be informed about schools so that they may make a sensible choice for their particular child. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the importance of the role of the parent in the early years simply cannot be overestimated.

I agree, too, about governors and the greatly increased powers that they now have, especially as regards the local management of schools. They have a very responsible job. I am afraid that sometimes they have extremely difficult decisions to take. That is what responsibility is all about. I am, again, very pleased to say that, of the employees of the two companies on whose boards I serve, hundreds are school governors up and down the country. The employees of banks in particular can be very valuable to schools, bringing with them, as they do, financial expertise.

The criticisms today have centered, as one might have expected, on the subject of money. If we look at what has happened in education since 1979, teachers' pay has risen by 59 per cent.—that is in real terms—and spending per pupil has risen by 50 per cent., also in real terms. The present Government are spending half as much again as the last Labour Government did in 1979. As has already been pointed out, we spend more of our GDP on education than either Germany or Japan. Of course, we might all like to spend more on education, but it is worth while to have a look at what is happening in local authorities before we accept the belief that there is simply not enough money.

If local authorities are concerned at their inability to pay for education, the remedy is to a large extent in their own hands. And if schools are concerned that the local authorities are not paying enough, the remedy is to a certain extent in their hands. Let us look first at the local authorities. What did the Audit Commission report that was just published have to tell us? It stated that non-manual staff employed by councils went up by 90,000 between 1987 and 1993; that is to say, £500 million was spent on the extra manning. On page 15, at paragraph 23, the report states that, The extent of the growth of the non-manual paybill since 1987 will surprise many in local government who have become convinced of ever tightening restrictions. In reality, resources available to local government have increased, often to reflect extra duties, even if that has not always been the perception of members and service providers". Over 60 per cent. of the extra money that local authorities have had is not related to extra services that they are required to provide but is needed simply as a result of growth.

There has been a very interesting example described in the local paper in Oxfordshire. One councillor wrote in—I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, quoted Oxfordshire when he spoke about parents—indicating that not only had the numbers of teachers gone up by 100 the year before, but that another 100 had been added during the past year, and that did not include others who could not be taken into account in September. So the idea that the whole of the education service is in a kind of collapse is quite untrue. I believe that the money to fund the teachers' pay settlement is there; what is missing is the will to do something about it.

I should like to say a word about what schools could do. There are now 1,000 schools that have grant-maintained status. Other schools could opt out of local authority control and become grant maintained. Those that are still controlled by local authorities have local management funds, under which something like 90 per cent. of the budget is apparently in their hands, while the remaining 10 per cent. is kept back by the authority for central services. By simple logic, if they are to be better funded, they should opt out and claim that 10 per cent. as well. They could then decide for themselves whether or not the central services give them value for money. The truth of the matter is that there are countless examples to illustrate that they do not give value for money. In school after school that was visited by representatives of the funding agency, there are accounts of dramatic improvements in the maintenance of buildings and grounds at half of what the cost had been under local authority control. So there again is another issue in which schools could help themselves.

In conclusion, we have come a very long way in setting a framework to raise standards. That is something that we all want to see. Of course, we have a long way to go. The idea that you can raise standards overnight and get an instant result by Act of Parliament is ridiculous. You cannot. It takes a long time and a lot of patience. But I believe that the whole framework of the national curriculum, of testing, assessment, measuring, performance tables and league tables does matter. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who seems to be against all these things. They may not measure everything, but examinations measure something. They represent one of the few accurate objective measures that we have. When it actually counts in a serious situation, we take examination results very seriously. After all, who wants to be looked after by a doctor who has not passed any exams? When the chips are really down, we think that they matter. I believe that they matter all the way through. We must find other measures as well. That is why it is very important that we now have the measures on truancy.

What will not take us anywhere was what I felt was a slightly patronising attitude taken by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, when he said that poor children, children from the ethnic minorities and from one-parent families (the noble Lord gave a list) obviously cannot do so well. If we start off by thinking that they cannot do so well, that is in itself a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why should such children do well in Germany, France and other places? They do well there because there is a culture that expects everybody to do well. That is the culture that we have to introduce into this country. If we have that culture, then we shall succeed. What really matters at the end of the day—here I believe that we are all agreed—is what happens to our children. In my opinion, education is the most important subject that there is. Not only do all the individuals who are growing up matter, but they are growing up into a highly competitive world where they will live most of their lives, in the 21st century. It is very important that we should get this matter right. We must struggle continuously to improve the situation. We have made great improvements already, and I confidently expect those improvements to continue.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend has done a great service to the House by raising this issue in this form today. All of us in the parliamentary process are under a compulsion to cry up our own wares and to cry down our opponents. But even were that not the case I would start my contribution by welcoming the many signs in the chief inspector's annual report that the painful turmoil that our schools have undergone in recent years is beginning to have a good effect. The political temptation is to do that and then do no more. But we are not an entirely political House, and I am not an entirely political person. Noble Lords will therefore please understand that I pay a full, welcoming and genuine tribute to what—had the phrase not already been withered by recent history—I would have called the green shoots of success which the chief inspector reports to us.

My second temptation is an academic and personal one. The Motion invites us to consider the role of parents, teachers and schools together. I chaired the committee of inquiry into discipline in schools which reported to the Government in 1989 and I could speak with enthusiasm about the need for home-school links and in great detail about the skills and abilities needed by our teachers in their enormously important task. But I could not do so in an acceptable period of time. So I merely state that the report remains highly relevant and is available from HMSO under reference ISBN 0 11 270 665 7.

One aspect of the Motion chimes very closely with the report and deserves close attention. The importance of pupil achievement is very great, and not only in ways your Lordships may most readily recognise. Many noble Lords may feel that the importance of achievement relates to pupils' careers after they leave school and to the economic wellbeing of our country. I accept absolutely both premises. We must recognise the great importance of pupils' achievement within schools and as a contribution to the social wellbeing of our country. Before too many of your Lordships decide that social wellbeing is an abstract, namby-pamby concept and slide away to the bar, let me make it clear that this issue has a direct linkage to public order and to the criminal justice system. The fruit of ineffective schooling is not simply placid ignorance. It starts with disruption in the classroom, continues with truancy, and finishes up all too often in criminal offending.

Table 3.16 of the 1995 edition of Social Trends shows, from 1975–76 to 1991–92—sadly, the latest year for which figures are given—a continuous reduction in the numbers of pupils leaving school with no GCSE passes at any grade. Those are the people of whom the noble Lord, Lord Morris, spoke earlier. That is good news. Nevertheless, from Table 3.15 we see that in 1991–92 nearly 23,000 boys and about 18,700 girls—over 41,000 pupils in all—left without a single grade. That may amount to only 7 per cent. of school leavers in that year but it represents a lot of children. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, pointed out, there was a small increase in the number last year.

We have to recognise that there will have been good and acceptable reasons for many of those pupils' failures. But we also need to recognise—I warmly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said—that academic achievements are emphatically not the only valid or valuable achievements of which children are capable, achievements which schools can and should help them to attain and whose efforts in so doing should be commended.

The figure is nonetheless dauntingly large. Following that, one is drawn irresistibly to Table 1 in the second annex to the chief inspector's report. It shows that at key stage 4, 17 per cent. of lessons in all schools were unsatisfactory or poor, as were 19 per cent. in key stage 3, 20 per cent. in key stage 1 and a massive 26 per cent. in key stage 2. The figures in Table 8, which relate to the quality of teaching, are even more disturbing.

Therefore, the chief inspector is right to look to improvements in initial teacher training for a long-term remedy and right to suggest that the number of teachers having insufficient knowledge of the subjects they are trying to teach is so great in some areas that recruitment to the profession must be much more rigorously controlled. That must surely be already under way, given his very encouraging report on initial teacher training. My right honourable friend and her department deserve congratulation.

But perfect subject knowledge of itself does not produce even competent teaching. The cleverest man who ever taught me presided over a bear garden for two years and then "retired hurt". The best qualified man with whom I ever taught as a colleague suffered a similar excruciating experience. Therefore I welcome the inclusion of the initial teacher training programme in Ofsted's remit. Ofsted's report bears out all that my noble friend Lady Perry said about its achievement. Again, I congratulate the Government. It is gratifying to read that the quality of secondary ITT in both HEIs and schools was satisfactory in nearly nine-tenths of sessions. I even welcome the fact that, apparently, Ofsted has teeth. Paragraph 208 of the report concludes encouragingly that, approximately 3/5ths of such provision was judged to be good or very good"; and that, one provider was assessed as unsatisfactory overall; this HEI has ceased to recruit secondary ITT students". If the judgment was correct, the sentence was appropriate.

However dramatically good the quality of our ITT may become, we must remember that a teacher's career can last for up to 40 years. As my noble friend Lady Young said, getting improvement is a slow business. It will be a very long time before all the new brooms have swept their way through the system. In so doing, I hope that they will acquire some of the wisdom and skill so well represented among the very many good teachers in post.

Furthermore, the world does not stand still. It changes all the time, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out. So, in some respects, does the task of preparing children for it. There is therefore a large and crucially important job to be done in in-service training, both for the old hands and for the new. We should encourage my right honourable friend not just to keep up her admirable work on ITT hut to extend that effort urgently to INSET.

I said that the result of ineffective schooling is not simply placid ignorance, but that it starts with disruption in the classroom, continues with truancy and finishes up, quite possibly, in court. There is evidence to bear that out and link it to your Lordships' earlier discussions of nursery education.

In a lecture given last year to the RSA, Professor David Farrington made the connection linking low IQ and low school attainment to delinquency and suggested possible remedies. He pointed to the Perry pre-school project—no connection with the firm next door, I believe—in Michigan, targeted on 120 disadvantaged black children, randomly allocated to the experiment and to a control group. Those in the experiment followed a daily pre-school programme, designed to provide intellectual stimulation and increase cognitive ability for two years at ages three and four. They had weekly home visits. The results were very striking. Those who completed the programme, were significantly better in school motivation, school achievement at 14, teacher ratings of class room behaviour at 15 and self reports of offending at 15". Professor Farrington reported that a later study of the same group showed that at age 19 those in the experimental group were more likely to be employed, more likely to have graduated from high school, more likely to have received college or vocational training and less likely to have been arrested. Overall, the experimental group accumulated only half as many arrests on average as the controls. There is the linkage that I spoke of.

That was the only experiment that analysed criminality. However, the professor quoted ten other programmes and said: With quite impressive consistency, all studies show that pre-school intellectual enrichment programmes"— I apologise for the phrase, which is his and not mine— have longterm beneficial effects on school success, especially in increasing the rate of high school graduation and decreasing the rate of special education placements". Merely to say that those results suggest that we ought immediately to provide nursery schools for all would be simplistic. But they suggest that we should concentrate our attention in that area.

I repeat that in some respects the world changes and with it the teacher's task; but not in all respects. One novelty in the report, which flows from amendments made in this House, is its reference to spiritual values. Those do not change and it is important that they are not neglected. We must, of course, recognise that much of the most valuable spiritual teaching is done outside any curriculum and much of it outside any classroom. I am glad to see that the right reverend Prelate nods his head. However, a good deal is contained within the two specifically religious components of the school day; the daily act of worship in assembly and religious education lessons.

The chief inspector reported that the, great majority of secondary schools failed to provide a daily act of collective worship for all pupils". He added, by way of explanation, that, many staff did not wish to lead worship". That reluctance is very understandable. A teacher who has neither the training nor the conviction to lead such worship should not under any circumstances be required to do so. More damage could be done by an agnostic teacher conducting an assembly of children in what he or she believes to be the paths of religious righteousness than by countless purely administrative assemblies. But it remains a great pity and a matter for concern that our current teaching force apparently lacks sufficient members to meet that statutory requirement and that there is neither access to sufficient outside resources to meet it nor the initiative to tap them. Can we ask that in preparing his next report the chief inspector examines the extent to which clergy of different denominations, and other qualified people, have been available and approached. I would expect that in a number of cases the mere making of the necessary inquiries would establish the connections needed to start this sort of fruitful outside participation.

But significant numbers of schools should not be forced to recruit outsiders in order to meet the obligations. The present position reflects a clear shortage of specialist RE staff. My noble friend will be familiar with the depressing contents of the Ofsted report on religious education and collective worship in 1992–93, published last year. After telling us that RE was badly managed in most primary schools and insufficiently supported by INSET, the report shows, in paragraph 51, that the ratio of specialist teachers fell from 1:525 pupils in 1990–91 to 1:698 in 1992–93. In those three years the number of pupils to each qualified specialist teacher rose on average by 163—or about five reasonable sized classes. The target intake to ITT for secondary RE specialists, revealed by the department in a letter to the RE Council for England and Wales on 29th November last, is therefore a matter of real concern. It is a mere 510; 80 fewer even than music. Just to put the figure in perspective I should perhaps say that the target for science is 3,400.

I gladly acknowledge that the target intake figures in all subjects are set to rise over the subsequent two years. But RE will still be at the bottom of the heap then, as it is now. Nor is that all, as the RE Council for England and Wales made clear in its aptly named report Time for RE & Teachers to Match in 1993. It shows a far larger proportion of RE teaching being done by teachers with no qualification of any kind in that subject than is the case for any other subject. The figures for England showed 50 per cent. of RE teachers with no RE qualification and only a quarter with relevant degrees. In mathematics, still regarded as a critical subject, those proportions were almost exactly reversed.

Time does not permit me to show your Lordships just how serious the situation is. Suffice it to say that in language constantly—and often unconsciously—enriched by biblical imagery, your Lordships have frequently agreed, and later with votes confirmed, that a sound foundation of religious knowledge is an essential part of the education of a British child. That view is shared by another place. Parliament also accepts the importance of securing our children's spiritual development.

Teaching the basic facts of Old Testament history and New Testament revelation is an invaluable medium in which to foster the spiritual development of the vast majority of our children, just as teaching about the principal beliefs and practices of other religions is an invaluable medium in which to teach them an appreciation of, and respect for, their contemporaries who subscribe to them, and vice versa. Properly taught, that subject can contribute crucially to the happiness and stability of our country in the coming difficult years. We have a duty to our successors that it should be taught well. It is a tragedy that Ofsted should have to tell us that it is not being done well. Can my noble friend tell us what is to be done to put that right?

I close as I started by recognising and welcoming the significant advances signalled by the chief inspector and welcomed by my noble friend. I repeat that recognition and welcome. But I ask my right honourable friend, through my noble friend, three things: first, to put resources into the recognition of the importance of RE; secondly, to put into INSET the same vigour and enthusiasm that so successfully went into ITT; and, thirdly, to read the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and act on it—it weren't 'arf marvellous work!

6.35 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, the House is right to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this debate and for the question which she posed, which lays out so many lines of study that we can all effectively follow. She and I share a name that is almost the same and as a result we sometimes receive one another's correspondence; but hers is far more interesting than mine!

However, had the noble Baroness intercepted my correspondence yesterday she would have found a facsimile letter sent to me late yesterday afternoon by the Director of Education for Dyfed—spelt Dyfed, pronounced "Dovey", but the director is not making dove-like noises. He certainly does not share the appreciation that is clearly felt by the noble Baroness and some of her noble friends with everything that has happened in the past 10 years. In fact, addressing himself to the question, quite strangely, he says, first, that the Dyfed education authority welcomes the principle of the provision of greater information being made available to parents and the public provided it is comprehensive, relevant, intelligible and purposeful. I shall come back to that. I do not want to base my speech on that of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry; I wish to make my own contribution.

For the past 20 years in this House, in various debates on education, I have occasionally quoted the contention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, that education was any two people sitting on a log. The contention comes close to some of the things said by the right reverend Prelate and, indeed, picks up certain comments made around the House. I believe that one of the finest speeches made in this House tonight—this is no detraction from the speeches of other noble Lords —was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, standing as she did so close to recent experience within the educational framework.

The point being made by Ralph Waldo Emerson was that education is the affecting of two minds and, in the best teaching situation, the teacher learns as much as the taught. The right reverend Prelate was right to point out that originally the teaching was done by the parent. Then into the situation—when the parent could perhaps not afford the time, but could afford to hire someone else—came a second figure standing in locum and acting on behalf of the parent in the education of the child. A long time ago E.H.Carr said that it was the duty of the parent, and therefore he supposed of the teacher, to help to determine the direction in which society developed. It is from that point that I want to start addressing this question.

I have said before in this House that every one of the reports that I have read on education during my many years of service made the point that the greatest influence on the education of a child is the attitude of the parents to the school in which that child is taught. Deeply fundamental—and, in a democracy, savagely important—it is essential that the schools, the pupils and the teachers are backed by the parents. We know that a great number of our school population do not have the benefit of the backing of two parents because of the growth of single parent families, for reasons into which we cannot delve tonight. Many also have parents who do not understand the system; do not have the qualifications, the vocabulary, the language and personality to represent the children whose education concerns them as vitally as my daughter's concerned me and your Lordships' children concerned your Lordships.

I make no point about those who buy education for their children. The way in which people dispose of their money in relation to their ambitions for their family is their business. My point is that it is possible in this House to isolate ourselves from events that are happening; to congratulate ourselves on the small things that we do and not to realise that things are going wrong even now. New things are going wrong with the education system, which your Lordships are devoted to changing and to which I have devoted my life to serving. Things are going wrong and we are missing that fact.

Let me give an example. Some noble Lords will have seen that accompanying me this week in this House have been two young people. They are 17 year-old students who, in 10 weeks' time will be taking their advanced level exams. They are interested in history because they have some aspirations to know about politics; and what a relief that some young people are still interested in the politics of democracy in this country at this time. Because they are interested they have been with me. One of them is with me tonight. Chris Rogers is the deputy head boy of his school in Haverfordwest. Whether I am supposed to mention him or not, I am doing so. I have also had with me a young lady, Susan Parnell-Davis, who is being educated at Amersham in Buckinghamshire. They will pay tribute to the quality of the teaching that they are receiving and to the fact that their schools are doing their utmost to teach them. They make no criticism of the way in which they are taught.

But is it not interesting that at the Sir Thomas Picton School in Haverfordwest the sixth form is now nudging on 200 pupils? In the school in Amersham, the number is 400 sixth form pupils in a school of 800. When I was at the county intermediate school at Pembroke Dock, all those light years ago, the school had less than 300 pupils and I was in the sixth form, which never got above 20 pupils. I remember discussions with two political friends, R.H.S. Crossman and Desmond Donnelly. One went to Eton and was never taught in classes which had more than 12 pupils. The other went to school at Bembridge in the Isle of Wight and was never taught in classes of more than 20 pupils. I was taught in classes of 32 pupils until I went into the sixth form where the group was 14 strong. It is only then that a young mind begins to realise its own capacities and to take real advantage of the teaching system, and perhaps change the direction of the ambitions that he or she has inside them. If the grammar of that is wrong I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. I only taught English!

The system is developing. It is not enough to say that more people are staying on in sixth form education. We have to ask why they are staying on. There is one very good reason, and that is that they want education; and thank God for that. But some are staying on because they have nowhere else to go because there is no employment. In the rural areas of Wales where I have all my life there are very few opportunities indeed. Some of the pupils are staying on because they hope that there might be better benefits.

I am not being critical here in a party political sense. Let us put all the items into the balance when we weigh up this matter. Meanwhile, the teachers within the system consist of the good and, very occasionally, the bad. In the whole of my teaching life I came across a few who crucified themselves because they were so bad. As the noble Lord who debated education in this House with me 20 years ago said, they have fallen out of the system. The system broke them because if you are not a good teacher it sometimes becomes intolerable when you have minds better than your own wanting to be helped by you.

We have problems. The head teachers of schools are presiding over boot sales and members of staff are now being recognised for their contributions towards raising funds. It is also a fact that staffing ratios in schools are now being affected by the amount of money which the headmaster has to recruit new staff.

Perhaps I may put that in detail. Any headmaster who wishes to set up a special unit or who wishes to bring a particular ability into his staff room has to look at how much an experienced teacher of 36 to 40 years of age, male or female, will cost him. In place of employing a suitably qualified teacher he can employ two or three young people who may make it and who may be excellent, but who do not have much experience.

In such circumstances, none of us can be self-congratulatory. With the greatest possible sympathy, I take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He said that the painful turmoil of the past years is beginning to abate. The noble Lord may very well be right in the particular circumstances to which he addressed himself. But there is still very great disillusionment in the classrooms. The noble Baroness was quite right to anticipate that I would react to what she said in this way. There is a great deal of disillusionment in the staff rooms in people who have found it impossible in the circumstances to continue to apply their great knowledge and ability, and the desire to inspire and inform.

While we still grant the right of pride in achievement, it is certainly not enough to quote figures that imply that the classroom ratios are improving even in specific cases. Far too often the better the teacher the faster that teacher gravitates out of the system. If you are a good teacher and you are required to manage a school without management training, you can still find yourself running a primary school in Pembrokeshire and be drawn down by the business of doing someone else's work while your expertise in education is trapped in doing all the things that a head teacher has to do without having been trained to do so.

The Statement about Northern Ireland has delayed us a little. I also have to attend an important committee meeting which I hope will not be before the debate ends. If I have to leave, I hope I shall be back.

By tinkering here and there, do not let us believe that we have created such a steamroller of success—if any at all —and that it will go rolling on. My good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Young, cannot get away with inferring that I and some of my noble friends said things that we never said about funding and costs. Very little was said on that from any part of the House. No one has proposed throwing more money at this or that. But we have the right to say that, in the noble Baroness's terms as well as in ours, the education system of Great Britain is underfunded. It is underfunded to the extent that it is running into danger. An education system in a democracy has to be consenting to the democracy itself. If I were a dictator I would make pretty certain to teach the ethic of the society, or the opposite of whatever I was trying to set up.

This country cannot afford a disillusioned teaching force and a disintegrating classroom system, which still continues in certain places. Take your plaudits for what you have done and give us credit for what we support you in, but do not think that the problem is in any way solved.

6.48 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Perry upon the splendidly comprehensive way in which she introduced a topic which is so important and so timely. My noble friend drew attention to many of the improvements that we can appreciate, but she also drew attention to continuing concern. Indeed, there is wide-ranging concern among many people, including teachers, parents, employers and indeed pupils and students, over continuing deep-rooted problems in our education system.

I shall focus on two of those problems because they influence all other aspects of educational attainment. I refer to the disturbing numbers of young people failing to achieve essential competencies in literacy and numeracy. I must of course first emphasise that there are many good schools, both primary and secondary, and many dedicated teachers who continue to maintain high standards in all spheres of education. I pay tribute to them for their achievements, and they are all the more significant given the trends which are reflected in declining standards elsewhere. The challenge confronting the education system today is to enable all schools, teachers and pupils to attain standards comparable to the best achieved in equivalent schools with similar pupils.

Research has shown that it is not funding which is the all-important factor in school attainment; nor is it the socio-economic or ethnic background of pupils. It is the quality of the school itself: the leadership of the head, teacher expectations of pupils, teaching methods, the setting of homework, and discipline. Often, less well-funded schools achieve better results for their pupils, and consequently a better start in life for them, than those which receive more resources.

So I wish to draw attention to the need for a rational, research- and evidence-based analysis of school effectiveness in enabling pupils to realise their potential through achieving the essential skills in literacy and numeracy. However, I must first declare an interest and offer an apology. I should mention that I am a member of the board of the Teacher Training Agency. I serve on its research and quality sub-committees, but I hasten to stress that I am not speaking on behalf of the agency. My apology is due because I have an engagement of six months' standing which necessitates my leaving your Lordships' House no later than 7.15 p.m. I am truly sorry, but I shall, of course, read with avid interest in Hansard those contributions that I miss.

I now turn to the problem of the under-achievement of too many pupils in too many of our schools. There is a growing volume of evidence showing an increasing number of pupils unable to read at the age of seven, and many transferring from primary to secondary schools at the age of 11 still deficient in reading abilities. That is a very grave situation. If children cannot read, their whole education is stunted. Moreover, they often become frustrated, bored, humiliated and alienated from school. The importance of self-esteem was rightly emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. An inability to read is a significant factor in low self-esteem and in under-achievement.

Research by Martin Turner has shown a significant and continuing increase in the number of pupils who cannot read by the age of seven. A study by Jenifer Chew has found that many 16 to 17 year-old students studying A-level English, who had obtained so-called "good" grades—that is, grades A to C—in their GCSE English were much less competent in spelling than a sample of Zulu-speaking South African school children, studying in classes with a pupil:teacher ratio of more than 40 to one. We can make what we want of those figures, but Mrs. Chew makes this comment: Class sizes and spending are held by many in England to be crucial factors in affecting standards, but the South African example shows that they need not be. The Zulu-speaking children had not only learnt to write English and to spell rather well: they also produced neat, legible hand-writing (a great deal neater and more legible, at the lower end of the ability range, than that of English sixth-formers), and there was no sign that their strength in the fundamentals of literacy has been acquired at the expense of breadth and creativity". That is a damning indictment, not only of our education system, which has failed so many of our 16 year-olds, born and bred in Britain, by not enabling them to write their own language comprehensively; it is also a serious indictment of an examination system which has given so many of them a false confidence arising from good results despite their manifest lack of ability in basic spelling, punctuation and powers of verbal expression. I shall place a copy of Mrs. Chew's research in your Lordships' Library and I dare to suggest that any noble Lord who looks at it will be as shocked as I was.

I know that comparisons are invidious, and international comparisons are especially difficult because there are many variables which cannot be taken into account. But comparisons can be revealing and sometimes show a human dimension behind the statistics. Therefore, perhaps I may invite your Lordships to compare the writing of English by British pupils with letters written in English by 12 year-old Armenian pupils in the war-torn city of Stepanakert, the capital of the bombarded, beleaguered, besieged enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Perhaps I may explain. I was delighted when a primary school in South London offered to establish a relationship with children in Karabakh, and I took a package of friendly letters and photographs from children in Streatham to their counterparts in Karabakh. These were received with great joy by pupils in School No. 8, Stepanakert, a bombed-out, blackened building, half of it still gutted by fire. The pupils were sitting huddled in one of the repaired classrooms, with no heat and virtually no teaching materials. But within one hour, those 12 year-old Armenian children had each written an individual letter to individual British pupils, in superb English, with excellent spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Those Armenian children had spent months in 1992 living underground in cellars and basements, under constant bombardment, with no light, heat, ventilation or sanitation. A study of their physical condition 18 months ago showed that, on average, the children of Nagorno-Karabakh were in worse physical condition than the children of Bosnia. Yet, despite having suffered the tragedies of war, interrupted schooling and studying in a school which is little more than a ruin, those 12 year-olds could each write personal letters to British children in English. All those children speak and write Armenian, which is a unique language, with a unique script. They also speak and write Russian. English is their third language and their third script, yet they can write as follows. I quote from one letter: Dear Mario, Hello. My name is Anna. I have got your letter….I learn in 7 form and go to school No. 8. Our enemy bombed Stepanakert and our school suffered very much from it. We study Russian, Armenian, English, Geography, History, Literature, Armenian History, Geometry, Algebra, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Physical (education)"— not much sign of a narrow curriculum there—

Lord Parry

My Lords, is the noble Baroness absolutely certain that that was the child's creation? Each Christmas I receive about 50 letters from Japan that are identical with one another.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I must advise the noble Lord that I was in that classroom when the children were writing those letters. That youngster continued—and I can relate to this: I hate physics very much. I like literature, Armenian history and English. By By. I wait for your letter, Abiahaunyan Anna". Perhaps I may quote again: Dear Friend, My name is Tanya. I live in Stepanakert … I am twelve years old … Our family isn't large"— the apostrophe was in the right place— I have a mother, a father and a brother and a grandmother. My brother is sixteen years old. His name is Vanya. He wounded….I read books of foreign authors such as Mark Twain, Goerge Sand, Alexander Duma. Can you write your letter in English"— I think that letter had been written in the mother tongue. The letter continued: I shall wait for your letters with great impatience. I'll be very glad to make friends with you". I have to ask how many British 12 year-olds can write as well as that in English, let alone in a third language and a third script. Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord who intervened that those youngsters could also speak English fluently. I was there—

Lord Parry

My Lords, I accept it.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I had a very lively and spontaneous discussion with them. Their English flowed easily and spontaneously. The discussion touched on many issues, ranging from my age to current geopolitical problems.

I believe that there are serious lessons here. As Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead, pointed out in his recent excellent lecture: we have to take very seriously the evidence that we in this country have failed too many of our young people by adopting attitudes to education and methods of teaching which have left them sorely bereft of educational attainments of which they are capable: low expectations; failure to set homework; failure to challenge pupils to give of their best; and ideological commitment to methods of teaching reading which manifestly have not worked for too many children. All these deficiencies in many schools have left too many of our young people in a different league of knowledge, skills and attainment from their counterparts in war-torn Karabakh—and in many other parts of the world.

It is a similar story with mathematics. As long ago as 1979, the Institute of Mathematics published a disturbing study showing an alarming proportion of 16 year-olds—those of school-leaving age—incapable of accomplishing the simplest mathematical tasks. One quarter of pupils in London secondary schools who were tested in that survey could not even multiply 79 by six—with a pencil and paper. Other parts of the country also showed disturbing numbers of 16 year-olds incapable of carrying out the simplest calculations needed for everyday life. That study should have sent alarm bells ringing through the system and instigated urgent remedial measures. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and others have already said, research by Professor Prais shows that we are still lamentably behind in mathematics. In a recent study, Schooling as Preparation for Life & Work in Switzerland & Britain, Professor Prais shows: the scores attained by the top 40 per cent in England would be attained by the top 65–70 per cent. in Switzerland". Those situations bespeak a crisis—a crisis for our young people, who are being lamentably ill-prepared for life; and a crisis for our country, as so many of the next generation will enter national and international arenas woefully incapable of appreciating the priceless treasures of our and others' cultural heritage, and disadvantaged in the inevitable competition for employment, which will increase as national boundaries disappear.

As I have used personal experience to illustrate the poignant reality behind statistics, I draw to a conclusion by offering one other telling vignette. Only last week I was in Moscow, and my Russian interpreter told me that she had been studying as a postgraduate student in Oxford and had been invited to continue her studies there. She had declined, because she had a son, now aged 12. He had attended a middle school in Oxfordshire—Oxfordshire has already been referred to—and she was so alarmed by the lack of education he was receiving in that middle school that she felt she had to take him back to Russia.

My interpreter described how she kept hoping that her son would study Shakespeare in the land of Shakespeare; but whenever she inquired she was told that the class would "do Shakespeare" by the end of the year, but it never did. It was still reading books for young children, and in her words, "I felt he was old enough to read more grown up books than stories about rabbits and butterflies". She said that in England he always came home with his schoolbag empty and with no homework. So she has reluctantly terminated her studies at Oxford to take her son back to Moscow to study Shakespeare there and to bring home a schoolbag with homework in it—homework that he wants to do.

I finish with a plea. In 1972, the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, wrote a report on nursing in which he argued that, Nursing should become a research-based profession". The time is overdue for teaching to follow suit. The scene is well set. The Government deserve great credit for establishing procedures to make that possible. To quote HMCI again: Recent legislation has created a new and coherent framework within which schools can work". Perhaps I may mention a few examples of recent legislative and policy reforms which set the scene for significant improvement: first, successive measures have been taken in recent years to make information about schools available to parents and to the public in accordance with the principle of accountability—those have made available important information on school performance; secondly, the streamlined national curriculum should help to ensure that all pupils attain at least minimal knowledge and skills in key subjects; thirdly, Ofsted can highlight, through its inspection procedures and reports, good practice which can be emulated, and less good practice which can be remedied; fourthly, systematic research into the effectiveness of different methods of teaching children to read has been published, is now available, and should be made available for teachers and for those responsible for teacher education; and my last example is the establishment of the Teacher Training Agency. That should help to enhance the preparation of student teachers for their professional responsibilities.

It is my hope that we shall now learn the lessons of the past; rigorously assess the present; and build a firm foundation for the future, so that we can give each and all of our children the education which they need in order to realise their potential and to enjoy lives which are as fulfilled as possible. They deserve no less, and, as a nation, we cannot afford to give them less.

7.5 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by asking for your Lordships' indulgence if I am not in my place for the wind-up speeches. I apologise for that discourtesy, but I have a long-standing engagement. I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Perry for the clear way she described the considerable advances that have been made. She has given us an opportunity to debate this important matter.

It is now four years since I had the great privilege of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. My maiden speech was on a subject which has been of particular interest to me over many years. My chosen topic was the role of education in the life of our nation's women. Today's debate is an ideal occasion for me to turn once again to that concern and to consider the Government's progress in that vital field.

Over recent years, major strides have been made in ensuring that greater equality of opportunity exists between the sexes. In Britain, women have long been encouraged to believe in their capacity to achieve. Britain was the first Western country to elect a woman Prime Minister. In recent years, the first British astronaut was a woman. Today we hear of the appointment of the first woman Tornado pilot, and, dare I say it, we are all now aware of the position achieved by Mrs. Stella Rimington. It is not surprising that there is widespread acceptance of the fact that women and men are equally capable of attaining success in their chosen careers.

The most effective way to reinforce that view is to start in the classroom by ensuring that children, regardless of their gender, are given their full entitlement to a good education. It is only then that they can enter with confidence through the door of opportunity. And what opportunities there are! In all aspects of education policy, pre-school, primary, secondary, further and higher education, the Government are offering our nation's young every possible means of achieving their potential.

It gives me immense pleasure to illustrate just how successfully women are performing in education. Let us remember that government are only the enabler who set in place the mechanisms through which girls can develop skills. It is up to women themselves to rise to the challenges offered by education. I must say that they are doing so magnificently.

Successive Conservative Governments have transformed our education system by introducing an extensive programme of reforms which have raised standards across the board and have encouraged choice and diversity in education. That commitment to parental choice means, for instance, that all parents wishing to send their daughters to single-sex schools can obtain the school of their choice, and once at school the majority of girls work hard and excel.

At GCSE level, girls now do better overall than boys. In 1993, nearly 46 per cent. gained five or more passes at grades A to C, compared with under 37 per cent. of boys. In subjects such as English and modern languages, the gap was even larger. After school, more 16 year-old girls and boys elect to continue in full or part-time education. At A-level girls continue to be high achievers. Girl entrants now score higher success rates than boys—in English, yes, but also in mathematics, physics and technology.

The fact that such subjects were seen traditionally as a male preserve has proved no impediment to the present generation of young women. One development which gives me special satisfaction is the exciting growth in the range of vocational opportunities available to women. GNVQs have proved immensely popular. The Government's message to women is unmistakable: whatever your interests, whatever your aptitudes, our education policy exists to help you succeed.

The years since 1979 have seen a massive expansion in the number of young people entering higher education, and, as was outlined by my noble friend Lady Perry, it was one in eight at that time and is now one in three. Over the years the proportion of girls in the intake to higher education has steadily increased. In the past decade alone it has risen from 42 per cent. to over 47 per cent. Today, we are almost at parity. Gender equality in our universities is a real achievement, unmatched in most other European countries. Once again, in advancing equality of opportunity, Britain is leading the field.

I should like to say a word about graduate employment. I preface my remarks, however, with a word of praise. In one particular profession women greatly outnumber men. That is the teaching profession. More and more women are choosing to follow a career in teaching. Indeed, there are some 50,000 more women teachers and lecturers than men. To choose teaching as a career is to take on an enormous responsibility—the role of shaping and moulding the next generation. The role of teacher is crucial in determining the future of our nation. Thus I pay tribute today to the excellent work of so many young women who see in teaching their true vocation.

So how do other women graduates fare on the jobs front? As it happens, they are extremely successful in entering employment after completing higher education. In 1991 the employment rate among female graduates was 91 per cent.—much higher than the rate among men. Recent surveys have shown that the dramatic expansion in the employment rate of women graduates is continuing. In ICL, women occupied 65 per cent. of the graduate intake. At Abbey National, half of its 600 branch managers are women, compared with only a dozen 10 years ago. Twenty years ago, only one in 10 newly qualified accountants was a women. Now women number nearly half.

Finally, I must stress that, although education is a great tool, although it equips women for a career, it is also of incalculable value in other aspects of their lives. The joy and contentment, the sense of personal fulfilment, that are instilled through education should never be underestimated. What a good all-round education imparts, above all, is a sense of self-assurance, a training for life itself, and, as well as being necessary for the world of work, education should equally be seen as an essential preparation for the role of wife and mother, no less crucial as we approach the year 2000.

In every area of their education policies this Government are wholly committed to increasing equality for women. As I have suggested, over the past 15 years women have responded to their increased opprtunities with alacrity. Undoubtedly, there is still room for much greater recognition of the part that women can play in business, in the professions and, I am sure your Lordships will all agree, in politics. But we can be confident today of at least one thing—that in classrooms throughout the land the next generation of women are proving their ability again and again. They deserve our congratulations on all they have achieved. Their remarkable success at school is surely a heartening indication of their likely contribution to our national well-being in the years to come.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, in echoing the thanks expressed by many of your Lordships to the noble Baroness for initiating this debate and in congratulating her warmly upon her opening speech, may I with great regret follow the last two speakers by expressing my apologies for the fact that, because of a long standing engagement, I, too, shall regrettably be unable to listen to the closing speeches, though I shall of course read them very carefully?

Since November 1993, when the report, Learning to Succeed, of the Hamlyn Foundation National Commission on Education—I was privileged to chair the commission—was published, there have been, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, many encouraging developments in education. First, the Government have recognised the crucial role which can be played in improving achievement for all pupils, and even in reducing subsequent delinquency, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, by good quality nursery education. We have been much encouraged by the commitment announced by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to providing universal nursery education for four year-olds. We trust that the department's taskforce now studying this topic will soon report, that that objective will soon be achieved and that provision will later be extended to three year-olds. The benefits of such education are surely now beyond dispute.

It has also been encouraging to learn that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools has confirmed that Ofsted inspections and academic performance tables have shown that many schools are raising pupils' standards of achievement. The vision, commitment and expertise of the teachers who work in such schools deserve the greatest possible praise. In a break with convention, the inspector listed 52 secondary schools which received very positive reports and which had improved their examination results by 10 per cent. or more between 1992 and 1994. With every respect to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that is a hopeful trend. Happily, too, the slimmed-down national curriculum is now generally accepted and is being implemented, and the teaching profession now at last accepts that regular and appropriate testing of pupils in different age groups is a helpful and effective means of assessing progress.

The GCSE has also proved to be a considerable success. Two-thirds of 16 year-olds now take examinations in science to GCSE standard, compared with the 20 to 30 per cent. who took the equivalent 0-levels in 1980, and over two-thirds of them achieve results graded A to C. While some have questioned the educational standard of the GCSE when compared with 0-levels, there can, I believe, be no doubt that standards have risen. Happily, too, about 30 per cent. of students now go on to higher education each year—more than twice as many as 10 years ago.

It is also good to see that national education and training targets have been established and are being reviewed by the national advisory council. We in the commission wish to urge that the targets for foundation learning should be aligned with what our schools and colleges should plan to achieve. For example, our first proposed target relates to primary schools. We suggest: By 11 years of age, 90 per cent. of pupils will achieve at least a national foundation standard in English and mathematics". Perhaps this is not sufficiently ambitious, but it would represent a great advance from where we now stand. Such targets need to reinforce and set goals for schools and colleges which they do not do with sufficient force at present.

The educational establishment must surely recognise that, in a knowledge-based society, education and training take centre stage. Only through these can any country hope to compete and prosper in an era of fierce global competition. The new importance assumed by knowledge permeates every aspect of national life—political, social and spiritual activities, health and leisure, the sciences, arts and humanities. Upon all these the economic success and even the future competitive viability of any nation crucially depend. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, said, employers now expect—even demand—and are entitled to expect, higher standards in English and numeracy.

Our report was entitled Learning to Succeed, as the vision and goals we defined were aimed at achieving a system of education and training which would enable every individual to fulfil his or her full potential. I accept, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Young, said, that in competitive terms we spend a smaller proportion of our gross national product on education than do Germany and Japan. But in both those countries, and particularly in Japan, there is a much greater provision of private education. The figures in this country are distorted. We spend a lower proportion, as the tables in Learning to Succeed demonstrate, in primary and secondary education and a much higher proportion in higher education, which is almost wholly due to the very generous terms we offer to students for maintenance support in higher education.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think it was a slip of the tongue but he said that my noble friend Lady Blatch and I said that we spend a smaller proportion of our GNP on education than do Germany and Japan. We spend a larger proportion.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, yes, I am sorry, we spend more than Germany and Japan but that is made up largely of an excessive proportion spent on higher education compared with primary and secondary education. There is evidence to suggest that we need to spend a great deal more on primary education.

Following the famous Education Act of 1944, this country did not provide a range of educational and training provisions suitable for students with a wide spectrum of interests and capabilities. Grammar schools—I attended one—served the country, and in particular the most able in our nation, very well but little effort was made to develop technical schools properly. Regrettably, secondary modern schools, without any clear rationale or sharply defined objectives for the education provided there, were soon regarded simply as the places to which to relegate children who were not clever enough to go to grammar school.

As a reaction to that unsatisfactory situation came a rapid move to comprehensive education. That was excellent in theory and very effective in some instances but it failed to capitalise upon the talents of the most able or to develop fully those talents of individuals who were better suited to vocational education and training. And in primary education, the move away from didactic teaching to so-called progressive methods and child-centred learning, and the rejection of streaming, has seemed often to swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

Despite the successes which I mentioned earlier, reports of Her Majesty's Inspectorate have shown that in as many as 27 per cent. to 37 per cent. of school lessons, teaching has been judged to be poor. That problem has been particularly prevalent in some disadvantaged areas. As many noble Lords have said, far too many children still fail to acquire the basics of literacy and numeracy by a stage when they should have mastered those skills.

The most crucial factor at the heart of high-quality learning is high-quality, inspirational teaching. Every pupil should be entitled in each lesson to be taught by a teacher with the knowledge, training, competence and commitment to teach it well. We now have a golden opportunity to raise the quality of teaching and to attract into the profession an increasing proportion of able graduates. One can only hope that the Government's recent rejection of the once-hallowed principles of central supplementation of nationally-agreed salary awards will not have a seriously adverse effect upon recruitment.

We trust also that the Teacher Training Agency will be able to implement methods of enhancing the quality of classroom teaching and that reducing class sizes, which I still regard as being important in primary schools, will ultimately be achieved, in particular in deprived urban areas and more especially in schools with a high proportion of children whose mother tongue is not English.

That all primary teachers must be well trained in teaching reading and fundamental numerical skills goes without saying. Perhaps above all, the status of the teaching profession needs to be enhanced in other ways. It is encouraging to learn of renewed efforts to establish a College of Teachers. While such a body, comparable in its objectives to the Royal Colleges in medicine, could do much to enhance the profession's status, expertise and professional development, I make no apology for saying again in this House that the establishment of a General Teaching Council is more vital than ever. It should have formal authority to define and oversee educational standards; to suspend or remove the registration of unsatisfactory teachers or those guilty of disciplinary offences; and to fulfil other responsibilities comparable to those of the General Medical Council.

It is surely not beyond the wit of man to formulate a constitution and electoral scheme for such a council, with a substantial number of non-teacher members, which would not allow any single teaching union to become dominant. The Scottish council has proved increasingly effective, and the establishment of such a council in England and Wales is, in my opinion, long overdue.

I am glad that the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, stressed the role of parents. As the national commission said in Learning to Succeed: The first and most important link is with the home. According to pupils who took part in the Commission's survey (a detailed questionnaire exercise) most parents are very supportive of their children's education. When schools exploit fully opportunities to involve parents in a productive way, parents, schools and children all gain. Evidence suggests, however, that these opportunities are often missed or underused. Sometimes this is due to the lack of a clear school policy for parental involvement. Sometimes it results from lack of teacher training or from insufficient non-contact time for teachers to devote to such work. The circumstances of lone-parent families and dual-career families may make it difficult to establish successful links. Parents whose own experience of school was negative are often hard to interest in active school involvement. Schools must nevertheless persevere in their efforts to develop good links with parents". I trust that the chief inspector and his colleagues will examine such links in much greater depth in future reports, as schools which have not been successful in involving parents can learn from the good practices of those which have.

I turn finally to the pressing and ever-present problems faced by schools in disadvantaged areas, where all too often an anti-education ethos prevails in the local community, where teaching sometimes lacks vigour and inspirational quality, and where teachers and pupils alike become discouraged and sometimes even dismayed by disruptive or violent behaviour. In the face of multiple disadvantage the dice are loaded against educational success.

The National Commission has now embarked upon a major research project entitled "Success against the odds". That involves case studies of the features, problems, strategies and initiatives of schools both in disadvantaged inner cities and rural locations, to see what methods helped them to achieve in the face of perceived adversity. The project involves 12 teams from around the United Kingdom, each consisting of three members—one an educationist, one from the business world, and one involved in the regeneration of disadvantaged areas but coming from outside education.

Both primary and secondary schools are being studied. Each team is carrying out a detailed survey to determine how and why the school has become successful. Head teachers, teaching staff, pupils, parents and governors are all being interviewed. Detailed accounts of each school will be written, describing problems and challenges and the 10 features of success which we define in Learning to Succeed, and issues of school policy and resource allocation relevant to those features will also be described. Later this year the report will be launched, I hope, at a high profile national conference. We trust that the lessons learned from that project will ultimately be widely applied.

In discussing those issues vital to the future of British education, I could say much more. All too many school buildings are at present crumbling or inadequate. The chief inspector has pointed out that, for lack of capital expenditure, the delivery of the national curriculum will be constrained in about a quarter of secondary schools. Similar problems arise with resources such as libraries, books and computers.

Surely the time must come when the DFE will lay down minimum standards for class size, as the Scots already do, and for accommodation and resources which local authorities and the Schools Funding Agency must provide. Surely too we need much better guidance on such issues as the training and selection of head teachers. We must do everything possible to overcome those conditions which prevent education from reaching an acceptable standard. Central accountability must be crucial, as all too often in the past no single body has been willing to take responsibility when things go wrong. The nation's children and grandchildren deserve to be helped to learn to succeed.

7.28 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, if any of your Lordships were to walk along Pall Mall on the left-hand side—and it must be a fairly frequent occurrence to walk along Pall Mall—your Lordships would see at the rear entrance of one of the buildings a large inscription: "This door is alarmed". The door may be alarmed but this Peer is very worried at the example of the misuse of the English language that that inscription, which has been there for some time, portrays and at the various other examples which were quoted to your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk.

Therefore, while it is customary to thank the initiator of a debate, I am somewhat guarded in my thanks to my noble friend Lady Perry because today's debate has, on the whole, increased my worries. Part of that arises from the fact that, to my mind, the single most important thing in the Ofsted report was the suggestion that teachers might be given a few years of peace in which to get used to the important and, to my way of thinking, valuable innovations of the past few years. But with the possibility—and I hope that it is a remote one—of the party opposite taking office, it is quite clear that the schools will get nothing of the kind. The party opposite is obviously determined to turn the clock back to the origin of our current distresses.

When one of those socialist Ministers for Education, in a lamentable series of such persons, the late Anthony Crosland, said in a famous remark that he wished to get rid of every "expletive deleted" grammar school in England, it was clearly taken to mean that what he wanted to get rid of was "expletive deleted" grammar, and the result is that which was illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk.

In other words, for two decades we had—and this persisted in some quarters—a curious link, but not necessarily a marriage, between socialism (the religion of envy is one way of putting it) and progressive child-centred education methods. I say that they are not necessarily linked because, as my noble friend Lady Cox reminded us, until very recently Russia, which was a good deal more socialist than socialists opposite, did maintain rather high educational standards. I am sorry that my noble friend was unable to stay but I am also rather pleased in a way because, otherwise, I should have had to tell her that when her friend goes back to Moscow with her child to get a better education than he has been receiving in Oxfordshire she will find that there, too, some of the things from which education suffers in our consumer society in the Western world—for example television, computer games and all the nonsense with which we clog up the lives of our children—are gaining ground there. Moreover, the devotion to the reading and knowledge of Russian literature which was a very important and central part of Russia's educational system is, alas, now on the decline according to most observers.

A good deal has been said—and again, the investigations of Professor Prais were cited by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk —about our failures in comparison with countries with which it is more natural to compare ourselves: our more immediate Continental neighbours. They are serious, but, if we are to understand the issues that we face, we should not overestimate the extent to which others' success is being maintained. For example, in France there is now a very considerable degree of discontent among both parents and teachers. After all, it was the classic country in which education was the great moulding force of the nation. I listened to the speech of the right reverend Prelate with great interest. He may have noticed a recent report which stated that French parents are switching their children to Church schools—not the church of the right reverend Prelate; but mostly the majority Church in France, the Roman Catholic Church—because they feel that the state system is letting them down.

In the Western world as a whole there appears to be a reaction against what used to be regarded as intellectual achievement and excellence. There is also a tendency for the teaching profession, not to be criticised or abused in the sense that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, suggested, but not to play the same part in leading society as used to be thought proper.

It may well be (and here, again, I believe that the example of Sri Lanka given to us by the right reverend Prelate is relevant) that what we are seeing is that, whereas the driving force of Western society from the Enlightenment and perhaps from even earlier, the belief in education as the solution to the problems both of the individual and of society, is now held in non-European countries, that belief is to some extent—and I believe that the consumer society and television above all, may be the principal culprits—being neglected in Western European societies.

After our period of, I hope, acclimatising ourselves to changes, we may need to look at where our weaknesses still lie. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, could not stay, but he knows that I disagree with him on the following point. I believe that the accent placed by the noble Lord's commission—and indeed by other noble Lords—on nursery education as the big panacea is wholly misconceived. If we had limitless resources, why not? But if resources are limited—and even noble Lords opposite admit that that is so—that is not where I would put my money.

Compulsory schooling starts earlier in this country than in most countries of the European Union. Therefore, our children already spend more years at school. The idea that we should improve performance by adding on an extra year at the beginning seems to me to be avoiding the question of why, when our children already spend longer at school, they do not, as Professor Prais has shown, do as well as we should like in some vital respects such as numeracy and literacy.

On the whole, it is possible that within those constraints we have not always used our financial resources to the best advantage. I believe it is true to say that British schools have more computers than the schools of most Continental countries. Indeed, we have spent a great deal of money in that respect. No doubt information technology is the way of the future, but I would rather it remained in the future for the first generations of school children who really need, if it is to be of any use to them, to have something about which they wish to seek information. For that, they really need the grounding in literacy, literature and mathematics, especially mental arithmetic, which is the beginning of all sound learning.

For example, I should have preferred to see such money being spent on something mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant; namely, on the physical buildings of schools. I believe it is wrong to allow or force children to study in buildings that are not weather-proof. Of course it can be done. Indeed, as my noble friend Lady Cox reminded us, it is done in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, it seems to me to be something which, in an advanced country that is not at present under bombardment, we should have been able to avoid.

I would rather see more money spent on school libraries. The ultimate tool of education—IT notwithstanding—is the book. A child who is in a school which has an inadequate library is being denied something which is essential and which should be the core of his education. I think that we can and should see whether within these constraints we could not at times make more enlightened choices. I also feel that we have on the whole been rather unfair to our teachers, in that, whatever the class size may be, unless they can rely upon decent behaviour they cannot fulfil their function as teachers.

As noble Lords will be aware, I tried in vain to prevent Her Majesty's Government from accepting the absurd decision of the absurd Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to abolish corporal punishment. I think it was unfair on our teachers to remove that sanction against their will. The teaching profession was not in favour of that and to me the teaching profession's wishes rank higher than those of a bunch of lawyers unfamiliar with our own scene. We have now—we know that this has been brought to the Government's attention by one of the main teaching unions—the situation under the Children Act in which it is all too easy for children with a grudge (children are not little angels) to produce an accusation which can lead, perhaps not to the permanent interruption of a career but to harm to the standing of a teacher. I think, for instance, that magistrates have been far too kind to parents who, when sanctions are taken against their children, revenge themselves, or attempt to revenge themselves, physically on teachers.

If we expect a lot of our teachers, I think they can expect from us the conditions of civilised behaviour in the classroom. Although I subscribe to the praise which my noble friends Lady Perry and Lady Blatch and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have given to the achievements in the past few years, I think those achievements are precarious. I think they need closer examination and, if possible, consideration in the light of consultation with countries which I believe are undergoing some of the same strains. Noble Lords opposite may find it easier to put the clock back in education than I could put it back by disinventing television, but we ought to think about these things. On the whole, as I say, the door may be alarmed but I am worried.

7.44 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend Lady Perry for her stimulating introduction to this wide-ranging debate I have a suggestion to make. Why do we not make tomorrow's Hansard required reading for all trainee teachers? I believe it would form a compendium of professional information, personal expertise and differing opinions eloquently expressed. As it is getting late I shall limit myself to two topics.

John Colet founded St. Paul's School in 1509. He wanted the best education for his pupils. They were of course boys but I shall not digress on that. The key words for Dean Colet were "severity, liberality and breadth". Severity needs a gloss. For John Colet severity meant rigour in studies and discipline in personal behaviour. Those three key words together sum up, as well as any modern mission statement, what a good school should stand for. I talk of schools for there my experience lies, having been a school principal for 25 years and, I have to admit, a teacher for 40.

My first point concerns one particular group of secondary schools—city technology colleges. I declare my interest as a founder trustee of the CTC Trust, started in 1987 by Kenneth Baker, then Secretary of State, with a co-founder in the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. I am also chairman of Landau Forte College in Derby. The CTC Trust network now comprises 15 CTCs, 67 technology colleges and 70 affiliated schools. The original 15 CTCs, of which Landau Forte is second youngest, were set up most often in the deprived inner city areas with which we have been so much concerned today in order to provide a sound, broad education up to the age of 16, and then, for 16 to 18 year-olds, specialist courses within an educational culture which is scientific, technological, vocational and international.

pupils are accepted at age 11 not on their background or their academic ability but on their own and their parents' undertaking that they will continue in full-time education or training until they are 18. Moreover they must demonstrate some technological aptitude. CTCs are not elite schools. I can speak for my own college in Derby which has a powerful special needs department to help children with learning difficulties as well as those for whom English is not their family's first language. Of course exceptionally gifted pupils have special needs too which we also address. Everyone who visits Landau Forte comments on its happy and positive atmosphere. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that about 21 per cent. of our 11 to 16 year-olds are entitled to free meals and about another 10 per cent. receive grants for uniform.

In these times, when government funding is so restricted and CTCs are running on tight budgets in line with comparable grant-maintained schools, it is important to remember the amount of private sponsorship CTCs and their allied schools have drawn in. That is money which would not otherwise have gone to state-run education. So far private sector sponsors have contributed over £45 million to setting up and equipping these schools, benefiting over 100,000 pupils so far.

Why do I think well of CTCs? I have four reasons. The original 15 are providing valuable pilot lights. As in all innovative experiments there have been some mistakes but they have pioneered five-term school years which make much more sense than the traditional three-term year with long holidays. The five terms each consist of eight weeks. These are interspersed with four two-week breaks and one summer holiday break of four weeks. Most CTCs also run a longer school day providing supervised study and extra-curricular activities in school out of school hours, away from the distractions of television, siblings or even an empty home because the parents are away at work.

Curriculum innovations include offering the International Baccalaureate—at Kingshurst CTC in Birmingham—and combining GNVQs at various levels with the more traditional GCSEs and A-levels, as we do at Landau Forte. Projects include research; for example, teaching how to analyse, interpret and assess the performance and progress of pupils between key stage 3 (for 11 year-olds) and GCSE.

The CTC Trust is also looking at ways in which Internet and superhighway initiatives can help students and teachers in their work. We also hope to improve our libraries. Current projects include the Royal College of Arts schools technology curriculum project, the Smallpiece school-centred initial teacher training programme and the InterTech Europa programme combining technology and languages in England, France and Germany.

The CTC Trust has issued many publications. The recent paper on moral and spiritual development in secondary schools is, as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, mentioned recently in your Lordships' House, particularly recommended, as indeed is Anyone for Science, written by a formidable husband and wife team—Dr. Philip Evans, who is headmaster of Bedford School and a member of the SCAA (School Curriculum and Assessment Authority), and Dr. Sandra Evans, former head of science at St Paul's Girls School.

Building on the pilot work of the 15 original CTCs, in 1993 the trust was designated by the Department for Education the lead non-governmental body to promote the new technology colleges programme and schools specialising in teaching languages.

The Education Act 1993 enabled industry to sponsor schools specialising in maths, science and technology through the appointment of four sponsor governors. All maintained schools, grant-maintained and voluntary aided, and local education authority schools are eligible to apply for technology college status. I hope that I have given some idea of the success of an imaginative partnership between the Department for Education and generous private sector sponsors.

After giving an example of good news I turn to a subject which worries me - museum education. Here too I declare an interest. I am a commissioner of the Museums and Galleries Commission and a member of the steering committee which is producing a national report on museum education. It is another education initiative which I applaud. The much needed report is coming about through the co-operation of the Department for Education and the Department of National Heritage.

I have a number of worries. The current local government reorganisation threatens the very existence of some of our finest museums, as described only yesterday in an article in The Times on the threat to the Yorkshire Museum in York whose collection is particularly rich in Roman, Anglo Saxon, Viking and mediaeval antiquities—all clearly relevant to the teaching of history.

Museums are already well used by primary schools and, to a lesser extent, by college students. But they are not being used anything like enough by secondary schools. The recent loosening of the national curriculum has, I am glad to say, afforded more space in the timetable in key stages 3 and 4. The new emphasis in the national curriculum on the use of primary sources means that museums have just the resources needed for, say, history, social studies and literature, not to mention art, design, science and technology.

I wonder whether SCAA could take over responsibility for liaison on museum education now that there is no longer an HMI inspector with special responsibility. Clearly, Ofsted does not have the time. In the past we were fortunate to have the expertise of Mrs. Hazel Moffatt of the HMI who had responsibility for museum education liaison.

GNVQs are a new challenge for teachers, calling for a much more practical approach. Here again museums are a potential resource. I ask the Department for Education for action to realise the full educational potential of museums. Teachers need help to use museums effectively, perhaps in the form of conference or training grants. In any event, guidance is needed. In initial teacher training emphasis could be placed on museum use, with appropriate links and dissemination of good practice. I could give a list of museums which already do well in this regard, but I shall not.

It is not only in the academic curriculum that museums can be so useful. I remember a recent visit I made to Northern Ireland with the Museums and Galleries Commission. We commissioners were struck by a brilliant initiative with the acronym EMU—in this case standing for Education for Mutual Understanding. This is based in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and provides a week's residential course for school children. Two groups are taught together, one from a Catholic and one from a Protestant school. I am particularly pleased to be able to make that point today.

My message to the Department for Education today is twofold: congratulations on its encouragement of science and technology in schools using the experience of the original CTCs to benefit the much wider school population, and a plea to promote museum education. Please support and develop the existing examples of good practice. Remember the words of the great Hollywood philosopher Mae West—too much of a good thing is wonderful.

7.57 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I rise with diffidence to speak in this debate. I am not a teacher and I am not in the education world. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for giving me this opportunity to speak on a subject which has not yet been mentioned except briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I shall come to that.

I wish to make a plea for emotionally disturbed, disintegrated and delinquent children. I have been privileged to work with such children alongside teachers. I have the deepest sympathy with teachers who have a class of 30 children which includes one emotionally disturbed child who can completely upset the whole class and make life difficult both for the teacher and the other children.

I must declare an interest. I am chairman of the board of governors of a school in Kent—the Caldecott Community—which takes deeply disturbed, disintegrated children. I am also governor of an EBD school in Oxfordshire and I am patron of the Hesley Group in the North of England. Therefore, I have a picture of what teachers have to do with these deeply disturbed children.

The Warnock Report, which we all much admired and respected, was enshrined in Part III of the Education Act. That special needs section of the Act recommended that so far as possible and practicable children should be educated in their local schools and live in their own homes. The Act also stated—and I speak from the point of view of the children—that if their homes were so disintegrated and difficult those children could be placed in foster homes. However, some children are so difficult that they cannot be cared for either in their own homes or foster homes. They must be placed in schools run with a high ratio of highly skilled staff where the children can receive education, security, structure and discipline, and a special kind of therapeutic care.

There is a difficulty about such children. The schools are run by voluntarily organisations, by charities. I admit that those schools are expensive to run, with two members of staff for every child, and with psychiatric and psychological help and all that goes with it. A reasonable building is necessary and an outreach service which deals with the children when they leave school, involving two hostels and social workers to help the children to obtain work outside.

There is this great difficulty. The Education Act was wonderfully taken through your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lady Blatch. She told us that if a child were to be assessed as being in need of special education it would be legal that that child should receive such education; and how right she was. But, alas, that is not happening. I received a letter from an education officer stating that although a child had been deemed to need special education, the child could not receive it because the city treasurer said that there was no money for it. My noble friend Lady Blatch is aware that I know that that is illegal, but that is what happened. As a result, these schools are run by money raised by charity. I pay special tribute to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild who is helping us with money for such a school. Nevertheless, we are not gaining those children because the treasurers of the local authorities say that they cannot afford the cost. I bring this matter to my noble friend's attention. I have given notice that I would raise this very serious issue. The group of children involved is small, but, my goodness, they are disruptive and difficult.

I take up a point raised by my noble friend Lord Beloff to give one example of the difficulties experienced by teachers. At one of the schools of which I am a governor a teacher opened the door of a fourth floor room and saw a small boy standing on the window sill. He had opened the window. Whether he really meant to jump, I do not know. But your Lordships can imagine how the teacher felt. The teacher crept slowly up to the child, and pulled him down. He was a skinny little thing, from Hackney. Of course, the child struggled. He therefore had bruises. Immediately, the teacher having put the child down on the floor, thankfully, and having closed the window, the child said, "You've assaulted me. I'll have you up". The teacher said, "Yes, I had to assault you in order to save you". The child said, "I didn't want to be saved. What did you do that for? You've assaulted me. I wish to charge you". The teacher led the child to a telephone, phoned the local police and said, "Constable, a complaint is coming through". The constable was very clever. He listened to the child and said, "I'm so sorry, sir"—that description upset the child—"but I'm very busy now. I've got four charges to make in the police station. I'll come tomorrow morning". By the morning the child did not want to see the police and it was all over.

I give that as a small example of how difficult it is to deal with those children. However, they must be dealt with; they must be helped. Such treatment is expensive but cost effective in the long run because those are the children who will become the mental patients or criminals of the future. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Blatch is present. She knows that when children are assessed for such treatment it is wrong when they do not receive it based on purely financial reasons.

My second point relates to non-school attendance. Under the Education Act the Department for Education issued regulations and guidance—and very good they are too. Nevertheless, the number of children not attending school, or excluded from school, has risen rather than fallen. I have several small friends. They are delinquents; they are breaking and entering. They want to be excluded from school because school time is the best time to break and enter and steal, when the other children do not see them and therefore do not grass on them. They say, too, that the ladies are all out shopping. The small boy to whom I spoke a little while ago had done 45 jobs and had not been at school for two years.

I have great sympathy with the teachers because one difficult child in the class can disrupt it. Nevertheless, our delinquency rate will continue to rise unless we take responsibility for what is being done with the children excluded from school. The council of Barnados ran an extremely good centre which my noble friend Lady Blatch visited. It was for non-school attenders in Birmingham. The children requiring special treatment and care attended, and returned to their original schools after 18 months.

Finally, parents need all the help and co-operation that they can obtain. I often think that there needs to be somebody in schools to whom parents can turn. With all the work that teachers have to do, they do not have the time, or perhaps the skills, to deal with the problems of parents. It is a matter which we must address.

My point relates to a small but difficult group of children. They cause many problems, both when small and as they grow up. It would be cost effective to help those children through the voluntary organisations which are giving a service. I hope that the Minister will understand why I have brought the matter to your Lordships' notice.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for raising this important issue today. If it gives the House any comfort, I assure your Lordships that I have no long-standing dinner invitation tonight and I have every intention of staying for the winding-up speeches.

The National Commission on Education chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton—he obviously has one of those long-standing dinner invitations—reported in 1993 that educational achievement is strongly associated with parental background. Parental education, particularly that of the mother, together with parental interest and participation in their child's schooling, have all been found to be significant factors affecting children's academic achievement.

Also significant are the values to which a school is committed. Where there is a positive school ethos, pupils develop positive attitudes towards school and education and will inevitably achieve more. The school's ethos has a powerful impact on the effectiveness of teaching and learning and consequently achievement. Headteachers, teachers and school governors all play crucial roles in developing and communicating their agreed values to their pupils.

The school ethos, therefore, needs evaluating alongside other more measurable outcomes, such as examination results. The Scottish inspectorate has developed "ethos indicators"; Her Majesty's inspectors of schools in England and Wales are charged with reporting on the, spiritual, moral, cultural and social development of pupils". Ofsted made it quite clear to schools that spiritual and moral development of pupils takes place across the whole curriculum in every subject and in every area of school life, not just in religious education and collective worship. That point was powerfully made by the right reverend Prelate earlier in the debate.

However, where religious education and opportunities for school worship are the Cinderella of the curriculum—under-resourced, underfunded, bottom of the list of priorities—crucial opportunities for spiritual and moral development of pupils are lost. Many schools struggle to appoint qualified teachers of religious education; indeed, in some areas schools have failed to appoint suitable teachers, even after repeated advertisements for vacancies. This situation needs to be addressed immediately, with enhanced funding in this area of the curriculum.

Opportunities for spiritual and moral development, together with relevant Christian teaching, are often lost because of the daily burden of providing it which falls on the headteacher or teacher responsible. May I commend the work of the hundreds of gifted and committed Church leaders and Christian school workers in towns up and down the country who, day in, day out, visit schools to help teachers with RE lessons and who lead daily school assemblies with Christian themes in ways that are relevant and meaningful to today's youth.

I was fortunate to meet such a group, "Walk through the Bible Ministries", and hear about the magnificent work that they are doing in schools. The Government need to give serious consideration to extra funding and resourcing of religious education teachers and teaching and to supporting the Christian groups who currently help many schools deliver meaningful Christian assemblies in schools on a regular basis.

8.12 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, I too give warm thanks and congratulations to my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating today's debate. It is appropriate that we should consider the impact of the Government's recent education reforms. This year's annual report from Ofsted states: Schools have welcomed the increase in autonomy brought about by the introduction of local management. It is generally agreed that we need a National Curriculum which defines the essential knowledge, understandings and skills pupils should be taught in each Key Stage … What is clear is that the reforms, collectively, are improving educational quality … OFSTED inspections together with academic performance tables show, moreover, that many schools are raising pupils' standards of achievement". Despite that, any casual observer analysing exam standards—however imperfect a yardstick some may consider them to be—might be forgiven for imagining that educational achievement is showing a marked decline. It is salutary to reflect upon the questions posed in the first 11-plus exam set by the London School Board in 1893. It was designed for pupils in elementary schools who would have sat in rows at iron-framed desks, 60 to a class—and I emphasise that.

Across all subjects, the 1893 exams were demonstrably more difficult than their 1993 counterparts. For example, the simplest maths question in 1893—albeit aimed at the most able 11 year-olds—was: Multiply six million five hundred and eighty-three thousand and twenty by six thousand three hundred and nine, and divide this product by seven hundred and one (Answer in figures). By contrast, the hardest calculation required of 1993's above average 11 year-olds—and here I shall not try the patience of your Lordships by reading out the whole question for it is somewhat longwinded—was: Rob says: 'This means there are 225 x 75 worms'. Without using a calculator, work out how many worms there are in the area of grass". For those noble Lords not of a mathematical bent, the respective answers are 59,247,180 and 16,875. For the record, I did not have to use a calculator to derive those solutions.

That is an indication of the change in standards since 1893. However, statistics demonstrate that since 1945, levels of pupils' achievement have broadly improved. As Professor Jim Campbell of Warwick University put it: The proportion of the population that is illiterate was higher in the 1950s than now. It is our own expectations that are being let down, rather than objective criteria". Indeed, now that they have access to league tables and inspectors' reports, parents are demanding, quite properly, that their children be given the opportunity to achieve even better results.

At the same time, as mentioned by many noble Lords today, international comparisons suggest that the approaches of our economic rivals to education are engendering much more literate, numerate and motivated young adults than ourselves. Thus, recent research into mathematical skills shows that English nine and 13 year-olds now trail their counterparts in Italy, Korea, Hungary, Taiwan and many other countries.

What lies at the heart of the Ofsted report—and here I echo my noble friend Lady Cox—is the dilemma of how to steepen the curve of improvement in standards, given that it is relatively flat when measured against that of our economic rivals and our own expectations. In my view quite correctly, the report has identified the need to focus on those factors which make one school more effective than another—that enable pupils at individual schools to achieve more than at others—as one of the most pragmatic means of introducing best practice. I am pleased to have heard today of the Government's commitment in that area, if only because all the evidence indicates that effective schools can have a significantly beneficial effect upon the life chances of their pupils.

In that context the report states: effective schools are well-run schools; where the teaching is purposeful and the teachers' expectations of children high; where progress is monitored systematically; and where parents are involved in a genuine partnership". As put by Peter Mortimer, the director of the University of London Institute of Education, and reported in The Times of 13th February 1995: At its best, a positive ethos incorporates a self-reinforcing system in which high expectations and enthusiasm lead to positive and constructive attitudes to learning among both staff and pupils". This, the self-reinforcing system, is the real power of the principle of achievement in our schools.

There is a further imperative that is required to make a school an effective one. We should never lose sight of the fact that the practice of education is not a precise science; rather it is one of the humanities. Thus, while the framework introduced by the recent reforms provides a much needed yardstick against which to measure general levels of attainment, we should not permit this to obscure the fact that, above all, children are human beings in their own right, each with their own individual abilities. As such, they should be allowed to expect both trust and respect from their schools and teachers.

I was talking recently to the headmistress of my local primary in West Sussex—a very happy and effective school—and she told me that it is this trust and respect at all levels and in all relationships that is the most fundamental element of her school ethos. This, after all, is the very essence of social interaction. It is that influence that is fostered as the central foundation underpinning the rest of the school's activities. Not surprisingly, this relationship of mutual trust and respect is extended to parents. The adoption of the principle that the school has a responsibility within the wider community has translated itself into the school being more than just a school. By a perfectly natural process it has become very much part of the life and soul of the community, as important in its own way as the parish church, the village pub or the village shop. I venture to suggest that that should be a role model for all schools.

That leads me to the issue of parental involvement, as opposed to empowerment, in education. To a greater or lesser extent, state schooling has created a climate of dependency. The simple reality is that there is a price that must be paid, an obligation—so eloquently summarised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon—that parents must acquit, not necessarily in monetary terms, but most certainly in terms of time. Schools which fail to recognise the imperative of consistent and proactive involvement of individual parents in the schooling of their children are perhaps as guilty of the sin of omission as those parents who assume that while their offspring are in the care of the education system their responsibilities are in abeyance.

One is aware of the old adage that one can take a horse to water but one cannot make it drink. Equally, the structure of society and working hours do not always make it easy for parents to commit as much time to the schooling of their children as they might wish. However, the benefits of proactive parental participation—particularly at pre-school and primary levels—are well known. Not only do children perform better and achieve more, but parents have reported greater self-reliance and self-esteem, thereby becoming more active and socially responsible members of the community. Thus, if only for social reasons, active parental assistance at pre-school and primary level must be encouraged vigorously as the means to effect the genuine partnership to which the Ofsted report refers.

It was freely admitted by the headmistress of my local primary school that, in the absence of such parental involvement, the premises on which the school ethos is based would be compromised and, bluntly, she just would not be able to afford to provide an effective education to her pupils. Clearly the commitment of parents' time to their children's schools can have a considerable financial impact. In playschools this is even more marked. For instance, in 1994 the estimated revenue that was derived from parental sources was ‖250 million, compared with contributions from public funds of some …10 million. That is no mean achievement, and is an absolutely fundamental role of parents. The challenge is to attempt to broaden the base of this involvement, particularly in those areas of the country, such as inner cities, that suffer social disadvantage.

Finally, pursuing the line of reasoning of a number of noble Lords today, I offer this thought. Only last week we were all reminded vividly of the deleterious effects of a lack of achievement in education. In media reports following the disgraceful incidents that caused the friendly international between Eire and England in Dublin to be abandoned, it was illustrated by a member of the National Football Intelligence Unit that the psychological profile of the average mindless football hooligan is a youth who has been at school, and continues to be in his adult life, an under-achiever. Thus, in a very real sense, those appalling scenes were attributable to a lack of pupil achievement.

This is the real danger that we face. While accepting the oft-stated premise that our schools and teachers should not be drawn into the profession of riot control, they nonetheless have the responsibility to be guardians of morality.

In a broader sense, one of the prime responsibilities of education—one which is too often ignored, or even neglected—is to prepare our children for their adult life, not simply to give them a background of knowledge. Careful and effective schooling, in conjunction with parental involvement, has immense power to shape the future lives of our children. Setting our expectations of attainment at appropriate levels, combined with essential moral guidance, enables individual children and parents to become achievers. This in turn inspires self-esteem and self-confidence and a greater propensity towards social and responsible behaviour.

The corollary to this—to permit our education system to create either non-achievers or under-achievers—is to store up problems for ourselves by engendering in more and more of our children disaffection and dissatisfaction with self in particular and with society in general. That is a recipe for ever more anti-social behaviour and thuggery.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Rennell

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating this very interesting debate. I am delighted to see that a few noble Lords are still present. I look forward very much to hearing all the remaining speakers. Like my noble friend Lady Faithful, I have no qualifications to speak in this debate other than that I have four children under the age of 17.

For pupils and students to achieve in schools, there must be an efficient structure within which those pupils can work—hence the Government's educational reforms, of which I am a supporter. The reforms were much needed; they have been far-reaching; and they are brave. Because so much has been attempted, perhaps too quickly, mistakes have undoubtedly been made. The quality of teachers is the most important element in education. More teacher training reforms should perhaps have been on the agenda 10 or 15 years ago. First efforts towards the new national curriculum were overwhelming and unworkable. The Government should perhaps have been seen to have consulted more widely with head teachers, with ordinary teachers, and with other wise educationists—many of them here in this House. But it is much easier to criticise and destroy than to construct and be positive. I am optimistic concerning our children's education. But of course it will take time.

Grant-maintained schools are performing well. The recently published chief inspector's report states that the differences between LEA-managed schools and grant-maintained schools were insubstantial in most respects. He goes on to say that the standards in GM schools are somewhat higher, in part reflecting the generally more favourable socio-economic circumstances of those schools. I hope that I was not sounding too much like the shadow Chancellor in that expression.

We have heard many times of the importance of parental influence in education. Indeed, grant-maintained schools have been created as a result of that parental influence. Furthermore, through the media, we also know that the excellence of grant-maintained schools is perceived by many well-known parents.

Like my noble friend Lady Perry, I believe that there is confidence in many of the reforms that are taking place: grant-maintained schools; local education authority-managed schools; league tables—although they still need fine tuning; the national curriculum; parental choice, and so on. Dare I even suggest that noble Lords on the other side of the House might accept that some of the reforms have merit?

I mentioned that the reforms have been brave. The Government have taken steps in their education reforms which they believe are in the best interests of this and succeeding generations of children. They are determined to give the children of this country one of the most important things in life (it has been mentioned many times before): a good education. It is, after all, very brave and difficult to strive for improvement and change in a field in which so many entrenched ideological doctrines are held by so many different groups: teachers' unions; local education authorities; politicians; and university chancellors.

My greatest concern is the irresponsible attitudes taken by some in one of those groups, the local education authorities. I will not dwell on the deplorable campaign by some Labour-controlled LEAs against the creation of grant-maintained schools—although I have 50 or more examples.

A point which also concerns me very much is the inefficiency, the negligence and the squandering of resources in some Labour councils and LEAs, particularly when they waste educational resources. This squandering of resources was highlighted in the Daily Mail on 3rd February by Mr. Leo McKinstry. Mr. McKinstry was until recently a Labour Party researcher and councillor. Although I have the article here, I shall spare the noble Lords opposite any embarrassment by reading it out. I shall not do so.

But whereas I always take with a pinch of salt what I read in newspapers, I take more seriously the recent findings of the Audit Commission. It reports that it has found scope for saving on the pay bill for local authorities' administrative and clerical staff—a saving of some £500 million. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place has stated that £250 million can also be saved by eliminating surplus school places. He also said that there are some £150 million in unspent school balances available now to fund education services.

Funds allocated to education and associated facilities must be used for those purposes. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will let us know the remedies that are proposed to enable those currently-being-lost resources, as it were, to be used for the benefit of educating our children.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, it is my duty and privilege to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for instituting this debate. I also thank her for making me aware of something that I had not realised until now. Her description of the state of schools in 1979 made me very glad that I was at one of the few schools of that period which had maths, English, history and science as part of the prescribed curriculum. In other words, that school was fortunate to have courses very similar to what is in the national curriculum and now regarded as best practice.

Indeed, there was a great deal of wrestling and dancing in getting right the national curriculum. We have recently established a manageable national curriculum. There is also a degree of testing with regard to the levels of attainment of young people. That is good educational practice. If there are tests and assessments, individual needs are ascertained; and, once ascertained, those individual needs can receive the correct help. It is a pity that the noble Baroness is not in her place at the moment, because the special educational needs code of practice is the best example of that. It makes sure that special and individual needs are recorded and taken care of.

Unfortunately, that takes time. Teachers need to spend hours doing it. Taking records of a class of 30 pupils involves a considerable amount of paper shuffling. That is why we are worried when we hear that teachers may be lost through financial considerations. I bring in the point about secondary education, upon which most of the debate has been focused, in order to emphasise that, "Quality don't come cheap in any department". If we want the best, we shall ultimately have to pay for it.

On many occasions the Government have stated that they believe in quality in education. They have taken some steps towards it. But they must be prepared to back up that belief, by whatever means are available. If that means additional taxation, we on these Benches are not frightened of it; we believe that quality comes first. If we want the quality, we have to spend the money. Resources may be limited, but they are needed. If we cannot succeed with our education system in the modern industrialised world, we shall not succeed—full stop. Our whole economic structure is based on the knowledge acquired by our people. One cannot rely on natural resources in the modern world. Saudi Arabia has recently found itself in financial difficulties, even with its natural resources. Even a country with such a small population and a huge amount of oil can find itself with problems.

One of the major problems that we have to face when dealing with education in this country is that we have inherited a culture which is anti-education and anti-training. It is very unfortunate. I do not know its source. The Celtic fringes have often been better served in their attitude towards education. There is an oft quoted remark: the Welsh worship education, the Scots respect it and the English have nothing personal against it.

If we are to encourage people to take up the educational opportunities that are open to them, we must concentrate on discouraging that culture. It is very difficult to do that. There is within all of us the feeling that, "What I did is right because I did it". We may not be used to training. In certain parts of our society, that is undoubtedly true and we do not look towards training as a natural by-product. Our successes in higher education are built round the fact that everybody has assumed that for certain people it is natural to go into higher education. Something similar must be effected for further education.

Further education is one of the most important parts of the educational process. It is not merely a link between compulsory schooling and higher education. It must be more than that. Otherwise, we should only need to have A-level examinations or some reformed version of them—perhaps Scottish higher certificate with A-levels on top of it. That would cover everything. But instilling certain practical skills—possibly "training" is the right term here—might be more appropriate in certain parts of further education. Practical skills need to be acquired. We should have access to such education at all times throughout our lives. The 16 to 19 year-old group require basic skills.

However, as we know, technical changes are taking place at an incredibly fast rate in our society. All the information that we have tends to indicate that the rate of change will not slow down; on the contrary, it will increase. Forms of further education and training—whatever term one wishes to use—will become more and more important. My own party suggests that there should be a two-year entitlement in the course of a working life to take time out for, say, part-time or distance learning in order to acquire new skills. That part-time learning should be funded by the state in a certain way. That is one answer. I shall listen to any others. My party's policies, along with everybody else's, are now in the melting pot before the next general election. If we are to encourage people to acquire new skills to make them employable, we must be open to all new angles and all educational opportunities that are available.

I shall restrict my words because of the time. One point that emerges from a discussion of technological change is that we must not be totally wedded to the educational methods of the past. We have heard today a great deal about the decline in written English. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, blamed television for a great deal of that decline. As a dyslexic, I feel vaguely put upon. My learning curve was of necessity different. I acquired most of my information from television. Possibly it is the quality of the television programmes that the noble Lord berates rather than television itself. I see that the noble Lord shakes his head.

However, I have often thought that when pupils are learning plays in schools, the video of a good production of a Shakespeare play—or any other playwright—will convey more information than sitting down and reading the play. Playwrights do not write plays to be read; they write plays to be performed. A video or an audio cassette offers a performance. I suggest that we resist the Luddite tendency within all of us—because no one likes change. We must take on new skills and forms of information. We must develop so that we are open to new ideas.

The hour is late and I shall draw my arguments to a conclusion. The whole debate has made me an even stronger fan of timed debates than I was before; indeed, many noble Lords who were not able to stay to the end will probably agree with me. However, unless we can open ourselves up to new methods of teaching and new structures of training, especially within the further education centres—which may mean putting our hands in our pockets—we shall be left behind. We do not have any real choice if we are to stay competitive within the world economy. The East, the southern hemisphere and the Far East are rapidly catching up with us in terms of economic performance. If we are to stay competitive, we must maintain our levels of skills and training. We do not have any other option.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, a few of us are still here. However, I am afraid that, speaking for myself, it is not a remark I make with any degree of happiness. I sat here and found a number of the speeches made by noble Lords opposite particularly disagreeable and most unsuited to the sort of education debates we are used to. I hope therefore that they will forgive me if I largely ignore them.

The debate is partly concerned with standards of achievement. Some useful background information on that topic is to be found in the current admirable Social Trends from which some noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Elton, quoted. I shall refer to both the good and the bad sides.

On the good side, Table 3.15 tells us that 30 per cent. of school leavers have one or more A levels and more than 60 per cent. obtain at least one GCSE, whereas only 6 to 7 per cent. have no graded results. That exaggerates the successes for it conceals the fact that many school leavers obtain very few GCSEs. But it is not bad, especially when we look at the progress through time.

In the middle of the 1970s 18 per cent. of school leavers had no GCE or equivalent qualification. But I have a concern when I look at such figures. Are we comparing like with like? I expressed the fear elsewhere that academic standards in higher education have fallen. I have less knowledge of schools. My worry is that assessment, including that by inspectors, is made with reference to average achievement which may fall in absolute terms. I must therefore ask the question: how confident are we that the criteria we use are as strict as they were? Will they, as they should, become stricter in the future? That is not a rhetorical question; it is one to which I should dearly like an answer.

I hope that I am not an old fogey, but I do not believe that spelling is all there is to English. I say that though I am well known to be a crossword puzzle addict and for that spelling is of the essence. I also do not believe that an inability to do sums in pre-decimal coinage is a disaster. But I am struck by the scale of failure in elementary mathematical and writing ability. I am also astounded—a point made peripherally by one of my noble friends—by how little the young people I meet know of our history.

In relation to the problem of mathematical and writing ability, Table 3.25 in Social Trends reports the scale of innumeracy and illiteracy among 20 year-olds. Apparently 40 per cent. have writing and spelling problems; over 20 per cent. have numeracy problems; and nearly 20 per cent. have difficulty with reading, writing and spelling. Table 3.26, which I particularly commend to noble Lords, provides further disturbing evidence of the extent to which 21 year-olds fail the most elementary numeracy and literacy tests. One thing we in your Lordships' House have in common is that we all agree that that is not good enough, either for the individuals concerned and for their roles in society. Also, as was remarked by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, it implies economic failure. Our country requires a fully numerate and literate population. That is good in itself but our prosperity also depends on it.

The noble Baroness and other noble Lords were at pains to emphasise the success of the Government's education policies, as reflected in the achievements of pupils and students. Certainly, there have been such achievements. Table 3.14 in Social Trends, as has been referred to, shows the rise in the number of adults with qualifications at or above GCSE grades A to C. Table 3.16 shows the decline in the percentage of school leavers with no GCSE or equivalent qualification, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. However, because of a desire on the part of noble Lords opposite—the first example of more than one to which I shall draw attention—to make political points and to attack so-called progressive methods of education, we were not told that in both the cases I quoted, based on figures in the Government's publication, the improvements since 1979 are simply a continuation of a trend established considerably earlier. That is apparent to anyone who wishes to present a balanced view of these matters. I could add that if I were in the business of political mischief-making, which noble Lords know I never am, the trend is certainly no better than its previous time path and in one of the cases to which I referred it is, if anything, slackening off. What I am trying to say, and here I admonish some noble Lords who have spoken, is that there is no need to denigrate the past in order to claim, rightly or wrongly, that the Government's changes are for the better. It is unnecessary.

Lord Elton

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to correct him on one point. My figure was from 1975–76 and 1991–92. I did go back before 1979 and said that the increase was continuous.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Lord. I must have been listening less than attentively, which is not unknown also among other children.

I wish to say a few words on local authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, reminded us of this point. I was struck and saddened by the fact that the Motion before your Lordships did not mention them. It is especially upsetting because, if we look at the history of education in this country, most, if not all, of its achievements resulted from individual and local initiatives. I, for one, wish to pay tribute to the LEAs, both elected members and officials, for the contributions they have made and I hope will continue to make. From my recent contacts with them their morale is low. But because they are responsible people they soldier on, despite the disaster of the treatment of the teachers' pay claim and the apparent dominance of the Treasury in education matters rather than the Department for Education.

In that respect the chief inspector's report reminds us of the reduction in the personnel that the LEAs are able to hire, at the same time reminding us of their continued treatment. It refers to all the centrally retained services that they still have and says: These were extensively used and generally valued by schools, including GM schools which often purchased a range of financial and educational services from their former LEA". I could quote at much greater length from the document. It is perhaps also helpful to quote what the same chief inspector's report says of GM schools. In my insistence on balance I was surprised that noble Lords did not quote the central proposition in the report which is that differences between GM and LEA-maintained schools were insubstantial in most respects, including the standards of achievement of pupils judged against their capabilities, pupils' personal development and behaviour, the quality of teaching, the efficiency of management of schools and links with parents. Why did no noble Lord opposite feel that that part of the chief inspector's report was worth quoting? Perhaps they will tell me why they did not quote those precise words. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, did not quote those words. As I heard him, he quoted later. Did he quote those words?

Lord Rennell

My Lords, I tried to point that out in the nicest possible way. If the noble Lord looks at the beginning of the quotation, he will see that I did say that.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thought the noble Lord was emphasising how much better the GM schools were. I must have missed what he said. I am indebted to him. I enter these debates in a spirit of inquiry and open-mindedness, and not in the spirit of daft politicking.

I turn fairly briefly to the question of resources. Typically, the Government refer to expenditure on education in real terms and they are right to do so. What they mean by that is actual expenditure adjusted by using the gross domestic product at the market prices deflater. That is a sensible calculation if one wants to look at the cost of education. However, it is misleading if one's concern is with the volume of resources used in education. That is because the prices of goods and services used in education rise more rapidly than prices in general. It is possible to use published figures to allow for this relative price effect. Indeed, that is what government used to do until the present Government took over. If one looks at education in real cost terms, drawing upon the Government's own publication, expenditure has risen by just over a quarter since this Government took power. Even then, that means that the ratio of expenditure to gross domestic product has fallen.

If we accept my interpretation of what this debate is about, namely, that education is desirable and that it is wanted by the public, a fall in the ratio does not make sense. Education expenditure ought to rise at least as rapidly as income and probably more so. However, much more serious is the volume of resources devoted to education in the lifetime of this Government. The increase is not the 25 per cent. in round figures which I referred to. The true figure on the volume of resources is scarcely half that; it is broadly 12 per cent. to 14 per cent.

With such a significant relative cut it is not surprising that education is in crisis. En passant, the same point applies to health. The volume of resources devoted to the NHS increased by less than half of the 68 per cent. in real terms that the Secretary of State claims has occurred. That of itself is sufficient to explain all the difficulties that have appeared in the provision of healthcare.

As regards Table 3.28 in Social Trends, two noble Lords opposite said that the UK's expenditure on education, as a share of GDP, is higher than that of Germany and of Japan. They are completely right, but, in my acerbic mood, let me ask this: why did they not tell us that it is lower than in Canada, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United States, Belgium and France and lower than the OECD average? What is there about our debate today that noble Lords, who must know all the figures in order to quote the two, did not feel the need to place them in the correct perspective? My own judgment is that noble Lords have a duty to set a standard of rational discussion especially when debating education.

The question of class sizes has been referred to. It is known that some crude statistical analyses failed to find a correlation between class sizes and improved performance. Many years ago I and others explained why that is so. If resources, notably teachers, are allocated more than proportionally to those most in need and with the greatest difficulties, as they should be, it is obvious that the observed relationship will appear to be one of smaller classes and poorer performance. But what it will also show is a causation from a poorer performance, reflecting need, to more resources rather than the other way around. I am absolutely certain that the Minister's advisers at the department are perfectly well aware of that argument. It has been around for at least 20 years and I am slightly surprised that it does not seem to have entered into anyone's speech on the other side of the House.

Echoing the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, one ought to use one's common sense. If smaller classes do not matter, then why not save even more money by reducing class sizes further? Surely the Government ought to be proudly saying that they have discovered how unproductive teachers are and that they propose to reduce their numbers more and more. Possibly, in failing to fund the agreed pay rise, that is what they are really setting about without admitting it.

But we can go further. If additional teachers are so unproductive of education, why do independent fee-paying schools go for such small class sizes? Why do they emphasise the merits of teaching in small groups when they seek to influence parental choice? Fees are high and rising. Some schools are finding it difficult to survive. Independent schools are businesses operating in a competitive market environment. Why do they not compete by cost cutting, getting rid of teachers and charging reduced fees? The answer is that no serious person believes that reducing teacher numbers is a good thing. As I pointed out to the Minister last week, serious research allows for the difficulties I have mentioned and shows that reducing classes is helpful. I was going to quote all the research to your Lordships, but I suddenly realised that I am so enjoying my own speech it has already taken 16 minutes, so I must get a move on.

In the end I agree with the Minister that it comes down to money. We must not delude ourselves and say that a relative cut in resource provision does not matter. Instead we must ask how we want to spend our money. Since we are discussing public expenditure we have to ask ourselves this question: what is the taxpayer willing to pay for?

I go further. If we believe in the value of education—and I believe that that is the one thing we all have in common—our task is not, and cannot be, the passive one of just listening to the electorate. It must also be an active one of persuading the electorate of the merits of education and how valuable it is to use public money for that purpose. I wait to hear the Secretary of State say precisely that. Maybe the noble Lord himself, in replying to the debate, will say it.

I also wait to hear from noble Lords opposite who sometimes act as apologists for the independent schools. I wait to hear from them an echo of Tawney's dictum that what is good enough for our children is good enough for all children. It should be a special moral responsibility on the part of those who support independent schools to speak out for more resources for maintained schools.

Noble Lords have heard enough from me—I certainly have—but I conclude as I started. I did not and do not believe that this is the most useful debate on education we have ever had, but having said that I really am looking forward to the Minister's reply.

8.59 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, we are all most grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for having moved this Motion and for having given us the opportunity for this debate. She made an eloquent and powerful speech which it is going to be very hard for me to follow with anything like the clarity which she employed. My noble friend Lady Blatch repeats her apologies to noble Lords opposite in particular for having to attend a Select Committee immediately after her speech. That gave me the time to concentrate on answering the questions which noble Lords have asked and also on getting my grammar right, not that I, as a physicist, shall manage it particularly well.

As my noble friend said, achievement is what education is all about. We all have a great deal to celebrate—pupils, parents, teachers (perhaps teachers most of all) and, indeed, the Government—because of what has happened over the past 16 years. Looking back to Victorian times, we thought that we did not need mass achievement. We thought that an educated elite was enough. But that is not true now. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Beloff pointed out, that long legacy has left us with substantial elements of the population who do not really believe in education or its importance. That is a difficult background against which to work. We need understanding, flexibility and skills in most of our workforce.

The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, summed it up memorably in his Ruskin Speech of 1976, in which he said: Let me repeat some of the fields that need study because they cause concern. These are the methods and aims of informal instruction"— I think that is the first reference to what has been called the "trendy orthodoxy" that had developed in teaching— the strong case for the so-called core curriculum of basic knowledge; next, what is the proper way of monitoring the use of resources in order to maintain a proper national standard of performance. Then there is the role of the inspectorate in relation to national standards and there is the need to improve relations between industry and education". The noble Lord also mentioned the examination system, school governance and management, and the closer involvement of parents with schools. That was an agenda which the Labour Party did not have a great deal of time to put into effect, but we have done so. One thinks particularly of the late Lord Joseph in that respect, under whom education reform made a great deal of progress—and, as my noble friend Lady Young said, the Labour Party opposed us every step of the way.

I do not want to dwell on the past too much, but we should not be shy of listing what has happened. In 1979, only 24 per cent. of the school population got five grades A to C; now it is 43.3 per cent. The staying-on rate, which the noble Lord, Lord Parry, mentioned, was 58.5 per cent. in 1979; it is now 80 per cent. Things are a great deal better than they used to be, but we have a great deal left to do.

I should like to concentrate on what is being done now and on what we intend to do in the future to continue the trend of improvement that we have seen. Perhaps I had better pause briefly to deal with the present. When one thinks of the present one thinks of the Labour Party—partly because not many Labour Members are present. It is difficult to make a speech when one faces such empty Benches opposite.

Lord Peston

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. He can count as well as any of us. The number is low, but I am sure he will agree that the quality is pretty high.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I shall come to that. On such occasions, I feel the need of a rearview mirror at the Dispatch Box. In fact, I feel the need of a rearview mirror whenever my noble friend Lord Beloff speaks.

The present is also apposite to the Labour Party because so much of what Labour Peers have said concerns the present. When the noble Lord, Lord Peston, launched into his speech, I thought that I would have to cut out of mine the rude bits about the Labour Party, but in the end the noble Lord made a political speech just as much as his colleagues had done. He was eloquent and erudite, but he did not spend much time looking back—and I understand why—because the Labour Party does not have much of a record on which to look back.

Looking back at our record must cause Labour Peers pain because of all the words that they have had to eat and all the words they have yet to eat—and doubtless will. Looking forward also causes them problems because they have no policy. If any of them essayed anything on what Labour Party policy might be, it could only be in the expectation of being contradicted the next day. Nonetheless, it has been depressing not to have had more contributions from the Opposition Benches. I hope that the next time we debate education we shall be able to have a broader contribution from that side of the House.

I should like to answer some of the points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, about the education settlement. As I have said in the House before, it was a tough settlement, but very few councils have yet to set their budgets. Every year we hear from councils about massive education cuts—they are an easy and emotive issue to cry about—but they never seem to happen. In the end, local authorities do what they should.

Let us consider what some have said this year. Cheshire, which has a 0.4 per cent. reduction in its education SSA, has said that it will find the cash fully to fund the teachers' pay rise, as has Birmingham, which has a 0.3 per cent. cut, and Leicestershire, with its 0.9 per cent. increase. Let us look at those which are crying the loudest: Devonshire has a 2.1. per cent. increase, and Somerset has a 2.5 per cent. increase. One has to take with a very large pinch of salt what local authorities are saying at the moment. Let us take two of the LEAs that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Cambridgeshire has a 2 per cent. increase in its education SSA, while Trafford has a 4.4 per cent. increase. One has to wait and see what those local authorities actually do. I am sure that most will be able to live within the budgets that they have been given.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, will the noble Lord explain precisely what choice they have?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, they have a choice about what to spend their money on. A great deal of their budget does not relate to education.

As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, our funding of education has increased by 50 per cent. per pupil in real terms over 15 years. One hard year does not break that trend. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, quibbled about whether that was an increase, but an increase in real terms is an increase in real terms—and it is more than the Labour Party achieved when it was last in office.

To get back to the future, many of the advances that we have made are still in their early stages. It will take many years for their benefits fully to come through. In looking at particular areas, I would choose, first, the empowerment of parents. Many noble Lords have mentioned the importance to education of parents. That is something upon which I believe all sides of the House agree. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, agrees with me. He made a major point of that in his speech. My noble friend Lady Brigstocke mentioned it in relation to CTCs.

We welcome the current involvement of school governors in the discussion on education funding. It shows just how far our reforms have gone in increasing the consciousness and participation of people in their local schools. They may not agree with us at the moment, but the party opposite would never have given them the opportunity to disagree.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said that 340,000 parents had rung in to say that they would be interested in additional help with reading for their children. That is not a bad thing; it is a wonderful thing. Does not the noble Lord realise that wherever parents send their children to school they care about such things? They are always looking for ways in which to support their children. The fact that 340,000 parents are prepared to pick up a telephone is a great deal better than it would have been 10 years ago.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Why is it that these parents have to ring the BBC? Why can they not go to their schools, go past the gate, talk to the staff and get the answers that they want?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I hope that they will do that too. Another thing that the noble Lord, Lord Moms, appeared to run down was the amount of money which parents raise for their schools. My noble friend Lord Northesk quoted £250 million. I have no means of ascertaining whether that is true, but it seems a reasonable figure. Parents raise money for their children's schools when they believe in those schools. Let us look at the amount of money which Oxford and Harvard Universities can raise. They raise it because they are successful. The more successful the schools are, the more money they will raise from parents, and a very good thing that is too.

Of equal importance is a school's link with its community. That to our minds is what true accountability is. It is not through some remote LEA, but directly with the community, the parents and the pupils that the schools serve. Governors clearly play an important part in that process. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, praised the role of LEAs. So shall I. LEAs are now no longer controllers of what happens in education—a role which they often performed rather badly—they are now enablers. They have become one of a school's best friends and best helpers. I do not wish to mince words when I say that they are doing a great deal to support their local schools, and I welcome that. That has been due almost entirely to the local management of schools initiative giving the power over schools' governance and finance to the people most directly involved with it.

Baroness David

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. Surely the local management of schools was a local government initiative in the first place. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will agree that Cambridgeshire was at the forefront of that movement.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I do not deny that the local management of schools is something that has happened with the approval of some LEAs.

Baroness David

My Lords, initiative.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I do not deny what the noble Baroness says. I am saying merely that it has been supported, promulgated and put into effect by this Government. In general, that has had an enormously good effect on the schools which have the power to handle their own finances. I agree that there are difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Parry, outlined some of them, but, in general, it has made schools much more efficient and effective and has enabled them to be innovative in a way we have not seen before. Of course innovation is the raw material of progress.

Another area of immense importance in increasing achievement is information: making information available to parents so that they can take the decision about their children's schooling. Inspection reports are now to be sharper and praising. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, should be upset that HMCI should list and praise successful schools. Praising is a most important part of the HMCI's functions.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I did not criticise HMCI over successful schools; it was about a list of 52 so-called improving schools. I was challenging the definition of "improvement" and saying that that concept should not apply merely to a few GCSE passes at special grades but to the whole achievement of a school, year on year.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, if the noble Lord restricts his praise to people who improve in every respect, he will not get much opportunity to praise anyone. A 10 per cent. improvement in the five A to C grades at GCSE is indeed an improvement worthy of praise.

Part of the importance of information is to enable measurement. Measurement is of great value for the nation, for schools and for pupils—not in everything, of course, but it counts for a great deal. The school performance tables form a very important part of that. Raw results are child-centred. They are what counts for the child—what qualifications or achievements he or she carries away from education. The tables provide a benchmark for schools. They can see what other similar schools are achieving. As we have seen from the contributions of my noble friend Lady Cox and others, international comparisons play a similar role for us as a nation. They show us what is possible. Once one knows something is possible, it becomes worth spending a lot of effort in getting there.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to a report by Article 26. I have not seen the original report but I have seen some extracts from it. We welcome the report and we welcome the publicity which it has given to a column in the performance tables showing the number of pupils achieving one GCSE or better. That is an enormously important piece of information for parents when they are looking at a school—what are the chances that my child will emerge with no qualifications? We very much welcome Article 26 having drawn some attention to it, in contrast to the general run of the media who, as the noble Lord says, concentrate exclusively on the five A to C grades. It is equally important that we look at what is happening at the lower end.

I slightly quibble with the content of the Article 26 press release because it draws attention to a small decrease in the percentage of people achieving one GCSE or better in the current year. That comes at the end of a long upward trend. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, pointed out, the position has been improving gradually. There is still a great deal of variability between one local authority and another. The best appear to achieve about a 3.5 per cent. rate of pupils achieving nothing. We shall put a great deal of effort into helping the rest of the school system improve—the results schools are getting for what one might call the lowest 20 or 25 per cent. of the achievement range. As my noble friends Lord Northesk and Lord Elton pointed out, it is extremely important from a social point of view that these pupils achieve something in education. They are the people who, if disaffected, go on to become criminals.

Our emphasis on people at that end of the education spectrum is well known. Our policies on special educational needs have been widely praised across both sides of the House, and I think deservedly so. My noble friend Lady Faithfull drew attention to the particular problems of what she called the delinquent disintegrated. We have, from September last year, put into place a whole new set of policies designed to make sure that people who come into that category receive a proper education. Ofsted is in the process of making sure that that is happening. Local education authorities have a duty to do that. They have a duty to provide education that is set out in statements. It is foolish and destructive of them to do anything else. It is an absolute duty and there is no reason why they should avoid it.

At this point perhaps I may mention the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has been involved in the launch of something called "The learning for life pack" to support the teaching and learning of young people with profound multiple disabilities. The Government support all such initiatives to help people at the lower end of the achievement spectrum. When we look at what happens in other countries, it is quite clear that we can effect a very large improvement in our performance in this area—or rather we can continue to effect such an improvement.

Many noble Lords referred to teachers. We would agree with them that teachers are the key to improvement in our education system. Research, of which I am a great addict, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will know, lists the key features for future school improvement as school culture, teaching styles, teacher training, involvement with parents, strong leadership, discipline, direction, high expectations, monitoring progress and pupil responsibilities. All those depend on teachers. It is clear that teachers can achieve excellence in all those areas, because many are achieving that excellence. Our focus must be on spreading that good practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, said, and there is great scope to do so. We shall concentrate on that.

We see great opportunities lying ahead. That is one of the principal reasons why we established the Teacher Training Agency which, with my noble friend Lady Cox aboard, will be giving impetus, focus and status to teacher education. I am sure that in time the party opposite will come to welcome it, as it has the rest of our innovations.

We are giving particular emphasis at the moment to the training of head teachers and, as my noble friend Lord Elton asked, to insetting to the continuing in-service training of teachers. We see those as being extremely promising pathways for continuing school improvement.

I should like to answer the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to some extent on class sizes. If he refers to the latest issue of the Oxford Review of Education, which he perhaps has there, he will find a very thorough survey of all the research which has been done in the UK, the US and elsewhere in Europe on class sizes. The evidence clearly shows no major effect until there are class sizes of about 15. As the noble Lord points out, that is why people send children to private schools, because when you are looking at classes smaller than 15 you start to see major effects. At the moment our average class size is 27. It has risen by about one in the course of this Government.

Lord Parry

My Lords, is the noble Lord happy that the figures which he is quoting are based on sizes within the classroom or is it the simple division of the number of qualified teachers into the number of pupils?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, no, that would be the pupil-teacher ratio. No, this is very much to do with the way that classes actually operate.

Lord Peston

My Lords, the noble Lord refers to the matters with which I felt we did not have time to deal. He is right to say that those figures refer to class sizes. What is impressive about the research is that when the right class size is reached, it is incredibly effective. The point which I wanted to make but did not—and I shall make it now so that the noble Lord can say that he agrees with it—is that those small-sized classes are particularly useful for pupils from ethnic minorities. That is another reason why one would push that very strongly. I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord because we all want to go home. We must debate that on another occasion.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, the issue of class sizes could form a small debate on its own; I am quite sure about that. There are issues on the fringe, but, by and large, we provide extra funds for those circumstances to allow smaller class sizes among other things.

The principal conclusion of the research is that there are more effective ways of spending money than reducing class sizes. I should be happy to go into that at great length on another occasion, particularly if the noble Lord asked me a question about it.

I can see that I must hurry on through this. I could have done with about an hour to answer all the points that have been made in the debate. Inspection is clearly proving to be an enormous success as a source of information—a growing list of reports from Ofsted, the accumulation of a database which will be the source of much research in the future and all the work that is going on in school improvement and in dealing with failing schools, which for many years have never been tackled properly. The involvement of industry and commerce in education is also enormously important.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, questioned whether we are maintaining examination standards. Yes, we have put a great deal of effort into maintaining examination standards. We recognise, as I am sure the noble Lord does, that there is a natural pull from the schools which are putting children through those examinations to try to find ways of boosting their results by, if they can, finding examinations which are slightly easier to get through. We have put a great deal of effort into making sure that that does not happen.

We also greatly welcome industry's involvement because industry pulls in the other direction. It looks at what is coming out of education and demands that it meets its standards. I hope that there will also be a pull in that direction from the university sector, which complains sometimes about the quality of people leaving schools with A-levels. The universities are the customers of those people. It is up to them to exert their influence to make sure that people are coming to them with the skills that they require.

I was delighted to note that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, is going in for work shadowing. I do, too. It is an excellent example I hope to set to many noble Lords. I do not see nearly enough students around here.

I turn now to the national curriculum. Many noble Lords made reference to the importance of personal, social and moral development and to religious education and worship within the curriculum. We have restated the law in our Circular 194 and we shall continue to put pressure on schools to improve in that respect, as in others. In our latest reforms of the national curriculum we have also put great emphasis on basics. A basic education in mathematics and English should be a right for a child. If a child is equipped with such knowledge it empowers him to do well in the world afterwards. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and my noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Beloff put particular emphasis on that. We believe that it is an enormously important step to have taken with the national curriculum. We look forward to these results coming through within the next 10 or so years.

My noble friend Lady Brigstocke asked about the role of museums in support of education. I can confirm that SCAA will be producing a guide for museums to help them to plan their work in support of the national curriculum. A very important element in improving achievement is expanding our definition of what achievement is beyond the academic and offering children with particular skills the chance to pursue them further than the chance they currently have. All that we have done in vocational education is a prime example.

However, I should also list the specialist schools initiatives; the introduction of CTCs, as my noble friend Lady Brigstocke mentioned; the introduction of choice for parents which, with all its limitations, is nonetheless a great force for improvement; and the assisted places scheme. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, said that it cost her county £3,400 to send a student through secondary education each year. As the cost of the average assisted place is £3,000, perhaps the noble Baroness should consider saving some money. I see that she wishes to intervene. I give way.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I am much obliged. I should point out that I made a mistake. The £3,400 that. I mentioned was for the older children in our secondary schools. It does not refer to the average of children all the way through their secondary school career. Therefore, I dare say that the relevant figure is a good deal less.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, of course, we do not think that private education is necessarily better than state education; indeed, it is now some 30 years since we felt the need for a privately-educated party leader—something to which both parties opposite are still attached.

We shall also be making progress in other areas. As my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, NVQs are enormously important in improving the lifetime education of our populace. We may not be able to change the minds of their parents, but we can certainly catch them as they come out of formal education and persuade them to continue with it.

There has been an enormous release of innovation as a result of the independence of the further education sector. The introduction of national targets for education and training have raised the sights of everyone involved in the area to achieving, for example, 80 per cent. of young people obtaining five good GCSEs, or the equivalent, by the year 2000. We are up to 64 per cent. and we expect to reach the target. I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, some comfort about the education of boys. When we reach that stage of education, the boys are up there with the girls: they just seem to be a little late in developing. As regards nursery education, I believe that noble Lords should wait until the summer to ascertain the nature of our proposals.

Achievement means achievement on a child's own terms, making the best of each child's particular talents. We believe that no one has nothing to offer. We have come a long way, greatly to the credit of teachers, parents, students and even ourselves. We know that we have a great deal more to do and we are set on finding out how to do the rest and complete the task. We believe in what we are doing—as do most parents—and we are delighted that the Labour Party is joining us in that at last. Gospel Oak grant maintained and private schools, all of which have been in the news recently, demonstrate that they want for their children what we have provided. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, quoted Tawney, perhaps I may just echo that back to him—why not for the rest of us?

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, it remains for me to thank most warmly all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As always the House has shown its tremendous interest and expertise and deep concern about the subject of education and I think we have had a long but rich debate. I am delighted to know that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, wants another debate. He feels there is need for two. I am particularly glad that so many noble Lords joined me in celebrating the very real achievements of all who work in the education system; most of all, of course, the young people themselves.

To those few noble Lords who expressed deep concern—of whom I think the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, was the most impassioned—I would simply say one thing. Of course we have a long way to go. We have decades of underachievement behind us and reforms in education take a long time to begin to produce dramatic changes in children's performance. But please, please, when we get improved performance may we not say, "It shows that standards have dropped"? I weep when I hear people say, as the exam results got better, "Clearly the standards have gone down". Unless we really believe that children in this country are less able to achieve even than children in Scotland, then can we please believe that year by year we are getting more and more of them up to the standards that we all wish? I thank everyone very much for the long and interesting debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.