§ 4.20 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend 31 the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on the schools Green Paper. The Statement is as follows:
"I wish to thank all those who have assisted me in drawing up these proposals and to put on record my appreciation to teachers and non-teaching staff across the whole of the country for the work that they are doing day in, day out, to turn policy proposals into reality in the classroom and beyond.
"Four years ago, we promised that we would improve school standards. Last week, the Chief Inspector's report confirmed the improvements in literacy and numeracy which have transformed primary schools. Standards are rising fastest in those schools where under-achievement has been most pronounced—in education action zones and through the Excellence in Cities programme. We have seen over 650 schools successfully removed from special measures. We will deliver our class size pledge ahead of schedule.
"We are laying the early foundations, with 120,000 more young children in free nursery places than four years ago. We are committed to universal free nursery education for all three and four year-olds and to providing childcare places, benefiting 1 million children by 2004.
"We have expanded the Sure Start programme, and I am pleased to announce today that the number of early excellence centres will be increased by 100.
"Our task now is to build on these foundations to sustain change in primary schools and to transform secondary education. We have made a start, in particular through Excellence in Cities and the considerable expansion of specialist schools and through our investment in buildings and repair. But in partnership with teachers and parents, we need to move further and faster.
"Today's Green Paper, Schools: Building on Success, sets out the three key challenges. First, we need to improve standards still further. For primary schools, we are consulting on new targets for achievement at age 11:85 per cent gaining level 4 in English and maths by 2004 and 35 per cent reaching level 5. We aim for a step change in performance in the early secondary years. We will be setting demanding targets for achievement at age 14, building on success in primary schools. Attainment at this age is a key determinant of GCSE performance. Ninety-three per cent of those who reach level 6 gain five or more good grades at GCSE. So, that is why we are already taking action. We have introduced new programmes of teaching in 200 schools with more challenging targets and catch-up provision, and with tests for 12 year-olds who have fallen behind.
"From this September, we will extend this programme to all English secondary schools, backed by £82 million of investment this year. We are concentrating renewed attention on secondary 32 schools which have low levels of success and helping those schools facing the biggest economic and social disadvantage through new pupil learning credits.
"The second challenge is a focus on diversity and choice to ensure that the individual talent of pupils is fostered and that their weaknesses are addressed. Through a more diverse curriculum and improved support, we can transform their life chances. The national curriculum remains a basic entitlement. However, in addition, we will ensure that children have access to sport, the arts and to citizenship programmes.
"I can announce today our intention that over time every child in primary school will have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and experience one of a range of sports. But we need to do much more to offer real choice. We will accelerate pupil achievement with experimental programmes for youngsters taking tests at 13 rather than 14 and ensuring more early entries for GCSE. I am also able to announce today the establishment of a new centre which will spread good practice in addressing the needs of gifted and talented pupils. We will offer a new vocational route, providing choices in work-based as well as in full-time, practical GCSEs, leading on to apprenticeships for those who would benefit.
"The third task is to extend diversity among schools, so that every secondary school develops a particular ethos and plays to its strengths, as well as contributing to its community and to the wider education system. We will double the current number of specialist schools, with a new target date of 2003 for the first 1,000, and leading to 1,500 schools within five years. Consistency is important. I can today also announce the creation of advanced specialist schools, extending their role to assist in teacher training and school leadership. We have already announced the first city academies in inner cities. Today, we are proposing new forms of partnership with the voluntary and private sectors to support schools.
"Beacon schools enable the best of our schools to share best practice with others. I can, therefore, tell the House that, as well as offering beacon status to 1,000 schools by this autumn, we will also expand the programme to some schools which demonstrate excellence in working with their community. This Government have been the first to support new voluntary-aided schools for different faiths. We believe it is important that, where there is parental demand, we support such schools. We recognise that the costs to Church and other faith schools of funding 15 per cent of capital investment have been considerable, in particular with improved funding from government. I can today announce that, following discussion with the Churches and other faith groups, we intend to reduce this contribution to 10 per cent.
"To succeed in reforming standards in schools, we need to recruit and retain good teachers. There are 2,250 more people training to be teachers today than 33 a year ago. This is a direct result of action we undertook last year. This year's pay settlement, helping in particular new recruits and experienced teachers, is important. There has been a 12 per cent increase in those applying for training, along with more than a twofold increase in inquiries. However, we need to look further at how we can persuade good graduates to consider teaching and to stay in the profession.
"The Green Paper proposes that we consult universities about developing teaching modules within a wide range of undergraduate courses, so that young people gain a taste and experience of what teaching has to offer, and, for some, to complete the in-school graduate teaching programme on a fast track. Beyond this, in shortage subjects—maths, English, languages, science and technology—we will assist new teachers by paying off their student loans at the rate of one-tenth of their debt in each year that they remain teaching in the state sector. During that period, they will not have to make repayments. This is a substantial new incentive to graduates to come into and to stay in teaching.
"The programme I have announced today sets a clear direction for schools over the next five years. It builds on policies that work. It offers consistency and continuity together with modernisation. Teachers will be supported by improved training and by cutting out bureaucracy and addressing teacher workload. It will be backed by increased autonomy for headteachers of successful schools, building on changes in inspection and funding, including over the curriculum and improved pay and conditions for staff. It will be underpinned by the substantially increased investment we have provided in both the day-to-day running costs of our schools and in the fabric of their buildings.
"Our policies are designed to develop the potential of, and offer equality of opportunity to, every child from whichever background they come and whichever school they attend. We have today moved beyond the old arguments to create a schools system appropriate for the 21st century. I commend the Green Paper to the House."
§ My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement in this House. I should also like to point out that we have seen the content of this Green Paper trailed throughout the weekend and this morning in the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday People, the Independent, the Daily Mail and various other newspapers; on the BBC, on ITN, on Sky and Radio 4 and, of course, on almost every other broadcast media.
The Statement is breathtaking in its audacity. It is easy to understand that panic has given rise to it. We are told that the Government now believe in selection, in private sector running of schools for profit and in academies for talented, young children. 34 The Government have failed to deliver on education, and the Secretary of State knows that. After four years, the Government's policy on education is failing parents, children and governors, especially in our secondary schools.
The Secretary of State also knows that, under the Government, class sizes in secondary schools have risen—a point consistently made during the passage of the Bill in this House which dealt with primary school class sizes. As confirmed by Ofsted, the Government's targets on exclusions have undermined discipline in classrooms, and the energy and enthusiasm of our teachers has been absolutely stifled by burdening them with red tape and paperwork—a directive per day since the beginning of last year.
The Government are presiding over a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, about which more will be said next week, that has left schools around the country without sufficient staff and has done serious harm to the education of tens of thousands of children. As we all know, many subjects are without specialist teachers in our secondary schools. What is the Government's answer to these problems today? Immediate steps to reduce bureaucracy and enforce discipline? A task force? A czar? No. I am afraid that all we have is a Green Paper and a speech from the Prime Minister mapping out his "agenda for the future". We have been here before. As your Lordships would expect, both the Prime Minister's speech and this Green Paper are awash with spin but very little promise of delivery.
In his speech last Thursday, the Prime Minister made some definite pledges in relation to students. However, each of those so-called new pledges had already been announced by the Secretary of State in a press release on 14th September 2000. Perhaps that slipped the Prime Minister's mind. In this regard, as in so much, the Government are at least predictable. Today on the radio we heard the Prime Minister pledging to increase, in the next Parliament, the share of national income spent on education—exactly the same pledge that the Prime Minister made before the previous Parliament, exactly the same pledge that the Government have failed to deliver in the present Parliament.
We have asked on a number of occasions for information about action zones. To date we have received none. Given today's Statement, will the Minister now let me have any evaluation reports on action zones and the part played in them by the private sector? Will the Minister also confirm that, during this Parliament, the Government have spent an average of 4.6 per cent of GDP on education, compared with an average of 5 per cent by the previous Conservative government, and have therefore failed to deliver on their 1997 manifesto commitment to spend a greater proportion of national income on education than the previous Conservative government? The Secretary of State has not delivered on that pledge. Why should we believe him this time?
There are even more pledges in today's Green Paper—diversity in secondary education, businesses to take over failing schools, head teachers to be given 35 greater management freedom from LEAs. We obviously welcome the language and the rhetoric of many of the proposals in the Green Paper—certainly those that have been copied word for word and pasted from the Conservative Party's website! We particularly welcome the Government's acceptance of the principle, which we have long advocated, that the private sector should be allowed to take over the management of schools. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Secretary of State has abandoned his previous dogmatic insistence that no private sector company could make a profit running state schools?
So far, we have something old and something borrowed. What is new in the Government's package? It has to be the Government's decision today that they suddenly favour selection. Everyone who watched the Secretary of State's lips at the 1995 Labour Party conference, saying, "No selection by examination or interview", will have been startled by today's announcement. On this issue, the Government are guilty of much confusion. The Secretary of State said that specialist schools would be able to select 10 per cent of their pupils. However, he told Radio 4 that they are not selective. And what of the new national academy? Will the Minister tell the House how pupils will be selected, if not by examination, interview or aptitude, to attend the national academy for gifted and talented children?
Labour's confusion over selection is symptomatic. They have attacked grammar schools but have introduced selection in inner cities for the brightest children and now propose to introduce it for those who wish to take vocational GCSE examinations. When will the Government stop their vendetta against grammar schools and scrap grammar school ballots? Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister's office that our comprehensive schools are merely "bog standard"? How does the Prime Minister believe that parents, children and staff in our schools will feel about being described in such an inelegant way?
The Secretary of State refers to diversity and choice. He offers bureaucracy and confusion. It is clear from the Statement that the centre will still impose its will on our schools. Will the Minister now accept that the only way to provide for the freedoms that she, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State advocate is to free our schools of the shackles of LEAs, to provide, on the basis of a national formula, direct funding for each school, and to set schools free to decide what is right for their pupils, untrammelled by bureaucratic and politically correct interference from central or local government? Why should we believe a government who abolished maintenance grants and introduced student loans, without any manifesto commitment, and now suggest paying off student loans? That would be tough on a teacher of music, history or geography, because they do not feature in the Secretary of State's list.
Our schools need to encourage and develop the talents and abilities of every child, enabling all children to achieve their full potential. Our aim is to provide the education that is right for every child. To achieve that, 36 we need an education system with hallmarks of excellence, diversity and choice. We need a system in which schools would be free to set their own ethos and maintain it through their admissions policy; free to set and exert discipline; free to receive the whole of their budgets direct and spend them in the interests of their pupils; a system in which teachers are trusted and free to get on with the job of teaching children and raising standards. This Green Paper does nothing to provide the freedom for which our teachers and schools are crying out.
Since coming to office, the Labour Government have conducted a vendetta against grammar schools. In opposition, the Labour Party opposed choice and diversity in schools, selection, performance tables, city technology colleges, specialist schools, freedom for schools to make their own decisions at local level and private sector involvement in the running of our schools. This is a most extraordinary volte-face. However, it remains rhetoric. The Government have not delivered in this Parliament. Why should we believe that they will in the next?
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for introducing the Green Paper. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I also noticed that over the weekend the Statement was widely leaked. However, that had the beneficial side-effect that those of us wanting to respond to it today were well briefed as to its contents. As with so many papers on education produced by the Government, we on these Benches regard it as a curate's egg. We welcome many of its proposals. There are other aspects of it about which we are extremely wary.
I begin with the issues that we welcome. First, we are delighted to see an expansion of the Sure Start programme. We all agree that there is an urgent need for an expansion of nursery provision, especially in the most deprived areas of this country.
Secondly, we welcome the new initiative on music and sport in primary schools. That is long overdue. Irrespective of their parents' income, children should be given opportunities to learn a musical instrument or enjoy specialist sporting facilities. It is not right that access to those provisions should depend on income and class.
Thirdly, we welcome the introduction of teaching modules to undergraduate courses. On a number of occasions undergraduates have already participated in teaching their specialist subjects in schools. I know that that was an initiative of Imperial College. It is a very important way of introducing undergraduates to the pleasures, perhaps as well as to the downside, of teaching. We on these Benches welcome that new initiative and wish it well.
Fourthly, we congratulate the Government on the success of the literacy and numeracy strategies. The report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools last week set out some very real achievements in that regard. We were delighted to learn of them. It is very 37 important that we should overturn the situation in which 20 per cent of the people of this country are functionally innumerate and illiterate. In that task, it is absolutely vital that we should start with the primary schools.
For that reason, we also welcome the fact that the Government are now turning their attention to secondary schools. For a long time, many of us have wondered what goes wrong in the first years of secondary school. Children going up from primary schools are often full of zest for learning but, in one way or another, they lose that zest in their first year. As we have seen from the inspector's reports, not only do they lose it but in some instances their performance goes down during those first years. It is therefore extremely important that we look at some secondary schools and try to improve the quality of teaching. There are, of course, very many good secondary schools but, sadly, perhaps too many that do not come up to scratch.
There is a question as to whether the move towards more specialist schools is the right one. It is on this issue, in particular, that we have doubts about the Green Paper. It raises the question of when is a specialist school a selective school. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, left us in no doubt whatever that, as far as she was concerned, this is an extension of the introduction of selection. The Secretary of State, Mr Blunkett, was more careful, both in the Frost interview yesterday and on the Today programme this morning. He talked about selection not by ability but by aptitude. But those are words, words, words. When is ability aptitude? What does "selection" mean?
The problem, quite frankly, is that we are moving towards a situation in which 46 per cent of secondary schools will have specialist status. That is fine. In Guildford, we have five secondary schools, four of which now have specialist status. I worry, to some extent, about the one that does not have specialist status; or, if you like, the other way round, the 54 per cent of secondary schools in this country that do not have specialist status.
The largest of our comprehensive schools in Guildford has only recently had specialist status. It was announced among the latest batch of schools to be given specialist status. It did not really want to become a specialist school—it is a very successful comprehensive school—but it felt that it could not afford not to apply for specialist status. Why? Because it means money. It means an extra £100,000 in terms of capital expenditure and, for the next four years, an extra £123 per pupil. It is therefore of considerable advantage to any school to claim specialist status. However, the danger is that the schools which do not get specialist status will be the schools which perhaps need the money and the resources most.
I am delighted that the Statement mentions that schools in the most deprived areas will receive resources. Perhaps the Minister can spell out precisely what is meant by that. It is left extremely vague. The Government will be,helping those schools facing the biggest economic and social disadvantage, through new pupil learning credits".38 Neither the press statement nor the Green Paper tells us very much about what pupil learning credits are and what they will do. I should like to know much more about them. We need to know what the 56 per cent of secondary schools which do not have specialist status—those schools which may be, in the impolite phrase, bog standard comprehensives—will receive. Are they not the ones which need help the most?
This brings me to our final query on the Statement, the issue of teacher shortages. Again, it is nice to see the Government at long last admitting that there is a crisis in teaching. We on these Benches have been saying for a long time that we were building up to a very real crisis, and time and time again the Government have assured us, "Crisis"? What crisis?" There is a crisis. The Government have to face the fact that they cannot possibly deliver on their promises on secondary education unless they can get teachers into place in the schools.
I have been arguing for a long time that we need to do something special about science and maths. I have seen with my own eyes that, time and time again, we are not replacing teachers who retire. Increasingly, pupils are being taught maths by non-specialist teachers. It is not good enough. We now know that, in terms of recruitment of new people into teaching, teacher numbers are down not only in science and maths, but in modern languages, history and geography. Even English is now a shortage subject for secondary schools.
Yes, we need to attract many, many more good graduates into teaching, but I am wary of whether these sticking plaster gimmicks are the answer to the crisis. We need to pay the profession decently. Even more importantly, we need to give teachers the trust and status that their profession deserves. There has been a steady erosion of those two values, which, if I may say so, is as much a result of the policies pursued by the Opposition as the policies pursued by the Government. That has landed us in the crisis we now face. Until the Government take action to reverse the trend, I fear that they will never solve the problem.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I was amazed by the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to the Green Paper. Not a single thing could she bring herself to welcome. I accept that it is the job of the Opposition to oppose, but usually a thoughtful Opposition think deeply about a Green Paper of this kind and are able to find some areas where they can say, "The Government are doing the right thing. We welcome it and we support it". But not the noble Baroness.
I am, however, grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for the welcome that she gave to some of the proposals in the Green Paper and for the fact that she was willing to acknowledge that there have been improvements in our schools, notably in literacy and numeracy results in our primary schools.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, began by arguing that we had not done the job she thought we should have done on class sizes. So far as concerns infant class 39 sizes, we are now down from nearly 500,000 children in classes of over 30 to around 30,000. We have had the first fall for many years in class sizes in junior schools. As to secondary schools, there is a tiny increase in class sizes, but this increase is on a long-term trend; it was taking place in the very years in which the noble Baroness not only was a member of the government but also the Minister of State for schools. Adult pupil ratios in our secondary schools are fairly stable.
The noble Baroness went on to berate what she called red tape and the paper chase in our primary and secondary schools. She neglected to accept the absolute commitment that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made to reduce the amount of material that goes into our schools. He has pledged that there will be a reduction of one-third in the number of papers sent to schools, and that there will be a reduction of 50 per cent in the number of pages that teachers—in particular, head teachers and senior teachers—have to read. A good start has already been made.
The noble Baroness went on to claim that there is a very serious teacher shortage and a decline overall in the number of teachers in our schools. There are 7,000 more teachers today in our schools than in 1998. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was a little unfair in suggesting that the good ideas set out in the Green Paper about making sure that we increase the number of good graduates that we recruit into teaching—and, indeed, that we retain more teachers—was only sticking plaster. That is not the case. It is beholden on opposition spokesmen to come up with better ideas rather than always to be negative. I have not heard any better ideas from either of the two spokesmen opposite.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about education action zones. I cannot provide her with an evaluation report containing the information she asked for. We know that schools are improving faster in education action zones nation-wide, and the same is true of excellence in cities areas. In both cases, we are seeing a substantial improvement. Again, it is a pity that the noble Baroness felt unable to acknowledge that.
The noble Baroness asked about school funding. She was not quite accurate as regards the Government's pledge. What we said was that more of the national income would be spent on education at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning. That has been delivered. In 1996–97, 4.7 per cent of GNP went to education; in 2001–02 the figure is 5 per cent, and that will rise to 5.3 per cent by 2003–04. The figure is against a period of economic growth, when national income is going up, unlike under the previous government when, for a number of years, overall national income went down.
The noble Baroness went on to ask about specialist schools, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We want all schools to have a distinct character and mission. We want all schools to be excellent at the basics and to play to strengths other than the basics. It is our intention to identify more beacon schools, as 40 well as more specialist schools. We shall examine more ways in which a school can become a beacon school—for example, by demonstrating excellence in working with the community.
As regards selection, only 7 per cent of specialist schools are making use of the option to select up to 10 per cent of pupils by aptitude. The noble Baroness laughs, but I think that answers the question she posed.
The noble Baroness asked about the national academy. There is a slight misunderstanding on the part of the noble Baroness as to the purpose of the centre for gifted and talented youth. It will co-ordinate better provision for gifted and talented young people through, for example, an extension of the summer school programme, which has already been seen to benefit such youngsters. We also want to involve the universities in continuing to work at the further development of what has been a very successful experiment.
I can say categorically that we have no intention of scrapping grammar school ballots. The noble Baroness cast aspersions on the Government's commitment to greater diversity and greater autonomy. The Government are serious about this. We have every intention of making it possible for our schools to be freer in a variety of respects: through what they pay their teachers and through the lifting of the national curriculum, especially for those young people who would benefit from more work-related learning and a more vocational programme. The noble Baroness seems to neglect the fact that financial delegation has increased to the maximum level that it makes any sense for it to reach without cutting into the vitally important funding that local education authorities need for special educational needs and the provision of decent school transport.
I believe that I have answered all the questions that were put to me, with one exception. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked about schools in deprived areas receiving pupil learning credits to make it possible for younger pupils to receive some of the benefits that middle class and upper middle class parents give to their children almost automatically. I think I can help her. We have plans in this area. Those schools with 35 per cent or more of their pupils on free school meals will benefit from this help. They will receive between £240 and £360 extra per pupil per year.
This is an imaginative and innovative programme. It is focused particularly on building on the success of changes in primary schools and on taking this through into secondary schools. I am disappointed that the Conservative Opposition were unable to welcome at least some of the proposals.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Lincoln
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I hope that I may give her a little encouragement. Like many diocesan bishops, I have responded to the Church Schools Review Group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. He has encouraged all of us to increase the 41 provision of secondary schools in our dioceses. Therefore, I welcome some recognition by the Government of the clear moral and spiritual framework—the clear ethos and the mission statement—of many of our Church schools. That responds to the needs of parents and is an aid to raising standards in schools. The point needs to be acknowledged and recognised. Therefore, on behalf of the Churches and the other faith groups, I welcome the suggestion that this kind of provision may be extended and that the Government will explore further the idea of diversity among schools.
I also welcome the grant increase from 85 to 90 per cent to aid schools with the cost of capital works to provide, improve and repair school buildings. The Church schools are, I believe, the only group which is still paying VAT on such works. It is a continuing problem. Will the Minister give an indication of the timing of the introduction of the increased grant?
Will the Minister indicate how the Government will help the Churches and the minority faith providers to respond to the 100 new schools initiatives? I am sure that they would examine any such proposals with great interest. We want to do what we can. In the diocese of Lincoln, we are working with Lincolnshire County Council to support the teaching of religious education and to undergird the moral framework of many of the county's schools. We want to do all that we can to enhance and support the good relationships we enjoy in that regard. Some of the material in the Green Paper indicates that we may receive a little more encouragement. I should welcome any indication from the Government as to how that might be taken forward. On behalf of the Churches, I thank the Minister for the Green Paper. I welcome it, and in particular the generous increase in the grant.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the welcome that he has given to those aspects of the Green Paper that he identified. Because it is a Green Paper, we shall be consulting on much of the detail, including his final point. We shall want to talk to the Churches about those issues.
As regards the timing of the increase in the capital grant to Church schools, subject to consultation and the passage of the necessary legislative procedures, it should be implemented from 1st April 2002. I am especially grateful for the welcome given by the right reverend Prelate to the extension in the number of Church schools. We have read the report by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. We wish to talk further to the Churches about how we might move in that direction.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on what they have achieved thus far in education, and on what they are planning to achieve. Can the noble Baroness say whether the Government have any plans for that important minority of children who do not receive the support and encouragement of their parents in respect of education?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has a chance to read the Green 42 Paper he will notice a number of proposals within it that are geared to try to help the children whom he has identified. In responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I mentioned the new funding that we are providing for schools in deprived areas where not all children lack the support of their parents. This will provide access to sports facilities, extra music lessons, visits to museums and theatres; in other words, all the enriching activities that are extremely important. The additional help that we want to provide to those young people who come into secondary schools but who are still not reaching the target levels that the Government have set will, again, he an important way to help children who have not been given very much support at home.
§ Baroness Andrews
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on presenting such a radical Green Paper on education. The document is impressive in its scope, but also—at first glance—in the degree of detail that it addresses in relation to some of the most stubborn, long-standing and increasingly difficult issues that face our schools. I welcome the very clear statement that the process will be conducted in partnership with teachers and parents. I particularly welcome the fact that there is such an emphasis on the individual child, as well as on the circumstances of the family and on the home in very disadvantaged communities.
From what my noble friend has said, I believe that the new pupil learning credits will open up tremendous enrichment possibilities for children who would otherwise never go to a theatre, learn a musical instrument or participate in activities that other children take for granted. The Government have taken many steps in that direction; indeed, that is an extremely welcome development.
I have one question for my noble friend, building on what she said about transition between primary and secondary school. This is a time of extreme vulnerability for some children and a time when a good deal can go wrong. Does my noble friend have any further information on what the Government are doing to improve that process and make it easier for primary and secondary schools to work together?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said about the emphasis on the individual child. A great deal of the Green Paper focuses on raising standards, extending diversity and providing greater autonomy for schools. However, the needs of individual pupils must never be ignored. That is why we are considering pupil learning credits and why we are looking at extra provision for the gifted and talented. Indeed, it is why we are considering ways of lifting the national curriculum for those pupils in secondary schools who will benefit from a more vocational form of education and learning, thereby giving them greater opportunities to spend some of the week in their local FE colleges. We want to see much more collaboration between the FE sector and the secondary sector.
43 As regards the transition from primary to secondary school, it is absolutely vital that the progress we have been making in our primary schools with higher levels of literacy and numeracy, as well as better overall performance in science, is maintained when children make that move into the secondary sector. We expect there to be very good contact between secondary schools and feeder primary schools. We also expect those children who have not done as well as anticipated to be given extra help. They should be identified as a result of information being passed from primary to secondary schools right at the beginning of their secondary careers, so that they can receive the extra help that they need.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Blatch, I welcome many of the ideas in the Green Paper. The ideas of diversity and autonomy have long been at the heart of Conservative education policy. We must rejoice when the sinner repents, even if—as in this case—it is a rather late repentance in the life of this Parliament. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, my concern relates to the 54 per cent of secondary schools that will not be specialist schools.
As the Minister well knows, and as the Government have acknowledged, there is already a crisis in finding sufficient specialist teachers. The creation of so many specialist schools and the huge proportion of secondary schools becoming specialist schools will soak up a very large number of specialist teachers. Inevitably, they will see the attraction of teaching in a school that specialises in their subject. They will be mopped up as they finish initial training, and the good teachers will be instantly recruited by the specialist schools from wherever they worked. Can the noble Baroness say who will be left teaching in the 54 per cent "bog standard" schools? Where will we find the good teachers of history, geography, modern languages and mathematics? As a trustee of a city technology college, I already know that we have difficulties in securing enough technology teachers in specialist areas. Can the Minister say what will happen as regards finding good teachers—the best teachers—for those who may most need them in the other schools?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I shall not repeat what I said in my initial response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about those schools that opt to stay and provide the whole range of the curriculum and do not wish to become specialist schools. I believe that I set out the Government's position in that respect in some detail.
The noble Baroness asked about teachers. There is a great deal of information in the Green Paper about finding new ways to recruit more and better teachers, and about getting teachers into the classroom quickly and retaining them. I do not believe that all teachers, even those teaching the subjects that will be the focus of some specialist schools, will necessarily want to teach in specialist schools. Many of them will be happy to teach in comprehensive schools that decide not to go 44 down the specialist route. That is certainly the case at present in those areas where there are a number of specialist schools.
The noble Baroness mentioned history and geography, which are not the subject of a specialism. We shall not have schools specialising in either history or geography. We expect all schools to teach those subjects and to teach them well. I believe that the noble Baroness is being unduly pessimistic, especially in the light of the numerous proposals in Chapter 5 of the document about finding ways to increase the number of people who come into secondary school teaching. Those proposals include introducing modules into undergraduate programmes, which will, I hope, encourage more students at that stage in their careers to think about teaching because they find it challenging, exciting and interesting—indeed, something to which they might not have been exposed were this change not introduced.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would be willing to dissociate herself from that extremely unfortunate phrase "bog standard" comprehensive schools which, in the experience of many people present in the Chamber, is injurious to those communities of both pupils and teachers with which so many of us have been involved during our working lives outside this House.
Further, will the noble Baroness admit that the information that we are short of teachers in maths, English, languages, science and technology—that is, the main subjects of the national curriculum—is most disconcerting and worrying, especially when the DfEE's own figures show that there has been a 14 per cent reduction in applications for student teachers in secondary schools, compared with 1997? These declines are particularly severe in maths, modern languages, English and in history and geography where the figure is more than a third. Class sizes are at their highest for the past 25 years. Heaven knows, I am no apologist for the former Conservative government, but that is a pretty startling statistic, as is the one that vacancies are at a 10-year high. I do not think that we can be fobbed off with platitudes about an extra 2,000 teachers in training positions this year.
Does the Minister think that the Liberal Democrat proposal to pay teacher trainees a £15,000 training salary would be of assistance? Has she any ideas as to how the inspection of schools can be conducted rigorously but without discouraging teachers?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, the noble Baroness asked many questions. I start with the final point about the inspection of schools. We are talking to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector about a lighter touch as regards inspections, particularly in those schools that have demonstrated success over a sustained period of time, and about trying to reduce the bureaucracy of inspections. As regards shortages of teachers in some 45 of the subjects which are covered by specialist schools, the Government are not complacent about the shortages.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, my remarks were addressed to the national curriculum; that is, the bits of the education system that children arc supposed to have to do well in.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Baroness. I believe that she also made reference to the fact that these are the very subjects that are taught in specialist schools. It is absolutely true that we must have more well qualified teachers in these fundamental subjects that have to be taught to all pupils under the national curriculum. However, the document is full of proposals to try to overcome the shortages that the Government readily accept exist in these subjects. Some of the figures that the noble Baroness has just given are not altogether accurate. There are currently 7,000 more teachers in our schools than there were in 1998. This year I believe that there has been a 12 per cent increase in the number of applicants wishing to take a PGCE. The noble Baroness suggested that—
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the increase is in primary rather than secondary teachers?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, the noble Baroness is a Front Bench spokesman and has already had her turn. It is not right for her to ask further questions when it is the turn of Back-Benchers.
The Liberal Democrats can always come up with proposals for paying trainee teachers £15,000 a year because they never have to do the sums that one has to do when in government. I do not think that £15,000 a year is a realistic figure to pay those who are literally training rather than people who are based in schools under a rather different kind of programme and who are paid more than the £6,000 training salary that we provide for those undertaking a PGCE course.
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe
My Lords, may I welcome this further imaginative instalment of the Government's programme and perhaps suggest to my noble friend that the biggest danger she faces is being undermined by the actions of some local education authorities? I give just one example of this educational vandalism. In the most deprived area of Bristol it is proposed to close Whitehouse Primary and Gay Elms Primary, Gay Elms containing the only specialist autistic unit for children in the whole of Bristol. Will she be vigilant that this sort of outrage cannot be slipped past her because it will only undermine the very excellent efforts which have been pronounced?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I cannot comment on my noble friend's question about the closure of two schools in a local education authority. The Government want to continue to work in a constructive way with LEAs right across the country. That is what we are doing.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, the Minister has not answered the question about bog standard schools. Does she agree after four years in office with Downing Street's statement that our comprehensive schools are bog standard? Can she tell the House how schools select by aptitude given that all parents think that their children have aptitude? How can one select on that basis?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, comprehensive schools are diverse and we wish to make them more so. There will be many different kinds of comprehensive school, some of which will specialise and others which will not. The Government wish to widen the autonomy of our comprehensive schools and make sure that all of them have the opportunities to excel in some areas. On the issue of whether all parents think that their children have aptitude, I do not think that that is entirely true. It is rather unfair to parents. I believe that all parents want to support their children. Speaking as a parent, I never thought that one of my children had an aptitude for modern languages. He found them extremely difficult. I would never have made that claim. However, I believe that teachers are able to identify children who demonstrate an aptitude for modern languages. They might want to encourage those children to go to an appropriate specialist secondary school.