§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Wood.]11.42 pm
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
I submitted this topic for debate in the light of the report by the Office for Standards in Education, published last week, about the teaching of reading in a number of inner-London primary schools. The debate also coincides with the standard attainment tests that are taking place this week in primary schools throughout the country.
My concern about some aspects of primary education do not, however, stem simply from last week's report. A number of reports in recent years have suggested that far too many pupils fail to reach educational standards appropriate to their ability and age.
Last week's report on the teaching of reading in London schools was a shocker. Eighty per cent. of seven-year-olds had reading abilities appropriate to an age below their actual age; nearly 20 per cent. of those achieved no score at all. Four out of 10 11-year-olds were found to have reading ages two or more years below their actual age. The usual excuses about social deprivation and lack of resources will not do; the report made it clear that the quality of schools' intake was not a reliable guide to pupil performance, and that similar schools scored differently.
Sadly, a growing bank of evidence suggests that the deficiencies in primary education that were exposed in last week's report are not confined to inner London. Last year, a report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that the bottom 40 per cent. of 13-year-olds in English schools lagged two years behind their German equivalents, and never caught up. The author of the report, Professor Prais, was critical of the emphasis that had been increasingly placed on the child-centred, individualistic approach to schooling, in which pupils were encouraged to proceed at their own pace.
By contrast, the emphasis on the continent is on teaching the class as a whole and on ensuring that pupils advance together to a high average standard. Last year, the Basic Skills Agency published a report which stated that the 30 per cent. or so of children who had not learned to read properly by the age of 10 never recover. I understand that this week the agency will publish a report confirming that about 32 per cent. of those going to secondary schools are reading at the level of nine-year-olds.
Last year's national tests for 11-year-olds showed that 52 per cent. of pupils failed to reach national curriculum level 4 in English, the standard that is expected to be achieved by a typical pupil of that age. Additionally, nearly half the 14-year-olds failed to reach the expected standard in English and mathematics in their tests. The failure of so many of our young people to reach their full potential gives rise to massive concern for the future well-being and prosperity of this country. For young people, the lack of proper grounding in literacy and numeracy can range from inconvenient in later life to downright disastrous.
I have no doubt that many of the social problems that face this country can be partly attributed to the way in which the education system has let down many people in 894 their early years, particularly in inner-city areas. Recently, people have asked me whether there is a problem about the teaching of reading in my constituency. I do not think there is, and from my visits I can say that I have some excellent primary schools in my constituency. I visited one such school on Friday, the Meltham Church of England junior and infants school in Holmfirth road, Meltham, which, I am pleased to say, has just received an excellent report from Ofsted.
I cannot be certain about the achievements of my local schools, because, without information, it is difficult to make comparisons and judgments. That is why I am delighted that the results of this week's tests for 11-year-olds will for the first time be made public by school and in league table form. I hope that, next year, the results of the tests for seven-year-olds will also be made public in that form. Many heads and primary school teachers are unhappy at that prospect, but information, transparency and openness are crucial in helping to drive up standards in our schools.
We need to get parents more involved in the educational process, and they can do that only if they have some meaningful information that they can use to compare local schools. The publication of the results will in itself improve standards, because schools that have not performed well, or as well as they would have liked, will have to look at their performances to see how they can be improved.
There has been a change in the attitude of parents and the general public to tests, and particularly to the publication of the results in the form of league tables. Every year, I send a questionnaire to thousands of my constituents asking them a range of questions. For the past few years, I have asked whether they support the principle of testing and the publication of the results. Between 800 and 1,100 people usually respond, so it is a good sample. The increase in support for the regular testing of pupils has gone up from 73 per cent. of all respondents in 1993 to 80 per cent. this year.
More interesting is the turnround in people's views on whether the results should be made public. In 1993, 38 per cent. of respondents were in favour and 50 per cent. were against. The support for the publication of results went up to 42 per cent. in 1994 and to 46 per cent. in 1995; this year, 50 per cent. of respondents were in favour of publishing examination results and only 32 per cent. were against. People want the information, and it is clear from the figures that I have quoted that we are winning that argument.
Returning to the specific problem under consideration, what is the cause of the under-achievement? Last week's Ofsted report blamed weak teaching, inadequate lesson planning, poor teacher training and a lack of leadership by some head teachers. It appears that we are paying the price for more than 30 years of so-called progressive teaching in our schools, and for education being the vehicle for creating an egalitarian society as part of socialist efforts at social engineering. During those 30 years, child-centred learning in mixed-ability classes has done untold damage to many thousands of pupils. Reversing the process is taking much time and much effort, but reverse it we must.
Socialists at every level have been driving that process of so-called progressive education. A Labour Government introduced comprehensive education and the teaching 895 reforms that changed the approach to education. Children betrayed in Islington, Southwark and Tower Hamlets have been betrayed under Labour local education authorities.
As hon. Members know only too well, some middle-class parents living in those regions are sufficiently well-to-do to be able to send their offspring to grant-maintained schools, outside their local education authorities. Let us not forget that the Labour party has opposed all our efforts, both in the House of Commons and in local education authorities throughout the country, to give more information and power to parents.
Labour has nothing to offer parents of pupils, and it was most illuminating that the Secondary Heads Association should describe the Labour party's recent education policy as simplistic, bland, short of ideas, unlikely to assist in raising school standards, poorly thought out, uncosted, lacking in detail and an uncomfortable combination of the naive and messianic. All those comments were contained in the SHA's report.
So, away from Labour and back to the real world. One of the most common complaints I hear when I visit schools is that Ministers and others are for ever criticising teachers. I always reply that those same people spend enormous time praising teachers, although pointing out that more needs to be done. The problem is that the teachers hear or read only what the media report, and it is the criticisms that are reported.
My experience is that the majority of teachers are hard-working, dedicated and committed to their pupils. Of course, as in any profession, some teachers are not up to the job, and should not be teaching. Last week's Ofsted report, however, was critical of teaching methods, and it is fair to say that the vast majority of teachers have experienced their training during the past 30 years, when so-called progressive teaching methods have prevailed.
In 1991, Robin Alexander, from the university of Leeds, said in the summary document that accompanied his report "Primary Education in Leeds":The document raises important questions about the reliability and efficacy of classroom methods and strategies widely commended in primary education since the mid-1960s. In common with several other studies it shows how the widespread commitment to group work, multiple curriculum focus teaching (different groups of children working simultaneously in different areas of the curriculum), thematic curriculum planning and delivery and enquiry modes of teacher/pupil interaction may present teachers with problems of class organisation which subvert the quality of children's learning and frustrate teachers' monitoring of that learning.The project highlighted the prevalence of the power of certain orthodoxies of primary teaching methods and the extent to which many teachers feel obliged to conform to these while in some cases being all too conscious of the problems they may pose. It is likely that this conformist culture has elevated particular class practices into ends in themselves.That is the most extraordinary and damning comment imaginable; some teachers are apparently following practices simply to conform with the prevailing culture. That clearly needs to change.
I do not for a moment claim to have any great expertise on teaching methods, but last week's Ofsted report is clear that more whole-class teaching should take place in schools, along with more effective group work. The report also says that teachers have to be more knowledgeable about reading in order to teach it successfully. In particular, the report said that phonics contributed to the accuracy and fluency of reading by children of all abilities where it was taught well.
896 Last August, we saw a remarkable experiment, when Irina Tyk and others set up and ran the Butterfly reading project on the Mozart estate in London. It involved a highly structured method of teaching children to read and spell according to the phonic or alphabetic method. The children were sitting at desks in rows facing the front. They were working individually within a whole class. The result was that the 27 children aged between seven and 12 returned to school in September armed with written reports which showed that, in 30 hours of teaching on the 10-day course, their reading ages had been raised by an average of 13 and a half months. I should like to know what lessons the Department for Education and Employment has taken on board from that remarkable course.
Last week's report also showed that mixed-ability classes were in use in some schools. It said:These were more difficult for the teachers to manage and the pace of reading tended to be geared to the slower learners.Mixed-ability classes, part of education's drive for equality, are still too prevalent, and I have seen them in primary schools in my constituency. I believe that, where it is feasible to do so, schools should be setting pupils by ability, so that all the pupils in a class are progressing at more or less a similar level, so that the less able are not holding back the more able and the more able are not intimidating the less able.
What is becoming increasingly apparent is that teacher training is crucial. Too many of the progressive notions being implemented in our schools today have been inculcated into teachers at teacher training colleges. Last week's report said that the vast majority of teachers held appropriate initial qualifications and were trained for the primary phase. Yet, as the report said, in spite of an array of professional qualifications, many of them related to reading, it was apparent that many of the teachers in both year groups lacked the range of skills they needed to teach reading in those schools.
Many teachers told the inspectors that they did not believe that their initial training had provided them with the proper equipment to teach reading. I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister what further steps the Government intend to take to try to improve the quality of teacher training in this country.
I believe that every parent should be enormously grateful to the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead. Mr. Woodhead is determined to improve the quality of teaching in this country, so that all pupils can maximise their learning potential. It is a source of enormous regret that 50 Labour Members have seen fit to sign an early-day motion calling for his resignation, simply because he has, in their view, attacked teachers and comprehensive education. That EDM says more about today's Labour party than it does about Mr. Woodhead. I say to Mr. Woodhead, "Keep up the good work."
I hope that this short debate has been useful. The ability to read properly and clearly is crucial to young people, and much clearly still needs to be done in our schools. I hope that the Minister will be able to demonstrate that the Government, like Chris Woodhead, are determined to take additional action to improve the quality of reading and all other subjects in our schools. I look forward to what he has to say.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Robin Squire)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) for raising this subject, and for the thoughtful and intelligent way in which he developed his argument. He has long established a reputation for knowledge in this sphere of education and for not being afraid to express strong opinions. I welcome that, as does the House, and I thought that tonight he gave an excellent demonstration of his range of knowledge.
I will write to my hon. Friend in response to the specific query he raised about the impressive teaching skills demonstrated in the experiment during the summer months. Like my hon. Friend, I should like to see it developed further.
Ensuring that reading is taught effectively is, quite simply, essential. Pupils' progress depends on good reading skills. Without a sound grounding, their performance in other subjects is bound to suffer. For primary schools to fail to teach children to read well is simply unacceptable.
I share in full the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley about the weaknesses highlighted by last week's Ofsted report. The report exposes a shocking picture of poor teaching methods, coupled with a lack of leadership and monitoring of teachers' performance by head teachers. The use of teaching methods that were clearly not working is at the heart of the problem, and we cannot allow it to continue.
Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend has said tonight and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has previously pointed out, other reports by Her Majesty's inspectorate and other sources suggest that the problem is not limited to a few London boroughs.
Our education reforms have set in place a framework designed to improve the standards of teaching and learning in all subjects. The national curriculum sets out clear expectations of pupils at key ages as a focus for teachers' efforts. There are arrangements for assessment to common national standards so that schools and teachers can see how well they are doing. Teaching quality is the subject of published reports by registered inspectors. How schools are serving their pupils is therefore much more a matter of public record and—now, as we all know—public debate.
That greater accountability is helping, and will help further, to lever up standards. Heads will know in future from Ofsted reports about the very good and very poor performers among their staff. In the light of the current review of appraisal arrangements, they should have regular and reliable information on the teaching quality of all their staff.
As my hon. Friend has said, how far and how fast we can raise standards will depend on the quality of the teaching force. We have many excellent teachers—as my hon. Friend is well aware, not only I but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly make that point—but there is clearly much still to be done to improve standards.
We established the Teacher Training Agency about 18 months ago to tackle standards in initial and in-service training. The agency has made progress. It is linking funding and quality in initial training. It is working on a 898 much clearer statement of essential teaching skills. From September, all primary teacher training courses must include at least 50 hours on the teaching of reading within at least 150 hours on the teaching of English. We must ensure that teacher training courses use that time well, and do not recycle the methods discredited by Ofsted's findings.
Thanks to the TTA, Her Majesty's inspectors can report publicly on the quality of initial training courses. They are nearing the end of a programme of inspection covering all primary initial teacher training, which has had a particular focus on the teaching of English. When institutions are identified as not providing quality training, the TTA will take vigorous action, including, if it proves necessary, withdrawing accreditation and the right to train teachers.
Those procedures are already having a real impact. We know that the publication of a recent critical Ofsted report on Charlotte Mason college has caused Lancaster university to consider its future role in initial teacher training. I know that discussions are continuing about the best future for the college, and I am sure that the university and the funding bodies will take full account of the views of students and staff; but we cannot disregard the great importance to pupils of well-trained teachers, and poor provision must be quickly brought up to scratch if it is to remain. Ofsted and the TTA are working together on a joint quality framework to tighten up inspection and quality assessment for the future.
My hon. Friend welcomed the fact that performance tables were to be produced for 11-year-olds, beginning with this year's tests, and I thank him for welcoming that development. We are now in a position to consider introducing performance tables for initial teacher training institutions. Tables would increase the information available to those considering training to be teachers, and stimulate providers to raise standards. The information might include Ofsted grades for training providers, as well as other performance indicators, such as how successful students are in finding employment, or how well newly qualified teachers are graded in Ofsted school inspections.
But it is not only new teachers who need training. There are only 20,000 newly qualified teachers each year, compared with 400,000 teachers already in classrooms. The TTA is working to improve in-service training for those teachers. It is defining the skills needed for expert classroom teaching; it has commissioned materials to help primary teachers assess their training needs in the core subjects, including English; and it is carrying out research into the effective teaching of literacy.
But we cannot yet be confident that the available in-service training is effective in meeting the needs of our teachers. We invest £400 million a year in such training, in cash and in teachers' time, so we need to be sure that we are getting value for the money and effort involved. The TTA produced an initial report last year, and my right hon. Friend has now asked it to work with Ofsted on a further review.
The Government have taken a specific initiative to tackle the teaching of literacy, with the establishment of 13 literacy centres, based in LEAs, under the national direction of John Stannard—a member of Her Majesty's inspectorate who is well placed to put Ofsted's messages about good teaching practice into effect.
899 Each centre will work intensively with local schools to audit current strengths and weaknesses, to set targets for pupils' achievements, and to give teaching staff the necessary support and training to ensure that the targets are met. We shall ensure that the national training and other materials produced by the project are available to help schools all over the country. The project is being run by the Department in partnership with Ofsted, the TTA, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the Basic Skills Agency, as well as with the 13 LEAs involved.
The latest Ofsted report on reading in three London boroughs, which my hon. Friend and I have both already mentioned, revealed that school leadership was effective in promoting the teaching of reading in only one third of the primary schools. We know that the quality of leadership is crucial to the success of any school. That is why we have invested so significantly in training specifically for head teachers. Last year, the TTA launched the head teachers' leadership and management programme—HEADLAMP, as it is known—which provides up to £2,500 to meet the training needs of newly appointed head teachers.
But that is only a start. Through the tough new national professional qualification for headship, details of which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week, we shall equip deputy head teachers with the skills necessary to become effective heads. The qualification will be available from next September, and will be rigorously assessed to national standards. For candidates to pass, they must be assessed in five key areas covering the full range of leadership and management skills.
Whatever other training they have received, head teachers must take a compulsory training module in strategic direction, and the implementation, monitoring and review of school policies and practices, so that they 900 can make sure that policies on reading are followed through and carried out in every classroom and for the benefit of every pupil.
The Government have set the right framework, but there is a limit to what Government alone can do. Our role is to establish the framework; schools, LEAs and teacher trainers must accept their responsibilities for ensuring high standards of teaching. It is up to schools and their head teachers to ensure that they are complying with the national curriculum. It is inexcusable, for example, that almost half the schools covered by the recent Ofsted report were not meeting all the requirements of the national curriculum programmes of study for reading.
For far too long, too many primary schools, especially in inner-city areas, have been allowed to fail to meet their pupils' reading needs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will meet the three LEAs involved in the latest report and ask what action they intend to take. However, as the problems highlighted in the report are scarcely confined to those three LEAs, we shall also ensure that all LEAs are alerted to those Ofsted findings.
We owe it to pupils and to their parents to ensure that poor teaching of reading is not allowed to continue. Pupils in the most deprived areas have the most need for the skills that can offer them a better future. Our reforms have put in place the framework for delivering high standards, and the new measures announced last week will strengthen that. We must now press on until higher standards are delivered in each and every classroom. Schools, LEAs and teacher trainers have to take their responsibilities seriously, and we will ensure that their performance is carefully monitored.
Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley for raising the issue today. I hope that I have been able, in part, to satisfy him that the Government fully share the seriousness that he attaches to the teaching of reading in our schools.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes past Twelve midnight.