HL Deb 05 May 1988 vol 496 cc685-738

3.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Hooper.)

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, before the House resolves itself into Committee I should like to ask a question of the Leader of the House or perhaps the Chief Whip as to our future procedures. I think that most noble Lords who are concerned with the Education Reform Bill were distressed at the conditions in which extremely important amendments were discussed without notice at almost five o'clock in the morning. It was quite impossible for people who wished to be involved to find out what was happening or when something would happen. I wonder whether the Leader of the House and perhaps the Chief Whip would accept my view that when we are dealing with very long Bills of this kind most people concerned would like to know within reason either the time at which the House proposes to adjourn or the number of the last amendment we wish to discuss. It should not be too difficult to do one or the other. Not to do either brings chaos and is nothing to our credit.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, we intend to reach, if we can, the end of Clause 18 of the Bill; that would take us to Amendment No. 158. So far as concerns the lateness of the hour on Tuesday, I am sorry that the noble Lord felt it was late. I did too.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, the noble Lord has not answered the question that was put to him by my noble friend Lord Donaldson; namely, whether the Government will give some indication in future, as the noble Lord has just done, of their expectations so far as progress on the Bill is concerned. Will the noble Lord answer that specific question?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is a matter for the usual channels.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I do not think the House is satisfied that that should be a matter for the usual channels. That is why I took the unusual course of raising it now. The usual channels—my party, your party, each man's party—failed us in this case. The result was chaos. I do not think it is good enough.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I rise only to say that the agreement tonight is that we go to Amendment No. 153, not No. 158.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I stand corrected.

On the point being put to me now by the noble Lords, Lord Donaldson and Lord Harris, this is a matter for the House itself. The first day of this Bill in Committee was a very good example: we had an exceedingly interesting debate, but one which lasted for a very long time indeed, on the very first amendment, on which the Committee divided later. Some equally important amendments were taken quite quickly. It is impossible for anybody, including the Leader of the House, to forecast the timing. What I can do, and have done in answer to the noble Lord is to indicate where we hope to reach today, which has already been discussed through the usual channels. Today we hope to get to the end of Clause 18.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I have spoken to my noble friend the Chief Whip. I spoke to eight amendments on Tuesday and the Minister replied, but I did not move them. I shall move them today, withdraw them, and bring them back at Report stage.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for giving attention to this matter. I wish to say only this. More efforts should be made at least to let people know how late it is intended to sit. On Tuesday night there were more staff on duty than there were Peers voting.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I take seriously what the noble Lord is saying. It is obviously for the convenience of your Lordships' House to have some idea how late the House will sit. Perhaps we may take that issue away and consider it further. I would not wish the noble Lord to think that I was dismissive of this point in any way.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 4 [Duty to establish the National Curriculum by order]:

[Amendments Nos. 54A to 56 not moved.]

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 57: Page 3, line 27, after ("powers") insert ("and obligations").

The noble Baroness said: This was one of the amendments to which I spoke but did not move. I therefore beg to move it, but I shall ask leave to withdraw it.

Baroness David

The noble Baroness is mistaken. We do not wish her to withdraw this amendment. My name is to it, and we wish this to be discussed. It is a paving amendment to a number of other amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, is prepared to speak to it. His name is there also.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

In Clause 4 reference is made to the powers of the Secretary of State but not to his obligations. I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 71A, 73, 75, 136 and 137, which relate to testing in our schools. It is a very important matter for the attention of Members of the Committee.

I should like to speak from a rather broad base for a moment. This Bill has been introduced in order to improve our education standards. In some ways—perhaps not many—our education service is failing. Hence, we are told, there is the need for this Bill. I maintain that if one is to treat what is wrong with a patient one has to diagnose before prescribing. I feel that by this Bill the Government are prescribing without adequate diagnosis.

It is said that the causes of such failure as there is in our education service are low expectation from the children, some poor teaching, poor discipline involving such matters as truancy, lack of competition and too many fancy subjects being taught. Those seem to me to be the assumptions behind the proposals in the Bill. But are those assumptions established? We need to study the causes of failure.

I believe that the most important issue to consider is the children who are failing. I suggest that they can be divided into certain groups. There is no doubt that there are children who are what we call non-academic. The standard image in one's mind is the child who is more interested in the inside of a motor car engine, than the inside of a book. He or she may be perfectly able but has no interest in classroom learning. Perhaps a number of children come into that category.

There are children with medical problems of one kind or another. There are very many more of these than one sometimes thinks. I am speaking of children with possible auditory or visual problems, with neuro-motor problems and perceptual problems. As every year goes by we see children fail for these reasons. There are psychological problems based on emotional disturbance, perhaps because a child comes from an unhappy, disturbed or broken home.

However, I wish to talk in particular about the problems that arise from the failure to grasp the basics of English—their own language—at an early age. If one takes any adult whose reading and writing skills are less good than they should be—and there are several million of them—such people have been described as functionally illiterate. We talked about this before in your Lordships' House when I introduced an Unstarred Question 18 months ago on dyslexia.

There are many people who can read the cheap press and can just about write a simple note but who never write a letter if they can possibly avoid it. They cannot fill in a form. They certainly never read anything above a certain very low level. They are very often people who remain unemployed because they do not know how to apply for a job in writing; they cannot fill in a form. This is a very serious problem. If one asks a given number of adults who have failed school about the area of their failure, they will say, "I never really got the hang of writing English". Their reading remains inadequate; their writing and spelling remain even more inadequate.

What does one do about this? The answer is that one discovers these shortcomings in a child at an early age. At the moment I am arguing therefore in favour of testing at an early age. The point at issue is not whether children should be tested, but what form the testing should take.

I want to read a brief paragraph from a report on the teaching of English which has just been published. A group of very highly qualified teachers, educationists and writers have been considering how English should be taught in our schools. The committee was set up some time ago, but I am afraid I do not know exactly how long ago. However, it has produced its report, under the chairmanship of Sir John Kingman. It states: Almost all the evidence submitted to the Committee mentioned assessment, and expressed varied doubts about either the feasibility or the desirability of testing children particularly at age 7". This has been much debated recently, as the Committee knows. We share TGAT's view"— TGAT being an acronym for the task group which is looking at how children's performance should be assessed. The group works under the authority of the Secretary of State. The paragraph goes on: We share TGAT's view that assessment at age 7 is essential in determining whether or not pupils are making adequate progress in the important early years of schooling. Teachers need to be able to identify where pupils need help". I should like to stress those words: teachers do need to be able to identify where pupils need help. At age 7 it is not too early: deferred, it may be too late". As one who has had a great deal to do with remedial teaching I know, and I cannot stress too strongly, how important it is to discover at an early age if a child is failing and why he or she is failing so that one may then be able to offer help before it is too late.

I am arguing very strongly in favour of testing, but what form should that testing take? I believe that the form it should not take is that of a standard uniform test handed out to all children at a certain time and at a certain age with a pass/fail criterion—"You have passed and you have failed". Such testing should take the form of a detailed investigation to see how a child is progressing and, as I say, to discover the nature of his failure, why he is failing and precisely where. It is possible that one discovers only at that age that a child has what we used to call a hearing imperception, which is not the same as being deaf. One can hear wrongly without being deaf. That may seem strange but it is possible. It is also possible that it is not until then that one discovers a child may have difficulty in seeing clearly. It is essential that testing should be done with that object in view.

The TGAT report suggests various matters and other Members of the Committee will talk at greater length than I shall. One of the best and most important ways of testing is that it should be carried out by the child's teacher because if the teacher is a good teacher—and we hope that such teachers will be—he will have won the child's confidence so that the child will be able to perform at his best with his own known, respected and liked teacher. However, testing should be done not on one fell day at one fell hour, but continuously. Thus there should be continuous assessment with the object of finding out what is wrong and offering help which can be referred to as diagnostic.

As far as possible, testing should also be what the TGAT report describes as differential, that is to say one has a battery of tests and a child is offered a group of tests appropriate to his ability. For example, for a child of average ability there is probably no reason to offer him the very elementary tests because we know that he can do them. So one does not waste time with that. Nor does one discourage children and depress them by offering tests that are too advanced for them. Therefore, it will be up to the teacher to offer the right tests to the right children. That is one aspect of differential testing.

Another aspect is that in any given subject, such as English, a test should show a standard in various different directions. One may be oral English—a child's ability to express himself or herself orally. Another may be creative writing. A third could be accuracy—spelling, punctuation and so on, so that the final result for a child is not "pass" or "fail", "good" or "bad", but "strong in this direction", "not so strong in that" and "weak in the other". One can then work with that child to help him to improve.

After all that spiel to which the Committee has been kind enough to listen, I should say that I believe it is most important that the kind of testing envisaged should be declared plainly. We had the TGAT report published in January, but the Government have still not yet made clear to what extent they will be guided by it and what form the assessment will take. We should like to hear from the Minister a clear statement about that because then we can stop worrying about it.

I should like to ask two other questions and I shall be grateful for a clear reply. I have been advocating the necessity of testing at a young age. Indeed it may be advisable to test at 11 and 14 as well. But I cannot understand what form testing will take at 16 years of age. I ask the Committee to imagine a girl in the fifth year at school taking a number of subjects. I have written down a number of items at random. She is taking GCSE in the history of art and design, home economics, English, rural science, and religious study. That is enough to be going on with. Is she really to be tested as well in history, geography, mathematics and CDT which are foundation subjects? They are subjects that she will not really want still to be doing as well as responding to the high demands that those five GCSE subjects will be making on her. What is the Government's intention? We wish we knew clearly. No indication has been given. I believe that GCSE results might seriously he affected if there has to be testing in the foundation subjects up to school-leaving age. It may also affect a young person's work in the TVEI which has been so successful. We should be grateful for an answer on that.

I should like an answer to another question. I am a little unsure of my facts on this and for that I must apologise. A while ago the Government instituted a plan for records of achievement at school that a child takes with him or her when he or she leaves. How will that tie in with assessment and test results? Is it really necessary to have both? I feel like echoing the words of one teacher who said to me that he had always understood that a scientific principle of experiment was that if one had a certain set of conditions, which were not entirely satisfactory, one changed one variable and if that produced no result one changed another and so on until one found what change had a good effect.

I believe that at the moment the variables in our education system are continually being changed. We have not yet begun to settle down to the new GCSE examination, to TVEI or to the Education Act 1986 and the way in which that will work. Yet we have the enormous weight of this new legislation upon us already. I should like the Minister to tell the Committee how this will fit in with the plan for records of achievement, which have already advanced quite a distance in some authorities. For all that the Committee may feel about it, ILEA made great advances in that respect. I have seen some of its portfolios, which are most impressive. I beg to move.

Baroness David

I support this group of amendments. They have the effect of placing the major recommendations of the task group on assessment and testing on the face of the Bill. The central issue is that four months after the publication of the report the Government have still not clarified their policy as to the way in which testing and assessment will be implemented. No details are contained in the Bill, which leaves the form of implementation to ministerial orders.

Yet the assessment arrangements are central to the direction of the national curriculum. Without at least a broad indication of the Government's thinking, it is virtually impossible for Parliament to judge the practical effect of the legislation. Much of the relevance of the national curriculum—for example, to pupils with special needs—will depend on the assessment arrangements. No detailed statement has been made on the issue since the publication of the report beyond a statement made at that time by the Secretary of State giving it a "broad welcome".

Ministers' reluctance is surprising in view of apparently encouraging statements in the Commons committee in December which suggested that their thinking was not too far removed from its eventual recommendations. However, the publication in March of a leaked letter from the Prime Minister's office drew attention to substantial differences of opinion within the Government over the form of assessment: whether it should be carried out by teachers; the degree of reliance on once-and-for-all written tests; the cost; and the likely timetables of implementation. The prime purpose of this debate is to seek to clarify the Government's intentions and to insert into the Bill specific safeguards in favour of the direction of the Black Committee. They appear in Amendment No. 73.

The report favours formative assessment, leading on where necessary to diagnostic testing. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, explained, the report favours a differential approach and not a set pass-fail level on a standard basis. It favours continuous assessment in the classroom, of which tests would form only a part. The main purpose of the report is also to identify the future needs of the child. The report asks whether if they are to be published by school or class the results should be published with an indication of the school's overall performance and of its socio-economic background or as raw statistics. The report definitely comes down in favour of no publication of raw statistics. Our amendments follow those lines, particularly Amendments Nos. 136 and 137.

The report's summing up comes from Mr. Norman Thomas, who was a member of the TGAT committee which made the report and who at one time was an inspector and adviser. He says: One attitude towards assessment is deeply ingrained: its purpose is to compare children. An act of will is necessary to replace that attitude. Assessment should be for determining what children know so that the best decisions can be taken about how to help them forward. Assessment should be formative". I have also tabled Amendment No. 75 in the group with the intention of trying to discover what the Government are intending to do about 7 year-olds. I think that more criticism has been made about testing 7 year-olds than children of any other age because of the different form of education that such children will have received up to that age. Therefore it is part of the probing amendments. The TGAT proposals state that the results should definitely not be published. I should like to know whether the proposal that the results should be available to parents, governors and providers (the LEAs) means that they might be as good as being published. What hope would there be of keeping them quiet? I hope that the Minister will be able to inform the Committee of the Government's attitude towards the testing of 7 year-olds and the publication of results.

Baroness Faithfull

Amendment No. 73 falls within this group. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, for what they have said by way of introduction to the debate. I am particularly interested in children with a difficult home background, deprived children, those with special educational needs and the very bright children. As has already been said by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, it is difficult to know what is the Government's response to the Black Report. It is difficult to know what to recommend until we know what the Government are thinking and how they will implement the report.

As regards young children I have received an enormous number of letters from nursery school teachers who have had children in their nurseries who have then moved on to primary schools. They know that from the point of view of their early days some children will make fast progress, some much slower progress and some will be very bright but will have been held back perhaps by their home circumstances. What form will the assessment take? Will it be geared to the needs of the individual child—not to the school, not to the parents but to the needs of the child? Will the assessment lead to a programme for each individual child: the child who is difficult, the child who is handicapped, the child who is very bright? I believe that to be most important. Many teachers in primary and nursery schools are most worried as to the form that the assessment will take at the age of seven and what that will lead to.

One must also take into account the child's perception of his or her self. If the child feels, thinks and is given to understand that he or she is a failure, then failure will build on failure. Unless encouragement and understanding of the child's background and circumstances are taken into account and the child is helped to accept them, he or she will continue to be a failure.

There is also the perception of the parents. I think of the number of times that I have heard parents say to their child, "Of course, you're a silly one you are". The silly one goes on to become a silly one, whereas if the parents have a perception that their child needs particular help at a particular time with a view to development and attainment, they will encourage their child. I believe that an enormous number of people are worried by the line that the Government will take on the TGAT Report regarding what form the assessment will take, what is going to be the future of the child based on the assessment and whether there will be a plan for each child.

4 p.m.

Lord Glenamara

I should like to speak briefly. I am old enough to remember the days when the 11-plus was universal; I well recall its effect on both schools and parents. As some Members of the Committee will remember, the schools always set up a special class called the scholarship class. Bright children were put into that class and were coached intensively for months on end for the examination. The teachers analysed the papers year after year; they assembled hundreds—I have known headmasters who had thousands—of questions. The children were taught to answer those questions mechanically so that when the test came along it tested what it tested and nothing more. As to saying anything about the real child, it was not worth the paper it was written on. That is why we introduced comprehensive schools.

The effect on parents was traumatic. Somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent. of children passed. We are talking about passing and failing. For the other 85 per cent. each year, a black cloud descended on families throughout the country. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have known parents, especially middle-class mothers, who were too embarrassed and ashamed to leave the house for weeks after the arrival of the 11-plus results. I am terrified that this statutory four-stage testing will develop into something of that nature. Is that so?

It appals me that many people—and I am afraid some noble Lords—assume that testing is not done now by teachers. Testing by teachers is part of teaching. Every teacher in every primary school knows the children and tests them week by week. The teacher knows exactly what the trouble is. The proposed tests are quite unnecessary. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, has talked about the 7 year-old test. However, I remind the Committee that it can apply to 6 year-olds. Imagine that for 6 year-olds! Yet if one reads the wording of the Bill one can see that it applies to 6 year-olds.

I hope the Minister will reply to this specific point. Unless the tests are purely diagnostic—I hate the awful language which has now been introduced into education but the word "diagnostic" is well understood—they are quite unacceptable to the teaching profession and, I believe, to parents. We know quite well what the Prime Minister wants. She wants a league table of schools based on these tests. I hope that if that is done, it will be utterly rejected by the teaching profession. If there is any question of labelling children passes or failures at seven, 11 or any other age, it should be rejected by the teaching profession. I hope that teachers will refuse to work it. The idea of anything apart from a purely diagnostic test is quite unacceptable. I trust the Minister will reply to that point. There are real worries in this Committee, in the teaching profession and in homes throughout the country about introducing anything like a four-stage 11-plus with a league table of schools.

Baroness Blatch

There is a great deal of emotion over the subject of testing. Listening to the debate, it seems there is a belief that somehow or other, because the Bill requires that children should be tested four times in a school lifetime, almost nothing else should happen in the form of testing, finding out how a child is performing or even finding out where the child's strengths and weaknesses are. Summative testing—as it is known in the jargon—and diagnostic testing are not mutually exclusive. Diagnostic testing is not something which starts when the child is seven. It is something which has happened a number of times before the child is seven; indeed, it continues throughout the educational life of a child. A teacher is always trying to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the child so that the strengths can be built on, the weaknesses can be dealt with and the programmes of study modified accordingly.

It seems a modest requirement of the Bill that only four times in a child's life there should be some view about what children should have achieved by a certain stage and that there should be defined targets or objectives against which measurements are taken. I believe we are rather coy in talking about testing, not in terms of "pass" or "fail", because there are many substitute terms, but to assess whether the child is doing well, doing very well or doing badly.

Among the children who have been described—those with special needs; the very bright—there are a large number who are plain lazy. I was one of them. It is only with some kind of chivvying and encouragement and from time to time a little chastisement that we do better. I suggest that a large number of these children fall into that category. I am not talking about the bottom 20 per cent. or the top 20 per cent. The 60 per cent. of children between the most able and least able do better if the teacher's expectations are rather high and if the child can be motivated to do better. Indeed, perhaps I may introduce a word which has not featured in the debate so far. I am certainly not coy about introducing it. An element of competition is not necessarily bad.

Stretching a child's ability and setting one's sights high for a child are all part of the process. We should all recognise as individuals that we shall not be good at everything. Learning about our limitations is also very much a part of the educational process. If the Government are persuaded that all testing should be diagnostic only, then I believe we shall have failed in one of the main purposes of the Bill. Nowhere does the Bill suggest that we should not continue with the good work done on the records of achievement. They will continue; they will be developed.

Nor does the Bill say that we should do anything other than test children four times a year. I conclude with this thought. Setting tests for children so that all children feel successful and have a great sense of achievement, irrespective of their performance, will do the greatest disservice to the children themselves.

Lord McNair

Perhaps I am repeating noble Lords when I say that if I receive letters from real people I pay more attention to them than to letters I receive from organisations. I should like to confirm what the noble Baroness, Lady David, said. In my experience, what is becoming known in the country as "the test of seven" has produced more mail from real people than any other topic in the Bill.

I believe it is a fact that the word "testing" does not appear anywhere in the Bill; we talk only about assessment. It would probably be reassuring if we could talk about assessment rather than testing. Thinking about this, I tried to imagine a class of average 7 year-olds. The first matter—the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, pointed this out—is that some of the children are aged six and some probably eight. However, the assessment must presumably happen once a year. That is how I understand it.

Those of us with children or who have observed children and have watched how they develop at that sort of age will have noticed first that they do so at different paces and, secondly, that it is not a steady process but takes place in fits and starts. A trauma, accident or illness may set a child back six months. A happy experience like a holiday may suddenly advance the child. Overnight one discovers that the child can suddenly write two or three words without half the letters facing the wrong way. It is a very irregular process, different for every child.

I have said that the word "testing" is not in the Bill and that the word "assessment" is; but surely testing comes in through the attainment targets. If one sets a target and says at that age that is what children should know, then one is inevitably into the pass, fail business straightaway. I am speaking mostly to Amendment No. 75, which proposes that at the first key stage, the 7 year-olds: An order … shall not specify any assessment arrangements in relation to the first key stage". I believe that this is a matter which the Government could concede. If they want to make friends, which I sometimes doubt, I believe that there are few things which they can do in this Bill to win them more friends than to be reassuring. I am afraid that what the noble Baroness says in Hansard does not reach the average classroom. If there is a provision in the Bill such as Amendment No. 75 the Government will make themselves a lot of friends very easily and it will also improve the Bill.

Baroness Young

We shall all listen with great interest to what my noble friend the Minister has to say on this very important issue of testing and assessment. We have not yet heard the response of the Government to the report referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady David. The subject is of great importance to Members of the Committee on all sides and I hope very much that by the time we reach the Report stage we shall have a clearer view of what it is.

One of the matters which I consider to be most dangerous in this area was summed up by, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara; that is, making suggestions which as far as I know are not the intention of the Government. It certainly emerges nowhere in the report on testing and assessment. I am referring to the reintroduction of the so-called 11-plus. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, knows as well as I do that one of the criticisms was that the proportion of those who passed or did not pass varied from one local authority to another. That was clearly a major weakness. Whatever may or may not emerge from testing and assessment, it will apply nationally. I believe therefore that that will be very helpful.

There will be a great deal of debate. I was interested to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, was in favour of testing at the age of seven—I believe I have written down his remarks correctly—whereas the noble Lord, Lord McNair, was not. Clearly we have a great deal of divided opinion on this subject.

We have a second division not only about the age but about the kind of testing and assessment. My noble friend Lady Blatch has quite rightly said that a good teacher will be assessing the child all the time to know how it is progressing. However, there is a very important problem which underlies this Bill; that is, the actual achievements of our school-leavers, particularly in the middle and lower ranks, as compared with the Germans and the Japanese in, for example, mathematics. Unless we have some kind of a measure of what a child ought to know at a given age, it will be very difficult to see whether we are falling behind other countries and not stretching our children as they should be stretched.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, says, although it is true that it is very depressing to be a permanent failure, anyone who has brought up children knows perfectly well that they need the carrot and the stick most of the way through in order to encourage them to do as well as they should. After all, who wants to do homework in the evening when a favourite television programme is on or a football match is about to take place?

It is a very subtle business in many ways to get children to work as hard as they should in order to attain what is expected of them. I do not believe that one does a service to children by pretending to them that they can get away with less than they are able to do: after all, eventually they have to get a job and fulfil themselves in life. This requires some kind of measure.

Therefore, it is very important to know what is going to be said on this matter. All Members of the Committee who are really interested—I believe everyone wants to see standards raised—must see that there is some measure of objectivity in the test, however this is defined (there can be very many definitions of it) to make sure that all the children are achieving as much as they should.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

Perhaps I may say a few words to correct an impression that my noble friend Lord McNair and I may have given. The situation is not that I support testing and he does not. As he said, he was speaking to Amendment No. 75, which proposes that there should not be any assessment arrangements specified at the first key stage. That is not to say that he does not approve of assessments but merely that they should not be specified by the Secretary of State.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the noble Lord sits down, in the extract which he read from the report on the teaching of English which was published yesterday, did I hear that what it says about 7 year-olds conflicts with Amendment No. 75 or did I mishear?

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I think not, but I shall have to look again. The report states: We share TGAT's view that assessment at age seven is essential". However, it does not specify whether this assessment should emanate from the teacher or from the Secretary of State. My noble friend Lord McNair said that it should emanate from the teacher and not from any overall standard authority.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

I hope that when the Minister replies she gives some indication of the targets which are to be set. In earlier years I did a good deal of research in this field. For example, at the age of seven is the standard to be that which is suitable for a child with a mental age of four or one with a mental age of 11? At the age of 11 is the test to be for a child with a mental age of seven or eight or for a child with a mental age of 14 or 15 who will be preparing for the next examination at a fairly high standard? A target for a given age seems to me a complete impossibility and a total denial of individual differences.

Lord Rea

I should like to speak to my Amendment No. 71A which seeks to remove compulsory assessment from 7 year-olds, which is the first key stage. In this amendment I am putting forward not only my own view and that of many primary school teachers I have met—I meet quite a few in my work as a general practitioner—but also the views of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, which feels that compulsory testing of 7 year-olds is quite inappropriate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, it is not against assessment as such—in fact entirely the reverse, because continuous assessment is appropriate. As speakers have already said, it is a task upon which many teachers are continuously engaged as part of the very personalised nature of good primary education.

Teachers themselves are aware of the individual strengths and weaknesses of the young children in their classes. Standardised tests are not appropriate because of the very variable speeds of development of young children and their very labile emotional behaviour and balance. Seven year-olds are quite liable not to give of their best on any particular day. They may take exception to certain kinds of testing for reasons which, to them at least, are quite logical and important.

Perhaps I may give one or two examples. In Edinburgh I heard of an infants school which had entrance tests. As part of assessing the intelligence of a 6 year-old boy he was asked to count from 10 backwards. He refused to do this because, he said, "That is not the way it should be done. I will not". On a personal note, I remember when I was six or seven being asked to read aloud a passage from an early reading book. I refused to read a certain passage because it seemed discriminatory and unjust. It read, No, John, you cannot come with us because only little girls can go to Fairyland. That is reverse sexual discrimination with a vengeance. The point that I am trying to make is that standardised testing is quite inappropriate in the infant school. Teachers themselves are far better judges of each child's strengths, weaknesses and needs, both social and educational.

Earl Russell

I speak in support of both my noble friends Lord Ritchie and Lord McNair on the subject of testing. These Benches have not been objecting to testing as such. We have been saying two things throughout these debates. First, we have been expressing our reservations about testing by the order of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's hoof is all over this Bill. We think that it should be viewed with some suspicion.

Secondly, we on these Benches have also been saying throughout these debates that we consider children as individuals. My noble friend Lord McNair was saying that there are some problems about providing standardised tests for 7 year-olds because at that age the individuality of the child is likely to affect performance, interest and standard of result a great deal more than tends to be true later when he has been at school longer. Therefore I should like to give my support to both my noble friends.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

May I say a few words on the assessment—did I hear somebody say, no? I thought we were still in a free country and in this free Chamber.

I should like to make some comments upon the testing of 7 year-olds, or the assessment—whichever one likes to call it. One has to realise that in the English education system as we now know it there will be children at all levels at seven years of age who will have had various opportunities in schools, nursery schools, nursery classes and play schools, in various parts of the country. Some of those children will have a greater advantage than others.

Some children will have gone into groups at three years of age. There are now many children of four years of age receiving full-time education in infant schools. There are nursery schools and nursery classes. There are different schools in different parts of the country that have entry at the age of five or the term before the child is five. Some schools will have entry three times during the year. Therefore, in some parts of the country a child at the age of five has very often already been in school for at least seven or eight months. That must affect assessment at seven. Some children, from whatever background, will have that advantage. If there is to be education for children at the age of three, four, four and a half or five, one cannot test unless one provides the same kind of facilities throughout the country.

I think it is true to say that the Department of Education and Science has done a tremendous amount of research into this particular problem. At present there is a committee sitting in the other House dealing with the education of under-fives. It is embracing all these kinds of pupils whom it will be impossible to test because some will have advantages.

The other important point to remember if we are testing at seven, is that there are a great many children in this country who have to start learning English before they start being assessed. Therefore we should have various tests and various assessments for the different cultures in our schools. One has only to talk to someone who teaches in London to realise the various languages that have to be used by the children. So let us remember—and I know this particularly well from research that has been carried out in Birmingham—that in the case of young children from ethnic minority backgrounds there should be a delay in their test in the English language.

I should be the last person to want to see a league table of schools. While the Liverpool football team is at the top of the division, I do not know whether Liverpool's schools would be at the top of the division. I am not suggesting that they are not as good as schools in other parts of the country. However, it would be quite wrong in my opinion to have a league table of the best schools or the best local authorities. That is not what education is all about. The effectiveness of any school has to be assessed by the progress of all its pupils, not by certain individuals who might do extremely well and by a certain few that will be falling by the wayside.

Therefore I should like to ask the Minister whether, on evaluation, the Government will accept paragraphs 29 and 32 of the TGAT report which do not discriminate between schools, and whether they will accept that any performance assessment of children should be private and confidential to the individual child, its parents, and the head of the school.

Baroness Blackstone

It has long been agreed by professional educators that assessment should be a continuous process and not something that just takes place on two or three days in the year or one a term. In saying that I should like to speak in particular to Amendment No. 73.

Continuous assessment allows teachers to observe pupils in a great many different contexts; to examine how they perform in group activities and as individuals; to see how they progress over time; and to ensure that there is some continuity in the learning process. It is also much fairer to pupils because it does not all hinge on a single event—a test that is conducted when perhaps they feel rather unwell or when their parents have just had a terrible row or when they are worried about an argument that they have had with a friend. That is very important.

One or two people have spoken about their own experiences. I remember just how terrifying and traumatic the experience of sitting the 11 plus was. I am not suggesting, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has questioned, that the Government intend to bring that back. However, I am suggesting that if we were to go for a system of testing at seven, 11, 14 and 16 entirely by means of externally imposed tests without the involvement of the teachers, it would be a very traumatic experience, at least for some children.

Continuous assessment is a better form of assessment because it gives a much broader picture of what a pupil can and cannot do than some kind of externally imposed system of tests.

The involvement of the teacher is also very important because it is a central part of a teacher's job to monitor pupils' achievements. I should like to stress that on this side of the Committee we are not against testing and assessment; it is the form that that testing and assessment takes which we wish to discuss and argue. A good teacher adjusts his or her teaching as a result of being able to monitor his or her pupils' achievements. It will be adjusted to ensure that the very brightest pupils are stretched and the least able pupils are supported.

If we were to focus our attention on attainment targets that are tested externally—as it is feared the Government intend—we would remove from the teacher that very central responsibility which is such an important part of his or her professional duties and we would expose the less confident and the more nervous child to quite unnecessary trauma.

Assessments should be diagnostic because they should be designed to find out what pupils can do well and what they are doing badly. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that we should learn about our limitations. I should like to put to her that it is more important, especially with younger children such as 7 and 11 year-olds, to learn about their strengths. We can build on their strengths and then praise them rather than focus on their limitations. I do not accept that diagnostic testing is too specialised or esoteric to be possible on a wide scale and practised by large numbers of teachers.

Without necessarily using labels, thousands of teachers are undertaking diagnostic testing, as my noble friend Lord Glenamara pointed out. It is going on in many schools, especially in primary schools, all over the country. It is only by concentrating on diagnosis rather than on oversimplified measurement that we can do anything to help parents, teachers and pupils themselves to work on their weaker areas and to build their confidence by praising them in their stronger areas. That is what the TGAT Report suggests should happen.

The report makes absolutely clear that testing must be based on differentiated levels of ability. Otherwise, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said, it will be of little value. Above all, it must not be rigidly age related. The brightest child may be three or four years ahead of the average. The least able may be three, four or more years behind. Similarly, rates of progress vary greatly. Pupils may experience sudden spurts ahead and then only average progress. Attainment targets have to be progressive and not age related, and testing must be differentiated by ability.

If testing is to be of real value it must be able to take into account the academic and education needs of all pupils in spite of their diversity. One of the great failures of our public examination system for many years was that it excluded up to 40 per cent. of the ability range and certainly always excluded the bottom 20 per cent. in the lowest group. That cannot be right because it labels some children as failures. The TGAT Report is sensitive and thoughtful about children with special needs. It allows them to be excluded from testing but at the same time it also allows them to have some help from their teachers as they perform the tests. It would be recorded that they had received that help. It is important because it allows those children to be brought into the patterns that are going on in the schools instead of excluding them.

There is also proven advantage in involving pupils in their own assessment and in a dialogue about the curriculum and in negotiating their own targets. This can be done only in school-based assessment. It cannot be done with externally imposed tests of the kind which involve pencil and paper multiple choice. Where teachers and pupils can work together, as they have been doing in the pilot schemes on records of achievement, which so far have been very successful, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, pointed out, that is highly desirable. Just as adults respond to people's expectations of them, so do children. Any labelling that has connotations of failure produces self-fulfilling prophecies.

Summative tests, as they are sometimes called, grade children, in spite of what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. They may not necessarily grade them as passes and fails, but they grade them. It is an insult to the intelligence of children to think that the euphemisms produced as alternatives to terms like "pass" and "failure" are not understood by them. They grade them from top to bottom. It is because of the dissatisfaction of many good professional teachers with that kind of approach that they have been replaced by a much fairer and a more sophisticated method of assessment.

That is what the amendment is about and why we should all be able to support it. The Government have broadly accepted the TGAT Report. If that is the case they should have no difficulty in accepting the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

Good and fair testing and assessment will be essential for the successful implementation of the national curriculum. As the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, and other noble Lords have pointed out, good teachers and good schools already carry out regular testing and assessment. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, made some supportive remarks about the advantages of early testing and assessment, or about assessment at any rate; it is essential for effective teaching. I should like to emphasise as a general remark that what we intend with this Bill is to build on best practices and thereby ensure that good teaching and higher expectations apply to all and not just to some lucky children.

To make it as clear as possible I should say that I shall attempt to deal separately with Amendments Nos. 57, 71A, 73, 75, 136 and 137 which are the subjects of this grouping. Amendment No. 57 refers to the Secretary of State's obligations under Clause 4(2) of the Bill. There are at present no such obligations. That subsection gives the Secretary of State the power to make orders as he considers appropriate. Clause 1 sets out the obligations under which the Secretary of State must operate at all times, and other clauses give him the obligation to consult or to act in other specific ways. Clause 4(1) contains the central obligations to establish and thereafter maintain the national curriculum. Amendment No. 57 is therefore meaningless as it stands and I hope that the mover will find it possible to withdraw it.

Amendments Nos. 71A and 75, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, have the effect of removing any requirement for assessment at the end of the first key stage at age seven. Much has been said about the Task Group on Assessment and Testing. It proposed that pupil performance in the core and foundation subjects should be measured against a 10-level scale covering the broad range of attainment to be expected between the ages of 7 and 16. It considered that 7 should be the first assessment age since it is imporant that 7-year-olds who have not made a satisfactory beginning in learning to read, write and calculate should be identified and helped to progress. Because children of this age are at least two years into the first phase of schooling they will feel settled and teachers will know them well.

The group concluded that the results of pupils aged 7 should not necessarily be published since assessed performance in these early stages is influenced by so many factors that the results are clearly difficult to interpret in any general way. In any event, information as to the results of an individual pupil's assessment is not to be made available except to the parents, to the governing body and to the local education authority. It is only to be made available to the governing body and local education authority when it is relevant to the performance of their functions. This is emphasised in Clause 15(5).

It is not true to say that the results would be given wide publication. It is certainly not intended to have a league table. Although the case for assessment at that age is clear and convincing, we feel that it is well covered in the provisions and we must therefore reject Amendments Nos. 71A and 75.

I turn now to Amendment No. 73, tabled by my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, also spoke in some detail. The amendment seeks to ensure that any orders made by the Secretary of State about assessment arrangements accord with the criteria set out.

These criteria are closely in line with the framework for a national assessment and testing system recommended by the Task Group on Assessment and Testing (TGAT). The Government have welcomed that broad framework, as I made clear on Tuesday in responding to a previous amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.

I must resist this amendment, not because the Government have departed from their welcome for the broad framework recommended by TGAT but because it is unnecessary and unhelpful to put those somewhat imprecise criteria into main legislation. We have made our intentions very clear, and the task group has made clear that those intentions are workable and desirable.

In the consultative document on the national curriculum which was issued last July we said: We envisage that much of the asessment…will be done by teachers as an integral part of normal classroom work". In the same document we also said: The main purpose of…assessment would be to show what a pupil has learnt and mastered and to enable teachers and parents to ensure that he or she is making adequate progress. Where such progress is not made, it will be up to schools to make suitable arrangements to help the pupil". I think that that accords with much that has been said in the debate this afternoon. In the booklet Education Reform which we published to explain our proposals on the Bill, we made clear that assessment and testing should be undertaken to identify strengths and weaknesses and indeed to plan the next steps for pupils' education.

Our consultative document also made clear that attainment targets—on which all assessment, including testing, will be based—should cater for the full ability range. I make that point as clearly as possible for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. Indeed, Clause 2 of the Bill specifies that attainment targets must reflect the different abilities and maturities of pupils, and the assessment arrangements are to relate to such attainment targets as allow for different abilities. That clause, and the other provisions which I have tried to spell out as clearly as possible to the Committee and which give powers to make flexible provision to meet different cases and circumstances, all make clear enough our intention that the curriculum and assessment arrangements are applicable and appropriate to the educational needs of all pupils.

I hope that it is apparent from what I have said exactly what the Bill provides for, our intentions on how the powers should be used and that they fall within the criteria suggested in the amendment. Therefore, adding those provisions to the Bill would gain nothing, but would merely open up grounds for needless argument about what is intended by some of those words and phrases. I hope therefore that my noble friend and the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw their amendment.

Baroness Seear

Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may say that I am afraid I am not passing the test. I do not understand what she has told us. What I wish to know, because I am genuinely confused now, and what a great many people want to know, is simply this. Is she saying that she accepts diagnostic assessment, provided they are looking at the criteria, or are these little 7 year-old children—plus or minus a few months, according to when in the calendar they were born—going to sit something like an old-fashioned examination, which some of us would have called an exam, on a particular day? That is what we want to know. Is the answer yes or no? Are the children going to be diagnostically assessed; or are they going to be diagnostically assessed and given the test exam? Which is it to be? I simply do not understand.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

The proper expression is that the children will be formatively assessed so that teachers can find out what stage they have reached. If a particular problem is shown, there may be scope or need for subsequent diagnostic testing. I think I have made it clear—or, at least, I thought I had made it clear—both this afternoon and indeed on the first day of Committee that the testing and assessment arrangements which have been recommended by the task group involve, certainly at the age of seven, mainly assessment processes.

However, the task group says that there is room for paper and pencil tests. As I understand it, it is possible for teachers not necessarily to set all the chidren down in one classroom at the same time in order to follow that type of paper and pencil test, but to do it in various different ways so that no one is laying down how it should be done. Therefore, in that sense, it is clearly not a return to the 11-plus by any means.

Baroness Lockwood

Will the Minister tell the Committee who will determine whether paper and pencil testing is part of that assessment?

Baroness Hooper

We debated the other day the question of the responsibility of teachers in all this and I have been at pains to point out that the method of implementing the national curriculum, including the assessment processes and testing, will be very much the responsibility of the teacher within the general criteria laid down by each individual working group on each individual subject. However, if I may say so before other noble Lords spring to their feet, I am about to respond in more detail to some of the other questions which have been raised in the course of the debate. I think what I have to say will meet at least some of the inquiries which have already been made. Therefore I should like to continue.

I move on now to Amendments Nos. 136 and 137, tabled by my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie. These amendments concern the publication of the results of assessments.

The Government fully accept the need for any published assessment results to be set in context. This is a much more productive approach than seeking in some less than perfect way to adjust results for social composition or other factors. But even this approach needs sensitive handling, especially if parents are not to be antagonised. It may well best be left to local initiative, within some general guidance, rather than even spelt out in regulations. After all, we are only intending to set out in regulations what must be published, and we can rely upon schools and LEAs to put whatever gloss they think is needed on the information when it is presented to the public.

I believe that this should not be a matter spelt out on the face of the Bill, as it would be under these amendments, even allowing for their deliberately vague wording. Matters which are this complicated and sensitive, which require careful consultation with all concerned, are best left to regulations and the detailed discussions which always precede them.

I hope we have said enough to reassure the Committeee that our intentions in this respect are very much in accord with those of the supporters of these amendments. However, our view is that the way ahead should be through full consultation on regulations and guidance, and I must therefore ask the Committee to reject these amendments if they are not now withdrawn.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, was the first to raise again the question of formal written tests in general—not only at the age of seven—which should be included in the national curriculum assessment arrangements. As I previously said, the TGAT Report acknowledges that there is a place for such testing methods, among others. Indeed, in paragraph 45 of the report the group said: The system we recommended must include the use of tests". It then went on to say that the range and scope of standardised assessment is far wider than the term "test" is usually taken to mean.

We agree with that because we would not otherwise have introduced the GCSE examination. In paragraph 47 the report says: standard assessments need not only be in written form". It makes clear that written responses of various kinds should be expected in the testing arrangements. We do not have to throw out the baby with the bath water just because we all agree that some of the written tests currently used by schools are not helpful or useful. In that, we shall be relying on the teachers' professional good sense.

Questions were asked as to when TGAT's further advice will be published. As I said on Tuesday, we are considering the further advice, which we have only just received, and we shall publish it in due course. I cannot promise my noble friend Lady Young that that will be before the Report stage. I hope that it will be. I am well aware that it is awaited with keen interest.

When we have considered TGAT's further advice, and the responses to its recommendations, we will clarify our intentions. The Government should not be rushed into making announcements about assessment arrangements. They are far too important, as everyone who has spoken this afternoon has emphasised. There is no rush on the detail. The arrangements cannot be introduced seprately from, or in advance of, requirements for attainment targets and programmes of study. We do not yet have the recommendations of the first working groups for maths and science which are due at the end of June or possibly in July.

However, the Government have already made it crystal clear that the assessment arrangements they propose will not be a pass/fail arrangement; they will not be a return to the 11-plus; they will include assessment by the teacher as well as tests; they will be used for formative as well as summative purposes. I have said before that the word "diagnostic" is often wrongly used in that context when people really mean formative testing. They will be used to help individual children to determine their next educational steps.

Lord Ardwick

Will the Minister explain what she means by formative in this context? Formative can mean authoritative and prescribed. Does she mean that?

Baroness Hooper

I went into that matter in detail on Tuesday, but I recognise that all the Members of the Committee were not here for the whole debate. Summative testing shows the stage children have reached at a particular age; formative testing, as I understand it, looks at the individual child's ability to reach target levels. So, in that sense, it is slightly diagnostic. At ages 7, 11, 14 and 16 the results of the assessment are made available, as appropriate, and we hope that the assessment will go on throughout a pupil's education.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, again was the first to ask about testing and assessment at the age of 16 and how that ties in with the GCSE. The Government expect all pupils to do the GCSE in the three core subjects—maths, science and English. We expect that most pupils will do the GCSE in some of the foundation subjects. We do not expect pupils to do the GCSE in all the foundation subjects. No one will be separately assessed in a subject in which they do the GCSE. There will be some assessment in foundation subjects not taken as GCSE. The TGAT Report suggests at least one way in which that can be done. After all, pupils in other countries, including Scotland, manage assessment in a wide range of subjects. I am sure that English and Welsh children can also do so.

The Government still intend that records of achievement at age 16 should be introduced. The committee looking at this issue reports this autumn. We feel that such records can be used to record results of assessment. The records are records and not in themselves a form of assessment or testing.

I believe that I have answered most of the points that have been raised. I hope that I have been able to say enough to convince the Committee that the Government have considered in detail all that it is appropriate to have considered in detail to this stage, and that processes are under way which will lead to the other details shortly. I therefore hope that the proposers of this group of amendments will feel able to withdraw them.

Baroness Seear

Did I understand the Minister to say that some of the foundation subjects need not be continued; that people who are taking GCSE at 16 can drop some of the foundation subjects; or do they have to keep them all and do the GCSE? That was not clear from what the Minister said. It is a point of considerable importance to teachers and for that matter to those who are learning.

Baroness Hooper

The intention of the broad and balanced curriculum is that pupils should follow all foundation subjects to the age of 16. For various reasons, they will wish to follow them at different levels. Some will take the GCSE. For others there will be an alternative form of testing and assessment. As I have already pointed out, for the three nonacademic subjects—music, the arts and PE—there willl not be scope for similar testing and assessment arrangements.

Lord Kilmarnock

Before the Minister sits down, will she clear up one point of doubt for me? Some local education authorities publish results weighted against an index of social deprivation. ILEA, for example, does. One of the elements of the index might be the number of children who are taking free school meals. Will that practice be permitted under the Bill? It seems to be allowed for under Amendment No. 136. I should like to know whether, if Amendment No. 136 is not accepted, such practices can be carried on after the Bill is passed.

Baroness Hooper

There is nothing in the Bill to prevent those practices being carried on.

Earl Russell

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may find out whether I have understood her aright. Is she telling us that her intentions are honourable but that she does not yet know what they are?

Baroness Hooper

My intentions are honourable. So far as it is possible to know them, I know what they are and so do the Government; but in certain respects it is not possible to know them yet because we are still waiting for further reports and further decisions.

Lord Peston

I am anxious to be helpful. I must tell the Minister that I do not understand what she is saying. It would help us to make up our minds about what to do next with the amendments if she would clarify matters. We have no difficulty with diagnostic tests. We all agree that they are a good idea. It is not obvious to us why they should not be done continuously, but, nevertheless, they are a good idea. If one does diagnostic tests one can respond to them and do something helpful for the individual child. There is no problem for us there.

The problem seems to be that the tests have other functions. Although I heard what the noble Baroness said, I also heard some of her noble colleagues speak before she did and also on Second Reading. Are the tests meant to be incentives to achievement? If they are, is she aware that there are certain children—thrusting children—for whom they are an incentive, but there is a great deal of psychological evidence that those same tests can act as tremendous disincentives to other children?

The reason we are concerned about the tests and are not willing to let the matter go is that the Minister has not made herself clear about what the functions of these tests are in their entirety. She has not repudiated what some of her colleagues have said, which sounds different from what she said.

I believe that the noble Baroness said, especially for testing at seven, that the teachers would be in control. These would be tests devised by the teachers. They would be teachers' tests. My reading of the Bill is not that at all. There is no scope in the Bill for teachers testing at seven or any other age. The Secretary of State has all the powers. Are the Government going to amend the Bill to take, or limit, the Secretary of State's powers and do what the noble Baroness says? Will they give those powers to the teachers, as many of us believe they should?

5 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

Speaking to Amendment No. 73, may I follow the noble Lord, Lord Peston? What is in the Bill does not accord with what my noble friend has so ably said. This is the problem that we face. We have heard the debate; it will appear in Hansard. But teachers and parents will still not know what the Bill means.

My noble friend has given a good explanation, and if she could assure us that this will be in the Bill at the next stage, then I think that I and other noble Lords who have put their names to the amendment would be happy as to what she has said today. What she has said and what is in the Bill are not two different things; but they are certainly not the same thing. I wonder whether other noble Lords who have put their names to the amendments agree with me?

Baroness David

So far as I am concerned, what the noble Baroness said has not satisfied me. The noble Baroness talked about intentions. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill. The Bill has been out for six months. The Government have had plenty of time to think up amendments for Committee stage in the House of Lords. We are anxious to get something into the Bill.

Baroness Hooper

In response to the last point made by my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady David, it was never the Government's intention to put this sort of detail into the Bill. It is a framework Bill. Nevertheless the provisions relating to each separate subject in the national curriculum will come before Parliament. They will be subject to a consultation process, and there will be scope for people to make their views known at that stage.

I shall try to answer the queries of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. The object of the testing and assessment is, after all, mainly to increase expectations so that children know what they are aiming at, teachers know what they are aiming at, and most importantly parents are aware of targets. This is where we come to teachers' professionalism, which we discussed the other day. I have tried to explain that our intentions are to have the greatest flexibility possible. We are leaving a lot of scope for teachers to be able to interpret the general criteria in implementing these arrangements. As has been said, there are many good teachers in this country. Many already carry out these testing and assessment processes effectively and efficiently.

In case there is doubt in the minds of some Members of the Committee, may I be permitted to repeat perhaps more clearly what I said the other day in relation to diagnostic testing. The task group confirmed that the main purpose of the national assessment arrangements, including testing, should be formative; that is, to enable teachers and parents to find out what stage children have reached in relation to agreed attainment targets for the national curriculum foundation subjects and to form decisions about, the next step in their education. The testing should also be summative, enabling teachers and others to record in a systematic way the pupil's achievement overall, especially compared with attainment targets for each subject. It should contribute to an evaluation of the work of the education service and its various parts in the light of the pupil's achievements.

The task group also recognises that some assessments or tests will be partly diagnostic in their nature because they indicate learning problems which need to be further investigated. However, it pointed out that such further purely diagnostic investigation will involve the use of highly specialised tests necessarily relevant only to a limited set of circumstances and pupils. We intend that the main purpose of the national assessment and testing arrangements should be to indicate the stage that every child has reached in relation to the agreed targets. That is the reason the proposals have been made in the way in which they have been made.

Baroness Seear

I want to assure the noble Baroness that we are not trying to be difficult; we are trying to get the matter clear. The noble Baroness said that the teachers will take a considerable part in it, and that is reassuring to us. However, Clause 4(2)(a) says: The Secretary of State may by order specify in relation to each of the foundation subjects—(a) such attainment targets … as he considers appropriate for that subject. Nowhere in this clause does it specify that the teachers have any part in it at all. Naturally those teachers who read this are bound to think that it is handed down to them from on high by the Secretary of State.

Would the noble Baroness consider taking it back and seeing whether she can modify Clause 4(2) so that it indicates that the teachers have a part in it? We would then feel a great deal more comfortable about it. As it stands it is dictat. It may not be intended to be, but that is what the words on the face of the Bill say.

Baroness Lockwood

The same principle applies to Clause 4(2)(c) where it says: The Secretary of State may by order specify in relation to each of the foundation subjects—(c) such assessment arrangements, as he considers appropriate for that subject. That again is not in the hands of the teacher who, we are told, can decide whether or not to include a written element in the assessment. It is in the hands of the Secretary of State. I know that the noble Baroness will come back again and tell us that the Secretary of State will lay an order which will be debated by Parliament, but we shall have no opportunity to amend that particular order or regulation.

The noble Baroness has said that in effect she does not disagree with the principles contained in Amendment No. 73, but that she thinks the wording is imprecise. It seems to me that the wording in this particular amendment lays the foundation and broadens the framework in which the Secretary of State will work in relation to assessment. If the amendment is accepted, I think that the Committee will feel much more satisfied that what the Minister has said will apply.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

The noble Baroness discussed the provisions of the important amendment, Amendment No 73, and seemed to argue that they were all implicit in the Bill already and therefore they were not necessary. I notice that the Government's attitude to amendments is a dichotomy. An amendment is either a wrecking amendment, if it disagrees with the Government to a large extent, or if it does not disagree to a large extent, it is unnecessary because it is in the Bill already. This is what we have been treated to!

It may be the kind of exercise in English, mathematics, or logic to which unfortunate children will be subjected in future years; but it does not deal with what we want to know. For example, take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has recently raised: the position of the teachers. It was interesting to notice that the noble Baroness invariably indicated that the teachers would have something to do with the setting of the tests. The implication of that was that somebody else would have something to do with it as well. We should like to know something more about who that will be.

When it comes to it, is there going to be an examination day? Are there going to be papers prescribed by the Secretary of State? There may be. But really we are no wiser about that kind of thing now at the end of the debate than we were at the beginning. The noble Baroness has not made that clear at all.

I think one should notice too the extent to which children can sometimes be trapped by the over-ingenuity of the examiner. I remember one child found on the paper in front of him the following instruction: "Take 7 from 100 as often as you can, and what is left?" This is merely the examiner trying to be too clever and asking the child to perform a simple division sum, dividing 100 by 7 and saying what the remainder is. If the question had been clearly phrased, the child could have answered it. But the child looked at what he was actually asked to do: "Take 7 from 100 as often as you can, and what is left?" The child's reply was, "I make it 93 every time"! Of course, the child was quite right. Once you have taken 7 from 100 you cannot do that again; you have only got 93 left, and there is no instruction about taking 7 from 93.

I mention this point because it urges us not to pay too much attention to the results of examinations. They are interesting. Without arrogance, I can claim that I was usually pretty good at passing examinations. I wish my real knowledge of the subject had been equal to what I was able to make it look like when I was answering examination questions. After a time, one becomes quite skilled at that kind of thing.

We were gradually in our education getting away from that, or trying to get away from "examinationitis" to the pursuit of real knowledge. The trouble with this Bill is that it will push us back in the wrong direction. The Minister's refusal to accept any sort of advice giving a little more clarity to the definition of the examination processes in the Bill already, and her reluctance to accept any attempt to improve on that, confirms our worst suspicions. I do not want to be too critical of the Minister because we have been told on all sides that if you tell somebody that he or she is a failure, the prophecy is liable to be self-fulfilling. We would not want that to happen! I noticed that the Minister had a great deal less confidence in this part of the Bill than she showed in earlier passages.

The trouble is that with a process where you have continually to invent a new word to explain and justify what you are doing, when you are asked whether your system of examination is—what is it?—formative, summative or diagnostic, you end up by proving that it is all three. I ask the Minister to look tomorrow at Hansard. She will see that she advocated that the system proposed should contain some element of all those three adjectives. Personally I have never been quite sure about any one of them. I think I know about "diagnostic". I am not happy, I am bound to say—this was brought out particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, earlier in the debate—with the diagnostic form of testing which relies on a sympathetic and individual understanding of a child's capacities. This is what any competent teacher has been doing for years and goes on doing all the time. We really do not need an Act of Parliament and regulations by the Secretary of State to do that. If we have regulations by the Secretary of State and all the rest of it, it means that we shall be doing something other than "diagnostic".

As has been pointed out, there have been some speeches on the other side which indicated quite clearly that one of those words involves a highly competitive form of examination. That is all very well for people who like examinations. I like watching them. I regard "Mastermind" as a very attractive programme. However, I do not believe that we choose the people who will handle the most important and difficult problems in the world by that kind of test. The test has other functions which are quite interesting but it is not part of the real education process. I feel therefore that the noble Baroness has not left us very much wiser. I think she could now help herself by accepting in particular Amendment No. 73 and giving a little more precision and life to the provisions already in the Bill.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

The noble Baroness has made it clear—

Baroness Young

I think it is only fair that I should speak. We always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, with the greatest interest. He once told me, I think, that he was a former headmaster or a former teacher, and when he expresses himself that becomes very clear. One has that familiar feeling of being under authority. In this case, we enormously enjoyed his jokes. I quite agree about the mathematical problem; it was the sort of thing which I always found extremely difficult. However, he is being less than fair to my noble friend the Minister. The truth of the matter is that this is a framework Bill. That has come out quite clearly.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, and all those who have spoken have read the long report which preceded the summarised version of the Task Group on Assessment and Testing. He will know that the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, is the definition given of these words which I agree are entirely new to me, but not, I am sure, to everyone in the education world, "formative" and "summative" on pages 6 and 7. With his normal literary skills, I am quite certain that the noble Lord could reduce it to an even simpler form of English.

But be all that as it may, is it not a fact that the Bill needs to be read in conjunction with these other documents which have been produced? The noble Baroness, Lady David, shakes her head. The reason I asked the question of my noble friend is that this is the report of the group that has been looking at testing and assessment. The Government say: The Government has welcomed its broad framework and is considering the detailed recommendations". The broad framework is precisely as my noble friend has set out, including the recommendation on page 11: The group recommends the assessments be made by combining teachers' own assessments with the results of externally provided tests".

Lord Grimond

Will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene?

Baroness Young

Perhaps I may complete this argument. I hope very much that the Government will be able to bring forward a response on this before the Report stage. As my noble friend the Minister said, it will not be the 11-plus but it will involve teachers. These are general statements. We are looking for considerable detail and I should have thought that this met the conditions which would enable noble Lords to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Grimond

Is the noble Baroness telling us that the legislation now being passed by Parliament has to be read with a document which is not part of it at all? I find it difficult enough to understand the Acts which we have passed, but if people have to read documents which are not part of the legislation at all in conjunction with the Acts, I think our legislative process is being made a mockery of.

Lord Ardwick

The noble Baroness has made it clear what "formative" means. "Formative" is one of those words which are sprinkled throughout every sociological book, but the formative tests are tests which set out to discover standards. What the noble Baroness has not defined is what summative tests are. I suspect that summative test is another phrase for diagnostic test, but I am not sure.

Lord Peston

Perhaps I may make one remark. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was trying to be helpful to the Minister. All the Minister has to say is that she will take seriously what we have said—take this amendment seriously and come back to us. I do not think we shall necessarily press the point but I must draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact that the Minister has not said that. She has given us exactly the opposite impression—that she does not like what we are saying, nor our amendments. We are desperately trying to be helpful, and if the Minister will say that then I personally shall be quite happy.

Baroness Hooper

I believe that this has been an extremely useful debate. Of course we shall take note of what has been said, but I have tried to explain that the arrangements which will be brought forward make it unnecessary to add to the size of the Bill and to add the amendments which are being proposed to the weight of the Bill.

I sometimes find it very difficult. On the one hand, people say that the Government are being over-prescriptive, that they are putting everything down and telling people exactly what they ought to do and they do not want to do it that way. When we explain that we shall take a flexible approach, there are objections on that score because everybody wants it written down on the face of the Bill. For that reason and for the many reasons that I have already given, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I think that we have talked about this long enough, but I should like to say a final word. I think that the Minister has been giving us sweet talk. The problem of the noble Baroness is that the Government themselves have not made up their mind what they think about the matter, so that she is in considerable difficulty. They should have made up their mind by now. We on our side feel it is not appreciated in high quarters that a great many teachers and parents are very worried. All they know is what is contained in the Bill, namely, that the Secretary of State can do anything and everything. There is nothing in the Bill to reassure us that he will consult anyone.

The Minister spoke of not wanting to add to the weight of the Bill. There could easily be a solution in a dozen words. That would not add greatly to the weight of a Bill of already considerable size.

We have had certain assurances from the Minister. We greatly hope that she will come back on Report.—

Noble Lords


Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I think in that case that we need to test the opinion of the Committee.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Aylestone)

Does the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, wish to withdraw?

Baroness Faithfull

Perhaps I may have some clarification from the Chair. Has the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, moved Amendment No. 57? We shall come to Amendment No. 73 later. Are the amendments being moved individually or en bloc? I am not sure of the procedure.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

There is only one amendment before the Committee, Amendment No. 57. The others will be reached in the fullness of time.

Baroness David

Amendment No. 57 was moved as a paving amendment to a group of amendments so that they were taken, so to speak, all together. We wish to press the amendments.

5.22 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 57) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided; Contents, 119; Not-Contents, 149.

Adrian, L. Galpern, L.
Airedale, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Alexander of Potterhill, L. Grey, E.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Grimond, L.
Amherst, E. Hanworth, V.
Ardwick, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Attlee, E. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Aylestone, L. Hayter, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Banks, L. Hunt, L.
Barnett, L. Jacques, L.
Basnett, L. Jay, L.
Birk, B. Jeger, B.
Blackstone, B. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Blease, L. Kilbracken, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Bottomley, L. Kirkwood, L.
Briginshaw, L. Leatherland, L.
Broadbridge, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Lockwood, B.
Campbell of Eskan, L. London, Bp.
Canterbury, Abp. Longford, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Carter, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Chelmsford, Bp. McNair, L.
Chichester, Bp. Masham of Ilton, B.
Chitnis, L. Mayhew, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Meston, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Milford, L.
Dainton, L. Molloy, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Morton of Shuna, L.
David, B. Mulley, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Nicol, B.
Diamond, L. Oram, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Peston, L.
Donoughue, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Elwyn-Jones, L.
Ennals, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Rea, L.
Ezra, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Faithfull, B. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Falkender, B. Rochester, L.
Falkland, V. Russell, E.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Sainsbury, L.
Foot, L. Seear, B.
Gallacher, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Serota, B. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Shepherd, L. Whaddon, L.
Stallard, L. White, B.
Stewart of Fulham, L. Wigoder, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Swann, L. Willis, L.
Thurlow, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
TordofT, L. [Teller.] Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Truro, Bp.
Turner of Camden, B. Winstanley, L.
Underhill, L. Young of Dartinglon, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hives, L.
Aldington, L. Hood, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hooper, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hylton-Foster, B.
Arran, E. Ilchester, E.
Auckland, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Bathurst, E. Joseph, L.
Bauer, L. Kimball, L.
Beaverbrook, L. King of Wartnaby, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lauderdale, E.
Beloff, L. Lindsay, E.
Belstead, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Bessborough, E. Long, V.
Blatch, B. Lothian, M.
Bledisloe, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Luke, L.
Braye, B. Lyell, L.
Brookes, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Butterworth, L. Malmesbury, E.
Caithness, E. Mancroft, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Marley, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Campbell of Croy, L. Merrivale, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mersey, V.
Carnock, L. Middleton, L.
Cathcart, E. Milne, L.
Chelmer, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Chorley, L. Mottistone, L.
Clitheroe, L. Mountgarret, V.
Coleraine, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Munster, E.
Cork and Orrery, E. Nelson, E.
Cottesloe, L. Norfolk, D.
Cowley, E. Norrie, L.
Cox, B. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Crickhowell, L. Orkney, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Oxfuird, V.
Daventry, V. Peel, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Pender, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Pennock, L.
Dundee, E. Platt of Writtle, B.
Eccles, V. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Porritt, L.
Elibank, L. Rankeillour, L.
Ellenborough, L. Reay, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Reigate, L.
Erroll, E. Renton, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Falmouth, V. Romney, E.
Ferrers, E. St. Davids, V.
Ferrier, L. Saint Levan, L.
Fortescue, E. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Gainford, L. Seebohm, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Sharples, B.
Geddes, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Glenarthur, L. Southborough, L.
Grantchester, L. Strange, B.
Greenhill of Harrow, L. Strathspey, L.
Greenway, L. Sudeley, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swansea, L.
Swinton, E.
Halsbury, E. Terrington, L.
Hanson, L. Teviot, L.
Harvington, L. Teynham, L.
Hesketh, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Thorneycroft, L. Vinson, L.
Trafford, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Trefgarne, L. Weir, V.
Trumpington, B. Windlesham, L.
Ullswater, V. Wolfson, L.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Vestey, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.32 p.m.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 58: Page 3, line 29, after ("practicable") insert ("that is to say, in particular, when sufficient qualified teachers and resources are available").

The noble Baroness said: The Committee will be relieved to hear that this amendment deals with a matter which, while it is very important, is much narrower than that which has been considered in Amendment No. 57. We are all in agreement that we need to raise the quality of education in this country. There is no argument about that. We are told repeatedly that the purpose of the core curriculum and the foundation subjects is that general standards should be raised. However, there is a corollary in that—

Baroness Hooper

Perhaps I may intervene. My understanding was that the amendment had been debated earlier with Amendment No. 21.

Baroness Seear

That was such a long time ago and at such an appalling hour that I claim my right to debate the amendment again. There can be no improvement in standards in schools unless the level of teaching is such that those standards can be reached. There is no doubt that we are lacking today in teachers and equipment to teach the subjects which are prescribed in the Bill. It seems to us that it presents a false prospectus to parents and teachers to say that certain subjects are compulsory if, at the same time, there are not enough qualified teachers to teach those subjects. The Kingman Report, which has already been quoted today, says specifically that of those teaching English in our schools, 28 per cent. have no qualification above O-levels. It has also been repeatedly said that something like 50 per cent. of those teaching mathematics have no proper qualifications.

The desire to raise quality and the laying down of subjects to be taught must carry a corollary of the provision of an adequate supply of properly trained teachers, otherwise, the whole process is humbug. Therefore, we wish to see on the face of the Bill the statement that there will be no compulsion to introduce those subjects until there is an adequate supply of teachers and of resources. However, I wish to lay a special emphasis on the provision of teachers. That matter seems to me to be absolutely vital. It will make a nonsense of the intention of the Bill if it is not accompanied by such a provision. That means that we must put proper resources towards producing qualified teachers to teach the prescribed subjects. I beg to move.

5.37 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 58) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided; Contents, 103; Not-Contents, 138.

Airedale, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Alexander of Potterhill, L. Kilbracken, L.
Amherst, E. Kilmarnock, L.
Ardwick, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Attlee, E. Kirkwood, L.
Aylestone, L. Leatherland, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Banks, L. Lockwood, B.
Barnett, L. Longford, E.
Basnett, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Blackstone, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. McNair, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Bottomley, L. Mayhew, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Meston, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Milne, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Molloy, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
Carter, L. Mulley, L.
Chitnis, L. Nicol, B.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Oram, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Peston, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
David, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Diamond, L. Rea, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Donoughue, L. Rochester, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Russell, E.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Seear, B. [Teller.]
Ennals, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Serota, B.
Ezra, L. Shepherd, L.
Falkender, B. Stallard, L.
Falkland, V. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Foot, L. Swann, L.
Gallacher, L. Thurlow, L.
Galpern, L. Tordoff, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Turner of Camden, B.
Underhill, L.
Grey, E. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Grimond, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Hanworth, V. Wells-Pestell, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Whaddon, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Wigoder, L.
Hayter, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Willis, L.
Hunt, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Hylton, L.
Jacques, L. Winterbottom, L.
Jay, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Jeger, B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Aldington, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Campbell of Croy, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Canterbury, Abp.
Arran, E. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Auckland, L. Carnock, L.
Bathurst, E. Cathcart, E.
Bauer, L. Chelmer, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Chelmsford, Bp.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Chorley, L.
Beloff, L. Clitheroe, L.
Belstead, L. Coleraine, L.
Bessborough, E. Constantine of Stanmore, L.
Blatch, B. Cork and Orrery, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Cottesloe, L.
Braye, B. Cowley, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Cox, B.
Butterworth, L. Crickhowell, L.
Caithness, E. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Munster, E.
Daventry, V. Nelson, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Norfolk, D.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Norrie, L.
Dundee, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Eccles, V. Orkney, E.
Elibank, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Ellenborough, L. Oxfuird, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Peel, E.
Erroll of Hale, L. Pender, L.
Falmouth, V. Pennock, L.
Ferrers, E. Platt of Writtle, B.
Ferrier, L. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Fortescue, E. Porritt, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Rankeillour, L.
Gainford, L. Reay, L.
Glenarthur, L. Reigate, L.
Grantchester, L. Renton, L.
Greenway, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Hanson, L. Romney, E.
Harvington, L. St. Davids, V.
Hesketh, L. Saint Levan, L.
Hives, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Hood, V. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hooper, B. Seebohm, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Shannon, E.
Ilchester, E. Sharples, B.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Joseph, L. Southborough, L.
Kimball, L. Strange, B.
Lauderdale, E. Strathspey, L.
Lindsay, E. Sudeley, L.
Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Swinton, E.
London, Bp. Teviot, L.
Long, V. Teynham, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Luke, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Lyell, L. Trafford, L.
McAlpine of Moffat, L. Trefgarne, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Trumpington, B.
Malmesbury, E. Ullswater, V.
Mancroft, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Marley, L. Vestey, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Vinson, L.
Merrivale, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Mersey, V. Weir, V.
Monk Bretton, L. Windlesham, L.
Mottistone, L. Wolfson, L.
Mountgarret, V. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.44 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 59 to 62 not moved.]

The Duke of Norfolk moved Amendment No. 63: Page 3, line 32, at end insert ("; and (c) to arrange that within the provision of the national curriculum, there is flexibility and scope for the governors of voluntary schools to promote and develop the distinctive ethos and character of their schools.").

The noble Duke said: The reasons behind the amendment can be stated fairly simply. The country's public system of education is a dual system of county and voluntary schools. About a quarter of all the pupils in the system attend voluntary schools of one kind or another. Almost all of the voluntary schools are religious foundations—Church of England, Catholic, Free Church or Jewish. It is most imporant that those voluntary schools should continue to be able to maintain and develop their distinctive ethos and character. That largely depends on factors other than the content of the secular curriculum. Religious education in the school clearly plays a very large part in that. So too does the nature of the leadership given by governors, the headmaster and the staff in their various ways. However, the secular curriculum could also have an effect.

Under the Bill the secular curriculum is in future to be nationally determined. Under the 1986 Education (No. 2) Act the content of the secular instruction was to be under the control of the governors in all voluntary-aided and special agreement schools. The Bill will make them, like other schools, subject to the national curriculum. It seems that it is not impossible that topics and books could be included in programmes of study which at least some voluntary schools might find objectionable on religious grounds. Are there safeguards to protect voluntary schools from the possible danger of their being required to teach matters or use books to which they have conscientious objections? I commend the amendment to the Committee.

The Lord Bishop of London

I should like to support the amendment of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. I shall be very brief but I hope that the brevity of my remarks will not be taken as being in proportion to my concern, which is very considerable.

As the noble Duke has said, our education system is a partnership which, speaking for the Church of England, we have been at very great pains to try to develop, foster and improve. For that reason, while we are very willing to co-operate we would ask that consideration be given in various ways to the particular needs of voluntary schools. I speak as chairman of the Churches' Education Policy Committee on which all the Churches are represented. Therefore, I know that, in addition to the concern which the noble Duke has expressed on behalf of the Roman Catholic community, the amendment has the support of both the Church of England and the other Churches.

Baroness Hooper

I hope that I can reassure my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk that the ethos and character of voluntary-aided schools, and in particular of Catholic schools about which he spoke so eloquently, are safe under the national curriculum proposals.

We of course fully accept the desire of the governing bodies of those schools to offer an education which is permeated with their distinctive character as religious foundations. We recognise the special contribution which such schools have made to our education system, and would not want to put their special nature and status in any danger.

The Bill does not remove the right of governors of aided schools to control the school curriculum, within the national framework set out in statute. They have had that right to control the secular curriculum in aided secondary schools since 1944, and in the 1986 (No. 2) Act we extend it to aided primary schools.

What is required by statute will not be such as to threaten the governors' powers in this respect. Much of the school timetable will remain within their control. The national curriculum provisions do not allow my right honourable friend or any future Secretary of State to prescribe particular teaching methods or materials. What is prescribed in terms of content will be subject to full public consultation. Exceptions for certain types of school could be made in regulations under Clause 10 if that were agreed to be appropriate.

I believe that it is inconceivable that any Secretary of State would in fact seek to make orders which were unacceptable to aided schools on religious or moral grounds. But if that were the case, the remedy would be in your Lordships' hands. The orders establishing attainment targets and programmes of study will be subject to Parliament's approval.

I hope that in the light of what I have said my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Duke of Norfolk

I am grateful for that reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 64 not moved.]

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 65: Page 3, line 32, at end insert ("In exercising these duties the Secretary of State must declare the general criteria according to which he has acted and give specific reasons corresponding to the case or cases under consideration.").

The noble Lord said: I gave notice of raising this kind of amendment during Second Reading. I had an earlier amendment along the same lines. However, I felt that the middle of the night—or was it the early hours of the morning?—was not the time to discuss a matter of such importance.

I am raising this amendment as a matter of general principle. I am looking for a response on the principle. I certainly do not wish to do what I said that I would do at Second Reading; namely, put down an amendment of this kind for every one of the powers of the Secretary of State proposed in the Bill. I am concerned to elucidate these powers and to draw the attention of the Committee to what I consider is both a serious constitutional issue, and one of interest to education.

Clause 4 states that the Secretary of State "may by order", and so on. It states what he may do, using such expressions as, as he considers appropriate for that subject". The clause sets out one or two broad matters that he may not do. Let me tell the Minister that I am pleased to see that the Bill also makes provision for certain things that he may not do.

I believe that the Secretary of State should have powers. That is not the point at issue. In those happier days when we on this side of the Chamber were in power, and I had the privilege of advising our Secretary of State for Education and Science, it was extremely frustrating that on the whole we had no powers at the DES. Others who have served at the DES will remember how little we could do. We were told that we had no powers because it was the nature of our education system that the Secretary of State should have no powers. However, those days have long since gone. We have now reached a state of affairs where it is believed that the Secretary of State should have powers; and in very large part this Bill introduces such powers.

However, I do not say that he should not have powers; I believe that his powers should be different from those set out here. I shall not trouble the Committee with my view at length today, but I see the powers of the Secretary of State as those of a backstop. I see his powers as being fall-back powers enabling him to set wrongs right, rather than the powers set out here. I have taunted noble Lords opposite with the fact that they are supporting what I regard as one of the most dirigiste and interventionist pieces of legislation that any of us has ever seen. My colleagues and I remain somewhat surprised not to hear much criticism of that from Members of the Committee opposite. Let us leave it at that.

I should prefer the powers to be different, but I am happy for the Secretary of State to have powers. I should like to hear from the noble Baroness that if he exercises those powers he ought to exercise them in some public sense. I hope that I do not break the Official Secrets Act. I always felt that those of us who have served Ministers must always maintain some cover over what we do. But I do not think that I am breaking the rules when I say that the one thing that Ministers like most is power—but with no one being able to check what they have done. That is what they love. They like to act, but in a way that no one can query.

I shall not be happy with such replies as, "You can trust the Secretary of State" and so on. It worries me that the Bill allows the Secretary of State to do things but does not oblige him to give his reasons why. I am concerned—and it is not unrelated to the question of the rule of law—that the provisions do not require him to set out specifically the general principles according to which he is acting. I do not say that on occasion the Secretary of State will not do so. But, so far as I understand it, he is not obliged to do that.

There is a constructive, educational reason for the Secretary of State to explain the general criteria on which he is proposing to act in a specific case. If he does so, we can discover what he is up to. If we are acting differently we shall discover why we are doing things wrong. Equally, we may find that we can help him, because if he acts according to various criteria we—and I refer not only to Members of the Committee but also to the interested public at large—shall be in a position to say that the Secretary of State has acted in this way for that reason, and we think he has acted wrongly for these reasons. One can then make a constructive contribution.

I place this amendment before the Committee in an attempt to be constructive. I have assured the noble Baroness on many occasions from this Box—and I continue to do so—that my approach is constructive. However, in the case of the Bill it is more than constructive; we should be acting correctly legislatively if we amend the Bill in this way. However, if my attempt at drafting is not good, perhaps the noble Baroness will agree to go away and amend the Bill herself in order to achieve the objective that I have in mind.

Viscount Eccles

I shall keep Members of the Committee for about two minutes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the Secretary of State for Education has had far too little power. That is why we are in trouble now. It is difficult to give powers to the Secretary of State that do not offend the good schools. One wants the power in order to rectify the defects.

For what it is worth, my experience is that a Secretary of State cannot possibly give general criteria for what he does. His day is taken up in rushing from one decision to another. Questions can be asked at Question Time in the other place. The position is much better here than in America. Under our constitution one can question Ministers—in my opinion more and more. I believe that it is a good thing. But one cannot ask Conservatives for general criteria; we do not know what they are! The noble Lord's side of the Committee may know what general criteria are, but we do not. It would make administration absolutely impossible.

I hope that from time to time over the years there will be a Conservative Secretary of State. Do not ask the poor man to do something that he has not been brought up to do!

Lord Morton of Shuna

I have lived under a Conservative regime for longer than I should have liked. I thought that in general the Conservative Party and Conservative governments liked to act within the law and within the spirit of the law. That is an issue on which there has been consensus between all parties in this Chamber. It is one of the aspects of consensus which should continue.

I said on Second Reading that it was very unfortunate to have a Bill drafted with, as far as one could see, the specific aim that judicial review would never occur. That is very damaging to democracy. As I attempted to say, I do not think that any democratic Minister of any government should ever be frightened of having his administrative acts challenged. If he has gone wrong he should be prepared to accept the court's decision that he has gone wrong. If he has not gone wrong he should be able to say why he has not gone wrong. The difficulty about this Bill is that it gives any Secretary of State of any party the power to do anything without ever giving any reason. That is an administrative dictatorship and wrong on any constitutional legal grounds. I very strongly support this amendment. I do not believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, believes that he could not give reasons for what he was doing when he was doing it.

6 p.m.

Lord Hylton

I thought that the Conservative Party was in favour of openness in government, rather like certain leading elements in the Russian Communist Party. As to general criteria being too vague, do we not have to look at this amendment in the context of the particular clause? The Secretary of State will take certain actions after the National Curriculum Council has sent him a report. Either he agrees with it or he disagrees with it. Surely he must have some criteria for doing so.

Baroness Hooper

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for raising this issue since it enables me to explain the ways in which the Secretary of State's powers are already circumscribed. However, I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lord Eccles for giving us the benefit of his experience, which in this case is perhaps more specific than anybody else's.

The effect of this amendment would be to require the Secretary of State to state general criteria and give his reasons whenever he makes an order under Clause 4 of the Bill. We have already disposed of an identical amendment proposed in respect of Clause 3 and therefore I believe that, for the same reasons, we should reject this amendment. I remind the Committee that the general criteria must in all circumstances be those established under Clause 1 of the Bill. We believe that it would not be proper for the Secretary of State to depart from those very publicly stated general criteria. They hardly need any regular restatement, as is proposed, each time an order is made. As for reasons, these will inevitably be aired in the wide consultations surrounding the making of orders on attainment targets and programmes of study since we are looking at this amendment in that context, and that will involve the parliamentary process.

There may be a case for the Secretary of State formally to state his reasons when making certain orders in certain circumstances. Where that applies we have already written into the Bill a statutory provision to that effect. Thus, when the Secretary of State intends to make an order about attainment targets or programmes of study and does not accept the advice that he has been given by the National Curriculum Council following their consultations, he must publish a statement of his reasons for that decision. This is the important case in which it is necessary for the Secretary of State's reasons for departing from the considered advice of his advisory body to be clearly known to Parliament before his proposals are considered; but we need not extend this provision, as would the noble Lord's amendment, to every order, however minor and uncontroversial, and where the Secretary of State has endorsed completely advice from an independent body which itself has consulted widely. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Peston

I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I pursue this matter a little further. Perhaps I may first say that I am somewhat at a loss. I am not aware that we disposed of the equivalent amendment to Clause 3—assuming that the noble Baroness was referring to my amendment—because I did not move it. I am a little at a loss about that matter. Unless I was asleep, I am pretty sure that I did not move the amendment, so it is still there to be brought back in the future should I want to move it.

I am still somewhat lost and perhaps one or two matters could be explained to me in my ignorance as a parliamentarian. Let us assume that the Secretary of State makes some assessment arrangement for the subject of history for 15 years. That is perhaps too far-fetched a proposition, but as I read the Bill certainly he could do that. Is it suggested that what will happen is that someone in the House of Commons will get up and ask him a question as to why he has done that and that this explanation will then be fully and seriously explored in the House of Commons? Are we told that that is the way that Parliament will act for this purpose? Will he be obliged to answer the question, or can he simply say, "I made the order and it is really none of your business"? I should like an answer to that point to start with.

Viscount Eccles

I have not been in the other place for 25 years, but I am told by those who are there that Ministers are now questioned both on the Floor of the House and in Committee to an extent that did not exist in my day. I was allowed to do practically what I wanted to do, which one cannot do now. I think that if one wants efficient administration one not only looks for a fair government but a good government, and a good government is one which has the power to act.

Lord Peston

Perhaps I may return to this point. I too believe very strongly in that. The central part of my own theme and my view of decision-making is that I want Secretaries of State who are able to act. However, I should still like them to be constrained by rationality. In particular I should like the Committeee to bear in mind a point that I made earlier about the principle of fallibility. The essence of all decision-making is that there is always the fairly high probability that one is mistaken. The whole aim of the democratic, academic and argumentation processes is to expose fallibility.

All I ask is for it to be brought explicitly into the Bill. Not for one moment am I suggesting that every time some minor order is put forward some great philosophical treatise ought to emerge from the DES. For most of the time the Secretary of State will merely say, "I acted as I did the last time" and that will keep us happy. But these are quite fundamental matters.

I return to my point about the need for the Secretary of State to be explicit, which is in itself helpful to education; in other words, it is not just a trivial matter in terms of Parliament. I wonder whether the noble Baroness would like to comment on those remarks before I respond finally?

Baroness Hooper

We believe that because the Secretary of State is obliged to take advice from the National Curriculum Council before making orders and the processes for the NCC involve wide consultation, only if he disagrees with that advice should it be necessary to have a procedure of this kind.

Lord Peston

I must say that I am not too happy about that explanation, but I should like to think about what the noble Baroness has said. As she is well aware, I have ample opportunity to put down similar amendments throughout the passage of the Bill and to discuss the same principle further, so since no other noble Lords seem to be very interested, I shall not detain the Committee any longer. I am not sure whether the correct procedure is to withdraw the amendment or not to move it; I shall do whatever is appropriate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee moved Amendment No. 66: Page 3, line 33, after ("order") insert ("a draft of which has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendment No. 79 since the two are closely connected. They are also linked with the amendment that has just been withdrawn by the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

Our concern over this matter, as has already been said by the Secretary of State—and I shall not elaborate on his remarks—is that the Secretary of State appears to be able to act autocratically without consultation with anyone. I feel that it is reassurance that is needed here. This clause is one in which he seems to have a complete blank sheet, to do with as he likes. If only there were some check or balance indicated it would be a great reassurance.

The Secretary of State is to be supplied with advisory bodies: the National Curriculum Council and the Curriculum Council for Wales. They have certain functions which are set out in Clause 7, but it does not appear that he has to consult or listen to them. That is one of the points that worry us; namely, that he is not under any statutory obligation to consult those bodies or to listen to them. Will he use them or will they just be puppet bodies? The feeling is that reference to them should appear in Clause 4 somewhere. We should see words such as "after consultation with these bodies he may make orders".

That is not the amendment before the Committee at the moment. As the reference is not there, we feel there should be some other check. That is the object of the proposed amendments. In Amendment No. 66 we suggest that a draft should be laid before the House and should be subject to affirmative resolution, or that this should take place where there has been some disagreement between the Secretary of State and the councils concerned. This again is so that the matter should be publicly debated and come before public view, so that the Minister cannot just act without giving reasons and without the matter being made public. For these reasons I beg to move Amendment No. 66.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I should like to support the amendment. In Clauses 13 and 14 we have various rules as to how the Secretary of State is to deal with the various councils. If he disagrees with the councils' advice he has to give his reasons, as the Minister has already reminded us.

But we foresee a problem in relation to the facts. First, the Secretary of State just issues his reasons. They are not open to any discussion. He decides after he has received advice from councils that that is it: it is finished. Only then, as I understand it— and I may be wrong because it is a complicated Bill—there is in subsection (2)(a) and (b) the negative procedure under Clause 192 (if I have followed that correctly). Under Clause 4(2)(c)—perhaps I may be allowed to remind the Committee that we had a discussion about what the assessment arrangements standards and so on were to be—the Secretary of State has no parliamentary scrutiny at all. He does it by order, and the order takes effect without Parliament agreeing "yes" in the affirmative procedure, or saying "no" under the negative procedure: and the order comes into force. So far as I can see, as long as something has been published by the Stationery Office he can make an order bringing the Stationery Office publication into effect with a rule of law without any discussion on assessment arrangements

I do not want to repeat what I said on the previous amendment, but this seems to me to be wrong in principle. There should be a method of parliamentary discussion devised especially about assessment arrangements where it appears that there is a certain disagreement of view among various members of the Committee.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

As we have heard, Amendments Nos. 66 and 79 are alternatives. Amendment No. 66 would require all national curriculum orders to be subject to affirmative resolution procedure, while Amendment No. 79 would only extend that requirement to orders in which the Secretary of State failed to give effect to the advice of his advisory bodies.

Having listened carefully to the debate, I have some sympathy with the general intention of the second of the amendments, Amendment No. 79. While resisting Amendment No. 66, I can undertake to the noble Lord that I will give this matter further consideration and perhaps report back at a later stage.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I have listened with amazed interest to what the noble Baroness has said. It is not very often that we have this sort of pleasure extended to us. In those circumstances, I am very pleased to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 67 to 69 not moved].

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 70 is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 71.

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 70: Page 3, leave out lines 35 and 36.

The noble Lord said: I do not understand that. Perhaps someone will explain it to me when I learn how the rules operate.

I seem to find myself always in the position of claiming that what I am about to introduce to the Committee is fundamental, but I am back again on that tack. I am discussing together Amendments Nos. 70 and 74. Essentially what I have in mind and what concerns me is the future role of the local education authorities. What I want is some clarification on that, to see what the Government have in mind.

On an earlier amendment I was discussing the powers of the Secretary of State. In the olden days the Secretary of State did not have many powers and the school system of the country was run by the local education authorities. Many members of the Committee and many Members of another place learnt their administration and their politics, if I may say so, as members of local education authorities. Many of us believed that whatever their faults they were the key to education in this country.

I argued on Tuesday—or it may have been in the early hours of Wednesday morning—that we ought not to forget the great contribution that local education authorities have made to education in this country. In particular I was at pains to say, and some noble Lords agreed, that they were at the forefront of innovatory activity and of a great deal of the best of what is good in our education system. One could produce a whole list of subjects, ranging from matters in the Bill to do with local financial management; many items to do with the curriculum in the primary schools and many matters to do with the structure of schools. They were thought of by the local education authorities and introduced by those authorities, and I have to say that they were not thought of or introduced by the Department of Education and Science—incidentally, a department not known, even in my day, for its innovative powers or imagination or, in many cases, its knowledge of education. However things may have improved since then.

What worries some members of the Committee is that the Bill seems to be anti local education authority. Indeed, it does not only seem to be, but I should have thought that it is. That is based on the idea, quite correctly, that some local education authorities have done rather less well than the average, let alone the best. It is also based on the idea—not one that I disagree with—that there are some schools in our country which are not good enough. The reason for that is a degree of failure on the part of the local education authority. When I argued earlier that I felt that the Secretary of State ought to have fall-back powers my concept was precisely powers to intervene where the local education authority was failing.

What I seek clarification on is the question of the failures. I believe we all agree—certainly I have heard noble Lords on the Government Benches agree—that the failings are in a minority. We have all been at pains to congratulate the successes, but because of the failings of a minority the Bill appears to indicate that the local education authorities as a whole are somehow taken out of education. While that is an exaggeration, they are certainly very strictly limited.

I raise the matter under this heading because, in an area where I believe they have a proper role in attainment and programmes of study, there is no mention whatever of local education authorities. I seek to draw to the Committee's attention that extraordinary state of affairs. During the discussion on religion on Tuesday we were reminded of the role of the Churches in the history of our schools. The other main part of that history is the local education authorities. Whereas the Churches appear to be doing quite well in protecting their position—at least up to a point—the local education authorities are doing very badly. Indeed, their position does not seem to be protected.

I am asking the Committee and the noble Baroness whether it is their intention to limit the local education authorities as much as they appear to be doing. Is this really what they want to do? That matter applies particularly to areas where I believe there is still room for innovation and imagination by local education authorities and the officials who work for them. I should like to pay tribute to those who have worked as education officers; and one should not forget some of the great people who have made contributions in that area. Do we want no more of that in our country? Do we really want a centralised system to this degree, with the assessment and curriculum councils centralised? It is for those reasons that I bring the matters before the Committee.

The other point is a drafting matter. I assure the noble Baroness that I shall not go over the assessment debate that we have just had. However, she will notice that whereas Clause 4(2)(a) states: such attainment targets;", my amendment provides for: such individual attainment targets; That is solely there slightly to over-egg the pudding, as it were, and to remind us that we are dealing with individual men and women.

I should like to draw out from the noble Baroness and other noble Lords their views on the future of local education authorities. I hope for strong reassurances that there will be more for local education authorities. I am desperately hoping not to hear the sentence, "It is all implicit in the Bill".

Baroness Hooper

The noble Lord would leave the duty and power to define assessment arrangements with the Secretary of State but give to local education authorities the power to specify attainment targets and programmes of study. Local education authorities will have a new strategic role as a result of the Bill. I was at pains to point that out at Second Reading. However, this amendment appears to be a recipe for disaster. We do not want an assessment-led curriculum, with local education authorities reduced to inventing alternative ways of meeting centrally-set assessments. We want assessment arrangements which serve the objectives of the national curriculum to flow naturally from the agreed targets and help to chart pupils' progress in a consistent and useful way.

I am confident that noble Lords opposite will not wish to press such an amendment which, I believe, must share the fate of other attempts to wreck these clauses.

Lord Peston

I certainly do not want to wreck the clauses; I am trying to improve them. I am getting rather fed up with the fact that every time one tries to make a contribution one is told that one is wrecking the Bill. There are other areas in regard to which I shall be looking forward to wrecking the Bill, but this is certainly not one of them.

I have not yet heard the kind of statement that I should like to hear as regards local education authorities. I have introduced the subject under this heading in order to obtain that reassurance and a more positive statement on their role. However, I should like to explain the specific points. In many parts of education the tests or examinations are rather central, but then teachers and others ask, "How do we respond to this? Do we take GCSE or GCE?". I realise that that is not a perfect analogy but they are the examinations. One then tries to set down targets for achieving that end, the ways in which to study and so forth.

Here there exists something which is not quite that situation. Certainly the assessment arrangements are central. Except for certain thoughts on local variations I am not so unhappy for there to be a national system of assessment in very broad terms. However, I should like as much local freedom as possible. I go below the level of the LEA and I should like to have as much freedom as possible in the school. I fail to see that arising under the clause. Indeed, under the clause I see rather the reverse. It is the fact that those people who have been carrying out the job will be constantly looking to what the Secretary of State specifically wants. They will constantly worry about whether they are doing what he wants, and they will not be getting on with the business of education. I add the point that I believe that their innovative and experimental powers will be limited.

So many members of the committee present have experience of education at local level and they must know that I am right in what I am saying. They must know that this does not correspond to the British system of education—it simply does not. I ask: do your Lordships wish to move as far from the way in which we have done things as this? I am not seeking to wreck, nor am I seeking to prevent the Secretary of State having powers. I wish that in my day he had had many such powers, but this goes much too far.

Baroness Young

I should like to ask my noble friend to clarify several further points. I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about local education authorities. Anyone who has served in such an authority knows the value of local government. One of the issues in education which has always worried me is that at the end of their school lives only those who obtain a national examination, such as GCSE or O- or A-level, have a document which indicates their achievement. It is a national examination, although we can argue about variations between the boards, and by and large it is accepted. An examination which was not accepted so widely was the CSE. That was most unfortunate, but this is not the place to examine all the reasons for that.

I have been attracted to the idea of a national assessment arrangement because it means that all children will have an opportunity to show their achievements at the end of their school days. I believe that it is partly incorporated into the pupil profile in which I am most interested because I believe it to be important. Before anyone thinks that I would wish to make everyone take a written examination, I should like to say that I believe it to be extremely important that, for example, the child's attendance record should be recorded, together with comments about whether he tries and behaves well in school and co-operates with others. Whether one likes it or not, employers look for those points in prospective recruits to a variety of jobs. I believe that it is extremely important for a child to have something which they can show when they apply for a job, move on to further education, or whatever, from whatever part of the country they may come.

One of the difficulties about a local assessment is that inevitably one will have variations. I suspect that before one knows where one is one matter will be considered to be more valuable than another. If that is the case it will be very difficult for a child in one authority, so I believe that there is an important argument about national assessment. On the other hand, I believe that within that area there must inevitably be great variations of actual practice as to how one reaches that target. Different teaching practices, whether or not one is taking the GCSE, illustrate different methods of teaching. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm that the role of the teacher will be to decide how one will attain that situation. Far from creating a straitjacket it would be a matter for the professional responsibility of the teacher. Perhaps I am not interpreting this correctly, but I believe that this is a very important point and I believe there would be a great measure of agreement of the importance for all school children being able to say what it is that they have achieved in a form which is agreed and acceptable for the outside world.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Young of Dartington

The last contribution was particularly helpful because it threw light on what is behind this clause, but it almost inevitably raised further questions. The issue which was raised is the relationship between the targets, the programmes of study and assessment arrangements that will be provided under this clause and what is provided by the examination boards for the children who are able to take various kinds of examinations.

I believe that all of us are very concerned about children who will not take examinations, and that is why the whole notion of profiles, and so on, is very attractive. However, is it implied that the programmes of study for children who are able to take GCSEs and A-levels will be largely those set down by examination boards, and that the operative ones which will be brought into operation by this clause will especially refer to the children who are not up to taking national examinations of that kind? If that is the case, will it also be the case that the attainment targets will be related to the ability of the children to achieve them, so that for the bottom 40 per cent. there will be a series of attainment targets related to what they are capable of?

If that is so, it should be brought out in greater clarity than it has been so far. Of course, if it is brought out in that way, it raises yet further questions about the way in which the needs of the so-called less able children will be dealt with without them being "ghetto-ised" and put into a separate category in the educational system: those for whom the Secretary of State's arrangements will apply as against the rest who will continue to be affected most in their programmes of study by examinations of the kind to which they have worked so far. Perhaps the noble Baroness may care to comment further on that.

Baroness Hooper

The provisions of the subsection as it now stands refer to testing and assessment arrangements at all ages. Targets are to be related to the broad level of abilities and that was the discussion that we had on the testing and assessment arrangements. I do not think that I can add to the comments made by my noble friend Lady Young except to say that yes, this is where we see the important role for the teachers in interpreting the nationally set arrangements. However, one of the objectives of the Bill is to raise standards overall and in accordance with a nationally recognised level. This amendment would defeat that purpose, but there is nothing in the Bill to prevent local education authorities having an important advisory role.

Lord Peston

I am probably in one of my more stupid moods because I do not see how it would defeat what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had in mind if I understood her correctly. She is saying that there should be a national system of assessment. Regretfully I agree with her that everybody should have a piece of paper. I hate credentialism, but we seem to live in that sort of world and anyway it cheers people up to have a piece of paper.

My main point is that I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about assessment nationally. However, I fail to see why one cannot say that one favours broad national assessment principles and criteria but that the local authority cannot then specify the individual attainment targets and programmes of study.

Perhaps I may anticipate a later amendment which I shall be moving. There is an amendment on regional matters and in a way one is anticipating some of that now. I do not understand why one cannot—not necessarily in my amendment—write that kind of local flexibility into the Bill while still accepting the national criteria. Therefore, I do not follow the noble Baroness in rejecting what I am saying. It seems to me that I have a logical position which, in a sense, is not very different from what she is saying but it is not in the Bill.

Baroness Hooper

We have a long way to go this afternoon and I do not wish to spend too much time on this matter. Perhaps I may sum it up by saying that as I understand it the noble Lord wants a local curriculum that is nationally assessed which would not meet the point raised by my noble friend.

Lord Peston

If the noble Baroness will bear with me—and she and I both stayed until 4 o'clock the other morning and I am not in the mood for that again so I agree that we should like to get a move on—I am not saying that I want a local curriculum. We are not debating the national curriculum. Unless I now totally misunderstand her, I regard the individual attainment targets and the programmes of study as being what they are. They are concerned with what one actually does in education. They are concerned with the individual child and what that child is doing. I can see the DES laying down a very broad view on that; but I regard the specifics of it—and I thought that was what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was saying—as being very much a local matter.

The Bill does not say that. The Bill says, "the Secretary of State" and so on. Therefore, I do not believe that I am sabotaging the national curriculum and being antipathetic to job creation in the DES in London. I simply say that my understanding is that our education system in this country has in the past given the kind of task to local authorities which this Bill wants to give to the Secretary of State. I am trying to bring them back to the local education authorities.

I hope that the noble Baroness does not view this as my attempt to sabotage the national curriculum. I have had an attempt at that and I have other ideas about having another attempt. That is not what this is about. This is about the way in which the school system of this country should proceed. I do not know whether I made myself clear, but we seem to be at cross-purposes.

Baroness Seear

The noble Baroness said that the local education authority would have an advisory role. Perhaps she could spell that out. If by that she simply means that the local authority could make a few suggestions which the Secretary of State can then override, that will not take us much further; but perhaps she has something else in mind.

Baroness Hooper

The national curriculum will set out nationally-agreed targets and the broad framework of programmes of study. There will be considerable freedom for teachers and local education authorities as at present to tailor specific educational provisions to pupils' needs. I believe that that meets the case.

Lord Peston

I am still totally at a loss. I do not wish to divide the Committee; but perhaps the noble Baroness may wish to think more about what has been said. I shall think more about what has been said and return to the subject at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 71: Page 3, line 36, leave out ("programmes") and insert ("guidelines").

The noble Baroness said: The Minister has constantly emphasised that the Government intend to be anything other than inflexible in the implementation of their proposals. In moving this amendment, perhaps I may say that so far in Committee I am somewhat encouraged by some of the phrases which she has used. We have heard her talk about a "framework only", about "key objectives" and about "phasing in" over a number of years. However, I am rather discouraged by her response to many of the amendments put forward. In replying to the amendment moved by noble friend Lady David, she said: We are firmly convinced of the need for flexibility. We shall be discussing different types and degrees of flexibility more fully on later amendments". This is one such opportunity to discuss different types of flexibility.

One of the most important matters in dealing with young people in the classroom is to encourage curiosity. Acquiring a tendency to be curious will help them very much more in life than acquiring a particular body of knowledge in any specific area. What stimulates curiosity in young people or small children varies greatly from pupil to pupil, from time to time and from place to place. It cannot be written into some central programme of study. Good teachers search for things that make children curious and make them want to know more. They need the freedom to identify such matters. That is an important reason for providing teachers with guidelines, which I am sure will be very largely adhered to while allowing some scope for deviation and the flexibility which the noble Baroness the Minister has constantly talked about.

For a programme of study to work in practice, it will inevitably have to be quite detailed. In turn, detailed programmes will be very restrictive. Teachers, constrained by programmes of study which, as I have said, are bound to be detailed, will be prevented from fulfilling their proper professional role. The Government's proposals on such central programmes—to be laid down, we are told, by orders in Parliament—are an aspect of the Bill that head teachers, senior officials in local authorities and inspectors and advisers are particularly concerned about.

They are concerned for two reasons. First, programmes of study that involve detailed working syllabuses will not allow that flexibility about which the Minister has spoken. It will become very difficult to take into account local and regional interests. It will be difficult too to take into account the needs of particularly gifted children and the needs of slow learners and those with particular learning difficulties. The second concern is that teachers and local education authorities, as my noble friend Lord Peston has said, will be denied the opportunity of being innovative, of developing new ideas and of responding to change. Surely we want a profession which is able to be innovative and responsive.

Perhaps I may say a little more about each of these concerns. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has said that Conservatives do not know what criteria are. The Secretary of State seems to have discovered criteria as regards the GCSE. Under defined GCSE coverage, every programme of study has to meet certain conditions but the syllabus for individual areas or subjects can be worked out within what are called national criteria. Moreover, teachers can prepare their own mode three schemes, as they are known.

Setting criteria in this way is what I have in mind when I suggest that programmes should be replaced by guidelines. Teachers can then respond much more easily to the very rich variation of local and individual differences. Without this amendment and the replacement of programmes by guidelines teachers will have much more difficulty.

Turning to the teachers themselves and their concerns about over-prescription, I should like to quote what one ex-chief education officer from Lincolnshire has said. Mr. George Cooke finds especially disturbing that, It is the most effective and committed teachers who feel the most disillusionment. It is almost as if our political leaders were trying to fight a war calling for great effort without caring a damn for the morale of the fighting troops". I believe that to be one of the problems about this Bill.

We are told that in music, art and physical education we are to have guidelines only. This means that in music, for example, teachers will be asked to ensure that pupils have a chance to be taught about composing, listening and performing, but it will not prescribe that pupils have to have a little Bach, Verdi, pop, folk, or reggae. In my opinion it would be quite wrong to do so. It would also be wrong to put into these programmes of study, as they are currently called, too much detail of other areas. We need guidelines and not programmes across the board.

As my noble friend Lord Peston said, in the past there has been some frustration in the DES and among Secretaries of State about having insufficient power to influence what happens in schools. This amendment will give the Secretary of State and the DES the power to influence the curriculum. I have sympathy with that wish. It will avoid a situation in which the Secrtary of State, along with the DES, can actually prescribe down to the last detail. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

Although I shall be brief on this amendment, I hope that I shall be helpful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Amendment No. 71 would have us redefine programmes of study as "guidelines of study". Since it would do so in only one place in the Bill, the overall effect would be most confusing. Moreover, the sentiment behind the amendment is not acceptable. For some foundation subjects we shall, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made clear, only be establishing programmes in the form of guidelines. But for the core subjects in particular, we should not want to be limited to what is generally conveyed by that term. What we want are programmes of study—not detailed syllabuses, but a good deal more than guidelines for what we want pupils to study and achieve. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Peston

May I ask the noble Earl to clarify the matter? Are we not discussing an amendment which relates to the foundation subjects? The Minister has replied as regards the core subjects which are different from the foundation subjects. Unless I misunderstood him, he seems to have said that programmes of study for the foundation subjects will be guidelines and therefore my noble friend is pushing at an open door. I should like some clarification on this point.

The Earl of Arran

To clarify that point, it is only certain foundation subjects.

Baroness David

I believe that the noble Earl actually used the words "core subjects".

Baroness Seear

The Bill says quite clearly "each of the foundation subjects", but the Minister said "core subjects". What are we talking about?

The Earl of Arran

In this particular discussion we are talking about both core and foundation subjects.

Baroness David

Is the Bill going to be amended at that part to say "core and foundation subjects"? Nowhere have we been told that "foundation" embraces "core".

Lord Trafford

If the noble Baroness looks at Hansard tomorrow I believe she will find that my noble friend said "of foundation subjects as for core subjects"—in other words, referring to a programme of study in foundation subjects as indeed in the core subjects. That is what I heard but I confess that I do not have tomorrow's Hansard either.

Baroness David

I shall look carefully at Hansard tomorrow. But the misunderstanding seems to have arisen among several of us. I am not alone.

Baroness Seear

Even if it were a misunderstanding, the Bill refers to foundation subjects. We really do have to come back again and again to what the Bill says because that is all we are interested in. We do not mind very much what it is but we would like to know.

Baroness Blatch

Returning to the debate on the first day in Committee I seem to recall references being made to a degree of prescription: that it would be very much more detailed for the core subjects and for four foundation subjects—geography, history, technology, and a language—and much less prescriptive for the remaining subjects of music, art and PE. We are talking about degree of prescription. The Bill is talking about the powers of the Secretary of State to set up committees to determine programmes and targets to be achieved. Therefore the degree of prescription would fall within that.

Lord Young of Dartington

If that is the case—and it seems highly reasonable— we are being asked to divide the foundation subjects into two categories. Music, art and physical education are being considered in a different category from history, geography and technology. It seems eminently sensible to me. How can one lay down a detailed programme of work for music when conditions from one school to another differ so much with regard to instrument teaching in all sorts of ways?

Would it not meet the case if the word "programme" is kept but the word "guidelines" is added so that it would read, "such guidelines or programmes of study"? The Secretary of State would then not be under the duty to lay down a programme of study for music and art, which is only going to make him look ridiculous if he tries to undertake it.

The Earl of Arran

Perhaps I may come back on this and say that the programmes of study will not be syllabuses. They will set out certain important matters, skills and processes, to which pupils must be introduced; but they will not say how these should be organised and will leave considerable freedom for teachers to add their own particular slant. The degree of detail will vary subject by subject and will be subject to wide consultation. What matters is how these powers are used and not what they are called.

Lord Peston

Those of us who have some experience of teaching know that after a certain amount of time one is wasting one's time in attempting to communicate, but I will still carry on.

One of the first thoughts that suddenly occurred to me was that maybe it is a misprint. Maybe it is meant to say "foundation and core". Indeed, if it is not a misprint, I am a little worried as to why "core" is not there anyway. That is my first question. Perhaps the noble Lord might like to think about that. I will accept the answer that it is a misprint if he likes to say that.

The other point is that I thought the Minister said in response to my noble friend Lady Blackstone's speech that there was a range of programmes of study. Some were, to use the noble Baroness's expression, more prescriptive, and some were less prescriptive. I thought he himself said that some of them were akin to guidelines. Did I miss that? I thought he said some were akin to guidelines and some were rather less akin to guidelines.

We are seeking some clarification of that. Indeed, if some of them are akin to guidelines, we would not mind the Bill saying that they are guidelines and that others are rather less guidelines. I cannot speak for my noble friend but I would be reassured by the statement that the noble Earl will think about it again and come back to us; but I am certainly not reassured at the moment.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may ask the Minister exactly what he means when he says there will not be syllabuses, but that the degree of detail will vary from subject to subject. Can he tell us a bit about which subject there will be more detail for and which subject there will be less detail for, and where the dividing line is to be between a syllabus, on the one hand, a programme of study, on the other hand, and guidelines as a third example? It is very confusing and unclear.

The Earl of Arran

In answer to the question put by the noble Baroness, we are not as yet going into details. They are being considered and we will decide at a later date.

Baroness Seear

This is the Committee stage of a Bill which is going to become an Act of Parliament. It is really not good enough to be told that the Government will make up their mind after the Committee stage when we have no more opportunity to amend it in detail, and will then tell us what they want in the Bill. We are putting a potential Act of Parliament through this Chamber and we should know what is in the Government's mind now, not at a later stage.

Baroness Blatch

The Committee has so far established that there shall be a national curriculum and that there shall be testing to define objectives. It seems perfectly appropriate now that we put upon the Secretary of State's department the powers to determine the programmes of study which shall be more or less prescriptive according to subject. I think it has been mentioned that the core will receive the greatest detail. It may just be that the additional word "core" in the first part of subsection (2) might make this more clear. The Secretary of State now needs the powers to deliver what this Committee has already determined is absolutely and entirely appropriate.

Baroness Lockwood

Surely my noble friend has put his finger on a very real deficiency in the Bill. Clause 4(1) says: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State … to establish a complete National Curriculum as soon as is reasonably practicable (taking first the core subjects and then the other foundation subjects)". Subsection (2) says: The Secretary of State may by order specify in relation to each of the foundation subjects". It does not say that he may specify in relation to the core subjects. So if the Secretary of Statre draws up a programme for core subjects, that could be challenged becaue it is not contained in the Bill. So there really is some confusion here.

The Earl of Arran

Clause 4(1) also states: and then the other foundation subjects". The foundation subjects include the core subjects, as defined in Clause 3(2) and Clause 2—the core and other foundation subjects.

Lord Peston

Maybe that is the explanation and we have all totally misunderstood the Bill. Are we being asked to accept that the expression "the core and other foundation subjects" is to be taken to mean that the foundation subjects consist of the core and other foundation subjects and that that is what the Bill means?

I should like to be told that that is what it means because that would help us a great deal. However, if that is so it still remains the case that the noble Earl has given us, if I may say so, a rather random account of the programmes of study. We should still like something more specific and definite. I should certainly like to know whether the logic of what we are saying is that from now on we say that the foundation subjects are the whole lot, of which a sub-set are the core. Is that what we are saying?

Baroness Seear

What is the point of having the two words? If that is the position there is no difference between the two words. Why have "core" and "foundation"?

The Earl of Arran

The national curriculum, as we all know, consists of the core and foundation subjects.

Lord Young of Dartington

Would the Minister not think it would be in the interests of clarity (since we have been confused by this, other people may well be in the future) if in line 34 it was stated that the Secretary of State may by order specify in relation to each of the core and other foundation subjects? That brings a degree of repetition into that sentence which would make it much clearer. If it had been there, we would have saved about 25 minutes of our time this afternoon, quite apart from anything else.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

If I may say so, I think this is an epitome of the whole Bill. It bears every sign of haste in the drafting and so the form that it has taken has been to enable the Secretaray of State in several hundred different ways, in order that he may go ahead and do these things. If more thinking and more time had been given to the Bill before it was brought before Parliament, that would have saved a lot of time in Parliament.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

Might it not help if Clause 18 said something on this? That clause deals with the definitions and says: 'core subjects', 'foundation subjects' and 'key stages' have the meanings given by section 3 of this act". Since Clause 3 is not entirely clear, that might be a place for a more precise definition.

7 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

The Government distinguish in the Bill between the core and other foundation subjects. There are two reasons: one educational, and the other practical. The educational reason is that the knowledge, skills and understanding which pupils acquire through the core subjects lie at the heart of the rest of the curriculum, provide the basis on which other subjects can build and are key elements of what the pupils need if they are to be equipped for adult life. The practical reason emerges in subsection (1) of Clause 4. This requires the Secretary of State, to establish a … National Curriculum as soon as is reasonably practicable (taking first the core subjects)". They are taken first because of the importance we attach to them within a broad and balanced curriculum. Consistent with that the first working groups we announced were for maths and science. We have followed that up with the recent announcement of the English working group.

Lord Kilmarnock

As the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, has already pointed out, Clause 18 (which we have not yet reached) says that the core subjects and the foundation subjects shall, have the meanings given by section 3 of this Act". However, as my noble friend Lord Young has just pointed out, the past 25 or 30 minutes of the debate have shown that it is not clear to people of average intelligence (who I think comprise the Committee) what the precise meanings of these two terms in Clause 3 and in Clause 4 are. Simply in the interests of clarification and for the removal of doubt for the general public—and for people who will have to interpret the Act—would it not be sensible for the noble Earl to say that, as doubts have been expressed about the meaning of those two clauses, the Government will take them away and possibly come back with clarification at the next stage of the Bill?

Lord Jay

Perhaps I may try to give some assistance to the Minister. I understand that he is now saying that the core subjects are themselves foundation subjects. If that is so, would it not be better to amend Clause 3 to say that there are two kinds of foundation subjects—first, the core subjects; and, secondly, the other foundation subjects? None of the misunderstandings which have arisen tonight would then arise in the minds of any intelligent reader of the clause. As it is, the clause is muddled and hurried.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I think we all understand the difference between foundation subjects and those which constitute the core. We are becoming very muddled in our discussion of this matter. We are not clear about this Part of the Bill. We might ask the Minister whether for clarification it needs to say "foundation" and "core". If it does, he could bring forward an amendment. If not—and if somebody else wants to pursue it—he can explain. As to the programmes of study, he said in the first place that some programmes would be issued as guidelines. That seemed to me, in spite of the confusion, to be a perfectly clear response. I wonder whether the Committee will agree that that would be helpful.

The Earl of Arran

In the circumstances, I shall heed the advice of my noble friend and examine this point. I shall take it away and hope to come back with a clearer definition at Report stage.

Baroness Blackstone

I am most grateful to the noble Earl. This has been unsatisfactory. We are not only in a muddle about what constitutes "core" and "foundation". We are also in a muddle about where guidelines are to be operated, where programmes of study will be operated and where we will have something rather more detailed and more like syllabi. In agreeing to take this away I hope that he will not only look to clarify "core" and "foundation" but also say where we shall have guidelines, where we shall have programmes of study and exactly where they will apply and what those terms mean. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rea had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 71A: Page 3, line 37, at beginning insert ("for key stages 2, 3 and 4.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment was discussed at some length earlier this afternoon and at this point I do not wish to continue the discussion. After dinner there will be an opportunity under Amendment No. 75 to discuss this point which concerns the withdrawal of the requirement to assess 7 year-olds.

[Amendment No. 71A not moved.]

The Earl of Arran

This might be a suitable and convenient moment at which to break for dinner. Perhaps I may suggest that we return to the Committee stage at five minutes past eight. I beg to move that this House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(The Earl of Arran.)

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Presumably that is on the conclusion of the debate during the dinner hour. If that goes beyond five minutes past eight it may be slightly later.

The Earl of Arran

I should have said, "not before five past eight".

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.