§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone rose to call attention to the case for increased investment in education and higher quality provision at all stages in the education system; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying how much we look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. I believe there are no other vets in the House, and a House which has a strong interest not just in dogs but in other animals will surely benefit greatly from his expertise over the years to come.
§ The Opposition has chosen to make education the subject of the first Labour debate of the Session because of the growing public concern about the lack of investment in this vitally important service and concern about the quality of much of today's provision. There can be no doubt that education is very high on the political agenda. There can also be no doubt that the Government's own attempts at reform are in a shambles. Government policies on education are ill thought out, incoherent, inconsistent and in many respects impossible to implement.
§ Only last week we saw the scrapping of one of the Government's most cherished schemes—a scheme which we on the Labour side said was both daft and damaging from the beginning; that is, privately funded city technology colleges. Only a couple of weeks ago the universities learnt that the bidding system for funds, invented by the Government but implemented by the Universities Funding Council, was collapsing. A couple of months ago the then Secretary of State had to announce a retreat from the 685 Government's targets on the testing of seven year-olds. Hardly a week goes by without some new climb-down.
§ The future of a generation of children and young people is being threatened by the Government's mismanagement of education and their failure to provide the necessary resources. We are falling behind our European neighbours and the United States and Japan. This cannot go on without jeopardising our future prosperity. It cannot go on without wasting talent and leaving hundreds of thousands of people feeling frustrated and unfulfilled because the education system has failed them. There is only one way out of the morass we are now in. That is the election of a Labour Government—we shall not have to wait too long for one—who will sweep away the gimmicks of the last but one Secretary of State for Education and replace them with a coherent programme to expand opportunities and raise standards.
§ I wish to start with the Government's failure to invest in education. In a period in which the windfall of oil revenues provided the Government with a unique opportunity which no other government have had, spending on education fell from 5.5 per cent. of GDP to 4.8 per cent. To say that rolls are falling will not do. We threw away a golden opportunity to expand and improve the education service.
§ The Government will no doubt say that per capita spending on pupils went up over the period by over 40 per cent. However, that will not do either. That figure largely represents higher average costs due to falling rolls and a failure to take surplus places out of the system. It does not represent higher spending on books, equipment, facilities, the maintenance of buildings or extracurricular activities. In all those areas, as many parents will confirm, provision has become worse. But the Government's claim will not do for another reason. It is a measure of spending on those in the system but it masks the failure to invest in nursery education, further education for 16 to 19 year-olds or higher education so that those who are currently outside the system without places can get into it.
§ The Government may also try to excuse their past failures with claims that the latest expenditure plans represent a substantial increase in spending on education. However, that will not do either. To catch up on the lack of investment over the past decade will require the investment of much more money sustained over a number of years. In any case the few additional morsels that Mr. MacGregor extracted from the Treasury as his final contribution to education before being moved on do not add up to very much.
§ First, the extra £670 million may well be eaten up by inflation. The Government predict that inflation will fall to a level of 5.5 per cent. by the end of 1991. Even if we accept that somewhat optimistic prediction, the average level of inflation for next year could not be much less than 7 per cent. If it is much more than that, any volume increase will soon be whittled away. In any case little of the extra money 686 will be used in day-to-day spending on schools and colleges. Many will face no-growth budgets next year. Some money will go into higher education and some will go into capital spending on schools but both those items require far more investment. The sums available this year will not even scratch the surface of the £4 billion backlog on buildings and their repair. The extra money for higher education is quite insufficient to expand student numbers and maintain quality.
§ I shall now turn to the most important resource in education, which is our teachers. Here the situation is little short of disastrous. Some one in three teachers who start training have left the profession five years after qualification, yet we hear the Minister of State responsible for schools talking about the importance he attaches to getting bad teachers out of the schools. It might make more sense if he focused his attention first on how to keep good teachers in the schools. Unless we achieve that we shall never get rid of the bad ones because every pair of hands, however feeble, will be needed to keep the system going.
§ The number of vacant posts in both primary and secondary schools has gone up substantially over the past three years. Department of Education and Science figures for 1990 revealed 6,500 vacancies. Moreover, in key subjects such as science, mathematics and modern languages, teachers who are not qualified in those subjects have been drafted in to teach them. There can be no disagreement that this is bound to lead to a decline in quality. It is an appalling indictment that more than half of mathematics and physics teachers do not have a post A-level qualification in those subjects.
§ If drastic action is not taken, the crisis in teacher supply seems likely to get worse. How many of us can claim that we know talented, able young people who want to be teachers? I suspect that few of us know such people. Young people perceive the job as demanding yet poorly paid and lacking in status. We must devise measures to raise the status of the profession and attract more able recruits. It is also urgent to find ways to stem the flow of young teachers out of the profession.
§ In the past 11 years there has been far too much criticism of teachers from the Government side and far too little constructive thinking about how to create a stable and high quality profession. What is tragic about that failure is that it is the most disadvantaged pupils in our inner cities who suffer most from teacher shortages and high turnover as their schools rely most on young teachers. No Tory Minister would want his children taught by temporary or unqualified staff. However, such people always buy their way out of the system into private schools. Mr. Clarke, the new Secretary of State for Education, says that he is committed to our public services. That may be the case but he is not committed enough to use the state schools for his own children.
The state of our school buildings is another blatant example of the Government's failure to invest. Buildings with leaking roofs and crumbling paint create a miserable environment in which to work for
both pupils and teachers. It is shocking to read the senior chief inspector's findings in his report for 1988–89 where he states:
In two-thirds of the secondary schools inspected the accommodation was unsatisfactory. In just under half of these there were serious problems".
He makes it clear that the state of our school buildings and the facilities in them will have adverse effects on the implementation of the national curriculum.
§ The Select Committee on Education in its report of July of this year is sceptical that the Government's objectives in this area will be achieved. It recommends that the DES should set minimum standards; identify those schools falling below them; agree with LEAs' target dates for bringing them up to standard and make the resources available to carry this out. I hope that the Minister will give us the Government's latest position on these recommendations.
§ I began my academic career writing about the provision or rather lack of provision of nursery education. I might have hoped that nearly 25 years later I would no longer find myself having to regret the fact that many small children still do not get the chance to benefit from pre-school education. However, such hopes were misplaced. It really is lamentable after Mrs. Thatcher made a pledge in 1972 as Secretary of State for Education to provide places in nursery classes and schools for every three and four year-old whose parents wished him to attend that 18 years later there is still state provision for only 44 per cent. of those children. In France and Belgium 95 per cent. of children of that age are in education and in Italy the figure is 88 per cent. A good nursery class provides the stimulating environment that all small children need. It is disadvantaged children who need it most. If we gave such children a better chance and a better start there might be fewer children falling behind in the primary schools. Such children contribute to our statistics of failure later.
§ Nursery education should not be a privilege for the lucky ones; it should be a right for every child. Labour authorities have tried to recognise this. Indeed a child in a Labour controlled area has twice the chance of a nursery place that a child in a Conservative controlled area has. I should be glad to hear the Minister's comments on that.
§ I now turn to the compulsory stage of education for five to 16 year-olds. I wish to touch on the debate on standards and say a few words about the Government's own reforms and their misplaced optimism about their likely effects. Recent opinion polls show that some 70 per cent. of voters think that standards are falling. Even 65 per cent. of Conservative voters share this view. More than two-thirds of those questioned blamed the Government. I do not know whether this high level of public concern is justified as we simply do not have the evidence. It was a Conservative government who abolished the former NFER national reading surveys and it was this Conservative Government who abolished the assessment of performance unit. As a 688 result we do not have the data to make informed judgments on standards over time, even in relation to basic skills such as reading.
§ There are, however, some worrying trends. Between 1975 and 1982 the proportion of pupils gaining five or more graded results in O-levels and CSEs went up from 62 per cent. to 75 per cent. That is a big improvement. However, from then on the trend towards improved performance came to an end although the introduction of GCSE is now helping matters.
§ Further, in its most recent report, Standards in Education, Her Majesty's Inspectorate judged 30 per cent. of what it saw in schools to be poor or very poor. It was concerned that the less able get the worst deal. The inspectorate views that as a persistent feature of British education at all levels. That is confirmed by international comparisons of achievement levels. Our most able pupils compare well with similar pupils elsewhere but average and below average pupils do not.
§ The HMI report identified a whole range of problems contributing to standards being lower than they should be. I shall list a few of those problems. There are worsening problems of teacher supply; too little non-teaching time for primary school teachers; too little clerical and ancillary help for primary heads; shortages of books, particularly in the first three years of secondary schooling; unsatisfactory accommodation adversely affecting work in half our secondary schools; a lack of equipment, materials and in-service training to allow even a start to be made in teaching technology in primary schools; a lack of coherence with respect to education for 16 to 19 year-olds; and a risk of too much prescription and 'too detailed an external scrutiny of teachers in the implementation of the national curriculum, leading to teachers having impossible workloads as well as their becoming deskilled.
§ That is just a small selection of the problems identified by the inspectorate, yet the Government try to reassure us by claiming that the Education Reform Act will make everything right. They talk a lot of ideological claptrap about market forces and parent choice. The Act's provisions for open enrolment are meant to increase the size of popular schools while unpopular schools wither and eventually close. But what about all those parents and pupils who do not have access to the popular schools? Are we happy that they should languish in bad schools which slowly wither and die, a process which could take many years? No, my Lords. The market does not work in a complex public service such as education.
§ What is needed is good public policies to intervene to improve our schools. That is what the Labour Party proposes by setting up an educational standards council to work with schools and LEAs, identifying good practice and working to bring up the standards of the less effective schools to those of the most effective. We shall also develop a home-school contract so that all parents can participate in their children's education.689
§ The Government set great store on the national curriculum and its associated testing. On this side of the House, while supporting a core curriculum, we have argued that the national curriculum is too detailed and prescriptive and involves too many compulsory subjects in secondary schools. That is now becoming apparent, as we predicted. Similarly, national testing on the scale envisaged by the Government is proving to be unimplementable. The national curriculum and national assessment will all come to nothing if we do not have enough teachers in the right subjects to teach it and if buildings, books, equipment and other facilities are all inadequate.
§ I turn now to the education of 16 to 19 year-olds, which was not dealt with by the Education Reform Act. Here we are in the biggest mess of all. Staying on rates after 16 are deplorable. Only just over one-third of young people remain in full-time education between the ages of 16 and 19. That is a lower proportion than in any other advanced country. In France, two-thirds of young people in that age group are at school or college; in Sweden and Japan, over three-quarters, and in the United States almost four-fifths. What do the Government propose to do about those appalling participation rates? Why, over the past 11½ years, have they done so little to secure an improvement? They have allowed an incoherent and confusing mish-mash of vocational qualifications to develop—confusing to parents, pupils and teachers alike.
§ At the same time the Government cling to an unreformed system of A-levels even though both the over-specialisation and the old-fashioned and unimaginative assessment entailed have been criticised by many informed commentators. Those exams, and the courses that lead up to them, are a major factor in weeding out such a huge proportion of young people from full-time education. They are not even suitable for the top 20 per cent. of pupils. Substantial numbers drop out and we insist on failing 30 per cent. who take them.
§ For how much longer can we afford to do that? Every time moderate proposals for reform are put forward the Government reject them. The latest example comes from their own advisers—the School Examination and Assessment Council—to which Tim Eggar, the Minister of State, responded with a tired old cliché about A-levels being the gold standard. The gold is getting very tarnished.
§ If we are to get more young people to stay on, nothing less than a radical overhaul is needed. At the very least we must create an alternative vocational route into higher education so that the many young people who find A-levels too narrow or too daunting but who have the capacity and interest to study after 16 can do so. I should prefer to see a proper examination of the Institute for Public Policy Research proposals for a British baccalaureate. That would create a unified system which could bridge academic and vocational studies. I should be interested to hear the Government's views on those proposals.690
§ Finally, I want to make some remarks about higher education. I shall be brief because I know that several other noble Lords intend to focus on higher education. The Government quite rightly wish to increase the numbers of young people taking degree-level studies. I welcome the small increase announced in the Autumn Statement to contribute towards the cost of its expansion. However, the Government are hell-bent on trying to get higher education on the cheap in a way that can only lead to a damaging decline in quality.
§ First, the capital allocation for next year is deeply disappointing. The polytechnics in particular are suffering from many years of neglect on the capital side. The universities, too, desperately need a greater injection of capital. For example, there are science departments and medical and veterinary schools which are required under the law to improve their animal houses yet the funding has not been provided to allow them to meet even the basic legal requirements. In his reply can the Minister say what the Government think the universities should do?
§ On the recurrent side, the Government insist on what they call further efficiency gains. Ministers are obviously completely out of touch with what has been happening in our higher education institutions. There have already been huge increases in efficiency and it is very hard to see where any more are to come from. Lastly, perhaps we could be told what the Government intend to do about the recent fiasco at the Universities Funding Council. The universities are still incredulous about the chairman's action.
§ I should have liked to be more positive about what has been happening in our education system, but until the Government give education the priority it deserves that will not be possible. There is mounting public criticism from all sections of the community. What people want to see is every child and young person reaching their full potential. They want to see properly resourced schools and colleges. Above all, they want the nation to succeed and they know that we shall only succeed in the 21st century if we have the best educated people and the best trained workforce in Europe. The Government have failed, not just in the execution of their policies but also through their lack of ambition in striving for those goals for Britain's children and young people, for Britain's future. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
My Lords, perhaps I may first acknowledge the very kind and courteous reception that I have received in your Lordships' House as a new Member and all the good wishes that I have received for today. Many of your Lordships will know that it is a day of diffidence and trepidation, especially when one is faced with a series of speakers whose knowledge of a subject is as great as, if not greater than, one's own and whose experience is certainly greater.
It is a particular privilege to speak following the distinguished opener of this debate on education, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I wish to focus my 691 remarks on postgraduate education, a subject which the noble Baroness touched on. My 40 years of experience in the field, both in this country and overseas, may be of assistance in the appreciation of the role of postgraduate education in the economic, cultural and scientific health and welfare of this country, the Commonwealth and the community of nations in general. It is an important part of the interdependent primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of education and it has been the seedbed for many distinguished leaders in the humanities and sciences. One can generally trace a period of postgraduate study in the careers of Nobel laureates, fellows of learned societies, heads of colleges and other houses of learning, vice-chancellors and indeed a most reverend Primate. Your Lordships' House is well represented in all of those callings.
However, with due respect to such distinguished persons, it is the postgraduate and postdoctoral student who, within the United Kingdom at least, is responsible for much of the research effort. Without them that research effort could well falter, and training for leadership in science, industry and higher education would be very much compromised thereby. One must say that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows certainly are not motivated to their life of research and scholarship by monetary gain, since a graduate student's stipend is of the order of some £4,000 a year. Though admittedly it is tax free it is still hardly comparable with the salary of a junior secretary in London.
They play a crucial role in the national research effort in that they are at the cutting edge of research. That includes the liberation of the head of department or the leader of a research project to undertake other essential matters of teaching and administration. It is also the efforts of those postgraduates and postdoctorals which are largely exposed to the scrutiny of academic audit bodies such as the Universities Funding Council in the form of its periodic assessment of research productivity. In turn, such assessment determines the future funding of various departments and institutions. Some have called it the periodic romp through the higher education institutes, but I hasten to assure your Lordships that in this case ROMP is the acronym for Research Output by Measuring the number of Publications, that being an updated and supposedly finer analytical tool than POP, or, to give it its extended form, publish or perish.
Fortunately, the number of postgraduate and postdoctoral positions has been improved recently in all the research councils and by various charities. For example, the Medical Research Council has increased —in fact, more than doubled —its scholarship and research awards; the Natural Environment Research Council has significantly increased higher education institute support and postgraduate studentships; the Science and Engineering Research Council's support for scholarships and fellowships is up by 10 per cent. compared with five years ago; and similarly the Agricultural and Food Research Council has made a major shift in funding to higher education institutes.
692 The charities concerned with research and education—for example, the Wellcome Trust—are also playing an important role.
The problem now lies in the recruitment of appropriately qualified individuals from that population of one in five of all 18 year-olds who enter higher education and in particular in their retention within the system. An area of special concern is biotechnology, which is and will continue to be one of the highest competitive areas in postdoctoral science in the country. As a nation, to survive as a front runner in science and technology we must be able to compete with research and development efforts similar to those of our rivals in much the same way as major chemical and pharmaceutical companies must sustain their research efforts to match those of their rivals.
It is therefore somewhat disappointing, after having provided the necessary funding for postgraduate studies and the ensuing research, to discover that there is still a substantial drain—a brain drain —of our people to other countries, from which the reciprocal flow is substantially smaller. It is no bad thing to gain further experience in different institutions. It produces a valuable hybrid vigour. But for much of that talent to be retained permanently overseas, especially in the USA where the institutions are just as hungry for outstanding people as are our institutions, is obviously not of benefit for this country.
In 1964 I was part of the brain drain but I returned to this country 15 years later. I feel that I can speak with some experience of the factors which led to my departure and return. Essentially they were questions of career opportunity. I believe that it is critical to improve career prospects beyond our present postgraduate training if we are to keep trained people here and tempt them back following study overseas. Positive steps are being taken in that direction—for example, through the IRCs (interdisciplinary research centres), where major funding is provided over a 10-year period which includes many postgraduate and postdoctoral positions. The Royal Society research fellowship scheme for distinguished young scientists is especially valuable in retaining our best people.
Happily, there is a noticeable increase in persons returning from overseas to take up senior positions in universities and research institutions. That is a most welcome development. Nevertheless, the improved conditions that increasingly tempt people to return must be sustained if we are to fill the numerous lacunae in our postdoctoral education system.
Perhaps I may refer to my own profession; namely, veterinary medicine. The recruitment of veterinarians to the Agricultural and Food Research Council, for example, has fallen to what we must accept as too low a level in that only some 30 veterinarians out of a workforce of some 2,600 are employed in the whole service. There is a similar situation in the schools of veterinary medicine. There was a clear association between recruitment and the planning blight that affected the six schools, especially the two which were threatened with closure. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank noble Lords on all sides of the 693 House for their generous support which resulted in the retention of six schools of veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom.
I mentioned the brain drain from this country. There is another brain drain with which we are not perhaps so familiar; namely, the brain drain from the poorer countries of the world. Individuals from those countries go to Western countries, which retain them. Within the Commonwealth the mobility of students, particularly postgraduate students, has been a fundamental element in the support and development of education. The product has been obvious in all walks of life. Not least it has served to provide leadership and staffed the centres of higher learning. The most able and brightest people from those countries are usually sent and it is a tragedy that in some cases up to 50 per cent. of them fail to return to their native land.
It is to be expected that the countries in need of most assistance in this respect are the developing countries. Whatever plans we may have for postgraduate education in the United Kingdom we must ensure that adequate provision continues to be made for training people from overseas, especially from those areas of the Commonwealth.
Finally, I believe that there is a further commitment that we should make. We must assist in the re-establishment of research and scholarship in the academic institutions of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe where hitherto contact with the West has been minimal but where the demand will grow. In fact, it is growing very rapidly. Not only will there be a need to provide specific disciplinary training; it will also be important to re-establish some of the oldest institutions of learning in Europe in their former distinguished roles as centres of education, teaching and research. I believe that the provision of postgraduate places in Britain would be the most effective way to do that.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to begin what must be in part a debating speech by speaking on behalf of the whole House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, on an excellent maiden speech, to which I listened with great attention. Having been educated at Oxford, I think of the noble Lord as coming from the other place as well as from the other side of the House. Nevertheless, in my eyes his speech fulfilled the requirement of being non-controversial in that I agreed with practically every word. It was excellently delivered. We share many topics of interest and I look forward to being able to take part with the noble Lord in debates on them on many future occasions.
I am pleased to be able to speak on the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I am pleased too that she chose to word the Motion as she did. The key point of the wording of the Motion is to link the idea of quality in education with the level of investment in education. The key point of the Motion 694 is that quality costs money. In using the word "investment" in the Motion, the noble Baroness has made a bow to what is rapidly becoming the new agenda of politics. The key point which holds that new agenda together is the link between the expansion of our education and the improvement of our industry.
I should like to pay tribute to the part played by your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology in helping to form that new agenda. The appearance of such a new agenda after 11 years of this Government testifies to the fact that in matters involving research and development, education and industrial training there is a role for the state. In fact the links between the state and industrial enterprise had become irreversible before 1979. Since that fact is recognised by all our major competitors, including such free market countries as the United States, it might help if we too recognised it and got on with the job.
The key Word in the Motion is quality. Many noble Lords in the debate on the humble Address commented on the words in the gracious Speech:My Government will continue to take action to improve quality in education".It was the verb which I think caused a certain amount of surprise. I know a good many people working in education. In speaking to this Motion I must declare my interest as a serving university teacher. I do not know anyone employed in education who believes that quality has improved since 1979. I rather wonder what the Government are talking about. After 11 years any government ought to be prepared to review some of their policies and principles, to ask whether they have had the desired effect and indeed to ask whether they fit changed circumstances.
I should like to ask the Government to think again about what they consider constitutes quality in education. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke about choice. Choice has a great deal to commend it. It is a concept for which Liberal Democrats feel enthusiasm. However, real choice does not exist without a proper free market. I believe that it has been recognised since the Elementary Education Act 1870, if not for longer, that the ideals of a free market in schools and of universal education are not compatible.
The Government talk of efficiency. I shall say no more about the government definition of efficiency. I have dwelt on it before. However, I ask them to consider whether there are cases in which efficiency is compatible with an increased cost rather than a reduced cost. The Government also tend to identify quality with anti-professionalism, with which much of their thinking has been shot through. The difficulty with anti-professionalism is that the job of educating has to be carried out by professionals. There is a limit to the extent to which one can persuade them to accept and carry out anti-professional values. I was interested to note in the report of the Health and Safety Executive published last week that we are losing several million pounds a year as a result of occupational stress among teachers.
695 When I consider quality I think first and foremost of books —the contents of the library. I have talked many times before about the problems of university libraries. The situation in schools is often even worse. In 1988–89—it is the last year for which I have complete figures—the ILEA (as it then was) was spending £19 per pupil on books in secondary schools. That figure was the top of the range. The bottom figure, from metropolitan districts, was £10 per year per pupil in secondary schools.
Your Lordships may perhaps imagine how few books one can buy for £10 a year at present prices. Those are the schools entering candidates for A-levels. In that year the average figure per pupil in secondary schools fell in money terms—not in real terms—from £14.92 to £14.52. The total expenditure that year was £74.5 million. It is not very much in a £23 billion budget. To be constant in real terms that would have had to have been £109.6 million. There is therefore a shortfall of £35 million. That is the equivalent of a loss of 8 million books. How can one have quality education with such figures?
I am pleased to see that the Secretary of State has announced a figure for provision of new books for the national curriculum. As I understand it, that figure is £15 million. However, the Educational Publishers Council has estimated, in a figure which I believe to be an underestimate, that the cost of books for the national curriculum in history alone will be £58 million. We have a danger that the national curriculum will go the same way as community care. I have much admiration for a good deal of what is in the national curriculum on history. However, if that is all the money available to introduce it, for my part I would rather it did not take place.
The problem of school buildings is very much the same. Throughout the public services, the Thatcher years will be thought of as the years of deferred maintenance. That is not entirely the Government's fault. The years of deferred maintenance come after the Wilson years, which I think of as the years of ferry building. But of course the effect is cumulative. That the maintenance requires to be done is not always the Government's fault; it is not always any government's fault. However, as all noble Lords who have ever called in a builder will know, if one leaves building jobs alone they get bigger and builders' costs increase. The figures are inevitably based on estimates. If any of your Lordships know a builder whose bill is not bigger than his estimate, I shall be happy to hear from you afterwards.
I shall say no more about teacher shortages. I am glad that the noble Baroness dwelt on that subject. I agree with what she said. I pass on to the collapse of the system of competitive bidding in universities. I believe that the previous Secretary of State's faith in that system was always misplaced. He believed that competition would reduce the price without reducing quality. That seems to me to show an indifference to the notion of true costs. Like the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, I too have worked abroad in the United States. I have seen a competitive system in operation. It has many different effects at different 696 points on the scale. At the lower end one tends to have what is known as grade inflation—giving grades more and more easily to encourage people to come. I have seen pressure in operation already to do that in British universities.
At the other end of the scale one gels what one sees at Harvard and Yale; that is the operation of a quality market where the competition is not to be the cheapest but to be the best. Therefore, the effect is for competition to drive up the price. It is, as Mr. Robert Jackson used to say, a Rolls-Royce market. I believe that any faith that was placed in the competitive bidding system to achieve the Government's aim was always misplaced. Meanwhile it has collapsed. We do not know where we are.
Universities cannot expand on the basis of one-year funding. Undergraduates are there for three years; they cannot be turned away in the middle. It is urgent that universities should have some confirmation of the planning exercise—that is to say, the academic plans turned in with great effort in response to requests from the Universities Funding Council. Taking in students on one-year funding is like going out to drive on the motorway without enough petrol to get to the next service station. I do not think that that is very prudent.
When the Government reply, I hope that they will not once again trot out figures of real terms. On the ground and looking at what is happening, they are not believable.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Lord Dainton
My Lords, I too should like to join in congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, who has drawn our attention to the fact that the annual influx of able young people is indeed the lifeblood of all universities. I am pleased to have him here as a champion in our midst. He is very welcome and we thank him for his splendid maiden speech.
It is only 17 months since higher education was the subject of a two-and-a-half hour debate in this House. One might reasonably suppose that little of importance in this field would happen in so short a period of time and therefore that only a little of this debate, which is to cover the whole of education, need be devoted to higher education.
I wish most sincerely that I could report that this supposition was correct, and that having cast, as I have, an experienced eye over the university scene I could also report to your Lordships that, during the first 18 months of its existence, the new statutory body for the universities, the Universities Funding Council, had developed a sense of common purpose amongst its members, had devised a harmonious and effective modus operandi, and, in its dealings with the universities, had won their trust and confidence by demonstrating that it understood the problems that they faced as well as the national priorities, and therefore had created a sensible and realistic national policy framework without a knowledge of which no university can construct a practical corporate plan for the future. In a word, I wish I could tell your Lordships that what the Government said in its 697 advocacy of the Education Reform Bill—namely, that the Universities Funding Council would be superior in functioning to its non-statutory predecessor, the University Grants Committee—had in fact come about.
Alas, I cannot give your Lordships that assurance. Indeed, I have to tell you that the reverse is the case. Long gone—vanished into thin air—are the symbiosis and mutual trust of the universities and the UGC which had existed for 70 years, which were much admired overseas, and which were the sure foundation enabling the production of first degree graduates of quality at lower cost than in all other countries of comparable economic development. The UGC was a part of the machinery of government which had also carried us through some difficult periods, including the Second World War and, in 1974, when inflation rose to just under 30 per cent. Inflationary protection of university grants disappeared, and yet the UGC still did not lose that essential trust of the universities. That made it possible to come through.
Instead of that trust and symbiosis, there is now mistrust and a feeling that the Universities Funding Council has not established that close and well-informed contact with the universities which can earn for it the reputation of understanding the way in which the universities have adapted their procedures to modern circumstances without sacrificing principles. Unfortunately there are no longer those subject sub-committees which made it their business to be informed by personal visits to, and therefore by face-to-face discussions with, university people as well as by correspondence, about the quality of work done in every sector of every university. A single individual so-called "adviser" to the UFC cannot, unaided, make those judgments in a satisfactory way.
Nor are the major "visitations" as they were called, of the old University Grants Committee to individual universities, to which Lord Haldane many years ago correctly attached such importance, carried out with thoroughness and great benefit to both sides. Such visits as do take place are seen by the universities as being of too short duration, sparsely attended by UFC members and less mutually informative. Moreover, it is an open secret, and the subject of repeated press comment, that agreement on vital issues within the UFC and its two principal officers is often elusive if not absent.
There may be those among your Lordships who will choose to disregard my remarks on the grounds that my personal history must imply that I have some nostalgia for the "good old days" which will carry with it, they will assume, a reluctance to meet the need for necessary change. So let me conclude with some statements of fact about our universities. British universities have always done their best to respond to national needs for higher education. They were always clear that more of the skilled manpower which they can produce is essential for the success of Great Britain Limited. They have been prepared to make sacrifices to achieve this end, especially in hard times. In fact, since 1974, which I remember very vividly, 698 they have accepted a steady erosion of the unit of resource—that is to say, the amount of grant plus fee income provided by the Government per student per annum—to the point that not only has any supposed fat been sweated out of the system, but evidence of unwise neglect in the form of poor building maintenance and antiquated equipment is now clearly visible in every university.
Therefore, when the Universities Funding Council earlier this year called for bids from every university which were to be expressed in terms of numbers of students that university would be prepared to accept in various subject categories, and on which the UFC proffered some guide prices with which the universities would make estimates of costs, the universities set to work with a will, feeling that they had a planning horizon. They produced plans which, taken together, provided for an expansion of student numbers to 1994–95 representing a 19 per cent. increase on 1989. Only 7 per cent. of those bids were under the guide price, for the very simple reason that, the efficiency gains having already been achieved over the past decade and a half, any further reduction in costs must inevitably carry a quality penalty.
I am sure that your Lordships will accept without question that it is no service to this country to produce graduates less well qualified by education and training to serve their future employers than those of our competitor countries. The Universities Funding Council has responded to this situation by sending on 23rd October a terse letter to each university (I have a copy here) over the signature of its secretary—not even the chief executive or chairman, be it noted—expressing its disappointment with this response and putting its much trumpeted four-year planning cycle back into the melting pot for review.
What are we to make of this shambles? Perhaps more to the point, what do the professional people and wealth creators, who give freely of their time, energy and experience to the onerous task of chairing the governing bodies of all British universities except Oxford and Cambridge, and each therefore having major responsibilities for the stewardship every year of tens of millions of pounds of public money, think of the situation? Until 31st October it was possible only to guess based on their well-known opinion of the new Universities Funding Council derived from accounts of their wholly unproductive meeting some months ago with the noble Lord, Lord Chilver, the chairman of that body. However, on 31st October Mr. Hugh Try, chairman of the Committee of Chairmen of University Councils, wrote to The Times as follows:Universities have responded with enthusiasm to the calls from successive secretaries of state for an expansion of student numbers and a broadening of the age and social mix of the intake. The fact that universities are significantly above the student numbers for which the Government has specifically funded them is evidence in itself of their commitment. They have also responded vigorously to the University Funding Council's request for their plans up to 1994–5 with bids for a growth of 19 per cent.Such an expansion can only be contemplated on a properly planned basis, with the necessary steps being taken to provide teaching space, equip laboratories, appoint staff and find or build student residences. To do otherwise would be unbusinesslike, would be potentially to let down students and their parents and, most serious 699 of all for the long term, would affect the quality of education which we must provide if we are to compete successfully with our European neighbours.This whole process of expansion, however, has been placed in jeopardy by the decision of the UFC to put forward planning into suspense for 1991–2 … Only a month ago, the Public Accounts Committee criticised the UFC Council for not having in place the planning and financial arrangements necessary for universities to draw up realistic financial forecasts …If Government and the UFC are looking to the universities to provide for growth in student numbers of between 15 and 20 per cent. by 1994–5 and further expansion thereafter, we must have a longer planning and funding horizon than one year.In the light of those wise words from experienced, responsible people, mainly drawn from the business community, and in the light of the deplorable situation which now exists, is it too much to ask that the Secretary of State takes remedial action before it is too late? This should be directed, first, to securing the funds necessary to ensure that the graduates we need get the education of the quality which we wish for them, without which prospects for this country's success will continue to recede. And, secondly, perhaps the Secretary of State will conduct an independent appraisal of the structure and workings of the Universities Funding Council with a view to a rapid improvement of both so that it can perform its pivotal task of planning for the future effectively. My Lords, time is of the essence.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord Perry of Walton
My Lords, I am very glad that the Labour Party has instigated this debate. Perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, on a notable maiden speech which was non-controversial in dealing with a highly controversial subject.
The Motion covers a vast territory and, if I may say so, a multitude of sins. However, let us make no mistake about it: they are not just the sins of this Government but the sins of many governments of both major parties.
I have been married twice and have two separate families. My first child went to school in 1953 and my sixth in 1985, more than 30 years later. The changes I have noticed over those years appal me. Nowadays, "competition" seems to have become a dirty word. Neither the children nor their parents are given any information about performance relative to other children. Children are given no pat on the back for a particularly good piece of work; nor, as far as I can see, are they encouraged to be imaginative. The result is a dull level of mediocrity where the gifted consistently under perform because they are not challenged.
Children are naturally intensely competitive about every one of their activities at home, in play and at school. This Government are always preaching about the value of competition in adult life. Yet children are being trained to believe that it is undesirable. That does not make sense.
A second change which appalls me is the deterioration in discipline. That is not uniformly true. Some schools manage to maintain discipline very successfully. Alas, others do not. When things get bad, 700 they can become really horrible. If teachers do not have the sort of personality or charisma which makes children instinctively behave, they have no official means of enforcing discipline. Corporal punishment, which in my day ensured compliance, has long since disappeared. Even a slap in anger can lead to parental complaint. Other forms of punishment can be ignored. When appealed to, parents are often unable or unwilling to help.
Why should that new situation haw come about? Why have teachers lost the status they formerly had? Thirty years ago they were respected citizens and children and parents looked up to them. I do not believe that the loss of status and respect is merely the result of relatively lower salaries. It seems to me that it may stem from the changes in teaching methods introduced over those years. Where once the teacher taught the whole class and those who could not keep up were left behind and where formality was the rule, now the atmosphere is informal and an attempt is made to treat each child individually. That sounds like a great improvement but perhaps it has been bought at the cost of bringing down the teacher from a pedestal to the same level as the pupils and perhaps that pedestal was necessary for the maintenance of discipline. There is very little evidence to show that the new methods in education have improved the output. They may have made it more enjoyable for the children; for the teacher perhaps less enjoyable.
As I said in the House on 8th November, the welcome broadening of the school curriculum introduced by the national curriculum left the A-levels unchanged. In common with almost every educational group and institution in this country, I regard that as a mistake. A-levels force those who stay in school to study in depth rather than in breadth. That discourages many from remaining at school at all.
I note also from a careful study or the national curriculum in science that few 16 year-olds are expected to reach beyond level 7 of the 10 levels of achievement available under the curriculum. I give an example. Very few 16 year-olds taking science will have been told anything at all about DNA, the genetic code or genetic engineering, since those subjects appear only at levels 8, 9 and 10. Surely it is cause for grave anxiety that more than 70 per cent. of our children should be turned out into the adult world at 16 with no training or education in a subject—genetic engineering—which will be so central to the development of society during their adult life. Of those staying on at school only students of biology to A-level standard will ever be taught anything about genetic engineering. All those going on to A-levels in the humanities or social sciences will stay ignorant unless they have gone beyond level 7 in the GCSE. Among those who remain ignorant will be many of our future politicians, civil servants, judges and businessmen. It is pathetic and is liable to be tragic for our future.
In technology the situation is even worse. We have lagged behind our competitors. Apprenticeships have virtually disappeared. Further education has had to try to cope with students who are ill prepared in the 701 basics of maths and physics where the shortage of teachers has been a problem for decades. It is not a new crisis; it has been with us for many years.
The many attempts of government to improve the technical training of 16 year-olds have not worked or have worked very poorly. The open tech spent a great deal of money commissioning courses without adequate quality control; the open college has been forced to become just another commercially based institution selling its services at a market price too costly for the poor. YTS was abandoned as a costly failure.
How could those systems be expected to work when they had to deal with an output of school-leavers whose basic education in maths and science had been so neglected—the same school-leavers that further education failed to cope with? To make matters worse there is a collapse of morale in the schools. Teachers believe themselves to be undervalued and underpaid and blamed for all the problems. The professions carry some of the responsibility but not all. They tend to resist change. Radical change is called for and can only be provided by political action.
On 8th November I outlined my beliefs to this House. Allow me to repeat them. If we were to introduce the hardware necessary to provide pupils in schools with work stations—a personal computer, a video-disc player and a cable connection to a central library of learning materials—we could transform the situation. In the library we could have a series of mathematics lessons prepared by a very gifted teacher. We could have the same series prepared by a different very gifted teacher, and do that over and over again. The children could choose which they enjoyed; which they found interesting and stimulating. They could study at their own pace while their classmates used other teachers and went forward at different speeds. The class teacher would ensure that all the children spent a fixed proportion of time on mathematics, that a child having difficulty was helped and that discipline was maintained.
I do not believe that in those circumstances discipline would be a problem. Children would want to study that way and the results would be astounding. No longer would many of them be forced to try to learn maths and physics from teachers with little or no training in those subjects and as a result be permanently switched off them. The capital costs would be high but the maintenance costs very low. That is a picture of the future. Can we ensure that it is not too distant a future?
Finally, perhaps I may say a word or two regarding universities. They have been under financial pressure for a long time. I was still in office when it all began. For some years cuts were defensible for there was fat in the system that could be shed, but the fat has long since disappeared. There have been great efforts in the universities, and indeed great success, in finding supplementary sources of income other than government grant.
702 The last effort of government to introduce competition between universities through the change from the UGC to the UFC, as my noble friend Lord Dainton said, was a disaster. We have only two choices. The first is to maintain our system in the universities, which is a high quality, high cost one. If we do that we can expand it only by increasing the resources put into it. If that means extra taxation, so be it. I rather like the idea of a graduate tax, but one paid by all graduates. Most of us who graduated in the past, I hope, would happily share the burden with new graduates. In that case it would be a relatively small annual sum for the individual graduate.
The alternative is to move in the direction of the system in the United States where, in addition to universities, there are a large number of colleges which are not research-based, which do not offer post-graduate degrees and which have graduation rates of only around 50 per cent. They also offer associate degrees after two years, as well as bachelor degrees after four years. That type of institution could take, at much lower cost, the expanded number of students needed. It is at least arguable that graduates from such institutions would ably fill many of the skilled jobs in industry which too few of our university graduates wish to take.
I am advocating radical policies; many will regard them as iconoclastic. I believe we need such changes; without them or something similar we shall find ourselves as a nation in a continued decline.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, perhaps I may first congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech. I assume that Swaffham Prior is in Norfolk. My father was a Norfolk man; he came from Swaffham, where they do not do any "troshing" for nothing. I am proud that I carry a name which I believe is a county name.
With due deference I should also like to congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench on the splendid way in which she introduced the debate. I am particularly pleased by the wording. We are investing in people. I know we must mention money but let us occasionally think of what education is concerned with.
During the past few weeks I had the privilege of presenting prizes at three schools. It is useful to move from one place to another for then people have not heard the same joke. On each occasion I mentioned the story of the cynical politician who said that the Welsh had a passion for education, the Scots had a respect for it and the English had no particular objection to it. The older I grow the more I have the horrid feeling that there is some truth in that.
I should like to illustrate the way I see education by using the quotation from the National Union of Teachers; I have not heard it put better. I use it when referring to investment in education. Education means the growth, the freedom and the happiness of the human being, the quality of society—the quality—and the wealth of the nation. The wealth of the nation is not necessarily expressed in money. Surely everything 703 does not need to be expressed in terms of money. Is there nothing we can speak of which does not bring in that wretched point?
When we speak of education of course we must say that we want books. There are teachers in my family; I have grandchildren at school. When I watch a child trying to learn Greek from a book that has been used so much that it is virtually unreadable and it has to be passed to someone else, I realise how nonsensical the situation is.
We must be very careful. I believe all governments interfere too much in the process of education. We introduce Acts of Parliament; why do we not leave the practice of things to the practitioners? Why are we always interfering, especially in education? I have thought about that many times and believe it is because everybody has been to school. We all think that we know best. It is similar to giving a cookery demonstration to a group of women; they all know far better than the demonstrator how to do it. I was always safe in saying, as I said to my daughter-in-law, that whatever my husband married me for it was not my cooking.
There is no doubt that we interfere too much. The poor—I could use a word which we are not allowed to use in this House—pathetic teachers, the practitioners; there are 400,000 in maintained schools in England and Wales. The loss of those teachers is alarming. Why? It is not difficult to find the answer. In the first place there is no support, no career development for teachers. There are assessments; everyone will assess them. But I defy anyone to say when I taught a class of dull and backward children and at the end of the year none could read that I was a less excellent teacher—I do not often blow my own trumpet but in this case I shall—than the person in the next class where there were 25 brilliant children. Of course they all obtained scholarships. None of my poor children would ever achieve that. Therefore, how one assesses a good teacher is, to me, one of the mysteries of life. The Government, however, are quite certain that they can do it. In fact, I believe that the government that I supported were nearly as bad.
There are poor financial rewards for teachers. I was very interested to learn from the gracious Speech that an early Bill is to be introduced to establish permanent negotiating arrangements covering school teachers' pay, duties and conditions of service. I looked for it. It is another elaborate document and costs £4.95. Every copy produced results in a little less being available to pay the teachers.
Why do we always have everything communicated at such great length? The Bill contains at least three pages explaining what a teacher should be doing. That may be very useful but I remind noble Lords that for a teacher there are only five hours in the teaching day. Of course, as I know from my own experience, teachers spend many hours on school work outside school. Let no one imagine that a teacher floats in and does a little nice work with all the children sitting quietly. That is what I believed when I left college; I thought that I would be confronted by dear little children sitting with upturned faces waiting for my 704 words of wisdom. An hour in the classroom soon disabused me of that. The position is now far worse, as the noble Lord just said.
The starting salary for graduates who are articled in law, the clerks, is £13,000. The starting salary for computer operators—and I have checked this in advertisements—is between £10,000 and £12,000. The starting salary for a teacher, after at least four years' training (and presumably now also for graduates) is £9,000. Teachers have never been well paid but they have had status. Now the children despise the silly professional who has a clapped out old car parked by the playground. The children's fathers have jolly good cars. Teachers do not wear very good clothes but the children's parents wear jolly good clothes. Some teachers live in very small houses. Noble Lords should not believe that children do not take their standards from society and from adults.
The teachers' powers of discipline have been undermined. The teachers are like the police and are blamed for all the evils in our society. They are not created by teachers. Any trouble is said to be the fault of the poor unfortunate teachers or the police. It is never the parents who are blamed. Only occasionally do the parents come in for comment. A parent once came to see me and asked why I did not deal with her child in a certain way. I said, "Madam, I have your son for five hours each day for five days in the week and a certain number of weeks in the year. You have him for 19 hours every day of the year. Who has the greater influence?" If teachers are expected to maintain discipline, they must be supported. In the old days they were supported by the authorities and by the parents.
Almost every year the teachers are handed what looks like a new curriculum. They are expected to deal with different types of examination which come along as regularly as clockwork. What has happened to the three Rs, I ask myself? Now we have something new, and I do not understand it. When I last taught—admittedly 30 years ago—there was a moral obligation on all teachers to see that children moved to the secondary stage well equipped not only to read and to express themselves but to write, to do mathematics, and so on. What happened to that? Why is there something new? The children are receptive and waiting to be taught.
I refer now to the HMI report. Incidentally, it has been quite interesting to read some of the material issued by certain educationists. The spelling is appalling. I underline examples. My secretary asks to read letters before I use the blue pencil! However, I do not expect to find such errors in reports produced by HMI. One report produced this gem:Standards of learning are never improved by poor teachers and there are no cheap high quaky routes into teaching".Does that need underlining? Every teacher knows that.
I was interested to see in the Daily Mail last week that it has been discovered in certain places—they are all given in the paper—that more cash is being spent on non-teachers than on teachers. Does that make 705 sense? I do not suggest that the Government are looking for cuts, but, if they are, why not consider the administration? I was intrigued to find, when in hospital, that if any department was overstaffed it was the administrative department. The hospital was not overstaffed with nurses, doctors, or people who prepared the food. Does the same position apply in schools?
In my own borough—I shall be fair by quoting a Labour borough—there are 1,500 non-teachers and 1,400 teachers. There is something wrong there. Moreover, four schools are being closed, which shocks me. In Westminster—a rather different political colour—there are 1,700 non-teachers and 1,800 teachers. Does that make sense? We need the practitioners, the people at the grass roots, the people who are at the baseline. We shall not get graduates in universities if we do not have the highest excellence of teaching from the very moment when children start school. I have no time to speak about nursery education, but I believe that we also need pre-school training.
I conclude by making a plea on behalf of teachers. Everyone will be making a plea of some kind. How would your Lordships feel if we were suddenly faced with a pool of inactive teachers who came from the "pit", as it is said? Let us make opportunities for the really well trained, professional teachers. Of course there will be a few bad ones, but most teachers are highly dedicated. Their morale is low at present because they are constantly under attack, are underpaid and feel that they are not receiving sufficient support. My call is this—and I use the words of the NUT: freedom, happiness, quality of society and the wealth of the nation can only be achieved by true investment in the people who will make that possible.
§ 4.27 p.m.
My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships that because of a commitment made before the business of this week was known I may have to leave before the conclusion of the debate. I join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. The noble Lord was too modest to tell us the truth; namely, that he is the first veterinarian or veterinary surgeon—or, more simply, vet—to have sat in either House of Parliament. We can congratulate him and ourselves on that, as well as on the content and delivery of his speech.
I rejoice that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who introduced the debate, laid such emphasis on standards. She might have evinced a little humility because, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, said, the problem about standards in education—particularly for the non-academic child—goes back decades, if not generations or centuries. In fact, I take some pride in being one of the first to put it on the agenda. When I went to the Department of Education as Secretary of State I continued my modest practice of giving a short reading list to the officials of that department. I gave only one book, called Lessons from Europe. It was a 706 book from the Centre for Policy Studies which the Prime Minister and I founded in 1974. It was published in 1976 and argued, with detailed analysis, that in our neighbours of North-West Europe the standards of education, particularly for the nonacademic child, are a great deal better than in this country. I gave it to the senior officials in my department and they paid me the compliment of saying the next day that it was rather more interesting than they had thought. However, as for action, they never produced any ideas for action. We sent delegations of HMI to look at countries in North-West Europe and they came back with their eyes wide open and stated that it is true that non academic children do better in Germany and France. They were the two countries that HMI visited, but I am sure that that situation applies equally to other countries of North-West Europe.
I do not believe that the Labour Party has helped in raising standards. No doubt it was sincere, but the action of demolishing direct grant schools, in seeking to extirpate grammar schools, in imposing the untried panacea of comprehensive schools, in decrying and seeking to eliminate competition and competitiveness when, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, stated, all children in one form or another are inherently competitive, and in denigrating discipline did no service to children, particularly those from relatively poor and non-academic homes.
It is also true to state that the Conservative Party has not succeeded in solving the problem. We come to the matter relatively late because there has been in this country a trahison des clercs, an unwillingness of those watchdogs who should have barked far earlier to point to the almost tragic lack of decent education for the non-academic child in this country. We accept that this country has some snobberies within it. Educational and intellectual snobbery accounts for a great deal of the shameful silence that has allowed the low standards of education for the non-academic child in particular to last so long. In this country there are 70 departments of education in universities and polytechnics where the taxpayer and the ratepayer pay for people to spend their professional lives concerning themselves with education. Did they shout? Did they proclaim the need for a sharp increase in quality in education for the non-academic? That happened very rarely indeed.
I agree with much of the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, but she would have done better to admit some humility, as I for my part (for what it is worth) admit that we have not as yet found the answer.
The noble Baroness stated that if elected to government the Labour Party will forsooth introduce an "educational standards council". That was the only positive suggestion made by the noble Baroness except that there would be more money. We are told that the Labour Party understands that there is a limitation on the money that it would have available. We understand that any extra money is pre-empted by the increases in child benefit and in pensions that the party 707 promises. I do not think that the noble Baroness did justice either to herself or to the House in riding so easily off on the panaceas that Labour will introduce.
The tasks that fall on any government who want to raise standards for the non-academic children of this country will involve some very awkward issues. Some of the teacher unions have been close allies in the past of the Labour Party. I do not know about the present situation, but they will resist some of the proposals that will be necessary. On the agenda there will need to be the subjects of selection of teachers and training of teachers. I am very dissatisfied with my own performance as Secretary of State in that while I tried to introduce improvements in teacher training colleges, they were not nearly radical enough. There will no doubt need to be improvements in pay for some parts of the teaching profession. To my mind that is a matter that needs to be considered with teacher appraisal so that it no longer is necessary for a teacher to leave the classroom in order to get a better salary. Those matters are not without difficulty for a government to impose.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, failed to mention the most difficult problem of all, which is motivation. Governments cannot command motivation. A teacher can secure motivation, as can parents. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Perry, in his comments concerning the importance of the home background, the combination of love and discipline that must make many children a pleasure to teach and the lack of which must make some children almost impossible to teach.
Some noble Lords will remember that I supported nearly every reform that was introduced in the Education Bill 1988, but that I led a division of the House against the national curriculum, while supporting the core curriculum. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and some of her colleagues and I, as the only Tory, were in the same Lobby in that division. I failed completely to persuade the House or my former colleagues in government. I think that the national curriculum was a noble aim. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is probably too rigid and too ambitious, but I strongly support the core curriculum. I hope that the Government will arrive at a practical measure of a national curriculum.
Together with the skill of teachers, the encouragement of parents, the magic of motivation and a sensible curriculum, there have to be examinations. Whether I should be proud or sorry to have introduced the general certificate of secondary education, only the historians will be able to judge. I had hoped that there would be introduced—I still hope it will happen—that very difficult measure of examination performance—criterion referencing which would apply not relative but absolute standards to every paper and every child. That proposal would present problems, but I hope that that system will be implemented.
The House should recognise, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, probably recognises, that more money will not easily be available on any vast scale even if the Labour Party were returned to office 708 and that even if there were more money available, without reforms to teacher selection, teacher training and teacher pay, coupled with teacher appraisal, without more encouragement by many parents of this country and without all the other matters I have spoken about, more money alone will not raise standards for the non-academic.
The Government have introduced changes which the noble Baroness found herself unable to replace by alternatives. The Government have introduced local management of schools, parental participation, changes in the curriculum, the GCSE and the city technical colleges, which are intended to radiate higher standards by competition in neighbouring schools. All of those are stimulating efforts to raise standards. Against those active and often unpopular changes the Labour Party, represented by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was ungracious enough to offer neither any modified good wishes nor alternatives except forsooth an "educational standards council". That is a mockery to an important subject.
I turn to higher education. It is essential that we should recognise that if either party goes for an expansion of students in higher education without insisting that quality be maintained and improved if possible, we shall be doing grave damage to all the interests concerned. I hear rumours that some universities and polytechnics are introducing students to subjects with Es in A-levels. That is to embrace mediocrity instead of quality. The difference between some vice-chancellors and others in going for the excellent, coupled with numbers, that al parties in this House would like to see is very startling. Perhaps we shall have to move towards difficult decisions about grading institutions of higher education as between teaching and research: as to between quality, I cannot say.
The House would be wise to heed much of what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, states, in particular his warning about grade inflation. Mediocrity is the danger if we merely expand higher education without insisting on quality. One of the reasons for introducing some contribution by students to the cost of their higher education is precisely that they shall seek value for their own money. At the moment they are not so immediately concerned because it is taxpayers' money, and often poor taxpayers' money, that pays for their education.
The Labour and the Liberal Peers are no doubt sincere in their wish to raise standards of education. I say again at the end of my speech, as I said at the beginning, that a little more humility from all sides would be welcome. Courage will be needed by any government who make the necessary changes to raise standards. It will not be done without much more parental encouragement of children; and that no government can command.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, in entering the debate I find myself following a great many very good speeches from all sides of the House. They started with 709 the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and then we heard the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. We have had many comments and views about various parts of the education system. I should like very briefly to refer to some of the points raised in those speeches.
The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, spoke of the difficulties of the non-academic child. I have bored the House on many occasions with the problem of dyslexia. As a dyslexic at a large state school, I often found myself, because at that time there was no provision for someone with such learning difficulties, in low ability stream classes. There the problems of discipline and motivation were always the greatest. A student would struggle through an academic exam which he stood no chance of passing. He knew that he could not get realistic grades. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, did one very good thing when he brought in the GCSE and got rid of CSE. The CSE relied on tons of course-work. Many children passed with a grade 4 or 5. In many cases the CSE was not worth the paper it was written on. It was a complete waste of time. There is a great danger in the school system that we may overload people with academic work in which they cannot achieve anything.
Inherently, a tightly drawn national curriculum may do exactly the same thing. If we have 10 subjects requiring a good deal of course-work, how can we avoid making a non-academic child feel more and more useless? I suggest that if one did not have a riot on one's hands within a few weeks, one would be doing very well. The teacher, unless he happened to be six feet tall or a black belt in karate, would have no chance to control the class. The fact of the matter is that sexism in schools might be introduced because badly behaved classes behave better when they have a large male teacher leering at them. That is a fact. Many female teachers would back me up on that point.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, some small female teachers are indeed very competent.
I wish to turn now to a subject on which I have spoken before but which I shall now approach from a slightly different angle. Entrance into the further and higher education system at the moment is shackled by the fact that the schools system is tied to the A-level. A-levels are very good at getting people ready to do a three-year course in a subject which they know they want to study. In the schools system one is channelled into a certain number of subjects. I suggest that matters such as how well one gets on with certain teachers are very important. Indeed the importance throughout the education system of the person who is instructing and inspiring cannot be overstressed. If one studies for A-levels one may find oneself channelled towards certain subjects. The A-level examination tells one how good one is at doing academic work to A-level standard. It channels the student far too much.
710 The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, said that people were going to university with grade E A-level passes. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned to me that he had known people with E grades at A-level going on to get first class degrees. An A-level tells the student how good he is at passing A-levels. It can channel the student towards a certain subject. I was quite good at history and therefore the A-level served me very well. A couple of my other subject choices at A-level were of no use to me. I found that I was not all that good at them although I had achieved reasonable grades at O-level. However, I did not study very hard because I did not like them, and, as I did not like them, I did not have a good rapport with my lecturers.
I suggest that a broader band of subjects would provide a far better basis for a young person to establish what are his interests. It would also give him a good background knowledge to enable him to put his specialist subject needs into context. There is a great danger that people push pell-mell for one subject, considering nothing else. They may then come a very bad cropper when they reach higher education, finding after one or two years that they have chosen the wrong subject.
The structure of higher education work also needs to be looked at. In its initial stages it should be more unit based so that students take a greater number of subjects at university. I went to a Scottish university. I was astounded when I saw the number of unit-based courses that students took in the initial stages. I then discovered that this was the norm in the rest of the world. Only in England is it recommended that after one's second year at university —students in England spend one year less at university than students elsewhere—one should specialise. In Scotland one takes a unit-based course all the way through. Some English universities are moving towards this idea in the first year but departmental inflexibility still makes it difficult to transfer. I suggest that we should move the degree-based structure towards the unit-based course.
It is quite possible that on reaching university a student will decide that he is not the academic person he thought he was. It must be remembered that schools tend to push people towards the highest quality academic institution for the simple reason that schools are academic institutions themselves. Academic achievement is how one grades success at school. The problem can be laid at the feet of teachers but it is inherent in the structure and organisation of any academic institution. Students are pushed towards the highest level academic institution that will take them. People thus find themselves taking the wrong course. A unit-based degree to a non honours level should be introduced. I saw this in Scotland. It was a revelation when I discovered it but it is the norm in the rest of Europe and America. It might offer a way forward.
The A-level examination and the A-level system of entrance mean that people who go on to do an HND are usually the people who have D or E grades at A-level. In other words, they are unsuccessful academically. Such a person usually takes an HND in 711 a more—for want of a better expression—practically based subject, not because he or she may be good at it but because he or she is bad at academic subjects. That is another reason why students should take a broader spectrum of subjects post-GCSE. They could then find out what they are good at. There is no point in knocking out poor HND students just because they happen to be unsuccessful academically. We should try to find out where people's interests lie, how they work, and how they are motivated. It is a tall order, but I suggest that we should try for it. The A-level system encourages the channelling of people into the least best option as opposed to the best option.
I should like to conclude with a few words about student finance. I shall understand if the eyes of noble Lords on the Government Front Bench glaze over. The level of student funding is geared to the three-year degree. There has been an increase in funding to about £25 million from the access funds, but we have lost something like £68 million in social security benefits. The increase in the level of grant and top-up loans is struggling to keep up with inflation. I suggest that it will always struggle to do so.
We must ensure that people are encouraged to go to universities or colleges, or to undertake whatever training is appropriate for them, by giving them enough money to live on. There is much debate about what we should do: should we go for an all-grant system? Should we go for a loan system? Should we go for a graduate tax? I suggest that the Treasury can exercise its iron grip again and decide where it thinks it can reclaim the most money. However, before we start worrying about repayments and where we can get the money from, I believe the first step is to make sure that students have enough money to live on.
Moreover, if we want to encourage people to undertake further education in other than the main academic stream—that is, to take technical qualifications which are below, say, diploma level or Higher National Diploma level—we must ensure that some funding is available to them. There is virtually none available at present. We must encourage people to take training seriously, because the country is running desperately short of skilled people in nearly all its areas. Indeed, there is a problem with skills worldwide as the world in which we live becomes more and more complex.
In the future teachers will have to have degrees at virtually all levels, whereas this was not the case in the past, for the simple reason that today's degree will probably be the equivalent of tomorrow's A-level. Having just slated it, I shall use it as an example. An A-level in science today may well be the equivalent of a degree 30 years ago. We are experiencing a snowball effect as regards the knowledge and skills required. Therefore, we must make sure that we are getting enough trained people into the marketplace. Anyone who wishes to be retrained, or to top-up his level of skills, must be given the opportunity to have this funded by the Government if he undertakes such training or education on a full-time or even on a 712 part-time basis. If we start imposing financial penalties on people who undertake training, we shall ultimately starve industry of skilled people.
We must ensure that this country's education system works for the simple reason that ultimately it is all we have. We can no longer rely on any great advantages as regards our position, our natural resources or anything else in this world. We have the geographical position and we must therefore join in the marketplace. All we can do is to get the best from our main natural resource—our population.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, in supporting my noble friend's Motion, I should like to talk about the problems of access to further and higher education. In a sense I shall be following some of the themes of the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
I am anxious about two groups of people; namely, the 16 to 18 year-old non-academic category, and the category of the mature person whom the education system failed in the past. It seems to me that there has never been a time when there has been such universal acceptance of the fact that Britain can no longer afford an education system which ignores the needs of non-academic children and concentrates upon academic children. We have already heard about that this afternoon. Sir Claus Moser in his recent address to the Royal Society talked about the situation.
I recently read an article based on an interview with Peter Morgan, the Director General of the Institute of Directors. He aspires to an education system in which everyone succeeds and everyone wins; and he opposes a system which is structured from its very foundations to fail the majority in the interests of a small minority. He considers that an educational process which is designed to filter out failure until just a handful of successes are left is profoundly demoralising and demotivating for the system as a whole. He says:What an incredible disregard of human potential to accept that 60 per cent. of our children leave school at 16, while in our competitor countries that number is 10 per cent. or fewer".Given that there is such universal agreement with that thesis both in the industrial and in the education sector, we may ask why it is that we have failed to match our competitors, and our friends in Europe and the rest of the world.
As the Motion before the House indicates, there is a substantial question about resources it this respect. Surely education must be given a higher priority in resourcing; that is, resourcing in buildings, in equipment and in teaching staff. As we have heard, schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities can all produce evidence of serious under-funding. We must accept that education can no longer be achieved on the cheap. As many noble Lords have said, it is an important investment in the future.
However, the problem goes deeper than resourcing; it is also a question of attitudes and institutional arrangements. There is already considerable movement in attitudes both at school and higher education level. O-levels have been replaced by the GCSE to 713 meet the needs of more of the children. But, as has been said, A-levels have not followed suit, despite the widespread view in industry and in the educational world that they should be broadened. One suspects that opposition to the reform of A-levels comes from a very high level in the political system.
We may ask how far we have travelled down the road of providing access for non-traditional students. First, there is the question of the B-tec, which is an accepted alternative to A-level qualifications. B-tec students are now entering both polytechnics and universities and accounting for something like 10.5 per cent. and 4.4 per cent. of the student intake respectively. However, the facilities for B-tee students are, as I understand it, limited to a small number of schools. The initial one-year B-tee first qualification is not taught in schools. I believe that this is at the request of the DES. Perhaps the Minister will comment upon the situation. This is surely a mistake. It could act as a taster for practically-minded children who could then move across to further education where resources for B-tec nationals were available to them.
The work of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications is again a move in the right direction. However, I have two caveats in this respect: the first concerns resourcing—and the council is underresourced—and the other concerns standards. While NCVQ qualifications must be acceptable and useful to industry, just as academic qualifications must be, they must also contain an element of broader transferable skills. Competence to undertake a particular job is not enough in itself; there must also be the development of the full potential of the child so that he or she can progress as far as that potential will take him or her into further and higher education.
The National Council of Vocational Qualifications is working towards an equivalency of qualifications. That work needs to be speeded up so that vocational and academic qualifications can be interchangeable at all levels. What we need is not two routes into higher education, but a broad highway made up of many feeder roads giving opportunities to all.
The 16 to 21 age group is but one aspect of widening access. There is the whole potential of the mature person seeking a first chance in higher education or perhaps progressing into continuing education. Given our demographic trends, that poses an urgent challenge. The challenge is both to our higher education institutions and to the providers—the government of the day. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, higher education is geared to A-level results and a three year full-time course. For that, the student is funded. Any deviation and the student loses out.
Universities and polytechnics are attempting to cope with the institutional constraints imposed upon them. For example, many of them are now entering into agreements for access arrangements with neighbouring colleges. Part-time degree courses are being made more available, but still account for 5 per cent. of the total only. Some institutions have 714 introduced modular or unit courses, as the noble Lord said; and others are planning to do so within the next few years. I am optimistic that there will be considerable growth in that whole area which need not interfere with higher education standards.
We are not nearly beginning to address the problem yet. We shall not do so until a number of the following occur: first, non-standard entrance qualifications are encouraged right across the board, and appropriate access courses are provided on an adequate scale; secondly, part-time degrees carry the same status as full-time degrees. I am afraid that that is not always the case at present. Thirdly, universities, in particular, make better use of capital resources by extending teaching time; and, fourthly, modular courses become the norm, providing greater flexibility and choice of mode of study.
None of that will happen unless adequate resources are made available by the Government. That resourcing would entail more teaching and back up for non-standard students, because those need more attention than A-level students. More staff and back up will also be needed for the extension of teaching time to ensure that the conditions and standards for existing staff are not encroached upon and that time is still reserved for research. It would also entail more resources for a funding system to encourage and provide on an equal basis a mix of part-time and full-time students, and a fairer grant system to provide for the needs of part-time students equally with the needs of full-time students. It would not be the same student grant system as at present; it would meet the needs of the two groups of students equally.
There are many barriers at present which discourage entrance to higher and further education. Unless we begin vigorously to remove those barriers, we shall never exploit to the full the potential of our whole population.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, I congratulate noble Lords opposite on choosing a topic which is timeless in importance and timely in current concern; but it will not surprise your Lordships if I disagree strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on the diagnosis and treatment of the ills besetting education, and if I offer my own diagnosis and strongly support the Government in the remedies that they are applying.
Before turning to concerns and criticisms, I wish to pay tribute to the many good schools and dedicated teachers who are working hard to provide good quality education in always challenging and sometimes exceedingly difficult situations. But there is evidence that not all our young people are receiving the education that they deserve and need, and public concern about standards is legitimate.
So, first, the diagnosis: what is wrong? Given limited time, I shall focus on basics—literacy and numeracy—without which any education is fatally stunted. Recent research has shown disturbing evidence of many people with serious deficiencies in those essential competences. Martin Turner's data 715 published this summer show a serious decline in reading standards of seven year-olds in eight LEAs over the past five years, with an alarming increase in the numbers and proportions of pupils unable to read properly by the age of seven. That is serious. To be unable to read by seven undermines all other educational development, and, although Martin Turner's research has been denigrated by those who find it uncomfortable, his data have not been faulted. New evidence now shows even more LEAs—over 20, I believe—with falling reading standards for seven year-olds. It is worrying that Martin Turner has been subject to disciplinary procedures since bringing this serious matter to public attention.
I turn briefly from the problems of literacy of young pupils to the problems of older students aged 16 plus. Another recent publication—by Jennifer Chew, who teaches in a sixth-form college in Surrey—documents serious problems of literacy in pupils who had already gained good pass marks at GCSE. Those students form the select group staying on in full-time education after 16, many of them doing A-levels; yet many cannot spell words which average 11–12 year-olds could spell way back in the 1950s; and the average spelling age of those 16 year-old students, which has been falling over the past five years, is now less than that of pupils of 13½ years.
Jennifer Chew also compared English-speaking English students with black Zulu-speaking pupils in South Africa. She found that the Zulu-speakers' performance compared favourably with those in the English classes although English was not their first language and their schools have fewer resources. She commented:The Zulu-speaking children have not only learnt to spell rather well; they also produce neat, legible hand-writing (a great deal neater and more legible at the lower end of the ability range than that of the English sixth-formers), and there was no sign that their strength in the fundamentals of literacy had been acquired at the expense of breadth and creativity".Jennifer Chew concludes her study:If we want to produce school-leavers who can express themselves fluently and cogently in writing at 16 and 18, then children need to be taught to spell, punctuate and construct sentences from their very first years in primary school: if they are deprived of early instruction in literacy, the damaging consequences may be with them for life".This is such an important piece of research that I shall place a copy in your Lordships' Library.
I move from literacy to numeracy. We also have problems of under-achievement in numeracy. For example, Professor Prais and his colleagues at NIESR found that the great majority of British 16 year-olds were two years behind their West German counterparts in maths. I do not believe that our young people are less able so this again raises questions with serious implications for individual pupils and for us as a nation.
How has all this happened? It is a complex problem, but I suggest that it is in part a legacy of the ideas and ideologies of the 1960s which are now held by many people in key positions in the educational 716 establishment, including many in teacher education and LEA inspectors or advisers. Perhaps I may quote some teachers who have written to me in desperation:The rot lies in the Education Authorities; whatever we do, they have the ultimate control. What do we do when so-called advisors come round observing our lessons and giving us pep talks about not being 'modern' enough? What do we do when promotion is denied us—by authorities who operate autocratic methods?I quote a teacher from another part or the country:Until recently I have taught at a school which kept to traditional methods; our Head had kept the Inspector at bay for years. Unfortunately he [the Head] was taken ill and within a matter of weeks the Inspectors were in and the school was severely criticised for being too traditional … no account was taken of the creditable results [the school] achieved… I firmly believe that children should be taught, but we are so demoralised and intimidated by the Inspectorate that we are completely impotent … you can perhaps see our problems when you realise that Martin Turner had a very difficult passage after his revelations on reading standards".I could multiply letters like these many times over. Many dedicated teachers in our schools are victims of educational ideologies and an education establishment which imposes them. Until and unless we can free professional teachers from such influences, we condemn many of them and their pupils to ideology instead of education. Many of these reluctantly leave the state system or are frozen out of it, like those two valiant history teachers in Sussex. The state system cannot afford to lose these good teachers, therefore I suggest that one of the remedies would be to cut back on this interference from local education authority advisers and inspectors.
Another disturbing aspect to the present situation is the lack of any official rigorous, systematic research into new teaching methods, such as the so-called "Real Books" reading methods currently being imposed again on many teachers. It is left to courageous individuals to speak out and risk disciplinary procedures, if they are unhappy about these new teaching methods. Surely, if our education establishment really wanted to serve our children well, it would rigorously evaluate innovative methods. If they work then they could be endorsed. If they fail, they should not be imposed. We now suffer from the imposition of unproven methods imposed against the better judgment of many experienced teachers. The results are reflected in part in the evidence on literacy and numeracy.
Moving from problems to remedies, I suggest that the answer does not necessarily lie in the provision of more resources. Much research shows that schools with comparable resources and with pupils from similar catchment areas enable their pupils to achieve dramatically better exam results than neighbouring schools. They also provide a better all-round educational experience.
While mentioning resources, as my noble friend Lord Joseph has said, it is interesting to note that the shadow Opposition spokesman for education has said that Labour in power would not necessarily be in a position to spend more on education than the present Government. So consistent pleading for more money from the Opposition Benches sounds a little paradoxical.
717 Research also shows the importance of teacher attitudes and professionalism. Rutter, Tomlinson and others have shown that it is teacher professionalism that can make all the difference to the quality of the school and the education it provides for pupils. This surely is the key to the way in which the teaching profession can regain public respect, a respect which is still affected by the damaging results of two years of industrial action which harmed the education of so many children.
I conclude by looking at effective policies. One of the most effective and truly democratic measures is to increase parental choice and the accountability of schools to pupils, parents and the community. Initiatives like the local management of schools and grant-maintained schools do just this. Many schools are now flourishing with LMS, enjoying greater autonomy in the allocation of their budgets. Many of them are freed from local authority interference to spend their budgets on their own educational priorities, knowing their own pupils best. Grant-maintained schools are also flourishing, despite vindictive attempts by many LEAs to sabotage them.
For example, grant-maintained schools have more applicants for teaching and non-teaching posts, compared with other local schools. They enjoy a 40 per cent. increase in pupil applications. They are spending on average 90 per cent. more than last year on books and equipment. Morale is running very high, despite threats to abolish them if a Labour Government gets into power, and despite threats that staff will never again be able to find local authority employment. So grant-maintained schools are a success story.
There is also the hidden success story in this policy: the story of the deterrent effects of opting out which have prevented some LEAs from imposing unpopular policies. Many schools have been saved from unwelcome interference by a local authority because of their potential freedom to opt out. Because they can opt out, the local authority has withheld imposing an unwelcome intervention.
In conclusion, we all agree that education is the most important issue concerning people today. We cannot afford to betray young people by denying them the best possible start in life. We shall not achieve the necessary improvements by Labour's tired policies of bringing everyone forcibly back into the mould of LEA-dominated "comprehensivisation", which has been shown to fail so many young people. Instead, we must encourage policies which this Government have initiated, to enhance freedom of choice and accountability. This is the only genuinely democratic way forward. I hope passionately, for the sake of the country and above all for the sake of our children, that these democratic and educationally effective policies will go from strength to strength. I hope that Britain can once again have an education system of which we can be proud, because it serves our children well.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, we are discussing today what kind of education we need to make this country more productive and our children more civilised and cultivated. I wish to begin by reviewing the curriculum. Here I very much share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, that we should have had the core curriculum. However, the national curriculum is now being modified, or it was by Mr. MacGregor when he was Secretary of State.
I do not wish to go over that ground again, but I should like to raise the nature of the sixth form curriculum. It is clear that war is about to break out over A-levels. Those who wish to retain them have to face the fact that many good judges think they are far too narrow a discipline for the last two years of school. Secondly, they think that A-levels prevent many adolescents moving into higher education.
On the other hand, those who wish to abolish A-levels and substitute a baccalaureate also have to face two facts: first, that the French are having second thoughts about the sacred baccalaureate because it condemns adolescents to continue studying at a high level subjects for which they have no aptitude and no desire to study. Secondly, if we had a baccalaureate type of sixth form, 18-plus exam, the universities and polytechnics would institute a four-year BA and BSc degree. The short three-year first degree depends on sixth-form specialisation; the cost of prolonging it would be enormous and would militate against the desire of the Government and the Opposition to increase student numbers. The only alternative would be to hold an interim examination after two years' study and eliminate those who gained anything less than an upper second-class degree. However, such a move would be vile and unpopular.
So, what can be done? I believe one can retain the discipline and depth of learning of A-levels and yet at the same time insist that adolescents in the sixth form must study two compulsory subjects outside those specialisations. The first compulsory subject should be the use of English. Everyone should learn how to write his or her own language clearly without jargon. Everyone should learn how to write a précis and how to present an argument in logical form and in paragraphs.
I did not learn what I would call practical arithmetic, but I believe that is the second compulsory subject that everyone should learn. By the term "practical arithmetic" I mean the kind of mathematics that non-mathematicians must somehow master or at least be acquainted with, for example the use and analysis of statistics and the use to which computers can be put. It is those techniques that so many of our civil servants and middle managers had to learn on the job in the past. Quite often they never do learn those techniques. Those two subjects would give just that vocational content that sixth form studies require and yet at the same time an adolescent would be able to study in depth the kind of subjects that interested him. He would not be condemned to spend many hours on five or more subjects between his GCSE and A-levels.
719 In order to carry out this measure, teachers would have to be trained to teach the subjects I have referred to. I am not talking about teachers who are already skilled mathematicians. I am talking rather about people who will need to undertake conversion courses to be able to teach these subjects. If I dared, I would impose another compulsory subject in the form of a foreign language. I suggest that the study of a foreign language should be compulsory up to 18 years plus. However, I suspect that my suggestion is impractical. Nevertheless I have a practical proposal to put to the Government. Could we not send a delegation to Holland to discover why the Dutch are such admirable linguists? One of the reasons for that is that so many Dutch parents speak English to their children when the children are still very young and continue to do so as the children grow older. We are so slow to learn from our colleagues in the European Community.
A senior officer in ILEA concluded that the teaching of foreign languages in our schools was so unproductive that we should abolish it entirely. That is the kind of counsel of despair that I hope we shall not follow. We have a great need to learn from our colleagues in Europe.
That brings me to the organisation of our schools. We need to learn from Germany how to organise technical education. The Butler Act of 1944 was drafted by three senior civil servants before Rab Butler ever became president of the Board of Education. Those civil servants had been evacuated to Bournemouth during the war. The civil servant responsible for secondary education and the civil servant responsible for elementary education were very powerful and able. One of them wanted grammar schools and secondary modern schools, while the other wanted comprehensive schools. The permanent secretary ruled in favour of the former but a compromise was reached on the age at which pupils transferred from primary to secondary education. The third civil servant was neither as powerful nor as able as the other two. He was responsible for technical schools. In post-1944 Britain such technical schools as existed withered away.
I know that on both sides of the House there is a considerable difference of opinion on technical schools. Good men and women recoil from the idea of them. They ask whether our children are to be arbitrarily selected at the age of 14, for example, and deprived of their birthright; namely, a general education following the national curriculum that introduces them to the cultural glories of our country. They ask whether our children will be made to feel second-class citizens unworthy to continue in the comprehensive system. However, we should look at what happens in Germany. There large numbers of boys and girls prefer to follow a less overtly academic course. They want to fit themselves for employment when they leave school.
The Labour Party has set its face against city technology colleges. I am sorry that it has done so but I hope the noble Baroness will acknowledge that to set up technical schools will give some children a better 720 chance than they have now of obtaining a productive job when they leave school which will benefit our country as well as themselves.
I wish to mention 16-plus education. We have heard cogent and impassioned arguments this evening in favour of more funds for universities and polytechnics. I add my voice to that although I think that the need to bring inflation down to 3 or 4 per cent. has priority over everything else. On the other hand I believe that economies could be made in some other areas; namely, in the useless nuclear deterrent which this country has and which is updated at enormous cost every so often. We have ways of raising money but our educational funds depend on how productive our industry is. We are in a vicious circle at the moment in that we cannot improve education as our productivity does not improve.
I wish to make two points about universities. First, I believe that the Treasury has often exerted a malign influence over the University Grants Committee and may well exert a malign influence over the Universities Funding Council. In 1972 the UGC suddenly received an instruction to pass on to the universities that the latter were holding far too large balances. The universities, it was decreed, were not building societies and should spend their money on educating students. However, a large part of that money was being saved for the maintenance of buildings. The effect of the measure was that the maintenance funds were depleted. I feel that the Treasury should have a consistent policy on this matter. It should lay down the percentage of an institution's funds that should be saved for the maintenance of buildings.
I wish to emphasise the comments that the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, made in his most powerful speech on the great lack of confidence that the universities have in the leadership of the Universities Funding Council. The polytechnics' funding council has done a much better job than the UFC on finance and on organisation. I hesitate to press the case of the universities and the polytechnics further because in my opinion the post-16 sector that needs most financial help is that concerned with the technical and industrial training of our future workforce in the technical colleges and industry itself.
In the past we have heard many complaints from the Labour Benches that the schemes of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, for industrial training were inadequate and underfunded. I believe those complaints were justified. However, what schemes have the Government—perhaps in future years the noble Baroness and her colleagues will have schemes in mind—to remedy the situation? Will the Government look again at the multiple agencies and schemes that they have set up? We are told by the Government that if we are to be competitive and reduce labour costs we must have a properly trained workforce. I implore the Government therefore to send someone to Germany to find out how this aspect of training and education is tackled.
My final point is addressed not to the Government but to present and future prime ministers. Can we not have a Secretary of State for Education who remains 721 in office longer than two years? It is a scandal that that is regarded as a major post but when there is a reshuffle the holder of that post is always reshuffled. I am glad to say that he is always reshuffled upwards, but that process impairs the educational policy of both parties in this country. I apologise to both noble Baronesses for the fact that I cannot be present at the end of the debate.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I shall turn to a quite different subject—adult and community education. This is a time when provision for the education of adults in Britain is being materially affected by a combination of demographic, industrial, legislative and institutional changes. Opportunities for adult learners are being seriously reduced.
The education of adults has never been given a coherent place in educational planning. As a result, adult learners have merely been accommodated on the fringes of the system. Local authorities spend half of 1 per cent. of their budgets on adult education. That situation is clearly mirrored in the Education Reform Act, which says nothing about the education of adults except in relation to higher education. The Government paid lip service to the need for more adult participants but refused, despite pleas from many Members of this House, to include in the Bill any obligation to provide for them.
It was the same story with the Government's plans for deregulating broadcasting. Hitherto, all British broadcasting has been obliged to inform, educate and entertain. In general, the new legislation replaces that requirement with an obligation on commercial companies to make a profit. Though some protection is given to schools television, adult education is likely to disappear from the most popular channels. We very nearly succeeded in changing the Bill in this House but, sadly, we were defeated when our amendments came back from the other place.
The government report outlining plans for adult training, Employment for the 1990s, also recognises that if Britain is to survive economically in the 1990s it will need a better educated and trained society. Yet in that field, too, things are being made more difficult. Unemployed adults who have been studying part time rather than looking for a job risk having their benefits cut. The changes in demography —the drop in the numbers of 16 to 19 year-olds, the increase in the numbers of the elderly and the fact that by the year 2012 there will be more people who are retired than are active in the workforce—have been accompanied by industrial change with a major decline in jobs in manufacturing, an increase in part-time low-paid jobs in the service sector (often employing women), greater segmentation of the labour market, shorter job life and the relative decline of cities.
Education institutions have done their best to respond to those changes. Further and higher education institutions have begun to seek adult students directly through outreach programmes, the 722 introduction of part-time and modular courses and also through marketing their services to employers more actively than before.
However, in many places adult education services are being cut. The most obvious change is in inner London, where adult education and youth service staff were the only academic staff not to be guaranteed transfer to new borough authorities when ILEA was abolished. Adult education was ILEA's pride. A National Institute of Adult Continuing Education survey of all LEAs in July revealed that the poll tax has had a dramatic effect on adult education. Charge-capped authorities have been hardest hit and a significant number made cuts in their 1990–91 budgets to avoid being capped.
The most dramatic impact of charge capping affected Barnsley and Haringey. In Barnsley, all evening and day classes for adults have been cut except for basic education classes. In Haringey, a 50 per cent. reduction in the adult education budget has led the authority to close an adult education centre, halve provision and give priority to basic education and provision for adults with special needs. Manchester, to avoid charge capping, has made cuts which have reduced provision by 30 per cent. In Somerset, staff are being made redundant. I could go on.
Hitherto a substantial contribution has come from community education. Community colleges, pioneered in Cambridgeshire by Henry Morris, have become popular and spread widely. They involve the whole family and encourage participation by people of all ages. The phrase used to be "The cradle to the grave"; now I hear that it is "The carrycot to the crematorium". But just as the poll tax has had a devastating effect on adult education so, I fear, may local management of schools have a similar effect on community education. A school or college now has a separate budget for its community and its other work. The two have different accounts. Imagine the bureaucracy and the trouble and staff time that must involve. The centres decide their own fees and inevitably charges go up to pay for the increased work, and the purpose of availability for the whole community, whether rich or poor, young or old, employed or unemployed, will be lost. In authorities where community education had become really well established it will probably continue, but that is by no means the case everywhere. It is a great loss.
However, there are some gratifying developments. Over the past 15 years adult education services have developed a range of targeted programmes in adult literacy and basic education, in teaching English as a second language, in making provision for unemployed adults, people with disabilities, older adults and ethnic minorities, in family education and in return-to-study and access programmes.
I should like to say more about literacy programmes. It is International Literacy Year but recent surveys have shown that 13 per cent. of our population have significant difficulties with basic literacy and numeracy. There has been a great effort on the part of ALBSU (the Adult Literacy and Basic 723 Skills Unit) to involve more people through advertising, television and radio. Even so it appears that only 5 per cent. of those who need basic literacy training are receiving it. Open learning centres are operating in some places. People can just drop in and take part; they find that less embarrassing.
One of the great strengths of adult education has been its flexibility and its ability to adapt and innovate. A significant feature of those changes is that while traditional adult education has been a service used mainly by women, many of the new opportunities are targeted at men. If the main expansion in adult education is to take place in colleges, polytechnics and universities it is critically important that issues of child care, timing of courses and financial support are tackled urgently. Otherwise the changes will merely signal a redistribution of resources from women to men.
One success story is that at Ford, where men are chiefly the beneficiaries. The company's new employee development and assistance programme, which offers workers an opportunity to take part in courses not related to their work, has created enthusiasm. A third of the company's workforce has taken advantage of the offer of £200 a year to study almost any subject —six times as many as was expected when the scheme was included in the 1987 pay deal. Eighty courses are offered. It is interesting that now the workers are choosing largely academic rather than practical subjects. There are some minority tastes—philosophy, theology, fly fishing, Finnish, criminology and deep-sea diving. That suggests an interest in learning for its own sake, something not usually associated with assembly-line workers—and most of the workforce left school at 16. The most popular subjects chosen now are computer sciences and German, both of which are of special use in a multinational manufacturing company. It is a rule of the scheme that it should not be a substitute for proper training necessary for specific jobs. Other companies are now offering similar programmes—Lucas Industries, Rover, Pedigree Pet Foods and Boots, among others.
In Northern Ireland, the Open University has developed an action for community employment programme. The university's department of community education has designed and delivered within 12 months a course which trains trainers and core staff who are giving a year's employment to some 10,000 unemployed people in a range of 300 community projects. A typical core worker will have studied correspondence texts, attended group sessions with a tutor and other core workers and taken part in residential schools. Last week certificates were awarded to more than 400 people in a ceremony held at the University of Ulster. One of the core workers described his delight that unemployed people are now moving to permanent employment and decreasing the dole figures.
Why is it that schemes such as Ford's and the Open University's can attract and hold the enthusiastic attention of people who at 16 had written off education as useless and boring? The waste of good 724 potential is appalling. It is an indictment of education as it has been with its division between the academic and the vocational.
The success and excitement of the Open University and Ford schemes spread to other institutions comes from no government initiatives, no action taken by government. With the introduction of the poll tax and LMS, the Government have reduced the opportunities for adult and community education. After 100 years of public education in this country the vast majority of school-leavers are not automatically entitled to any further education or training. We need to work in an entitlement model that empowers people to take up education or training as a right.
The Labour Party proposes a return-to-learn entitlement. We are thinking particularly of the over-fifties, almost all of whom missed out on the post-war improvement of education. Two-thirds of today's 60 year-olds left school at 14. Only one in ten of those now aged 50 continued at school.
Our policy is aimed at both stimulating demand for education by those aged 50 and above and improving the supply of learning opportunities directly or indirectly geared to that age group. A 57 year-old unemployed former works manager from Walsall was quoted as saying: "Age is against you right from the start. As soon as you say you are over 50, that's it". I hope that our plans and our commitment to adult, continuing and community education will alter all that; and the sooner we have a Labour Government to do it the better.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I hope that it is appropriate for me, as another new boy in your Lordships' House, to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, for his excellent maiden speech. I thought that he was very well informed; and, if I may say so, I admired his confidence.
In my own maiden speech on 8th November I mentioned that for the past eight years I have represented commerce on the Council for National Academic Awards, which is the largest degree-awarding body and quality assurance agency in the country. I said then, and I feel I should repeat now, that the views that this experience has led me to hold are necessarily those of an outsider looking in on our world of higher education. As might be expected, I am afraid that those views do not accord with much of the accepted wisdom of our education establishment.
For instance, it strikes me that there may be a non sequitur in the Motion that we are debating. The Motion seems to assume that if more taxpayers' money were to be poured into our state education system, the quality of its provision would be likely to improve. I think that is rather unlikely.
For a start, looking at the general sweep of the proposition, the latest OECD figures, published today, show that we spend a larger share of our gross domestic product per pupil on education than does either Germany or Japan, which have comparatively successful systems. Nor, if we compare the pay and 725 conditions of service of, for example, a senior lecturer in a polytechnic with, shall we say, a ward sister in the National Health Service, do we seem to be doing the teachers down.
Let us look at the senior lecturer. Senior lecturers may expect to earn up to nearly £24,000 per annum for a 36-week year. For each of those 36 weeks they should not have more than 18 hours' contact with their students, whom they do not relish in ratios of more than 16 students to each one of them. Their university counterparts are even better off, which may be part of the reason why their main union, NATFHE, went on strike earlier this month and may be going to do so again this week.
Now let us look at NHS ward sisters. In outer London they earn up to some £17,600 for a 47-week year. For each of those 47 weeks they do a basic 37½ hours. They often work longer, and they certainly work unsociable hours. They carry very much more responsibility than does the polytechnic lecturer, including the responsibility of making decisions which may decide whether a patient lives or dies. Our nurses' record on strike action, particularly that of the Royal College of Nursing, is rather more professional than that of our teachers.
Returning to higher education, I shall be told that for the other 18 hours of what is for most people the normal 36-hour working week, which is not spent in contact with students, and for the 16 weeks of what the rest of us might regard as holiday, the lecturers are not idle. No, they are marking their students' papers or otherwise they are engaged in "scholarly activity" and of course our old friend "research". Yet students in higher education, especially in the softer subjects, often have less than one essay to write per week, and marking papers may therefore not be all that onerous.
As for research and scholarly activity, I think that most of us would describe much of that as merely keeping abreast of one's subject. There are very many honourable academics who are indeed extending the frontiers of knowledge, and many who also work extremely hard for their students, but too much research and scholarly activity in higher education looks to me more like academic self-indulgence.
Be all that as it may, there is little doubt that, by international comparison with other more successful education systems, and by national comparison with other more esteemed and hardworking professions, we are not spending too little of our taxpayers' money on education.
Are we therefore spending some of it wrongly? I believe so. Let us look at one vitally important area which lies at the very roots of our education system —teacher training—which costs us about £300 million per annum.
I was very impressed, as I am sure were most of your Lordships, by the very courageous statement by my noble friend Lord Joseph to the effect that he wishes that he had done more about teacher training when he was Secretary of State. I am afraid that I have to agree with him.
726 The vast majority of our teachers still have to go through either the one-year Post Graduate Certificate of Education —the PGCE—or the three-or four-year Bachelor of Education—the B.Ed. Merely the process of having to go through these courses puts off a lot of the best potential teachers. The standard of entry to the B.Ed is often low—as low as two Es at A-level. Most of our primary school teachers still come from our B.Ed courses, which they join straight from school. Many, if not most, successful teachers will say that their compulsory training was not of much help to them—or at least the non-practical element of their compulsory training was not of much help to them. Having completed the B.Ed course, only one in three will stay in teaching. Surely that is wasteful, is it not?
So what is wrong with our teacher training? In my view, there are two main things wrong with it. One is that teacher trainers have forgotten that the essential requirement for a good teacher is a knowledge and love of his subject, and an ability to teach it. The second is that teacher training has tried to turn itself into a profession, whereas the profession is, has always been and will always be, teaching. If you ask teacher trainers, "What is the body of knowledge necessary to become a successful teacher trainer?" they cannot tell you. Genuine professionals do not have that problem. Lawyers and nurses are not similarly stuck for words, and nor for that matter are stockbrokers.
Because teacher training as an academic discipline is largely bogus, it uses a lot of course material which is irrelevant and often damaging to our common purpose in this debate: higher quality provision. I would not want noble Lords to think that I am seeing Reds under the bed—or rather Reds under the B.Ed —but I have to tell your Lordships that I fear that many students on our teacher training courses are still spending too much expensive time studying questionable and politicised aspects of sociology, and not nearly enough on subject expertise and classroom discipline.
In order to back up that accusation I could show your Lordships many examples of the course profiles in question. In the time available I can quote a course to train people how to teach home economics at a college in the leafy shires which still offers 400 hours of the irrelevant material to which I have just referred. I could even show noble Lords a course to teach people how to teach business and information technology at one of our leading polytechnics, with much the same content on offer. This is information which can be gleaned from the course profiles and reading lists. The presentation at the chalk-face can be much more virulent.
I am aware that the Government are considering revision of our national mechanisms for quality assurance for higher education. I very much hope that they will not listen to those polytechnic directors who are asking for even greater academic autonomy from the Council for National Academic Awards than they have recently been given. In my view the teeth of 727 quality control which the CNAA has retained as a background power should, if anything, be extended across the binary line.
I suppose I may be told that I am forgetting about the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, or CATE as she is usually called, a body recently created in an attempt to improve subject expertise. I do not have time to deal with her achievements in detail, but I am afraid to say that, on the whole, CATE is too little and too late.
One final point about teacher training is that most of your Lordships were taught by teachers who did not suffer it. I leave it to your Lordships to decide whether the education that you received was any the worse for that, compared with what our children are receiving today.
What is to be done? Could we redirect some of the resources that at present go to the teacher training courses toward systems likely to improve the quality of provision? Happily, I believe the answer is really quite easy. The Government have recently introduced two excellent schemes—the Licensed and Articled Teacher Schemes—which allow especially more mature people with a knowledge and love of their subjects to teach in our state system without being obliged to attend a teacher training course. The obvious answer is to divert funds from our existing teacher training departments to the Licensed and Articled Teacher Schemes and to expand them and other similar initiatives as vigorously as possible.
The trouble is that these schemes are strongly opposed by the teacher trainers and, I fear, by much of the remainder of our education establishment. I even have evidence that they may not be fully supported by the teacher education branch at the Department of Education and Science. I am afraid that the Government will have to be much tougher with those interests if they wish to see any worthwhile progress along the lines I have suggested.
While on the subject of the Government's involvement, I should like to mention the recent outstandingly successful policy of allowing polytechnics to enjoy corporate status, independent of local authority control. In the planning stage that concept too was vigorously resisted by the education establishment, to the extent that it was abandoned in 1982. However, I am sure it is safe to say that this revolution is now welcomed by every single polytechnic director, including some who owe allegiance to the party opposite. I trust that this bodes well for other similar government initiatives such as Local Management of Schools.
There are other ideas which would reduce waste in our state education system. I think that I have time to mention just one, which has been around for some time but which, again is being vigorously opposed by entrenched academic self-interest. It is that students should be able to earn a foundation degree after two years of study as opposed to three years at the moment, or four in Scotland. They might then take another two years to earn a more specialist master's degree, and a further two for a doctorate.
728 I hope that I shall not be skinned alive if I suggest that the normal academic year might be extended to 45 weeks. Two years would then give 90 weeks' study, which is not far off what the universities now deliver in three years. Higher education could thus accommodate many more students, perhaps on more practical courses. An excellent article on this proposal appeared in The Times on 29th October. It was written by Dr. Malcolm Frazer, chief executive of the CNAA, and by Professor Sir Graham Hills, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde. I propose to put it in your Lordships' Library in case anyone is interested.
I hope that what I have said goes some way to show that there is much that we could do to improve the quality of our education provision without having to spend more taxpayers' money on it. Taken together with the Government's other excellent initiatives, which I trust they will pursue with the utmost vigour through all the obfuscation which the education establishment will put in their way, I feel sure that the quality of our education provision will indeed improve enormously.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, the Librarian of Hull University, the poet, Philip Larkin, started one poem with the lines,Sexual intercourse began in 1963Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP".If he were alive today he could have written more prosaically but with greater truth, "University funding collapsed in October 1990". On 23rd October 1990 the Universities Funding Council announced in its circular letter 28/90:The Council was disappointed by the scale of economy offered by universities' bids … and wishes to consider the options further".That was the end of the so-called "bidding exercise". It left the universities of this country in financial uncertainty amounting to incipient chaos. They do not know now what next year's funding will be. They do not even know when they will know.
I must declare an interest as the Principal of St. David's University College, Lampeter. I can assure your Lordships that we have absolutely no idea what is coming next. Yet the bidding system was invented by the UFC to force universities to compete with one another. It was the UFC which made the rules and established the "guide prices"—an unlovely term deriving, I think, from the advertisements of estate agents.
It was the UFC which demanded the incredibly detailed returns that we had to complete. The universities collaborated and complied because the carrot dangled before their noses was the prospect of four-year funding. I can assure noble Lords that throughout last winter and spring academics and administrators did a vast amount of work. One dean in one faculty in one university calculated that she had worked 200 hours on the bidding process alone. That is the equivalent of five 40-hour weeks. Thousands of academics could say the same. It has been reliably estimated that the UFC received over 10,000 pages, 729 photocopied 50 times, in submissions for the bidding exercise. It was unquestionably a multi-million pound project. When all the documents had been considered, it was agreed that no one had broken, bent or strained any of the rules and yet the UFC discovered that the money available was not sufficient to meet the bids.
As the chairman of the CVCP, Sir Edward Parkes, told the council, any junior lecturer could have told it as much months ago. Its own chief executive, Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, warned repeatedly of the perils that awaited it and strove mightily to mitigate the excesses of this doomed system before it was too late. He is the only person in this whole sorry exercise who emerges with his reputation enhanced.
However, the UFC would not listen and with all the unstoppable momentum of the Gadarene swine, it plunged over the cliff and was violently choked in the sea on or about 20th October 1990. I am sorry that I do not see the noble Lord the chairman of the UFC in his place in your Lordships' House today contributing to our debate. On second thoughts, I withdraw that comment. He is probably much better employed doing his sums than in listening to me.
But his is the very council which was appointed by government Ministers to make the universities more efficient, to make them more cost effective and to make them provide more value for money. In the past 18 months it has wasted millions, dislocated the work of all Britain's universities for more than a year and in the end has totally failed to deliver. I ask noble Lords on all sides of the House who have experience of industry and commerce this question. Would not the chairman of a company which so totally failed to meet its targets be invited to place the keys of his car on the boardroom table before he left?
The UFC is not a conspiracy of ivory-tower intellectuals. It contains captains of industry and others who,have shown capacity in industrial, commercial and financial matters".I quote from the Education Reform Act 1988. Some capacity, some reform, my Lords! If the Government's policies and practices in higher education are to retain any shred of credibility they must move and move rapidly to clear up the mess.
In the short term, Ministers must order the Universities Funding Council, first, to get back to four-year funding by February 1991 and, secondly, to decide and announce at once by what method it proposes to fund Britain's universities in 1991–92. At the present moment the universities do not know where their next meal is coming from and they do not even know the recipe from which it will be cooked up. Thirdly, it must be ordered to come clean. It must tell each university openly which parts of its submitted institutional plan the UFC considers sensible and economically feasible. It must then authorise that university to get on with those parts. Only in that way can a university plan sensibly and efficiently. The Government must tell the UFC what the CBI recently told the Government:Before it is too late, get your act together".730 In the longer term the Government themselves must decide as a matter of principle whether they will fund universities so that the quality of their output stays as it is today or, alternatively, so that it is inferior to that which it is today. This is a vital, stark policy decision and the Government must make it. I can assure noble Lords that universities have now found all the so-called efficiency gains that it is possible for them to make. There is no further mileage down that well-trodden track. It is the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire.
The Government must now decide what they want to do and take responsibility for it. The decision must be made by the Government and not left to the universities to decide by default. Yet to be fair to Her Majesty's Government and their record on education —I strive at all times to be fair—there is one matter on which it is possible to record a slight but welcome satisfaction. At the opposite end of the educational spectrum from universities, in all their dissatisfaction and uncertainty, those who are responsible for the national curriculum in our schools are to be guardedly congratulated on having at last recognised the existence, and perhaps even the importance, of the arts.
In its earliest manifestations the national curriculum was a stern and martial concentration on literacy, maths, science and technology. But after long and arduous persuasion, much of it administered by Professor Ken Robinson of Warwick University, art and music as foundation subjects are now present, with some prospect of competing fairly for space in every school's timetable. Let me urge Ministers and their officials to grow in grace and go further.
Professor Robinson has said:The Government has identified science as a generic area of the national curriculum and commissioned a single working group to say what it should include. For more than 10 years, the idea has been gathering force that all arts disciplines, including drama, dance, visual arts, verbal arts and music, share a number of common processes and have related roles in education. Consequently, they should be provided for within a common policy. There is an analogy —though not an exact parallel—with what is needed in the arts. It would have been preferable to identify the arts as a generic area of the national curriculum and to have commissioned a single working group to say what an adequate arts education should include".The Government have made a start on recognising the importance of the arts in schools. It is too little; it is too late. But it is some, and it is now. There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth. Let us hope that the repentance of those who develop the national curriculum will be a shining example to the sinners of the Universities Funding Council.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I should like to concentrate on one aspect of education which is often overlooked. I am very glad to see that, despite the much quoted observation of the honourable Member for Mitcham and Morden, Mrs. Angela Rumbold, that she did not see what schools could do to help the emotional development of children,if they had the misfortune not to come from a good home",731 the Government have, largely at the insistence of the schools, included personal and social education in the national curriculum.
There is much talk of education for citizenship and also in certain quarters doubt is cast on whether there is any such thing as society. The project that I wish to support, and for which I shall ask the noble Minister for financial support, is one that by-passes both of those issues and yet has the beneficial effects that everybody agrees are needed. Until a few days ago I had not heard of TACADE, the Advisory Council on Drug and Alcohol Education, but I recently attended the launch of one of its projects. I am so convinced of its benefits and usefulness to the nation that I am speaking today to give it my strong support.
The approach to personal and social education offered by the TACADE teaching resource, Skills for the Primary School Child, is already proving very popular with teachers and pupils. I urge the Minister to continue the essential support which this project has already received from the Department of Education and Science. It invested £49,000 in the development of the project. What is needed now is a further £50,000 to carry out an evaluation of the usefulness of this programme.
In this country we are world leaders in developing this kind of educational resource. There is the potential for generating useful export earnings and also for increasing Britain's moral and intellectual standing in the world. There is no doubt that more and more schools will take up Skills for the Primary School Child. Its acceptance and use by the teaching profession is assured. But scientific rigour requires that it be properly validated. This small amount of additional funding is necessary to that end—that is to say, a direct investment in our most important resource for the future, the children of our country.
It both fills the yawning gap that currently exists in personal and social education in our primary schools and also changes the behaviour of children for the better. As they become more aware of their own worth and that of others, they automatically become better citizens. I failed to point out that this project was originally designed to teach children about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. But its benefits go far beyond this. Educating children in such a way that they acquire skills that make them less isolated and more sociable is far more effective than simply adding a list of national rules of behaviour to the school and home rules to which they are already subject.
There is another factor at work here. In former times traditional ways and customs dictated codes of behaviour that were broadly accepted, whether they were enforced or consensual. In our culture during the past 100 years and in the cultures of many of our ethnic minorities during the past 20 to 30 years, the relaxing or breaking down, depending on your point of view, of traditional codes of behaviour has left young people with a bewildering sea of choices to make about how to live in an increasingly complex and even fragmented society.
732 Skills for the Primary School Child creates a structured programme through which children acquire the skill of making informed choices. The process through which they do this builds closer and more caring relationships between staff and pupils and among the children themselves. I am sure that this will also do more than anything to retain teachers in education. Its initial impetus was the need to educate children about the dangers of drug, alcohol and solvent abuse, but the results go far beyond even this major remit.
The children who participate also become less likely either to bully or to be bullied and better able to cope with situations of abuse from adults. In addition they are more self-confident and better able to relate to adults and to other children. Being given these skills and opportunities to make informed choices at an early age also greatly reduces the sense of alienation that so often sets in after the exciting newness of going to school has faded to the dreary dullness of introversion and passivity. Through that programme children become active participants in the whole process of learning, from which attitudes, values, influences and skills cannot be separated. I should like to add also that a population able to make rational, informed choices is essential for democratic government.
In another place on 15th July 1867 on the passing of the Reform Bill of that year, Robert Lowe, Lord Sherbrooke, said that he believed that it would now be necessary to prevail on our masters to learn their letters. One hundred and twenty three years later most people can read and write, but political and social life has become far more complex. We are many different groups. We are not two nations but one could almost say several nations in one.
Also in the economic sphere increasing specialisation, the emergence of enormous multinational conglomerate trading companies and the feeling that one is reduced to being a 25-digit reference number on a gas bill all detract from people's sense of belonging. That is dangerous; it is very dangerous.
I believe strongly that this educational programme devised and produced by TACADE will do much to reverse those trends, to improve behaviour in schools and provide an invaluable resource in combating the evil of drug and alcohol abuse. TACADE already has a successful track record in producing effective educational resources. Skills for Adolescence, TACADE's previous project, has been in use since 1986 and is now at various stages of implementation in half the secondary schools in the country. Hertfordshire and some other counties now use Skills for Adolescence in all their secondary schools.
As with Skills for the Primary School Child, which was a tool to combat substance abuse, there have been other proven benefits; namely, reduced levels of truancy, improvements in pupils' academic performance, increased motivation, teachers developing closer, more trusting relationships with pupils and finding discipline easier and pupils being more tolerant and mature in their relationships with their fellow pupils and with teachers. Parents who have 733 been involved have been very enthusiastic. Indeed part of the aim and success of the Skills for Adolescence project—I am sure that the same will apply to Skills for the Primary School Child—has been to form a bond and partnership between parents, pupils and teachers.
I should like to give a piece of anecdotal evidence which illustrates the wide-ranging benefits of these programmes and in particular the growth of trust between teacher and pupil. I have a letter from a teacher to a member of the TACADE staff about a teenage girl who was able to discuss for the first time the fact of and the feelings surrounding being sexually abused by a member of her family. As a result, the perpetrator was prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison. That came to light directly as a result of her participation in the Skills for Adolescence programme.
Skills for the Primary School Child and Skills for Adolescence are having a synergistic effect in making the most of existing resources. The £50,000 needed to evaluate results is a relatively minute amount of money and I hope that the Government will agree to fund the study.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, in the winter of 1944, not one of the best for Britain with the world at war and our economy in hock as we strove to fight for the peace to follow, I heard R.A. Butler on his education Bill and I heard Sir William on his social security provisions. At that time the mood of the country was amazing. While many noble Lords were still about the business of saving and serving democracy in various parts of the world, Britain was turning its mind to what it might do in the next 50 years to create greater opportunities and to give the children of this country a better chance to benefit from living in it than their parents had had.
One of the most significant things which happened in education at that time was the return from the services in 1945 of prisoners of war and ex-soldiers and ex-officers, men and women. The education system of which they had been a part had taught them that they were not suitable to command or lead, that they were to be in various slots of the economic and social position. Such people had been lifted out of that by the discovery that they had brilliancies which helped to win the war.
At this stage I want to say that it is time for the Government to point the eyes of the country optimistically forward. If anything of consequence to education is to come out of this debate, it should not be the negatives which have been so much a part of the debate so far. There has been much condemnation on various sides of people who are trying to do a good job within the system. There should be an identification of what is possible with the resources available.
When I went into the classroom in 1945, we were given the biggest rise which teachers had until then been granted. Our eyes were pointed forward. I was a two-year trained teacher. I was a product of the poor 734 man's university which did so much for education in Britain up to that time. We were taught that in education only one factor was important; namely, the child. In some of the destructive and rather snide comments which have been made as regards proposals for the future, very little emphasis has been placed upon the child. I believe that we should correct that at once.
In speaking in this debate, I must say that I have listened to long speeches by people in other debates. I have sat through them to the end. I believe that we should return to some of the principles of this House. When people contribute in a debate and make sweeping assertions which need checking, they should sit to the end of the debate and then face the music of the response which they may receive. I do not say that viciously; I say it because when I entered this House 15 years ago noble Lords were courteous to all taking part in the debates. The House should continue to live up to those high standards.
All the research which has been carried out in my lifetime in teaching—and I was in it until 1975—has proved one thing; namely, that the biggest single influence on the life of a child is the attitude of his parents to the school which he attends. All my experience in classrooms and staffrooms has taught me that the biggest single influence after that is the mood of the teacher who receives the child into the class and his or her identification with the community in which they may live.
Since 1945 and through all the administrations which have followed, the general morale of the teaching profession at infant, primary, secondary and university level has declined. The feelings which teachers have about their acceptance in society have been affected. Some of the comments made in this debate will have further depressed them and will have made them feel that what they are trying to do is not understood.
How do we set about reconstructing the education process so that teachers today are somehow given the same sort of influence and so that they feel they have a constructive job to do in the reconvening of the community spirit which has been so badly dented? How do we set about that? We will not do it by making snide, sweeping references.
I shall make one comment as kindly as I can. One of the saddest and most depressing remarks made in this debate—all the more sad and depressing because she believes it—was the remark by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that the rot lies in the education authorities.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, as a point of correction, that was in a letter written to me by a teacher. Those were not my own words.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, of course I withdraw that, but the noble Baroness knows what I think. I wrote down the words "The rot lies in the education authorities". I totally accept that that was in a letter to the noble Baroness from a teacher but I shall respond to that in this way. The education which we inherited and the chances that we had—I mean those people 735 who were not expensively bought out of the system—are not the politics of envy. One of the weaknesses of cases made in this House is that some of the people making them have no knowledge of the public system because they were educated outside that system. Many Secretaries of State for Education found their first access to the public school system on the day they came into office, and only then discovered what it was all about.
I have served under every Education Secretary since Chuter-Ede who was president of the Board of Education until 1975. There have been some superb people in office, despite the background from which they came. But it is a weakness of the case when people educated in the public side of the education system see those running it contracting their children out.
I believe in a positive constructive way that we should analyse the value of the private school sector of the education system. If there are people who feel that they must spend £7,000 a year on educating their children outside the general system, we should analyse that cost. Let us ask ourselves what proportion of that cost goes to essential education. Let us cut out the snobbery, the frills, and decide what is the right level of expenditure. If it is right to say that the sum a noble Lord chooses to spend on the education of his child is £3.000, how can we justify arriving at sums of expenditure for the other side of the education system that may be derisory by comparison? My positive comment is that if the public school system—by that I mean the private school system—is so valuable to parents, we should aim suitably to fund our side of the system to move towards that other system. But let us not criticise education authorities. They must work within the system and the provisions made available to them. Many of us would not be in this House if it were not for the dedication of unpaid men and women who devoted their lives to education in the education authorities of this country.
I do not wish to omit some of the valuable points made by Members opposite. It is true that we sometimes wonder about the emphases placed on courses in teacher education. One of the reasons I went to university at 32 years of age was that I knew instinctively that I was not equipped to face the challenge of the classroom with a new and demanding child population. It should be easier for teachers to move from the classroom into further education. It should be easier also to sustain the in-service education to which I devoted part of my life. It is not enough that the teachers close down for one day a term and toddle off to a teacher seminar to hear some bright and shining star from Bristol talk of how clever he has been—I mean no disrespect to Bristol; wherever the man comes from.
Perhaps I may also say that we need a far better funded system. It is current party politics in Britain to say that the Labour Party has good ideas but to ask how it will it pay for them. I am not worried about that. If we motivate the will of the nation, people will always pay for education. We must find alternatives, and some have been suggested.
736 Let us return to the real grist of the mill. Evening classes have been cut back; teacher in-service education has been cut back; opportunities for leaving teaching and attending university have been cut back. Pressure on the education authorities funding has made it impossible for them to sustain some of the courses. I am not a great believer in car-boot sale funding of education. I believe that the funds should come from a proper understanding of the people and a proper dialogue with them as to how the resources should be spent. No government can write a blank cheque for education. We know that. There is no question about that.
Let me say this. There are certain matters which suddenly became policy. As the House will know, I am interested in the education of the mentally disadvantaged and the physically handicapped. At this time it is the conventional wisdom that we integrate those kids into the main stream. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who will be answering, on one occasion when I asked a question about this thought I was being too pessimistic. I hope I am being realistic and I shall ask a direct question on this. What I believe about optimism and pessimism is summed up in a Hungarian proverb which says that the only difference between the optimist and the pessimist is that the pessimist is better informed.
Regarding that issue, about which I have some knowledge, I ask how we can possibly move children who have been cared for in a protected and specially designed environment to a mainstream school where the head teacher is already organising car boot sales to raise funds to buy books for the general membership of the school. How can we modify a school to take the handicapped child? When we close down the school that has been carefully looked after by the community, has received a generous funding and has been given help from all kinds of sources, we are underprivileging the underprivileged, and doing it by accident.
I believe that every Member of this House, however educated, genuinely wants to see a better British education system. We are committed to it. Let us vote for it.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, there is no doubt that the projected increase in the number of students at universities and polytechnics is most welcome and the Government deserve the highest congratulations for that policy, which we all want to see succeed. But I should like to take a few moments to consider one aspect of that expansion which needs more attention than it has so far received; that is where the extra students are to live when they arrive.
The increase that has already happened placed considerable strain on the universities and it can only worsen. With an inevitable shortage of purpose-built accommodation there will be an inevitable increase in demand on the by now limited private rental sector. Such increase in demand has already resulted in an increase in the rents charged for rooms. It does not appear that further space to rent can or will fill much of the gap, although it may help. It is perhaps 737 significant that many young people choose to study at northern institutions of education largely because rents there are cheaper.
I ask the Government how they believe the universities and polytechnics can best be helped to construct more halls of residence, flats or whatever to meet the expected increase in demand; or is it their policy to make students from the poorer homes study at the place nearest to where they live so that all they need is their bus fare? If that is the case, it is a radical and unwelcome change of policy.
In this matter I wear two hats: one a university hat and another as chairman of a building society. We tried to make the two coincide and use building society funds to finance accommodation specifically for students. Over 500 places in the North of England have been funded within the last few years. However, that is now becoming much more difficult.
We are starting to build a hall for 126 students in Newcastle. Given the present day costs of building, that will work out at £13,000 for each bedspace. I hate the word "bedspace" but I cannot think of a better one. I believe we all know what it means. At current interest rates the mortgage interest alone works out at almost £2,000 per annum per unit. That is close to the student's annual grant of £2,250. Those figures assume no site costs and rates at only ½ per cent. over the base rate on a 40-year mortgage, which no bank would even contemplate. The student must pay that figure. He is thus left with only £250 of grant and a loan of £420 if he has no other income. The students are now very conscious that they are paying some part of the poll tax and have just lost housing benefit during the long vacation.
On those figures few new flats can be constructed and will not be occupied if they are. What can be done? I do not see any way that those figures can be reduced without some kind of help from the Government. I wish I could. Funds could perhaps be channelled through the universities and polytechnics funding councils, from which source nothing has so far come; perhaps there could be a higher grant or a loan in cases of hardship. There is an access fund of £25 million, as noble Lords will be aware. That may help but it is widely regarded as inadequate. I am told that it has so far helped mostly those in trouble with rents in private rented accommodation.
I am not sure of the scale of this problem nationally. I have no means of working it out. However, if we are talking about 20,000 new bed spaces over the next five years—which assumes that not more than 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. of the students use them—that might come to £260 million over that period. A 25 per cent. subsidy on that would be £13 million a year. However, the figures are written literally on the back of an envelope and I am not sure that they are accurate.
I hope that the Government will give an indication of what they believe should be done. Will it be possible for some sort of student housing corporation to be considered in order to assist those educational 738 institutions which have a long-term programme and have formed a trust in partnership with financial businesses and builders; and, with the help of local authorities, find the land and guarantee the loans for the conversion of unused property? Even a guarantee to fund a shortfall after the mortgage period ended would be of great assistance and would cost nothing.
Finally, I believe that without some assistance of that kind, the expansion of higher education, which everyone in this House very much wants to see, could be seriously jeopardised.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the previous speaker always commands the full attention of the House wherever he happens to be sitting, either on the Benches with which I normally associate him or in his present position. What he had to say was followed closely by us all; but I hope he will forgive me if I do not develop his arguments.
We have had a memorable debate. I always find it prudent to congratulate most warmly the speaker sitting nearest to me. However, it is not only for that reason that I salute my noble friend Lord Parry. I cannot remember anyone who made a more powerful speech in an educational debate than my noble friend. His experience is certainly much more deep-rooted in education than is mine. I became engaged to be married in the waiting room of the Workers Educational Association at Stoke-on-Trent, if any noble Lords know that part of the world. In those days I taught at two state schools, and I have been a university teacher since then.
My noble friend Lord Parry spoke of education as it is, from the point of view of those who have lived through it and those who teach. I am glad that he defended the teachers. When all is said and done, they have not had a very good deal from some of the speakers today; though that does not apply to these Benches. The thought that the teachers are getting full justice is to my mind—and it is a personal opinion—absurd. They are not receiving justice in this country at present.
My noble friend Lord Peston opened a debate on education earlier in the year. I described his speech as brilliant and comprehensive. I said that he had not had time to deal with religion but no doubt would be leaving that to my noble friend Lady Blackstone, who was winding up. I must make the same comment today, but the other way round. The noble Baroness made a speech that was brilliant and comprehensive and no doubt left the subject of religion for my noble friend Lord Peston when he winds up. Between them, in the course of these two debates, no doubt the subject will be covered.
Religion might conceivably have been covered from the Bishops' Bench. It is not for me, an Anglican defector of 50 years' standing, to say anything critical about the absence of bishops today. However, considering that this is a debate on education, we might have hoped for an important contribution from the ecclesiastical Bench. I realise that I may be completely out of touch and that they have special 739 reasons for not being here. As I am incapable of taking their place, I leave what is, to me, the most important of all educational subjects for the bishops to deal with on the next occasion, and for my noble friend Lord Peston when he winds up.
I venture to deal with the polytechnics. I had thought of saying something about the noble Lord, Lord Annan, but he is not in the Chamber at present so those remarks will also have to be passed over. The noble Lord is on record, during an earlier debate, as describing the polytechnics as the great success story of the 1980s. On that point, at least, I agree with him. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also agrees, as does the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I was not entirely happy about some of the later remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson; but I know that his heart is in the right place in regard to polytechnics. His other remarks will no doubt be dealt with firmly by my noble Friend Lord Peston.
The facts are reasonably familiar. Incidentally, this is National Polytechnics Week, which celebrates the 21st anniversary of the creation of modern polytechnics. I hope that all noble Lords are doing something about that. I do not know what the noble Baroness, Lady Blotch, is doing, but perhaps she will tell the House what the Government have in mind for National Polytechnics Week. I am not sure that she is even wearing a badge! At any rate, this is National Polytechnics Week, and the polytechnics have been described by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, as a great success story.
It has often been said in these debates—perhaps too often by me, but one cannot repeat the truth too often—that polytechnics are the largest sector in higher education and cover over 55 per cent. of higher education students. I shall not go into detail at this time of night, but that gives some indication of their significance. It is generally accepted—it has never been denied—that their standards are comparable with those of the universities. We can therefore accept that they are doing a fine job.
However, what are the Government doing to assist the polytechnics? Again, I have made these points on previous occasions; but until the Government improve their record, I am afraid that I shall keep on repeating them. It would be nice to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has to say in this regard because I respect his views. If anyone wishes to read a brilliant book, I suggest that they read his book called Our Age, which has just been published. I do not agree with the book in all respects; but if one wishes to have one's mind provoked into active thought, I suggest reading that book.
I refer to the binary line. I should have thought that the time has now come to announce the end of the binary line. I know that on an earlier occasion I said that I had once defended the binary line; but that was many years ago when I was younger and more foolish and was some sort of ministerial hack, so I hope your Lordships will not count that against me. The binary line has had it. We do not want it any more.
740 We should consider a few facts in regard to polytechnics. The achievements of the polytechnics have been carried out on 40 per cent. less funding per student than for comparable students in universities. Is anybody in this House able to justify the universities' position? I hope that the Minister will not. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, might, but perhaps he has moved beyond that position. However, the nation is getting polytechnic education on the cheap. I hope that that will not continue.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, is the noble Earl suggesting that the universities should be brought down to the polytechnic unit of resource?
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I know that that is a feed question in order to obtain a conclusive answer. The noble Lord cannot imagine that I am off my head. Of course I do not suggest any such thing. I have to be a little more offensive to the noble Lord than I had intended to be because if he making that suggestion, he should not continue his career in higher education but should go back to school. I did not intend to be offensive, but since such a ridiculous question has been put to me I cannot help but reply on the same lines.
It seems to me that the position will get worse. According to my figures—
§ Lord Dainton
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the polytechnics do not cover any of the expensive subjects such as medicine, dentistry, agriculture, or veterinary science? There is no point in taking average figures unless one takes account of the great range of unit costs. If one makes the proper allowances, the situation is entirely different.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I am glad of that even more expert comment from the noble Lord. However, the polytechnics consider that they should be given facilities for research that are at present being denied them. That situation alters the balance in the other direction. The situation will worsen. In that regard I do not think that the remarks of the noble Lord, who is highly expert, are helpful. The income per student will fall yet again. That cannot be due to any change in the curriculum. The income per student will fall again, adding to the decline of 20 per cent. per student over the past 10 years. The Government keep praising the polytechnics, but what are they doing about the situation? They are doing them down.
Either one accepts the polytechnics on the same basis as the universities and gives them parity of esteem or one does not. I plead for parity of esteem, for an end of the binary system and for funding on the same basis. I hope that the noble Baroness, who showed good will in regard to polytechnics on the last occasion, will be able to say something encouraging on this occasion.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I hope I will he forgiven for confining my remarks to Oxford, a university which has its fair share of poor undergraduates. I make no apology for covering some of the ground that has already been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Viscount, 741 Lord Ridley, because I should like to talk about access funds. I am talking about Oxford because that is what I know about. My own educational credentials are that I was educated by a correspondence course until I was 11 years of age; then I went to an excellent London secondary school, and then I went to Oxford on a state scholarship. Therefore, I know what it is like not to be rich.
I welcome a great deal of what the Government have done but I remain deeply concerned about the access funds both for undergraduates and postgraduates and for the funding of postgraduates in general. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffbam Prior, has dealt with that matter in a masterly maiden speech.
According to the Secretary of State, £25 million was to be allocated to the access fund in 1990/91 to alleviate in particular student hardship arising from the removal of students from the social security system. Fourteen million pounds was for undergraduates, £6 million for postgraduates and £5 million for students in further education. So far, the University Funding Council has received a total of £9.42 million for the universities, and of that Oxford's share is £360,000.
A survey that was conducted by the Student Financial Support Monitoring Unit, which works very closely with both the university and the city, estimated that claims on the fund to replace lost housing benefit and income support will probably be in the region of £1.5 million.
It is clear, as the universities and many others warned, that the access funds will be wholly inadequate. It is a very great pity that the amendment that was initiated in this House advocating the restoration of housing benefit for some students had to be ruled out on grounds of privilege. In Oxford, students have to pay an average of over £40 a week for the whole calendar year, for the year that many of them have to live out of college. The colleges are trying to build more accommodation and the university and colleges together have bought property to meet the urgent need this year.
It must be clear that a top-up loan of £420, a maintenance grant—what is left of it—which has not been adjusted since 1979, and an access fund of well under half a million pounds for undergraduates and postgraduates cannot possibly compensate for the withdrawal of housing and social security benefits. Many students will suffer great financial hardship. That is a very expensive way to run a railway, since it is likely to lead to a high drop-out rate—something which we have not so far experienced.
Severe stress amongst students is very wasteful. For those doing postgraduate work the situation is especially serious because they receive no top up loan. Those students with Research Council and British Academy grants receive £3,725 per annum. The university estimates that no one can survive without a minimum of £4,800. Postgraduates are expected to work on their research for the full calendar year less 742 four weeks and they are under pressure to complete their doctorates in three years. Therefore, they cannot do lucrative jobs in order to earn more money, even if that situation were academically desirable.
Successive Secretaries of State have been concerned that the resources of the country—in this case the universities—should be wisely used. The Government's paper, The Development of Higher Education in the 1990s, stated that the future health of higher education and its funding from public and private sources depended significantly upon its own success in generating the qualified manpower that the country needs and which is vital to the country's economic performance.
I have always been energetic in promoting the links between industry and education, but in applying a purely financial yardstick to the entire issue of funding, the Government are putting the seed corn of all our academic institutions at risk.
In the face of such relentless stress graduates will not undertake the postgraduate work which will sustain research. The number of British postgraduate students in Oxford has dropped by one-third since 1980 and the situation is now becoming dramatic. The same drastic fall has been observed in the United States over the past five years and there it has been justifiably described as leading to the decimation of the ranks of the young academics—the seed corn. It cannot but lead to a serious erosion of the quality of university life both in teaching and in research. Why do we have universities with a superb reputation for their research if our own postgraduates cannot afford to work there? Our own physics fellow in my college of Somerville, who is one of this year's Fellows of the Royal Society, steadily loses her best postgraduates to the United States, and the only reason for that is money.
I know that Her Majesty's Government are concerned about the quality of academic life and that no public purse is bottomless, but I appeal to the Secretary of State's vision and common sense. I ask him to listen to the universities, to find a way to meet the special needs of postgraduates and meanwhile to review and significantly increase the access funds.
As a country, we cannot afford to put short-term financial arguments before the long-term needs of education, which is in itself our human riches and investment. To put it another way, quality costs money. As the Council for Industry and Higher Education stated three years ago, at present the United Kingdom's plans for the development of highly educated people are at odds with its ambitions for renewal and growth.
In 1989 the previous Secretary of State reaffirmed his commitment to a doubling of numbers in higher education over the next 25 years. I firmly believe that the Government genuinely want to achieve that position, but it will not happen if the financial hurdles for future postgraduates, many of whom should be teaching the next generation of students, are made higher and higher. Education is a national necessity and not a luxury.
743 We have been speaking about foreign languages and most of our debates concern communication and persuading people to listen to us. I took a year off to learn Russian when I was in the Foreign Office and I was sent to a Russian family in Paris to do my practical. They were very stern and rigorous and used to take me out to dinner parties where everyone was forbidden to speak to me except in Russian. Therefore my conversation was considerably limited in the early months. On the very first occasion when I had a conversation of any kind, my neighbour said to me very carefully and slowly in Russian, "What is your favourite sport?" He thought that that was a suitable question to ask a young English woman. I could not think of any sports in Russian until I finally remembered the word for "swimming". I said to him equally slowly and clearly, "I am very fond of swimming." He looked horrified. Unfortunately, I then remembered the word for "long distance" and I said, "I am particularly fond of long-distance swimming." After that, he would not speak to me again. Luckily the hostess had overheard this conversation and at the end of the dinner she broke the rules and asked me in French, "Why did you say that extraordinary thing to Prince so and so?" I told her that "swimming" was the only word that I could remember that was a sport. She said, "What a pity. You did not say that." I said, "What did I say?" She said, "You told him you were very fond of spitting."
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, a 13 year-old girl I know who attends one of the best comprehensive schools in Norfolk was asked to do a biology project on blood. There were no textbooks to take home so she went to her school library. There were no relevant books there. Being a resourceful girl, she went to her central public library only to find, on increasingly empty shelves, one relevant book: an elderly tome on anatomy. She took it home, copied out large chunks of it, confessing that she did not really understand very much of it. Such incidents are replicated up and down the country. At primary level, at secondary level and at higher education level, our education system is starved of books. As headmasters will testify, after dedicated teachers and supportive homes, it is books that contribute most to children's progress. It is on that subject that I should like to make a few remarks today.
Book expenditure, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has already reminded us, has been declining throughout the 1980s. In cash terms, it was £65 million in 1981. By 1988–89 book expenditure had risen to just £75 million. Had it kept pace with inflation, it would have been nearer £110 million. In other words, there was a real cut of some £35 million. Indeed, between 1987–88 and 1988–89, half of the English counties cut expenditure on books both in real terms and in cash terms.
With local management of schools, that situation has now become worse, especially for smaller schools with staffs of perhaps only 10, and where staffs are mature, experienced and stable. Under LMS, schools are funded on average salaries but have to pay actual 744 salaries. Such schools are therefore penalised for the older and experienced staff they have and find themselves too often in budget deficit. The governors of three or four of the first and middle schools to whom I was talking last weekend find themselves with budget deficits of from £20,000 to £30,000 on budgets of around £250,000. All expect to see their classroom size rising from below 30 to 36 or more, and all expect to cut by at least 50 per cent. the hours they can offer to children with special needs. First schools are dropping rising-fives entry, and middle schools are ending expenditure on music, craft and design. Internal repairs and decoration are being left undone. In all of those cases, one or two of their most experienced teachers face the sack.
As for capitation—books and equipment—one headmaster who helped to pilot LMS has already had to cut his book budget by half in two years. Another does not expect to buy any books for the next three years. A third cannot even fund pencils and paper—that is left to the PTA—let alone meet the requirements of the national curriculum, let alone buy books. I emphasise that those are all good schools with the benefit of experienced staff, and being penalised for it. Under LMS they face a budget deficit which is felt particularly by capitation. How many noble Lords would want their children or grandchildren to attend schools so severely under-resourced?
The book stock of secondary schools is also dire. In 1989 HMIs surveyed the 58 school libraries of six local education authorities. They reported:In some schools, more than 70 per cent. of the stock is obsolete".Because the stock is old, the children do not use the books. The HMIs reported that in Barnsley one school had 36 loans from its library in a month. Another school library had 72 fiction titles—22 had not been borrowed for 15 years. Kent's 140 secondary schools had on average 1.5 library books per pupil: the library of an average Kent secondary school would probably go into half a dozen suburban bookcases: the HMIs recommend 10 books per child. By any standards, these are desperate figures and reflect the low amount of money being spent.
I suggest that as a result of those problems the demands of the national curriculum are not being met, project work for GCSEs and A-levels cannot be resourced and A/S-levels cannot be mounted. When we lose books, education loses depth and breadth at the same time.
Can our children turn to public libraries? They might but for the fact that over the past 10 years the opening hours of public libraries have been cut by 15 per cent., and public library book funds have been slashed in real terms by almost one third.
The situation is equally bad in universities. If one asks students what is their greatest academic problem, they will not say essays or examinations, they will say getting hold of the books. With frozen grants, they cannot buy them. They turn to the university libraries. Yet as book prices have risen by nearly 40 per cent. in the past five years, and science monographs by 100 per cent., and as acquisition budgets have been barely 745 constant in cash terms, the number of books bought by many universities has virtually halved. One university has bought 17,000 fewer books in the past five years than in the previous five years even though student numbers have risen.
Many universities now stop buying books in March. Next year many will stop buying in January. In some universities no science books are being bought at all, since science periodicals have to be protected and they are escalating in cost even faster than books, at some 18 per cent. a year. Chemical Abstracts, which are essential reading, cost more than £8,000 for a single year's run of one copy. If you break the run, you destroy the value of the periodical. As periodicals topslice university library budgets, less money is left for other books to meet the needs of more and more students. Unless we can fund book purchase properly, as well as student grants, we shall not be able to sustain three-year honours degree courses, since the library is the hub of the academic community.
Under-investment is equally dire in the area of scientific equipment. In 1989 the advisory board to the research councils surveyed all British universities but one, and five polytechnics. It identified 16,000 pieces of research equipment such as microscopes. According to the advisory board, 14 per cent. was inadequate or obsolete; 17 per cent. was in poor condition or inoperable; and 37 per cent. of it was more than 10 years old. Over four-fifths of all university departments reported that they were unable to perform or had seriously to delay critical experiments, due to lack of equipment. Investment of nearly £453 million is needed to make good the backlog on an equipment stock whose replacement value is now some £600 million.
As the dean of chemistry from my own university reported:Visitors from other UK departments are usually favourably impressed. Those from the USA or other industrialised countries are amazed that we cope with so little equipment and that so much of it is obsolescent or obsolete".This is the research on which this country's scientific innovation rests. Yet despite the report, the Government have again funded their ear-marked equipment grant to universities by less than inflation. I do not think the Government can know what is happening inside our schools as concerns books and inside our universities as concerns books and equipment. If they do know, they are being unbelievably complacent. The £15 million MacGregor money for national curriculum development and the £9 million Baker money for universities was welcome but woefully inadequate.
Books are about literacy in primary schools. They are about skills, and overcoming handicap and deprivation. They are about examination projects; they are about the national curriculum; they are about cost-effectiveness and they are about research. They make possible all of those things. However, I should like to suggest that books are more than that; they allow pupils and students—that is, our children—to 746 roam freely and imaginatively in other times, other places and other cultures. To under-fund books is to under-equip minds and to under-resource all our futures. I suggest that that is what this Government are doing.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I am in great difficulty about how to open my contribution to this debate. My noble friend Lord Longford mentioned my failure to discuss the subject of religion on the last occasion I spoke. I shall tell him that, quite honestly, if I were a free agent I would devote the whole of my speech to that subject. However, I am not a free agent for a reason that he will understand. Some years ago my wife told me that under no circumstances should I ever express my views on religion in public; indeed, if she had her way, I would not express them in private. I should point out to my noble friend that underlying all my views on education are classical liberal principles—that is, principles of freedom of thought and freedom of expression—and certainly therefore I shall never be one to prevent those in the religious business from expressing their views on education. I only wish that they would show a similar tolerance towards people who share my views on the matter.
My noble friend Lady Blackstone used the word "investment" in the Motion which is before the House. I shall say a few words on that aspect of the matter in a moment. However, I believe that she would agree, as we all do, that education must not just be thought of as an investment. First and foremost, it must be a valuable experience in its own right. I know that we have discussed many technical matters today but one must not lose sight of the fact that these are marvellous years and the young people must appreciate what they are doing at the time they are being educated.
I turn now to concentrate on investment. I hope that there is one aspect upon which we can agree when we discuss education. I trust that we can scotch once and for all the canard which is often put forward by noble Lords opposite about wealth only being created in the private sector. If one ever needed a case to prove that that is nonsense, surely it comes to light when we consider that education takes place largely in the public sector. The one reason I bridle so much whenever I hear noble Lords opposite producing that cliché is that I wonder what they think the rest of us do and have done with our lives.
As a university teacher, I believe that I have been a wealth creator, as have my colleagues. When I look around at my students who go to work in the City of London as foreign exchange dealers, and into banks and building societies—I do not deny that they are creating wealth—I think that one ought to ask how they have been able to do so. Without boasting, I believe that they can do so in part because I told them how to do it. Therefore, if they are wealth creators I feel that I am also a wealth creator.
My second observation on investment relates specifically to the importance of nursery schools, which my noble friend emphasised. The interesting 747 factor about such schools is that they are a particularly good investment in the child. Such investment pays off over the longest period imaginable. By definition it starts to pay off, as it were, 17 years earlier than investment in higher education. Moreover, that pay-off in itself is an educational pay-off, at least in part, in so far as we wish children to derive the most out of primary and secondary schools. In my opinion we can and must lay the foundation in nursery schools. Curiously enough, the right honourable lady the Prime Minister used to hold that view about 20 years ago. One wonders what happened to the impetus for nursery schools on that side of the political divide. Therefore, in arguing for investment in education I should especially argue the case for nursery schools.
I should like now to say a few words about the national curriculum. The curriculum as sketched out at present is recognised by everyone as being overloaded and too complex. It is certainly not helpful to children at the lower end of the ability scale. My noble friend Lady Phillips pointed out that the use of the expression "non-academic" is pejorative and tends to put such young people down. I agree with her. However, the difficulty is in finding another expression for people whose interests are not primarily academic.
The main objection to the curriculum in its present form is precisely that which we put forward when we debated the matter two or three years ago; namely, that it squeezes out so many other valuable activities in the arts and also, as we have now discovered, in sports. I find the situation extremely worrying. It is especially worrying and upsetting because during my early days in your Lordships' House we debated what became the Education Act 1988. I worked with my noble friend Lady David and learnt much about how the House operates.
I found most upsetting that one could put down an amendment —I did so with the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, who I regret is not present in the Chamber but who reminded us of the occasion—which was not at all contrary to the spirit of the Government's legislation. Many of us argued at the time that it was actually helpful to their objectives and moreover it was supported by Members on all sides of the House. The amendment concentrated on the importance of giving the core curriculum the central role and not insisting upon the remainder, even though much of that was desirable.
However, one can put down such an amendment and it can simply be rejected by the government spokesman on the grounds that the Government do not want an amendment. That is a completely unreasonable and irrational rejection, after which they bring in the so-called backwoodsmen—I suppose I should refer to them as backwoodspersons—who do not listen to the debate but who are required to traipse through the Lobby simply to ensure that the Government get their own way. The Government then spend the succeeding five years trying to undo what they insisted upon. That is exactly what the right honourable gentleman the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science was doing. My guess is that 748 the present Secretary of State will continue with the unravelling of something which could have been avoided in the first place. I have learnt that lesson, and I hope that in the near future when we are in government I shall remember it in terms of giving practical responses to sensible suggestions from the other side.
I should now like to turn my attention to higher education and the question of quality. Other noble Lords—especially my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris and the noble Lord, Lord Dainton—dealt with the disaster of the UFC. I was somewhat doubtful about the UFC; but I cannot pretend to have predicted that it would turn out to be the calamity which we currently see. I also find it curious to note that the chairman of the UFC did not feel it worth while to speak in the debate or even to listen to what anyone else had to say. I suppose he feels that spreading alarm and despondency throughout the universities is a higher priority.
In my view the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, are correct. However, my worry goes further than that. I echo the view on higher education expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Of course you cannot have quality on the cheap. However, we still talk about maintaining standards and say that the crisis is yet to come. I am not so confident about that prediction. I believe that it is at least possible that standards are falling. I am as strong a supporter of the polytechnics as are my noble friend Lord Longford and others; but I am also concerned a bout whether standards may be falling in that area.
When I refer to standards, I refer to educational standards. I do not see it as a kind of batch process where we consider how quickly we can get the young people through their education and ram stuff into them. I have always argued that I could teach all the economics I know to my students in much less time. Indeed, I could teach almost anyone to pass an economics degree within a very short time, mainly because I am quite good at explaining learning. I do not remotely regard that as having anything to do with education and in practice I do not do it. What worries me especially about polytechnics is that they will be pushed more and more into exercising so-called efficiency measures—namely, those with adverse staff student ratios—which do not produce good education. I must therefore issue that word of warning.
More generally, on the question of higher education, I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether she can give us any information as to what is happening about the loan scheme. Perhaps she will be able to tell us what rate of interest students will be charged under the scheme. I also echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. I should like to know what is happening about access funds, which do not seem to be operating as we had expected. Again, that is not surprising because of the enormous administrative problems connected with those funds. I also noticed that when in trouble the Government revert to one of their standard responses—they have decided to look yet again at student 749 unions, as I understand it, with a view to making out that they are somehow the cause of all the problems. I find that hard to believe.
I have two further remarks to make while I am on the subject of higher education. I wish to echo all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, on his speech. I agree with his remarks about postgraduate and postdoctoral education. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, made similar remarks. It is a subject to which we shall perhaps return in a short debate because it is one which is worth exploring in much more detail in its own right.
Having congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, I have, with great regret, to take the opposite view of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. My initial response on hearing his contribution was to say, "My time is valuable, and I shall ignore his contribution". The best I can say about it is that it was ill informed, but speaking as a teacher I found his remarks about teachers to be defamatory. I wondered whether he understood what he was saying. I should like to know whether the Minister will say that his views are the Government's views. Having been a teacher all my life I have always worked 60 to 70 hours a week. When my friends in the private sector were having Saturdays and Sundays off to play golf or to be at home with their children I was still working.
I wonder what the noble Lord thinks that he is saying. I take such remarks personally. He is making them not just to me but to other noble Lords, because the House is full of academics and former academics. That is just not the type of thing to say. Perhaps I may finish with a further insult to the noble Lord. He said that he was part of the CNAA. Having been on the CNAA and having felt that it had done a good job, I believe that the time has come to free the polytechnics from it. Having heard his contribution to the debate I am now doubly certain that I am right in my views.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I began by saying that I was an outsider looking in at the unusual world of higher education. The figures, timings and so on that I gave clearly related to senior lecturers in the polytechnics. I contrasted their workload with the workload of an NHS ward sister. I did not go into details of the teachers' load at other levels of the system and all the rest of it. That was the precise comparison that I was seeking to make.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, the noble Lord said—I greatly resented it—that teachers were not professional. Teachers are professionals and always have been.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I am sorry, I did not say that. I said that the problem with teacher trainers is that they try to make themselves into a profession when the profession is in fact teaching.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, it seems to get worse. The noble Lord has made it clear that he does not understand anything about this subject. Perhaps I may make it clear to him that at the height of my 750 powers as a professor I taught for six hours a week only, in the sense that he uses the words, but I was still doing 70 to 80 hours' work a week. I was doing as much work as a ward sister, although I would not claim that I was as useful as a ward sister. I have rather strong views about what happens in hospitals. I was not that useful, but I was as useful as the average managing director of a private enterprise company, who has never worked my kind of hours. The noble Lord should know that if he makes such defamatory remarks some of us will respond strongly to them.
Finally on the universities, I came across a quotation from Sam Johnson the other day which I thought that your Lordships might like to hear. He said:It is surely not without just reproach that a nation of which the commerce is hourly extending and the wealth increasing denies any participation in its prosperity to its literary societies. While its merchants or its nobles are raising palaces it suffers its universities to moulder into dust".I shall turn now to teachers. Teachers are always criticised for what goes wrong and for not achieving the impossible. What one must do—I was pleased that many noble Lords said this—is praise them for what goes right. A great deal goes right in our schools because of the teachers' devotion, and, I add, despite the Government. It may well be, as my noble friend Lady Phillips said, that we interfere too much with the teachers but we often interfere with cause when we are trying to be helpful. We must learn not to be unhelpful. That teachers are excessively criticised is patent, and that we must stick up for them is an obligation.
I shall refer to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, merely because he attacked my noble friend, and so implicitly attacked me, because we did not tell him enough about Labour Party policies. I have been around your Lordships' House for a while, and one of the favourite things that the Government do is to say, "We are doing something stupid. What is your policy?" The answer is that we are not going to do that same stupid thing. The Government then say that we have no policies. That is absurd. Our policy is not to be stupid.
I remember the football Bill. "We are going to engage in a ludicrous membership scheme. What are you going to do?" Our answer was that we were not going to engage in that ludicrous football membership scheme. The classic example is the poll tax. The Government introduced the poll tax, something that all noble Lords opposite now bitterly regret. The Government said to us, "What is your policy?" Our policy was that we were not going to introduce the poll tax. The list continues. My favourite example is the CTCs. We shall not continue with them. As my noble friend Lady Blackstone pointed out, nor will the Government.
When it comes to resources we have the ultimate in stupidity. I pointed out in our economic debate last week that the Government's great error was to waste the oil revenues on a great consumer boom. The Government then said, "What will you do?" The answer is that we would not have wasted the oil revenues. It will be hard for us to regain them, but 751 when the Government insist on being stupid they cannot criticise us merely because we say that we shall not be stupid.
I have some more positive things to say. I can give your Lordships a list of the policies that we shall be pushing strongly. First and foremost, we shall be pushing for greater parental participation in all school activities. The evidence is overwhelming that the more one can include parents the more productive the education system will be. Our concept of the home/school contract is a good one. We shall press it strongly. We shall reform the A-levels. There is nothing to stop the Government doing so. They have had the evidence for some time, but they have invented the bizarre concept of the gold standard of the A-levels, when in fact they are saying that they are willing to ruin everything that happens in schools to, as it were, meet some of the demands of some university teachers.
What we must do is ask what is the best education for 16 to 18 year-olds and then see what follows for higher education. That is the rational way. We shall reform teacher training; introduce the education council; improve the induction of new teachers; improve career development; and provide incentives for staying on in the teaching profession, something that is vital in any reform of the pay structure. We shall also provide better rewards for career teachers to encourage them to stay in teaching. One of the great problems, and it is even true of higher education, is that if one wants to get on one has to give up doing the very thing that one is there for; namely, teaching.
As I have said, we shall reform the national curriculum and also introduce a four-year technical and vocational traineeship with a core curriculum. We shall hope that that will be an entrance qualification to higher education for those who want it. I have said, as have my noble friends, that we shall give education the highest priority, but that must of course be subject to the proviso that the first task of the next government must be to extricate the economy from the mess that this Government have got it into. Excellent forecaster though I am, I admit that I have great difficulty predicting the precise scale of the economic problems that will confront us. On present forecasts, it looks as though it will be nothing short of disastrous and quite a lot of time will be needed to sort it out. Therefore, it would be foolhardy of me or of any of my right honourable and honourable friends to commit any sum of money before saving the economy.
I am confident that, as we have done in the past, we shall solve these problems, and the resources that will then become available will be channelled so far as possible into education. We shall do that for two reasons. First, our children and young people deserve it. That is exactly the point made by my noble friend Lord Parry when he said, paraphrasing Tawney, that what the wealthy desire for their children we desire and will guarantee for all children. That seems to me to be the fundamental principle of education in which I have believed all my life. The other reason is the principle that my noble friend Lady Blackstone emphasised: we will channel resources into education 752 and training because they are an investment. Indeed, they are the investment that we need if our long-term economic future is to be safeguarded.
Perhaps I may throw the points back to the noble Baroness. Having said what we will do and how we will fight the next election, I am not sure on what programme the present Government will fight the election; nor am I sure who will do the fighting. I am even less sure whom they will fight against. However, we shall emphasise our commitment to education; we shall emphasise our commitment to raising standards and finding suitable resources. I believe that we will be able to persuade the electorate that that is one among many reasons why we deserve the victory which I am sure is now within our grasp.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I start by offering to my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior my most hearty congratulations for a splendid speech. He brought all the wealth of his experience and talents to bear on this debate. We look forward with enormous enthusiasm to his participation in debates in the House. For the record, I should point out that Swaffham Prior is in Cambridgeshire, not Norfolk.
This has been a wide-ranging debate. The Motion is extremely wide ranging and it will be almost impossible for me to do justice to it in my response, but I shall do what I can in the time available.
No one, either on this side or in the whole House, can possibly argue against the desirability of increasing investment in the education system at all stages and of improving the quality of what is provided. However, as other noble Lords have indicated, a serious debate depends upon propositions about relative priorities, about how much more should be spent and at the expense of what competing claims. I fear that such propositions have not been well argued by noble Lords, except by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He simply said that he would not do what we do.
We have had vigorous and hypercritical speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Hollis, and less vigorous from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who always manages to temper what he has to say with an understanding of some of the actions of the Government.
All the criticisms being ranged against the Government today come from a party whose record bears no comparison whatever with ours over the past 10 years. Under the Labour Government, spending on education fell by £1.6 billion in real terms. Spending as a percentage of GNP fell one percentage point. Teachers' pay rose by only 6 per cent., and under this Government in real terms it rose by 39 per cent. Classes were larger; fewer young people stayed on at school; when the Labour Party left office it was only 40 per cent. but that figure has now risen to 55 per cent.
More recently, on 8th February 1990, the newspaper the Independent pointed out that successive Labour Governments and numerous Labour local authorities must bear their share of responsibility for 753 the unhappy way in which education theory and practice have evolved over the past 25 years. Forced to acknowledge that it is the Conservative Government which has made the running in the reforming of schools, the Labour Party has spent most of its time criticising, often unjustly, the state of our schools and achieving little except the demoralisation of teachers. The Independent continued that Labour's last outline of its policy is contained in the document Looking to the Future, which was published in May, 1990. It rests on three principles: more spending, more bureaucracy and no choice.
Tomorrow a document will be published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It will be available for all noble Lords to read. The document opens with the statement that Britain devotes a proportionately bigger share of national income to education than the United States, Japan or Germany. It continues with many more favourable statistics about what Britain is doing for our young people in this country.
The Government share the desire to increase the quality of education and have a coherent programme for achieving that generally uncontroversial objective. I shall come to that in a moment. As to the investment of public money, we should all like to be able to afford to invest more. However, the Government can point to the following.
In the Autumn Statement the week before last, we announced a 16 per cent. increase in standard spending for schools, and a 10.5 per cent. increase in expenditure on higher education. These represent increases in real terms of 10 per cent. and 4.5 per cent. respectively over the comparable figures for 1990–91. These figures plainly demonstrate that the Government will continue to invest in improving standards. Perhaps I may comment to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that he said he was tired of hearing statistics; but these are real statistics, real resources, which go to our schools to provide education for our young people.
We hear much about crumbling school buildings; and the Government recognise that there is more to do to improve the fabric. A Select Committee in another place has reported on the maintenance of schools. At present that report is with the Secretary of State and his response to it is being prepared. The publication of the report is very much a matter for that Select Committee. However, again all noble Baronesses have exaggerated the figures on that issue.
Capital investment on schools has been substantial. Local authorities and governors of voluntary schools have spent nearly £2.6 billion since 1986. This year capital guidelines for education are being increased to £538 million in 1991–92; an 11 per cent. increase on the sum available this year. This year's figure was a 37 per cent. increase on last year. Grants to voluntary schools will increase by 21 per cent.
Spending per pupil in nursery and primary schools rose by 35 per cent. between 1979 and 1988. That is again in real terms. Spending per secondary pupil rose 754 by nearly 50 per cent. over the same period; and overall spending in both sectors rose by over 40 per cent., again in real terms.
As to the implied reproach in the terms of the Motion put by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, I must say that it costs nothing for Opposition Members to claim that they will spend even more "as resources allow". I hope that she and other noble Lords acknowledge the difficult judgments involved in striking the right balance between public expenditure on the one hand and on the other the investment in industry on which the future of our economy largely depends.
There is just one more statistic. By next year, one in five of all young people will enter higher education, compared with only one in eight at the end of the last decade when the Labour Party left office. The Government recognise that there is more to achieve, but I do not think that we need to be unduly apologetic about current levels of investment.
There is a very proper desire to improve standards of education. This is of vital interest to us all. In this country, as in others, higher standards are a necessary condition of economic growth and greater cultural and spiritual awareness. We neglect them all at our peril. This Government have put higher standards at the top of their educational agenda and have taken major steps to achieve them. We are particularly anxious at suggestions that in some key areas—reading and computation, for example—standards may have slipped.
It would be wholly wrong to say that standards are in general decline. There have been notable improvements. This year, record numbers of pupils gained GCSE with grades at least the equivalent of the old O-level, and nearly all pupils now leave school with at least a pass in English and mathematics. I take note of the value of those passes that young people achieve, and I took careful note of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Although too many pupils still leave education too early, our performance relative to that of our European neighbours is steadily improving. Last year, over 55 per cent. stayed on in full-time education when they reached 16—that is a 7 per cent. increase in three years—with record numbers going on successfully to A-levels.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, did not include in the figures she quoted those staying on in education outside the school system nor those undertaking part-time education beyond the age of 16. The figure for young people undertaking education and training both in and outside schools is a staggering 90 per cent.
It was clear by the mid-eighties, however, that improvements such as these were simply too slow to keep up with our national expectations or with progress overseas. The time had come for action—not a quick fix but reforms which would go to the heart of the problem and set us on a course for solid and lasting success. The national curriculum is such a reform; through it the Government are providing for the first time a clear framework for the teaching and 755 assessment of 10 foundation subjects in all our state schools. Teachers, parents and pupils everywhere will know what they are aiming for and how it can be achieved.
The arrangements for each subject are being constructed in the most careful and systematic way. They take the example of the best and replicate it for the benefit of all our schools. There is extensive consultation in every case. The statutory orders for English, maths, science and technology have already been made and are being implemented in schools. There are encouraging early signs that teaching and learning are beginning to improve in consequence. Eventually, we believe, the national curriculum will have far-reaching effects in raising standards but we must beware of expecting instant success.
Part of the purpose of the national curriculum is to ensure that all pupils get a broad, balanced education and to ensure that all follow a curriculum that keeps up the core subjects of English, maths and a proper course of science through to the end of compulsory schooling. We are making good progress in these directions now, although much remains to be done —for example, in providing modern foreign language study for all to the age of 16.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, is not with us but I must say that I believe we have gone a long way towards achieving the objective that he sought. The national curriculum which this Government have introduced gives us for the first time a clear framework within which these improvements can be secured. Meanwhile there is still unease and no magic way of dispelling it. Parents are worried when they see reports that reading standards may have fallen in some areas. We do not scoff at such reports. I wish to thank my noble friend for bringing that point to our attention. While we have not yet substantiated the report referred to, we need to take criticism seriously. Employers seek a higher calibre of recruits. We have to be sensitive to those concerns, and we are.
Recently concern has focused on reading capability at the age of seven. HM inspectors over the years have been able to point to much good and effective work in teaching young children to read, so we must beware of talking genuine progress down. But, recognising public concern, the Government have asked the School Examinations and Assessment Council to survey the available evidence on reading skills at the age of seven and HM inspectors have been focusing on the teaching of reading in their inspections of primary schools this autumn term. This will give a clearer national picture and an opportunity to take stock before the full impact of the national curriculum is felt.
I have explained how the national curriculum provides clear goals which challenge and stretch pupils to their full potential, but that is only half the story. Through regular assessment, teachers and parents can get hard information about pupils' attainments against those goals. That information will enable teachers to plan classroom work to the best advantage and tackle the needs of pupils both individually and collectively. From next year it will begin to be 756 supplemented by assessment against benchmarks for the country as a whole. Those benchmarks will be absolute tests. The first national assessment will be for seven year-olds and will focus quite properly on the fundamentals of schooling: literacy, numeracy and basic scientific skills.
We are tackling long-standing problems which have called for new and radical solutions. That is why the Education Reform Act introduced such important changes in the way schools are run.
All but a handful of LEAs have introduced schemes for the local management of schools. On a personal note, I am glad to recall that Cambridgeshire was one of the first LEAS to pioneer the idea of greater financial delegation. Local management will give schools fairer shares of the education budget and greater autonomy in the management of their affairs. The Local Management of Schools scheme does not in itself alter the total resources available, but it distributes them in a more open way, based on better and clearer criteria, and it improves the effective deployment of resources. The challenge is to implement the Education Reform Act. That, in the Government's view, is the way to raise standards.
I wish to say a few words about grant maintained schools. The increase from 18 grant maintained schools in September 1989 to 44 in September 1990 has been most encouraging. To date, 55 applications for grant maintained status have been approved. This reinforces the Government's belief that the grant maintained sector is here to stay. Where grant maintained schools have been established, there is evidence that they are popular and oversubscribed.
I have already mentioned improvements in the proportion of young people staying on in full-time education when they reach the age of 16. We have set in hand a programme of work towards improving the standard and relevance of post-16 education through proposals for future AS and A-level syllabuses; work on the core skills—those were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Annan—recommended by the National Curriculum Council to ensure that all courses have a measure of breadth and balance; and work to promote vocational qualifications and to improve the status of vocational qualifications. I shall elaborate on that point. The Government are committed to ensuring that the education and training system for post-16 year-olds caters for all. We want young people aged 16 to 19 in schools, in further education and in work to develop the skills they will need in an increasingly complex world.
We are committed to increasing post-16 year olds' participation. As I have said, over 55 per cent. of our young people now continue in full-time education at 16. However, we must not be apathetic about that. Improvements in participation must not be at the expense of standards. That would be a hollow victory. We intend to build on the best of the current systems. I am speaking of the academic system of A-level and AS examinations.
We noted what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said. The Government have not set their face against 757 reform but they have certainly set their face against any kind of compromise as regards standards. A-levels will remain and standards will not be compromised. However, we have talked about readdressing the issue of balance and breadth. A-levels are more popular than they have ever been. The new AS courses, which cover half the ground of an A-level but to the same standard are also increasingly popular. We are committed to maintaining and improving, where possible, the standards of these examinations. We expect towards the end of the year to receive some proposals from the School Examinations and Assessment Council as to how that might best be done. We will look at any such proposals very carefully, particularly in the context of their possible impact on standards. My colleagues in the Government have made it clear that they could not accept any proposals which put at risk the benchmark of A-level excellence by either reducing the depth of study or undermining the essential content which existing A-levels require in order to obtain a given grade.
The noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, argued for more breadth but also catalogued the reasons why we should not neglect depth. I believe that we have addressed both the points that the noble Lord made. Should the council decide to propose changes in present practice, the onus would be on the council and on those who supported it to demonstrate clearly that standards would not be compromised and that the changes would be fully justified.
We recognise that A-level and AS examinations are only currently taken by around 30 per cent. of all young people. We want to see this proportion increase but, for a majority, vocational qualifications are more appropriate. That is why we are encouraging more young people to follow the vocational route. We want national vocational qualifications to have a higher profile and a more prestigious place in our national education provision. The Government are considering the scope which exists for more vocational qualifications to be available in schools. We want to make it much easier for students to move between the two streams. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, that we are taking seriously a proposition made to us by BTEC on BTEC first courses in maintained schools. As I have already said, we are committed to a broader and more balanced curriculum.
I shall turn now to the under-fives. I am conscious that I have not yet mentioned the education of the under-fives. I must repair that omission before I say more about post-compulsory education. The Government set store by the present diversity of provision for these young children. The spectrum of provision is very wide-ranging, from nursery schools and classes to workplace creches, day nurseries and childminders. This reflects the widely varying requirements of children and their parents and allows many parents a choice between alternatives. This is healthy as they are best placed to judge their own and their children's needs. But parents can and should 758 have the opportunity to play a leading role in the education of their children. This is the philosophy on which the playgroup movement is built. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in paying tribute to the work of pre-school playgroups up and down the countryside.
Noble Lords will know that the Government have always emphasised quality. For that reason my honourable friend who is now Minister of State in the Home Office was earlier commissioned to chair a committee of inquiry with a group of experts to look into the quality of the educational experience which should be offered to three and four year-olds. The Government are concerned to improve educational content across various settings, a point for which the committee's terms of reference allowed. The committee's report is now with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is considering it. Noble Lords will also be aware of the measures in the Children Act last year to improve local co-ordination of care and educational provision.
Teacher supply has also been mentioned. I could go on for ever and repeat, as I often do at the Dispatch Box, the enormous number of measures that we have put in place to help on that front. Action on pay is one of a number of measures to improve teacher recruitment. For example, this year's pay settlement helped LEAs in London to offer incentives to attract more teachers. There are also other measures, including a new education support grant for returners and mature entrants; bursaries for prospective teachers of maths, physics and technology; and a work-experience scheme to give students a taste of teaching before they make up their minds about careers.
I believe that the views of all noble Lords in this Chamber should be respected. I noted what my noble friend Lord Pearson said and I shall give careful consideration to it. He welcomed the licensed and articled teacher routes which provide a way into teaching for those who do not want to go back to college in the traditional way. More than 50 LEAs have applied for and received training grants for licensed teachers. The scheme is proving timely and attractive for people who choose that route into teaching.
The Government will continue to recognise the importance of investment in the education system. A very important point raised in the debate concerned the Universities Funding Council, which was mentioned by many noble Lords. The Government are manifestly investing additional resources in the expansion of higher education. Again the figures compare very favourably with those of the party of noble Lords opposite. We are entitled to look for greater cost efficiency. As we have seen in the past, that is not inconsistent with the maintenance of quality. However, the Universities Funding Council has obviously not had an easy time. I have noted noble Lords' comments that it has not deserved one. However, the Government share the disappointment of the Universities Funding Council at the universities' response to the bidding exercise.
759 The common aim now must be the early establishment of a sound basis for the future which inter alia provides universities with an appropriate planning period. That is doubtless one of the matters that the Universities Funding Council will have considered at its meeting today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and others have reminded us that higher education is about more than numbers. I should like to deal briefly with the issues of purpose and quality. The Government fully accept that the pursuit of knowledge lies at the heart of higher education. Higher education also of course yields a range of personal, social, cultural and economic benefits. It does not detract from any of those complementary purposes to seek to ensure that they are met in cost-effective ways.
The nature of higher education means that responsibility for content and quality lies essentially in the hands of individual institutions. Therefore, expansion to date has been in institutions whose quality is envied in Europe and elsewhere. As that expansion continues, the nature of higher education may change as new client groups come into scope.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, raised the subject of adult and continuing education. I am glad to say that that is not an area of education which is neglected in your Lordships' House. Nearly 3½ million adults in England and Wales enrol each year in some form of education. Courses range widely: degree courses, at the Open University, Bitkbeck College and elsewhere; retraining courses at many levels; basic skill courses; philosophy; do-it-yourself and keep-fit classes; and much else. There are many providers: local education authorities, further and higher education institutions, voluntary and community organisations and indeed the media.
The Government's stance is to identify at national level needs which may be inadequately met. I want to lay particular stress on two. First, the fostering of access to higher education continues to be a leading strand of our policy. The special access courses have an important part to play here: the number of courses in England has risen from 130 in 1984 to 522 last year. Last year we persuaded the CNAA and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals to establish an access course recognition group to safeguard standards and to promote the currency of the courses within higher education.
Our other priority is to promote activity in support of the skills of the workforce. I give two examples. We have placed much emphasis on updating and retraining. There has been average growth of some 20 per cent. a year in enrolments for such work in further and higher education. Our target is that by 1992 10 per cent. of the workforce a year should be undertaking such training in further and higher education. We look to universities, polytechnics and colleges to integrate such work into the normal work of their institutions.
No less important is our support for adult basic education. Our record in supporting the adult literacy programme is a good one.
760 I know that I must now wind up my speech, but I should like to say to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that I shall continue to give unequivocal and enthusiastic support for the work of the polytechnics. I am not sure what I shall do to celebrate polytechnics week. Perhaps I should write to my son, who is engaged on a very successful course at a polytechnic at this moment.
I join with the noble Lord, Lord Parry, in paying tribute to councillors who serve on local education authorities up and down the land. I served for many years on a local education authority. However, I should like to say, as I said many times in my own authority, that no school in Cambridgeshire was a better school just because I went to a great many local education authority meetings. Schools were better schools if they had good staff, good head teachers, responsive parents and responsive children. That is what makes good schools, not councillors attending meetings.
On the subject of TACADE I should like to say that the DES has already contributed £50,000 towards the cost of the project during the past three years. The DES has also contributed £9,000 towards other TACADE initiatives and has committed a further £30,000 to assist TACADE in raising private sector funding to support its further work. The department has therefore provided grant of almost £90,000 to TACADE since 1987. However, if TACADE wishes to submit to the department details and costings and its valuation of proposals for the project relating to skills for the primary school child, funding will be considered. Of course no guarantee of either full or partial support can be given in advance of any application.
I have been beaten by time and I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for not addressing all the other points. I shall of course write to noble Lords.
We recognise the need for vigilance over the standards of public examinations. We have clearly identified the need for greater rigour and clarity in the organisation and assessment of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools. We shall not be satisfied until far more young people take part in full-time education and training. We shall aim for further cost-effective expansion in higher education. This Government have shown a steady determination in their pursuit of quality throughout the last decade and under successive Secretaries of State—and I noted the point made about the rapidity with which successive Secretaries of State have moved on from the department. I can talk, my Lords. I am the third Minister to have my job in the department since July.
The Education Reform Act has set the agenda for the next 10 years. As in any great matter, we shall not be satisfied until the reforms are thoroughly in place. I hope that I have replied to most of the points raised in the debate. As I promised, I shall write to noble Lords with further details if they wish.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, as the noble Baroness sits down I should like to congratulate her on the way in 761 which she has tried to tackle every issue. May I assume that she will write to me on the matter of integration of the handicapped?
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging debate on investment and quality of education, which is a very broad subject. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for taking the time and trouble to reply to many of the points raised. There were of course a number of issues on which I could not entirely agree with her. Similarly, there were points raised by other noble Lords on the Benches opposite which we would wish to take up on another occasion.
However, there are two points on which I felt that the Minister was particularly complacent and to which we shall want to return. I was very surprised to hear her remarks about 16 to 19 year-old participation, particularly in relation to participation rates in other countries. It may be the case that there is now some relative improvement.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me for interrupting. If she looks tomorrow at Hansard she will see that in fact I said that we must not be complacent. If I sounded slightly buoyant, it was because my figures were more favourable than the figures of the noble Lord's party when it was in office.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I was referring to participation in full-time education. The Minister tried to bring in part-time participation, where the figures are different. The issues involved are quite different. We are talking about young people on work-based training courses as well.
I also felt that she was somewhat complacent in her remarks about the funding of higher education, in which there is a continued squeeze on the unit of resource in both our universities and polytechnics. That is true again this year in the latest settlement when set against the Government's expectation that student numbers should increase by 5 per cent.
We shall want to come back on other occasions to many of those issues. We shall table Motions for further debates on the subject of education, perhaps, as my noble friend Lord Peston said, in some cases short debates rather than five-hour debates.
It remains for me once again to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, on his excellent maiden speech and to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.