I should like to emphasise that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants a national debate in which everyone can join. Our priority is always our children and the quality of the education they are to receive. I should be very grateful to receive from the hon. Gentleman, who has more than a passing interest in education, his considered views, and in detail.
That was merely the preamble, Mr. Speaker. Does my hon. Friend agree that what the Prime Minister was trying to point out was that certain questions are being asked about standards? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that others besides members of the teaching profession are interested in these matters?
I agree with the points made by my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his points in such a way that many people in Britain were glad that the debate had been started by him. As regards mathematics, there is some cause for concern. Perhaps it is true that there is a justifiable feeling that standards of numeracy and literacy among school leavers are not up to present-day requirements. I think that that was what my right hon. Friend had in mind when he made his speech.
Following the hon. Gentleman's inquiries, is it correct to say that the standards of numeracy and literacy in Wales are far higher than the general tenor of the Prime Minister's speech would suggest? Since that speech I have made inquiries in my own area, and that seems to be the position. Is it the hon. Gentleman's conclusion that the curriculum is infinitely more important than the method of teaching?
The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of Great Britain. However, I can say that there has been a levelling up of reading standards between England and Wales. In 1956 children in England were on average somewhat more competent readers of English than their counterparts in Wales, but in 1971 no significant differences were found between the two countries. I have recently commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research to conduct a further survey of reading standards in both English and Welsh.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the considerable and growing concern of employers in Wales at the standards they find in numeracy and literacy among school leavers whom they employ? Does he agree that this is a very serious consideration in Wales, where we desperately need to attract new industry and employ more school leavers?
Yes, the CBI is worried, but if the hon. Gentleman had read the Bullock Report of recent years he would have found that for 50 years the employers of Great Britain have been complaining that educational standards are not good enough. I cannot agree that standards have fallen sharply in recent years. There is no valid statistical evidence to justify some of the wilder allegations now being made.