Education Standards

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1976.

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Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North West 12:00 am, 1st November 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the standards of literacy and numeracy in Welsh secondary schools.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

Standards of literacy and numeracy will have to rise if they are to keep pace with the demands of society.

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North West

That is hardly an answer to the Question. Will the Minister give an assurance that, before he embarks on the great debate about literacy and numeracy and the sensitive subjects of the curriculum and teaching methods, he will, unlike the Prime Minister, consult the teaching profession?

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

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.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

I was the only Back-Bench Member who was present to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Oxford. I would say that what the Prime Minister was trying to point out—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will ask a question.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

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?

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

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.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomery

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?

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

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.

Photo of Mr Ian Grist Mr Ian Grist , Cardiff North

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?

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

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.

Mr. Fred Evans:

Is my hon. Friend aware of any evidence that standards have fallen at all?

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

The debate will find out precisely that.