Orders of the Day — Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 1978.

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Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford 12:00 am, 3rd November 1978

I do not think that the conclusion flows from the premises, but I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that exams are not everything in assessing a person's capability for an occupation. However, it is important to have an objective assessment as well as subjective assessments by teachers. As with everything else in education, it is a matter of keeping the balance between the two, and these proposals move away from the balance between subjective and objective. In my view, if they are implemented as they are set out at present, the result will be a crisis of confidence in the system.

The right hon. Lady is in trouble over her Bill and over her examination proposals, and the third area in which she is in very grave trouble is over her proposals for educational maintenance allowances.

I admired the delicate and skilful way in which she figure-skated around the problem and the point at which she arrived—even blaming it all on the local education authorities and suggesting that they were in some way manipulated by me. I was very flattered by her suggestion. Would that it were true.

What are we to make now of her brave statements earlier this year that mandatory allowances for sixth formers would definitely be introduced and that we should see them in a Bill this year? What has happened meanwhile? Thanks to today's TESThe Times Educational Supplement—we now know, apparently that the Secretary of State took to heart the Opposition's argument that if she had £100 million to spend, it would perhaps be better spent on other educational priorities. According to The Times Educational Supplement this morning, she tried to filch the money for financing these grants from the budget of the Department of Employment. No doubt she thought that the Secretary of State for Employment was an easy victim. Certainly he is one of the few members of the Cabinet who make her predecessor, the present Secretary of State for Defence, look charismatic. But even a worm can turn, and the right hon. Lady found that she was dealing not with a worm but with a serpent, and that the serpent apparently carried the day and defended his budget.

No wonder the right hon. Lady has been put out this morning. No wonder she has been less than her usual charming self. It is as though Cinderella had gone in for a beauty contest and then found one of the uglys sister had carried off the prize.