Has my right hon. Friend seen recent reports that many pupils cannot do simple sums, cannot read a train timetable, and do not even know the meaning of the word "inflation"? Does he therefore think that a return to the teaching of the three Rs in schools might be preferable to some of the more modern, progressive and trendy systems of education?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to be worried about the revelations in the Cockcroft committee's report. Most of its recommendations are addressed to teachers. I hope that those recommendations will be widely read. The Government will consider what falls to them in that connection and what they can do about it.
I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend's brief statement in reply to that question. Will he take time later, in the Official Report and elsewhere, to make a fuller statement in answer to my question, which has been linked with question 11, and emphasise two matters which are important for standards in education: first, the importance of teaching practice in the context of teacher training; and, secondly, greater emphasis in his policy on absolute rather than relative standards in public examinations?
I accept all that my hon. Friend said as ingredients in the progress that we all want to make towards more effective education. I also emphasise the importance of increased parental choice, which my predecessor introduced in legislation which comes into effect this autumn, the importance of in-service training, and, above all, the importance of the quality of head teachers and teachers.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that staff-student ratios are better now than they were under the Labour Government? Does he also agree that education standards might be put at risk if, in making the necessary reductions in teacher posts to keep pace with falling rolls, consideration were not given to the fact that children are taught in discrete class units and that, therefore, global comparability numbers are not necessarily the right ones?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the savage reductions in the rate support grant, which affect local education authorities—including Conservative-controlled authorities, such as Essex—mean that cuts are being made in basic necessities? That will inevitably lead to a drop in standards. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that since the war the biggest threat to education standards has come from the measures pursued by the Government?
No, Sir. Education authorities have a difficult set of problems to solve, but in the interests of the country, of teachers and of pupils we must rectify the balance between public expenditure and the economy as a whole.
How can the Secretary of State lay claim to a belief that he will raise educational achievements when he is presiding over schools that have £100 million less in real terms to spend this year on essential books and teaching materials than in 1978–79? In response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what action he will take to ensure that levels of provision are raised in order to raise levels of attainment? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that less means better?
I do not believe that less means better; nor do I believe that more necessarily means better. The Government have provided money so that local education authorities can spend an extra £20 million this year on books and equipment if the pay and price assumptions built into the money made available are validated.