General Certificate of Secondary Education

– in the House of Commons at 10:13 pm on 16 April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish 10:13, 16 April 1986

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Schools and Further Education) (Amendment) Regulations 1986 (S.I., 1986, No. 542), dated 17th March 1986, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th March, be annulled. We have called for this debate because we believe that the Government must answer some crucial questions about the new general certificate of secondary education, the GCSE exam. The Opposition have always welcomed the idea of a new examination at 16. In the year before I entered the House in 1974 I was teaching one of those experimental exam syllabuses that was designed to show that one could have a combined exam for all those young people at 16. I very much regret—I make no criticism of the present Ministers—the ministerial indecision which has meant that we have had to wait 15 years for the new examination.

I believe that it was right for the Secretary of State to opt for the new examination. However, he should have made absolutely certain that he could provide the resources to turn the examination into an efficient and practical reality. Without the resources to carry through the examination, we are heading for disaster. Sadly, we now have a pantomime farce. The Secretary of State is paying that the new examination will go ahead, the teachers are saying, "Oh no it won't," parents' associations are saying, "Oh no it shouldn't," local authorities, including Conservative councillors even in areas such as Finchley are saying, "Oh no it shouldn't," and some examination boards are now saying that it should not go ahead.

I believe that it is imperative for the Government to recognise that they cannot force the new examination through and make it a success. They can make it a success only if they can win the consent of the whole of the education world. I believe that that is what the Government should be addressing themselves to and that is what I hope the Minister will make clear when he replies to the debate.

The examination has to be credible to the nation as a whole. It has to be credible to employers and to those people who will use the standards set by the examination for entry into further and higher education. If it is to do that, it has to be an efficient, effective and prestigious examination. Secondly, it has to be fair to all pupils and it has to be seen by the pupils and their parents to be fair. Thirdly, it has to be practical for the teachers to teach the syllabuses and it has to be especially practical for them to assess the elements in the examination which will be measured by continual assessment. It also has to be practical to administer the examination.

Sadly, because of the crisis in our schools over the last two years and the arguments about resources for the preparation for the examination, the climate does not exist for there to be confidence in the new examination. I do not think that any pupil looking to start a two-year course next year can feel that he will have a fair deal. Also the Minister cannot possibly convince those youngsters who, sadly, in 27 or 28 months' time will receive their examination results and discover that they have grades which are just a little lower than they require to get a job or gain entry into further and higher education, that they have had a fair deal. The Minister cannot do that if he insists on forcing through this examination.

It is clear that in many areas there has been insufficient time for preparation and for teachers to devise the new assessment procedures for the examination. I do not believe that there is sufficient information in schools at the moment for some pupils to choose the courses they will follow next term. In some places the syllabuses are still not widely available. Therefore, children who are being asked to choose their fourth year options are unable to make their choices.

I also suggest that in many local authorities there, has been insufficient time for preparation and insufficient resources to make it possible for the books and equipment to be bought. Obviously, those problems vary a great deal from one area to another, from one subject to another and according to the syllabuses that schools have taught in previous years. It is also clear that in some local authorities, where there is a good capitation allowance and good staffing ratios, the problems are less acute.

I would also suggest that there are problems with the way in which the Government's prepared suggestions for the introduction of the new examination are being brought forward. The first stage in which the Open University prepared the packages for teaching the new material went well. Sadly, transferring those packages to the heads of departments appears to have been very patchy. In some areas the information has not yet reached the heads of departments.

The order deals with the next stage, which is to provide two days this term which will enable those heads of department to pass information on to colleagues. In many areas that could work well, but in other areas there will be problems because some heads of department do not have the information.

However, the area to which the Government have paid no attention is the subject-specific preparation, which will vary considerably from one area to another and from one syllabus to another. Some of the time does not have to be found during the summer term but could be provided during the next two years. The Government must recognise those problems.

The Secretary of State met the National Union of Teachers this afternoon. I welcome that development. I hope that he will arrange to meet the other teacher unions very quickly. I suggest very strongly to the Government that if they can win over the teachers, the parents and the local authorities and establish a consensus in the next few days, it should be possible for the examination to be brought in. That is the challenge for the Government. Either they must achieve a consensus in the education world to make a success of the new examination, or they must face the possibility of cancelling or postponing it for a year.

The Secretary of State has said that he cannot postpone the new examination. I challenge him on that. The old examinations will exist for the whole of next year, and it would be perfectly possible to retain those examinations for a further year after that. However, I agree with the Secretary of State that we do not want to be involved in that problem. We want the Government to achieve the necessary consensus. What the NUT wants is a new examination that is effectively administered and resourced. I believe that that is what the NUT today pressed the Government to provide.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the same syllabuses should be carried forward for an extra year? If so, what attention has he paid to the dynamics of education?

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Most of the O-level and CSE boards do not change their syllabuses every year. The better boards have brought them up to date every four or five years. Postponing the examination is not the ideal solution, but if there cannot be a new examination which is credible and practical, postponement would be a better solution than bringing in a new examination without resources or national credibility.

I hope that Conservative Members will agree that the Government still have an opportunity to bring the examination in and establish the necessary consensus. If the Government are to do that, however, they must turn to the question of the necessary resources.

Three key requirements must be met before a consensus can be established. First, there must be a commitment by the Government to make the extra resources available. Secondly, there must be more time for teacher training and preparation. Thirdly, some of the boards must show more urgency in providing the material for the examination.

The regulations allow the local authorities to close schools to pupils for two days this term so that the teachers can go in to the schools for training and preparation. I believe that the Secretary of State should try to make available at least one more day. That day could be found by a further day closure, or I stress this possibility—by paying teachers extra to come in to school during their holidays.

We are all aware that the schools have recently been closed more than most of us want. However, if the Government will discuss the matter with the teachers' unions, as I understand they are now willing to do, and if they will provide more time for training to establish the initial examination procedures, that will be helpful.

The Government must also consider allowing more time during the next two years for teacher training in some subjects, especially in the fourth stage. That will be very necessary. Some examination boards with modern syllabuses will need to make only small changes in their teaching methods for the new examination. Other boards, of which we have been rightly critical, which have not brought their syllabuses up to date, will need more time for the new examination. I hope that the Government will allow them a little more time for training.

When the Government announced the regulations they talked about an extra £20 million. The Opposition welcome that extra money, although it is difficult to discover why the Government plumped for that figure. Perhaps they are saying that we need £20 million in this financial year, which will cover two terms of a six-term course. The Government may provide more money for the other four terms, which would fall in other financial years. If that was so, they would be moving a little closer to the only estimate that I can find of the money needed—the £100 million suggested by the local authority associations.

If the Government can find £100 million to bail out Johnson Matthey overnight, they should be able to provide more than £20 million. Conservative Members should consider where the £20 million would go. If, by putting up extra money, the Government could win the support of the teachers and the country, it would be worth doing.

Between 500,000 and 650,000 pupils in England and Wales will sit the new examination. It is difficult to say how many subjects they will take, but it will be five or six subjects on average. The £20 million spread over two years would work out at £40 per pupil. When broken down into different subjects, in some subjects authorities will be lucky if they receive £8 per pupil, which means £4 per year. The high cost of textbooks means that that money will not go very far. In some cases, pupils will be able to use existing textbooks, but in other subjects they will have to use new materials. Many schools are rightly getting rid of craft rooms, which were designed for traditional woodwork and metalwork, and re-equipping them for subjects such as combined craft design technology. Considerable costs will be involved in that.

Many syllabuses will require the extension of field work for biology, geography and geology, visits to historic buildings and fine art establishments, and £8 per subject will be insufficient. The syllabuses contain the good idea of computer literacy across a wide range of subjects. In some schools, where the training and vocational education initiative operates, many children have the opportunity to get hands-on experience of computers so that they can bring that literacy into a wide range of subjects. Other schools do not have those resources.

If the Government want to win consensus, they must discuss how much money is necessary. I hope that the offers that appear to have been made to the NUT to get into serious talks will be firmly pursued. I hope that the Government will get other teacher unions, parents' groups and local authorities around the table and will try to resolve the question of necessary resources to carry through the new examination.

Having got the whole idea of the new examination there, it would be very sad if it failed because we did not have the resources.

On rather smaller points, I would press the Secretary of State to look at the urgency that some examination bodies are giving to syllabuses. Almost all the syllabuses have now been approved, but that is not the issue. They actually need to be in the teachers' hands. Unfortunately, in the past what has tended to happen with syllabuses is that there are five or six copies for a large school, and teachers can consult them from time to time. In the present circumstances, the Government must make sure that each subject teacher has that subject syllabus in his hands quickly.

We have to go beyond that and make sure that some mock examination papers are available, because anyone who has taught knows too well that one can put grand ideas into syllabuses, but one has actually to change them into examination papers. I therefore press the Government to understand that, while some of the examining bodies have got on well with this and have done a good job, in other areas there are not the syllabuses available for ordinary teachers to look at, and there are now examples of the sort of examination papers that will be set.

There is a problem of training in some of the minority subjects, and the Government should address a little more attention to this. It is easy enough in a big school in a department such as English, where, if the heads of department have gone on the initial training, they can pass the information on to their colleagues. In many minority subjects, there is only one teacher and sometimes only half of that teacher's time is given to that minority subject. I believe that the Government should be giving more attention to the training of those teachers, particularly in the subject-specific parts of the training.

The Government must also look at the problems which will arise when those teachers are away during the two years that they are teaching, and continual assessment has to be undertaken. In a big department it is possible for other people to do the assessment, particularly of the oral and aural contents of the courses. With written work, it is easy enough to leave it until a member of staff returns to mark, but in the oral and aural assessment we really need people there to do it. The Government should give more attention to that.

The message that I want to put across to the Government tonight is that, if they could get the teaching unions, the parents and the local authorities together, they could offer to talk about the extra resources, and the extra training time. I still believe that the Government can create the consensus to make the examination succeed. If the Government cannot do that quickly, it will be disastrous for all concerned.

My plea to the Government is, face up to the problems. Come up with the money and the resources; otherwise you will do a great deal of damage to our children. The whole idea of the new examination system will be totally discredited, and the Secretary of State will leave a legacy of disappointment and frustration for his successor.

I plead with the Government to come up now with the resources and the extra time for training.

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath 10:34, 16 April 1986

In debating tonight the Education (Schools and Further Education) (Amendment) Regulations 1986, we are debating more than just the two simple provisions in the regulations. There are wider issues at stake, the most important of which is the education of some 600,000 pupils, who will be in the first GCSE cohort this autumn.

I know that many hon. Members have expressed concern—deep concern, I recognise—about the prospects for these children. I share that concern. In case there is anywhere any doubt let me say that the government want to do their best by those children; that we put their interests first; and that that is why we stand firm that the GCSE will be introduced as planned this autumn.

The GCSE is no mere educational fad or whim. The new examinations follow, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said very fairly, some 15 years of thought, debate, planning and trial examinations. The education world does not often move quickly: and, after 15 years, I do not think that we are open to the charge that the GCSE is being rushed. The GCSE is sometimes described as requiring radical changes in educational practice. In some ways it is radical—in its insistence on practical work, for example, and on course work in all subjects. Yet these and the other requirements are not novel: they are based on sound educational thought and development and represent the best of current practice. The GCSE is designed to effect real improvements in the education offered to our children, to provide a better and fairer assessment of what they can do; to challenge and stimulate all pupils to do better; and to equip pupils for future study and adult and working life. These are not just the Government's ideas, although we endorse them. They derive from the widespread educational thinking to which I have referred.

That is why we need the GCSE, and why the Government have taken action—whipped on two years ago by the educational world—to introduce it this autumn. Few dissent from the aims and purposes of the GCSE. There has been a remarkable degree of unanimity—amongst teachers, schools, parents, employers and others—for this education reform. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has reminded us, Opposition Members share our view of the importance of the reform. I totally recognise the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's concern. We take the view that while good work, and much of it, goes on in many of our schools, pupils can be encouraged to do better than they do now, they can be presented with more challenging and more motivating examination courses, and examinations can be made a better record of what pupils actually do.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

The hon. Gentleman keeps intoning that he and his Government want the very best for the children. He knows as well as I do that Her Majesty's inspectors put out an annual report which shows a great lack of cash in schools, a shortage of books, and buildings in a mess. The Secretary of State went round my city and described the schools as "crummy". That was after he had ratecapped the city. The Minister has said that he wants the best. Let it be made clear that the teacher unions have been asking for this examination for many years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] I have only one more sentence. The unions have asked for the examination, so the teachers want it. They are the last people on earth to try to struggle against it coming in. But they need the money and the books. Therefore, they want the examination to be put off for a year or £100 million to be spent on adequate training for teachers.

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

Next time the hon. Gentleman rises, I shall know not to give way.

The goal of introducing the GCSE is great, and the prize is great too. It is a target which the Government set themselves, not—whatever may be said outside this place—for their own good, but for the good of the hundreds of thousands of children in our schools who, year on year, take public examinations. It is for them that we need the GCSE, and it is for them that we need it this autumn.

The argument, therefore, as put by some hon. Members, is about the means and about the timing, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, and not about the ends. One of these means is in the substance of the regulations before the House tonight—the provision for maintained schools to be closed to pupils during this summer term for up to two days for GCSE training. But before coming to the regulations in detail, as I shall in a moment, it is worthwhile putting them in the context of what else the Government and others have been doing to pave the way for the GCSE. It is only in that context that we can form a proper view of the regulations.

I have said in this House and elsewhere that the programme of preparation for the GCSE is unprecedented. No other examination reform—not GCE, not CSI—and no other education reform—certainly not the raising of the school leaving age—has ever been associated with a preparatory phase of this quality and on this scale. We have in place a programme which can deliver the opportunity for every teacher to prepare himself or herself for the GCSE. As the hon. Gentleman said, the training programme falls into four phases. Phase 1 was the preparation, by the Secondary Examinations Council and the Open University, of teachers' guides and associated videos, and the preparations by the examining groups for the later phases. In phase 2, the examining groups provide training seminars for leaders in each subject, on the basis of the teachers' guides; this phase is being conducted now. In phase 3, local education authorities, schools and colleges organise seminars for all other GCSE teachers. These are largely school-based and are led by the subject leaders trained in phase 2. The hon. Gentleman was right to underline the importance of phase 4. It is perhaps the most important phase of all. The purpose of phase 4, which is likely to begin in the autumn, is for teachers to meet under the guidance of examining groups to prepare for individual GCSE syllabuses.

The Government have made a significant contribution to all this. We have supported the preparation of teachers' guides and videos and the training to be conducted by the groups, with a grant of £860,000. We are supporting at a rate of 90 per cent. local education authorities' costs in providing supply teachers to cover for the teachers attending the phase 2 seminars. This is to the tune of £6 million. We will provide an additional £600,000 in the current financial year and next year to meet the cost of the provision of materials for phase 4. That is, the training for each individual syllabus.

We should be clear that some have called for the GCSE to be postponed for professional reasons. Others have had other reasons, not connected with examinations, for adding their voices. We listened to the professional reasons which were put to us, and my right hon. Friend responded to these with his announcement on 13 March. The reasons chiefly concerned two matters: money for the provision of books and equipment for the examination courses; and more time for teachers in which to prepare themselves for the start of the GCSE.

We were asked for money and we propose to allocate £20 million for GCSE books and equipment. I do not want to go into detail about the money, although I will if pressed. As the hon. Gentleman fairly said, it is certainly not the case that all GCSE courses will require new textbooks. I should like to read from a publication which does not often fall into my hands. It is called the PA News and is from the Publishers Association. The issue dated 21 March 1986 says: £20 m. additional funding for GCSE booksEPC's submissions to Government and approaches to Ministers over the need for additional funding for books for the GCSE examinations have achieved a considerable success. EPC asked for £30 m. to be made available over a three year period. The Government has responded by saying that it will make an additional £20 m. available for books and equipment over the same period. It goes on to say: this must be regarded as a major fillip achieved by the Association". The distinguished director of the Educational Publishers' Council is a Labour party candidate in Finchley. That was the view of The Publishers Association about the £20 million we made available through the education support grant. We were asked for time and we propose to give time—two training days this summer term. That is in the regulations before the House. We went further and offered to contribute to the cost of providing further phase 2 seminars to accommodate those teachers who absented themselves from the seminars that they were due to attend. Those were the professional concerns and we responded to them. I should now like to turn to phase 3 and the regulations before the House.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

The Minister has said that the £20 million pleases the book publishers, although I think there are some doubts. How did he arrive at that figure of £20 million? Has he taken into account the expensive equipment needed for courses like combined technology courses? There is also the matter of the way in which schools will record material, especially for standardisation of oral and aural parts of courses. How does the Minister measure that £20 million against the suggestion by local authority associations that at least £100 million is needed? That is now backed by a lot of the teachers' unions.

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

Without being flippant I can say to the hon. Gentleman that almost any figure that one mentions in the world of education is rapidly multiplied. Perhaps I may add one or two other observations. First, we are talking about an addition to the capitation that is already being made by a number of education authorities. We are not talking just about £20 million for GCSE but about £20 million on top of what was already planned. Secondly, we are talking about how we can find the money from central Government, and the means available to us are not as considerable as some people occasionally suggest or would like them to be. Within the statutory powers given to us by the House we can spend only a ½ per cent. of the total LEA budget through ESG. That amounts to about £53 million a year. There is not all that much elbow room in that amount when one takes account of the programmes to which we are already committed. The £20 million through ESG is as much as we could find, although I hope that in a year or two we may be able to find a little more. It depends upon other priorities.

Thirdly, I repeat what I said earlier—and the hon. Gentleman knows this to be the case—that we are not talking about new textbooks for every subject. If one takes the most popular 10 or 11 subjects, in my judgment there are probably considerable resource implications for five or six—history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology and perhaps craft, design and technology—but not all the others. It was on that basis that we came to £20 million, and I am delighted that the £20 million was welcomed by the Publishers' Association.

I now come to phase 3 and the regulations before the House. In phase 3, subject leaders, having themselves received training, conduct seminars for colleagues in their schools teaching the same subject for this phase. The organisation is devolved to individual schools and local education authorities. We expected some authorities to use "occasional days"—where they were not consolidated into school holidays—and others to exploit the slack period after the summer examinations to free teachers for this training. We had already committed £2 million to the cost of supply cover which authorities could use as a help in arranging for phase 3.

But we listened to the arguments—from the GCSE examining groups; from the ACC; from more than one third of LEAs; and from three teachers' associations—the NAHT, the AMMA and the NUT. They said that additional school closures were necessary if phase 3 was to be organised properly in all local authorities and if all schools were to have an equal opportunity to prepare their teachers for the GCSE.

That is why we brought forward these regulations, and that is why we need them. We want all teachers to have the chance to engage in professional discussion about the implications of the GCSE for their subject. These regulations give them that chance.

Paragraph 1 of the regulations is the usual citation. Paragraph 2 amends regulation 10 of the Education (Schools and Further Education) Regulations 1981, which relate to the school year and the school day. The regulations provide, for the current academic year, that a school session devoted to the training of teachers for the GCSE—and where pupils are not present—may be regarded as a session on which the school has met for the purposes of the 1981 regulations. The amendment is limited to four sessions, or two days.

Some say that this time is not enough. Obviously, some teachers would like more time, just as some teachers—and there are many of them—already familiar with GCSE concepts may not need a full two days. But the national training programme is to help teachers to prepare for the new courses. It is not a substitute for the normal preparation which teachers do, year on year, when examination syllabuses change, and training does not end with phase 3 as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish properly said. I have already referred to phase 4 training on which I put considerable emphasis—the continuing help and training that the GCSE examining groups will offer to teachers using their specific syllabuses.

LEAs will, I am sure, drawing upon the help of their advisers as necessary, want to take up a key co-ordinating role in overseeing the arrangements that schools will need to make, to take advantage of these training days. They may, for example, and with benefit, encourage groups of schools, or subject departments within different schools, to come together for phase 3 training. This would be a way of easing any problems associated with patchy, phase 2 attendance. These regulations give LEAs, as I am sure they recognise, the chance to ensure that phase 3 training is conducted efficiently in all their schools.

We need to explain clearly to parents the purpose behind these regulations. Regrettably, many of them will this year have seen their children sent home from school because of action by teachers. Many parents will be anxious at the prospect of their children missing a further two days of schooling. But most of us in the House know, and all parents know, that schools are more relaxed places towards the end of the summer term. It is clear that the educational benefits of allowing two training days far outweigh the loss of teaching time at that period of the year.

Some hon. Members have asked in correspondence and elsewhere how we can expect to bring the GCSE in this year in an orderly way. Some people have predicted chaos. In my judgment, if we were to postpone the GCSE, there really would be chaos. We would not solve the problems associated with bringing in the new examinations: we would add to them.

Those who seek postponement of the GCSE have not thought about what follows. It is no automatic process to halt the GCSE machine and to start it again next year. It is just not possible to wind down all the effort and preparations that have been made so far and expect to wind them up again after a delay of that time. What of next autumn? No GCE O-level and CSE syllabuses for 1988 examinations exist. Schools would need, and need very quickly, a great deal of information about procedures and assessment which is'simply not available. The machinery for O-level and CSE examinations is being dismantled, and some boards say that they are past the point of no return.

Like my right hon. Friend, I do not believe that a year's postponement would mean that all the teachers would immediately direct their energies towards the introduction of the GCSE in 1987, and start preparing for it. Phase 2 and 3 training would have been completed this summer term and cannot be repeated. The momentum would be lost.

We have been receptive to every genuine concern and every anxiety from professional judgments. To these we have listened and responded, and we shall continue to listen and to try to respond. We have proposed directing education support grant so that LEAs may fund a real increase in relevant expenditure. We have contributed to the most massive programme of training ever undertaken. Most of the syllabuses have been approved. Some are in schools and many more will follow shortly. Every teacher has a specially written guide to his or her subject, and all teachers can take part in the training seminars.

Photo of Mr Jack Dormand Mr Jack Dormand , Easington

The Minister is making a persuasive case, but it is clear from his past few remarks that he assumes that he will receive the full cooperation of the teachers. That is manifestly not the case. [Interruption.] If it is the case, for the Minister to say that the Government are proceeding because arrangements have been made and it is too late to withdraw, must at best be a gamble. Is the Minister saying that the Government are prepared to undertake a gamble on such a serious, major issue as this?

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

Obviously, I should like to address the hon. Gentleman's point, because it is probably the key. I do not think that some of the professional arguments that I have mentioned are in any way impossible to circumvent. I shall come directly to that point.

No teachers can rightly claim that they are unable to make themselves ready for the start of the GCSE. Some who claim that to be the case have made reference to the resolutions adopted at the Easter conferences of the NAS/ UWT and the NUT. I shall look at them in turn, and then come to the hon. Gentleman's point.

The NAS/UWT resolution has three parts, representing genuine concerns, which we recognise. But steps are being taken to meet them. First, there is time for preparation for the GCSE. In allowing schools to close for up to two days this summer term with these regulations, we are giving all teachers adequate time to prepare, especially considering the importance of ensuring that phase 4 training is adequately carried out and that there are adequate resources for it.

The second relates to staffing levels for the new examination courses. The Department and the local authorities have published a joint report on school teacher numbers and deployment in the longer term, in which the staffing consequences of Government policies for examinations were acknowledged. The Government are considering the implications of that report for their future public expenditure plans.

The third relates to payment for internal assessment. The GCSE examining groups have set up a working party specifically to look at this question.

The resolution adopted by the NUT concerned the planning for and the funding of GCSE. I should tell the House that my right hon. Friend met representatives of the NUT this afternoon. At that meeting he made it clear that the Government do not intend to postpone the introduction of the GCSE. He noted the NUT's concern about the funding of and training for the examination. On these matters, both sides agreed that officials should have a continuing dialogue during the next few weeks.

In response to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish I want to make it absolutely clear that my right hon. Friend and I stand ready to meet again the NUT, or any of the other teachers' associations, to discuss these matters. In my judgment, we are doing all that we can to ensure that the GCSE is brought in successfully and on time. The original timetable has been held to. Nothing has changed since it was set by my right hon. Friend nearly two years ago—nothing, that is, but the attitude of some of the teachers' associations. I urge them to reflect on their responsibilities and to work and plan to make the GCSE the success that it can be and that it deserves to be.

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

I shall make one other point and will then allow my hon. Friend to intervene. Of course I accept that a successful introduction of GCSE is more likely if there is a successful conclusion to the ACAS negotiations. However, if we do not end the dispute with the teaching profession on terms that are fair to teachers, parents, local education authorities, ratepayers, taxpayers and, above all, the children, a great deal more than the GCSE will be put at risk.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Am I wrong in assuming that there will be a standardisation procedure, largely under the control of teachers, or former teachers, or those who have been approved by the boards, which will assess and examine the undertakings in schools by teachers? Will teachers from one school who are assessing the work in another school be paid, and will the teachers in those schools also be paid? They have not been paid under the CSE arrangements.

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

That is being considered under the auspices of the examining groups. As is the case with a number of other educational matters, this does not concern my Department directly. However, it is a matter in which we take, I hope, a benign interest.

I hope that every teacher will seize all the opportunities that are available to help himself or herself as the start of the GCSE draws nearer. The training days allowed by these regulations will enable all schools to help teachers to do just that. I am wholly committed—the Government are committed—to making a success of this key reform. I do not believe that postponement for a year is an option. If we do not get the GCSE successfully in place this autumn, my fear is that there is a real risk of it slipping back into the middle, chaotic distance. I repeat that I want to make it the success that it deserves to be, and for that reason I commend these regulations to the House.

Photo of Mr Sean Hughes Mr Sean Hughes , Knowsley South 10:58, 16 April 1986

Despite what the Minister of State has said, I still hold by the view that the 31 May deadline for the publication of accepted syllabuses leaves no time for adequate planning for September, from the point of view of teaching strategies, the deployment of resources, and adequate consultation with parents and pupils. The Secretary of State has been praised for his determination to introduce this reform. The Minister of State referred to it as a radical measure. Most right hon. and hon. Members agree that it is a radical measure, that it is a reform, and that it could be a very important reform, but would such a reform in any other area of our national life be introduced within such a time scale, against such a background, and with such limited resources?

Does the Minister of State seriously believe that the training programme for the teacher, which is of critical importance if the quality of the examination is to be safeguarded, is adequate? Even those members of staff willing to be trained stand little chance of adequate preparation before September. The two days at the end of the summer term are totally inadequate. The first prerequisite is for the syllabus to be produced, because until that happens the teachers cannot know what is involved, nor can it really be known what resources will be required. I checked with one large comprehensive school in my borough yesterday. It had received notification of 17 approved syllabuses, but approved syllabuses were still required for history, chemistry, biology, geography and technical subjects.

Using the Cascade method of training, after two days the head of department, or whoever, will be sufficiently expert to be able to train his or her colleagues. There is nothing wrong with that, the Secretary of State and Minister of State will tell us, because the change in teaching style is, in the Secretary of State's words, simply a matter of using good current practice. Is it indeed? Let us take, for example, the northern examining authority's biology course. The pupils have to be assessed for 31 separate practical skills, so they require to be taught the skills, then to be assessed, and subsequently to be given an opportunity to achieve a "pass" assessment. That means lots of planning and lots of time for the teachers to acquire the skills and the ability to assess. Even in perfect circumstances it would require a vast deal more planning and development work to produce the practical tests for all these skills.

Then there is the problem of resources. The Association of County Councils has estimated that it will cost over £100 million. The teachers unions have argued that it will cost substantially more than the £20 million over two years that the Government are offering. But if the Government's assessment is wrong, who will pick up the bill to make the new examination work? Or, more dangerously, since this is the Government who will never admit to the possibility of error, the shortfall may never be made up, and the new examination will have been half strangled at birth. It is the pupils who will suffer.

When we speak of hundreds of millions of pounds, or £20 million, such figures have little meaning for the ordinary parent, pupil or teacher, who can see with his or her own eyes what is happening. I looked at a couple of departments in one large comprehensive school in my borough with about 1,800 pupils. I looked at those disciplines which Members on both Government and Opposition Benches would recognise as crucial to the economic well-being of the country.

The physics department of that school already works on eight sets of apparatus for classes of 25 to 30 pupils. Assessing practicals, which is what the GCSE demands, will mean one set of apparatus per pupil, involving an increase to three or four times the present level, that is £3,000 for apparatus. Textbooks suitable for the GCSE cost approximately £6 each. If that figure is multiplied by 220, the number of pupils, the result is £1,320, which means an increase of over £4,000 for just that department, which at present operates on a budget of £1,000. That is what is needed to begin the GCSE course. After the initial outlay, it is estimated by the physics department that the annual figure would reduce to around £3,000 a year, plus inflation.

In the same school, the biology department has difficulty even now. This was the crux of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) about the present level of expenditure, to which we shall add further burdens. The biology department cannot afford more than 16 sets of equipment per class now, which means that pupils are working in pairs from year one. When the GCSE is introduced, they will need to work and to be assessed individually, so that biology department will need twice the current finance for practical equipment. On top of that comes the cost of textbooks. So an initial sum of £2,400 is needed, according to the department's estimates, for the fourth year, and £1,500 for the fifth, as well as double the money for consumables in all subsequent years.

Because there is a particular problem about inner-city children of average or below average attainment, many science teachers believe that for such pupils the GCSE is inappropriate. In my constituency teachers hope to develop a modular science scheme for certification in the northern examining authority's unit accreditation scheme. To develop such a course, the school would need time for a group of teachers to work together to create the scheme.

There is, of course, trust money available for such a purpose, but in my borough of Knowsley that money comes down to £400 per school, plus £10 per member of staff. In the school that I have used as an example, that would amount to £1,600 a year. Current supply teaching costs are £68 a day, so that school could afford about 24 supply teacher days per year. If five science staff worked for five days on the scheme, that would use the whole of the school's allocation for one year.

The effects of the new examination are not limited to the fourth and fifth years; they have a knock-on effect lower down the school. Obviously changes in examinations mean that there must be changes lower down the school. Yet one mathematics department received its syllabus only on Monday of this week, with a statement by the northern examining authority that two issues of principle have yet to be resolved. It should be remembered that, in mathematics, grade limitations and grade boundaries have yet to be determined.

At the same time as all those problems have to be overcome, pupils will have to chose their option subjects and parents will have to be consulted on those choices. Therefore, we are left with the conclusion that the timetable for the introduction of the GCSE—despite what the Minister said—was devised and imposed without any thought for the practicalities.

Experience has surely taught us that no examination system can succeed if it does not have the confidence of the parents. How in heaven's name can this Goverrunent—who are piloting a Bill through Parliament whose primary aim is to involve parents more in the education process—deny an adequate period for parental consultation on this issue?

I believe that the objectives of the GCSE are correct, but the task facing teachers and pupils, especially in the inner-city areas, is daunting. It can be met only with proper advance training, smaller classes and more generous preparation time. After all, pupils have only one life to live, and if we get it wrong we could mess up their whole futures. In my sort of area, with indecent levels of youth unemployment, there are precious few opportunities for them.

I urge the Government to pay heed to what has been said and to consider postponing the introduction of the GCSE for 12 months and increasing the funding for its implementation.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Warrington South 11:08, 16 April 1986

I had not intended to intervene in the debate. However, I wish briefly to tell my hon. Friend the Minister how encouraged I was by his speech. He has shown the clear commitment of the Government to the introduction of the GCSE. He made it clear that the Government believe that it is possible to achieve the timetable that they have set. They have provided extra funding and the opportunity for training.

I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), which is the reason for my intervention. He said that he, too, was impressed by what my hon. Friend the Minister said. He reminded the House that the successful introduction of the examination depended on the good will and co-operation of the teachers.

I sincerely hope that the teachers will give their cooperation and good will. The very first meeting I had after I became shadow spokesman on educational matters in 1978 was with representatives of the National Union of Teachers. When I met the NUT, it was concerned only to persuade me to give a commitment that a Conservative Government would be committed to the GCSE in recognition that it would be a better form of examination than the O-level and the CSE. I was persuaded by Dr. Roy and others to accept that which the NUT was advancing.

I believe that the GCSE is the right answer for many reasons and that it is important that it is introduced. I am bound to say to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who speaks for the NUT in the House, that it would be a disaster if the NUT, having pressed, among others, for the introduction of the GCSE, should now attempt, in the light of the resolutions which it passed at its Easter conference, to sabotage the successful introduction of the examination.

I appeal to the teachers to give their co-operation and good will, which the hon. Member for Easington mentioned. If they do so, they will help to remove the crisis of morale and the many problems that we face in the teaching profession and enable us to return to a decent concern on everyone's part for the interests of the pupils.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth 11:11, 16 April 1986

One of the problems surrounding the introduction of the GCSE is that it has become almost a continuation of the teachers' dispute by other means. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) called for consensus, but I think that he will accept that the real problem is a lack of good will and not a lack of syllabuses, a lack of training, a lack of time or even a lack of funds. That point was well made by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand).

I happen to believe, perhaps naively, that children and parents have a right to expect the appropriate measure of good will to ensure that the GCSE is implemented correctly. It was as long ago as January 1984 that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced his decision to introduce the new examination. The national criteria were produced in 1985 and sent to all schools and colleges. The GCSE examination groups prepared and issued the draft syllabuses and began the preparations for teacher in-service training. The Secondary Examinations Council prepared the appropriate materials for the training seminars. It is worth remembering that Her Majesty's inspectorate's advice has been sought from the outset and has been taken.

Details of Government funding have been announced. In February, the Department confirmed that it would fund over 90 per cent. of the cost of supplying teacher cover for teachers who were released to attend training seminars. At that time £8 million had been earmarked. That was considered to be the appropriate sum. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has said again this evening, that £8 million has been increased substantially. A further £20 million has been made available for extra books and equipment, with the appropriate provision for ensuring that teachers will be trained properly for the implementation of the GCSE.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish referred to syllabuses, and the House might be interested to know that about 176 syllabuses have now been approved. Three syllabuses have been approved subject to minor modification. By 30 April, a further 86 syllabuses will have been approved. Almost all syllabuses have now been completed. Despite all the propaganda, no previous examination has been so thoroughly prepared. That was a point well made by my hon. Friend the Minister in his opening speech. It is good will that is lacking and not preparation.

I believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers are anxious to see the successful implementation of the GCSE. Why should they not take that view? After all, the examination is almost their brainchild. They wish to see the examination introduced with the least possible delay and as successfully as it can be. It should be remembered that teachers are fully aware of the confusion that exists sometimes in schools when attempts are made to teach CSEs and GCEs. Clearly, some confusion does come from that.

Therefore, it is an entirely laudable aim that we try to have one examination. It would remove the necessity for schools, teachers and pupils having to make the difficult choice of which examination would suit a particular child. It would simplify the situation in schools and remove the necessity of having to teach two separate syllabuses. It would meet the aims of industry and commerce and it would take away the second-class status that is sometimes attached to the CSEs and those who sit them.

Substantial benefits will come, as the House acknowledges, from the introduction of this examination. I regret, as I think all hon. Members do, the fact that some children's education might be damaged by the lack of cooperation that might exist among some teachers.

The examination will go forward as planned because there will be no alternative examination. Indeed, in a recent parliamentary answer, my hon. Friend said: There are no GCE or CSE syllabuses for 1988, and in many cases the machinery which would be necessary to create them has already been dismantled."—[Official Report, 8 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 4.] That is a clear statement and, with the utmost respect to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, there is not much point in his shaking his head.

Like other hon. Members I regret that the exam—

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the present system goes on for another year, so all the machinery is there for next year because people are studying the syllabuses for next year? What we are talking about is an exam which could be extended for one more year after that.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The machinery has been dismantled, but, if by some miracle it could be put back in place, there would then be the problem of trying to work two systems. That would be impossible.

Like other hon. Members I regret that the new examination has been caught up by the teacher's dispute. I doubt whether parents will forgive those whom they consider to be responsible for damaging their children's education. Parents believe that the new examination should be introduced. It can be introduced successfully provided there is the appropriate co-operation and good will. Parents and children have the right to that good will.

The future of many of our children depends on the results that they will obtain and it is most unfortunate that they are being put in jeopardy by those whose job it is to protect them and I hope that, despite the arguments, the new examination will go forward in order that pupils may derive the maximum benefit from a much needed change.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire 11:18, 16 April 1986

I too was impressed by the Minister's speech and I wish that I could say that I was convinced by it. The Minister will keep having to ask himself—this is relevant to the intervention of the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand)—whether the GCSE is not too good an exam to risk imposing on the children of Britain in the current scenario of teachers who, if not unable, are certainly unwilling to co-operate.

The GCSE is the most major overhaul that the secnodary school system has undergone. I do not just mean the examination system, but the whole system since the 1944 Education Act. It is intended to provide a minority of pupils who have never really coped with changing demands with a system appropriate for all children, testing what they can do rather than what they cannot do. In fact, everything about the GCSE is handsome, full of promise and ambitious except the piddling funding limits and the shortness of the timetable imposed by the Government. I think that it is interesting to compare the £20 million made available for this with the £10 million which was given to TVEI.

The paramount consideration in our deliberations must be the interests of the children. We must see how continuation and postponement could affect them. I am concerned that, without the extra resources or time, the GCSE will give a worse deal to those children for whom it is intended to do most. The children in the private sector of education will, as a result, be better prepared than those in the maintained sector because the bright children will be better able to surmount the teething troubles than those children who are less bright. The children who will get a worse deal are those who already get less than a fair chance. They are the ones who would benefit most from a healthy GCSE.

Those education questions, which I believe all point towards consideration or postponement, have somehow been buried beneath the political questions which persuade the Secretary of State to press ahead. The implications are that postponement will be seen as a symbolic defeat, but only by a minority. The teachers will still be able to disrupt things in a year's time although they have not been asked if they would promise co-operation in return for more time and resources. We see those arguments, but the GCSE exemplifies the extent to which partnership in education has broken down. The lesson has to be that the best reforms are worthless if the partnership that would make them work has been destroyed in advance. It has been destroyed by a discredited Secretary of State who could now come up with the best ideas in the world and receive no consideration and no co-operation from the disillusioned teaching force.

I think that the GCSE shows that the Government have lost the talent, if not the will, to carry their partners with them. If it is to go ahead, the Government must show that they will examine not the teachers or the preparation of the school but the children. They must allow the teachers to shop around and look at the five different boards on offer. If they cannot do that and argue the case on educational grounds alone, the case for going ahead collapses.

I checked today with the major comprehensive in my constituency and I simply asked whether it was ready. It was in no doubt that the examination should be postponed for one year. I do not accept a postponement of one year because I believe that in one year's time the same trouble would exist. However, it is right that the Minister should know that.

It is wrong to compare the GCSE with other examination reforms, because of the scale of the revolution. My schools have not yet received the syllabuses and some will not arrive until the end of May, one month late. The two clays training is irrelevant if the teachers do not attend. I wonder whether the Minister would concentrate his mind on the legal position of a teacher who does not attend the training if the two days are in the school term.

The Secretary of State talks about the interests of the children. In their interests, I believe that unless the examination can be made properly ready it would be time to look at postponement.

Photo of Mr Peter Griffiths Mr Peter Griffiths , Portsmouth North 11:23, 16 April 1986

I shall be brief. It would be well for a word of tribute to be paid to those teachers who, despite the difficulties of the past 12 months or so, have worked so hard within their schools to prepare themselves and their departments for the examination which they have looked forward to. One thing is certain, 12 months ago, the teaching profession, to which I am proud to belong, was virtually unanimous in favour of the GCSE. My view is that teachers are still very much in favour of this examination. I believe that there is no advantage to be gained by delay.

I want to welcome the evidence of flexibility and good will coming from the Department for teachers, whether they have approved the disruptive action in the past 12 months or not, who have found it difficult to carry out the sort of preparation that they would have accepted was necessary for the introduction of the examination.

The flexible approach of the Department has made it possible to increase the likelihood that the examination will be introduced properly in September. It is not fair to say that only £20 million and two days have been allowed for preparation. Many teachers have been preparing for years. It was from teachers that the original syllabuses came. Many teachers realise already that it is only a matter of detail that is holding up the provision of the syllabuses. They understand the broad thrust of the examination.

It is not fair to say that the £20 million is to provide all the equipment for the work of the GCSE. All the existing equipment will be relevant, and the normal capitation provisions for the schools will still be available. There will also be the additional funding to which the Minister has referred tonight.

The danger of settling for delay is that we would lose momentum, and the enthusiasm of the teachers for the examination. We must make it clear that the Government have a firm commitment. I trust that the Opposition will not divide the House tonight. If they carried their motion, they would simply remove the opportunity for training. I assume that the motion is a welcome device to enable us to hold the debate.

I trust that no one will suggest that anything is to be gained by making the introduction of the examination more difficult. That is not the way towards the proper introduction of the examination. I trust that the Minister will have the support of the House. I hope that we will tell the teachers through him that, despite the differences of the past few months, we should now make the new examination, which offers so much to our children, the success that it deserves to be.

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath 11:27, 16 April 1986

I should like to respond briefly to the interesting speeches that have been made. The hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) spoke about resources. The point was also referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) in his interesting speech. As my hon. Friend said, the £20 million which has been mentioned is not the total sum of money available for the GCSE. Many authorities have already made provision for additional expenditure for the examination.

It is not the case that all existing stocks of books and equipment will be made redundant. French is still French, and mathematics is still mathematics. Many—probably most—books will remain relevant where schools have chosen GCSE syllabuses with broadly the same content as their existing syllabuses. The need is rather for books and other materials to be supplemented over time in the light of the requirements of individual syllabuses. The position will vary between schools and local education authorities, depending on their past choice of syllabuses and present choice of GCSE syllabuses. The LEAs will not be spending money wisely if they rush out to buy new books simply because the educational publishers—I mean no disrespect to them—have put the magic letters "GCSE" on the cover.

National introductory training was specifically designed to be syllabus-free. Following what the hon. Gentleman said, I wondered whether he thought that teachers were teaching subjects or syllabuses. Teachers can consider the implications of assessing oral French without being slaves to particular syllabuses.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) referred in passing to syllabuses, as did the hon. Member for Knowsley, South. The Secondary Examination Council has now approved over 180 syllabuses, representing two thirds of all those so far submitted. Draft syllabuses have been available in many subjects for a number of months. By consulting them and the national criteria that have been in schools for a year, teachers have been able to make proper preparations for their new courses for some time. Approved syllabuses differ from draft syllabuses mainly in detail about assessment procedures, and not in syllabus content.

In his robust speech my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) referred to the availability of O-levels and CSEs in 1988. As my hon. Friend said, the syllabuses may be extendable, but the examination papers have not been developed and progress should have been made on that by now. As my hon. Friend was fair enough to admit, if we extended those syllabuses, we would be extending syllabuses that were years out of date.

Finally, I should like to underline the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle)—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order Order No. 4 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)).

Question put and negatived.