My right hon. Friend regularly receives letters from members of the public and others concerned to improve educational standards. In recent months a large majority of these letters have supported the introduction of a national curriculum as a means of achieving that objective in schools.
In raising standards, will my hon. Friend take note of the pressing need for more highly skilled people to enter the engineering industry? Will she encourage more school leavers to take advantage of the places for technology and science in higher education?
I note my hon. Friend's remarks about engineering and technology job opportunities. The Government have frequently emphasised the need for better and more systematic careers education. We hope to take measures shortly to encourage local education authorities to bring a new coherence to careers provision for young people.
Is the Minister aware that there has been a great deal of talk from the Department about standardised tests of attainment and about a core curriculum, which suggests a centralised approach? On the other hand, is she aware that the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 devolved the responsibility for those matters to local schools and headmasters? Are not those policies going in opposite directions?
No, they are not. I hasten to assure the hon. Gentleman that we are considering, not a core curriculum, but the possibility of introducing a national curriculum during the course—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is the difference?"] If Opposition Member do not know the difference, they will have to learn and decide what it is for themselves.
To return to the hon. Gentleman's question, we hope that after consideration and consultation with all those within the education world about the national curriculum, we will come up with a responsible decision about how it should proceed. Benchmarks are important to establish pupils' achievements on the course.
All teachers have a part to play in raising education standards. For the most part the professional quality of our teachers is excellent. They work hard towards the goal of improving standards and achievements in our schools.
Will not the next real marker for standards be the GCSE to be taken this year? Does the Minister realise that the resources and advice provided by her Department for that examination are wholly inadequate to meet the task and that as a result for 600,000 14-year-olds this year the GCSE will be at best a raw deal and at worst a blight on their future chances?