School Pupils (Literacy)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 1988.

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Photo of Mr Michael Stern Mr Michael Stern , Bristol North West 12:00 am, 19th January 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will list in the Official Report information available to him on those developed countries that do not test school pupils for literacy at some stage before the completion of compulsory schooling.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

All developed countries have school-leaving examinations which reflect literacy skills. The assessment and testing arrangements to be established within the national curriculum will monitor pupils' language attainments at the key educational stages.

Photo of Mr Michael Stern Mr Michael Stern , Bristol North West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the combination of that answer and the recent publication of the report of the Task Group on Assessment and Testing —the TGAT report—shows the spurious nature of the campaign that is being carried on by the Opposition parties and the teachers' unions in attacking the concept of testing, which is recognised throughout the rest of the world as an essential part of the educational process?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support of the TGAT report—Professor Black's report — published last week. That report recommended assessment and testing at the key ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16. Our proposals on testing and assessment were supported in that report, and I wish to emphasise the importance of tests to determine a child's ability at those ages. If one cannot determine whether a child has literacy skills and can decipher a page of writing when he is seven, he is likely to suffer throughout his education.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

Is it not the case that in other developed countries pupils at independent schools are also tested?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the independent schools' courses are very close to the national curriculum and that those schools usually have tests and examinations on a much wider scale than we envisage for state-maintained schools.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

Is it not right that all parents should be able to expect their children at least to be able to read, write and do basic mathematics when they leave school? How can we be sure that teachers are on their toes and that children are making progress towards that end unless we test?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

My hon. Friend is right in saying that we want children to be able to do all those things. Let me say a bit more about the subject. Those are the basic skills which represent the core subjects in our national curriculum. It is true that children have to be assessed and tested, which is exactly what the TGAT report says.

Photo of Mr Bernie Grant Mr Bernie Grant , Tottenham

Will the Secretary of State tell us what measures he will take to guard against cultural bias in the tests?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The Black report refers to these matters. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has seen the ILEA report of research undertaken before Christmas relating to the achievements of black Afro-Caribbean children in London. One thing that was discovered—and this comes as no surprise — is that many of the black Afro-Caribbean children were much more motivated to do well at school than many of the white children. They got lower grades because they lacked basic skills, and that is one of the reasons why we have put basic skills right at the heart of the national curriculum.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if a child is not achieving basic standards of literacy his parents have a right and a duty to find that out? Politicians and others who would stand in the way of that process do a grave disservice to children, parents and, indeed, the future of the country.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The report makes it clear that information about the assessments and tests should be made available to the child concerned—although the results should not be published so as to identify the child—to the teachers and to the child's parents, so that the necessary action can be taken. The right of a parent to know precisely how his or her child is doing is a fundamental necessity of education.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett , Leeds Central

Given that TGAT, under the chairmanship of Professor Black, casts doubts on the validity of publishing assessment results of children aged seven, will the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that the Government will not enact legislation to force schools to publish the results of such assessments, or are we to have a totally divisive and competitive system?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The hon. Gentleman will know from our debates in Committee that we broadly welcome the report, whose proposals are out to consultation. Professor Black's team made the point that there should be assessment and testing at the age of seven. It also said that to publish results as a judgment upon the school would not be entirely fair, and I acknowledge that there is some strength in that argument. However, it is important that the results of the tests and assessments at the age of seven should be made available to parents so that they may know how their child is doing in relation to national standards.