Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 9:37 am on 19th July 1991.

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Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science) 9:37 am, 19th July 1991

The representatives of the National Association for Gifted Children have been to see me on that point, and I shall certainly reflect further on it. The key point is that, through local management of schools, the heads and governors have more resources under their control to allocate as they see fit. Provided that they have sufficient headroom in the budget, they can make that special provision.

In case the House thinks that I am quoting only one of the best examples, I shall also quote from a school that has a more difficult budget, perhaps because historically it has been over-funded and its budget has now been adjusted in line with pupil numbers.

In The Times Educational Supplement, the principal of Chulmleigh community college in north Devon said: It's been a bad month, and not one to repeat next year. But some good will come of it. Faculty heads must be less insular and learn to think more whole-school; some teachers will have to work harder and show more commitment; and every bit of the budget will be more carefully scrutinised. We shall also improve our public relations. Ten more children in the school would have saved all the anguish. We are losing twice that number to the private sector and elsewhere each year. There's a challenge for everyone: be sure about the quality, improve customer relations, watch the budget, and we may see off the redundancy spectre for good. That tells an eloquent story about the success of local management of schools. Combined with more open enrolment, LMS means that all schools must be much more responsive to the local community. They have to keep up their numbers and offer what parents want. For us, wider choice is not an abstract but means practical power for parents—and that power will drive up standards.

Higher standards are at the centre of our education policy. We introduced a new national curriculum for the first time and we are insisting that all pupils are tested at ages seven, 11 and 14, before GCSE. It is extraordinary that, before 1988, nothing was compulsory. Pupils could drift through school without ever being given a spelling test, doing any science, or taking much French. Worse, they could drift through school without ever knowing what was expected of them.

That drifting is at an end. Ours is the first Government to implement a compulsory curriculum, which introduces a new structure for children from age five upwards. It has been widely welcomed by teachers. It is true that many grumbled, with reason, at the pace of change and complained at the weight of the paperwork, but every school that I have visited accepts the principle of a fixed, basic curriculum as a framework for its teaching. It is a framework and not a straitjacket, as the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised. It should be simple and manageable—and flexible after a pupil has reached 14, so that those who want to pursue an academic route can do so, while others may choose to start earlier on the vocational path.

The national curriculum itself will raise standards. For example, all girls will be required to take science all the way through their school career, and every pupil will take a foreign language and study technology. Crucial to the success of the national curriculum is our insistence that what is taught will be tested—at seven, 11 and 14. The objective is to provide a check on progress, so that schools can compare their performance year on year, and parents can compare school against school.

In working together with the new chairman of the National Curriculum Council and with the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council, we will ensure that the curriculum and assessments will be manageable and sensible in future.