Education

– in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 6th March 1992.

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Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North 1:33 pm, 6th March 1992

I beg to move, That this House warmly welcomes Government educational policies to bring back standards of learning in the three Rs in the infant school by an emphasis on phonics in reading, on number and tables in arithmetic and on writing in English, by subject teaching and learning by heart in the junior school and by a variety of secondary school provision providing for the varied interests, aptitudes and ability of pupils, by tests at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 to guarantee to parents that all schools are fulfilling their purposes, by the retention of 'A' level examinations before transfer to university and professional education at 18 while provision is made at the same age for craft and technological examinations which will lead to craft and technical qualifications and by the provision of maximum parental choice of school based on full public information on all schools, including their external examination results; and believes that such policies will ensure maximum advantage to the pupils, the parents and the whole country. I came to the House this morning in my capacity as a humble—or not so humble—school master, although I intervened in the previous debate because the suffering that was being inflicted on my constituents had been drawn to my attention this week.

According to my definition, quality of education involves taking all pupils—irrespective of their ability—as far as they can go within the context of finite economic resources. It also means the preservation of high culture. Every society should preserve its high culture in literature, music, poetry and religion if it is to claim to be a civilised society.

Educational quality is always improving or declining at any point. I can look back on almost three generations of school masters, from the age of going to school, being a school master and being a head master. Until the 1960s Britain had a system that worked as well as anywhere in the world. In infant schools, children were taught the three Rs and the habits of disciplined learning. That is what infant schools are for. In junior schools between the ages of seven and 11, children were taught a set of subjects—arithmetic, writing, reading, geography, history, literature, science, nature study and religious education. They also learnt by heart. At that age, children enjoy learning by heart, with poetry and Bible readings that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. In secondary schools, the 11-plus system divided some 20 per cent. of pupils to grammar academic schools, some 5 per cent. to the long-lamented technical schools and some 75 per cent. to secondary modern schools. The system worked.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

The hon. Lady, who lives in another world, may not know that, but we know that it worked. At that time, the standards of education of children aged 14 were equal to any in the world, before the Labour party damaged it by putting its paws all over the system.

The destruction came in the 1960s. The first changes were made in the primary schools. Children cannot discover learning for themselves. If they could, we could do without schools and let children loose, as Dewey and Rousseau said. It would be anarchy. The idea that children could discover things for themselves degraded teachers and that is when the status of teachers started to fall. That system, imported from America, did untold harm in schools. I have never yet met a pupil who could write one of Milton's sonnets during the morning break, learn French subjectives at lunch time and write a Shakespearean play in the evening, without being taught any of those subjects along the way. If such a pupil exists, I shall go on a world tour with him or her. We could pay off the national debt from the money earned through people coming to this country to see such a person.

Mixed ability teaching then came to primary schools and secondary schools. It was the most ineffective method of teaching. Pupils of extremely different abilities being taught together meant that half of them did not know what was going on. In a lesson of 30 minutes, it could mean teaching each child for one minute, which was like going back to hand loom weaving compared to a factory system. We should put together children with the same interests and abilities, and then learning can roar ahead. In an average class of 30 children aged 10, one may have a mental age of five while another has a mental age of 15. To think that those children can be taught together is wrong. Bertrand Russell, who I do not think was ever a member of the Conservative party—he never advocated Conservative policies—once said that to educate bright and dull children together was the height of cruelty, and so it is. The bright become arrogant because they think that they can achieve everything and the dull, whatever they try to do, cannot catch up. It is not a moral issue but the fact that the good Lord made us all different. Just as we differ in the speed at which we can run and the amount that we eat, so we differ in intellectual ability. I do not believe that there is just one type of brain—a class 1 brain that is given to everybody.

The Labour party then introduced its disastrous comprehensive policy. It is always looking for policies and has no initiatives of its own. It killed grammar schools, which were the ladders of opportunity for working-class children, and intends to kill them off further if it comes to power again. It killed the 450 technical schools, which probably did even more damage and broke technical teaching in this country. The Labour party also destroyed secondary modern schools, which were developing extended courses. I was then the head of a secondary modern school and, before that, taught in one.

As a result, the standard of mathematics of a Japanese child of 14 became two years ahead of the standard of the average child in this country. In Germany and France, children are one and a half years ahead of us in mathematics, a subject in which comparisons can be made. We are the only country of the 10 industrial countries in which the standard of mathematics was lower in 1981 than it was in 1964.

In addition, the Labour party disenfranchised working class children. The proportion of working-class children going to university between 1961–63 was 25 per cent.—by 1980, that figure had dropped to 19·4 per cent.

There is no such thing as a comprehensive school; there are comprehensive schools that are different in each region. Middle class districts have grammar schools with CSE streams, downtown areas have secondary modern schools, in which few pupils are studying to go into higher education. That is no slur on the staff working there, but reflects on the system that does not work.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

No, I shall not give way as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) has some excellent things to say, which could change the educational system of this country.

The ones who suffered most from the change were not the most able, but the average plus, and the technically innovative children. The destruction of the technical school was probably more damaging than the destruction of the grammar school. For a long time, the Conservative party tried to retrieve standards. We came into power and questioned our position, and where we were going.

I pay tribute to the present Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State, at the Department of Education and Science, who are at last taking hold of the subject by the neck and achieving reasonable standards. Undoubtedly, in five years' time, even the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong)—I am glad that she is wearing red, as she is the only remnant of the Labour party present—will be saying what I am saying today. It is simply that it takes the Labour party a long time to catch up with us. We must be charitable to the Labour party, as we are in our schools.

What must we do? The Labour party and other Opposition parties—were any of their Members present today—would say that we need more money and smaller classes. Japanese classes have 50 per cent. more pupils than ours, as do Israeli classes. I would willingly exchange the system that we have had during the past 30 years for either of those. It is not a question of the size of class or the amount of money, but the calibre of teacher, the correct curriculum, gathering together the right groups of children and having a belief in what one is doing.

We should return to teaching phonics in infant schools. We can also use other methods, but we must teach tables and writing. In junior schools we must encourage learning by heart, including poetry. We need a rich variety of secondary schools, to relate to aptitude, ability and interest. I very much approve of city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools and the assisted places scheme—all of which have been introduced by the Government during the past 12 years. Recently, these policies have been more speedily introduced.

We need a much greater variety of secondary schools. Germany and Russia have three types of secondary schools. In Russia, or what was Russia, one third of pupils receive technical education. Russia has boarding schools for languages, mathematics and physics. If the economic system in Russia ever takes off, woe betide us unless we increase our educational standards in this country, as we are now trying to do. Children in Russian schools can study 1,100 crafts, from laundry work to watch repairing. One third of pupils in Sweden attend technical schools and they have a choice of 250 crafts. I have seen the education systems in Sweden, Japan and parts of Russia. In Japan, one third of students can train for technical work, business work, fisheries, commerce. Only here, according to the benighted, non-thinking Labour party, has everyone to go to the same school.

Socialist, mixed economy and capitalist societies all enjoy some form of separate educational institutions. The Labour party alone remains the one-eyed man who believes that he will be king because he cannot see anyone else passing by—I thought that was rather good. I want classical schools, mathematics schools, science schools, sports schools, trade schools and commercial schools. We are a city people; 85 per cent. of us live in towns or cities comprising 100,000 or more people. We should all enjoy a variety of provision, assuming that all schools provide the basic curriculum, as do city technology colleges. Beyond that, much more can then be done—two hours a day on a specialised subject, for instance. Pupils could operate selection as well as external selection policies.

I agree with the seven-plus tests, the 11-plus tests and the 14-plus tests; they may be a little too complicated, but the Government are slimming them down. I agree with retaining A-levels. The Labour party would destroy them on the basis of, "If anything works, pull it down."

I have always supported education vouchers, although I doubt whether they will be included in our manifesto or brought in by the next Government. George Bernard Shaw said that he could suggest improvements when he got to heaven. We could all suggest so much more.

I am worried about the lack of right of parents to decide how much sex education their children should receive, especially in an AIDS age. Despite any worries, however, the differences between Labour party policy and Conservative party policy are vast and they subsume my other anxieties. If the Labour party wins the next election, it will destroy CTCs and grant-maintained schools and it will try to destroy the assisted places scheme. It will destroy the A-level system, which helps to maintain reasonable university entrance standards. I hope that my constituents and those in all other constituencies will vote against the Labour party on the ground of education policy alone.

At the risk of repeating myself—I rarely do so, because I find it rather boring—I reiterate that the present team of education Ministers has done a first-class job. Those Ministers need the support of everyone, if only for what they have done with examinations, tests and the diversification of secondary education. Let the country support the Conservatives on education alone, if not on all our other policies. We cannot afford to allow the Labour party to take power. We have started to build up education standards in this country; it would be a terrible tragedy if the Labour party came in and destroyed them.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford 1:47 pm, 6th March 1992

I am delighted to have the opportunity once again to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). Following him is the story of my life; I followed him as the Minister for schools, a post that I held from 1983 to 1988. 1 and the present team of Ministers can point to bricks that we have put in the wall that we are building to strengthen and support the country's education system.

The motion touches on a number of aspects which time will prevent me from referring to, but I must point out that the quality of education in this country has improved and it will improve further as long as our education philosophy is underpinned by variety and choice. As my right hon. Friend said, Conservative and Labour Members are a million miles apart on this issue. In 13 years of Conservative Government, many new education policies mentioned by my right hon. Friend have been introduced. We have brought about local management of schools, grant-maintained status, open enrolment and the national curriculum, and there have been many other changes.

When I was in the Department of Education arid Science I abolished the Inner London education authority. Many Opposition Members argued against its passing, but they do not do that now. In a speech at that time, I said that the ILEA had a policy on anti-racist sport and that it would not be long before it had a policy on anti-racist mathematics. Within two days of that speech, ILEA introduced such a policy.

I should like to deal with the quality of education in my constituency which is most fortunate in being a part of the 5 per cent. of the country which retains a selective system of education. We have grammar schools and successful single-sex and mixed high schools. We have a successful 13 to 18-year-old comprehensive school in Longfield and a city technology college, a concept which I introduced at the Department of Education and Science some years ago.

We speak about bringing on our young people according to their abilities and about trying to find their talents. The people of Dartford have an education service which is among the best in the United Kingdom's local authority structure, as it was, and within the grant-maintained structure as it is. It is amazing that in such debates Opposition Members, many of whom gained an enormous educational experience from attending grammar schools, choose to support a policy which would destroy them. Fourteen members of the shadow Cabinet, including the Leader of the Opposition, went to grammar schools, thereby benefiting from a system of education which they have denied and would like further to deny to my constituents.

The Labour party's greatest worry is that its empire is breaking up, and they have lost political control of our schools. In the context of education in Kent, we had a visit a few days ago from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). Unfortunately, he was not able to make a speech in Dartford as planned. I had hoped that he would speak to the people of Dartford about his plans to pass a death sentence upon our district grammar and high schools, our comprehensive school in its present form, and our city technology college.

I should like Labour to make plain the implications of its policy for the future of Dartford schools. Our well-supported and popular range of schools in Dartford have no future under Labour. All our schools would be turned into comprehensives and there would be an end to parental preference in north-west Kent—a principle which I have fought for years to sustain and retain. Labour is pledged to destroy our schools by law. It will compel the closure of grammar schools. Labour will not say, "Would you mind or can we talk about the matter?" It will be as before. If Labour has its way it will pass legislation to close the grammar schools and will confine all pupils to simple neighbourhood comprehensives, a gamble on success or failure depending on where pupils live and on what housing their parents can afford. Labour will trap people on housing estates, as it has in the past, and there will be no ladder of opportunity to allow young people from difficult backgrounds to make a real contribution to the future of our country.

Of course, Labour will say that the Conservative party has closed grammar schools. That is true, but it occurred because of the infection of socialism many years ago. During the five years in which I was a Minister with responsibility for schools, only 20 grammar schools were closed, and they were not closed because of doctrinaire, dogmatic policies. On the contrary, I fought hard to keep them open, philosophically, but with falling rolls and reorganisation it was necessary occasionally to amalgamate, to change the status and to close some grammar schools. One such grammar school in the west riding of Yorkshire took 65 per cent. of its pupils from across the ability range. But that school was no longer a grammar school and therefore had to close.

The debate is focusing on the deep divide, and we have had that from none other than the hon. Member for Blackburn. At the end of last year I tried to get the hon. Gentleman to put down in writing what he would do to my grammar schools in Kent. Finally, after three letters from me, he said: I am astonished that you should have any doubts about the wisdom of ending selection at 11". I am surprised that he thinks that I have doubts because I do not. He continued: We shall end selection at 11 across the country, and we shall legislate to do so…Good grammar and other schools in your constituency will under our plans have an assured future as even better comprehensives. I have to tell the Labour party that that is the best thing that the hon. Gentleman could have said. It came out clearly and the people of Dartford wanted to hear that Labour party position defined. They know, because I have told them so on many occasions, that our grammar schools will close under Labour or the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Blackburn has spelt it out in a way that even the deaf could hear.

On 26 February last, among reports in the national papers, the Daily Mail had the headline: Labour pledges to abolish last of the grammar schools". There we are. It is clear. There is no question of trying to hide the facts or to fudge as the Labour party does on so many other issues, pretending to be something that it is not. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) can mutter and chunter to her heart's content. It is indisputable that the Labour party will close grammar schools—

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

The House notes that the hon. Lady agrees with me. She is the only person on the Labour Benches who can talk and think at the same time. Once the Labour party realises that, in all the many constituencies which still have them, the philosophy of closing grammar schools and bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator will be electorally unpopular, there will be a change or a fudge.

I shall conclude by quoting the words of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I have nothing in common with him, but I respect his honesty and integrity. On 30 September last in The Independent, he said: If we've changed our mind to win, we could change our mind when we've won. What's wrong with that? That will be the caveat that all of us who are concerned about education standards will put to the people over the next few weeks. Undoubtedly, people will back our view that parental preference is the key and that the variety and range of schools that we have in Dartford should be extended across the country. I support the motion.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham 1:57 pm, 6th March 1992

I was interested to read the motion. I hope that hon. Members will read and reflect on Monday's debate about the sittings of the House and the report of the Select Committee from which the debate arose. I am rarely here on Friday because it is the only day that I can spend with my constituents and in my constituency office. I can be here this afternoon only because I have broken constituency commitments. I have a very able person to deputise for me, and my father is this afternoon presenting, on my behalf, prizes to 17-year-olds in Consett who have recently achieved qualifications from the YTS scheme.

We need to look at how we organise business in the House. Private Members' business is important, but because it happens on a Friday, many hon. Members who are not from London constituencies are excluded from debates on it. Today, almost every hon. Member who has spoken has represented a constituency in London or the south-east. The way that we conduct business limits the ability to participate of hon. Members whose constituencies are a long way from here. That is one of the reasons why I was pleased to be a member of a Select Committee which recommended alternative ways to organise the business of the House.

We are here to debate quality in education, and it is clear from the debate that there are real differences about what we mean by quality and how we achieve it. I believe that the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) is genuinely concerned about quality in education, but on reading his motion I groaned. I thought, "This is taking us forward into the past." I wish that I could believe in the romantic vision of a past education service that worked. I come from another country; I come from the north of England.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

So do I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

Both the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and the right hon. Member for Brent, North may come from the north, but it is obvious that they have not been living and working there for some time.

As I have said, I come from the north. I know of many people whose talent has been unrecognised; it has been untapped. Their abilities were wasted because they were pushed into secondary modern schools. I am amazed when Conservative Members talk about choice in terms of a selective system. Nobody has choice in such a system except those who run schools. Parents and pupils have no choice.

When my father was chairman of the education committee in Sunderland I remember only too well the many parents who would tell him, "My child has failed the 11-plus and yet I know that he is capable of pursuing academic interests." That assertion was true. When I began my secondary education in a grammar school I learnt that the school believed that only the top two streams were worth bothering about. Those in the bottom two streams, even though they had passed the 11-plus, were seen as being not quite up to the cream in the other two streams. When the school went comprehensive at the end of my fourth year—my father was still the chairman of the education committee, and this was one of my early political lessons—my English teacher went on over and over again about what my family was doing; that strong memory lives with me. That teacher personalised the issue. He went on about plenty of crops, as he put it, joining the cream, and claimed that the entire system would be corrupted. What a view. What a way to regard those who would be citizens and decision-makers in the town—I am pleased to say that it is now a city—and in the country generally.

Against that background I am enormously disappointed by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Brent, North and the hon. Member for Dartford. I know that many of the 75 to 80 per cent. who were excluded from grammar schools had talent and have talent. They failed the 11-plus but they had enormous talent, which was then wasted.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North did not pass the 11-plus and nor did I.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

Many of those who failed the 11-plus had talent which was wasted.

Before I came to the House I worked at a polytechnic and was involved in a mature students' course. All the people taken by the polytechnic had failed the 11-plus and had left school at 15 or 16. Their experience was that they had failed in their education career. We were finding ways in which they could return to education as mature students. The average age of the students on the course that I taught was 34. The work that we did on access before students could apply to take up the course and when they first came on it was mainly directed to giving them confidence in their abilities. What a waste of talent. Britain has wasted the talents of so many people who had an enormous contribution to make but who believed, because they went through a system that told them that they had failed, that they were failures.

We are now in a very different period.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

No, because I am anxious to get on and I do not want to be distracted. It is important to deal with the claims about the selective system.

When the Secretary of State gives evidence to the Select Committee, he says that the Government bear no responsibility for what happens in schools—yet at the same time they impose almost weekly changes, thought up on the hoof, with each change contradicting a previous change. All the changes have undermined the confidence of teachers in their ability, to the extent that Her Majesty's chief inspector said in his report last year that the manner in which the national curriculum was being centrally imposed risked the deskilling of teachers. What a state to be in.

The Government are concerned not to listen and not to consult. They say, "We know better than everybody else." They impose weekly changes on schools such that that chief inspector said that they run the risk of deskilling our teaching force. The way in which the Government have introduced change has caused incalculable damage.

Much of what is claimed in the motion has been challenged in recent reports. I was interested to hear the comments about phonics. Have hon. Members read the recent report on reading by the National Foundation for Educational Research? It says that the overwhelming majority of all methods include phonics.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

Absolutely. I have not known a school which, during recent years, has not dealt with phonics in some form—even those schools that are using real books. As the NFER says, they represent only 2 per cent. of actual practice.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Tim Eggar): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

No, the Minister will have his opportunity in a moment.

What is now being called the WAR report also says that there has been a great deal of rhetoric on teaching methods that is not borne out by the practice in the classroom. It is our responsibility to encourage teachers to identify good practice, to help them to do so, and then to build on that. Much of the Government's rhetoric has undermined rather than reinforced the confidence of teachers.

The motion fails to recognise the changing demands on people, whether academics or skilled workers. No one can enter the work force without having confidence in both their educational and technical abilities. Unless we recognise that as a nation, we cannot tackle the challenges of the future. All those wishing to contribute to our society need to have a grasp of both knowledge and skill. We cannot train technical workers unless they have confidence in their ability to have a basic educational grounding, to learn and to change. We cannot train academics unless they have a knowledge and understanding of some technical skills.

For a short period last year, I had a student who had been to a top public school and who has a first from an Oxford college. When he came to work here last year, I discovered that he had never before laid hands on a computer, and was illiterate in the skills that I needed him have. We do not allow anyone into the Library, and the only way that one can access its information is through the POLIS database. That young man's education had not fitted him for the work of being a good researcher, which is what he wants to be, in modern society. His education was too narrow.

Those of us who are concerned about this country's future needs and its education system—bar the Government—argue that the three A-level model is too narrow. I discussed that aspect with students at Durham, which is supposed to be one of the better universities—although I sometimes wonder, in the sense that it, too, has a narrow intake. Those students were keen to defend the three A-level model, saying, "I could never do modern languages." It sent a shiver down my spine to hear top intellectuals among the next generation say that they are incapable of learning a foreign language. What does that say about their capabilities after leaving sixth form and their confidence in their ability to learn?

If we continue to follow that route and fail to give even the brightest among our 18-year-olds confidence in their own abilities, what does that say about the future of which they will be a part? The Government offer only experimentation, which has changed and shifted, and has largely been unsuccessful. They offer only double standards—which, together with experimentation, are characteristic of the Government's education policy. They have so little faith in the changes that they have wrought on the maintained sector that only one Cabinet Minister is prepared to risk educating his children in it.

The greatest example of the Government's lack of commitment to standards and quality is to be found in the lunacy surrounding the Education (Schools) Bill, which introduced the concept that a privatised inspectorate could somehow lever up standards. What an insult.

I am delighted that their lordships rejected that proposal and, as the Minister in another place said, tore out the heart of that Bill. We know, however, that a deal has been done, yet even last night the Department was not prepared to concede that. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will try to reinstate their inspectorate provisions next week? Has a deal been done whereby the Bill will be guaranteed a Third Reading provided that the Government do not try to reverse their lordships' decision?

If the situation is as I understand it, will the Government commit the money that local authorities will need to continue meeting their responsibilities as currently identified in the Bill? Does the Secretary of State intend to keep the local inspectorate privatised? Again, that would go against the spirit of the amendments that have been agreed.

If the Government are interested in raising the standards and quality of education, they will recognise that every single school must have its standards raised. We must have a means of measuring the progress that children make, whichever school they attend. We heard the real answer from the right hon. Member for Brent, North when he said that the quality of schools depended on the sums spent.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted standards raised in schools, but—

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

No. Standards depend on the quality of teachers. They have nothing to do with money.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

I am responding too much to sedentary interventions and I apologise for that.

The Government have said that they can afford to educate only a few well. I reject that, and the Labour party rejects that. We are committed to ensuring that all children, wherever they live and whatever school they attend, get the very best attention. Our education standards commission will lay down national guidelines and national standards. Local authorities and schools will work towards them to ensure that they deliver for every child and every family the highest quality of education, wherever they live and whichever school they attend.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess , Basildon 2:16 pm, 6th March 1992

It is significant that there are no Members present from the two socialist parties, the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties, to listen to the splendid speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). Unlike them, I have not been a Minister, but I passed my 11-plus and went to an excellent grammar school. I was in the second year sixth when it went comprehensive and 18 teachers left. If success is gauged against salary, those who went to the technical and secondary modern part of the school received an excellent education as they are all earning more money than I am now.

My hon. Friend the Minister visited Basildon last week and saw at first hand the splendid standards of education that we have. Of my five children, the two oldest attend school. One attends the St. Anne line school and the other the infants school. They receive a splendid state education in Basildon. My hon. Friend the Minister will also be pleased to know that thanks to the intervention yesterday of three Conservative county councillors, Councillor Brin Jones, Councillor David Walsh and Councillor Iris Pummell, we saved Fryerns secondary school in Basildon.

Examination results in all Basildon secondary schools continue to show improvements. Increasing numbers of students are moving on to higher education this year. All schools have successfully taken on the national curriculum. The Nicholas school, in particular, received one of the nationally prestigious, schools curriculum award for involving the community in the curriculum to the highest standard.

My infant and junior schools are all doing splendidly. I regularly visit all our education establishments in Basildon. I thank and congratulate our excellent ministerial team on helping the children in my constituency to enjoy ever-higher standards of education.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North 2:18 pm, 6th March 1992

I am delighted to respond to the debate and to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) on his motion. The whole House recognises his lifelong commitment to improving the quality of education and has noted with dismay the present situation at the school in which he was once a distinguished head master. As he said, the recent HMI report on Highbury Grove school is a shocking indictment of what can happen to a school when it is not properly and adequately led and when it does not retain the traditional values that must be associated with successful schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) talked of the variety of schools in his constituency. There is indeed a unique amount of choice available to his constituents and I know that they value that. I hope that in time other hon. Members may have the same degree of choice available for children in their constituencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) reminded us that only a few days ago I had the chance to meet the headmaster and staff of Fryerns school. I also met a number of pupils who had come in especially to show what they were capable of doing. I am delighted to hear that the school has been saved. I was very impressed, especially by the commitment of the staff who were taking a training day to consider ways of improving the school's image, of attracting more pupils and of ways of using the school's considerable assets to even better effect. I am sure that now that the difficulty is behind it, the school will go from strength to strength.

It was interesting that we heard nothing about the early years from the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) who claims to be the shadow Minister with responsibility for that issue. I think that she is embarrassed by the press release that she issued yesterday and probably believed that it was better not to mention it. It contains a most extraordinary announcement about the proliferation of bureaucracy and planning. It tells us that under a Labour Government—if we were ever unfortunate enough to have one—all child-minding will come under the control of the Department of Education and Science. Presumably, if one wanted to drop one's child round at granny's for a few hours while one did the shopping, one would have to ring the Minister for the early years to find out whether granny is registered with the Department. However, it would not stop there.

The Minister for the early years would not have the answer because she would have to consult the Minister for women who would co-ordinate the Minister for the early years. The Minister for women would then have to double check with the Minister for children. Having been double checked, the Minister for the early years would then presumably go back to the new special unit within the Department which would ensure that everything was properly co-ordinated. It would then, presumably, say whether granny was capable of looking after the child, but, before final decision was made granny would be referred to Labour's new quality commission which would investigate granny's skills as well as investigating the skills of the Ministers for the the early years, for children and for women.

I recommend the document to my hon. Friends because it gives an image—

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Lady. The document gives an image of life under a Labour Government. It would be a marvellous world if one were a woman and wanted to be the Minister for the early years, for women or for children, but we should not get very far in terms of better child care.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not giving way, but I must deal with several issues.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North stressed the importance of raising standards still further, of getting back to basics, of concentrating on improving the standards of literacy and numeracy and the understanding of science. I know that he recognises the considerable importance of the national curriculum in improving standards still further.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) does not recognise the importance of the national curriculum. In 1987, the hon. Gentleman said that the national curriculum would lead to a monopoly in thought, in ideas, in education". The hon. Gentleman has learnt something and he has moved on. In December 1991, on "Frost on Sunday" he said: We'd keep the national curriculum … the idea of a national curriculum is, in principle, a good one. The hon. Gentleman's idea of a national curriculum is not ours. It is not the idea that is shared by parents and supported by teachers. Let us see what the Socialist Educational Association believes that the national curriculum should consist of. I quote from its January 1992 document entitled "The New National Curriculum: a socialist view". It said: Every institution—including the school—is part of [the] struggle. Disadvantaged students are entitled to expect this to show both in the curriculum itself and in the ways it is implemented. In other words, the Labour party sees the national curriculum as nothing more than a method of social engineering—and an especially nasty method at that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North talked about the importance of improving primary education. I know that he recognises the importance of the recent report on primary education by the three wise men. The report will be widely read and widely discussed in primary schools. It highlights the importance of ensuring that there are phonics in the teaching of reading. It mentions the importance of subject teaching, especially for older primary children. It will be an important report, especially when it is put together with Professor Alexander's examination of what was going on in socialist Leeds. The report recognises that there must be a change in primary schools. That change will be widely recognised and supported by primary teachers.

My hon. Friends have made it clear how important it is to have testing in our schools. That view has been consistently opposed by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Blackburn said in December 1987 that testing is a system which sets child against child, which tells them only how to compete against their peers and which labels them as successes or failures at age 11, 14, 16 or seven."—[0fficial Report, 1 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 788–89.] The hon. Member for Blackburn has recognised that his view is not shared by parents so he has moved on. As recently as 21 October—this is a remarkable statement from the shadow spokesman who has been here for so long —he said: Labour has not made final decisions on how testing would operate under a Labour Government. Labour simply cannot make up its mind about whether it is in favour of testing.

The hon. Member for Durham, North-West made a series of extraordinary assertions about the Education (Schools) Bill. The amendments that their lordships accepted the other day were not only a change from the Government's point of view, but the complete abandonment of all the Opposition's arguments in Committee. The amendments completely contradicted and torpedoed the policy document "Raising the Standard" which had taken a quite different approach. The hon. Lady may well be worried about issues such as the role of the local education authorities. She has realised that the amendments are wholly contrary to her party's policy.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong , North West Durham

What are the Government going to do?

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

I will tell the hon. Lady. Their lordships preferred the selection of inspectors to be made by Her Majesty's chief inspector. That centralises the system and we should have preferred the matter to have rested with governors. However, the amendments can be managed and we are tabling consequential amendments to give practical form to the effect of their lordships' main, amendment. That decision is quite consistent with the aims of the parents charter, and our new inspection system bears no resemblance to the monopoly inspection of schools by local authority inspectors that has been urged on us by the Labour party.

We are determined, through the Education (Schools) Bill to get on to the statute book legislation that will give parents information about the strengths and weaknesses of all our schools, which will publish performance tables of a kind that we have never seen before. We are determined that there should be regular and transparent inspection of all schools because we want to open up the education system to public accountability in a way which we believe is bound to raise standards and extend the influence of parents. I am delighted to have had the chance to debate this important—

It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.