Schools

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 20th April 1993.

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Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend 9:30 pm, 20th April 1993

The hon. Gentleman arrived in the Chamber just over 10 minutes ago. I will not give way to him.

There is a crisis of confidence. At a conference on design and technology management in South Glamorgan, curriculum leaders and heads of technology from 24 of the 26 schools in the county expressed grave disquiet about the nature, management and interpretation of key stage 3 SATs and long tasks. It was strongly felt that SATs were radically interfering with good course work, to the detriment of pupils' education.

Another teacher—the Southampton teacher referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) who has been a member of the Conservative party since 1976—said: The 'goal posts' have been moved around almost weekly and you"— that is, the Secretary of Statemust not be surprised to hear that senior professionals are concluding that there is little quality thinking being applied by the DFE before statements are made. Decisions are simply being dumped on schools for teachers to try and sort out and make some sense of for their pupils. The verdict in almost any paper on any day of the week—not only that of teachers, but that of others involved in education—is damning. According to John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association: In English, the tests have produced real problems for many schools, not just because there was no pilot programme and the administrators at SEAC made a dog's breakfast of getting out clear and accurate information early enough, but because the assessment tail is now seen to be wagging the curriculum dog. Even David Pascall, chairman of the National Curriculum Council—who is soon to retire—said: the fact remains that the national curriculum at primary level is overloaded and that quality and depth of teaching is being sacrificed in order to achieve the necessary curriculum coverage. The Ofsted report—which the Government cite in their amendment as supporting their changes—has been much quoted, but those quotations have been very selective. Its press release was entitled "Mixed Progress In The National Curriculum And Assessment Reported By Ofsted". In that press release, it said that the impact of assessment in the national curriculum could lead to a distortion of the positive relationship between teaching, learning and assessment". It went on to say: This year, however, and for the first time, the benefits and costs are finely balanced. There are some clearly discernible signs that the impact of 'teaching to the test' and the complexities of the assessment requirements could lead to this distortion. I could go on and on.

Brian Cox had this to say: Teachers are not against testing, but the new tests will result in bad teaching. And the new … curriculum will be disastrous for children: it goes back to ways of teaching that failed in the past and its ideas about English language are untrue. Whether we are talking about head teachers who have got together in their own national committee on learning and assessment or about classroom teachers who are concerned about what is happening in schools, the fact remains that teachers are committed—whatever happens in this year's ballots—to ensuring that children are taught more, and that they will be tested and that the result of those tests will be reported to parents.

Furthermore, all the teacher unions have offered to talk to the Secretary of State for Education about ways to get out of this impasse and to make sure that there will be intelligent assessment and testing of children this year. They welcome the review, but they say clearly that the tests are flawed.

The Leeds university study showed that, if anything, there were three clear advantages to be seen in the tests. First, it is an advantage for a child to be born in the winter. Secondly, it is an advantage for a child to be born a girl. Thirdly, it is an advantage for a child to have attended a nursery school. I do not expect the Secretary of State for Education to do anything about making sure that children are born in the winter, or that they are born girls, but I should like him to respond to the evidence that nursery education is good for children by making sure that resources are provided for it. The millions of pounds that he and his predecessors spent upon introducing city technology colleges would have been much better invested in expanding nursery education and making sure that all children, before going to school, have the opportunity to take advantage of nursery education.