Orders of the Day — School Standards and Framework Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 22nd December 1997.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands 9:15 pm, 22nd December 1997

Nearly half of 11-year-olds leave primary school without reaching the expected standard for their age. That is a damning indictment of the previous Government and a massive challenge for the new Labour Government.

Reaching our new education targets will be no mean feat. By 2002, we want three quarters of 11-year-olds to reach the expected standards in maths and 80 per cent. to reach those in English. We do not want a generation of our children blighted in the labour market, failed by our education system. There is a growing wage gap between these who are skilled and those who are unskilled and poorly educated. Teachers will receive the help that they need to deliver our demanding education standards. Class sizes will be reduced, there will be additional training, and local education authorities will give support.

I have tremendous admiration for teachers, most of whom are dedicated, hard working, highly skilled and incredibly enthusiastic. However, a few cannot cope with the challenges in our classrooms. One such teacher left my daughter, at the age of six, literally bored to tears. She transformed a child who loved school into one who hated it.

Luckily, we resolved that problem within half a term, but such intervention should not be left to worried parents. Therefore I enthusiastically endorse the procedures to remove incompetent teachers from the classroom when all other measures to improve performance have failed.

That teacher was computer-phobic. She denied the class a vital tool for raising educational standards, in a school with a very deprived catchment area. I believe that on-line learning can really open up the curriculum to those who are left cold by traditional methods. I find it exciting that such technology can broaden horizons, not just for the most able but—perhaps even more important—for the least able. New technology is especially effective in getting through to pupils with special needs.

Two years ago, the Prime Minister said that the Labour Government would connect every school in Britain to the super-highway. That policy is now in place and those schools will be linked up free of charge. However, I believe that, under a Labour Government, we can do that much earlier, and that the United Kingdom can set the pace for schools in Europe and throughout the world.

My local education authority, Staffordshire, has scored a national first and has led the way in the use of information technology. It has set up its own learning net—the Staffordshire learning net—connecting all education providers through learning centres. Those learning centres will be open not just to school and university students, but to the local community, which will make them—the schools and learning centres involved—the centre of their communities.

That will create tremendous opportunities for schools, other educational institutions and businesses, enabling them to work together to raise standards of literacy, numeracy and subject knowledge. That is much more productive than the old-style competitive culture fostered by the Tory Government, which divided schools and made them compete against each other and against other educational institutions. The learning net is bringing together the expertise of educational institutions, to the benefit of our pupils in Staffordshire.

We have home-grown computer software companies such as Europress, whose chairman lives in my constituency. Those companies are desperate to meet the challenge offered by Labour. They are presenting programs that will support educational standards in the classroom, and will replace many of the American programs that are so inappropriate for our schools. I believe that, under Labour, we will enter a really exciting time for educational progress.