Literacy and Numeracy

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15 March 2001.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 12:00, 15 March 2001

What evidence his Department has collated on the effectiveness of his literacy and numeracy strategies. [152550]

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment

Before I answer the question, I should like to welcome the permanent secretary, Michael Bichard, to the Gallery and thank him for the enormous work that he has done at the Department for Education and Employment. Before—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not make reference to anyone in the Gallery.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I am suitably reprimanded, Mr. Speaker.

The national literacy and numeracy strategies have transformed the quality of teaching and have raised standards in primary schools throughout the country. The principal pieces of research into their effectiveness are the Office for Standards in Education reports on the first year of the numeracy strategy and the second year of the literacy strategy, published last November, and a report by the Ontario institute for studies in education, published last July.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating schools in Hendon? Between 1997 and 2000, they achieved an overall improvement of 10 percentage points in English and 12 percentage points in maths. In one year, 1999–2002, Parkfield primary school achieved improvements in English of 26 percentage points and in maths of 24 percentage points, and is one of the 19 schools in Hendon to win a school achievement award today.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment

My congratulations go to Parkfield and to all the schools that have been driving forward, using the professionalism of teachers, for which we are grateful, in adapting and developing the literacy and numeracy programmes to make them so effective right across the country. My congratulations go to the 19 schools in Barnet that have received improvement or excellence awards and to the 6,800 schools throughout the country that have also received such awards.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

There was a time when the Secretary of State and the Government linked such strategies to the importance of class sizes. The link was watered down in the Green Paper, which states: As children get older and become more used to the disciplines of school, the size of their class or group becomes less critical". Leaving aside the fact that secondary school class sizes have risen and that average classes at key stage 2 have become bigger under Labour, how does the Secretary of State reconcile the fact that the number of children of nursery-school age taught in classes of more than 30 is greater under this Government than under the Conservatives? If age is so important, why are our youngest children being taught in larger classes? Is the policy simply incoherent? Have the Government failed by their own measurement? Or was the policy driven by political expediency, rather than the genuine interests of our youngest children?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment

Class sizes and the pupil-teacher ratio have not risen in key stage 2—seven to 11-year-olds. They have improved, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. We have reduced, by 450,000, the number of five to seven-year-olds who are taught in classes of more than 30. In 60 education authorities, we have pilot programmes running to reduce the size of nursery and reception classes, with the aim of providing an adult-pupil ratio of 1:15 in reception classes. We have increased nursery provision by 120,000 since the general election. We are the only party committed to universal nursery provision for all three and four-year-olds.