National Skills Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 15th May 2003.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 6:51 pm, 15th May 2003

I want to send one clear message to my hon. Friend the Minister. I commend the Government for at last taking seriously our national weakness in education and training. I think that they have got the message that we have a problem, which they are addressing. It is instructive to examine how we used to deceive ourselves about how well we were doing. We have a talent for national self-deception in our ability to, for example, play football or run railways. We are not good at it, but we think we are. We thought that we were good at education, but we were not.

When Professors Sig Prais and Claus Moser of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research conducted research in the 1980s, they gave 30 electrical apprentices from France and 30 from Britain a simple mathematics test. The French apprentices got all the sums right and the British apprentices got all the sums wrong. There was an enormous difference. A subsequent comparison of kitchen manufacturers was featured in a television documentary. Workers on the shop floor in Germany could calculate, measure and produce a bespoke kitchen from a plan in English. In Britain, the equivalent workers could assembly standardised units and no more. The comparisons were stark. We deceived ourselves then, but things are getting better and I like to think that we will not deceive ourselves in the future.

One of the differences between Germany, France and Britain in those days was the rigour of the teaching. The classroom pedagogy was endless hours of rigorous mathematics. That is difficult and unpopular, but it is necessary. If one is to succeed in such things, one must do mathematics. I used to teach economics and statistics at A-level. One of the basic problems was that the youngsters I taught were not numerate. Many of them did not have good English either. Those problems are being addressed and that will come through in the future.

We must have rigour in the classroom from pedagogic teaching and rigour in practical skills. I should like to say much more, but that will have to suffice.