My Lords, the annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England confirms that standards of pupil attainment have continued to rise and that that improvement is the result of better teaching. Inspectors found more good teaching and fewer poor lessons than ever before. Although there is much to celebrate, we recognise that we must build on the significant gains made in primary schools and secure similar improvements in secondary and further education.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Indeed, there has been welcome progress and there is a great deal in the report that is very pleasing. But what will the Government do about the great deal that is less pleasing? for example, I refer to the 25 per cent of FE colleges that are found to be unsatisfactory, the significant disparity between boys' and girls' achievement in maintained schools—oddly enough, not matched in the independent sector—and the sad lack of achievement by Afro-Caribbean children (puzzlingly only after about the age of nine or 10) as compared with all other groups.
My Lords, the noble Lord, as always, makes some very important points. I shall try to deal with them briefly although each one of them could give rise to a debate. The noble Lord's remarks are absolutely right. Of the children who transfer to secondary school, a quarter of pupils, mostly boys, do not reach the required standards in literacy and numeracy. Those areas need to be tackled. We are considering carefully how we support boys in that regard. Boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly susceptible to low achievement. Much work is being carried out on that matter.
As regards ethnic minorities, we have just begun consultation on a new strategy to determine how we can more successfully support children from ethnic minorities. That includes considering the role of Saturday schools that have been successful for many ethnic minority communities and also the excellent work that Ofsted has already done on identifying the factors that make a difference to the attainment of children from ethnic minorities in both primary and secondary schools. I urge noble Lords to examine that strategy.
We accept that more needs to be done to ensure that the needs of students in further education are met, particularly those of average and less able students. A strategy is under way to try to develop that further.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with the Chief Inspector of Schools about the absolutely vital importance to be attached to leadership in schools? If so, what steps are in hand to enhance the abilities of those already in post as head teachers and those who will come into post over the next five to 10 years?
My Lords, I agree with the chief inspector and the noble Lord that leadership has been identified as the fundamental principle behind school achievement. Every noble Lord who has had the privilege of visiting our schools will know from his own experience that that is true. The leadership incentive grant is one way in which we hope to support better leadership, particularly in schools where heads are struggling and might benefit from working more collaboratively with other colleagues. We have always said that, with the work of the National College for School Leadership, we want to make sure that there is true leadership in every school.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the national leadership college in Nottingham is doing an excellent job? Unfortunately, it has been going for only about 12 to 18 months, but the progress that it has made in that time is remarkable. Does she agree that it will go further if we can give it more assistance?
My Lords, I agree. I hope that, by talking about extra assistance, my noble friend is not asking me to commit more money, which I am not allowed to do. We had hoped that the identification and support for school leadership would prove a success in a short time, and I believe that that is the case. It is reflected in the chief inspector's report.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the problem of Afro-Caribbean, or in this case Afro-American, boys doing less well than girls in schools has been effectively addressed in Washington in the United States? By introducing male mentors into primary schools, the situation has successfully been turned around.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. That is one reason why we have introduced mentors into our schools, and they have had a dramatic effect. There is no doubt that, for many of our pupils, the absence of a suitable role model can be a factor in their educational attainment. We are looking to increase our provision on the subject through the Excellence in Cities programme and our work to raise the attainment of particular groups of children.
My Lords, I want to press the Minister on the further education issue. She said that the Government were developing a strategy. However, one of the chief inspector's criticisms was of the absence of any kind of joined-up strategic thinking at local level. Will she tell us a little more about precisely what is being done at that level?
My Lords, I would be glad to tell the House about that. From April this year, strategic area reviews are taking place, led by the local LSCs. They will look at the breadth, range and accessibility of provision in further education. There will be increased capital investment, which is important, and they will look to ensure that provision meets the needs of the 16 to 19 year-old learners.
We have the largest ever investment in further education—the Success for All programme—which will tackle poor provision within colleges, higher funding for higher performance, support and intervention for unsatisfactory performance and, from August 2003, three-year development plans agreed with the local LSCs setting out measures to improve the teaching for support for students and so on. We are setting up a national leadership college, based very much on our experience with schools, from September 2003. I hope that that gives the noble Baroness some of the ideas on which we are working.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the issue of children with ethnic background is oversimplified? The report points out rather well some specific difficulties among children from ethnic minorities. For example, children with an Asian background outstrip many children of the indigenous population. What research is going on to investigate why Afro-Caribbean children in particular do not perform so well in our schools?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. There are huge differences between different groups. Within the Asian community, for example, children from an Indian background will be more successful than children from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, who do less well than many of their Afro-Caribbean counterparts. As has been said, in the Afro- Caribbean population it is the transfer to secondary school with which boys in particular have difficulties.
Within our work, we are looking carefully at what I would describe for our purposes as working-class white boys, a group who themselves do not do so well in school. One critical factor is that, for the first time, we will have information over the next year about the background of children in order—and only in order—to be able to track educational attainment in a more successful way. We already know quite a lot about the different groups of children and their underachievement. Translating that into finding specific and new ways to support those children is the key, and we are engaged on that.