Education: Tomlinson Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:50 pm on 16th March 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 3:50 pm, 16th March 2005

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for bringing to our attention this very important issue. She again demonstrated in her opening remarks her passionate dedication to education and her wide knowledge. It is, as ever, a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

I want to talk about the importance of through learning—lifelong learning, if you like—from pre-school onwards as influencing access to education for 16 to 19 year-olds. There is much of value in the Tomlinson report. I note the vision to ensure that by 19 all young people should be able,

"to participate fully and effectively in adult life . . . be active citizens equipped to contribute to the economic, social, political and cultural life of the country as well as developing an understanding of the wider international community".

Yes, of course, but education is not simply about new structures. There is a lot of vision and many exciting initiatives in education, which encourage pupils to continue after 16 and, indeed, for life. I shall give two examples later; my noble friend Lord McKenzie gave others. I have taught children and young people from pre-school through to university and I know that, by and large, it is predictable from an early age which young people will succeed in education and will have the motivation to go on to post-16 education. That is sad, but true. So how do we change that?

I am reminded of the need to build strong foundations as I experience the restructuring of my house. Unless the foundations are deep enough and the various beams strong enough, not only will vicious cracks appear, but the whole structure may not last long. So it is with children and learning and motivation to learn. Things will only get better if we put in more effort lower down the education system. The Government's five-year strategy for children and learners aims to give every child the best possible start in life. That commitment to children and their education and welfare has permeated much recent thinking, and many noble Lords here today have contributed to that thinking. Sure Start has of course been a flagship programme, and there is good evidence from the Institute of Education that children who experience three years of high-quality early-years education boost their development at the end of key stage 2 by 10 months. Because Sure Start involves parents, it has an impact on their ability to cope with systems, to use systems, and to support their children. Many children need that support to pursue education at all levels.

The policies set out in Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004 are significant to much that is changing in the area of support for children and families. The commitment to establishing children's trusts, and the requirement for a single children and young people's plan in each local authority, will act as agents for change. Local strategic partnerships of many kinds are being established, including education professionals, which is essential. Some have set up a Parenting Lead, a creative way of looking at parenting in its widest sense, not just in the context of disability or fostering and adoption. Those of us who think that parenting is key to achievement, welfare and happiness, including the pursuit of education, should be encouraged by that. Extended schools can also provide parenting support as well as involving the community in a school's facilities, including sport. All that should encourage engagement with education in its widest sense.

I do not underestimate the influence of health on achievement. The National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services and the public health White Paper provide a focus on health issues. Research shows that pupils at schools who participate in the National Healthy School Standard appear to be performing better academically. Many factors influence the ability and the motivation to pursue education beyond the age of 16. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth is right; personal skills are important, and young people tell us so.

I also recognise the challenges involved in encouraging some young people to pursue education, and we must not forget those. A recent manifesto from the Children's Society, National Children's Homes, Barnardo's, Save the Children and the NSPCC reminded us that young people in the youth justice system, refugee children, young people in care and other vulnerable groups are just that; vulnerable. Their educational attainment, as well as their physical and emotional welfare, are likely to be suffering and will suffer.

I will focus briefly on two examples of creative work in education. First is the Increased Flexibility Programme, a new initiative instigated by the DfES and managed by the Learning Skills Council. It has been researched by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence, of which I am a trustee. The programme involves day release from school to complete NVQ or vocational GCSEs at college. Some positive outcomes to date, according to participants, include improved confidence, being able to learn in an applied way, autonomy in decision-making and increased intention to participate in post-16 education, which are all excellent results.

Secondly, I want to mention the DfES international strategy for education, skills and children's services. The report Putting the World into World-Class Education is an important document, which is worthy of more attention than we can give it now. Already, schools and colleges are developing initiatives to promote global citizenship, and to help young people to understand social justice, sustainable development, diversity and interdependence. That is one way in which young people can be encouraged to access education in a wide sense. I hope that we will not be limited in our thinking to systems that are relevant simply to the UK. Given encouragement and support, young people could be encouraged to access pre-16 and post-16 international programmes in exciting ways.

In conclusion, does the Minister agree that the future of access to post-16 education lies in the building blocks that we set lower down our system and in initiatives such as those I referred to? Does he recognise that particular challenges exist in vulnerable groups of young people? Does he agree that a global dimension to education might be attractive to young people and important for their development and for our future?