Education

– in the House of Lords at 11:37 am on 19th January 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Shephard of Northwold Baroness Shephard of Northwold Conservative 11:37 am, 19th January 2006

rose to call attention to education in schools; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am delighted to have the chance to move this Motion today on what is certainly a momentous day for education, as will be fully appreciated by the Minister. I am equally delighted that the debate has attracted a wide and distinguished range of speakers from your Lordships' House.

Many education issues are today claiming our attention. Tempting as it would be to address all of them in my 15 minutes, I intend to focus my remarks—in the tradition of this House—for the most part on the long view. That may be a relief to the Minister.

Education is quite simply one of the most important issues there can be for any government, for any society and for any individual. While all threads of the education tapestry are important, it is education in schools which touches the lives of every child in the nation. It is also, since everyone has been through the system, an issue on which there are at any time, in my experience, 40 million experts in our nation willing to opine—a matter which the Minister will have quickly learnt on his appointment, as will all other former education Ministers and Secretaries of State in this House.

What is the purpose of a school? A reasonable working definition might be that it is, "to teach children to learn to achieve their highest potential". If that is the purpose, how can any government through their education policy get the maximum number of schools to achieve the standards of the best? What are the tools available to a government? They might be defined as follows. First, there is the issue of resources. Funding—what is spent—is always high on the agenda. While money is obviously important, it is clear that the way money is spent is as important as the amount. Secondly, there is the question of structure and, in particular, the development of choices for parents between different kinds of school. Structure has featured prominently in educational debate since the 1944 Act. There are of course other tools, like curriculum, exam structure and organisational issues, but I intend to limit my remarks to a discussion about the first two.

As a former schools inspector and education administrator, I have always felt that what actually goes on in the classroom, the quality of leadership and teaching in a school, and above all the calibre of the head are what most influence the quality of a school. These things are certainly what matter most to parents and are most easily judged by them. Thus, one way of appraising education policy might be to examine how the policy set by government helps or hinders the leadership exercised by a good head to make every classroom a place where children are taught to learn to achieve their highest potential.

Governments tend to make extravagant claims for the success of their policies, this Government as much as most—possibly in some areas more than most. The Government have not been inactive. In the past eight years we have seen four Secretaries of State, four White Papers, five Green Papers, nine Acts of Parliament and two strategy documents. The result of all this activity, as successive Ofsted and Select Committee reports have found, has been mixed. Despite extremely substantial sums of money being spent on school improvement, there has not been an entirely commensurate improvement in school performance, as the Select Committee pointed out in its report of a year ago. There are consistent, constant and continuing rumbles of concern from universities and from employers about the attainment of those who seek to join their ranks.

Only now we learn that the league tables—they were published today—show a rather disappointing lack of progress in standards attained, although there seems to be a bit of a muddle about the statistics. The Minister might want to explain this to the House later. In particular, why do English and maths results seem to have been removed from the lists and, if they are included, why does the five GCSE pass rate appear to be 12 points lower than it is otherwise reported? It may be a confusion and the Minister will want to set concerns to rest, I am sure.

There have been successes in education under this Government. Some of them have developed from our initiatives, which is of course as it should be, because all educational planning should not be done on a four-year basis. This is a terrific bind, for governments, for LEAs and obviously for schools, colleges and universities. We welcome those developments that are built on our innovations: the literacy and numeracy initiatives; a strong inspection service, with published reports; the publication of exam and test results in schools; the increased numbers of specialist schools, which seem to have been a great success; training and qualification for heads, which I was particularly concerned with when I was Secretary of State; and the adoption of the city technology college principle in academies.

We welcome all those and other improvements in the system. As regards funding, it is undeniable that more money has been spent by this Government than by their predecessor. Improved capital investment in buildings and IT is obviously universally welcome, as are the increases in the number of teachers. What about the money spent on all the new initiatives? Has it all been spent to good effect? Has that money made it easier for heads to run better schools? Or has such a profusion of initiatives tended to confuse teachers and muddle the system?

I know that the noble Lord will have found last week's National Audit Office report sober reading, because I am sure that he shares my view that the role of the head is crucial in underpinning the quality of the school system. The report pointed out that more than a quarter of primary schools and a fifth of secondary schools are currently without a permanent head. It adds:

"Many local authorities and schools are finding it difficult to fill headteacher vacancies. Applicants for headteacher posts are generally falling, despite salary increases"— that is a significant point—

"and there are concerns that it will be difficult to replace the large numbers of headteachers who will be retiring over the next five to ten years".

Worryingly but unsurprisingly, the report points out that the problem is worst in precisely those areas that are most in need of good schools. The report says that what teachers most want is a better quality of initial and ongoing training and better support; salary increases were regarded as less important.

It is undeniable that more money has been spent by this Government on education, but the fractured nature of government spending on education and the sheer number of initiatives has begun to damage the confidence of the teaching profession, and it strikes at accountability. Many of the initiatives are entirely worthy in themselves; there is no question about that. But their proliferation, together with the very important addition of revised priorities arising from Every Child Matters, is a step change—although no one ever seems to talk about it—that means overload for heads, which damages morale. Anyone who was required to respond to an endless stream of directives, changes in emphasis and frequently hostile press coverage would become not only confused—heads' professionalism can be diverted from the main task—but diluted and possibly damaged. No amount of extra spending can compensate. I hope this is not the situation that we now face. I know that the noble Lord will be very conscious of it.

Structure is another identified policy tool for government. Since the 1944 Act that proposed a tripartite system of secondary school organisation, debate has ranged around whether the structure of education in the school sector can improve school performance. This being Britain, quite a lot of time and energy since 1944 has also been spent debating the sociological benefits of altering school structure. To my mind, the role of education in helping to achieve equality of opportunity is through the development of excellent schools with first-class leadership and excellent teaching. In other words, education should be about education and not about social engineering.

Structure can, of course, help to raise standards. But despite the priority my party has afforded to structure in the past and the attention now being given to it by the Government, I remain of the view that what goes on in the classroom is of foremost importance, and that is why we on this side would welcome increased emphasis on banding, setting and streaming. Some structure arrangements can help schools to give of their best. Therefore, we agree with some of the White Paper's proposals, and we will be keen to support the Government in their forthcoming battle with their own supporters on, for example, the issue of greater independence and freedom for schools to develop their own ethos. That principle was behind our introduction of local financial management for schools in 1986 and our establishment of grant-maintained schools. We obviously support the White Paper's proposal to increase the number of specialist schools, which we introduced. Anyone who suggests that selection for modern language colleges can be done purely on aptitude and not on ability is playing with words. Nor, as the Times recently asserted, are modern languages a non-academic subject; I speak as a linguist. The Government really must not fight shy of admitting that selection by ability already exists across the system. On the Opposition Benches, we think that schools should be allowed to accept up to 10 per cent of their pupils in whatever specialism by aptitude or ability.

We support the Prime Minister's proposal, in his foreword to the White Paper, that there should be increased diversity and choice for parents in the school system. However, for those conscious of circumstances in rural areas—of which there was little mention in the White Paper—it is obvious that choice is limited by parental occupation and transport opportunities. I am sorry to say that the six-mile rule change for transport eligibility implies that all rural areas are Surrey. They are not. What parents in rural areas—and indeed everywhere else—want is that their local school should be excellent; it is that simple.

The White Paper itself is something of a conundrum to us on these Benches. The question is really: do the Government intend to do what the Prime Minister says in his foreword to it? I have a number of questions for the Minister. The ability of schools to make their own admission arrangements is crucial to the Prime Minister's vision. Yet the Secretary of State, in her address to the north of England education conference, said that:

"Trust schools will work under exactly the same code of fair admissions as other schools do now".

How would that give increased autonomy to heads or parents? According to Section 9 of the White Paper, local authorities would become commissioners of education, not its providers. What does that mean, especially for the accountability of people elected in their own right to be accountable for education at local level?

Will trust schools get their funding direct? Apparently not, since the White Paper states that they will be funded in the exact same way as other schools. Does that mean via the LEA, and if so, how many private sponsors will be attracted to the enterprise? So what price this statement from the Prime Minister:

"No one will be able to veto parents starting new schools . . . simply on the basis that there are local surplus places"?

Did the Prime Minister tell the Treasury about that?

If the Government choose to grasp the opportunity presented by their own White Paper—if it is indeed a pivotal moment for education, as government Ministers have said—they will certainly have support from these Benches, because the White Paper proposals can make a difference. We are ready to support the principles that I have listed. Are the Government ready? I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Labour 11:52 am, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, for initiating this debate. I am delighted to be able to contribute today.

The last time that I spoke in your Lordships' House, I had the pleasure of introducing a short debate on social inclusion. One key conclusion of that debate was that access to high-quality education for all—particularly those who live in deprivation and, often, multiple deprivations—is a key driver for equality, and essential if we are to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty and promote social justice. I do not see that as social engineering, but as creating opportunity.

For that reason, I am proud of the Government's continuing commitment to improving educational opportunities in all communities. I believe that we are seeing real improvements, with performance in inner cities and in more deprived communities improving even faster than the national average. For example, in inner London over 50 per cent of children now achieve five or more good GCSEs, compared to one-third in 1997. That is extremely welcome and due, not least, to a huge effort on the part of teachers, particularly head teachers. I agree that leadership is hugely important in driving standards up; the efforts made there by head teachers are phenomenal.

However, there are still major challenges. We must see if that progress is to be just the beginning. There has been much debate about standards in English and mathematics, to which the noble Baroness already referred. I want to focus on developments in school science. I am particularly interested in that because I believe it is vital to equip our children with the skills and knowledge to understand the modern world, and to help them make decisions on things such as MMR or GM in an increasingly complex and confusing information age. It is also vital to our future prosperity as a nation. Promoting higher standards in school science is good for children, because we create greater opportunities for young people and it is vital to our economy if we are to compete globally and make the idea of a knowledge-based, value-added economy a reality.

For years, attainment in science has lagged behind maths and English; but, at last, science is starting to catch up, with 50 per cent of pupils now achieving good grades at GCSE. That is by no means enough, but we are seeing a very gradual trend in the right direction. Indeed, at key stage 3, prior to GCSE, the promising trend seems to bode well for further improvement, with 70 per cent of 14 year-olds now achieving what is expected of their age group, as opposed to 60 per cent in 1996, according to DfES figures.

At A-level, attainment is not such an issue. In fact, young people seem to be criticised all too often for doing too well. But the issue is how to encourage more young people to opt for science, particularly in chemistry and physics. As we all know, there is a significant gender issue here. I find it hugely disappointing, as someone who took a physics A-level a long time ago, that there are now only 5,000 girls taking physics at A-level. While the number, not the percentage, of young people going to university to study science is increasing, there are real concerns, as we have heard, about the supply of future scientists and engineers—as well as teachers. This is a particular issue with regard to the physical sciences.

I was pleased that in 2002 my right honourable friend the Chancellor commissioned from Sir Gareth Roberts a review of the supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. His analysis has proved to be extremely valuable. He made a number of recommendations regarding the development of school science, and I am delighted that the Government and the teaching professions have responded so positively.

There are some very exciting things going on in school science that give me great cause for optimism. As Roberts recommended, the school science community has a strong commitment to changing the elitist image of science, tackling the assumption that science is too hard for normal kids and introducing a culture of creativity and innovation within the school laboratory. That has been a great success; some 269 schools cite science as their first specialty. They are working to drive up standards of teaching and attainment, as well as working with their feeder primary schools to rejuvenate primary school teaching by non-specialist teachers. The Wellcome Trust has suggested that half of primary teachers do not have the confidence in their understanding of science to teach the subject effectively, so we can see why that work is so important.

An exciting new curriculum for 14 to 16-year olds is due to be rolled out in September to promote the understanding of how science works, with acquisition of skills as a priority and less focus on old-fashioned rote learning, which is too often prevalent in the traditional curriculum. I can tell you that I know about that, because I can remember having to draw those boring diagrams of the heart or the eye, with never a question of how that knowledge could be applied or be useful. The new curriculum is ambitious in aiming to engage the majority of students and robust enough for those who want to become scientists. This should result in the offer of triple science in every school—which is essential. I would be very interested to hear the Minister's view on that.

Perhaps the most important development is new investment in the teaching workforce in terms of recruitment and development, and ongoing professional development. More young science graduates are entering teacher training, helped by new, quite significant, bursaries. More people are entering the teaching profession later on, helped by "golden hellos". But there are still too many vacancies in science teaching posts. We need to continue in this direction and not give up promoting the recruitment and retention of more science teachers.

Possibly more important in achieving a sustainable impact is the resource being made available for continuing professional development, which is vital. Roberts articulated what we all know to be true: science lessons can seem irrelevant to today's children, and switch them off. It is obvious; it is not rocket science—although rocket science does crop up in key stage 3 science.

Professional development has huge potential to enrich the experience of science for children and their teachers. That is why I was delighted to see that the Wellcome Trust is, in partnership with the Department for Education and Skills, funding a £51 million initiative to create a network of professional development centres for science educators. The national network of science learning centres offers high-quality professional development for all those involved in science education, including secondary science teachers, technicians—vital—and citizenship and primary teachers, who are, as we have already heard, extremely important. The network enables those working in science education to access cutting-edge technology and leading scientific research. What is going on in stem cell research? Children may well ask that, and teachers need to be able to try out their answers in a safe environment. It aims to support teachers in delivering intellectually stimulating and relevant science education, and to help them to stay in touch with developments in science.

This is truly exciting stuff. It offers courses such as "Science After Dark", for teachers running after-school clubs to coincide with Guy Fawkes night. Another is "Bang goes the National Curriculum", for chemistry teachers who want to pep up their teaching skills. I can remember the enormous sadness and frustration my mother felt as a science teacher in inner London when the Inner London Education Authority was abolished, and at the subsequent disappearance of professional development facilities so valued by the classroom teachers. I am delighted that, once again, professional development for science teachers is being put centre-stage by the Government.

There is still much to do. For example, perhaps the Minister can update the House on what steps have been taken to develop specialist careers advice to end the misconception among many young people that studying science closes off options, rather than creating opportunities. We know that the vast majority of careers advisers have very little experience of science and science careers.

On the school environment, can the Minister share with us the Government's reaction to the Royal Society of Chemistry's survey in 2004, which showed that, of the 26,000-odd science laboratories in maintained schools, only 35 per cent were graded good or excellent, but 25 per cent were considered unsafe or unsatisfactory for the teaching of science? We must be clear that the science environment is key. Obviously, the Government have made a huge investment in school facilities. I know that there are some very impressive laboratories, particularly in science specialist schools. We need to know how that can go further.

We know from our own experience that we live in an increasingly scientific age, surrounded by technology driven by science. Even in your Lordships' House, we are to be given BlackBerrys, and there will not even be any children here to show us how to use them. Quite apart from the economic imperative, we need our young children to have a basic understanding of science just to cope with the modern world and, more importantly, to be able to participate, debate and to make sensible decisions about, say, global warming, genetic research and manipulation, vaccination and the future of energy. Good, basic science education is essential if our children are to be active participants in the future, rather than spectators.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, I believe that we have seen many successes under this Government. I look forward to seeing many more.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills 12:04 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, on introducing this important and timely debate. I endorse the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, on the importance of science as part of the curriculum, and the difficulties that the teaching of science currently faces. She may be interested to know that, during the summer, the Select Committee on Science and Technology will be considering science education and the scarcity of teachers in that area.

I want to take up the general issue, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, of education in schools, but I, too, do not want to address the White Paper. My noble friend Lady Walmsley, who will be winding up on these Benches, will put forward our views on it. However, I cannot hide the fact that I regard the White Paper as a thoroughly muddled document. As the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, indicated, it is relatively self-contradictory even between the introduction and the rest of the text. We on these Benches consider many of its proposals to be ill conceived.

I want to concentrate on another report, published last week and mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard. It is from the National Audit Office and is entitled, Improving poorly performing schools in England. Last week's headlines, particularly in the tabloids, highlighted 1 million children in failing schools. It was yet another rod with which to reinforce the failure of our current education system, grabbed with gusto by our Conservative Opposition and also, I suspect, by the No. 10 policy unit.

However, when one reads the small print of the report, one sees that the story is not totally one of failure. The number of primary schools in special measures or judged to have serious weakness last year—those judged by Ofsted to be failing—is 375 out of a total population of schools of 20,000. That is rather less than 1.5 per cent. Among them is the primary school at which I am a governor. It was rated to have serious weaknesses because it had been searching for more than a year for a new head teacher. Of course, one of the issues highlighted by the NAO report is the scarcity of people putting themselves forward to be head teachers. Again, I endorse the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, that the plethora of initiatives and the pressure on heads is such that many able deputy heads say, "Not on your nellie do I want to take on the job of being a head these days". There is great difficulty in finding new head teachers.

I am pleased to say that I became a member of the board at the same time as the new head joined the school, and it is now moving forward and out of serious measures. But there is almost a catch-22 situation. Why was it regarded as having serious weaknesses? It was because it had a failure of leadership. Why did it have a failure of leadership? It was because it did not have a head. Given the natural turnover in a dynamic system—education is a system because there is a whole range of schools—having 1.5 per cent not up to scratch is not extraordinary. Putting it the other way around, 98.5 per cent are either satisfactory—and I agree with the Government that there are too many coasting schools which need to be better—good or excellent. Therefore, as regards primary schools, the report is one to celebrate—it is one of success rather than one of failure. In addition, it is worth noting that not only were 98.5 per cent of the schools judged to be satisfactory, good or excellent, but the number of failing primaries halved between 2001 and 2004.

The story that emerges with secondary schools is not so good. Here, the proportion in special measures amounts to 5 per cent, a much more significant number. And in the category of underperforming schools—where the DfES looks at the value-added measures which can be seen in today's league tables by examining the intake of a school and judging whether the GCSE results measure up to what may be expected from that intake—the number of those judged to be performing poorly has increased to 23 per cent, or one in four. That emphasises that there is something seriously wrong with our secondary school system. Is GCSE achievement the right measure? If the GCSE itself is a big turn-off to some secondary school pupils, it is inevitable that we will end up by registering such poor performances. The good news is that, as with primaries, the schools that go into special measures manage to move out relatively quickly and fewer schools are being put into special measures than before.

Although there is much to celebrate in our schools and teachers, there is something shameful in other statistics that underpin our concern on all sides with the education system. In the country as a whole, 20 per cent—or one in five—of our adult population is judged to be functionally illiterate and innumerate. That is to say that they cannot read well enough to find something like a plumber in the Yellow Pages and cannot check bills or credit card statements. We also know that approximately 10 per cent of those leaving primary school are not reading or coping with figures well enough to be able to manage the secondary school curriculum. Sadly, many of them proceed on the margins of school through key stages 3 and 4 and usually drop out of key stage 4 in secondary school. This 10 per cent form the core of what is known as the NEET group—not in education, employment or training—which somehow disappears from the educational radar at 16.

We also need to remember that we have a rather larger proportion of young people dropping out of education and training at 16 and 17 than most other advanced industrialised countries. Yes, 53 per cent achieve five grades A to C at GCSE—although, as today's league tables indicate, not all of that 53 per cent get a maths or English GCSE—and many of them now stay in education or training through to 18 and go on to university. But the reverse of that coin is that 47 per cent do not achieve five grades A to C at GCSE, and, perhaps even more shaming, four in every 10 school leavers have no proper qualification in English or maths.

I now return to the NEET group—the 10 per cent who fail primary and go on to fail secondary. Sadly, for all the efforts of the numeracy and literacy strategies, that figure has not changed in 20 years. Disproportionately, those children come from disadvantaged homes with low incomes, poor housing, a high prevalence of marriage breakdown and a moving population of adults in their lives as new boyfriends and girlfriends come and go. Some have been abused either physically or sexually. Some have been picked up by social services and put into care and are what we now call looked-after children. Research into the mental health of children shows that 20 per cent of children have mental health problems but fewer than half get any help with those problems. Ninety per cent of young offenders have a mental health problem when they are children, and most of those problems are apparent by the age of seven.

I should like to pick up on that point. In my school I am the foundation stage governor, and I have spent some time talking to the foundation stage teachers. It is clear that we can identify by the age of seven those who are going to be the problem children—those who will form this 10 per cent who go on to fail through school, the NEET group. The Government are right to put resources into early years education and to attempt, through children's trusts, to ensure that all agencies are brought together. The problem is that these efforts are not carried through strongly enough into primary schools. Teachers can identify future problem children but still struggle for two to three years to gain recognition of those special educational needs, receive the extra money which that brings and get the extra pairs of hands into the classroom.

The NAO report highlighted the fact that the extra money provided for schools in special measures was less than £500 per pupil. While spurring schools on to achieve ever higher SATs and GCSE results and naming and shaming if they do not may be a way of improving educational performance, it poses the continual problem of creating educational apartheid and, above all, of ignoring the needs of the educational underclass in our schools. It causes many of the problems of poor performance and poor behaviour.

We need to put in place two essential reforms. The first is a real attempt to help primary schools with disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged and difficult pupils and to ensure that no pupil leaves a primary school without competence in the three Rs. Secondly, we need to reform the secondary school curriculum so that it engages and motivates the typical teenager. Sadly, the White Paper contributes to neither of those developments.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop 12:16 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for initiating this important and timely debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth should be speaking at this point as he is the chair of the Church of England's board of education and our lead bishop on this subject, but, as most noble Lords know, he has had to be off ill for the past six months. I am very glad to report that next week he will have his last round of chemotherapy and that he very much hopes to be back in your Lordships' House within a couple of months.

Meanwhile, it is important that there should be a Church of England voice in this debate because the Church of England, through its 4,700 schools, is deeply committed to the educational life of this country, not in a narrow sense of making good members of the Church of England but on the basis of a clear and strong Christian faith, wanting to make a contribution to the educational development of children in the community as a whole. It is fundamental to the Church of England's philosophy on education that we are there to serve the community as a whole.

Although the Government's White Paper makes many important points, I suppose that a key thrust is the greater emphasis on variety and choice, particularly parental choice. The Church of England has strongly believed in variety and choice throughout its long history in education. At the moment we have some voluntary aided schools and some voluntary controlled schools. We have worked very closely with the Government in recent years to make our contribution to new academies. Eight Church of England academies have opened and 25 are under discussion.

The White Paper suggests that in addition to traditional Church of England schools, it is open to a diocese to set up a trust in which a new kind of school would be founded. It would not be a Church of England school but, again, a school serving the community as a whole. It would of course be inclusive. I know that many dioceses will be open to working with the Government if the conditions in their area are appropriate to see what kind of schools might be developed under this new kind of trust.

An extraordinary change has taken place during the past 40 years in the Church of England's attitude to its role in education. When I was first ordained, Church schools were felt by Church members, including most clergy, as something of a burden, a bit of a drag and something that we ought to get out of as quickly as possible. The situation could not be more different now. We feel proud of our schools. We believe that they make a huge contribution to the educational life of this country. In recent years, that is significantly due to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the report that bears his name, which recommended that the Church of England should fund 100 new secondary schools. Although we have one in four primary schools in the country, we have only about one in 20 secondary schools. I am glad to say that the Church of England has responded to the initiative of the noble Lord and opened 44 new secondary schools, if we include the eight academies. We will work with the Government, where appropriate, to see whether schools should be refounded under the new trust system.

It is obvious that we live in a multi-faith society. Church of England schools are now regarded by most people as faith schools alongside other faith schools. It has always seemed to me only consistent and fair to argue that if the Church of England and other Christian denominations are allowed to set up faith schools, other religions should be allowed to do so as well. Like most members of the Church of England, I firmly support the liberality in our society for Hindus or Muslims to have their own schools—with one proviso, to which I shall come in a moment. However, in view of the current emphasis in the White Paper on greater variety and greater choice, I wonder whether there is room for even more experimentation with what we may call joint-faith schools—two faiths getting together to see what they might do. Here, I express a personal interest. I am a trustee of a small group seeking to set up a genuine multi-faith school.

People may say, "Are not all state schools multi-faith schools?". They are in the sense that they have pupils from different denominations and different religions and teach RE from a variety of different standpoints, but the kind of school that we have in mind is one in which religion is taken very seriously. The pupils will get a serious education in their own religion, whether it is Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity, but they will do so in the context of pupils of other religions taking their own religion equally seriously. I am glad to say that a great deal of interest has been shown in that idea. We have had a number of bites, but we are still looking for a local authority to be a partner with whom we can pioneer that new kind of school.

I said that I had one proviso or question mark in my mind about multi-faith schools—whether they are Church of England schools or faith schools of any other kind. That is that what goes on in there must be education, not propaganda. That is a crucial matter not only of the curriculum but of how the curriculum is taught. However attached people are to their religion, they must be taught to look at their religion from a historical and critical point of view as well as a respectful one and to be open to the possibility of their vision of the world being enlarged and enriched by other perspectives. It is fundamental that schools are in the business of education, not propaganda. The Church of England has always recognised that and that needs to be so for other faith schools of any kind.

Religious education is one aspect of faith schools. There is no doubt that some religious education is very good. Not long ago, I read that the fastest-growing subject at A-level is religious studies. So clearly some schools are taking it very seriously indeed.

All noble Lords are aware that there is dissatisfaction with religious education from a number of points of view. Non-Christian communities feel that the Church of England is unfairly privileged in the field. Christians feel that everything is taught except Christianity. Opinion polls indicate that 50 per cent of the people of this country—perhaps the figure is not quite as high as that—have no clue of the meaning of Easter. We want children to leave school able to read and write. They should also have a basic knowledge of what is fundamental to our cultural heritage; that is, the religion that has formed and shaped the whole way in which our society operates.

That leads on to the great variety in quality in the different kinds of schools. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, emphasised, some schools are very good. The majority of schools are good, and we want to celebrate that fact, but there is no doubt that schools vary enormously. I might go into a primary school for, let us say, an assembly, and the children are so quiet and good that it almost brings tears to your eyes. I visit other schools where perhaps 40 per cent of the children have special needs and all one can do is admire the heroic work of the teachers who are achieving something in that environment.

As the White Paper emphasises, leadership, including the leadership of the head, is key. I reiterate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, about the current difficulty of appointing heads for schools. In London, 50 per cent of headship appointments had to be re-advertised. That must be a very worrying indication which the Government need to take seriously. There can be no improvement in our worst performing schools unless they have heads of real quality who are very strongly supported. I do not know what can be done to ensure that the right heads are in those schools.

Education is not just about achieving certain educational standards, as the noble Baroness rightly emphasised; it is about creating an ethos in which children are formed, nurtured and shaped for the future. I reiterate the importance of citizenship education. We have recently heard from the Chancellor about Britishness. For me, it is not a question of waving flags or putting flags in gardens. It is about all of us, including children, deeply appreciating and rejoicing in the institutions that we have in this country—our liberty under the rule of law, democratic government and the kind of values that make all of this possible. If we are thinking about the ethos of a school and forming citizens for the future, we may realise that citizenship education is a vital part of the school curriculum and is related to the whole issue of school morale .

The Church of England is delighted to be able to make a continuing contribution to the education of children in this country. We will work as closely as possible with the Government in a number of ways to achieve the highest possible standards not only in educational attainment but in achieving the right ethos in our schools.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Huyton Baroness Morgan of Huyton Labour 12:29 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for introducing this timely debate. Like many noble Lords, my continuing passion is education, both as a parent and as a former teacher. As a Member of this House, I feel that there is nothing more important for us to spend time on discussing. When we think about the future prosperity of the country, there can be no greater concern than the skill base of our workforce and increasing opportunities for the most disadvantaged communities in the United Kingdom. Today, I want to talk specifically about this latter point: meeting the needs of children in our poorest communities.

The facts relating to educational attainment and disadvantage are well known. I have pulled out a few to demonstrate the scale of the problem and the desperate need to keep tackling it. In 2004, only 26 per cent of pupils with free school meals achieved five good GCSEs, and for boys it was only 22 per cent. Meanwhile, pupils from the most affluent areas have a 70 per cent chance of achieving five good GCSEs, against only 30 per cent from our more disadvantaged communities. Not only do pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve worse test results at each key stage, but their progress through each level from the age of five onwards is poorer. A whole range of similar statistics is well known to all noble Lords taking part in this debate.

Perhaps one of the most depressing facts is that social mobility is not really increasing, as demonstrated in the recent Sutton Trust report. The massive expansion of higher education has not been distributed fairly across income groups in spite of the fact that the staying-on rate in schools has narrowed considerably over the past 15 years. So, many more disadvantaged kids are now staying in school right through to the age of 18, but while the top one-fifth of income groups have seen graduation rise by 26 per cent, in the poorest income groups it has increased by only 3 per cent. That is why the change made by the Government to tuition fees was absolutely vital. It was a brave decision and the right one to take. It is also extremely helpful that the Opposition have now moved to that position as well.

Fixed views and fatalism must not stop us being prepared to tackle the massive inequalities that still exist in education provision results. The majority of schools in this country are strong, successful and improving, but I want to talk about the areas where that is not yet the case. I should declare an interest. I advise a charity which is sponsoring city academies in very disadvantaged areas in Britain, largely in London. But my argument today is not for or against city academies or, indeed, for any particular type of school. What I want to urge is that we raise our sights collectively, along with our aspirations for these children.

For too long, education and social thinking were dominated by an explanation of why disadvantaged children were failing at school. We were full of sympathy and the case was well argued, but there was no route upwards for these children. I remember this personally. When taking higher education degrees and as a teacher I would argue passionately about the reasons why children were failing. I was full of empathy and sympathy, particularly for those suffering from multi-deprivation who were failing the most. I do not suggest that class and background do not matter—of course they do—but disadvantage must not be an excuse for failure. The first and most vital step is for all of us to raise our sights and set high expectations for these children.

The results of doing this are evident. Around the UK schools are achieving well ahead of other institutions in the same cohort and serving the same communities. Why is that? It is largely because of excellent leadership, a point made by many other noble Lords in the debate. The head and senior management develop great teaching practices, strong pastoral care, interesting curricula and extra-curricular activities. They bring in support from parents and the community. But, above all, these schools succeed when everyone connected to the school community knows clearly that each child can achieve and that they will be helped to achieve to their fullest potential. Everything is focused on raising achievement.

Last November, I visited a series of urban schools in New York. I visited a particularly fascinating school in the Bronx. It was utterly inspiring. The area it served was without any redeeming features: large expanses of high-rise, dense and poor housing with absolutely no green space, not even play areas. The pupils were largely African and Hispanic and the school building was frankly grim, much worse than anything I have seen in our urban areas. The building accommodated four different schools, one on each floor. The one I visited, located on the fourth floor, had security guards at the door. It is one of a new type of school in New York: very small schools. The innovative idea is to create a primary-style of education for secondary school pupils. Every teacher knows every pupil and there is a much stronger sense of community. The size of the school, as is the case with similar ones, is 300 pupils, and the results are quite remarkable.

Children enter the school at least two grades behind and with every type of social problem we could imagine. They leave ahead of their grade. The staff members were quite remarkable. They showed huge commitment and shared a strong, overriding belief that no one else should be blamed for the failure of these children. Their job was to help the pupils to succeed. Aspiration and ambition were made evident everywhere. To the British eye it was rather crude, but it had a remarkable effect on the children. Every classroom door was labelled with the year that the students would or should graduate. Teaching took place around the names of colleges. Students were reminded at every hour of the day of where they should set their sights for the future. These children literally used to stand a much higher chance of going to prison than to college. They would graduate to prison. But their whole outlook has been changed.

Teaching was intensive and unforgiving of failure. Discipline was stunning, although caring and supportive. Perhaps what was most remarkable about this school was that every child participated in the school orchestra. It was the most superb orchestra I have ever heard and provided an opportunity to come together at the end of every school day. It also provided an activity because the play areas and gym facilities were nothing like those in our schools, even in our poorest ones. The school orchestra was used as a form of physical activity. The music was loud, with lots of bangs and getting up and down. As a by-product, maths attainment was also two grades ahead because of the strong link between music and maths.

These children saw clearly that education was the only way out of the cycle of deprivation in which they and their families live, but they were also inspired by the ethos of the school and by the strong sense of support and love that was prevalent. That was the clear message I took from that school, as I have from strong schools in the UK. From day one, you have to set clear aspirations, create an environment where everyone focuses on the same ambitions, and where failure is quite simply not accepted. To do this, above all else we must invest in our head teachers and, indeed, in the whole teaching profession. I know that my noble friend Lord Puttnam has played a significant part in raising the profile, recruitment and standing of teaching and I warmly applaud him for that. The most vital task in the period ahead is to recruit, train, support and reward outstanding head teachers for our most difficult urban schools.

Teaching in and leading schools in deprived communities is very challenging but, of course, hugely rewarding. Those who choose to work in these urban schools need and should expect strong support. Instead of that, they are often subjected to a barrage of media criticism. Even today when the tables are published in the papers, we see that the results for some of these schools are still poor, but progress is being made in most of them. I am afraid that the media response is not to applaud that progress, but just to criticise in a blanket way. That is totally deflating for those who have to keep going day after day in such schools.

I hope very much that we in this House will give the level of political support that head teachers need and should expect from society as a whole. It is easy to criticise; it is much harder to provide sustained leadership for a school community. Great progress has been made in our education system over recent years, but we cannot take our collective foot off the pedal.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 12:38 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for providing the opportunity to hold forth on education again. I am absolutely delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton. A dozen years ago I remember making speeches like that—perhaps not as good, but similar—from those Benches and getting an extremely hostile reception from these Benches. It is wonderful that things have moved on and we are now looking at a common set of ambitions, goals and assumptions. That makes progress much more possible because it gives the Government confidence that if they do things right, they will not immediately find their policies reversed by the next government. That is all to the good of pupils.

I also enjoyed the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin. As a physicist myself, I think that it is nice when someone champions science, although I am worried about her references to "rocket science" and "bang goes the national curriculum". She and the pupils could be in trouble with the Terrorism Bill.

The difficulty of science comes down, particularly, to the GCSE curriculum, which is incredibly boring. The way pupils achieve a good grade at GCSE science these days is to have a little pack of cards with facts on them; they memorise them and they get an A grade. It is absolutely simple, and it is boring. The science you are taught is science nobody needs to know; it has no relevance to life outside and the lives people lead. It is unsurprising that that theme has been echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the right reverend Prelate. There is a real problem, a real disconnect between what children are taught for GCSE and what they really need and want to learn.

The curriculum has been designed on an almost Platonic basis as "this ought to be what people learn". It does not address the fact that for every child who takes a GCSE and continues to follow that subject afterwards, there are five who do not. The curriculum entirely addresses the needs of those who are going on; it therefore leaves 80 per cent of pupils out in the cold. To my mind, a lot of the problems of discipline and disaffection flow from the flaws in the curriculum. An interesting illustration of that is that there is a school in England with a very high level of special needs, where last year, at least, 40 per cent of pupils got five A to C grades, but where there are no written school rules and no disciplinary problems. That is because the curriculum is absolutely centred on what the kids want to learn and is very heavily practical. That school is Brymore, in Bridgewater, if anybody wants to look it up.

It illustrates that if children are learning what they want to learn, however disadvantaged and educationally challenged they are, they will behave. I have total sympathy with those faced with the GCSE, who say, "I do not want to know this." That is the way I feel about maths GCSE, which I have recently taken my kids through, when I look back on it. I have never used it. I have been a scientist, an accountant and a merchant banker, and very little of it was maths that I have used in life. So I think there is a lot to be done on that and I very much hope that at some stage the Government will turn their attention to it.

What I want to talk about today is selection. In this country we have an almost entirely selective school system. Some of it is a little bit academic, but most of it is social. Some of it is directly social—largely in religious schools—but the great majority is geographically selective. As the Sutton Trust has demonstrated, the middle class has captured every form of selection going. Of course they have; they are bright, they are active and they care about their children's education. Of course they go all-out to get the best possible education for their children. We have allowed the system to be such that the middle class has effectively been able to exclude from the best schools in the country the disadvantaged 20 per cent, not because that is their objective, but because we have not produced a system that works any other way.

The ambition we share on both sides of the House is that there should be good schools for all. Everybody should have the chance to go to a good school. Yes, there should be choice; it should be choice between good schools. There are different kinds of schools; parents want different kinds of education; children have different kinds of aptitudes and experiences and opportunities that they want to pursue. There is a great scope for variety, but there ought to be access to good schools for everybody. Despite what my noble friend Lady Shephard said, we can allow a little bit of social engineering, in that none of us really wants schools to be an engine for the ghettoisation of society. We want schools to be part of a cohesive society rather than one that produces a lot of little sub-groups which spend the rest of their lives at war with each other.

Does the present system work or have any hope of working? No, I do not think it has. I do not like the grammar school system in Kent. I find it very destructive of the education of those who do not get into the grammar schools. It is very hard to find a good state education in Kent outside the grammar schools. It just does not seem to work in that way. The middle classes of course run across the border or buy private education, but it makes life extremely difficult for those who start out socially disadvantaged. I do not think the grammar schools, again to look at those in Kent, really flourish as schools. They become complacent, they do not go all-out for challenges like inclusion or broadening the curriculum. A lot of them are quite narrow and relatively uninteresting schools. Looking at them from my point of view as publisher of the Good Schools Guide, we do not include many of them.

I do not think that is the answer and nor do I think that geographically selective schools are the answer. They are very easy for the middle class to navigate, but geographical selection is enormously effective in keeping the disadvantaged out. You can just do it by house price and draw the maps so that they cannot get in. I do not think that any of the current systems of selection work.

I do not think, either, that abolishing selection is an attractive idea. The only proposal I have heard for that is admission by ballot. That has an enormous collection of disadvantages. First, how do you handle the fact that everybody would go for the same schools? There is no reason why the ballot should be evenly spread; you might have schools where 20,000 people apply for 200 places and no applications elsewhere. There is no regulation. As soon as you start to introduce regulation, you are introducing geographical selection again. It is uncertain; parents do not know what is going to happen so it is an unfriendly system from a parental point of view; and it is destructive of community. I do not think that is a road to go down either.

I do think that we can learn a lesson from Adam Smith's book and harness our natural self-interest to be the engine of a system that would work much better for the whole community. We can do that by seeing selection as a means to an end. What selection does is create character in a school. If you have a sufficient number of Catholics in a school, it becomes a Catholic school and it will have the virtues of a Catholic school; it will be the kind of education that has a particular attraction to particular parents and particular children. The same applies to academic selection, certainly as practised by specialist schools. If you want a school that is good at languages you need a sufficient cohort of pupils who are good at and interested in languages, otherwise it is extremely difficult to maintain. There is certainly a home for geographical selection because it allows a school to be part of a community. That, I think is enormously valuable; a school is a very important part of a community and we ought not to lose geographical selection from that point of view.

I find selection a very useful tool in creating a variety of schools and in maintaining character, but it must not be allowed to go too far. I think we have let it go too far; I think we should row back on it. We should say that all selective schools, which effectively means all schools, because there is selection of one kind or another, must admit a proportion of children by ballot. Ballot is the simplest and cleanest system. You might get up to 25 per cent quite happily. I do not think this destroys the character of a school. I do not think Ampleforth is less Catholic because 40 per cent of its pupils are not Catholics. I do not think Eton, in the days when I was there, was a less academic school because it was not particularly selective.

So long as you have a cohort who maintain the ethos of a school and that is a settled ethos, you can accommodate a very substantial proportion of pupils who do not share that particular aptitude or background. I think that would give pupils a real opportunity to move across borders and to access the opportunities now closed to them, whether it is getting into the grammar school, which is next door but closed to them because their 11-plus results were not quite good enough; or getting into that school in the smart suburb when you live in the high-rises next door. A mixed application of selection and ballot would result in opportunities that are just not there and will not be under any system that we are likely to reach under this Government for broadening the social intake of all schools.

As a Conservative, I would move further. I would want to accommodate the right reverend Prelate and allow him to establish his school, not with an LEA's permission but where he saw the opportunity. I do not see why LEAs should act as gatekeepers to stop such an enterprise. I do not see this Government, who, after all, have been with us for quite a long time, taking that step but I hope that I can persuade them to open up our selective system and allow access to the less privileged.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench 12:50 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for initiating this debate. For once in my life, instead of concentrating on what I wanted to say, I have been listening to the noble Baroness and all the other speakers with respect and have learnt a lot. I am sure that the Minister has been listening equally carefully.

I want to concentrate my remarks on the October White Paper. As I read and re-read it, it seemed to be written by people with commitment, passion and vision. I have never doubted any government's commitment to education. I have been particularly impressed that, since 1997, we have got an extra 40,000 teachers and the number of teaching assistants has doubled to 200,000. Putting people into schools is very impressive, much more so for me than the commitment to redo over the next 15 years all our secondary schools and half the primary schools. That is also impressive, but the point has been made that it is the people who make a school and make education, and that is where resources mainly must go.

I have been impressed by the Government's decision to make available £335 million by 2007–08 for teaching in small groups in secondary schools and particularly for catch-up classes in the first year for those who are behind. However, while there has been a commitment and resources have increasingly been made available, I see in the White Paper the concern and the admission that the difference between those born to succeed in education and those who start at a disadvantage has not been made good. As the White Paper says at section 1.24, the attainment gap for pupils has not narrowed. That is tragic. It is a scandal that, in spite of all our effort and commitment, those born to have least in life through education are the ones least likely to succeed. The figures are quoted: around 25 per cent of our kids leave primary school without the basic kit in literacy and numeracy to take advantage of their secondary education—what a disaster—and 85 per cent of those will end up without the magic five A to C grade GCSEs.

Then you look at the figures for some sections of our community: working-class white boys, children whose parents are from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and black Caribbean boys, of whom only 17 per cent get five decent GCSEs. We must be concerned about that. I warmed to the White Paper because it shows concern about those people and a commitment to do something about it.

I looked carefully through the proposals because I have one hobby horse: before a government introduce a policy, they should validate it, and the best way to do that is to pilot it. I counted that they have piloted, or are piloting, seven of their specific proposals relevant to improving performance.

Although I find the proposals to deal with structure bold and the kind of thinking that we need to break the mould, I did not find evidence that they had been validated and tested. Those proposals include, for example, a new role for local authorities, which are to be commissioners, referees and parents' champions rather than providers. It would comfort me if, before moving further on those proposals, the Government found some likeminded local authorities willing to pilot and test them against pre-stated criteria to see whether they deliver the goods. We have a code of good practice for admissions; I want a code of good practice for governments on validating change before making it. We are talking about the future of kids where for decades we have not solved their problems. Before making changes we must ensure that they will work for those kids.

I have a personal belief, shared, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that great teachers will do the trick but they need freedoms. I notice that on trust schools, which I am glad to see are being piloted, there is a proposal that, with the Secretary of State's consent, they may get extra-curricular freedoms. That is good because I am not sure that lads and lasses whose parents have perhaps come from a village in Pakistan or Bangladesh will be inspired by learning about how the Romans came and then the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans. However, they might be inspired by looking at the history of the Olympic movement, since it is coming to this country, and its standards and aspirations, which they can see as part of their lives. If there is the prospect, on application to the Secretary of State, of extra-curricular freedoms for trust schools, why not for all schools where they are needed and will help teachers to deliver?

I particularly welcome the improvement partner—I have forgotten the exact term but every school is to have one. They are needed most in the schools with the greatest problems. If I could, I would give every one of them a Marie Stubbs. I do not whether all noble Lords know Dame Marie Stubbs; she is a very remarkable person who turns schools round. We need people like her.

The Government rightly talk of their determination to deal with underperformance by schools. The Audit Commission, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred, makes the case that we cannot allow children to be disadvantaged by bad schools. I have said it before and I will say it again to the noble Baroness: I am with you. However, I am not so keen on deciding that closure is the best answer. I do not think that the Government are saying that either but I have had experience of closing an underperforming school and going through what is involved in re-opening. It absorbed so much of the senior staff's energy and the governing body was overwhelmed by it. Meanwhile, the school was plodding on, almost waiting. The best approach would be to put in the back-up resources an, if need be, change the head teacher and senior staff to turn the place round. That is where the action takes place, rather than through procedures. I am concerned that areas of deprivation should continue to have their school as a centre of regeneration and renewal for the community rather than it being shut down, with the risk of that community going on the bus—on pre-paid fares—to a school in a middle class area. I want them to have a good education, but it is much better to create community commitment to the school and education.

The right reverend Prelate referred to the Church's attitude. He picked in particular the possibility of inter-faith or joint-faith schools. I welcome that, and perhaps trust that schools are a way forward for developing that possibility. That would make them not faith schools but schools where people of faith come together, including at the heart of the governing body. That is something new for the Churches and faith groups to develop.

I have spoken about the curriculum, teachers and new buildings. On admissions, I like the boldness of the Government's thinking on local authorities but am not clear how it is going to work, particularly with admissions. I worry that the middle classes will work the system rather than parents who have themselves failed in education. I know the Government have in mind that parents should have support from the local authorities; I have one suggestion that may help them, in the context of the school profile, which is part of the innovation. I was engaged in writing a report for the government back in 1993, in which I advocated the argument that schools were there to add value, and that the best measure of performance was value added. It would be helpful to the parents of kids who do not look like doing well if their school profiles could declare for, say, children who had not achieved level 1 in key stage 1, how they had improved in performance by the end of key stage 2, and similarly, for a secondary school, for those who have come in with, say, level 2 or less in English and maths, how they had done by the end of key stage 3. Parents could then look not at who is top of the GCSE league, but at which schools are good at caring for and helping kids like theirs.

The main point for the Minister is yes, be bold, but test the ground first. You have the futures of our kids in your hands.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 1:02 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, has secured this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I am enjoying the many excellent speeches—I am sure with more to come. It is a great pleasure to talk about schools; it is one of my favourite topics. Indeed, were I not standing here today there is no place I would rather be than in front of a class of young people in a school somewhere. For about 20 years I taught French and health education—a strange combination—mainly in inner London comprehensive schools, where I was a senior teacher and then an advisor. Today I will raise a few initial points, then move on to describe some conversations I have had recently with head teachers and classroom teachers about how they see the state of our schools.

This Government have done more than any other to improve the lot of children. The seminal document Every Child Matters, setting out the five outcomes desirable for children, is aspirational and inspirational. The Children Act should result in better support for families and children who have the problems of deprivation described so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The youth Green Paper sets out positive directions, as does the 10-year strategy for learning. There are many other reports I could mention. The drive is to not only to protect children but to enable them to gain self-esteem and self-confidence—surely the heart of any success, be it academic or social. There has been a commitment to raise children and families out of poverty, and improve their lives; Sure Start has sought to enable parents in difficult circumstances to be able to deal more positively with their children, and its impact is still to be seen.

I was at school a long way from Eton and not far from where the noble Baroness on the Opposition Bench was at school. It was in a largely working-class area. I went to the local grammar school where the top stream out of three went on to higher education if they were lucky. Many were not lucky, largely due to a lack of aspiration for them from school and parents, and their own perception of their ability and worth. This experience made me into a teacher, with the sure knowledge that things could be done better. They are being done better. I do not want just to focus on academic performance—education is far more than academic performance. We must focus on making every school a good school, open to all children in a community. Many people have spoken about the importance of community.

We all know what makes a good school; that was referred to by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton. It is about strong leadership, a vision for the school, clear goals, good and dedicated teachers supported by good management, a programme of personal, social and health education as well as a range of formal subjects, and the encouragement of aspiration, motivation and self-discipline, with parental involvement and support where possible. External support from an LEA or from expert advice is also valuable. The Audit Office report on improving poorly performing schools, mentioned by several noble Lords, recognises much of this. The report attracted headlines described by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, such as,

"A million pupils failed by schools".

Behind the headlines, the report also states that the number of poorly performing schools is reducing, GCSE and equivalent performance in England has improved, and more primary schools are achieving basic numeracy and literacy skills.

I suspect that many pupils fail in schools because they are being failed long before they get to school. Schools have a difficult job in trying to make up for that deficit. Some of the pupils who enter the primary school where I am a governor do not know what a book is, let alone how to turn a page. Some are aggressive toward staff and other children, and have poor social skills. My school is a difficult one, with high levels of poverty and deprivation, and 60 different languages, set in a housing estate in Wandsworth. Yet, the school has those good qualities I described earlier, with a focus on social development. Many children are helped to achieve their potential. Whether this continues into their secondary school, I do not know. We certainly have to look at what happens in the crucial transfer from primary to secondary school.

My school is a strong part of the community. Assistants come from within the community, as do many of the teachers. The school has never been vandalised, despite its setting. Every community should have a good school, and every school should involve the community. It is known from research that being part of a community decreases the likelihood in young people of risk-taking and anti-social behaviour.

I want to say a word on the controversial White Paper for schools: some of it is good, and some of it I have serious concerns about. The White Paper is for the future, whatever that means, and I am talking about now. Let me share with your Lordships some of the things that teachers and head teachers have told me. Of course they have criticisms, but they largely feel that education in schools has improved over the past 10 years. They speak of steady improvement in the professionalism and accountability of the education service. They speak of the consolidation of the national curriculum, a curriculum of entitlement for all pupils, and a curriculum for the foundation stage of schooling. They speak of the establishment of understood national levels of pupil attainment at the end of each key stage, and the obligation to report on attainment and record pupil progress. They speak of the establishment of SEN legislation and provision beyond mainstream funding. They refer also to the improvement of the careers service with the establishment of Connexions and to the recognition that, with funding, additional support can bring about improved pupil outcomes, for example, through Sure Start, after and before school clubs, holiday activity programmes and out of school activities. They refer also to the provision of an extended curriculum to complement the basic curriculum and to personal, social and health education and citizenship, which I was delighted to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford discuss, although I wish that citizenship and personal, social and health education were part of the statutory curriculum. They refer to the national healthy school standard award, which in my school has involved the community—parents, grandparents, local industry, the police and so on.

Those people refer to improved pay and conditions for teachers and to the establishment of teaching assistants who can deal with small groups in classrooms. They refer to improvements to initial teacher training and the acceptance by the profession of improvement through inspection, reporting and action planning. They refer to the primary strategy, Excellence and Enjoyment, which improves on the literacy and numeracy strategy by making it more creative. They refer to the use of information technology and to the recognition that continuing professional development and attention to the school leadership role for heads, deputies and senior staff is important. I could go on.

Much good practice has developed. A friend of mine, who was the head teacher of a local community school, instituted an access class for pupils arriving from primary schools who have weak skills in literacy and numeracy. The mornings for that group of pupils were taken up with basic skill learning with primary school teachers in the classroom. They were more than catch-up classes. My friend reported that the impact on achievement and the cutting of potential behaviour problems were enormous. My question for the Minister is: how is good practice such as this shared between schools? Is there a formal procedure? Are there informal procedures? If there are no procedures, could we have some?

Again, I am grateful for this debate. We are all keen to improve performance in schools. How we do that will be discussed in more detail in the coming months, but it is certain that a good experience in school contributes to a motivated and a civilised society.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench 1:12 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for finding time to introduce this debate and for doing it so well. For all the reasons given, we are in her debt. It is also the reason that this, if I may say so, motley crew of party politicians, education gurus and specialists and, as in my case, the odd education "anorak", are here enjoying once more the sharing of insights, and hearing and learning. We thank the noble Baroness for that.

I think it is agreed on all sides of the House—I certainly agree—that there has been progress in our school system. I consider that this progress has occurred over the past 15 years, at least. There has been real progress, particularly in primary schools. Sure Start is currently moving that forward very significantly. There has been progress—I pay tribute here to what used to be called the TTA—in the recruitment and training of science teachers. That is immensely important for reasons that have been given. There has also been progress in many individual schools which have moved away from the band of what used to be called failing schools. There has definitely been progress. But, of course, there is agreement that there is never enough progress. We are insatiable—especially those of us who are involved in education—and rightly so. Progress is still on the way; it is on the stocks; it is happening, but it has to move further.

I draw your Lordships' attention to the conditions that have led to some of the progress and the platform on which progress has been made over the past at least 15 years. I believe in the development of a national curriculum—not an interfering and over-detailed one, as it may have been in some cases—as an entitlement. It gives an entitlement to all school pupils that they ought to have as the basis of a good education. I believe in national testing and in the measurement of attainment so that we can see what is happening in the system. That, again, is part of the basis for progress. I believe in national inspection—I have declared my interest in that many times in this House—published reports and a template of inspection that can be understood throughout the nation. I believe also in increased national funding for schools. It does not do this by itself but often it can make the difference to a school that is in difficulty or struggling.

However, we should note that in all these conditions for progress the word "national" occurs. That is good; it was necessary and it had to happen. The school system had to be seen in a broad national context. However, the fact that these stimuli of progress have the word "national" attached to them has consequences. There are positive consequences in that education is now high in the national consciousness, and that is a good thing. There is public debate and it can be informed debate. It is not always informed debate but it can be. The availability of information and the capacity to see what is going on across the nation help inform that debate. It helps debates here, widely in the public arena and in government. There are national measures of what progress ought to include, although those are not the sole measures. This national emphasis provides the possibility of making diagnoses at national level about what is happening in the system as well as in individual schools. However, there have been negative consequences. I want to draw attention to those because the tension between the positive and the negative consequences is the proper focus of much of our attention and is the point at which disagreements occur.

The most difficult negative consequence for me is that this emphasis on the national has led to action and planning that are based on a one-size-fits-all mentality and approach. That is the downside of basing things so clearly on national statistics and national reports. That measure has led to—this is also a negative consequence—the danger of detaching education strategy and direction from local context. In some cases, that has been the real effect of it. Contexts are different and areas have different problems. Unfortunately, it has resulted also in the disenchantment of many teachers. They feel that the initiative has been taken from them as regards delivering what they do best, and as regards what was the object of their profession and, indeed, calling. Not long ago I met a fellow pupil from my state primary and my secondary school. According to all that I heard, he was a very good maths teacher in a school in the east of Scotland. I asked him how his job was going. He had been at the game for more than 30 years. He replied, "I still love it". Like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, he still enjoyed standing in front of a class. However, he added, "But they are on my back. They won't let me get on with teaching. They are for ever having a new initiative, a new set of forms to fill in and a new set of procedures". He knew what teaching was about and he was a good maths teacher, but he is an example of the disenchantment of teachers. In some ways the worst consequence of what I have described is that we have had serial national initiatives ever since. That is a great danger and this addiction that we seem to have is disturbing the profession.

If these negative consequences are the result of good initiatives—I believe that they were good initiatives—what are we to do about them? I have a specific suggestion. I see signs of this in the White Paper, but I will not comment on it in detail. I urge that we move from paying proper attention to the profile of individual schools to requiring a plan from them on how they are to deliver in their community, catchment area and arena the education objectives that we all share. Sorry, this sounds like another national initiative but I will qualify its impact. We should recognise that there would be positive consequences of their being asked to do that. First, it then becomes a responsibility of the schools once again to say, "This is the need that our community and the pupils in this school have". That may be different from the very specific needs of other areas. Indeed, as you travel round the country, you discover that they are different.

Once again the initiative would be given to teachers, head teachers and governors. The responsibility would clearly lie with schools to say, "This is how we see the developments taking place".

I would go further and say that school plans should be a factor in funding, because this in the end is the stimulus that everyone pays attention to. If there is to be, and there has been, additional funding for schools across the country, perhaps some of the additional money could be attached to the quality of the plan that the school comes up with and to the difficulties that the school is now clearly perceived to be facing and that are not necessarily shared by other schools. In other words, instead of a percentage per pupil type of formula, an element of the funding formula would be the plan, what it reveals about the school and the confidence of the funder—I will come back to that in a moment—in the ability of the school to deliver.

A benefit of this is that it would focus the provision of education in that community and catchment area. Many of my noble colleagues have made such reference, but there are areas of deprivation in our land. Of course there are. If you look up the statistics, the areas of deprivation include poor school performance, poor health, poor employment, difficulty in longevity, difficulty with housing and so on. They all go together. They are in the same postcodes.

I am not suggesting that it is the role of schools to solve the problems of the whole community. They cannot do that. That is not their job. They do not have the expertise or the funds. What I am suggesting is that a proper educational question in that school is, granted these circumstances, how to deliver the shared objectives. That is what the plan would focus on.

There are differences, which are not simply a matter of the deprivation indices I referred to. Some schools, as we know well, have many languages to cope with, some only one. That makes a difference to what the educational provision and practise should be. Some have high incidence of turnover, sometimes because of immigration, sometimes because they are on the route of travelling communities. That raises a series of different questions. How do you deliver education to a pupil who might be there every year for a few months, then off again? If your school has that as part of its catchment, your plan should reflect the fact; I also refer to different ethnic and cultural groups—again reference has been made to them—and parenting.

If I have a fault with the White Paper, it is that it sometimes delivers too much confidence in terms of what parents will deliver. As we have said several times in the debate, parents in middle class areas will deliver exceptionally well. If you talk to head teachers in areas of great difficulty, many of them will tell you that their problem is finding a parent. Sometimes there are not any, sometimes there is only one, sometimes there is a changing team, but getting them into the school and interested in their children is a major problem. Such a school should reflect that in its school plan. The good ones do, but they are doing it on the margins; they are not doing it with the help of the community or, possibly, of the funders.

The benefits of such a plan would be in taking these factors into account and in looking at the way the school might deliver. A plan sets national aspirations in a local context. I wholly agree with the sorts of proposals my good friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, was making about the need for initiatives in the area of faith schools. This would be precisely one way in which this could be carried through—by allowing and supporting funding to follow plans to deal with this. Lastly, although I cannot deal with this now, there is the possibility of syndicate plans, covering more than one school, where areas need the co-operation of several schools if their difficulties are to be met.

In summary, school plans are a way ahead and need to be examined further. Not all are ready, and this is where piloting would be very important. It might well be that we look to pilot examples of how this is to be done and developed. This too would be a way in which the Government could look at the question of how funding might be delivered.

Many will say that the great risk of the proposal is anarchy. The plans have to be evaluated and funding set alongside them. There are only two options: one is the LEAs and the other is what I would refer to as a federal funding council—"federal" for obvious reasons, which I cannot spell out now. One or other would have to be chosen. Inspection would be against the plan, and that would be a specific and helpful focus for inspectors. Most importantly, it is a move from "one size fits all" and the search for the holy grail of another serial initiative.

Photo of Lord Puttnam Lord Puttnam Labour 1:25 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, may I add my thanks to those of earlier speakers to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for making today's refreshing debate possible. I have to confess to being a long-time admirer of the noble Baroness and I know that I speak for many others on these Benches when I say that she is a significant and welcome addition to the membership of this House.

First of all, I shall set out where I think we have got to in achieving an objective that we all share, that of creating a world-class educational opportunity for all our young people. Eight and a half years ago, with no previous experience and enormous apprehension, I went to work with the Department for Education and Skills. My principal role was to get out and about and to discover at first hand the principal day-to-day concerns of the teaching profession, and to attempt accurately to relay the voice of the staff room back to the department. Some 400 school visits later, I can say without any fear of informed contradiction that nothing short of a transformation has taken place in the classroom, and indeed staff room, of most—I emphasise most—of the schools in England.

Are there still problems? Of course there are. Have we moved as far or as quickly as I would have hoped? Of course we have not. It was interesting to find many of those disappointments and anxieties reflected in the forthcoming education White Paper. I am sure that Members of this House look forward to Second Reading and the chance to both praise and, if necessary, criticise whatever Bill eventually reaches us.

But please believe me when I assure noble Lords that, certainly when viewed from the more apolitical chalk face, a transformation there has been. I thought that the noble Baroness, in introducing the debate, went quite a long way in generously acknowledging that fact. Time does not permit me to go into as much detail as I wish, so in the hope that you will accept my assertion, I will focus on just two moving targets, which I think deserve rather more debate and discussion than they would appear at present to be receiving.

First is the overhasty—in my judgment—and politically driven abandonment of last year's Tomlinson report. You will remember that these were the recommendations covering the future of education from 14 to 19. The recommendations sent a clear signal that the future lay in the adoption of the IB or a comprehensive diploma or bac in substitution for our present system of A-levels. To anyone who had taken the trouble to study the challenges that are likely to face the young people of this country over the next 10 or 20 years, the logic underpinning the Tomlinson recommendations was compelling. Sadly, it proved even more irresistibly compelling to score a few opportunistic political points in the run-up to the election. Both major parties, I am afraid, have to accept a level of blame in this respect. As ever, opportunism won out over principle, and Tomlinson was quietly shelved, at what may well prove to be great cost to a generation of young people.

The important point here is that the report was shelved, not binned, and certainly not intellectually discredited. When the Minister comes to reply, it is my sincerest hope that he might offer some encouragement regarding the possibility of a rethink, and that this time the Government will refuse to be blown off course by any kind of rent-a-crowd media hysteria.

Personally, I would lay a dime to a dollar that the gold standard we were last year being urged to cling to will within 20 years—just one generation—have turned to dross. If we fail to act, the following scenario becomes all too likely: the most forward-thinking and adventurous schools will slowly just peel away from the A-level syllabus, offering instead their customised version of the IB. Any number of university admissions officers, when pressed, will already tell you that they are finding IB students an increasingly attractive proposition, certainly from the perspective of teaching and learning. The likely result will be that the best schools will become ever more successful, through offering their students the curriculum and therefore the learning skills that most employers and increasing numbers of people in higher education are already actively seeking. That could turn very rapidly into a two-tier system; if you like, a form of selection into HE, but this time with knobs on.

Needless to say, there are no problem-free options. If we are to return to nurturing the type of scholarship demanded by the IB, our teaching professionals need to have far higher levels of subject-based professional development, certainly sufficient to ensure that their knowledge and skills are continually updated. At present, that is far from being the case, as was touched on by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin. Currently, something less than 8 per cent of teaching professionals have any form of higher degree, and over 50 per cent confirm that they have received no subject-based in-service training in the past five years. Surely in most subjects that cannot be remotely acceptable. It is also a pretty dismal reflection on our progress in education since the James report in 1971, which recommended:

"Throughout their careers, teachers should have the time, space and funding to reflect, research and develop their own practice".

I cannot be the only person to have noticed that, 35 years later, many of those are concepts that have been enthusiastically taken on board by the commercial private sector but have failed to take root in the very sector at which they were specifically aimed. In fairness, a number of schemes and initiatives are attempting to address the issue, but most of them fall somewhat short of what is really needed.

Everything that I learnt during my years as chairman of the General Teaching Council and in countless discussions in staff rooms up and down the country leads me to believe that, to maintain the high standards expected by parents and young people, continuing professional development must be part of each and every teacher's contractual entitlement. Whichever way we choose to go with the curriculum, the quality of teaching, as has been said by any number of noble Lords this afternoon, will continue to be defined by the knowledge, the training and the professional development of the individual practitioner. Devolving responsibility for training to individual schools was not in itself a bad idea, but sadly it has not worked. There has been too much fragmentation, too many one-day or even half-day courses, many of them cancelled at the last minute due to lack of adequate staff cover. This is too serious an issue for the haphazard, make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach that has proved to be the norm.

In his response I very much hope that the Minister will agree that the time has come for a new and comprehensive approach to subject-based professional development—a rather more committed approach, and one that can this time be endorsed by the entire profession.

I wonder whether the Minister agrees that the success or otherwise of this country will be determined not on the playing fields of Eton but in the classroom of every single school—primary and secondary—up and down the country. This belief has now become something of a commonplace, but what does not seem to have been fully absorbed is the very real financial implication of this challenge. Significantly greater resources will have to be poured into education if we are to remain a genuinely first-class nation. It does not matter which party is in government; that will continue to be the case. As the Prime Minister once memorably put it, much has been done, but much, much more has to be done. I confess that the second "much" is mine, but it is that additional "much" that will be essential if education in this country is to really be a success story.

We have heard some wonderful speeches this afternoon, but the speech of my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton was quite remarkable. In it, she took us into that school in the Bronx, and invited us to see what magic looks and feels like. I looked around the Chamber when she was describing the potency and power of the school orchestra, and every noble Lord in the Chamber was nodding. We all know that to be the case; we all know that if you go into a school with a wonderful orchestra or a wonderful choir, that school will be successful. Why? We could easily spend another debate discussing that. This form of education is labour-intensive, capital-intensive and time-intensive. It requires real money. I very much hope that this Government, my Government, have the courage to understand that they must go the extra mile if they want to have the education service that we all dream of.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Hampstead Lord Clarke of Hampstead Labour 1:34 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I add my grateful thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for this debate. As someone with very poor education, I have found it fascinating for the past couple of hours to hear experts from various parts of the education system of this country.

When Labour won the election in 1997, many people, myself included, were both excited and delighted that the Prime Minster spoke so movingly in a visionary way about the new Government's determination to place education at the very top of the many social and domestic issues that they were addressing. In fact, it was clear to the whole world that he considered education to be a priority issue.

Since coming to power, the Government have fulfilled their pledge to bring fairness and opportunity to the nation's children. From time to time, some of the proposals and subsequent changes have met with criticism and opposition, but that is the nature of our society. If we agree and give support to proposals, it is our right to do so. If there are those who, either as individuals or through political activity, disagree, that is equally acceptable.

Where I part company from some of the loud voices who seem to oppose almost everything that the Government propose is when that opposition is for opposition's sake, not on the merits of any particular suggestion. I draw the distinction between simply opposing and legitimate debate—argument, compromise or accommodation—because the major task of seeking improvement in our schools and in places of further education should have at its heart the real needs of our children and young people. I have no doubt that everyone in this House will agree that the educational needs of our young must be paramount.

My contribution to the debate is to comment on two parts of the White Paper. First, there is the question of parental involvement; secondly, I have a brief comment on the policy Building Schools for the Future. It is my firm belief that children are more likely to achieve higher standards where there is real encouragement in the home. I am more than aware of the difficulties that face families who are poorly housed and living in overcrowded conditions. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, of some of those problems, and from other noble Lords in this debate. Having lived on a housing estate and represented such families as a councillor and seen the lack of parental interest, I know just how difficult it is to get people to take some part in their children's educational needs.

I was very encouraged by the Government's aspirations in the White Paper published last October. It illustrates very clearly the role that parents could play in driving improvement in schools. It deals with the rights of parents to receive termly—I had not heard that word before I read the White Paper, but it is all education—information on the school's progress together with the opportunity to have face-to-face discussion with schools. Schools will be expected to use home-school agreements to agree concrete commitments about how schools and parents can work together. Parents who want to complain about any concerns that they have will have the right to complain to Ofsted.

There will be a requirement for all governing bodies to seek and respond to the views of parents, with an encouragement for them to establish parent councils. Tailored information will be provided to parents when their child starts primary school and when their child moves from primary to secondary education. The whole of chapter 5 is well worth studying. Whatever political arguments may or may not take place on a number of related issues, the role of the parent is crucial to a child's progress on the ladder of education.

I welcome the initiatives that can assist parents in playing a part in the education of their children. I just wish that there was a greater effort to foster their necessary involvement. I have a real concern—it has been mentioned before—that, in many homes, guidance at a young age is simply not there. Of course, there are countless thousands if not millions of parents who recognise the need for early at-home support. My concern is for those who do not have the active involvement of their parents. Outside the debates on whether to select, we should all ask the Government to give more attention to the guidance given to parents in many of our communities, which would help to encourage a more constructive entry into education.

Having had a very limited education myself, I literally thank God for having had parents who, although they themselves had few educational opportunities, fulfilled an educational role for me, my late brother and my younger sister. They taught us to read before we started school. It was an investment that helped all three of us. My mother gave us great encouragement. She said, "You can have the light on all night, provided you are reading". It was a thing that stayed in your mind—her coming in saying, "Are you asleep yet?", and us saying "No!"—whether that was Richmal Crompton, Arthur Ransome or many other authors who inspired and gave such encouragement to us as children. I wish that we could do more to get parents involved.

Times are different now, and many parents are hard-pushed to pay the rent or mortgage. There is the ease with which some parents can switch the television on. There should be no blame attached to them. The society that we have created does not help those who must struggle against the enormous odds they encounter on some housing estates which I know—areas ridden with crime and deprivation. We cannot blame people for lacking the initiative and gumption to do a bit more about their own children's education. Yet no debate on education should lose sight of the real and desperate problems which some parents have to face. To become more involved in their children's schools is an option not easily available to them. That is why I welcome the Government's co-ordinated approach, and its attempts to improve areas through the urban renewal and Elevate regeneration programmes.

My second point, which I will touch on briefly, is government policy via Building Schools for the Future. I should declare an interest in that I have been appointed by Lancashire County Council to chair the staffing commission that is dealing with such requirements for the Burnley element of the Lancashire project. I would like to remind your Lordships that the Department for Education and Skills has approved £170 million of capital investment to replace 11 secondary schools in Burnley and Pendle, with eight new schools—six in Burnley and two in Pendle. That project is recognised as a pathfinder authority and has secured new build for all work, so could be seen as some sort of pilot scheme. Anyway, people up in Lancashire are getting on with it and that government approach, recognising the need for real and proper investment in Burnley and Pendle, is much to be welcomed.

The project has received, and will continue to receive, support from the Burnley and Pendle borough councils, the Burnley Action Partnership, strategic partnerships and many other local community groups. When the go-ahead was obtained, Janet Newton, the project director for Lancashire County Council, said in a message to the people of Burnley and Pendle:

"As we move into the detailed planning of the new schools, we will all continue working together to ensure that pupils receive the best possible education in modern . . . buildings".

While the big political guns continue to make a lot of noise, I hope that we can all recognise the exciting future that awaits pupils because of government policies that demonstrate, by action, the real care and concern that they have for the educational needs of the nation's children.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills 1:42 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold. She has enabled us to have an interesting and wide-ranging debate at a time when what happens in our schools could not be more topical. As a scientist, I particularly agree with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, about science education, with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford about citizenship—on which I look forward to an opportunity to say more in two weeks' time—and with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, about the fact that size and music matter.

Taking the long view, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, and others that education is the key way to promote equality of opportunity, and central to reducing poverty and deprivation. It should be a service for all children, accountable to whole communities, and should hang together as a whole—albeit containing healthy diversity, with schools co-operating and working together for the sake of their community rather than fighting each other. That is how standards can be driven up.

A good school at the heart of every community; that is what we in this House share as a common objective. That should help children achieve all five outcomes set out in Every Child Matters, not just academic achievement to the exclusion of all else. Fortunately, many schools do just that and I pay tribute to them. We also believe that schools are far too controlled by Whitehall. That is the yoke from which they need to be set free, not from the control of their locally elected representatives. Yet the Government propose yet more nationalisation through the power of the new schools commissioner.

However, turning to the short view, the recent White Paper represents a terribly wasted opportunity to raise standards. With school rolls predicted by the Audit Commission to fall by half a million over the next 10 years, the opportunity to provide more personal attention to children, by reducing class sizes, should be seized not squandered. Otherwise these surplus places will cost the taxpayer millions without any real benefit to our children. Yet the Government want to add to that surplus by encouraging new providers to create more places, even where no demand has been demonstrated or there is already excess capacity.

Real parental choice can easily be achieved where there is excess capacity. But instead we are promised parental choice through more structural change and new providers. While we on these Benches do not oppose new entrants into the provision of schools, it must be done in a way that does not undermine fair admissions and local accountability.

Of course we must seek to improve standards and ensure that no child is left behind, but it is not by constant fiddling about with structures that we will achieve that. It is, as my noble friend Lady Sharp and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, by giving them a good start, identifying problems early and providing a wide, relevant and stimulating choice of curriculum, especially for 14 to 19 year olds. In that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is by supporting schools and providing adequate resources for learning and good quality teaching, and by developing management and leadership skills among our senior teachers, as many noble Lords have said.

The idea that the new trust schools proposed in the White Paper would increase parental choice is preposterous. On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we support those measures that give parents more information and involve them more in the life of the school. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, that children thrive when their parents are really involved in their education. Yet much of that motherhood and apple pie stuff is already being done in the best schools. I doubt that it needs legislation; it merely needs spreading of best practice, and I endorse the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about that.

Most references to parental choice in the White Paper are pie in the sky, and cruelly mislead parents. In reality, oversubscribed schools choose their pupils; parents do not choose them. We oppose reduced parental choice where a majority of parents are not allowed to stop a governing body voting to become a foundation or trust school, and cannot opt for a new school to be a community school. The words "parental choice" should stick in the throat of the Government, who have legislated to ensure that academies do not have to take any child with special needs whose parents want it to attend. The long-winded and expensive dispute resolution service that has been set up will find itself with little to do. Advice lines are already finding that parents soon give up trying to exert their rather non-existent rights when they realise how little their child is wanted by the school. Is it any wonder, given the confusion and complexity that will arise if every school becomes its own admissions authority, that the Government see the need to set up "choice advisers" to help disadvantaged people understand the admissions process?

Unfair proposals on admissions are, of course, at the heart of objections to the White Paper, so heartily supported by the Conservative Party. Does that not ring alarm bells in the corridors of power at No. 10, even if the fact escapes them that a clear majority of their own Back-Benchers, their own Deputy Prime Minister, a former party leader and a former Secretary of State for Education oppose these measures? This White Paper is Tony Blair's epitaph; his Mozart's Requiem—the thing that he must see through before he dies a political death. I wonder whether, like that wonderful musical epitaph, it was commissioned by an anonymous stranger in a black cloak, perhaps one who habitually occupies the government Front Bench in your Lordships' House when education is on the agenda.

The Opposition's agenda is clearly, first, to embarrass the Government and, secondly, to reintroduce selection and the unfairness of their own grant-maintained system back to the future of our schools. Your Lordships heard that here today from the noble Baroness who introduced the debate. They are happy because the White Paper's admissions free-for-all will surely produce selection by the back door. In a situation where the resources that follow a child with special needs are as inadequate as they are today, after eight years of Labour government, no school in its right mind is going to be keen to allow too many of them in if they can avoid it. Situations arise like the one I heard about only this week, where two severely autistic children are holding a school in a very deprived area to ransom by behaviour which the school does not have the knowledge, skills or resources to handle. The rights of these two needy children, and those of all the others whose education is harmed by the attention staff have to pay them, are being infringed by this Government's failure properly to provide for their needs. In such an environment, the measures relating to trust schools are downright dangerous to the whole edifice of our education system.

We on these Benches believe that collaboration rather than competition is the right model to drive up standards, not setting school against school against the wishes of the local community. The trust model proposed in the White Paper seems to offer only one attraction to a school—to become its own admissions authority. Why else should it want to do that? The Government have made it clear on the record many times that there will be no financial incentives. However, I say to noble Lords, watch this space for a U-turn. The Government have a nasty habit of ensuring that if you do what they want, you get extra money. For example, today you can have extra money for any kind of brand new school you want—as long as it is an academy.

The Minister's mantra that trust status promotes innovation, diversity and builds a school ethos has no evidence base and we are not alone in opposing these measures. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about the need to validate new ideas. The Secondary Heads Association, the NUT, the Audit Commission, the National Audit Office and their own Back-Benchers tell the Government that their latest proposals will set school against school.

We therefore oppose this model as proposed and have grave concerns about such a transfer of ownership of public assets to a trust that could be owned and controlled by groups with no local connection or accountability. But we can see advantages in groups of schools which serve whole communities becoming trusts. They could have the sort of syndicated plan referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. That would encourage co-operation. It may improve the range of choice at 14 to 19, highlighted by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, about Tomlinson and the difficulties that failure to implement fully those proposals have brought us. Community trusts could provide wider facilities for learning, leisure and out-of-school care than any single school can, and be in the interest of the whole community. They could cross the age range and would involve the local authority and other partners.

The well-being of children in schools is paramount and is not only served by the quality of the teaching, but by the personal qualities of the teachers. It is for the sake of most decent hard-working teachers, as well as for the safety of children and the peace of mind of parents, that we need to sort out the mess that has emerged recently about how people working with children are vetted. We will debate these issues later when we have the Statement, so I shall not say much now, but I would like to place on record what we on these Benches believe about the matter, because it is relevant to any debate about schools. First, we have tried to provide a thoughtful, rather than a yah-boo response. We do not seek the scalp of Mrs Ruth Kelly. That we may leave to No. 10. Secondly, we believe we should take the opportunity as soon as possible to make a root and branch review of the systems for vetting those who are considered safe to work with children, based on the sensible proposals of Sir Michael Bichard. Thirdly, like him, we favour a single list for ease of use of employers and, crucially, training in its use for head teachers and governors—and we need more training for all who work in schools about child safeguarding issues.

However, because of the anomalies about some people who are or have been on the current lists—in particular, the sex offenders register—we believe great care should be taken in the criteria for who should be put on the new amalgamated list. There should be no automatic read-across from all the other lists. We believe that to protect the human rights of those who wish to work with children, there should be a robust appeals system.

We also believe that this is a matter for experts not Ministers. Ministers should set up the systems and structures and bear the responsibility for that. The criteria should be public and challengeable by Parliament. But it should be an independent panel, answerable to a Select Committee, that makes the decisions based on robust risk assessments. Perhaps it could include a member from the General Teaching Council as well as child protection experts and the police. I hope that that is the type of proposal that we will hear in your Lordships' House very soon. Only then will we be able to give parents the confidence in the system that they require, and children will be safe in their own schools.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education) 1:55 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Shephard of Northwold for introducing this debate, which has allowed us the opportunity to consider the future of our education system, including some key aspects of the Government's White Paper. Like the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Clarke, I feel that I have learned much from all the excellent speeches.

In particular, I want to re-emphasise something which my noble friend said in her opening remarks and which I and my colleagues believe in passionately. In essence, you can build great school buildings, devise all kinds of structures and introduce different admissions procedures, but at the end of the day, as my noble friend Lady Shephard and other noble Lords have emphasised, what actually goes on in the classroom, the quality of leadership and teaching in a school, and, above all, the calibre of the head, are what influence the quality of a school.

The quality of education in schools needs significant improvement. Since 1997 we have seen a raft of legislation and initiatives and strategy documents. So the question is: will genuine improvement in our education system follow this latest White Paper? Our approach to the proposals are straightforward. Wherever the Government promote rigour, encourage discipline and give schools more autonomy and parents more choice, we will support them.

So far, this White Paper has had a tough life. The Cabinet was divided on the proposals right from the start. We understand that 5,000 copies of the first White Paper were trashed, so what we are considering is really mark 2. This helps to explain why so many commentators have felt that they were reading two documents. In many ways they are. Mark 1 was drafted by the education ministerial team with the blessing of the Prime Minister—who, incidentally, said that its contents were pivotal to the future of our education system—and mark 2 by the Deputy Prime Minister and his fellow traditionalists who still believe that government control and the dead hand of bureaucracy is best for our children's future.

It is surprising that some of those traditionalists, including the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, are not in their places. After all, they are in Parliament today to launch a book. This debate is the opportunity for them to put their case for opposing their Government's White Paper directly to the Minister in their House. We would benefit from hearing their views.

All the evidence shows that standards rise when schools are free to innovate, free to diversify and free to specialise. What we want to see, therefore, is a government sticking to their mission, as first drafted in mark 1, to do just that: free up our schools, give them more autonomy and parents more choice. Too many children are leaving school without basic literacy or numeracy. Over one-third of adults in the UK do not have a basic school-leaving qualification—double the proportion in Canada and Germany. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, that is a scandal. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said, there is much, much more to be done.

In their quest to improve the quality of education in our schools, the Government have encouraged the adoption of specialism. Schools are already allowed to select 10 per cent of their pupils by aptitude in just four of the 10 specialisms. That means that a school can select by aptitude in modern languages or music, but not by ability in maths or science. It is interesting to note that, while the Government continue to say that they are against selection, they never explain how pupils are chosen—"choose" being another word for "select"—to make up this 10 per cent on the basis of their aptitude for a specialism. Are they tested? Are they interviewed? Do they perform in front of someone? In addition, the Oxford Dictionary makes it clear that "aptitude" means,

"natural talent, ability or fitness".

This false distinction between aptitude and academic ability is central to the Government's whole approach to the admissions policy. It is a distinction without a difference. Trying to make sense of it was described by the Chief Schools Adjudicator as,

"the sort of exercise lexographers get up to when they haven't enough to do".

We must cut through this nonsense of saying that you can select according to whether you are good at sport or music but not maths or science by allowing schools to select up to 10 per cent of their pupils by whatever their aptitude or ability in whatever specialism the school has adopted. Schools must become their own admissions authorities, so that parents will be able to apply to a school direct for admission there. Schools must be able to set out their own approach to how they handle questions such as the allocation of places if they are over-subscribed and the treatment of siblings.

The current code should be slimmed down and liberalised, although I accept that there has to be some national admissions framework within which schools operate. It should, for example, allow schools to make parents' willingness to sign a home-school contract a condition of admissions. However, the code should also make it clear that there will be no return to the 11-plus. We on these Benches remain committed to existing grammar schools, but recognise that there is no point in reopening the debate about grammar schools in parts of the country from which they have long since disappeared.

The preoccupation with admissions policy shows what has gone wrong with the education debate in this country. It rests on the assumption that there is a fixed number of good school places to go round, and the only question is how they should be allocated—for every gainer there must be a loser. There should be more good school places in total. That is why we on these Benches are focusing on raising standards in schools across the country. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, everyone should have the chance to go to a good school.

Creating more good school places also requires a radical change of approach to the provision of schools. We believe that it should be easier for popular schools to expand if they wish. We want to see measures in the Government's Education Bill to give schools more freedom, rather than less. It would be disastrous for our nation's education if the Prime Minister retreated in the face of pressure from Labour traditionalists so that we ended up with no significant new freedoms for schools and, indeed, extra local authority controls over them.

In the White Paper mark 2, we have a sense that the role of LEAs is set to remain strong, which brings me to a key question for the Minister. Is it possible for schools to have real autonomy when LEAs control their budgets? That question has already been put by my noble friend Lady Shephard, so I hope that the Minister feels able to reply. Real autonomy must mean schools controlling their own finances.

I am also concerned that, on the "Today" programme on Radio 4 today, Jacqui Smith MP said that the Government intend to translate the White Paper into a Bill that everyone wants. Does that explain the lack of consistency in the mark 2 document?

The Government are also sending out confusing signals over trust schools. The White Paper demonstrates that education legislation will provide trust schools with freedoms and the power to "innovate". In an answer that the Minister gave to me on the Floor of the House on 16 November, he indicated that,

"The main legislative implication for trust schools is a new power for local authorities . . . power for local authorities in the regulation of trusts".—[Hansard, 16/11/05; col. 1071.]

Will the Minister explain what that means? How will legislation enable local authorities to facilitate greater freedoms for trust schools?

There must be more clarity about the role of local authorities and their powers of intervention. The recent National Audit Office report Improving Poorly Performing Schools in England illustrated that some local authorities,

"do not prevent school decline".

If local authorities are to be the gatekeepers to new schools and standards, will the Minister confirm that schools will not be burdened by local authority control? It is telling that the authors of the Compass report, while seeking to further empower local authorities, themselves state that some local authorities,

"perform significantly worse than others".

The Prime Minister has attempted to turn the education debate into a political argument about selection and academic ability. Let us make no mistake. The Government are in favour of selection on the basis of aptitude, and setting in schools is still selection but inside the school gates. There is clear evidence that setting, subject by subject, benefits all students across the ability range. However, only around 40 per cent of lessons are setted by ability. Setting must involve good education provision for all sets and it must be flexible so that pupils who improve can progress, and struggling pupils can have extra help in a good learning environment. Lower sets must be provided with high standards of education as well.

The White Paper focuses a great deal on involving parents with a school's ethos and admissions. This is an important relationship to develop, and we welcome that. However, as we have said before in your Lordships' House, children in care who are not represented by their parents in this capacity—who may not have parents at all—must be provided with the same access to education and qualifications as the majority.

If we are to make real progress we need honesty in this debate. That is why I am disappointed that today figures have been published that clearly show a blatant massaging of statistics. The Secretary of State has refused to release statistics on how many pupils in each school passed maths and English until after the publication of other performance data. Publication of those results is apparently due tomorrow. So the figures must be somewhere in the Secretary of State's office. Will the Minister therefore please refrain from telling us that we have just had the biggest single rise in GCSE results in a decade and give us the true picture?

In conclusion, can we believe this week's press reports that the education legislation is to be delayed? Will the Minister indicate when the Education Bill is expected to come to this House? Our education system cannot afford for legislation to be delayed by the Prime Minister now because he wants to protect one of his Ministers. Our children are too important.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools) 2:07 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, for initiating the excellent debate that we have had today. As a former Secretary of State, she spoke with great authority. I was also struck, however, by the largely consensual, constructive and long-term tone she adopted, which was sustained throughout the debate until the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Buscombe. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for not having come to the House wearing a black cloak and a mask. But if it is my lot in life to commission a masterpiece as great as Mozart's last composition, then there are many worse fates to which I could ultimately aspire.

I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, and so many other speakers in this debate that the most important thing for school improvement is the quality of teaching in the classroom. I shall have a good deal more to say about this in a moment, but let me first stand back and emphasise the underlying premise on which we are all agreed—that our school system has significantly improved in recent years, but sustained further advance is required if we are to live up to our principle that every child matters.

As so many speakers have powerfully said, as a society we simply cannot afford to have a large group of our young people left behind at school, taking huge disadvantages with them as they go out into the world of work and life thereafter. In the Britain of the future, all young people, whatever their background, need to leave school with the skills and aspirations to succeed thereafter. That objective is at the heart of government policy.

The imperative for that is graphically demonstrated in the national school-by-school GCSE results published today, which include the measures for English and maths within the five GCSE measures reported on school by school. We would all wish to congratulate our head teachers, teachers and young people on their achievements: 56 per cent of 16 year-olds gained five or more good GCSE passes this year. That is 2.6 percentage points up on 2004; 11 percentage points up on the position in 1997; and a transformation from the position in the late 1980s, when the previous government rightly introduced the GCSE and the national curriculum to tackle a situation where only one in four school leavers reached the equivalent of today's five GCSE standard and the majority of 16 year-olds, who sat what were then called CSEs, did not even take the equivalent of today's GCSE. The position has since been transformed under reforms introduced by this and the previous government.

Yet if we turn today's GCSE results around, they of course show that more than four in 10 16 year-olds are failing to secure the equivalent of even five good GCSEs and, as my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton and so many others in the debate said, there is a massive social inequity in the distribution of results across our society. The figure of four in 10 failing to secure the equivalent of even five GCSEs rises to more than six in 10 among those from less advantaged backgrounds. In groups such as children in care, it is at a higher level still.

Furthermore, alongside today's performance tables we are publishing a new measure—five or more good GCSEs including English and maths—which rightly highlights the central importance of literacy and numeracy to further education and skill training. Far from having anything to hide in this regard, it was the Government's decision to publish this data. Previously, no data were published on five GCSEs including English and maths. On this new measure, there has also this year been a 1.6 per cent improvement on the previous year, but the 56 per cent figure for success in any five GCSEs declines to 44 per cent, including English and maths. We are not disguising that figure; it is published today and we are making it clear. As the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, correctly observed, this demonstrates the extent of the challenge to ensure that basic skills are being taught effectively in our secondary schools.

Let me also note that in no region of the country is the success rate of five GCSEs above 50 per cent—including English and maths. In the lowest performing region, the north-east, it stands at only 38 per cent. I mention that last figure as a response to those who quite wrongly claim that education policy is driven by a supposedly unrepresentative situation in London. In fact, London is now above national averages in secondary school performance. The imperative for change is nationwide, not just in London.

As my noble friend Lady Massey and others correctly pointed out, all these problems start in primary school. The past eight years have seen a large rise in literacy and numeracy test scores; but it is still the case that one in five of 11 year-olds is not up to the standard expected of their age in literacy and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, rightly noted, 15 per cent have already started to fall seriously behind by the age of seven, as identified in the key stage 1 assessments. A child who cannot read cannot learn; the effective teaching of reading to all our young children is a constant pre-occupation of government and the teaching profession, and rightly so. In short, good progress has been made, but there is much more to do—perhaps I should say "much, much more to do"—to create good schools in every locality, and the question is how we move forward.

From some of the comments since the publication of the schools White Paper, the House might be forgiven for thinking that the Government were no longer concentrating on school standards but rather on structural change for its own sake. This is emphatically not the case. The White Paper keeps four objectives constantly in view: first, improved teaching and leadership; secondly, improved basic skills and a curriculum tailored to the needs and talents of the individual student; thirdly, modern buildings and information technology in all schools; and, fourthly, greater school autonomy and diversity.

Let me stress that none of these four objectives is mutually exclusive. They are mutually reinforcing. That includes the fourth element, school autonomy and diversity, which, as with the system-wide introduction of specialist schools in the secondary sector over the past 10 years, is in our policy focused resolutely on achieving higher standards. And all four are underpinned by record investment in education, with school spending per pupil now nearly twice the level of 1997, making possible, for example, a real-terms increase in experienced teachers' pay of 27 per cent nationally and 38 per cent in London, and investment in school buildings and equipment up sevenfold from £700 million a year to £5 billion a year. The noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, is absolutely right that increased funding is not in itself a silver bullet, but one does not need to spend too long in our best private schools to realise that it makes a very big difference indeed.

Let me now address each of the four key areas I have mentioned: teaching; curriculum; infrastructure; and autonomy and diversity. I start with teaching because I say without hesitation that the single most important factor in raising standards in our schools is the quality and leadership of the teaching profession. Our mission as a government, and as a society, is to make teaching the foremost profession in the country and a career of choice for many more of our best graduates.

In this we are making progress. There are now 33,000 more teachers than in 1997. There are also almost 90,000 extra teaching assistants, more than double the number eight years ago, who are steadily converting teaching from an almost pre-modern profession—the kind described by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing—with no support staff, into a job with the kind of back-up which every other leading profession takes for granted.

I am glad to say—taking up the points by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin—that the biggest teacher recruitment increases have come in key priority areas. The recruitment of maths teachers is up from 1,370 five years ago to 2,610 this year; and science teacher recruitment is up from 2,420 to 3,620 in the same period, including a near doubling in the number of physics recruits. Alongside our implementation of the recommendations of the Roberts review and significant changes which are taking place in the secondary school science curriculum—taking up a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which will lead to a new GCSE with a great emphasis on applied and contemporary science in due course—we are seeing a significant boost to the quality of science education in our secondary schools.

We are now recruiting above the target level in maths and science for the first time in a generation, and to boost recruitment further we recently increased the PGCE training bursary in these priority subjects from £7,000 to £9,000, alongside the "golden hello" of £5,000 payable to new maths and science teachers. I thought that my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin described them as "golden haloes". That is an excellent description and I propose that we rename them forthwith. It is so important that we encourage our best graduates to go into the teaching of maths and science. Furthermore, we now have not only more teachers but also better teachers. The chief inspector has described the current generation of newly qualified teachers as "the best trained ever". I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Puttnam that we have steadily more to do in improving the quality of continuous professional development and as we do so that best-trained generation will become even better.

I would particularly highlight two new trends in teacher recruitment which we wish to encourage further. First, a large number of career-switchers is now coming into teaching, thanks to the graduate teacher programme which represents a complete re-design of the recruiting and training system for mature entrants to the profession. These career-switchers train directly in schools and are paid a salary while training. There are now 5,000 such mature recruits a year—one in eight of all recruits to secondary teaching—and partly as a result, the average age of teacher trainees has risen to 30 for the first time.

The second significant trend in teacher supply is the rise in applications from the leading universities, where there was little short of a collapse in recruitment during the 1980s and 1990s. Since 1998 there has been a welcome 54 per cent increase in recruitment graduates of the Russell group of leading universities. Part of the reason for this is the launch of the path-breaking Teach First programme, a wholly new scheme for attracting high flyers, offering two-year, and then renewable teaching placements for graduates in place of the traditional training and career route. Teach First is engaging a sense of challenge and duty among the best graduates, training them as a group in the summer after graduation rather than through a traditional year-long PGCE—including the daughter of one prominent Member of your Lordships' House who I saw was paraded in the Daily Mail in this regard, which means that it may or may not be true—and building a strong esprit de corps by placing the young graduates in London comprehensives in groups of between four and seven. Last year, there were nearly 1,000 applications for 200 places on Teach First, an incredible result given the traditional difficulties with recruiting into teaching in the leading universities. All of those appointed had firsts or 2:1s, and we are in the process of extending the scheme— thanks to funding from my right honourable friend the Chancellor—from London to Manchester this year and to other major cities in due course.

However, as so many speakers have said, even more important than teachers are head teachers. We are paying, training and supporting heads better than ever before. We no longer simply expect heads to pick up the job as they go along, helped if they are very lucky by having chairs of governors of the calibre of my noble friend Lady Massey or the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. A headship training qualification is now mandatory for all new head teachers, and the new National College for School Leadership, in Nottingham, is resolutely focused on practical school improvements. That includes, to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, effective planning at school level to raise standards which schools are then required to follow through their school development plans and the self-assessment process that they undergo prior to Ofsted inspections.

There has been mention of the figures last week showing a higher level than before of re-advertisement for headships. In fact, the number of vacant headships and deputy headships is low, at only 0.8 per cent, which is down sharply on the position in 1998 when the vacancy rate was 1 per cent for head teachers and 1.8 per cent for deputy head teachers. But the higher re-advertisement rate indicates that school governors and selection panels are more concerned than ever to recruit the best possible candidates and we need to assist them in doing so. Ensuring that there are indeed enough excellent head teachers is a major challenge and it leads into one theme of the White Paper—the deployment of the best head teachers to the benefit of more than just one school on a collaborative basis, which is a good example of how structural reform is being driven by a concern about standards, not about a na-ve belief in change for its own sake.

For some years, we have been seeking to deploy our best head teachers and management teams to wider effect to spread best practice explicitly in the way my noble friend Lady Massey highlighted. For example, in the London Challenge, which has helped raise standards in so many of our lower performing London secondary schools, we use consultant head teachers in London—heads of the most successful schools in London who willingly give up a day a week to mentor heads without their experience or achievement. I met these consultant heads as a group last week. They are an outstanding group of head teachers who relish the new challenge and regard it as a great contribution that they can make to other schools in their vicinity. This has been a highly successful initiative, and taking it a stage further, there are now a number of informal federation-type arrangements, designed to make this collaboration between successful head teachers and management teams and other schools which they can help more intensive and formal than at present.

In the case of academies, where the law allows for the complete federation between schools becoming academies, trusts formed by existing successful academies or city technology colleges have literally taken over weak or failing schools in their area, in each case, I stress, with the strong support of their local authority. For example Haberdashers' Aske's Academy in New Cross last year agreed with Lewisham council to take responsibility for Mallory School—then the lowest performing school in Lewisham—and, turned it into a second Haberdashers' Academy under the same outstanding management team, headed by Dr Liz Sidwell, which had built up the first. This is already having a transformative effect on the former Mallory School, and the Haberdashers' trust company is now looking to bring another school into its academy federation. This is precisely the kind of trust arrangement which the proposals in the recent White Paper will make possible more widely and will also make available to local authorities, which are among the keenest agencies in the business, seeking successful school leaders and management teams to help those less successful schools in their areas. Outstanding head teachers and school leaders are a scarce resource; federations and trusts are a standards-driven structural change which will enable them to have a much wider impact to the benefit of all concerned.

I now turn to the school curriculum. This is a vast area, but let me highlight our key priorities. The first is the teaching of literacy—much mentioned in this debate. The daily literacy hour is now almost universal in our primary schools, and has greatly improved reading skills. But more needs to be done to ensure that all children become effective readers from the earliest years in primary schools, which is why last year we asked the former senior Ofsted director, Jim Rose, to report on best practice in the teaching of reading, including the use of synthetic phonic programmes. Mr Rose's report—emphasising the rigorous use of synthetic phonics in early reading programmes and also the importance of catch-up programmes—will be the basis for revisions to the national literacy strategy from this September, and also to teacher training.

Schools also need resources and greater flexibility to build the curriculum around the needs of the individual pupil—whether those needs be, for example, for small group help with reading—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—writing, for gifted and talented programmes for the more able—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—or for vocational programmes for 15 and 16 year olds who would be better off spending time in a local college gathering more practical skills. Contrary to what the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley, said, the single biggest investment announcement in the schools White Paper last year was the decision to allocate for small group, catch-up and other tailored provision almost all of the general school funding available over and above that needed to meet cost pressures in the next two years—£230 million to primary schools and £335 million to secondary schools over the next two years—half of it allocated to local authorities to disperse to their schools on the basis of their number of pupils with low prior attainment. It has an especially strong deprivation focus.

Let me say a word more about vocational education. Following the Tomlinson report—which we did not shelve: we are implementing many of its key recommendations such as the development of a wider range of opportunities and wider curriculum in secondary schools—we are now, in collaboration with employers, developing new specialised vocational diplomas. The first four diplomas, in engineering, construction, health and social care and the creative and media technologies will be available nationwide in two years' time. Inadequate vocational education has been one of the chronic historical weaknesses of our education system which we are seeking to put right, both with better vocational education in schools and colleges, and with a radical expansion of apprenticeships from which those who have gained these diplomas can then proceed. The number of apprenticeships is up from 75,000 in 1997 to 255,000 this year.

The Government's third over-riding priority is the modernisation of the school infrastructure—buildings, equipment and information technology. The £5 billion in annual capital funding that I mentioned earlier is making possible the building schools for the future programme rightly highlighted by my noble friend Lord Clarke, which is rebuilding or renewing the entire secondary school estate and half of primary schools over the next 15 years, providing not only better classrooms, including better science teaching facilities but also better facilities for sport, special educational needs, the arts, the provision of meals, childcare, and adult community education too, making it possible for schools to become community facilities open 12 hours a day all year including school holidays in order to deliver on the vision in the White Paper of what are described as "extended schools" offering these facilities in all communities all year round.

I turn briefly to the issue of school autonomy and diversity. It is important to understand that the concept of the trust school—a school whose governors take extra responsibility for management, which may include a suitable external partner with a commitment to educational excellence—builds on traditions and successful models which run deep in the state education system and nowhere deeper than in the faith schools and church schools highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in his speech.

Let me demonstrate this with precise figures. There are 4,006 state secondary schools in England: 2,380 of them are now specialist schools, many of them with highly productive partnerships with external sponsors. Five hundred and seventeen secondary schools also have foundation status, which means that they own their own buildings, employ their own staff directly and are responsible for administering their admissions within the rules of the code of practice. Additional to the 517 foundation schools, there are 712 voluntary schools or academies, in which one of the faith communities or a non-faith external partner plays a key role in the governance of the school, as well as the school having responsibility for assets and staffing.

Those are essential parts of our existing state education system. The principles involved in trust schools are deeply embedded within the state education system and are exemplified in many of the most successful state schools today. The issue at stake in the debate that we are now having is whether we are prepared to make them available more widely to state schools, where schools and local authorities believe they will improve the quality of education. Our belief, on the basis of a piloting of faith schools that goes back to the foundation of the National Society 195 years ago, is that that there is a good basis for thinking that this policy is well founded.

I had a whole section on admissions, which I think will preoccupy the House a good deal in the future, so I will save that until our next debate. I emphasise that the code of practice and our rules on admission are very robust. We attach the highest possible importance to seeing that they are sustained and maintained in schools that adopt trust status.

My time is up. I am deeply grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I will reflect further on what has been said and, where necessary, follow it up in writing. In conclusion, perhaps I may quote the words of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in his most recent annual report. He said:

"We have moved from a system that educated a few superbly and the rest indifferently to one that is attempting to educate everyone very well".

That is our mission—an education system attempting to educate everyone very well. Upon it our future success as a nation depends, and it is a privilege to be engaged with so many others in this House on such an important task.

Photo of Baroness Shephard of Northwold Baroness Shephard of Northwold Conservative 2:30 pm, 19th January 2006

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord in saying that this has been an excellent debate, as one would have expected from the knowledge, expertise and commitment of those taking part. Obviously I do not have the time, nor would I subject the House to a point by point mention of the contributions made by noble Lords, but there has been surprising consensus.

We have had mention of professional development, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam; diversity from the right reverend Prelate; the importance of science from my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lady Morgan of Drefelin; practical suggestions for piloting from the noble Lord, Lord Dearing; for the production of a plan from the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland—many schools would feel that they do produce a plan, but perhaps not on the scale envisaged by the noble Lord—and, of course, the very interesting practical suggestion of concentrating on very small schools from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton. That is a simple idea but one that obviously works in the example she chose.

We have heard of the vital importance for good education especially in deprived areas from the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp, Lady Massey and Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, and there was warm support from my noble friend Lady Buscombe for the principles in the White Paper.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has, with his customary commitment and fairness, admitted that there is much more to do but has given a justified picture of many of the efforts the Government are making. Many questions on the detail of the White Paper remain, but of course we will have our moment.

Finally, I think that there really is consensus today on the important and crucial role played by heads and teachers in getting education to reach all our communities and all our children. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.