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Reading Ability (Bullock Report)

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he intends to take to secure the implementation of the recommendations of the Bullock Report on the reading ability of children.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has made a study of the Bullock Report on the reading ability of children; and whether he will make a statement.

I would refer to the reply I gave to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) on 18th February 1975.—[Vol. 886, c. 356–7.]

Does not the Secretary of State agree that among the 332 recommendations, 17 of which concern the primary sector, there is no emphasis on the return of the infant school in particular to the teaching of literacy as its primary purpose, which is a view that is held by many of us on this side and by hon. Members on the Government side too?

This very distinguished report, which deserves to be read widely and closely and to be discussed throughout the whole teaching profession, placed emphasis on the need for improved training in language ability at all levels of education, including the infant stage.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that very few of the 332 recommendations of the Bullock Report bear out the assertions of the Opposition that standards are substantially declining in primary schools? Does he accept, however, that what the Bullock Report identifies is the necessity for a greater concentration of resources in schools and areas where the children are most socially disadvantaged?

On the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, the Government have taken many steps to remedy matters. On the former part, I agree that the Bullock Report demolished many of the scare stories which had been current about the declining standards, but it went on to say—I agree with it strongly—that standards are not good enough and never have been, and therefore a concerted effort must be made to improve them.

What steps does the Minister intend to take to improve the training of teachers, since the Bullock Report states that the good teacher is the most important single factor?

This Government have done many things to improve the status and morale of the teaching profession, including the highest pay increase in the history of the profession. There are many recommendations of the Bullock Report which will apply to the curriculum and the content of training courses for new teachers and I am sure that they will be closely studied in colleges of education.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this report will do an immense amount for the morale of the teaching profession and is the key to restoring confidence in our educational system amongst the public in general, particularly amongst parents? Is he aware also that the report, if it is to be implemented,—I believe it to be one of high priority—will involve the expenditure of money so that the monitoring and screening proposals can be implemented? What has he to say about that?

There are many aspects of the report and many of the 332 recommendations which can be implemented without extra expenditure. There are others which can be implemented with very modest expenditure. All the recommendations need to be studied carefully by the teaching profession, by local authorities and by my Department, and this process is going ahead rapidly.

I welcome the report, which confirms so much of what the Opposition have been saying about standards over the past 12 months, but may I join in the plea made by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) that the Secretary of State should give priority to the monitoring system? May I ask him to go further and introduce national standards of reading, writing and mathematics so that we can know exactly what are the achievements in a school and what are the shortcomings?

I certainly would not accept the latter proposition without much more consultation with everyone concerned. On the question of monitoring, the assessment of performance unit which I have established within the Department is urgently studying the recommendations of the Bullock Report on this point. I hope to receive the unit's advice shortly.