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Technical Education

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations he has had with local education authorities about the Manpower Services Commission's scheme for introducing technical education for 14 to 18-year-olds.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations he had with the local authorities, unions and others in the teaching profession, before the announcement of a new pilot scheme for technical and vocational education for 14 to 18-year-olds on 12 November.

The Prime Minister's announcement on 12 November was made after consultation with the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission and in the light of widespread calls for improved arrangements for technical and vocational education. Together with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, I have discussed with the local authority representatives how local education authorities and the commission can work together in partnership to implement the new initiative. The Department has invited the teacher associations to early meetings and is in contact with other educational interests.

Is it not remarkable that while the Secretary of State fiddles with irrelevant and trivial matters, such as vouchers and student loans, he allows a major departure in education policy to be taken by the Manpower Services Commission? Has he lost all faith in himself or his Department to initiate changes in education?

The initiative on the curriculum in schools lies not with the holder of my office but with the local education authorities, to which such matters are decentralised under our procedures, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

It appears to many of us that the DES has been pushed aside. Are we now to have schools for the 14-plus pupils who will be going to them outside the orbit of the DES as separate institutions with perhaps the kind of curriculum censorship by the MSC that we have begun to see? Is the Secretary of State aware that, as far as we can see, the only form of research sponsorship now going on in the DES in genetic manipulation is the fungoid growth of the MSC?

No. The legal position remains as now. There is a requirement that education shall be provided for pupils between the ages of 14 and 16.

In dealing with the 14 to 18-year-olds, will my right hon. Friend keep clear in his mind the difference between education and training—education being for life and training being vocational for a job or profession?

"Yes, certainly", is the answer to my hon. Friend, but perhaps he will entertain conjecture of the possibility that, to some extent, the two can be combined as they are in many other countries.

Will the Secretary of State comment on Mr. David Young's statement that the legal position is clear and that no change is necessary, as he said in the statement that he has just made? Will he confirm that if the MSC decides to set up separate institutions, as it has said it may well do, those institutions will be inspected by his inspectors and the local education authorities will be responsible for the curriculum and conduct of those institutions.

It is open to any local education authority to use a school attendance order if it has reason to believe that the education being provided in any place professing to offer education, which is within its reach, is not education.

Does the Secretary of State not perceive that in this initiative there is a real danger of going back to something much worse than the old technical stream, which was a well-intentioned, but entirely unsatisfactory feature of our system in the 1940s?

I do not accept that there is a danger of going back. On the contrary, there is a possibility of going forward, because many schools, although not enough, already have a strong technical element in their curriculum. The purpose is to encourage the spread of that element in the curriculum in schools where it is not strong enough now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all such initiatives will be welcomed if they lead to an improvement in the total provision of technical education? Is he further aware that that process can be undermined if mathematics teaching, in particular, is not adequate? Finally, is he aware that the Carshalton high school for girls has had four mathematics teachers in one O-level class in one term?

All hon. Members are aware of the need for more mathematics teachers, but surely it is common ground that children also need preparation for living and working. An element of technical education should be welcome in all schools. That is what the initiative seeks to encourage.

The Secretary of State is twice in danger of misleading the House. First, the scheme as it has been broadcast is not for improving technical education in all schools; it is an experiment, limited to 10,000 children, controlled by the MSC. Secondly, he is in danger of further misleading the House because he did not quote all that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. The right hon. Lady said that there would be

"new institutional arrangements for technical and vocational education for 14 to 18-year-olds, within existing financial resources, and, where possible, in association with local education authorities".—[Official Report. 12 November 1982; Vol. 31, c. 270.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government are probably the only Government in the world who think that there can be improvements in youth instruction with no additional necessary resources and no proper consultation with education authorities?

The hon. Gentleman is misleading himself. One of the purposes of the MSC's initiative is to make available a limited amount from its own resources from the taxpayer to supplement resources made available by local education authorities which wish to bargain with it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Order. That gives me an opportunity to say that hon. Members should try not to argue a case at Question Time, but to ask questions. That is what we are here for.