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Education Reforms

Volume 115: debated on Friday 8 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will list the educational reforms instituted since May 1979 together with any changes in the level of resources available to the education system; and if he will make a statement.

[pursuant to his reply, 5 May 1987, c. 307]: The Government's policies for raising educational standards in schools were set out in the White Paper "Better Schools" (Cmnd. 9649). We are seeking improvements in the school curriculum, including the establishment of a national foundation curriculum, to secure achievement by all pupils across a broad range of subjects necessary to prepare them better for adult and working life.We have given financial support to promote technical and vocational education for 14–18-year-olds in schools and colleges and supported programmes for lower attaining pupils.We have introduced the GCSE to improve examinations at 16 and are introducing the AS level to broaden sixth form studies. We are developing records of achievement for all school leavers.The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 promotes the more effective management of maintained schools by in particular enhancing the role of governing bodies and the influence of parents. We have announced plans for the first two of a number of city technology colleges to be established in urban areas. The proportion of 3 and 4-year-olds at school has increased from 37 per cent. in 1979 to 43 per cent. in 1986. Spending per primary pupil has risen 17 per cent. in real terms; spending per secondary school pupil has risen 20 per cent. in real terms. The pupil-teacher ratio has improved from just under 19·1:1 in 1979 to 17·6:1 in 1986. Average class sizes have fallen and there are 41 per cent. fewer classes with over 30 pupils. £40 million is being spent this year on the assisted places scheme which is helping some 25,000 children from less well-off backgrounds to take up places in independent schools.There are now 157,000 more students in higher education than in 1979 (85,000 full-time, 72,000 part-time). The number of mature students entering higher education has risen by 25,000 since 1979 and stands at 42,000. This has been achieved without loss of quality and with a higher proportion studying science and engineering, thanks partly to the Government's information technology initiative and engineering and technology programme. The number of science and engineering graduates has risen 30 per cent. since 1979. Greater cost-effectiveness has been achieved, especially in the polytechnics where unit costs have fallen substantially. the funding of universities now includes greater selectivity in the interest of concentrating support for research on the best centres. The Open University has increased its range of courses, especially in technology and in continuing education, and is admitting more students. Further major reforms to be implemented over the next few years were announced in the recent higher education White Paper.In further education, development plans have been introduced with gains in relevance and efficiency. Course and qualification patterns continue to evolve, including the certificate of pre-vocational education, which the Government launched in 1983. Greater cost-effectiveness has been pursued through the NAFE joint efficiency study, the promotion of better management information systems and otherwise: student/staff ratios in the sector are being steadily tightened without loss of quality or opportunity. Across further and higher education the Government's professional, industrial and commercial updating programme has helped secure a big increase in work-related continuing education and is continuing its success.The work of the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education is leading to improvements in initial teacher training, and new specific grant support for in-service teacher training is being introduced in 1987–88. The introduction of special bursaries and the establishment of teaching as a career unit are helping to improve the supply of teachers in shortage subjects. Education support grants are now well established.The Government's plans provide for total public expenditure on education in the United Kingdom of £19·6 billion in 1987–88, more than double the equivalent figure for 1978–79.