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Education Reform

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate he has made of the effect of the proposed national curriculum on the percentage of students who go on to university.

The national curriculum aims to improve the quality of education for all our pupils and we expect more to go on to college, polytechnic and university.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as Britain is seventh in the league table of nations sending their students on to university, arid with approximately 15 per cent. of the student population going forward at the moment, compared with 44 per cent. in the United States, one of the main aims of the Education Reform Bill should be to get more students into university?

Yes. I have already set the ambitious target of increasing the number of students by 50,000 in the lifetime of this Parliament. Since we have been in office we have increased the number of students in higher education by more than 160,000. My hon. Friend is correct: the level has increased from one in eight to one in seven. Our aim is that by the end of the century one in five school leavers will go on to higher education.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a national curriculum is no use without proper tests? Will he also confirm that the emphasis will be on proper written tests and not on some form of airy-fairy assessment which may be far from consistent between one local education authority and another?

I shall be pleased to send my hon. Friend a copy of Professor Black's report, which recommends that there should be assessment and testing at the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16. He specifically refers to pencil and paper tests and gives examples of those. My hon. Friend will be glad to know that Professor Black also recommends that the results of the tests should be published—not the names of the individual children—so that parents can assess the performance of schools.

Has the Secretary of State explained to the Prime Minister that her desire for crude pass-fail tests in the national curriculum would not only lower educational standards but would require a vast army of external examiners and invigilators, which would cost a great deal more than Professor Black's proposals? I assure the Secretary of State that so long as he fights hard against the Prime Minister and the other forces of darkness in this area, he has our full support.

I do not think that I want that sort of support. As the hon. Gentleman knows, debates on such matters are vigorous and robust, and now sometimes public. However, all decisions taken on such matters are collective decisions.

I am glad that in Committee the Labour party did not vote against any of the clauses on the national curriculum or on financial delegation, and it virtually approved open enrolment. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman did his duty, but basically he knows that we are right.