Skip to main content

Education: Pupils and Young People

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 28 October 2010


Moved By

To call attention to the case for providing excellence in education for all pupils and young people; and to move for papers.

My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this important topic today. I look forward very much to hearing the contributions of so many noble Lords who I know share my passion for raising standards in our schools and colleges. I say a particular thank you to the Minister, who has bravely come to take part in our debate today, despite having had the awful experience of being mugged—quite severely, as I understand it—on his way home last night. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in giving him our thanks for being here, our sympathy and our very best wishes.

The history of our nation’s search for the holy grail of “every school a good school” has been both long and so far, sadly, unsuccessful. Nearly 70 years ago, the great Education Act of 1944 set the goal of every child to be entitled to education suited to their “age, ability and aptitude”. That goal, also, has so far not been attained.

Let me reflect on the task that we have yet to complete for at least three groups of our young people. First, far too many bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive an education that is far below their ability. Secondly, far too many young people are forced into a mould of education unsuited to their interest or aptitude. Thirdly, far too many exceptionally gifted children—perhaps most particularly those gifted in the sciences—are insufficiently challenged by the education that they receive. Tragically, for them and for our country, some young people in all three of those categories fall by the wayside.

Consider first the bright children from poor backgrounds. Fewer than half as many pupils who are eligible for free school meals achieve the magic five good GCSEs as do their better-off contemporaries. The gap between the poorest-achieving schools and the best is shocking. Last year, at the bottom, 138 schools failed to achieve five good GCSE passes for even 20 per cent of their pupils. Meanwhile, the top 184 schools achieve that success for more than 90 per cent of their pupils. The sad fact is that those worst-achieving schools were almost always found in areas of social deprivation. In Britain today, where you live, more than any other factor, determines your access to good education. League tables of school achievement simply tell you where rich people live. If we could abolish catchment areas, that might help, although it would create other injustices and is in practical terms unworkable.

What every parent wants and every child deserves is a good neighbourhood school. That is why the academies programme is so important and why it offers the greatest prospect of lifting the standards of schools in the areas of greatest need. I here pay tribute to the previous Government and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for introducing the academies programme, which built on and extended Lord Joseph’s city technology college vision. The Academies Act introduced by the coalition Government, which occupied many hours of time in this House before the Summer Recess, took that vision further and expanded the freedoms of academies, allowing them better to serve their pupils’ and parents’ needs. Add to that the introduction by the coalition Government of a pupil premium for children on free school meals and the prospect of at last offering the poorest children excellence in education is in sight.

Perhaps more controversially, we need to address the many young people currently forced into a mode of education unsuited to their talents and interests. There are still some who believe that all young people should be forced into an academic education right through their schooldays. Under the previous Government, schools and teachers had been judged by their pupils’ achievement on written tests and examinations. Targets of 50 per cent of young people entering higher education reflected their fixed belief in the academic mould, although, on examination, this belief seems perverse. It fails to take into account the country’s need for well educated and skilled craftsmen and technicians, while also failing to take into account the simple fact that many young people are uninterested in academic achievement but have motivation and talent in the technical and vocational areas.

The previous Government’s introduction of diplomas was the first effort to recognise that—I again pay tribute to them for it—but the criteria for those diplomas was too often academic and schools that offered them did not always provide the vocational expertise and the links to employers that were needed for them to succeed. I am delighted that the coalition Government are increasing the number of apprenticeships and I hope that employers will respond, even in these hard times, by providing the hands-on work experience that motivates the apprentice and provides her or him with valuable practical skills. If we are to provide for all the talents and skills of our young people, this area still needs to be addressed with some urgency.

Thirdly, we need to do far, far more to meet the needs of the exceptionally gifted children, on whose talents will rest much of the future success of business, innovation, public service and academic discovery. In recent years, under the mistaken policies of the previous Government, it has appeared almost sinful to allow the natural spread of talent in the population to be reflected in the outcomes of education. A levelling down of expectations and achievement so that no pupil outshone the rest became mistakenly accepted as evidence of social inclusion.

As a consequence, the leading universities found that they could no longer trust the results of A-level examinations which promised outstanding results to a majority of young people. They found gifted scientists who suffered from a lack of any rigour in their understanding of the disciplines of physics or chemistry, with the result that these top universities have now turned to separate examinations that test the skills of the most gifted and have provided special coaching to bring 19 year-olds up to the required standard in maths and even in written English. What an indictment of what these highly gifted young people’s education has provided for them.

Gifted children have special needs, just as do those with learning difficulties, and they need nurturing and developing in ways that too many of our state schools have failed to offer. Providing for the needs of every child means accepting that equality of opportunity—for which I will fight as long as I have breath—does not imply equality of outcome. Some children run faster; some are prettier; some are taller; and some are better footballers, better musicians or better scientists than others. Education that allows all these talents to develop to their fullest extent should be our ultimate goal.

Changing the structure of school or curricula offerings, while necessary, is not a sufficient condition for excellence. The quality of experience for every child is determined most of all by the teachers whom she or he encounters. The quality of teachers is now probably the best that it has ever been in terms of their education and qualifications. I celebrate the emphasis that our coalition Government have given to taking away the top-heavy load of surveillance, regulation, bureaucracy and suspicion, which has stifled the professionalism of teachers in recent times.

Trusting heads and teachers to make the best professional judgments about how to serve the needs of their pupils is an essential way of ensuring that every child has the right education for their abilities and aptitudes. As professionals, heads and teachers can be trusted to judge the right kind of disciplinary regime for their cadre of pupils. They are also best placed to judge the right mix of academic and vocational offerings to meet their pupils’ needs and interests.

Teachers and heads would, however, be the first to agree that their increased autonomy must be balanced by the right kind of accountability. National league tables are not the answer, although every parent has the right to know how a secondary school in their area is performing in national examinations or how a primary school close to them is performing in test results at the end of the primary stage. National results are of comparatively little value to the parent trying to choose the best school for their child. Schools must, however, make publicly available the maximum information to their local community in order to inform choice.

Robust inspection that bears on excellence is a vital ingredient in accountability. I am sad to have to say that in recent years Ofsted has failed to perform this necessary function. It is not Ofsted’s fault. It has been required by the previous Government to perform a multitude of functions, many of which have only marginal relationships to good education. It ticks boxes on predetermined standards of health and safety. True stories are told, for example, of a school failing and being put into special measures because its safety fence was not quite high enough. It ticks boxes on measures of inclusiveness and social diversity. What has that to do with educational outcomes? When it comes to education matters, Ofsted ticks its boxes on inputs, availability of resources, buildings, furniture and teachers’ lesson plans. The output that it reports is mainly the test and examination results, which are already publicly available. On the basis of these ticks in boxes, parents and employers are told whether a school is failing, succeeding or just jogging along at the margin.

This is not, in my view and that of many others who care about raising standards, what inspections should be about. Inspections should be a careful, professional assessment of what teachers and schools are doing to ensure their pupils’ success. Are they motivating and inspiring? Are they fostering curiosity? Are they providing a rich diet of learning that is appropriate to the background and ability of each pupil? However they are achieving this, their success should be noted and reported regardless of whether they are obeying the diktats of some central regulation. If they are failing to inspire—and, indeed, not all teachers, schools or heads are doing a good job—the priority is to work with them, to give them the skills and support to perform better, not to name and shame. Naming and shaming does not by itself raise standards. It has a disastrous effect on the children and young people in the school, as well as on the careers of all the teachers in the school, some of whom may well have been working hard to give the best that they can to their pupils.

More important than naming and shaming is working for school improvement. That is an expert task and only the most senior people with a proven record of success are qualified to undertake it. It is the most essential way in which the accountability of schools, heads and teachers can be turned into success for the children in their care. That is what inspection must achieve.

I wish more than anything to see our schools and colleges offering excellence in education to all children and young people. To achieve this goal, the creation of academies, the pupil premium and the enhancement of autonomy to heads and teachers have already been put in place by the coalition Government. I celebrate and welcome that. We are still to consider a system of inspection that marks success and works to turn failure into growth. That, too, is an essential ingredient. I believe that all these are within our grasp. I beg to move.

My Lords, I welcome the debate and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on introducing it. She always does so in a thoughtful and sensible way and I enjoy listening to and debating with her, as I do this morning.

She has highlighted some of the issues that still need to be addressed. I do not differ from her and I am not going to go over them. However, I should like to place on record the improvement there has been in our school system over recent years. Certainly I remain proud of the achievements under the previous Government—we made a wise investment—but I am not blind and I know that there is work still to be done. It will be more difficult to do at a time of falling budgets but that is the situation we are in.

We do not have a great deal of time and I wish to concentrate my comments on one specific matter. One of the strands that outlines the coalition’s approach to school improvement—I agree that it is a key issue—is the devolvement of power to teachers, trusting professionals and teacher autonomy. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that that is not enough; that there needs to be an accountability mechanism as well. I wish to challenge that because I do not buy into it. I am second to none in my admiration for teachers and the work they do and I, too, believe that we have the best generation of teachers we have ever had. I trust most of them but I do not trust all of them—and I probably do not trust any of them all the time. That is human nature and would be the same with any profession.

There was a time when we trusted teachers to get on with it—the days when I started teaching—but, to be honest, the quality of teaching was poorer and the outcomes and results for children were weaker than they are now. It is an easy thing to say—it sounds good and will certainly put you in the good books of teachers—but, for me, it is not the way to school improvement. Two things have to happen: I trust teachers if I know that they are working within a framework of challenge and high-quality support; I do not trust teachers if they are left to get on with it themselves. I want to consider both of those issues in the time remaining.

If teachers are taking decisions about which pedagogy to use, how to group children, what reading scheme to use, what the balance of vocational and academic work should be, I would like to think that there was an evidence base to which they could refer when making those decisions. I trust my doctor to prescribe the right medicine because I know that every single medicine will have been through a trial and proven to work in certain circumstances; I know that he will not reintroduce leeches for me because of the system which states that leeches do not work. I therefore trust him because he is making a decision within a proven framework. Where is that framework for teachers? Where is the bank of evidence for what works? Where is the research for teachers to access and the time for them to do it? Where is that strand of professionalism whereby a professional person bases their practice on sound evidence and evaluates what they do? We have a lot more to do to give teachers the tools to do the job in the form of top-level information about what works.

My second problem with merely devolving to and trusting teachers is that it is not the first time that a Government have tried to do it. The Tories tried when they were last in power and we tried with the academies. On both occasions, we ended up building a new middle. The Tories built the Funding Agency for Schools, having taken schools away from local authorities, and the Labour Government set up the biggest section of the Department for Education and Skills to manage academies, having taken them out of local authority influence. History and evidence show us that—whether we like it or not—there is government, there are teachers and there needs to be something in between. There has been a lot of dissatisfaction, which I share, with local authorities performing that middle role. I do not argue about that: when they are good, they are good; when they are bad, they are awful. It is less than satisfactory.

We have had three, very good middle layers which have been simply abolished or ceased to be funded. One was the School Youth Sports Trust, which looked after sports in schools; another was Creative Partnerships, which looked after that section of the curriculum; and another was the whole specialist schools movement. They were the best middle layers that I had ever seen. They concentrated on training and top-level professional development; they made teachers researchers and reflective practitioners; they enabled them to create professional networks. I cannot see why a party of government who want to trust teachers have removed in one fell swoop a middle layer that was proven to work, that was not a quango, that spent money wisely and that had a track record of raising standards. Quite honestly, I could weep, because it is really bad education—time will tell whether it is good politics—and it will make it far more difficult for the Government to deliver on freedom to schools and teachers.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on securing this valuable debate and my noble friend Lord Hill on turning up—it just shows that you can’t keep a good man down. I agree with my noble friend Lady Perry that we must be ambitious for children. I agree also with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about the importance of an evidence base. However, since I was a teacher, the internet has come along and teachers are lucky to have access to more information about what works and a greater opportunity to disseminate best practice than any generation of teachers that went before.

An excellent education is what we seek for all children and for those who come back to education for a second chance, having failed for whatever reason the first time. I shall focus on getting the foundations right, because without good foundations the building will topple.

Getting the foundations right falls into two categories. First, there is the task of getting to know the child and his/her particular needs as early as possible so that the right education can be provided. That means very early contact with trained professionals who can identify whether the child has any particular barrier, physical or mental, to their benefiting from normal education provision. If a barrier is identified, it is then important that suitable provision is made to help them get over it, without parents having to go into battle to obtain it. It may be physical mobility problems, sensory impairment, neurological problems, speech and language impairment, autism, dyslexia, learning difficulties, behaviour problems or emotional problems arising out of a chaotic home background. It may be impaired brain development, resulting from exposure to physical or emotional violence in the home. All these things get in the way of a child fulfilling their potential in the classroom.

It is for this reason that I am delighted to welcome my Government’s announcements about free early-years places for deprived two year-olds and the pupil premium. I welcome also their intention to provide diagnostic tests for all children soon after they start school. However, I urge my ministerial colleagues to bring the age down to two or three if possible and to ensure that the tests are carried out by fully trained professionals capable of diagnosing the wide range of conditions that exist. That is a tall order, but well worth achieving because of the enormous cost-benefit in the long run.

There are considerable difficulties in providing enough professionals with the right skills. Many of us have spoken in the past about the problem of getting speech and language therapists. They often fall between two stools, working in schools but paid for by the PCTs. I hope that the forthcoming NHS reforms may help that situation.

There is also the problem of educational psychologists on which several noble Lords have received a briefing from the Association of Educational Psychologists. It tells us that the Children's Workforce Development Council has frozen recruitment for EP training from 2011 onwards. Combined with the ageing profile of the profession, that could have a serious effect on the availability of these services to some of the most vulnerable children. Will my noble friend say whether the Government intend to look into this?

The second area of getting the foundations right is learning to read and write. You cannot get an education unless you are literate. If you look at a young baby, the first way in which it communicates is not by writing something down: it listens. It listens to the voice of its mother and its father. It detects not just words, but the tone of voice, kindness, persuasion, anger and frustration. It knows immediately what mood its parent is in and often mirrors that in its response. Then it learns to vocalise and eventually to speak. Your Lordships may see what I am getting at. We must foster listening and speaking before we trouble children with reading and writing.

Until a child can express a thought in words, it cannot be expected to turn that word into a squiggle on a page. That is why it is so important to address communication difficulties early. That is why I have always been sceptical about imposing phonics on all children at a particular age without reference to the teacher’s professional judgment about whether the child is ready for that style of learning which, I admit, works well for many.

There is a need for more children’s radio than we have on offer at the moment and I took the opportunity of promoting that idea to Sir Michael Lyons when I met him last month. If you want a child to concentrate on language, pictures can be distracting. They have their place, especially in early reading books associating words with pictures, but if you want to encourage a child to listen you should sometimes ask him to concentrate on that.

Stories and rhymes read aloud in programmes aimed correctly at different age groups lend themselves perfectly to the medium of radio. It grieves me that all we have now is a single catch-all programme on Radio 4 that does not succeed in serving any age group at all and is not listened to by many. I urge the BBC to pilot a new children’s radio station. It could be very exciting, especially if it was as well researched as “Teletubbies”. It could serve all children, but particularly the many thousands for whom English is not their first language and young children who are learning to listen and speak before they read.

Finally, I mention the important issue of life skills and the well-being of the child, which makes him ready to learn. A child cannot learn if he is distressed, and many schools these days find themselves needing to take care of a child’s emotional needs before they can help him to learn.

I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that this debate is time limited and Back-Benchers’ contributions are limited to five minutes.

My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this important debate. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of officially opening the Trinity Academy in Halifax. Trinity Academy is in a deprived area of north Halifax and the diocese of Wakefield is the lead sponsor. The academy is a solution to the continuing, difficult and nationally publicised problems with the Ridings School. Presumably that was the sort of school to which the noble Baroness referred in her speech.

The academy solution was worked out and worked for under the academy policy of the previous Government and we in the diocese of Wakefield are grateful to them for all that they did to make it possible. We are also very grateful to the ministerial team at the new Department of Education. I would particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hill, who helped us to proceed to academy status, and pay tribute to him for being with us today. I think we encountered each other earlier on his journey home, before he had that unnerving experience. I also thank the Department for Education for its commitment to funding the new building project there. New buildings are crucial for nurturing respect and self-esteem and will allow the academy to be fit for the purpose of providing a modern education. I am pleased to hear, therefore, that Her Majesty’s Government are committed to 600 new building programmes.

The bearing of Trinity Academy on this debate is that it will foster excellence within a poorer area of our diocese, which is indeed in an area of multiple deprivation. In his address at the opening, the principal spoke movingly, noting how teachers who spend time and energy in taking an interest in their pupils could change the life chances of their children. This had been the principal’s own experience and was why he was committed to excellence in education. This is surely the key to the relationship between excellence and education; excellence can be nurtured and passed on to others by those who inspire and press students to strive for their best. Among other things, education is the handing over of the skills and tools for learning and the passing on of wisdom to raise up the next generation. Where we have fostered it, excellence will be seen to grow and spread into all areas of life.

Investment in education can never be a waste, but it is always an investment in people, communities and whole areas. Trinity Academy is one example of the Church of England’s historic commitment to schooling for entire communities in less well off areas. We still hold to that commitment. There are now 38 academies sponsored and at least part funded by the church in areas of deprivation. Of course, academies are not the only option, but it is our hope, in the context of the historic partnership of church and state, that Her Majesty’s Government will continue in the same direction that they have pursued in developing Trinity Academy in Halifax. I can think of two other local schools where the same is true—the Sentamu Academy in Hull and the Church of England academy in Scunthorpe. We would like to see a continuance of academies opening in deprived areas and a focus on schools that do not yet excel. In the diocese of Wakefield, we are also pursuing other options for academies with co-sponsors in different LEAs and unitary authorities.

We hope that the present focus on outstanding schools will broaden out more fully to encompass other schools. That would indicate a clear commitment to the fostering of excellence in all our communities and for all children and young people. As I opened the Trinity Academy, I returned to the earliest origins of the concept of the term. It was Plato who said:

“By education I mean that training in excellence from youth upward which makes the young passionately desire to be perfect citizens, and teaches them … justice”.

This is the only education that deserves the name.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on obtaining this important debate and particularly on including the word “excellence” in its title. I firmly believe that the only raw material that every nation has in common is its people, and woe betide it if it does not do everything that it can to nurture and develop the talents of all its people. If it does not, it has only itself to blame if it fails. Ditto the wonderful words of Winston Churchill, when he said:

“There is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man”.

My concern that our education system is failing in this respect was confirmed by what I saw as Chief Inspector of Prisons: vast numbers of young people woefully below even level 1; 65 per cent of adult males with a reading age of less than eight; and truancy and exclusion figures among young offenders a national disgrace. Why is that and what can we do about it? In the time available, I can only scratch the surface of an answer. However, I have three experiences that I put forward for ministerial consideration.

The first comprehensive school that I saw was a British Forces Education Service one in Germany in 1966, and it was achieving amazing results. When I asked the headmaster how he achieved this with pupils of all standards and ages, coming from schools all over the world at all times of the term, he replied, “very simple”. The day was organised so that everyone did the same subject at the same time. On arrival, children were assessed in each subject and put into the class best suited to their ability. They could be in the top group in English and the bottom in maths. Talent or ability was the determinant, not age. When I said that if this was comprehensive education, I was all for it, he said that that was not how it was conducted in England, where pupils were moved up each year, regardless of ability, leading to those unable to keep up in one year slipping ever further behind as they moved up.

My second point, which echoes what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about communication skills is one that I have made on the Floor of this House many times. The scourge of the 21st century is that children cannot communicate with each other, their teachers, or anyone else. Assessment by speech and language therapists discloses a raft of reasons, some to do with learning disabilities or difficulties—all of which can be ameliorated—to enable the young person to engage with his or her teacher. I firmly believe—based on the evidence of what therapists funded by Lady Helen Hamlyn achieved in young offender institutions, prompting governors to say that they did not know how they managed without them—that every child should have their communication skills assessed before they begin primary school. In the light of so much evidence of the glaringly obvious, I despair that successive Governments have, so far, not implemented this, because unless children can engage with their teachers and therefore education itself, too many will remain uneducated.

My final point reflects one made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, again about denied excellence. In 1999 Gabbitas initiated a programme called Tomorrow's Achievers, and I must declare an interest as a patron of the project. It provides master classes for that section of young people, namely the exceptionally bright, whose talents are currently ill served in too many instances. In each of the past two years more than 1,000 young people have been enabled to attend life-changing classes. Ten years ago they were offered to the then director-general of the Prison Service in the hope that they could rescue some who, often out of frustration, had turned to crime. So far, not one candidate has been put forward, and this remains yet another gift horse that I beg the Government to stable.

My Lords, if you sense a mood of frustrated concern, you would be correct. I care for this nation, and above all for its future and the future of its citizens. Education is all about identifying, nurturing and developing talent, and if we do not do that excellently, we risk damaging its future—and we will be to blame.

My Lords, I declare interests as the chairman of Edge and chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which are major educational charities, but of course I draw no remuneration from them.

I very much welcome this debate initiated by my noble friend Lady Perry. She touched on a profound malaise in the English education system; that there are hundreds of thousands of 13 and 14 year-olds who are totally bored at school. They do not find that what they are learning has anything to do with the world of work. What do they do? Some bunk off; some turn up but are bored, frustrated and disobedient; and they drop out and hang around on the streets. There are hundreds of thousands of them; therefore, some four years ago, Ron Dearing and I decided that we should do something about it and, in particular, we should re-establish the technical schools. We had them in the 1950s—it was part of the 1944 settlement. They were abolished in the 1950s. English snobbery killed them; everyone wanted to be in the school on the hill and the technical schools were considered to be for dirty jobs and greasy rags.

How did we set about changing this? We went to see the noble Lord, Lord Adonis; he supported us, as did the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. These colleges—we called them university technical colleges—are different in three very important ways. First, they are for 14 to 18 year-olds. I have been quite convinced that the right age of transfer in the education system is 14, not 11. By 14, youngsters can largely make their own decisions. History is on my side; I commissioned some research—I believe in commissioning research only when I know what the outcome will be—from Exeter University to show why, since 1850, technical education in Britain has been so bad, whereas it has been very good in Germany, Sweden and America. One of the reasons is the age of transfer. In 1941, the Board of Education decided that the age of transfer should be 13 to 14. That decision was not reversed by Mr Butler or any Minister; the Permanent Secretary decided—such was then the power of Permanent Secretaries. He said it should be 11 because grammar schools started at 11. That was the decision. It was a huge mistake, and it was huge mistake to finish with technical schools. Germany has kept them. The German education system has a much lower rate of applications to universities than ours, but it has a much higher rate of technical training, technical schools and apprenticeships, which is one of the reasons why Germany is coming out of the recession faster than we are.

Four years ago, we went to the Government and said that we want these schools to be different in three ways: first, they will be for 14 to 18 year-olds; secondly, a university and an FE college will sponsor each one to give it status; and thirdly, the curriculum of these schools will have two specialisms. Nearly all of those that are about to open have chosen engineering as one of the specialisms and then there are property services, IT and medical occupations—not doctors, but the people below doctors who, when you get my age, keep you alive when the doctor leaves the room. These colleges provide practical, hands-on training under the same roof as the academic work—GCSEs in English, maths, science and IT—because if you bring those two sides together under the same roof, you will have a significant improvement in literacy and numeracy. There is no doubt about that.

These colleges are different also because we asked local employers, big and small, to shape the specialist curriculum, so Rolls-Royce wants three, British Aerospace wants one, Guest, Keen and Nettlefold wants one and local companies in Walsall want one. They are immensely popular, and I am glad to say there is traction in that the JCB Academy in Staffordshire, which specialises in engineering, opened this year and is oversubscribed as a start-up school. I hope that five colleges will open next year, provided that the Government give us money. We are not building lavish new schools at £25 million or £30 million a time; we go for empty buildings, refurbished buildings or closed schools. The FE world is now throwing up lots of empty buildings. We can take surplus buildings from the FE world, and one college wants to use an industrial building. We hope to open five colleges next year, and the Government have said that after that we can have 12.

That is just a beginning because we are talking to more than 40 groups of people who want these colleges. They are important people from universities, FE colleges and leading businesses. I hope that we are going to have scores of these colleges in the lifetime of this Government because they are needed. They address the malaise that I talked about. They re-engage the interests of youngsters who want to turn up. These colleges will start at 8.30 in the morning with youngsters with tools in their hands, and they will do academic subjects in the afternoon. If they are late for 8.30, they are sent home. There is no question of them drifting in when they want. That is also one of the aspects of these colleges. There is huge enthusiasm for them, and I commend them to your Lordships.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for initiating this debate and for introducing it in the way that she did. I am pleased to see that the Minister is able to be with us despite the mishap. I look forward to his response because I had the pleasure of working with him when I was part of the National Literacy Trust.

There are hundreds of primary schools where the majority of children fail to get to an acceptable level in English and maths. These children leave primary schools without the knowledge and skills required to follow the secondary school curriculum and make a success of the rest of their time in education. Many of these children do not reach an acceptable level of literacy by the end of their time at primary school and their time at secondary level is often wasted. About one in five children leaving primary school does not get to level 4 in English.

The gap in attainment between the rich and the poor is shameful. For disadvantaged pupils, a gap opens even before primary school. Research shows that the highest early achievers from deprived backgrounds are overtaken by lower achieving children from advantaged backgrounds by the age of five. In 2008, National Literacy Trust research showed substantial differences in life chances, quality of life and civic and cultural participation between those with low literacy levels and those with higher levels of literacy competence. So, the direct link to social mobility and low aspirations is all too evident.

The Government’s move to make schools more autonomous by giving professionals greater autonomy, and to make the funding system fairer by providing extra money for young people from deprived backgrounds in order to ensure that children struggling with the basics get the extra help they need, is truly welcome. However, we know that there are other areas of school life that will not be covered by the pupil premium.

One of these areas is school library provision. Good school libraries contribute to excellent literacy outcomes for the schools in which they are based, but not all schools have a library. The number of schools with libraries has been falling in recent years. Research shows that only about 58 per cent of secondary schools have a library run by a professional librarian, and that libraries are often not fulfilling their potential.

In a difficult economic climate it is the support services such as these that run the risk of being reduced. Cuts will inevitably impact upon the poorest schools and those most disadvantaged. It is therefore important that we do not neglect the support services, such as school libraries, in the most deprived areas.

We all know that children's life chances are strongly affected by their parents’ circumstances. Researchers at the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy found that parents’ literacy level is a key indicator of their child’s literacy. That was backed by the Sutton Trust research this year that found that children’s exam results in England were more strongly linked to their parents’ education than in many other countries.

Against that background of high intergenerational transfer of poor skills, support also needs to be focused outside the school. Parents are a child’s first educators, and it is in all our interests to ensure that they have the necessary encouragement, support, confidence and knowledge to perform this crucial role. Families provide the foundations for early literacy development among very young children. Language—that is, speaking, listening, comprehension and vocabulary—is learnt through interaction with adults. Parents do this through conversation and encouraging imaginative play, and by reading stories. It is the parents who have the greatest role to play in helping their child to develop as a skilful communicator and a competent learner.

All parents wish to do their best for their children but often lack confidence or knowledge. Parents therefore need to be empowered to recognise the contribution that they can make and to be helped to make that contribution. Language is the key to learning. It is therefore important to increase awareness of the importance of these skills among parents if we are to ensure excellent education for all pupils and young people. If we want to tackle disadvantage and ensure excellent education for all, we need to develop professional practice, underpinned by appropriate professional development, that values the contribution of home and community literacy activity and knows how to make it work.

We need to have a clear responsibility for the development of a home and community literacy strategy and build on the work done by organisations such as the National Literacy Trust and others. We need greater incentives to encourage partnership working between schools, parents, community groups, and voluntary organisations, and we need to support and help all those working to create an environment and the social conditions in which learning can flourish and foster children’s language development. Is this not what the notion of a big society is about?

Bearing in mind how important literacy support outside schools is to the future of excellent education in this country, what steps are being taken to ensure that the Government, local authorities and schools are giving priority to family and community literacy and learning?

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this significant debate. The content of the phrase “excellence in education” obviously depends on our view of human beings and our understanding of what constitutes fulfilment in life. If we are simply fodder for the economy, or consumers who have to be equipped with critical tools to make choices, then we shall look for excellence in number-based subjects. If, on the other hand, without despising our role in the economy, we regard the overarching story of a human life as claiming freedom from dependence, becoming independent and then being equipped for interdependence in those mutual relationships that for most people bring joy and meaning to life, then our understanding of “excellence” will be wider.

I declare an interest as president of the London Diocesan Board, which has the privilege, every day, of educating 50,000 young people in London north of the Thames. Many of our schools are hundreds of years old. I echo my right reverend brother in saying that they were established to serve the whole community and not just the Anglican part of it. We reject the category “faith school” because it is misleading about the motivation and operation of our educational work. I have often wondered what is supposed to be the opposite of a faith school; perhaps it is a “doubt school”. Every school is informed by an educational philosophy and assumptions about human life. It is simply that our schools’ philosophy is clearly stated and not concealed.

It seems to me that every child has a right not to be under pressure at school to convert to any particular philosophical or faith position, but every child has a right to be equipped for a good life with three things: religious literacy, ethical clarity and spiritual awareness, which is often best developed by music and the arts. Our schools serve a diverse constituency. I asked one of the imams in Tower Hamlets why he sent his child to the church school. His reply was simple: “God is honoured in our church school”.

My daughter recently did her GCSEs at the Grey Coat Hospital, an 18th-century foundation close to your Lordships’ House. Out of just over 1,000, 664 pupils are from ethnic minorities. The deprivation indices are high but the contextual value-added result is 1,021—one of the best scores in the country. As your Lordships will know, the UK average is 1,005.

Excellence is not to be confused with elitism and we have also been grateful for the initiatives of the previous Government, and the present one, aimed at increasing access to excellence for all. We have opened four new academies in the diocese, and the fifth has the theme of science and religion. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, and I will be playing second and third fiddles respectively to the Secretary of State when it is opened towards the end of November. The proposed St Luke's School is in the first wave of the new free schools.

I am aware of the helpful conversations which have been going on at a national level between the department, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and those responsible for education in the Jewish community to achieve a consistent designation of any new schools with a faith-based character, so that their proper freedom is secured while the possibility of supportive relationships with wider groupings is preserved. The vision of the big society, as the noble Baroness pointed out, recognises the contribution of those intermediate bodies, the little platoons that occupy the ground between the state and individual units. It would be wasteful to neglect the additional resources available through church, mosque, temple and synagogue-based educational charities.

My Lords, it is as much a privilege as a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, whose leadership within his great diocese is, appositely to this debate, a lesson for us all. I offer a warm word of thanks to my noble friend Lady Perry. We first met within the old DES under the late, great Sir Keith Joseph, later Lord Joseph. She has always been a champion—nay, a heroine—on the issues underlying this debate. So she has been today.

The virtue of a debate of short speeches is to concentrate the mind. I have only one subject to raise with my noble friend the Minister: the supply of male teachers in primary schools. I had a great friend from Oxford who won the top history scholarship of his year, then got a first. He played cricket, hockey and squash for the college, secured a short-service commission as a captain in the Royal Army Education Corps and spent the rest of his career as a teacher in primary schools—not even, to the best of my knowledge, becoming a head teacher. Finally, in retirement—or possibly earlier—he was a schools examination marker at a much higher level. We shared many interests, sometimes of an old fogeyish kind, and we corresponded regularly until his sad death early last year. He was much preoccupied with the subject I am raising.

I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who was an outstanding Minister for both education and transport. He was so in charge of all his briefs that he almost invited supplementary oral questions by making his answers so precise, comprehensive and short that there was always time for more questions. Not all Ministers have that polymath confidence and fluency. When I asked the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, an Oral Question about the state of play on my subject today, he was more reassuring than I expected. Perhaps the numbers were simply, if modestly, moving in the right direction. The fact remains that in 2009-10 male teachers made up just 12 per cent of registered primary school teachers and 28 per cent of primary schools in England had no registered male teachers at all.

Why do I worry about it? My noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking and I are of the same age, give or take three months. We therefore entered the primary stage at around the same time and during the war. He has always been a constructive martinet on grammar, spelling and punctuation. I share that enthusiasm. We jointly suppose it is because, during the war, the absence of so many at the war meant that we were taught by teachers of an earlier generation, who may well have themselves been educated in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

I do not know where my noble friend Lord Baker was at school in the war, although I believe it was in the north-west. I was at a rural preparatory school in Buckinghamshire where, even during the war, the majority of the staff were still male. I pay tribute to the excellence of the teaching we received. I do not want to make too much of this but the same male majority was true of the prep schools attended by my three sons on the Isle of Purbeck, 30 or more years ago. Their great school rival was the similar school down the road, attended by the late, great Michael Foot. I do wonder, however, if there is not a monograph to be written on the scale of the effect of this male majority of teachers at that age on the comparative overall performance of the independent sector.

I raise one other consideration. During the 1998 defence review under the previous Government, when I was still in the other place, my own defence of the two TA units in my inner city constituency included in my armoury the fact that 43 per cent of their cadet force recruits were from ethnic minorities and 53 per cent were from single-parent families. There is no doubt that a male-oriented environment in those TA units went some way to providing structure in what were sometimes fairly broken lives. Both my TA units survived the cull.

I end with a debt of honour to one of my own teachers from the war, not least because at 93 he is still alive and can read it. When we look back on those who had formative effects on us up to the age of 25 but outside our own families—I reiterate the significance of this in depleted families—they are sometimes clergy, sometimes sports coaches, sometimes contemporary friends but predominantly from the ranks of our teachers. Freddie Madden was a history postgraduate student at Christ Church College, Oxford, when war broke out. He could not serve because of health problems. He was planning an academic career, which he resumed at Oxford in the winter of 1946-47. He deliberately declined to teach history so that he would not gain any academic advantage over his contemporaries who were away fighting. He taught English grammar and literature brilliantly, and beyond that introduced us to a wider culture. This is at the margins of the issue I am raising because of the special wartime circumstances, but the impact of his teaching was not and is not.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for securing this debate and introducing it with the clarity that we have come to expect of her. I may not agree with everything she said but she presented some extremely interesting views on what we ought to be doing.

I think we all agree that we have one of the most unequal systems of education in the world. Our best schools are better than any that one can think of in other parts of the world but a large number are struggling. We have a tradition of catering to the elite, encouraging excellence among them, but not paying as much attention to excellence so far as the rest of the population is concerned. Consider some of the results. Many of our schools produce rather poor results at primary and secondary levels. There is profound alienation from the education system, leading to around 300,000 suspensions in any given school year. There are 250,000 persistent truants and thousands of teachers are abused and attacked every day. This all leads to an enormous waste of talent but that is not the only important thing. It also means that we are unable to compete with such countries as Singapore, South Korea or Germany, where the education systems tend to cater to a large body of people in a meaningful way.

It is also striking how poverty and disadvantage impact on our education system. There are 80,000 pupils who are eligible for free school meals every school year. They are the poorest achievers. They start performing badly in primary school and that continues from one stage of school to another, right up to university if they ever manage to get there. In this context I am particularly worried about some of our ethnic minority pupils. I am here thinking about Pakistanis and Afro-Caribbeans, who tend to achieve rather poorly. If we are to tackle this, we ought to think about providing extra funds for schools and areas where underachievement is rampant. It is a question not only of concentrating on schools and pupils but of attending to the larger question of economic and social disadvantage.

If we are going to attend to a large body of our schools where underachievement is a problem, we ought also to think of attracting high quality teachers. As has already been said, teaching staff these days are much better than they used to be, thanks to many of the efforts of the previous Government. Nevertheless, compared to what happens in Finland, Sweden and many other countries, we still have a long way to go. We must find ways not only of attracting highly qualified graduates but of providing better teacher training with a strong practical orientation. Here, again, I alert noble Lords to the virtual absence of ethnic minority teachers in many parts of our country. In all, 94 per cent of teachers come from the white community. In the north-east and south-west the figure goes up to 99.2 per cent. Ethnic minority teachers are important, partly because they provide inspiring role models for ethnic minority pupils, but also because they get white students used to the diversity of our multi-ethnic society.

Another point has to do with the obsession over the past few years with grading and exams. We ought to concentrate on the learning experience, on fostering the capacity, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said, for analysis, imagination and interdependence and encouraging intellectual curiosity. That will require a fairly drastic reorientation in how our curriculum is structured and taught. I particularly emphasise a certain degree of parochialism in our education system. There is not as much openness to other civilisations and their achievements, or to other languages, as there ought to be. This partly explains why modern languages are largely neglected or marginalised in many of our schools. A language is a window to another civilisation. Unless one is interested in other civilisations there is no reason why one should be interested in those languages, except in functional terms, which is hardly the way to learn a language.

It is also important to bear in mind that much of our education tends, certainly at the school level, to be rather narrowly based. If you compare our A-levels to the international baccalaureate, you begin to see why it is important that we should encourage students to take a wider range of subjects. We ought to do something similar at an earlier stage and make sure that English, mathematics and science are not the only subjects that are required to be taken until the age of 14. Once we begin to do that, we will begin to provide a broader base and a more literate and civilised society.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating the debate and for her very thoughtful and incisive introduction of it. I have spoken frequently in this House of my experience as a governor of a primary school in Guildford that serves a disadvantaged community there and of my experience as a member of the board of the corporation of Guildford College, but I do not think that I have ever spoken in this House of my experience over the past 10 years as a member of the local council —that is roughly equivalent to being a governor—of Guildford High School for Girls, one of the highest achieving independent girls’ day schools in this country. If one looks for an example of excellence in education, such a school provides it. It not only achieves extremely good results in academic terms but provides an all rounded education in music, the arts and extra-curricular activities ranging from working with Crisis at Christmas in London to canoeing in the French Alps. All told, it seems to me to prepare these young women not only to achieve good academic results but to be good citizens and to be able to enjoy life to the full.

When I read the title of this debate—excellence in education—I reflected on what contributes to that and how far that can be translated into the public sector. First, there is the whole question of parental background and parental advantage. The girls who attend Guildford High School come from extremely advantaged homes. Their parents talk to them when they are little and read to them. We know all this and we also know that, by the age of 18 months, the learning of children from very advantaged homes is three months more advanced than that of children from disadvantaged homes. Therefore, all the comments that various noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Walmsley, have made about getting the foundations right are so true. We have to concentrate on the early years and put money into them because they are absolutely crucial. I do not want to say any more about that other than to reiterate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on the importance of these children being able to read and write by the age of 11, and, therefore, the importance of one-to-one tuition and the Every Child a Reader programme in ensuring that they are helped if they are lagging behind.

My second point concerns money. The fees for most of the top-achieving private schools equate each term with roughly what we spend per pupil in secondary schools—£4,500. I do not think there is any way in which the public sector can ever emulate that. The pupil premium of £2,500 per child—it will vary a little—goes nowhere towards compensating for this. What does it buy? It buys smaller classes and individual tuition, all of which is important. However, we need to think about three things here. The first is the quality of the teachers. Finland provides a good example in that regard as the aim there is to recruit top-quality people into teaching. I am absolutely delighted that teaching has now become a profession of choice for some of our top graduates and I pay tribute to Teach First, which has helped to achieve that. The second thing we need to think about is the training of teachers and continuous professional development, both of which are vital if the quality of our teachers is to be maintained. Today’s generation of teachers are excellent, but it is vital that their quality is maintained.

The third thing we need to think about is extra-curricular activities. It is important that state schools try to provide the range of activities that one sees at some private schools. The best of them do and I pay tribute to what they achieve. There is pressure on teachers and, given the hours that they have to teach, devoting time after school to extra-curricular activities is often difficult. However, these activities provide young people with all the attributes which the CBI is looking for, such as the ability to communicate and to work as part of a team with all kinds of different people. Therefore, sufficient money should be allocated to enable extra-curricular activities to be provided.

In conclusion, I do not think that we can ever compensate for home background but I am not sure that we ought to try the kibbutz experience of taking very young children away from home. Such attempts have not succeeded and the young children involved became very aggressive, difficult and mixed-up young people. It seems to me that we need to think about four things: first, the quality of teachers; secondly, giving those teachers the room to practise their professionalism, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said; thirdly, the importance of the early years experience; and, fourthly, the importance of extra-curricular activities.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, for initiating this important debate and express my admiration to the Minister for his resilience after his awful experience of yesterday.

I begin by highlighting the outstanding achievement of the previous Government in improving excellence in education for all children, particularly for children in care. Ten years ago, Professor Jackson highlighted the failures in the education of looked-after children. Only 1 per cent of children in care went to university. The latest figure we have for that category is 8 per cent. That figure is far lower than we would wish but it is still far better than that of 10 years ago, so I pay tribute to the previous Government for achieving that.

I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Tim Loughton, the Minister for Children and Families. We all know that the most important factor in successful education is what happens in the home, not in the school. That is the biggest factor. Children need stability and someone in the home who cares about them, sticks with them, is interested in their welfare and has high aspirations for them. Children in care need a foster carer who can do that for them. Foster carers can do that only if they have the support of a good social worker. Mr Loughton has supported the work begun by the previous Government in setting up the College of Social Work and has introduced a review to look at how we can reduce the bureaucratic burden on social workers. Recently, he spent a week shadowing social workers in Stockport to see exactly what they do in their department. He is admired by many of those working in the field. I highlight the importance of that work in terms of achieving excellence in education for looked-after children in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and others have talked about the importance of having excellent teachers and about the need to recruit and retain them. I wish to concentrate on two aspects. The first is the importance of consultation with head teachers and the whole school staff to help them bear the emotional burden of the work that they undertake. The second is the importance of paired reading, particularly for vulnerable children. As regards consultation, I draw the Minister’s attention to the work of the Place2Be charity and of Emil Jackson, a child and adolescent psychotherapist practising at the Brent Centre for Young People, who for several years has provided consultation to the staff groups of 10 schools in Brent. I will talk about his work in more detail later, but the Minister might like to read the paper, “The Development of Work Discussion Groups in Educational Settings”, published in the Journal of Child Psychotherapy in 2008. This week the British Association for Adoption and Fostering launched its Supporting Children’s Learning training programme for foster carers. This is a 10-day programme to train foster carers better to help children in their care with literacy. Will the Minister kindly draw the attention of Mr Loughton and of Mr Gove, the Secretary of State, to this programme?

Teachers face challenges in school. I will be brief. Just as the Minister has demonstrated resilience, so teachers—as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, highlighted—have to show resilience in the face sometimes of violence and sometimes of children self-harming or suffering depression. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2004, 10 per cent of children between five and 15 had a mental disorder. Very often, teachers leaving the profession say that they have had an issue with a particular child and found that senior management did not support them in dealing with it. So many of our teachers burn out. If they stay in the profession, they simply lose motivation, because they are not assisted in dealing with the emotional burden of their work.

I commend the work of Emil Jackson and the Place2Be in this area. In evaluating his work, 97 per cent of teachers said that the support had enabled them to persevere with children on whom they would otherwise have given up. How expensive is it to train a teacher? How expensive is it to get a good head teacher? How valuable is the experience that they accrue over their career? Surely it makes sense to spend in the region of £9,000 a year for a half-day consultation per week, in order to enable teachers to continue to work, particularly with the most vulnerable children. I look forward to the Minister's response.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Perry for opening this debate, and the Minister for being here. Like others in this House, I am passionate about excellence in education. However, despite many good things in our schools, I am sometimes sad and frustrated at the way this generation has let down those who sought to follow in our footsteps, by waging a misguided and socially divisive war against that great engine of social mobility; selective education based on merit.

We talk about excellence. Of course, excellence for all is fundamental. Like others, I support the Government’s programme of returning power to teachers and parents, and opening up choice and competition through academies and free schools. However, we must talk also about excellence for the most able. All children are born equal, but, as my noble friend Lady Perry pointed out, they are not all born equal in ability or aptitude. We recognise that freely in sports, music and dance. We provide tailored training and support to create Olympic champions. However, somehow we deny, or are embarrassed by, the same logic applied to academic ability. Over the past 40 years, we have destroyed many excellent grammar schools and made selection a dirty word, yet there are many reasons and much evidence to make us believe that selective schooling, which allows the brightest kids from across social backgrounds to learn and develop together, has created huge benefits.

There are educational benefits. Stimulated by their peers, bright children can do much better. They can be stretched by high expectations in an environment with others who also want to learn. However, perhaps more important are the social benefits of bringing together children from different social backgrounds and raising the aspirations and confidence of those from less privileged backgrounds as they mix with others from more privileged backgrounds. I will share one fact. We often refer to the measure of value added. In 2005, grammar schools accounted for the vast majority—86 out of 100—of the top schools in the country when success at improving performance between 11 and 14 was measured. They are not just taking in bright kids and processing them; they are adding huge value by helping kids from all backgrounds to perform better.

It is a scandal that inequalities have widened and social mobility has declined over the past 40 years as a result of taking away the ladder of opportunity. Fewer people from state schools, as opposed to independent schools, are getting into the top universities and professions. Of the top 500 schools ranked on GCSE and A-level results, only 150 are non-fee paying. Of those 150, 127 are selective. Do we really believe that children from families who can afford to pay for private education are inherently brighter than those from middle-class and working-class backgrounds whose parents have to rely on the state system? The answer must be no. We are systematically failing the brightest kids from poorer backgrounds by denying them the ladders that would get them into the best universities and professions.

What do we do about this? The response should not be to tear down the excellent schools in a fit of jealousy, or to force top universities to lower their standards in order to engineer social outcomes. Instead, we should reverse the antipathy towards selection that we have had for too long, and recognise it as the friend and not the enemy of a more equal and meritocratic society, where what you achieve reflects your ability and aptitude rather than the wealth of your parents. I make it clear that I am not advocating a wholesale return to a compulsory 11-plus. I would like to see free state schools, including academically stretching schools, open to all children based on their ability and aptitude, if their parents wish to apply. Those schools should take from the widest practicable catchment area, so that they give all kids in the area the chance to participate and have the opportunities regardless of where they live.

I will pick up on some points made by my noble friend Lord Baker. School entry should not be fixed at any one age. Schools should take children at different ages, recognising different development rates. Most importantly, they should take children from all social backgrounds. How they select them, I leave up to them. The most critical thing is that the selection criteria should be based on the potential for high achievement, not on current exam results. Our aspiration should be to have the highest quality education available to those with the highest ability and aptitude, regardless of their social background. These schools should be a destination of choice for bright children regardless of their parental background—as grammar schools were, and in many places still are. Only when we have schools that are destinations of choice for everyone will the brightest children all come together to learn and create the social mix that is so important to the future leadership of the country. We must stop our antipathy towards selection and recognise that it has a much greater place than we have recognised in a fair and equal society.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for securing this debate. I have been in this House long enough to understand the great passion, sincerity and knowledge that she brings to this topic, which she showed in her opening speech today. I also thank the Minister for coming to the debate under difficult circumstances.

Already today the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, has raised the issue of the marginalisation of language teaching in our schools. This must be part of the theme of excellence. I will talk for a minute about Germany. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned the German example from one angle. From another angle, one of the most striking things is the decline in the teaching of German in our schools, and also the way in which we are now disproportionately dependent for our modern language teaching on private schools. These two themes are very worrying. Many noble Lords rightly believe that China is the workshop of the world and that Japan is an extraordinarily important country. We will always have difficulty finding enough good teachers in this area. On the other hand, the teaching of German, for example, should be a relatively easy problem to correct. I take some comfort from the fact that the coalition Government seem to accept that this is a special difficulty which they will address—I refer to the speech of the Secretary of State in September.

I turn to a more complicated problem of the statistics on which we base our discussions of education. We have received for this debate an excellent briefing pack that contains many statistics and comments on our own performance, and comparative references to other countries. I accept the tremendous value of this. We have to take into account that it appears that in a number of crucial league tables, we are slipping down. I am absolutely certain that it is right that the coalition Government take this seriously.

However, as anyone involved in education knows, it is very difficult to assess correctly the value of statistics either across time or between different countries. Exactly how much are we really comparing like with like? We all now believe that the Finnish system is marvellous—perhaps the best in the world. However, if one stops and thinks, one realises that the world is more frequently rocked by, for example, Israeli ingenuity than Finnish ingenuity. We all shudder at the statistic that 57 per cent of French pupils are required to learn certain years by rote. We all think, “Thank heavens. At least we haven’t got that wrong. We don’t do that”. Then again, if the French system is so bad, why is there so much evidence of tremendous French cultural, intellectual and scientific vitality? Therefore, one needs to be cautious about these statistics.

However, there is one statistic that cannot be challenged, and it brings home to us the great difficulties that we now face in our educational policy. I refer to Northern Ireland’s performance in A-level results compared with those of the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has not changed its educational system in the way that the rest of the UK has done over the past generation and a half and, again this year, Regional Trends, volume 40, confirms that A-level results in Northern Ireland are much better. For a long time people could say that at the bottom level Northern Ireland did less well than England, but the results at that level are now roughly the same.

That is an important statistic but there is something even more important to remember, and it is often forgotten. I refer to the perfect control experiment in the social sciences. When I was a schoolboy in Belfast in the 1960s, Northern Ireland was behind the rest of the United Kingdom in its results, and that provided a perfect control experiment. From the figures, one knows that something has gone wrong in the rest of the United Kingdom—there can be no argument with that statistic. This, I think, is the difficulty that we now face in our educational thinking. The academies project is the only and best way of facing up to that difficulty because, if it works as planned, it will, I hope, increase the number of schools with an esprit de corps. One feature of Northern Ireland is the large number of schools with an esprit de corps, and this seems to be the one way forward. As many noble Lords have said, we are very fortunate that this generation of teachers is the best qualified that we have ever had, because that is what we need.

My Lords, this House and the country have been absorbed recently by the CSR, which has highlighted the steps that the Government will take to resolve the deficit so that our children and grandchildren are not burdened by the miscalculations made during our lifetime. Equally, it is vital that, for the benefit of our successors, we establish for the long term a culture of excellence, progression and consistency in education.

I thank my noble friend Lady Perry for the opportunity to contribute to this timely debate. First, in touching on the CSR, it is comforting to note that the budget for schools will be increasing in real terms over the next four years, together with the introduction of the pupil premium, reflecting the importance that the Government place on education for those of all abilities.

Young people must be able to gain the necessary qualifications that lead to gaining skills and business acumen in order to compete in the global marketplace and sell our goods and services abroad to the markets of the future, from which we must grow our own economy. However, to echo the words of my noble friend Lady Sharp, the provision of excellence in education can be realised only if the teaching profession is able to attract, retain and develop the best graduates.

It is well known that there remains too strong a link between wealth, or the ability to pay privately for education, and the best results at school. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has laid the foundation stone for reform by moving to free up schools from bureaucracy, health and safety restrictions and overinterference from local authorities, returning to headmasters the right to decide how to manage their schools and their budgets. In addition to initiating and defining their own strategies to suit their specific needs, schools outside the independent sector now have a stronger story to tell and a better platform from which to recruit the best teachers.

The OECD has shown that autonomy in schools helps to improve standards. In 2002, McKinsey undertook a comprehensive study, one of the conclusions drawn being that the best performing nations have the best quality teachers. I believe that we are moving in the right direction by providing a more attractive environment for teachers so that they can, unfettered, use their energy, personality and creativity mixed with their subject skills to enthuse and motivate their pupils.

For teachers to thrive, there must be some flexibility in the school curriculum and ethos so that they can develop their own teaching methods and instil interest, and consequently improve discipline in the classroom. The disruption figures are somewhat daunting to read. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, highlighted, each year there are more than 300,000 suspensions and a quarter of a million persistent truants. Is it therefore surprising that sickness absenteeism among teachers is high? In the past eight years, at least 55 per cent of teachers per year in the local authority maintained sector took sickness leave. On average, each teacher was off work for nine days each year.

The process of recruiting teachers starts with the basics—first, with the schools and the question of how to reach out to teachers, not just parents, by marketing the school and presenting it in the right light to prospective teachers. It helps if there is a glossy brochure. A job specification needs to be detailed, accurate and challenging. The role, while likely to be subject-specific, should also include details of its objectives and scope, and there should be flexibility for personal teaching methods. The job must allow for measuring the success of the teacher against clear objectives. Under this Government, head teachers will be able to offer more flexible terms and conditions, and will be able to set a pay rate to balance what their school can afford with teacher aspirations.

In terms of methods of recruitment, schools should join and develop teacher networks nationwide so that they are aware when sought-after teachers might be ready for a career move and can follow up with alacrity when they are. In recent years, executive search organisations have entered the educational sector with considerable vigour and success.

The inevitable loss of jobs in the public sector will provide an opportunity for some people to seek retraining for teaching. The new academies have already tapped into this source. Innovative teacher training organisations, such as Teach First, have a vital role to play. Graduates in TF are primarily earmarked for the most challenging schools, and it is projected that by 2018 100 of the top cadre of 3,000 will be head teachers. The Teach First values perhaps sum up what we should aim for in all teachers: collaboration, commitment, excellence, integrity and leadership.

A further challenge is to recruit teachers who are contractually bound to take responsibility for extra-curricula activities. Notwithstanding that we have seen a regrettable reduction in playing field acreage over the past 13 years, it is essential for the health and well-being of pupils that they take part in competitive sports and learn what it is like to win and lose. Furthermore, it is essential that they are educated outside the classroom, from geography field courses to debating in-house—perhaps producing aspiring future Members of this House.

The inclusion of so-called life skills is, I believe, another essential ingredient in seeking to achieve excellence in education. I find it surprising that it is not mandatory for all school leavers to learn and understand the practicalities of managing home accounts or to be aware of how a mortgage operates or how a car works.

In conclusion, teachers are a key ingredient for excellence. We must aspire to emulate other countries—notably Finland, where teachers are recruited from the top 10 per cent of graduates.

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests in respect of my consultancy work in education. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on instigating what has been—my comments aside—a very fine debate, showing off the House at its best. I very much look forward to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, winding up in his usual skilful way.

I think that there is a danger in looking to the past when we look to fixing the problems of the present going into the future. I was certainly mindful of that when listening to the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. However, I want to dwell a little on the past and express my pride in our record in office over the past 13 years. I am grateful for some of the comments that noble Lords have made regarding aspects such as Teach First. We increased by 50 per cent in real terms the amount of revenue funding. As a result, many more teachers—30,000 or 40,000—were employed, together with about 120,000 more teaching assistants. Many noble Lords have said that we have the best generation of teachers that we have ever had, so it should be no surprise that results have improved. They were also operating in much improved buildings. We fixed the roof while the sun was shining. We have seen, for example, the results for five A* to C grade GCSEs, including English and maths, go from 38 per cent in 1997 to more than 50 per cent now. We saw a fantastic investment in early years teaching and we are yet to be able to judge how that will benefit the country and benefit social mobility, to which I shall turn in a moment. We also saw a rapid expansion of the numbers qualifying to go into higher education, as they certainly have done.

On the basis on which our school system was set up, we drove it hard and we achieved good results, but the system was not designed to tackle social mobility. On that we did not do well enough. Although many children from poorer backgrounds did much better, thanks to the extra investment and the work of the teaching workforce, it is important to note that the gap between free-school-meal pupils and non-free-school-meal pupils narrowed only marginally, apart from those with special educational needs.

It is worth saying that at school level and local authority level, the gap narrowed. If we were listening to the Secretary of State, who I think is asking the right question about social mobility, the answer would not be about school-level reform. I am very proud of the academies which we set up, and for which I was responsible during my time in office, but the analysis done academically shows that they are making a difference at the margins. In essence, if we are to foster the talents of our children, and of every child, as this excellent Motion says that we should, we need a 21st-century system which properly reflects the needs of the labour market and properly engages every single child in their education.

I do not think that we should try to reinvent a free market school system, as that has been tried in Chile, the United States and Sweden and there is no evidence whatever that it works. I shall not dwell on the questions in today's Guardian about how the free school network, which is trying to promote that free market system, was funded and why it was selected. If the Minister wants to answer that question, I am sure that the nation will be grateful.

If we are to design a school system that is to tackle social mobility, we have to focus on what goes on in the classroom and in the home. We have had some excellent contributions. The statistics from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for example, were notable and showed that a lot of the difference is defined before children get into school, so expecting us in our school system to fix those problems is, in many ways, missing the point. I refer noble Lords to the excellent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission of a few weeks ago which showed that the highest performing ethnic group in our country is Chinese girls and the second highest is Chinese girls on free school meals. They overcome poverty because of the culture and motivation at home.

We need new forms of home engagement and new forms of accountability which will incentivise different forms of teaching in our classrooms, and encourage more—what better place to propose it?—peer-to-peer working in our classrooms, and more partnership between pupils and between pupils and teachers using technology to the full. Then I think we can get the sort of collaboration, teamwork, leadership and confidence to present that our employers say we need, and the teaching will then reflect that, whereas at the moment collaboration in school is regarded as copying—and that is cheating.

My Lords, in speaking in this debate, I feel as though I am carrying on from our debate last week on special educational needs. I shall address other factors which I did not have the time to address then. Listening to the contributions in the debate, it has become apparent that there is a degree of consensus in the House. I can safely say that things are better than they were, although they are not perfect and not everyone has all the right answers at any one time.

In talking about excellence, it is easy to hide behind its definition. According to most of the statistics which I picked up from the Library in the usual good briefing pack, it is all about achieving a GCSE in English. I may have taken part in a debate on education when I did not mention dyslexia, but I cannot remember when it was. Considering whether you have achieved excellence or access to the system seems to depend on whether someone has passed English GCSE, but 10 per cent of the population has a condition which means that they have difficulty in processing language. Immediately, you have a problem, which will be obvious to everyone in the House. The question is: how do we deal with it?

Greater awareness of the problem has, undoubtedly, permeated through the system and greater knowledge is behind that. Last time, I spoke about the fact that the British Dyslexia Association thinks that it can train people in about half a day to spot—not to deal with—someone with dyslexia and to pass on information to the pupil and to the parents. I made a joke, which I shall not repeat, about the fact that if you get the parents on side when there is a problem in the school system, you can generally get something done. It may not be the right thing or may not be done quickly enough but something will happen. You will have problems unless you can get the information into the system, as many other people have said, and unless you can include the parents. Often, you will also need to identify parents who are dyslexic.

That ties in to many other things which have been said in the debate. My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, both mentioned speech and language. Most of the ways in which you cope with dyslexia are with the use of speech and language. There is then the problem of what happens if a pupil comes from a household which is chaotic and which does not have resources, where developing the art of conversation is not something they experience and is not regarded as important. How do you deal with that? Everything is connected.

I return to the initial point: unless the Minister can tell us how we are starting to identify the problem with written language and the idea of excellence, we will always exclude that bottom group, and it will always be worse among those suffering social deprivation. How do we deal with that? Better teacher training and recognition is important but there will always be this group at the bottom which will be left behind.

We have taken the low-hanging fruit in educational improvement. It is understandable that the previous Government took that fruit because, if I had been them, trying to raise standards and wanting a press release to justify what I was doing, that is exactly what I would have done, because the low-hanging fruit is the easiest to reach. How will we get past that?

I want to show noble Lords how deeply ingrained this is in the education system. I will give you one example from a letter which arrived on my desk yesterday. Someone was told that they could not gain a City and Guilds qualification as a carpenter because they could not finish the English paper. That is probably illegal. We spent a great deal of time on this when debating the apprenticeships Bill. City and Guilds should not give that as a reason not to qualify a person. I leave you with that practical example.

Unless you get away from the obsessive idea that you must pass in something—maths comes just behind English—and unless you address this properly across the board, such people will always be left behind. We really must address that. If excellence means something more than achieving an extra A-level grade, you will have to address those at the bottom who have problems, which means that you must be able to understand their problems.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for introducing this debate. In the short time available this afternoon, I will try to focus on one simple aspect of the problem, the problem of providing excellence in education for children from disadvantaged families, focusing in particular on those children who arrive in school without having a secure and loving attachment to their mother or surrogate mother in the first three years of their lives. It is interesting that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have all spoken fluently about the importance of the family as an agent in achieving excellence in schools for children.

Excellence in education for all will not be achieved until we address more effectively the problems of education in the family in the first three years. A small but important minority of children in this country are arriving in school unable to cope with the challenges of school life because they have never experienced the encouragement and love that they need. Why does that happen? I have made a list of causes, but I probably do not need to delay your Lordships very much on them. There are school-age mothers, mothers with mental health problems or drug and alcohol addiction, or who are subject to domestic violence. Perhaps the majority of those mothers come from homes where they are distressed by loneliness, poverty, inappropriate housing, and debt and often, crucially, have not themselves had any experience of happy family life or of “good enough” parenting. As for the fathers, some may be there to help, but an awful lot are not.

The children of such families often reject school and fail in school. They often cause trouble in school, get excluded and end up without education. Lacking education, they have little chance of well-being in life. For our society to allow that to happen is both foolish and cruel. It is cruel to the children concerned because it will blight their lives. It is foolish because we as a society cannot afford to have disadvantage handed down from generation to generation in that way. It is an issue of well-being, but it is also an issue of equality and social mobility. As long as we have a cadre of children at the bottom of the pile who are not succeeding, we cannot hope to move towards broadly-based equality.

What are we doing wrong? When they came into power in 1997, the previous Government were very aware of those problems, and they introduced a number of measures, including the Sure Start programme, Every Child Matters and a raft of other initiatives to help parents to prepare for school. Sadly, they do not seem to have worked. They have not successfully helped the most disadvantaged families. That is because they were introduced as universal services, and the smart parents—I mean smart in the American sense—saw their chance to get in there and get the benefits, but the disadvantaged parents were not confident enough to walk through the door. Some hard-to-reach parents are frightened to walk through the door because they are afraid that when they are identified as not looking after their children too well, those children will be taken away from them. We have to face those problems; we have somehow to learn to target the really disadvantaged parents.

There are a lot of things that we could do, but I shall not try to detail them—partly because I do not have time and partly because most of your Lordships will be aware of them. We should be much more effective in reducing unwanted pregnancy. It is ridiculous that we have a society in which we have effective and easily available contraception, but the unwanted pregnancy rate goes on growing. We should shape benefit and tax structures to favour those parents who are prepared to make the commitment to live together and bring up their child. We should strengthen relationship counselling. We should radically reform teaching of life skills and relationships in schools, which I believe is coming up in the Government’s programme—I very much hope that it will. We need much more support for parents in ante and postnatal services, and so forth.

Finally, we need a change of heart about the rights of children. Children have a right to family life. I believe that that means that they have a right to decent family life. That implies that there are obligations on parents, which we ought to be thinking about very seriously.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating this debate. I agree with everything she said, so I shall not repeat it. I declare an interest as the editor of the Good Schools Guide and I declare my sympathy for the Minister. As the Daily Mail will not say: “How many more Ministers have to be mugged before we give them their cars back?”.

I am delighted by the way that our Government are tackling education. I am very much looking forward to hearing the details as they come before us in legislation. Today, I want to concentrate on just two aspects. First, we are quite right to recognise that control, either by the centre or by local education authorities, is not the route to excellence in education; we must concentrate on what is happening at the school level. However, if we are going to do that, and benefit from all the innovation and excellence which is down there, we have to have mechanisms of accountability and means of spreading good practice.

I am very much with my noble friend Lady Perry in saying that we need to go back to an inspectorate that is intelligent, communicative and supportive—something which is of real benefit to schools. We have the model there: it is the way that it used to be. The best model was the Further Education Funding Council’s inspectorate, when it briefly existed. We need to get away from the horrible mechanistic, antagonistic system that we have at the moment.

To pick up on something that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, said, we need a mechanism for improvement. We need a proper evidence base. How can education never have had a proper evidence base, never have really done its research properly, although it spends a lot of its time doing research? We need mechanisms for spreading good practice. I share the noble Baroness’s worry that those that are around are being abolished, but perhaps the Government have a better idea. They must have a better idea, because otherwise we merely get pockets of excellence that never spread.

Secondly, it is important that education should suit the child. I am delighted that the previous Government abolished the QCA. I very much hope that this Government will go on to demolish most of Ofqual. They have been suppressive, not supportive organisations. They have curtailed innovation. They have imposed their views of what should be happening and not listened to what is happening below them. Whatever replaces them ought to be an organisation that is there to encourage innovation—yes, to control quality but, above all, to get what is good beneath to come through and to encourage the examination boards to innovate as they want. The examination boards are full of experts who want to do new things and who understand, because they are talking to schools all the time, how they could do things better, but who have never been allowed to by the structures imposed on top of them.

There are now ways of teaching mathematics which are absolutely enthralling, which I would have loved to have experienced. I enjoyed mathematics, but what is available now with the help of computers would take an able student far beyond the limitations of the current curriculum. So much can now be based on a real understanding of mathematics rather than on the mechanistic completion of calculations. That our IT exams do not enable people to interact with modern devices and that our business studies do not provide our students with anything which is valued by business is a disgrace and needs to be set right.

I have only a couple of other points to make. First, I say to my noble friends Lady Perry and Lord Blackwell that, if we go by the experience of Singapore and other such countries, they have found that fully half of their key entrepreneurs of the future are in the bottom 10 per cent at school. That is the key part on which to focus when talking about education. You must make sure that those people do not leave school demotivated and without the basic abilities that they need to make progress in the world. These people are fundamentally not fitted to academic education, but they are immensely important to the country.

My noble friend Lord Blackwell is looking at the past. I do not think that selection by examination is the way to go. It has been captured by the middle classes. If the number of grammar schools was to be doubled, it would still be captured by the middle classes. The way to go is selection by choice, which is the way in which my noble friend Lord Baker is going. He is creating schools to which people will go because they want to. People will choose his schools because that is the education they want. They will choose academic schools because they offer the education that they want. An example of that is sixth-form education in Cambridge where there are three excellent institutions—Hills Road Sixth Form College, Long Road Sixth Form College and Cambridge Regional College. People choose the one that suits their particular bent. If we get there, it works very well.

My Lords, let me join the whole House in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for giving us an opportunity to debate one of the most important subjects of all. When I looked at the list of speakers, two things struck me. The first was that this would be a very high quality debate and, secondly, that speaking at number 20, it would be difficult to say something new and innovative. I will do my best.

This has been an exceptional debate, partly because many of us in this House have struggled in different capacities over many years to close the achievement gap in this country. Like me, many of us will take pride in our efforts, but will be disappointed, nay frustrated, that we have not been more successful. Perhaps this debate is not just a debate but a chance for us all to rededicate ourselves to the task with even greater urgency and determination. In doing that, perhaps we should remind ourselves that failure does not bring with it just economic and social costs, but huge costs in human terms.

I shall refer to two groups to illustrate that. Let us take NEETs, which is the awful term for young people “neither in employment, education nor training”. We have in this country nearly 1 million young people who we refer to as NEETs. Our performance has long compared poorly with just about every other developed country. Of course, that brings economic and social costs. I was shocked to hear from a senior official in the Department for Education and Skills recently that in the north of England, 15 per cent of long-term NEETs die within 10 years. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that for the most vulnerable children and young people in this society education really is a matter of life and death.

Another vulnerable group, children looked after in care, already has been touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. There have been improvements, but that is from a very low base. There are 59,000 children in care in this country, 6,000 of whom are in care homes. They represent 0.1 per cent of the child population. Yet, one-third of all prisoners have been in care; 42 per cent of prostitutes interviewed recently for a paper have been in care; 20 per cent of 16 to 19 year-old women who leave care become mothers within a year; and parents who have been through the care system are twice as likely to lose the right to care for their children. Those appalling statistics have to be linked to the fact that half of all children in care leave school with no formal qualifications at all. Although 8 per cent now go on to further and higher education, that compares terribly with a country such as Denmark where 60 per cent go on to higher education.

However, if we are to redouble our efforts and rededicate ourselves to this task, we need to be prepared to ask ourselves some searching and perhaps uncomfortable questions. I have five questions. First, do we still seek to impose a one-size-fits-all system on pupils who are so diverse in their talents, their background and their needs? In particular, do we still continue to undervalue vocational education, which is seen by many young people as being far more relevant than the more traditional academic subjects? For me, education is about liberating and developing the talent of every individual child. If that talent is more vocational than academic, we should embrace it rather than accept it reluctantly, as we have sometimes seemed to do.

Secondly, have we all placed a disproportionate emphasis on the structure of our education system at the expense of standards, content and, most of all, as a number of noble Lords have said, teaching quality? The British are obsessed with structure. We all love it. Politicians and civil servants love it because if you change it, it gives the impression of having done something. But all research points to the fact that the most important thing is the quality of teaching. Do we need to revisit the quality, not just of initial teacher training, but, as has been said, continuing professional development? Could we be more imaginative in allowing the best teachers to help and to support their peers? I think that we could.

Thirdly, have we drawn sufficiently on the contribution of the many high-quality voluntary organisations which have the capacity and the skills to re-engage young people who are alienated from the system and to deliver relevant education and training to them? For seven years, I chaired one of the largest of those organisations, Rathbone, and we had a good track record. However, I rarely felt that we were seen by the Government, schools or colleges as partners, but more as a convenient backstop.

Fourthly, have we been too determined to deliver education in traditional settings, by which I mean schools and colleges, when many young people have long since become alienated from those institutions? For me what matters is that young people receive an education. If they are more likely to participate in a work-place setting or some halfway house, so be it.

Finally, have we realised the potential of creative subjects, such as art, performance, film and design, to capture the imagination of some of these young people? I should declare an interest. I chair a charity called FILMCLUB, which has received generous funding from the previous Government and from this Government. We aim to educate children by screening, discussing and reviewing quality films. We now have film clubs in 5,500 schools. We have 160,000 children every week engaged in those film clubs and 60 per cent of school leaders say that it is an effective way of narrowing the gap.

Over the years, when I have visited schools and sat in on lessons, I have been struck constantly how arts subjects can inspire and light up young people, many of whom are alienated from the system.

I know that I have a very short period in which to speak in the gap and I am very grateful for that opportunity. At the end of this impressive debate, I should like to make two points that I hope the Minister will be able to take into account. My first point concerns buildings in relation to the delivery of excellent education, which I thought would be mentioned more, but was referred to only in passing by my noble friend Lord Knight. In the past couple of weeks, as part of the Lord Speaker’s Peers in Schools programme, I have visited two schools which either are about to be, or have recently been, substantially rebuilt under the Building Schools for the Future programme. It is absolutely clear that a new, properly configured, light, bright and welcoming environment makes a huge difference to the way in which children learn, and the enthusiasm with which they go to and remain at school. I hope that the noble Lord will bear that in mind when thinking about how the school buildings programmes are taken forward from now on.

Secondly, I am sure that noble Lords who have heard me before will expect me to say that I hope that the Minister will not forget the value of the arts and culture in delivering education. I want quickly to mention two organisations with which I am involved to illustrate two different ways in which the arts are important in education, and two different ways in which cutting funding will be very deleterious. The first is an organisation called Artis Education, a small business which receives no public funding whatever; it is a commercial business. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, knows it well because he was instrumental in setting it up. It trains performers to go into schools and deliver a highly structured and extremely successful programme which complements the national curriculum. All the heads who have bought into this programme—I use the word “bought” advisedly because they have to pay for it—have discovered that it adds greatly to the quality not only of their children’s learning but of their enjoyment of education. However, head teachers have to pay for it out of their discretionary spend, and if that is reduced it is less likely that they will be able to buy that kind of enhancement to their curriculum.

The second organisation with which I am involved is the Roundhouse in Camden. It is funded publicly, although only to a limited extent, and raises a huge amount of money from the private sector and from the box office. It uses that money to contribute to a programme of creative learning for large numbers of young people, including those to whom the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, referred—the unattractively named NEETS—who want to engage creatively with the arts. They take what they learn at the Roundhouse back into their education if they are still in education, and forward into their working lives if they are not.

If organisations such as the Roundhouse are not able to sustain those programmes, it will be a tremendous loss to those young people. I hope the noble Lord, who I know is convinced about the value of the arts in education, will make sure that they stay high on the agenda of his department as we go through the next difficult period.

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s passionate intervention. She has a great deal of expertise in these matters and it was very helpful. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on introducing this important debate.

It is tempting for an incoming Government to believe that they are starting from zero and to dismiss everything that has gone before, and the noble Baroness is right to secure the debate to ensure that that does not happen. However, it seems to be a temptation to which this Government are particularly susceptible. In fact, almost everything before May 2010 has been removed from the DfE website and consigned to the national archive, if it is available at all, including much good research and useful material which is entirely apolitical. It is therefore important that we look back as well as forward. It is a big mistake to remove that perspective as,

“those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

I quote, as many will know, George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher.

The evidence shows that there have been many achievements so far in our schools and children’s services and we have heard a great deal about them. They have been independently verified and should be built on. No wise policymaker would ignore them. I welcome the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about the success of our academy programme and the importance of the introduction of the diploma from which a great deal can be learnt. However, I take exception to the assertion that we were engaged in levelling down. Let me make it absolutely clear that the opposite was the case. We strongly believe that every school should be a good school and that all children should have access to excellence, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London described so eloquently.

Let us consider what we encountered in 1997. There were no children’s centres or free nursery places; the school estate was crumbling; we had to work with a demoralised teaching profession; and more than 1,600 schools—half of all schools—achieved less than 30 per cent of pupils attaining five good GCSEs. That was our legacy. However, because of our relentless efforts in school improvement, now only about one in 10 schools displays such a poor showing—but that simply represents how much more there is to do. We delivered free nursery places to all three and four year-olds and we committed to and set in motion the extension of that to 2,500 disadvantaged two year-olds, a scheme which the coalition Government have agreed to continue. Alongside this, 3,500 of the much celebrated Sure Start centres were established and thousands of families with a disabled child—this point has not yet figured in this debate but I am sure it will arise in many others—were given access to the kind of short breaks they so desperately need in order to continue supporting their families and children.

I give the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, full marks, if I may be so cheeky, for recognising that we now have the best qualified, strongest teaching profession ever. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, and others also recognised this. This has not come about without a concerted effort in investment and professional development. It did not happen without effort. Across our country, millions of children are going to school no longer having to put up with leaking roofs and peeling walls because they attend one of the 4,000 brand new or refurbished schools that have been built in the past 13 years.

Our young people are achieving the best ever exam results and, when we left office, improvement was taking place fastest in the poorest areas. That is not to say that there is not a great more deal to do, but it does represent our potential to do more. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, we should recommit ourselves to the challenge of making a real difference for all our children.

I remind the party opposite of what has been achieved by teachers, teaching assistants—we must not forget teaching assistants because they have such a key role—parents and pupils, because we need to learn from the past and there is much more to do. The Government should avoid the urge to reinvent the wheel, which children in this country definitely cannot afford, and should learn from the experiences of our schools and children’s services over the past 13 years.

What kind of lessons can we learn and what conclusions should we draw? I have picked out three lessons. First, when we were in Government—many noble Lords around the Chamber have echoed this—we learnt that what happens in the classroom is crucial for children’s education; educational achievement does not come about otherwise. We also learnt that what happens outside the classroom matters a great deal, too, especially what happens at home. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, described that parents are the single biggest influence on how well children do. That is why, when in government, we invested in programmes to support parents to help their children learn; and it is why we funded voluntary organisations to work in partnership with us locally and with families. What are the Government’s policies for supporting parents to help their children to succeed at school, especially those parents who did not do so well themselves and who will not necessarily know how best to help their children to do so? What policies will the Government promote to help those children who do not have families? Is the answer that such parents should simply apply to set up their own free school? I am sure that is not what the Minister would say.

The second big lesson we learnt over the past decade is that—not only here but across the world—the early years of a child’s life are the most important in their development. If they get the right educational help then they are set up for success. This is especially important for disadvantaged children, who can either race ahead or be held back at this stage. The crucial ingredient is high quality early years education provided by skilled, kindly, professional staff who make early learning playful and fun.

The spending review document states that the Government will return Sure Start to its “original purpose” and that they will encourage more private and voluntary sector providers to get involved. That raises some big questions. For example, what do the Government mean by Sure Start’s “original purpose”? If, as seems possible, they mean more focused support for those children left furthest behind, how will they identify those children? How will they achieve this at a time when we know that overall resources will be reducing in real terms, particularly for children’s services? Does it mean that provision will be taken away from some children and families who are receiving it now? Since we know that there is a tendency for “services for poor children” to become poor services over time, how will the Government avoid it? It is a real challenge.

Given that inspections show that the best-quality early-years education is more often to be found in the public sector, how will the Government ensure that standards continue to be high if there is simultaneously less money and more involvement from private and voluntary providers? Will they give private and voluntary independent providers the extra help that they need for training? The key ingredient in early education is undoubtedly its quality and—what we are talking about today—excellence.

We have learnt that many children whose educational achievements are held back by other barriers in their lives, such as disability, special educational need or family problems, can overcome them if they get the right help at the right time, ideally before the problems have become too entrenched. That puts a premium on schools having strong working relationships with other services for children, enabling them to get the effective professional help that they need at the earliest possible opportunity. Such help could take the form of social work, educational psychology and mental health support. That is why, when in government, we put in place children's trusts to reinforce those positive working relationships between schools and other professionals. But the Government have said that they will dismantle children's trusts. Their changes to the provision of local health services will also cause chaos. The Secretary of State for Education seems to want to create a free market for schools with autonomous institutions competing with each other. Is this a recipe for fragmentation and dislocation? What will the Government do to make sure that that is not the outcome?

I hope that schools and local authorities will not be left to deal with these dilemmas alone, because, if they are, it is children who will become the biggest losers.

My Lords, I am very grateful for and touched by the good wishes that I have received today. I ask noble Lords not to be too kind. I can cope with being duffed up, but acts of kindness creep up on one a little harder. I felt rather sorry for the young men who attacked me last night when I realised that the main thing that they had made off with was my speaking notes for today’s debate. When they find what they have got, they might be a trifle disappointed, but I hope that noble Lords may be a little more forgiving.

As I picked myself up and felt various bumps and bruises, I reflected on the connections between what happened to me and today’s debate. It seems that the connection is this: if those boys had a better education and home life, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, perhaps they would not have been hanging around on street corners waiting to jump on unsuspecting Peers from behind and hit them over the head. That is an important point to bear in mind in what we are debating today.

Like all noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on securing this debate. I do not need to tell the House about her huge experience in education, but I take this opportunity to express my thanks to her for the generous advice that she has given to me since I came into the House and to say how much I have benefited from it.

Successive Governments have set themselves the goal of achieving excellence in education—I think that there is no difference between us on that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, knows, since we have been debating with each other, I have, I hope, always been quick to say that there are many things that the previous Government did on which we are seeking to build.

I associate myself strongly with the notion of excellence, whether that is academic, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell argued, or vocational, as my noble friend Lord Baker and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, pointed out. Excellence, whether vocational or academic, is something that we must strive for and, as my noble friend Lord Addington said, we must bring out the best in every child. Children are all different, but the key is aspiration. I have seen that aspiration in non-selective maintained schools, academies and selective schools.

However, I think that there is agreement—the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, was very honest about this—that, in spite of the best efforts of successive Governments, our education system is still failing too many and, most of all, it is failing the poorest in our society. We have many excellent schools, but we have too many schools that are struggling or coasting—I listened with care to what the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said about the Northern Irish example. Overall, as a nation—we probably know the figures—four in 10 pupils do not meet basic standards by the age of 11 and only half manage at least a C in both English and maths GCSE. What makes it worse is that poor performance is so powerfully concentrated in the areas of the greatest disadvantage, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said. It is important to make sure that those children continue to receive help. The pupil premium will provide such help, particularly to children from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Only a third of children eligible for free school meals reach a good level of development by the age of five, compared to more than half who are not. That gap continues through primary and secondary school until, at 16, pupils entitled to free school meals are only half as likely to achieve five good GCSEs but more than twice as likely to be permanently excluded. Out of that cohort of 80,000 children on free school meals, only 45 make it to Oxbridge. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, one sees these problems at their most intense and concentrated in our prisons.

Other nations have been more successful recently in educating more and more children to a higher level. I shall not go through the figures, because we are short of time and we are, I think, familiar with them. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, that debate about education in this country has been conducted too much in terms of looking backwards and inwards. Some people in my party in particular have prefaced the argument by saying, “Can we not go back to?”. It is very much my view and, I think, that of the noble Lord that the real test for us is to look outwards and compare ourselves with the best internationally. We will have a much more productive debate about education if we frame it in those terms.

Therefore, one of the first things that I did on becoming a Minister was to look at OECD research into the best-performing and fastest-reforming education systems. Three essential characteristics seem to mark out all those different jurisdictions. First, those jurisdictions seem to be guided by the principle that more autonomy for individual schools drives up standards. Secondly, the highest-performing education nations invariably also have the best teachers—no surprise there. Thirdly, they all have rigorous systems of accountability, which has been mentioned today.

We can see examples of these lessons being pulled together in the United States, where President Obama is promoting greater autonomy by encouraging charter schools, while also giving extra support to programmes designed to attract more great people into teaching and leadership. This also seems to be working in Canada, Sweden and Singapore. We know from experience in our country that giving schools greater autonomy seems to work. We know from the academies programme, which was based originally on the CTC programme but then built on and rolled out by the previous Government, that overall results have improved faster in academies than in other maintained schools.

I welcome the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield about Trinity Academy and I am grateful more generally for the part that the Church of England has played in our school system, which was a point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. Last year, overall, academies improved twice as quickly as other schools.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Baker and the remarks that he made about university technical colleges. I have had many conversations with my noble friend about those matters. I am conscious of the support that he said that he had received from the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Knight of Weymouth. It is my intention to build on support that has previously been given and do everything we can to get as many UTCs up and open, giving excellent vocational qualifications and training as soon as possible. To pick up on a point made by my noble friend Lady Perry of Southwark, I also hope to have more apprenticeships.

On academies, this House knows better than anywhere that we are now rolling forward our programme. Let me update the House. Since the beginning of the school year in September, 57 of the outstanding schools have converted to become academies. That number is now increasing month by month and more schools are coming forward, keen to convert. That is on top of an additional 64 new traditional academies. In all those schools, academy heads have the power to tackle disruptive children, protect and reward teachers better and give children the specialist teaching that they need. In the coming weeks, we will set out how more schools will be able to apply for these academy freedoms.

On free schools, we announced the first 16 projects that should be up and running by next September. Given that it typically took three or four years to set up a new school, the fact that we might have one so quickly is very encouraging. We have more projects in the pipeline that could open by next September.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, talked about the difference between structures and teachers, a point that was raised more generally today. I am certainly not someone who believes that the answer to everything is structures. The point of our reforms is to give teachers more freedom within those structures to get on and do what they do best. I agree with my noble friend Lady Perry. The most important people in improving standards are clearly heads, teachers and teaching assistants.

As far as that is concerned, we will publish our first education White Paper before Christmas. I can tell the House that, in that White Paper, teachers and other education professionals will be at the front and centre because everything else that we want to achieve flows naturally from the quality of the workforce. I agree with the point made repeatedly this afternoon: we have the best generation of teachers in our schools. I will reflect on the point made by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville about the difficulty of attracting men into primary schools in particular. I was lucky recently to present awards at the Teaching Leaders’ annual event and see the enthusiasm of those young teachers who are progressing up the profession. That told me clearly that that was the kind of talent that we have to support, as we do Teach First, which has been referred to already. We have doubled the size of the programme that we inherited from the previous Government and have extended it to primary schools for the first time.

In the White Paper, we will unveil a whole range of further proposals to ensure that we attract the best possible people into education, to make it easier for talented people to change career and to enable teachers to acquire deeper knowledge and new qualifications, for which the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, eloquently argued.

We can also help with discipline and behaviour. Among undergraduates, the most commonly cited reason for pursuing a profession other than teaching is a fear of not being safe. We will build on the action that we have taken to remove the ban on same-day detentions and we will give heads and teachers stronger search powers, with further changes, including simplifying the use of force guidance and how we will protect teachers against false and malicious allegations from pupils and parents.

Once professionals have the power that they need to feel secure and are able to develop their skills and knowledge, we have to create more room for them to use them. In recent years, the national curriculum has been bent out of shape by the weight of material in it and some overprescriptive notions about how to teach and how to timetable. That is an area that we will look at. Later this year we will set out how we will carry out the review of the curriculum. I know that many noble Lords will want to be part of that process. The principle behind the curriculum that we want to construct is that it will be informed by teachers and experts, will have greater flexibility and will be based on the best global evidence of what knowledge and concepts can be introduced to children at different ages.

We also spoke in the debate about accountability, which is an important theme. Autonomous schools must have high-quality people, but they must be properly accountable to parents and local communities. We cannot return to the situation where parents and professionals were in ignorance about what was going on in schools, which was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and with which I agree. I also agree with the point made by a number of noble Lords about school improvement. We need to think carefully about how we make sure that the excellent practice that exists in schools continues to be shared as widely as possible. Nobody wants to see a situation where we have schools operating as islands within the education system. We want to ensure that good practice is shared school to school as much as possible.

We need rigorous external assessment. Tests can be improved and refined—and they must be—but parents need independent external assessment. We want to publish more information to shine a spotlight that parents can understand and help to hold schools to account. We are also looking at ideas behind an English baccalaureate, which will help to drive excellence, built around a core group of academic subjects including a modern or ancient language and a humanity. We are looking at the role of Ofsted and I will reflect on the points made to me by my noble friend Lady Perry in that regard.

I will just say a couple of words about spending, since the issue has been raised. During this debate, we have spent £12.5 million paying the interest on the country’s debt. That is equivalent to the annual salaries of 371 classroom teachers, so we need to do something about cutting that debt. Within that, we have managed to prioritise education and, at a difficult time, to find £2.5 billion for the pupil premium, to fund an increase in places for 16 to 19 year-olds and to extend the entitlement for free education for three and four year-olds to disadvantaged two year-olds. I take the points about the importance of tackling education young and supporting the young and families and will reflect on those.

This has been an excellent debate. I will follow up any individual points that I have failed to respond to and hope that the House will forgive me for that because of the constrained time. I express my thanks to my noble friend Lady Perry. The whole House agrees with the stated ambition of providing excellence in education. It is our duty as a Government, but more generally as a society, to pursue that goal and this Government and I will do all that we can to ensure that all children have the best possible chance to succeed.

My Lords, we have run out of time, so it only remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have spoken with such eloquence and expertise on the subject. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.