All 1 Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Northbourne

Wed 26th Oct 2011

Education Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Northbourne
Wednesday 26th October 2011

(12 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Northbourne Portrait Lord Northbourne
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My Lords, this relatively modest amendment contains an important principle. It is on that basis that I shall take the time of the House to introduce it. This Bill makes major structural changes to our school system which I support. We need to recognise, however, that for many schools the burden of responsibility for delivering satisfactory educational outcomes will change. Many primary and secondary schools will themselves have to justify their success or failure much more clearly. They will have less opportunity to have the comfort of being able to pass the buck to the local authority. Education and well-being in the early years foundation stage will still remain wholly the responsibility of the local authority. So there will be an educational interface between the local authority and schools when the child reaches the age of five. My amendment is designed to draw attention to the possibility of friction—or, indeed, of unfairness—at that interface.

The amendment would ensure that there will be an objective assessment of school readiness of children as they enter their primary school—whatever kind of school that may be. This assessment could be used to estimate the extent to which any poor outcomes in any particular school arise from the school being overloaded with children who, when they joined the school, were not school-ready and thereby deflecting resources to remedial work when those resources should have been available for teaching.

The criterion for a successful school is to add value to the child’s education. We need to be able to identify which institutions are failing to deliver the appropriate amount of added value: is it the schools or is it the early year settings? If we want to achieve this Government’s objectives—and I think we probably all believe in them—to improve school outcomes and reduce inequality in our society, it is important that children arrive in school with their foot on the first rung of the educational ladder to be socially, emotionally and cognitively ready to settle in and to learn. Today, alas, we still have far too many children who are not school-ready at the age of five.

I thank the Minister and his department for the help that they have given to me and for the information about the current situation as regards inspection at age five. I have to say that much more is being done than I was aware of when I set down this amendment. Most children are being assessed for progress towards completing the early years foundation stage of the curriculum and those assessments are available to the public.

I do, however, have two serious concerns. The assessments are being made by the providers of the early years foundation services that the child is receiving. They are, therefore, far from impartial. If we are to have a fair assessment of the added value that a school or an early years setting is delivering, the starting point as well as the outcome must be assessed impartially. My second concern is that a small but significant minority of young children today are still not participating in the early years foundation stage programme. This is often because their parents do not want to make contact with the authorities because they are afraid of having their children taken away. Yet these are often the most disadvantaged children of all—often from families designated as hard to reach. They therefore tend to be the children who need most remedial help when they get to school. They are therefore heavy users of school resources. They are the most likely to fail in school, yet they are not taken into consideration in the assessment of the intake of the school.

Is the Minister prepared to give an undertaking that the arrangements for checking each child’s school readiness when they join a primary school at five years old will be improved so as to be impartial and include all children joining the school, not just those who have been following the early years foundation stage programme? It would also be comforting if the Minister could confirm that, just as schools may be criticised if they do not give their pupils the educational added value they need, some way will be found to chase up recalcitrant local authorities which are failing to help those children most in need. I beg to move.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza)
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My Lords, I understand that there has been agreement that Amendment 76A shall be grouped with Amendments 77, 78 and 79.