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Speech by The Baroness Hooper

The Baroness Hooper

On: British and European Education

22 July 2003

“Education in Britain and Europe is a topic which goes very wide indeed.  In considering how to tackle it, I have decided to follow through some of my own ideas about the ways in which our Membership of the European Community might influence the education system in the UK, and about how we and the other Member States of the Community can work together to share our experience in education in a mutually enriching way.

The Treaty setting up the European Economic Community does not refer significantly to education.  But important elements of the Treaty text are concerned with the closely related area of vocational training.  Borderline education and training are notoriously hard to define.  Vocational training is a narrower—or perhaps more specific—concept; but training has to build on the foundations of a young person’s education from its earliest stages.  Our people will not be economically effective if they do not have a broad understanding of the working of the society in which they live.  On 1 January, 1973, the horizons of that society were extended to include the other countries of the European Community.

Within the institutions of the EC itself, there is a strong drive to build up a sense of “European –ness”. This is not easy-as we are all accustomed~-and reasonably so-to think first in terms of our own nationhood.  The Adonnino Report of 1985 on “The People’s Europe” resulted from the realisation that the development of “The Common Market” was becoming so technical a matter that the man on the European street had little sense of involvement in it.  “European –ness” can only grow slowly; there is an increasing realisation that the key lies with our young people.

Despite no reference in the Treaty, both the European Parliament and the Governments of the Member States have clearly recognised the vital role which education has to play.  In 1975 the Community’s Economic and S~ Committee reminded us that “education is central to the full and healthy development of the Community”.  In February 1976, the Ministers of Education of the Community passed a very important Resolution which laid the foundations for a programme of cooperation in education; and set up an Education Committee of National and Commission Officials to advise them on the development of such co-operation.

There is much for all of us to gain from this and a common interest in improving national education systems-the more elective the education of every individual, the more successfully can we hope to build the future: whether in our families, our local community, our nation, or in the European Community.  And a strong Community can contribute much to stability in the world as a whole.

Here are some examples of the cooperation within the Community which is developing in the Education field.  The recent reports of an important agreement reached by European Education Ministers on 14th May, 1987, on what is called the ERASMUS programme.  This is a scheme to set up, with Community funding, support for a network of courses between Higher Education Institutions in the Member States to promote the exchange of students.  The aim is that an increasing number of students should have the opportunity to undertake a period of study in another Member State as an integral part of their higher education course.  Students will receive grants towards the extra cost of study abroad.  We hope that this will lead also to the development of a European credit transfer system: increasing acceptance by higher education institutions of the validity of a period of study in another country as contributing towards their own qualifications -could make an important contribution to mobility of qualified manpower.

Of particular importance in developing European awareness is a skill in a foreign language.  An official-level working group has been considering how to promote effective foreign language teaching and learning.  Based on the work of this group, the Commission intends before the end of this year to publish a proposal for cooperative action in this field.  The Government is actively encouraging new developments in the learning of foreign languages in this country.  The White Paper “Better Schools” published in March, 1985, set out the Government’s stance on the place of foreign languages in the school curriculum in the context of Britain’s Membership of the European Community.

European Education Ministers have also identified a common interest in tackling the problem of illiteracy.  A working group has been exploring ways in which the varied experience of Member States can be shared in order to reduce the inhibiting effect of illiteracy on individuals and on their contribution to economic and social well-being.  A related subject is low achievement at school, with which the present Government has been much concerned for some years: here the discussion within the Community is just beginning.   I believe we shall have a good deal to contribute.

As a final instance, I should mention that over the past year, the Member States have been looking at ways in which young people can be specifically educated to be more aware of the Community dimension in their lives.  Elements which can contribute to this include: a Schools’ competition organised each year under the Commission’s auspices on a European cultural theme, calling for the production of artwork or an essay.  Prizes are awarded at both national and European level.  The Commission also designates 1 week each year when schools are invited to concentrate their teaching on the European Community.  In June a Conference was held in the Netherlands to explore other ways in which an awareness of the European dimension could be developed during the period of compulsory education.

These are just examples.  There is already activity at Community level in a number of other fields and further fields will certainly continue to be identified.  I am looking forward to participation as, a Member of the Government in future stages of this work.  In the mouths ahead the European Education Committee will be reviewing the medium-term objectives of the education cooperation programme; it will be considering what contribution sharing of experience within the Community can offer to the development of national Policies for the training—especially perhaps in- service training of teachers; it will be giving its attention to the progression from general education to education and training which are vocation-specific.

All of these concerns will contribute to the fundamental goal set out in the first words of the EEC treaty: that is, “to lay. The foundations of an ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe”.  It is a long term goal; it may often seem to those most closely committed to it that progress is frustratingly slow.  I do not think we should be discouraged.  Long-standing national traditions, very different social and administrative structures, differing modes of thought, all mean the process can only be a slow one.  But the gradual increase of insight into the ways of other European nations is a stimulating and rewarding experience.  Our young people will have work to do in carrying it forward over more than one generation to come.  Cooperation among the Member States of the Community in the field of education is a vital process in the achievement of the Treaty’s purpose.”