HC Deb 21 January 1965 vol 705 cc382-4
7. Mr. Patrick Jenkin

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to a proper balance between science and the arts in sixth forms.

Mr. M. Stewart

The balance in individual sixth forms is a matter for the local education authorities and schools concerned, and in practice is clearly much dependent on the preferences expressed by individual pupils. The future availability of qualified manpower for different employments of national importance may be affected by the decisions reached, and from this standpoint the subject is one of concern to the Government.

In the last few years, the number of pupils taking mathematics and science has tended to grow less fast than the number taking other subjects. Steps are being taken which will, I hope, improve the supply of teachers of mathematics and science. The newly established Schools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations is giving priority to a study of the curriculum in the sixth form.

I propose to keep the whole subject under close review.

Mr. Jenkin

Would the Secretary of State agree that one way of overcoming this difficulty would be for universities and other institutes of higher education to require minimum standards on both sides, so that all students going forward to these institutions have the knowledge both of science and of arts subjects? Would he not make representations to the universities to adapt their curricula in this regard?

Mr. Stewart

It is, I think, generally agreed that there should be a balance of the kind the hon. Gentleman suggests, and that excessive specialisation in the latter part of school life is undesirable. I welcome the recent decision of the Schools Council to make a detailed study of the sixth-form curriculum, and it will no doubt take into account the point made by the hon. Member.

Mr. Sheldon

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that the teaching of mathe- matics at sixth-form level is really quite crucial to the training of both scientists and technologists? Is he not further aware that if the subject is not learned at this level early in life it is rarely learned later? Will he take action to make sure that this subject is more generally taught, not only for those taking science subjects but for those taking arts subjects also, so that if, at a later stage, they wish to take technological subjects, they will not be debarred from doing so by lack of this knowledge?

Mr. Stewart

I think that the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on what is probably the key to this problem. It will, I trust, be possible for the courses in teacher training colleges to take account of this, and help us to increase the supply of science and mathematics teachers.