HC Deb 02 November 1976 vol 918 cc1174-6
2. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, in the light of the Prime Minister's recent speech on education, she will now answer questions on curricular matters.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I do not have detailed responsibility for curricula in maintained schools; the 1944 Education Act places this on local education authorities and school governors and managers. As I made clear in a speech at Rotherham on 22nd October, however, I have a close concern for the school curriculum in general, and intend to embark upon a series of consultations about this issue.

Mr. Morrison

Is the Secretary of State prepared to introduce a policy of minimum standards of literacy and numeracy to be determined at the ages of 7, 11 and 14?

Mrs. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman had read my speech at Rotherham—I do not blame him if he has not—he will be aware that we propose that there should be consultations in advance of any proposals to be made at the turn of the year. We propose to involve teachers' organisations, local authorities, the two sides of industry and—so far as we can involve them—interested parents. It would be most foolish of me to say now, in advance, what the Government's proposals are, since I intend to consult freely and honestly with those groups and to put forward proposals in the light of discussions.

Mr. Newens

Is it not illogical that hon. Members may ask questions about the training of teachers but not about the shortage of teachers in particular subjects? Is it not high time that some change was made, so that hon. Members can probe the situation in the schools to ensure that criticisms are not made of comprehensive education in principle when the grounds for criticism lie elsewhere?

Mrs. Williams

I have sympathy with my hon. Friend. I intend that Parliament should be included in the discussions.

Mr. St John-Stevas

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box in her important new post and on being the third Minister appointed to shadow me. I hope that she will have more success and be more moderate than her predecessors.

I appreciate that the right hon. Lady is naturally cautious about committing herself, but does she agree that it would be inappropriate for her Department to behave as though we have a set centrally -controlled curriculum? Does she not think it would be appropriate and desirable for her Department to lay down national standards of attainment?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that shadowing a sun like himself is always very difficult. The sun moves round in 24-hour cycles, and here it has started up again.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed the Government's view that there is no question of State control of the curriculum. That would be a long step backwards. What we intend to do is to seek the achievement of basic school standards of the kind for which many parents have been pressing, but this must not involve any attempt at direct central control of the curriculum—something which none of us would want.

Mr. Roderick

Will my right hon. Friend remind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that there is a world of difference between education and training, and that he should not be lured into confusion by the advice of industrialists, who have tended to take a narrow view of education over the years?

Mrs. Williams

There is much truth in what my hon. Friend says, but I think he would not disagree that over the last two years of schooling there is a need for links between the world of employment and the world of schooling. In my view this must be a two-way and not a one-way traffic.