HC Deb 29 November 1977 vol 940 cc253-4
11. Mr. Forman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to issue the circular asking local authorities to report on curricular arrangements in their areas.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Today, Sir.

Mr. Forman

Having issued her circular to local authorities, will the right hon. Lady do everything she can to persuade the National Union of Teachers to reconsider the negative advice given to its members in responding to the circular? Secondly, how does she respond to the idea that there might be a natural break at age 14, before which adherence to a common curriculum is necessary and thereafter a more diverse prescription?

Mrs. Williams

I regret that the National Union of Teachers has been reluctant to co-operate fully on curriculum review, although we have had many consultations with them and other teaching organisations. I think that on reflection they will appreciate that there is no wish on the part of my Department to take over central control of the curriculum, but rather to draw the attention to matters of national concern in education, many of which have been pointed to by Select Committees of this House. Perhaps the NUT will reconsider its attitude.

On the second part of the question, I believe that we specialise too early in English and Welsh schools, although I would not wish to see a natural break at 14. I am sure that we should maintain science for those studying arts and arts for those studying science to a later stage than we now do.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the question of curriculum is one which teachers will not easily put into the hands of other people? Therefore, it is not a bad thing that they should be worried about this matter. Does she further agree that it is always a good thing in education not to make rapid changes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] The Tory Party wants to make no changes at all. Is it not a fact that people should discuss these matters at great length before coming to a decision?

Mrs. Williams

Yes. I understand what my hon. Friend says about the genuine concern of teachers for their own professional rôle. I hope that he will assure the NUT, of which he is a prominent member, that there is no intention on my part to try to take central control of curriculum. I hope that he and his hon. Friends will appreciate that matters such as multi-racial education, sex discrimination in schools, and the extraordinary provision of mathematical syllabuses, of which there are now over 40, are subjects of genuine concern to this House and my Department, but it is not illegitimate for us to draw our concern to the attention of education authorities.