HC Deb 16 November 1987 vol 122 cc752-4
4. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received about the inclusion of Welsh in the core curriculum.

14. Dr. Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received concerning his proposals for a core curriculum in Wales; and when he hopes to respond to those representations.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

We have received a total of 203 representations that refer to the position of Welsh within the national curriculum. Of those, 150 favour the inclusion of Welsh as a core or foundation subject throughout Wales. I expect to publish soon a statement of policy on the national curriculum in Wales, which will embody our response to the consultation exercise.

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend will be aware that, as a Welshman who learnt Welsh as an adult, I have the interests of the Welsh language at heart. Will he assure me that he will take into account the diversity of Wales and the impossibility of forcing Welsh on the children of Gwent? Circumstances vary within Wales, and a policy of forcing Welsh on people will not be in the best interests of the Welsh language.

Mr. Roberts

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's considerable interest in the promotion of the language and the fact that he has written a book about it. He is right. There is considerable diversity in knowledge of the language throughout Wales. Some 20 per cent. of our children are taught in Welsh and 80 per cent. are not. Nevertheless, we believe that Welsh should have its place in the curriculum. I believe that we have found the right answer in making it part of the core curriculum for those who are taught in Welsh, and part of the general curriculum for others.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas

Will the Minister now answer my question, is was a general question about the core curriculum, the number of representations that have been made to him, and what response he expects to make? My question is not about Welsh in the core curriculum, but about the core curriculum in general. Does he accept that the notion of a core curriculum divided into subjects, whether core or foundation, is completely outdated and has no relevance to the reality of pupils' learning experiences? Does the Minister further accept that his Department needs to take a transcurricular approach on language, scientific, environmental and social issues at primary and early secondary level? Such an approach is much more relevant to school pupils than is a curriculum based on the notion of subjects.

Mr. Roberts

I do not think that what we have said about the core curriculum and the curriculum in general debars transcurricular teaching.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

What proposals does my hon. Friend have in mind in the core curriculum for religious education and the daily act of worship?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend will know that religious education is, of course, a statutory requirement under the Education Act 1944, and our proposals do not change that. We believe that religious education is vital to the spiritual development of our children. With regard to the collective act of worship, we trust that there will be flexibility in the timing so that it can take place at different times if necessary.

Mr. Wigley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that the Minister did not answer question 14, will you decouple it from question 4 and make sure that an answer is given when we come to it?

Mr. Speaker

The Minister chooses what answer he gives. I remind the House that question 14 is about the curriculum in Wales, and goes wider than question 4.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Taking into account the diversity of Wales, does the Minister agree that, in Dyfed and Gwynedd, Welsh should have almost as important a place in the curriculum as English, and that the problem of the place of the Welsh language in the core curriculum highlights the wrong thinking behind the core curriculum? Does he agree that those decisions are far better left to the individual local authority?

Mr. Roberts

We intend to consult the local education authorities. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I said that where Welsh is the medium of teaching it will he included in the core curriculum. We shall set up a subject group to deal with Welsh in the curriculum, and I very much hope that that group will be able to devise courses and set levels of learning and attainment that will satisfy all people in Wales.

Mr. Forth

Would it not be a tragic misuse of finite educational resources to have a declining language in the core curriculum? Would it not be much more appropriate for that language to be allowed as an option in a flexible way during the time outside the core curriculum, so that it may have its proper place?

Mr. Roberts

I have made the position very clear. It is that the 80 per cent. of children in Wales who are not taught through the medium of Welsh will have Welsh as part of their curriculum. Of course, there will be different levels of attainment. The consultation exercise revealed considerable support for our proposals for Wales.

Mr. Rogers

The Minister may wish to have Welsh in the core curriculum, but I am not sure, from his answers, about his enthusiasm for the teaching of Welsh outside the Welsh-medium schools. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Welsh language will be given its proper place in teaching outside the Welsh-medium schools? If the language is to develop and get back to the status that Opposition Members would like to see it have, it must develop in the English-speaking areas, or we shall land in the barbaric state that some Conservative Members would like to see.

Mr. Roberts

I assure the hon. Member that Welsh will have its place in the curriculum in Wales. We are seeking to meet the diversity of practice in Welsh-speaking schools and the diversity of need for the language.