HC Deb 19 April 1988 vol 131 cc662-4
2. Mr. Allan Roberts

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to publish in full the details of his proposed national curriculum; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

The Government's proposals are set out in the Education Reform Bill now before Parliament.

Mr. Roberts

When the Secretary of State publishes his proposed national curriculum, will he take account of the views expressed yesterday in the other place by Lord Joseph, that the present proposals represent too tight a straitjacket and that teachers will be testing pupils on too many subjects, which will not allow time for other important subjects in the curriculum? If the Secretary of State cannot convince the Prime Minister of his view on the matter, is she likely to listen to the person whose protegôe she was?

Mrs. Rumbold

I listened very carefully to the words of my right hon. and noble Friend in the other place yesterday afternoon, and I noted his concern about those children who fall into categories of lower attainment than the high fliers. I am certain, however, that as the debate proceeds in the other place and my right hon. and noble Friend learns the details proposed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he will find and respond to the breadth and balance proposed in the national curriculum, and note the differentiation proposed by my right hon. Friend in the testing and attainment targets.

Sir Peter Emery

When my hon. Friend publishes the national curriculum, will she draw the attention of school authorities to the desire of many people that schools should start the day in assembly or class, with a short Christian service—such as we have in the House of Commons, perhaps—featuring a prayer, a Bible reading, the Lord's Prayer and, if possible, the singing of a hymn?

Mrs. Rumbold

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments and note his views. There has been considerable consultation and discussion with the Churches and with all the local authorities and others involved on the whole issue of school assembly. As far as possible, the Churches and the schools were agreed that some form of assembly should take place in schools. It is not always possible for such an assembly to start at the beginning of the day, however desirable that might be, but I am sure that those schools that can do so will take note of my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister recognise that attainment testing of children of seven, eight, 11, 14 and 16 will place an increasing burden on classroom teachers? Will she endeavour to reduce the class contact hours worked by those teachers, to ensure that there is proper time not only for marking attainment tests but for preparing adequate pupil profile records? Finally, is it not time that more emphasis was placed on diagnostic testing throughout a pupil's school career, with the necessary remedial teaching?

Mrs. Rumbold

I would commend to the hon. Gentleman Professor Paul Black's initial and interim report on testing and attainment targets. If and when he reads it, he will see that the report speaks extensively about the importance of testing. He will also note that much of what is being suggested is practice that is already being carried out with children in the classroom. The work being done on attainment targets will satisfy many people's queries and concerns about it.

We are anxious that the work on records and profiles of achievement, which has been initiated in the schools, should continue and that teachers should find ample time to do it.

Mr. Raison

Bearing in mind the admirable interest of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in English history, will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that if there is a move in another place to promote history to join the three core subjects in the curriculum, the Government will respond sympathetically to it?

Mrs. Rumbold

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend has also read Lord Joseph's speech, in which he made a special plea for British history, but I must leave these matters to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that we shall expect the working group on history to look at British history and give due weight and attention to it when it comes to setting up attainment targets.

Mr. Straw

Is the Minister aware that her arrogant dismissal of Lord Joseph's view, coming from one who lacks understanding, will do no more for the reputation of Ministers than yesterday's performance on the poll tax? How will Ministers meet Lord Joseph's view that the national curriculum is a straitjacket and too prescriptive?

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Gentleman is much mistaken. Far from being arrogant about my noble Friend's remarks in another place yesterday, I listened to them with care and attention and got no impression that he was anything but highly supportive of the Government's proposals in all their measures. He voiced one or two concerns and we shall certainly take note of them.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my hon. Friend reassure Lord Joseph that children are stressed by tests only if they are excessively formally conducted and unrelated to work that they have been doing? Will she also assure the House and Lord Joseph that tests for children will be closely related to their curriculum and conducted in an informal atmosphere?

Mrs. Rumbold

Yes, I am confident of that, and I assure my hon. Friend that it will be so.