HC Deb 27 February 1990 vol 168 cc131-2
10. Mr. Stevens

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has to introduce flexibility into the curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds.

Mrs. Rumbold

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has recently described the flexibility that will be available to schools in planning the curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. He has asked the National Curriculum Council and the School Examinations and Assessment Council to consider further a number of aspects.

Mr. Stevens

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. I accept that the disadvantages of specialising too early will be combated by the national curriculum, but does my hon. Friend agree that if pupils in these two educationally important years are to be given the best opportunity, provision should be made for options in addition to the national curriculum?

Mrs. Rumbold

Yes, indeed, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly the course outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his speech to the Society of Education Officers—the availability of a different combination of subjects which it is open to young people to take at the same time as studying the national curriculum foundation and core subjects. My right hon. Friend made it clear that core subjects are expected to be followed and that national curriculum foundation subjects will also be followed, but that in some cases the foundation subjects may be combined with other subjects for study in those two crucial years.

Mr. Leighton

In seeking that flexibility, will the Minister bear in mind the situation in the London borough of Newham, where the standard spending assessment has been set for next year at £98½ million, whereas for expenditure even to stand still we need £105.7 million? That adds up to a cut of £7¼ million. If that axe fell on teachers alone, we should have only 411 teachers left. I know that most members of the Cabinet have their children educated privately, but what effect does the Minister think that these cuts will have in the deprived London borough of Newham?

Mrs. Rumbold

In the first place, the Government give grant to local authorities to underpin education expenditure. In the current year we expect there to be some £15 billion of expenditure—a 9.6 per cent. increase in the total amount of expenditure for education services. It is for the local authority to decide how to spend the Government support. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the national curriculum is an entitlement for all children in our schools, and I trust that all local authorities will bear that in mind in assessing their priorities.

Sir Ian Lloyd

Can my hon. Friend conceive of any curriculum flexibility which could possibly compensate for the ill-preparedness for life of those little dears on whose posteriors the High Court ruled yesterday not even a wooden spoon may fall without incurring the wrath of the judicial system?

Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. Friend expresses a point of view. There are ways, as there always have been ways, for teachers to maintain sensible discipline in class. It is imperative for children to have a disciplined environment in which to learn, and if teachers can exert discipline by other methods it is most important that they should do so.