HC Deb 15 January 1991 vol 183 cc721-2
8. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further proposals he has for amendments to the implementation of assessment and testing in the national curriculum.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

My speech at the north of England conference on 4 January sets out my proposals and I have placed copies in the Library.

Mr. Griffiths

How much money did the Secretary of State waste on the pilot studies that everybody told him beforehand would not work? Does he intend to carry out any pilot studies on the new proposals for seven-year-olds and, if so, will he make further changes if they, too, prove impractical?

Mr. Clarke

The £6 million spent on the pilot studies was money well spent. My predecessor would have been bitterly criticised if he had not piloted those tests. It is in the light of the experience of those pilots that the tests have been greatly simplified and the proposals now being discussed with the profession will be simple and useful to them and extremely informative to parents when they are introduced in July this year.

Mr. Allason

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the national curriculum has proved quite successful, even if it was brought in rather too quickly? Does he agree that a greater proportion of resources would be available for schools, pupils and teachers if less money were spent by local education authorities on administration?

Mr. Clarke

It is now almost universally accepted that the national curriculum is a good idea and it is being supported throughout schools. With respect, I do not agree with my hon. Friend's implied criticism of my two predecessors who are said to have introduced it too quickly. That is now an excuse for former opponents who are coming on side. If my two predecessors had not pressed on with the reforms, the reforms would not have been started by now. Their success is suddenly being perceived. I agree with my hon. Friend's final comment that we need less money spent on administration and more spent where it counts—in the classrooms.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Secretary of State reconsider his proposals for the geography curriculum? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in favour of democracy, does he agree that one of the key problems in a democracy is deciding priorities? Would not it be a good idea to teach pupils at an early stage that one of the most difficult areas in which to make decisions is land use? Would not it have been sensible to keep that in the geography curriculum rather than return to a purely factual-based curriculum?

Mr. Clarke

Pupils need to acquire that essential body of factual knowledge and the skills necessary for a true appreciation of it before starting to strike attitudes and form opinions about subjects. We must achieve the right balance in the curriculum as it is being introduced in our schools.