HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc772-4
6. Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

If he will make a statement on reform of the national curriculum. [85398]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

On 13 May, I launched the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's proposed revisions to the national curriculum. That consultation will conclude on 23 July, and orders and changes will be announced in the autumn. The intention behind the review is to contribute to the agenda on raising standards, to retain stability and consistency in the curriculum, to ensure a full and rounded entitlement to learning for all pupils and to encourage the development of best practice. Establishing the literacy and numeracy framework as a key part of the curriculum has been a priority in our mind, and we are pleased with the welcome that that has so far received.

Mrs. Laing

I thank the Secretary of State for that very full answer. I am sure that he agrees that, to get on with the important job that we expect them to do, teachers and head teachers want a degree of certainty, so that they can plan what they are going to teach in the months ahead, and less bureaucracy, so that they can spend their time teaching children, not filling in forms for the Department for Education and Employment. Therefore, is there not a contradiction in the Secretary of State's answer, in that he says that his top priority is retaining stability in schools, but that the review of the national curriculum will not be published until the autumn?

Why is the right hon. Gentleman not telling teachers and head teachers sooner what should be done in the next term and the next school year? Why do they have to wait such a long time and have to go through so much bureaucracy, instead of being able to concentrate on the basics? There is a difference between the rhetoric, which is very good, and the practice, which is not.

Mr. Blunkett

Let me pause to draw breath. I have a statutory duty to consult on the recommendations of the QCA, and I am using the minimum time available to ensure that that consultation concludes at the end of a summer term. It is not possible to issue the immediate response to that consultation to schools during August, because they are on holiday. When schools return in autumn, we shall get the results of the review to them as quickly as possible. Through the standards fund and the web, we shall provide information, schemes of work and updates so that everyone has the necessary information. We shall ensure that schools have the rest of the academic year to prepare for the main changes, which are minimal and which will be introduced from 2000. All reasonable people will recognise that is the fastest that we can act.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

I welcome the introduction of thinking skills to the new national curriculum. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is willing to respond positively to the recent offer of help made to him by the National Committee for Philosophy in developing that curriculum in such a way that the committee's expertise is made available to the schools sector?

Mr. Blunkett

We strongly welcome advice and support and have made a point of ensuring that we open up access to the information and advice that is available outside the Department. I shall be happy to take on board the suggested contribution to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

The Liberal Democrats welcome the review of the national curriculum—although it is rather ironic that it was introduced without any consultation. We particularly welcome the fact that the Government have taken the Crick report seriously. As we shall see huge voter apathy in today's European elections, does the Secretary of State believe that citizenship should be not only taught, but practised? How does the Secretary of State propose to introduce citizenship into schools, and to ensure that school councils and active participation are the norm rather than the exception?

Mr. Blunkett

I strongly welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments. About a third of our secondary schools are conducting the recommended citizenship programmes, which will be implemented by 2002. The development of citizenship and democracy in our schools is an essential feature of a modern, civilised society. It will help students to understand the world around them and their part in it. However, even in my wildest dreams, I do not imagine that the introduction of citizenship and democracy into the curriculum will improve voter turnout in European elections.

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