HL Deb 09 April 1981 vol 419 cc671-4

3.7 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they contemplate development education playing any significant part in their new proposals for school curricula.

Baroness Young

My Lords, one of the educational aims commended in The School Curriculum is to help pupils to understand the world in which they live and the interdependence of individuals, groups and nations. It is for local authorities and schools to decide how they should attempt to meet such aims. For their part, the Government are supporting development education in this country through grants which they are making to the Centre for World Development Education, the Council for Education in World Citizenship and the Standing Conference on Education for International Understanding.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

While I thank the Minister for that reply, my Lords, may I ask whether she agrees that there is a strong difference of opinion on this issue; that on the one hand there are those who think it is crucial that the present generation of British children should break out of the island mentality and become world citizens and that that can be done only if the Government give a lead and assistance to the voluntary organisations, while on the other there are those who think the Government should keep out of it and leave it to the local authorities, voluntary organisations and so on? Where do her department and the Government stand on the division of opinion on this issue?

Baroness Young

My Lords, in our recently published document, The School Curriculum, we recognise that it is a question for local education authorities what subjects they put into the school curriculum. There are five hours of the, day and 200 compulsory school days in the year, and how that time is divided is a matter of great importance. We have indicated that we look for a broad curriculum which includes those general subjects covered by the humanities, and included in that will be an interest in development education. How that is done will be a matter for schools and local education authorities to decide. It will not necessarily be a timetable subject, although it is a subject which may be taken across several other subjects.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, will consideration be given to the possibility of circularising the LEAs with a view to their recognising the increasing importance of the Third World?—so that each LEA looks at the possibility of an across-the-board inclusion of significant instruction on the Third World in its present curriculum, very much as so many of them have chosen to do in regard to the United Nations and its agencies, as well as the Commonwealth.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I would hesitate to make a commitment on sending more circulars to local authorities, since that is something which we have set our face against, unless it is absolutely necessary. I would commend to the noble Lord the document on the school curriculum. In it he will see that under primary schools we recommend that children should be encouraged to develop an understanding of the world and of their own place in it, as well as of how people live and work in other parts of the world. As I have already indicated on secondary schools, all pupils should undertake some study of the humanities and this could well include history and geography, both of which can contribute to the development of international understanding.

Lord Oram

My Lords, is it not the case that all political parties acknowledge the great importance of developing the economies of countries in the Third World, although we may differ in our emphasis and methods? Do not opinion polls indicate that among the general public that acknowledgment is certainly not the same as it is among the political parties? Does not that fact point to the very great importance of the question raised by my noble friend, as well as the important need for local authorities, central Government, and voluntary bodies to give much greater emphasis to this subject?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I entirely accept that many people, in particular Members of your Lordships' House and Members of another place, believe in the importance of development education. One of the problems with the school curriculum is that a number of individuals and groups of people believe that their particular interests ought also to be taught in schools. There is indeed an extensive list of subjects which should be taught in schools, and the problem is how to fit what must be taught into the time available. It is for that reason, among many other reasons, that we have issued our document giving guidance on the importance of a broad curriculum, and including in that up to the age of 16 a study of English, mathematics, science, religious education, physical education, some study of the humanities, some practical and aesthetic studies, and a modern language. It is in the study of the humanities that development education would come in.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, in the light of the wish to increase Third World teaching, expressed by teachers themselves in a recent survey of Oxford schools, can the Minister tell us whether the Department of Education has plans to encourage the training in, and understanding of, development education among, teachers in training colleges?

Baroness Young

My Lords, decisions on what kind of teacher training courses to offer and the content of such courses as are offered are, in the first instance, a matter for the training institutions themselves. The department would be prepared to consider any proposals for courses focusing on development education, in so far as such courses required our approval. There are already available a number of courses, for both students training to be teachers and teachers already in teaching service, which focus on related matters, such as education for a multi-cultural society.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, will the noble Baroness not agree with me that, since up to the tender age of 16 there are so many fundamental subjects to study, the introduction of this highly controversial branch of anthropology and sociology at that stage would be inappropriate? Will she not also agree that at that stage a thorough teaching of geography, in its physical and historical aspects, is much more suitable?

Baroness Young

My Lords, in primary schools clearly the emphasis is on basic teaching in English and mathematics, but the report of the Inspectorate shows that there is advantage in not keeping merely to very basic and simple teaching of English and mathematics and that these subjects can be taught in a wider context, and it is in that particular connection that other subjects are brought in. I entirely take the noble Lord's point that complicated international affairs are not suitable for being taught to very young children, but some understanding of other countries, taught through geography, would be suitable.

Lord Parry

My Lords, in view of the reassuring nature of the noble Baroness's last reply, will she accept that for many people the complicated issues of humanity in a geographically-orientated world are not as important these days as the kind of human teaching that begins at home? Will the noble Baroness not accept that in our multi-national society development education begins not only at the primary level but also in the immediate locality of the school? Is not the noble Baroness as concerned as are some of us in the in-service teaching field that the cut-back in curriculum study in locally-based teacher centres is having an adverse effect regarding the knowledge and importance of a broadly-based curriculum within the educational service?

Baroness Young

My Lords, there were quite a number of points in that supplementary question. Yes, I agree about the importance of the family. Yes, I agree about the importance of the attitudes of the family and of teachers regarding our approach to communities at home, as well as our understanding of affairs overseas. Yes, the department does attach great importance to in-service training.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, will the noble Baroness be prepared to accept an invitation to visit a college which is doing this work at Llantwit-Major (my Welsh colleagues will forgive me for pronouncing that incorrectly) in South Wales? Down there they are doing the international baccalaureate, which covers all the subjects that the Minister has already indicated.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have in fact visited schools which take the IB exam, which has a very interesting curriculum, and I am always glad to consider invitations to visit other schools.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that the words in the pamphlet which her department has issued, and which she has quoted, will remain as pious platitudes unless there is some action and support by the Government in regard to the intentions which they express here? Since the abolition of the Advisory Committee on Development Education, which was set up by the last Government and then cancelled by the present Government, has there been any Government support for development education?

How does the noble Baroness equate what she has said with the fact that, although for many years there has been an HMI with specialist responsibility for international affairs, that HMI has now been moved to another post, and not replaced? How does she explain the remarkable contrast between the actions of her department and the words contained in the brochure?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government are to issue a circular—which is now out for consultation—to local education authorities following the publication of the document on the school curriculum. We are asking local education authorities to send a copy of the curriculum document to every school. We hope that it will be studied not only by every school but by school governing bodies. In about two years' time the Secretary of State will ask local authorities to indicate in what way they have looked at their curricula in the light of the document and made adjustments.

The Advisory Council for Development Education was a Quango, the grant for which it was decided to stop because it was felt that the money could be better given direct to the developing world. The Department of Education and Science gives a grant of £28,500 to the Council for Education in World Citizenship, and a grant of £2,500 to the Standing Conference on Education for International Understanding. It is not my business to decide how HMIs are deployed.