HL Deb 02 May 1989 vol 507 cc77-90

7.33 p.m.

Lord Pesten rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in Science) Order 1989 [S.I. 1989 No. 309] be annulled.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, let me start by saying that in praying against this order I am simply using it as a procedural device in order to discuss the science curriculum. On this occasion I am not proposing to divide your Lordships' House on this matter although I may when we come to discuss other such orders feel that that would be an appropriate way to proceed.

It seems to me that, given the Education Bill that became the Education Act and given that such orders become the way in which we move on the question of the curriculum, it would be a great pity if your Lordships did not take this opportunity—indeed I regard it as an historic opportunity—to discuss the national curriculum and in this case the curriculum in science. Let me add that I believe—and I approach this matter in as constructive a spirit as I possibly can—that it is right for Ministers to be involved in the curriculum and it is right for Members of Parliament, not least your Lordships, to be in a position to debate the curriculum. As I understand it, this is the first time in recent history that that has been possible.

Whatever criticisms that I and my colleagues and noble friends have made of the Education Bill, they certainly did not extend to saying that discussion of the curriculum itself was inappropriate. Also, if noble Lords will reflect on our great debates on these matters, they will remember that we argued about the core curriculum, what ought to be in it and such matters. I remain convinced in my original view that the narrow core was the correct approach, leaving more flexibility for other subjects. But that is not a matter that need concern us at the present time because we all agreed that science should be in the core.

Let me, parenthetically, make another series of remarks. I have chosen not to pray also against the education order that deals with mathematics. In choosing to make that decision I must tell noble Lords that the reason very simply was not to overdo matters at this stage. There is a limit to your Lordships' patience, important though these subjects are. But I do not want noble Lords to believe that in not discussing the mathematics order I regard that in some way or other as less important. Indeed, my view would probably be to regard the mathematics curriculum as underlying everything on the science side and certainly therefore of at least equal importance. But except for one or two comments about standards that I shall make in a moment, I do not find a great deal with which to disagree at this stage in the mathematics curriculum.

Overall it looks to me to be a rather good curriculum in the broad sense. I think that it can be criticised and I shall make one or two criticisms in a moment, but on the whole I must admit that I tend to welcome it. However, let me make those criticisms en passant. To some extent—and this is not irrelevant to the science curriculum—it has to do with standards.

It seems to me that in considering mathematics we must take fundamental analysis and basic ideas very seriously and not view mathematics, as many ignorant people do, as simply a matter of calculation. One often hears it said that if one cannot do long division in one's head, then somehow one is not a mathematician. There is nothing more absurd. I know many people who can do long division in their head but do not have the faintest idea of what they are doing and cannot possibly explain why what they are doing is correct.

What matters in mathematics is the fundamental side. What worries me a little about the mathematics order is that there are one or two fundamental aspects of mathematics that seem to have been left out. I just mention them to draw them to your Lordships' attention. Of the two that most concern me, one is that there is a reference to vector notation but no reference at all to matrices. Yet I am quite clear from the time that my own children did mathematics, both in primary and secondary school, that they actually did matrix algebra, which, despite the tough sounding name, is quite an easy subject and rather important. I am a little disappointed that that has been left out.

I am also a trifle disappointed—unless I have misread the document, and that is always possible —that calculus does not seem to be included in the mathematics order. Again I find that rather surprising.

On the more practical side of mathematics—and again this relates to the science curriculum—I believe that the mathematics order has rather less of a statistical nature in it than I should have liked to see. Since I regard maths as the vital entrée to the science side, I am a little worried about the lack of concern with statistical matters in the mathematics curriculum.

Let me turn to the science curriculum itself. I should like to emphasise three matters. First, overall, I believe that it is rather good. Many noble Lords may agree that, if all of us knew as much science as is laid down by this order, we should know more than we currently know and might be more useful in our society than perhaps must of us are. I am not saying that it is all wholly appalling; it is rather good.

My concern is whether the order lays down a high enough standard. Here I must reveal my ignorance or lack of understanding about the nature of the national curriculum. This may give the noble Viscount an opportunity to clarify the matter when he replies. A range of achievement is possible within the science curriculum. Not everyone achieves the same standard. What is not clear to me is whether schools which wish to cover more than is laid down in the national curriculum will be in a position to do so. My worry is whether, although for a great number of pupils this will be a very good curriculum—and I have one or two remarks to make on that—for those who are particularly good at science it will attain the highest, rather than high, standards. I should like the noble Viscount to tell us the thinking of the DES on teaching more rather than less.

Secondly, when considering the detail of the science curriculum I am a little mystified whether it is theoretical enough. All my biases in my academic career have been rather more on the theoretical than on the applied side. I freely admit that I have such biases. However, even on the applied side my experience has been that one cannot apply matters properly unless one knows enough theory to understand what one is doing. As the curriculum is laid down, this matter is not obvious to me. I ask this interrogatively. Is enough theory included? I ask that question again at two levels. Is enough theory included for most ordinary pupils working in this area so that they understand what they are doing on method and application? I hope that I shall not be accused of intellectual snobbery when I also ask this question of the noble Viscount. Will the national curriculum provide a sufficiently rigorous foundation, in particular at the theoretical level, for more advanced work?

On the question of whether there will be enough mathematics to feed into the science curriculum, I go back to my point about statistics. I am delighted to see genetics in the national curriculum for science. Will the young people be taught enough statistics to understand what happens in genetics and in particular the theory? That is my first set of questions. I put them forward in a constructive manner. I do not regard such questions as remotely political. They are argumentative certainly, but that is another matter altogether. I shall welcome the view of the noble Viscount on these points.

I now come to the second matter that has been discussed widely in the education press and was debated in the other place only the other day. It concerns the smaller or narrower science course. I ask this question genuinely and not provocatively. Why has the smaller science course been introduced? One reason may be because Ministers and their advisers genuinely believed on education grounds that for a significant number of young people this was the appropriate course. If that is their view I should like to hear more argument on it.

Perhaps I may hark back to our debates on the Bill. When we were arguing about flexibility, some noble Lords considered that there might be such narrower courses. Then the Government steadfastly rejected all those arguments. In the case of the science curriculum how has this narrower curriculum arisen on education grounds, if it has? I am well aware that there is another argument here, though it is not the reason for my main inquiry this evening. Cynics have put forward the view that all the Government are doing is recognising the shortage of teachers and other resources and that they have introduced this curriculum because they know that they could not possibly provide all the teaching and other resource inputs required for the overall science curriculum. At the very least the noble Viscount ought to answer that accusation. I do not necessarily make it myself but I wait to hear what the Minister has to say.

It was not my intention to introduce this discussion simply as an entrée yet again to a great row about teacher shortages. However, I am now extremely confused about the position of the DES on teacher shortages. The department has certainly made a number of public statements that it recognises that there is shortage of science teachers. It is not pretending that there is not. Although we can argue about how much the Government are doing to remove the shortage, it will persist for quite a while. First, can the noble Viscount tell us more on that subject? Secondly, what will happen if the teachers are not available? What will happen to the science curriculum? I do not see how a curriculum as good as this—and I repeat that point—can be taught by people who are not themselves properly educated in science. One cannot simply wander in, pick up a book and say, "Turn to page such and such, and we shall deal with this following problem in mutation on genetics". One either knows the subject oneself or one cannot teach it. I therefore have to ask the question: what will happen if the teachers are not available?

Wearing my normal economist's hat, I have to ask a more general question on resources. Do we know that the laboratories are there for science in all these schools? Do we know that the text books are there? I should not refer simply to text books. Do we know that up-to-date text books are available? Those who have been involved in teaching are well aware that not giving every child a book of his own is a very bad practice. The notion that children can share books is preposterous, as anyone who has any experience of teaching knows. Giving them out-of-date books is even more absurd. In science, of all subjects, resources must be available.

I argued this point when we discussed the Bill. I welcome the Secretary of State taking responsibility to some degree for the curriculum. I still welcome it. However, when the Secretary of State takes such responsibility he also has to take responsibility on the resource side. He cannot say, "I am concerned with the curriculum but then I wash my hands on whether the means are there to achieve it."

I hope very much that the shorter scientific curriculum does not turn out in practice simply to be directed at women rather than men. One of the greatest wastes in our society is the limited extent to which women have involved themselves in science although I see no evidence that women are intrinsically less able to do science than men. We must go to enormous lengths to try to eradicate any such sexual bias, if I may put it that way, in science. Whatever the case for the narrower or shorter course, we must see that it suddenly does not end up much more as an easy biology course with little hard physics for women. I hope that there will be total agreement from the Government on that.

I remind the noble Viscount that one important professional body, namely the Royal Society of Chemistry, has expressed deep concern about the narrower curriculum. It does not like it. I assume that it dislikes it particularly because it may be damaging to chemistry, a subject in which our country has had enormous achievements over the years. It is one of the subjects in which we remain of world class. We can consider ourselves with great confidence as major achievers. My view is not necessarily that the Royal Society of Chemistry is completely right in what it says; however, when it expresses a worry, it seems to me that the Secretary of State has a duty to respond. He has a duty to say to such an important professional body that, first, its worries are taken seriously and, secondly, if the Government think its views wrong, to explain why. For the moment, if they are not sure whether the society is wrong, the Government are open to further argument. I hope to hear something from the noble Viscount on that.

I have one last point on procedure. I am sorry to have gone on for so long. On so interesting a matter, it illustrates how long I could continue if given the opportunity. Once it is agreed, I understand that this document will become the national curriculum in science. I have two concerns. First, let us suppose that during a debate such as this, one or other noble Member by some miracle makes quite a good point about the curriculum. Perhaps, taking the example of my maths point, what I said about matrix algebra may be correct. One worry—the counterside to our ability to discuss the matter—is that it is not obvious how the curriculum may be modified. How can anything happen in practice?

That relates to a further question. Let us suppose that more generally, not noble Lords, but the education world, through experiments, discovers that the curriculum ought to be changed. Is there any way in which the curriculum can be appropriately modified? So far as I can see, the Secretary of State, again with an order, will have to modify the curriculum. I welcome our chance for a debate, but I am worried about possible inflexibility. The Secretary of State may have to consider what happens in other areas such as a permanent review of the curriculum and a statement to another place and to your Lordships' House on the state of the curriculum and possible changes.

However, I do not wish to conclude on a negative note. If we are lucky and the resources are there, the result of the national curriculum will be that more science will be studied successfully by more pupils than ever before. If that happens I reiterate the point: I for one will strongly welcome it.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in Science) Order 1989 [S.I. 1989 No. 309] be annulled.—[Lord Peston.]

7.53 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for putting down this Prayer and for giving us an opportunity to debate matters which seriously need parliamentary scrutiny. I agreed with almost everything that the noble Lord said, including that the academic part of these matters should not be regarded as issues for party debate. I was also interested and pleased to hear the noble Lord consider the possibility that at some future date on such an occasion the House might divide. Let me hasten to reassure noble Lords opposite that I recognise that dividing the House during the dinner break is a gastronomic crime and should be undertaken, if at all, only to avoid a much graver political crime. That possibility somewhere should exist as a vital part of parliamentary sovereignty, and I should be sorry to see it disappear.

I agreed with the phrase that the noble Lord used that the curriculum as set out is rather good. It was a pleasure to read. It was well written; it was lively; and it was simple. It stimulated intellectual curiosity, which is one of the best things I can say about it. I found myself, interestingly, reacting as a parent, remembering a great many wet Saturday afternoons at the Science Museum. I am slightly more happy than the noble Lord about the balance between theory and practice. The words "understand" and "know" seem to me to be coming with considerable frequency.

However, one or two worries are worth mentioning. Science changes. Nowadays it tends to change very rapidly indeed. These attainment tests suppose that certain scientific facts, as we now think they are, will continue to be thought true. To satisfy the attainment targets it will be necessary to appear to know these facts. We might find that one of them proved to be false tomorrow. I know it is always a problem keeping a school curriculum up to date. I know also that the National Curriculum Council has a power of review. But, as the noble Lord said, it is a somewhat cumbrous process. It will be a little like turning a tanker. I wonder whether there may be an effect here of ossifying error.

Something else about which I am anxious is the amount of content. Science has a tendency to grow. My tutor, John Roberts, remarked in his History of the World that at any time since 1500 there have been more scientists alive than dead. It is a lot easier to put subjects into a curriculum than to take them out. The body of knowledge required is heavy. I wonder whether, with the increase in known science, it may be heavier. It may indeed become too heavy. That is a problem to which I do not pretend to have an answer. However, I should like to flag it for attention.

When this matter was raised in another place, some people were deeply concerned about the two-tier curriculum; mode A and mode B. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was slightly less concerned about that. On these Benches we are well aware, and have reiterated many times, that children differ. The word we uttered many times during our proceedings on the Education Reform Bill was "flexibility". It seems to me that this two-tier suggestion allows some flexibility. Indeed I wondered at moments whether it owed something to the amendment so amply supported from the Cross-Benches and elsewhere of my noble friend Lord McNair on the teaching of languages. It gave me a faint hope, a wild surmise, that just possibly some thinking about the content of that amendment may have gone on since it was discussed in this House. I look forward to the curriculum order on languages with a good deal of interest.

Granted this generally optimistic greeting of the contents, I have misgivings about the implementation. One is the pace of reorganisation in schools. One of my noble friends, who is unfortunately not able to be here today, has drawn attention to the fact that in his school all the targets of attainment in the programmes of study did not arrive until just before the Easter vacation. The school is in the middle of introducing TVEI and also in the course of a reorganisation involving a merger with another school. A considerable amount of dislocation is involved. When so many things are changing at once at this pace one wonders whether all will be done properly. One wonders whether good ideas might have been brought forward if there had been slightly less unseemly haste. I am also deeply worried about resources on which I want to dwell more than the noble Lord has. I am glad that the noble Lord said that this is not solely a question of teachers. My honourable friends in another place have estimated the cost of laboratory resources to enable schools to teach the national curriculum at £50,000 per school. I do not see where that money is coming from. I am also glad that the noble Lord said what he did about books. The point cannot be repeated too often, but the teacher problem is at the bottom of it.

In a parliamentary Answer given on 19th April, Mr. Butcher gave a figure of 36,640 for the net loss of teachers in all subjects since 1984. That is a gross loss of 43,120. For science, he gave a figure for gross loss of 8,540. He did not give a figure for net loss so I cannot quote it. One imagines that it would be roughly in proportion.

I share the anxieties about whether a truly intellectually demanding curriculum—and I am glad that it is such—can be taught by people without the proper qualifications. I know that the Secretary of State is optimistic—he usually is. He quotes figures about entrants to teacher training which I too am glad to see. But they are figures before such people have encountered their first mortgage, before the birth of their first child, before the pressures or re-organisation and before most of the issues which are deterring people from the profession are encountered. They are not the figures that we need to be looking at. Not only do we need to be getting people to enter teacher training but we need to be getting them to stay there.

I wonder whether blaming the unions for teacher discontent has been a case of shooting the messenger. I wonder whether now, with the messenger shot, we are seeing how the message is delivered. It is important because, if the situation is not put right, the national curriculum, which I should welcome, simply will not happen. It is coming in without visible means of support, with the DES in its familiar guise of following the policy of doing without braces. We have criticised the DES in the past for its indifference to dead languages. It has, however, a great affection for dead letters: I wish it would put it the other way round.

8.3 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for giving the House the opportunity of discussing the order, which, along with the parallel order on mathematics, sets out the first of the full national curriculum requirements to be introduced under the Education Reform Act 1988. I am also grateful for his assurance that his purpose in raising the subject tonight is to express his concern and thoughts on the contents and balance of the proposed curriculum and that his aim is to be constructive.

There is widespread support for the principle of the national curriculum and I am aware of the real and widespread concern to improve standards in our schools and to support the national curriculum in its role in the improvement of standards. But before starting my speech I should like to make two points. First, I must say a word of thanks to members of the Science Working Group, who put a great deal of skill, experience and time into the deliberations which eventually resulted in the documents which we have before us. Secondly, I believe that in a debate of this nature it will be more constructive if I answer some of the noble Lords' questions in a considered letter after studying the Official Report rather than attempting to answer off the top of my head. However, that does not mean that I shall not try to answer most of the points. It means that my speech will be slightly longer than I had intended but I hope that that will show that the Government are taking the debate very seriously.

Many people have concerns when radical change is envisaged and it is right that those concerns are expressed. I hope that I shall be able to put at rest most of those anxieties. I believe that in some cases they arise as a result of thinking up hypothetical situations.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the purpose of the order we are debating. It specifies the attainment targets, arranged in 10 successive levels of attainment, and the programmes of study to support them, covering the four key stages of compulsory schooling from age 5 to 16. These are to be phased in progressively, starting this autumn. The first unreported trial run of assessements will be made in 1991, for 7-year old pupils then reaching the end of the first key stage. The following year, 1992, will see the first fully reported assessments for the next cohort of pupils reaching the end of the first key stage then at age 7. The assessment arrangements will be the subject of a separate order. The present order concerns the attainment targets and programmes of study alone.

There has been some criticism of the consultation process. Work on the national curriculum has been intensive but consultation has been an important part of the process at each stage. The Science Working Group produced its interim report in November 1987 and this was used as the basis of consulting a large number of organisations and individuals. Then the working group produced its final report on 30th June 1988. The Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales then commented on the report and published it with the Government's proposals. In England the National Curriculum Council and in Wales the Welsh Office sent these out for consultation. After due consideration the NCC submitted recommendations in November 1988 which were accepted by the Secretaries of State. The draft orders were published in December for a further round of consultation before being laid before Parliament in March. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that there has been a long series of consultations.

It has been suggested that future orders for other curriculum subjects ought to be debated at draft stage. There is ample opportunity for noble Lords, as for any other interested party, to submit written comments on the working party reports, the Secretary of State's proposals and the draft orders. Two debates on each order might seem a little excessive.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Peston, agreed that we are not debating the mathematics curriculum he asked a question about it. In the same spirit I shall answer that question. He regretted the omission of matrix work, calculus and statistics from the national curriculum order. Without necessarily accepting the detail of his critism, I point out that the content of the order reflects the extensive two-stage public consultations which took place on the maths proposals. But the Government and the National Curriculum Council will monitor the national curriculum in practice and keep under review the possible need for any changes, including additions in the light of experience.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, questioned whether schools wishing to offer pupils more than the national curriculum requirements in science will be allowed to do so. The short answer is yes. Provided that the schools fulfil all the national curriculum requirements and comply with a general duty to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, they are free to teach whatever else they may wish in addition. Secondly, as regards whether the theoretical balance is right for both average and more able pupils, the Government believe that in the light of the extensive consultations that it is. But as I have already said in the case of maths, it will be kept under review and can be amended in future in the light of experience.

In a broader reply and confirming what I have just said—and this answers a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell—the National Curriculum Council is responsible for keeping the national curriculum under review and advising the Secretary of State on the need for any changes in the light of experience. Her Majesty's Inspectorate will also be monitoring schools' experience and so will the Department of Education and Science. That will include observations sent to the department from all sources. The provisions contained in the order and the associated documents will be updated and revised as necessary in the light of experience. I hope that that will be a relief to the two noble Lords who have spoken.

Before turning to the issue of the so-called "12.5 per cent." option, it is important to emphasise the great advance that the national curriculum represents in the teaching of science in this country. Right through to the age of 16 children will not be allowed to drop subjects—either the core subjects or the other foundation subjects. At present, for example, many girls drop physics at an early age and many boys drop biology. Something like 5 per cent. of pupils in year five at secondary school take no science at all. This picture will be completely changed by the national curriculum, and will be changed for the minority doing the 12.5 per cent. option in the final two years of compulsory schooling as well as the majority doing the 20 per cent. option. In both cases, the national curriculum will ensure the study of a balanced science curriculum for all pupils up to the age of 16.

I am well aware of the argument that all children in our schools should take double science to GCSE certificate at 16. This would take up something like 20 per cent. of school time for all pupils covering all 17 attainment targets in the science curriculum. This was what the Science Working Group recommended, but the Secretaries of State were mindful of concern that there should be a statutory recognition of the need for flexibility; for example, in the case of a minority of pupils needing more time for the study of foreign languages or music. I may say that I recall the noble Lord's own concern for flexibility during debate on the Education Reform Bill. He asked: What about flexibility? What of the suggestions that the national curriculum might impose too tight a straitjacket? The National Curriculum Council gave a great deal of attention to the science option question during the consultation period on the Government's proposals following the working group's report. The council recognised the need to balance the advantages of the full course of 17 attainment targets against the flexibility which some pupils will need within their whole curriculum. As a result, the NCC recommended that there should be an alternative course with fewer atttainment targets but still a balanced science programme and with an intellectual challenge matching that of the full course of study. The NCC's decision to make this recommendation was its own independent decision. The Secretary of State agreed with the recommendation.

I should make it clear that the Secretaries of State expect most pupils will study science for 20 per cent. of their time. There is, and will continue to be, a strong recommendation to all schools that they should offer a double science programme to all their pupils, and should encourage as many as possible of them to take it up. And I would remind noble Lords that the 12.5 per cent. single science option itself represents a tremendous advance on what happens at present. A very large number of our children do not study a balanced science curriculum in the final two years of compulsory schooling. They are now going to have to take such a programme for at least some 12.5 per cent. of their time.

I should add that Her Majesty's Inspectorate gives strong support to the view that the 12.5 per cent. option represents a worthwhile study of science. It is broad in scope and, as the noble Earl said, intellectually challenging.

I shall say a word about the specific concern expressed by the noble Lord Peston, that girls in particular will opt for the 12.5 per cent. programme and that this will unnecessarily reduce the chances of the country meeting its need for highly qualified manpower. By the time the children educated throughout under the national curriculum make a choice on this option they will have had nine years schooling in science. There is every reason to believe that they will be well informed in the choice that they make. I can give an assurance, however, that the take-up of each option by gender will be carefully monitored.

I will now deal with the specific question of the relationship of the 20 per cent. and 12.5 per cent. programmes of study to taking A-levels.

A-levels are already evolving to meet new needs, including the needs of GCSE holders. GCSE double-award science is well adapted for progression to A-level in a range of science subjects. The 20 per cent. option in the national curriculum will be similarly well adapted. It is expected, for example, that a pupil will be able to go on to take any or indeed all of physics, chemistry and biology at A-level if that is what is wanted.

The Government accept that the 12.5 per cent. option will not provide the same breadth of knowledge and understanding as the 20 per cent. option. At the same time, I would emphasise that the course of study for the 12.5 per cent. option has been prepared in such a way as to ensure that it does not close the door to science study post-16. The National Curriculum Council and the Curriculum Council for Wales suggested that a short bridging course in the chosen subject or subjects may be necessary in such cases before A-level studies begin.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, expressed concern at the neglect of physics in the 12.5 per cent. option. With energy, physics accounts for four of the nine knowledge and understanding attainment targets. Those are forces, electricity and magnetism, energy, and sound and music. Of the other disciplines, chemistry has two attainment targets, biology two and earth science one. That is a balanced programme of study.

Turning to the profile components, the Government fully appreciate the importance of teaching pupils how to take advantage of the knowledge and skills they acquire in practical tasks and real life situations. The reduction in the number of profile components from four to two has not reduced the emphasis on practical work. It has sought to make more clear the relationship of practical tasks to the knowledge which has to be applied. The attainment target for exploration of science stands on its own as a separate profile component. It was developed to reflect a progression in the abilities to plan, carry out, interpret results, draw inferences and communicate.

I turn now to the question of teacher shortages in science subjects raised by both noble Lords. Noble Lords may recall that we had a fairly full debate on this subject on 8th March. I do not therefore propose to repeat here an account of all the action taken by the Government to combat teacher shortages. Suffice it to say that the Government are not only well aware of the problems but have taken and are taking vigorous action to deal with the problems. Indeed, they are meeting with some success.

Measures already taken include the bursary scheme for shortage subjects and grants to LEAs for in-service training. The Teaching As a Career Unit, launched in April 1987, has advertised widely and has met with considerable success. The latest campaign, which ended a few weeks ago, has attracted over 10,000 responses.

Recruitment to initial teacher training in 1988 was a record at 20,180—up by 5 per cent. over 1987. Applications for primary training this year are even better—up by 14 per cent. to date. Between January 1987 and January 1988, there was a marked reduction in vacant posts in shortage subjects in schools: down 48 per cent. in physics, and by 23 per cent. in chemistry.

There is no question of complacency, however. We can do more and intend to do so. The Government will shortly be publishing details of the new proposals for licensed teachers. These will add a new route into teaching and should appeal to well-qualified specialists, who can help to fill vacancies in the scarce subjects and bring to the job a refreshing breath of the outside world. Proposals

for articled teachers are under active consideration. These would be people who have taken a degree and who would be taken on by the local education authority, paid as a teacher, and trained on the job for two years.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about resources. Naturally, the Government aim to ensure that the means are available to support the introduction of the national curriculum. Substantial resources are being made available in the current year. Some £130 million is being provided—over £50 million through ESGs, a further £50 million or so through the LEA training grant scheme, and some £23 million for central costs. All of this must be seen against the background of the lowest ever level of pupil teacher ratio of 17 to 1.

Where capital resources are needed, it is for the LEAs to decide to what extent capital allocations and capital receipts should be used for any necessary planning for the national curriculum. Similarly, it is for schools and LEAs to take the needs of the national curriculum into account when making decisions on staffing and spending on support services, books and equipment. Planned spending in 1989–90 on books and equipment is more than than 30 per cent. higher in cash terms than actual spending per pupil in 1986–87.

I cannot remember whether the noble Lord asked this question, but he said he was going to so I shall reply to it. I have a feeling that he forgot, but I believe that it is an important question and one which I should like to answer; that is, when the national curriculum requirements for English will be published. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State hopes to publish the final order for English in key stage one, infant schooling, around the end of May. Implementation will begin in schools this autumn. For the later stages of primary and secondary school English, he hopes to publish his proposals together with the English working group's report by July as a basis for consultation. That should lead in due course to the making of final orders early in 1990 for the introduction in schools in autumn 1990.

By way of summing up this short debate, I point to the very positive achievement in taking this first step in establishing the national curriculum in our schools. For the first time ever this will provide clear and agreed standards to work to and by which to measure pupil's educational progress. It will furnish a means by which teachers, pupils and parents can all know what is expected and what to aim for.

Whatever the differences on points of detail, I am sure that we can all accept that this is a major advance in the universal aim of improving the standard of education in our country.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I may utter a few words of thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for taking part in this debate. I felt that his contribution was particularly helpful and he covered certain matters which I omitted. Perhaps I may also offer an apology. It was remiss of me not to join with the noble Viscount in thanking the Science Working Group and all others who have taken part for the great work which they have done. Therefore, may I associate myself with that?

Perhaps I may lastly thank the noble Viscount for his reply to this debate and doubly thank him for his courtesy in answering a question to which I was very keen to know the answer, even though I forgot to ask it. Indeed, one reason for the question is that I am very keen to debate the issue of the English curriculum when the time comes. With those thanks, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.19 to 8.35 p.m.]

Forward to