HL Deb 12 February 1990 vol 515 cc1091-3

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Seear asked Her Majesty's Government:

In view of their assurances during proceedings on the Education Reform Bill that there would be time available for teaching subjects not included in the national curriculum, such as Latin and a second modern language, how such subjects can be included in a timetable already congested by the requirements of the national curriculum.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has recently described the flexibility which will be available to schools in the last two years of compulsory education. His purpose has been to establish a broad framework which will enable schools to plan for all the national curriculum subjects and religious education and for optional subjects such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness. He has invited the National Curriculum Council and the School Examinations and Assessment Council to undertake a number of tasks which will help achieve that aim.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat encouraging Answer. Does it mean that after the age of 14 it will be possible for people to vary the national curriculum and so take in not only the subjects that I have mentioned but also some other marked omissions; for example the basis of economics and home economics, which, contrary to what one might expect, cover a great deal connected with the rearing and upbringing of children and the satisfactory development of family life, which is thought to be near to the heart of the Government?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I can give an encouraging answer to the noble Baroness who has raised an important topic which was discussed during proceedings on the Bill and has since been a continuing concern of teachers. In his speech to the Society of Education Officers on 25th January, my right honourable friend spelt out in great detail the kind of flexibility which the noble Baroness requires. I can promise her that the flexibility to satisfy the needs of the most able and the least able and to introduce all the subjects mentioned by her will be accommodated. It is important to note that all courses, once approved, will build on attainment targets and programmes of study so that they will all be brought into the framework of the national curriculum.

Lord Peston

My Lords, we are delighted that the Secretary of State is apprised of the problem. However, am I not right in saying that he has no powers to achieve the solution which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and others of us have in mind? Is it not right that all he can do is to encourage? Furthermore, is not what the Minister says against all experience in education, and if there is any flexibility it is used entirely for the sake of examinations and what is compulsory? Is it not excessively optimistic to assume that the most important subject, economics, will not be crowded out if it is not necessarily to be examined and assessed? Is there not a serious problem which we must face here?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord raises another interesting point. It is true that the Secretary of State, who wishes to achieve flexibility, will go as far as he can under the present regulations. However, he also has intentions to amend the 1989 information regulations. From what I have heard from your Lordships, I believe that they will be approved by this House.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I had not heard that before and that is welcome news. Will such an amendment of regulations be the subject of a debate in your Lordships' House so that we can bring to bear the many views which we have on these matters?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am tempted to say that the noble Lord has the advantage of me in terms of procedures of the House. I do not know in what form the matter will come before the House. However, I know that there will be an opportunity to make representations on the amendments.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I was delighted to hear her mention religious education? Is that now included in the national curriculum because I understood that, originally, it was not?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, yes, it is entirely within the framework of the Act.

Lord Morris

My Lords, the noble Lord opposite suggested that economics is the most important subject. Will he be good enough to let me know what direct benefit will accrue to mankind as a result of such studies?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I dare not say that the study of economics is not of benefit to mankind. What is important is not only the study of economics but also vocational studies. City and Guilds, BTEC and RSA courses will all be submitted for approval and will be brought into the framework of the Act.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the importance of knowledge of economics among the largest number of people so that they are able to make a proper assessment of the policies of the Labour Party?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend's comments are noted.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does it fall within the domain of the noble Baroness to see that there is a reasonable proportion of the printed word in our newspapers in regard to political matters? These days about 90 per cent. is in support of the Tory Party and 10 per cent. in support of the other parties of this political democracy.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I believe that my noble friends on this side of the House would say almost the opposite.