HL Deb 23 March 1998 vol 587 cc951-3

Baroness Brigstocke asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking, in the light of the review of the National Curriculum for England and Wales and the development of the National Literacy Strategy, to ensure that schools are encouraged to make full and effective use of museums, galleries and heritage sites.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the great educational value of museums, galleries and heritage sites. They provide a wealth of wide-ranging learning opportunities for schools which can make a valuable contribution to the policies we have put in place for raising standards. However, to be effective they need to work in collaboration with schools and LEA advisers so that their educational programmes complement the requirements of the national curriculum. Schools will benefit from those museums and galleries that provide a high quality experience which can help them meet their learning targets.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may express my worry that a child of five who is starting primary school this September will, for six years, have no entitlement to history, geography, music, art or design technology as core subjects in the national curriculum. They are all subjects, are they not, which can be enriched and supported by museums and galleries? Is the Minister aware of the results of a recent survey by the South Eastern Museums Education Unit of 126 schools in Greater London and Hertfordshire over the past two years which shows that many primary schools were making regular visits to museums just because museums support the teaching of national curriculum core subjects? Are the DfEE and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport working together to preserve the important role museums play in the education of young children?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I accept entirely that it is important that my department and the DCMS should work closely together in encouraging schools and colleges for older young people to make the maximum use of what museums, galleries and heritage sites can offer. Similarly, it is important that museums and galleries, many of which provide excellent educational programmes, should work closely with our schools in putting on programmes of which the schools can make the very best use.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, the Question makes reference to the review of the national curriculum, presumably at the end of the present period of moratorium. May I ask the Minister whether her department will be issuing fairly soon a consultative document on the new curriculum?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I should go back to the whole issue of the primary curriculum which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke. There is no intention that, in concentrating on our literacy and numeracy targets, work that is going on in our schools in history, geography, art and any of the other six core subjects should be disrupted. It is just a matter of creating a somewhat more flexible timetable for teachers so that they can focus on those important targets. Everyone in your Lordships' House—the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, above all—will agree that if children cannot read or deal with the most basic numeracy they will be unable to benefit from any other parts of the curriculum. We shall be issuing curriculum guidelines in the near future.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that most, if not all, schools well recognise the benefit of those visits, but that for schools, especially in poorer areas, there can be real problems if funds are tight and the voluntary contributions asked for from parents are insufficient to cover the cost of an individual visit? Can she hold out any hope of special assistance for schools in such areas?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, again I accept that it is vital that children from disadvantaged areas, inner cities and homes where they may be least likely, because of poverty, to be taken to museums and galleries by their parents should have access to the excellent provision that can be made by our museums. Indeed, many schools in our inner cities are working hard to achieve that. I cannot tell my noble friend whether there are any additional funds to be made available for that purpose, but perhaps I may take that up with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and let him know.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, does the Minister agree that our admirable museum and gallery structure was set up in the 19th century, mainly with educational purposes in view, and that in order to continue that tradition and maintain the vast numbers of treasures that there are in our museums and galleries it is necessary to get young people into the habit of visiting those places young? Only the Minister's department can help to do that. That would benefit them and the survival of the galleries and museums.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes. It is the Government's policy to encourage access to all of our museums and galleries. One of the things that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to do in the Budget last week was to announce additional funds for museums and galleries to promote that access. It is also important that my department should encourage educational institutions to make the maximum possible use of what museums and galleries can offer. It is doing that. However, it is up to head teachers and subject teachers to make the best use of those provisions. The Government cannot instruct them to do so, but we are doing all that we can to encourage that.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the children in inner city areas, deprived or not, are not so disadvantaged because they live within reasonable distances of museums and galleries, but that children in rural areas are disadvantaged because they face practical problems in reaching museums and galleries? Does she further agree that the increase in petrol prices announced in the recent Budget will make it increasingly difficult for children in rural areas—my Lords, it is not a laughing matter—to make such visits in the towns?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, children living in London have a big advantage because they are near to national museums and galleries. However, that is not true of children from all our cities and, regrettably, not all museums run education programmes. I accept that access for children from rural areas might be more difficult and that everything possible should be done to encourage schools to take children from rural areas to visit museums in our cities. The increase in petrol prices would be a small part of the total cost of such visits. I do not believe that it would be the main factor in discouraging a school from taking pupils a long distance to visit a museum.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the Minister realise that the publications department of the National Gallery has a wide range of school aids, not merely books, and that Mrs. Patricia Williams of that department recently attended a conference at the conference centre in Birmingham—that repulsive looking building—where there was an even wider range of such aids for helping schools in this matter?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes, I am familiar with the education programmes set up by the National Gallery and the V&A, both of which have particularly strong programmes. The head of the education department at the National Gallery was for many years a member of my staff at Birkbeck College.

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