HL Deb 20 May 1998 vol 589 cc1644-6

2.48 p.m.

Lord Hardinge of Penshurst

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on the encouragement in schools of non-physical games such as chess, "Go" and draughts.

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

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, on his place in the House of Lords chess team. I hope that he and the team trounce the opposition on all occasions.

The Government recognise the educational value of games such as chess, "Go" and draughts and I very much welcome the opportunities which many schools provide for the pupils to take part in such activities. It is important that young people have access to a range of extra-curricula activities which cover sports, the arts and intellectual games and which enhance the broad and balanced education provided by the national curriculum.

Lord Hardinge of Penshurst

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that more or less encouraging reply. Given that the UK Children's Chess Championship currently attracts 35,000 children from over 1,000 schools, and the impressive competitive record of this country, will the Government consider building on those successes by treating chess and other mind sports as valid alternatives to traditional physical sports for children more temperamentally or physically suited to them, perhaps drawing on the successful model used in Holland?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am delighted to hear about the success of the national chess competition for children. As I said, it is important for children to have access to a range of extra-curricular activities which cover sport, the arts and intellectual games. There is no reason why children should not opt for chess instead of, say, football as an extra-curricular activity. But there can be no question of children opting out of lessons in physical education. I am sure the noble Lord would agree with that. It is a key to a child's health and fitness. It lays a valuable foundation in developing adult skills and will remain a compulsory national curriculum subject for all five to 16 year-olds. But after school hours and at lunch time lots of opportunities for chess would be very desirable.

Lord Renton

My Lords, could children be taught to play snakes and ladders so as to give them a better understanding of party politics?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I would first of all want to know which party represents the ladders and which party represents the snakes.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I understand chess and I understand draughts, but what is "Go"?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, that is a very good question. I was not entirely familiar with "Go" myself, although it does sound extremely exciting. I understand that it is a territorial board game which dates back several millennia and is thought to have originated in China. But I cannot say to what extent it is now being played by British school children.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, if the Government do recognise "Go", do they also recognise "passing go" or "not passing go"; in other words, by implication, do they recognise Monopoly as being an intellectual game?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I have played a lot of Monopoly in my time, but I think I would rather prefer to see children learning to play Bridge. That is a really good mind game which develops critical thinking skills and is an enjoyable social activity. I had even wondered whether we ought to be introducing poker in schools, but perhaps that is a little dangerous. I should perhaps reveal that my grandmother played poker every afternoon of her adult life and made quite a lot of money out of it. So perhaps it is an example of an extra-curricular activity contributing to employability.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, as the captain of the House of Lords chess team, may I ask my noble friend whether she is aware that the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, achieved a brilliant win in the match against the Commons last week, the result of which is still being hotly disputed?

Baroness Blackstone

No, my Lords, I was not aware of that, but I hope that the outcome of the dispute is a victory for this House.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that PE remains compulsory. As the national curriculum has been relaxed for art, PE and music, does it still remain compulsory?

Baroness Blackstone

Yes, my Lords, it still remains compulsory. The national curriculum has been relaxed for primary school children in order to ensure that our targets for numeracy and literacy should be met. But there is no way that primary schools should stop teaching all these other subjects. The QCA is advising on how a broad and balanced curriculum can be maintained while at the same time ensuring that we meet our very important targets for numeracy and literacy.