HL Deb 22 March 1999 vol 598 cc951-4

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress is being made on revising the national curriculum for schools.

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

My Lords, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will be making recommendations for revising the national curriculum to my right honourable friend at the end of March. We shall consult widely on draft proposals for revisions to the national curriculum during the summer. My right honourable friend will then make final decisions in the early autumn, before the revised national curriculum is sent to schools. Schools will then have most of the 1999–2000 school year to prepare for any changes from September 2000.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. One hears talk about slimming down and if that is to come about, I hope it stops well short of anorexia. Does the Minister agree that breadth is of vital importance in the curriculum, with arts, music, foreign languages, design and history all providing an opportunity for a spark of interest to be generated among every pupil?

Does the Minister further agree on the importance of teachers building out from the core curriculum of maths and English, showing the connections and continuities with other subjects on the curriculum? For example, that would obviously involve maths extending into science and technology and English into everywhere, with the vocabulary enhancement that comes with the observation of lexical distinctions in every subject on the curriculum.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I entirely agree with what the noble Lord said about the need for a broad and balanced curriculum, covering a wide range of subjects. His emphasis on breadth is well taken by the Government. I also entirely accept that the key core subjects of maths and English should be well linked with other parts of the curriculum. I know that the noble Lord has a particular interest in English. It is very much the Government's intention to encourage such links right across the curriculum.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government have any ideas for improving and encouraging the teaching of the French and German languages?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government are utterly committed to high quality teaching of the modern languages of French and German as well as other modern languages. We face a problem in the recruitment of modern language teachers to our schools, but it is our intention to continue to find ways of recruiting good students of modern languages to teach, so that we can maintain the quality to which the noble Earl referred.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, will my noble friend do her best to ensure the continued inclusion in the national curriculum of Holocaust studies, which first appeared in the previous curriculum? That has made a big difference to the teaching of history throughout the country.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I can give my noble friend that assurance. The national curriculum for history has always required that 11 to 14 year-old pupils in maintained schools be taught about the Holocaust. That will continue to be the case.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, what are the Minister's views on the leaks which have appeared in the press that the Government are to start the teaching of modern languages for those aged nine? Can she also say whether it assists discussions in this House if we have to consider leaks in the papers before we have a Statement from the Front Bench? We are all puzzled as to whether the Government will start the teaching of languages for pupils aged nine or later. It seems to be a common characteristic of the education pattern that we read about it three weeks before it appears. Can the Minister comment?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I cannot comment on leaks about the teaching of modern languages for pupils aged nine and above. However, when asked about leaks I always say that we should be careful about believing speculative stories in the newspapers. The Government have not yet received advice from the QCA about any aspects of changes to the curriculum. That includes the teaching of modern languages in primary schools. We await that advice. Frankly, I have no idea what it will be, but when we have had a chance to consider it, we shall consult on it.

Lord Annan

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether it is correct that children stop learning history and geography at the age of 14? If so, will she ensure that they continue learning it until they are 16? Will she also put in a plea that children should be taught to recite poetry and learn it by heart?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, on the first part of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on the teaching of history and geography, it is not true that pupils stop learning history and geography after the age of 14. Geography is a compulsory subject in the national curriculum. History is an optional subject and many students carry on with it after the age of 14.

The noble Lord raised the issue of whether it should be compulsory. The Government look forward to receiving advice from the QCA on that and other matters. As for reciting poetry, yes, there are great advantages for pupils in being involved in the reading of poetry and sometimes learning to recite it aloud.

Lord Tope

My Lords, although the Minister may still be unaware of the QCA proposals, can she at least confirm that the Government will ensure that they fully embrace the proposals in the Crick report on the teaching of citizenship?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, one of the matters that the Government have asked the QCA to look at is the teaching of citizenship in our schools. We expect to receive advice about those very important areas so that all young people leave school with a better understanding of our democratic institutions.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, although the national curriculum has never applied to Scotland, where the Scottish curriculum has been in place and the Secretary of State for Scotland has been responsible for education, is there an intention now or in the future to have a separate curriculum for Wales?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Welsh Office and Welsh Ministers will be advised by the equivalent authorities in Wales about the national curriculum there. Of course, the Welsh language is taught in Welsh schools but not in English schools, but there are very many common characteristics of the curriculum across both countries.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, although I am glad to hear from the Minister, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Janner, that the inclusion of Holocaust studies within the national curriculum is to be continued, will the Government reconsider their refusal on previous occasions to include the Armenian genocide of 1915–16 in these studies, bearing in mind that all of the bibliographical references, 400 of which I have sent to the Foreign Office, make clear that that was a genocide within the meaning of international law?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, given the unfortunate number of genocides that have taken place this century, it is very difficult for the Government to be too prescriptive about the details of the national curriculum in the way that the noble Lord requests. All I can say is that I believe that senior pupils, certainly those in the sixth form, should read the book written by my former colleague Eric Hobsbawm on the 20th century in which all of this is well set out.

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