HL Deb 30 March 2000 vol 611 cc1070-6

12.37 a.m.

Lord Bach

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order creates, under Section 354(6) of the Education Act 1996, a new national curriculum foundation subject of citizenship in key stages 3 and 4 from the start of the school year 2002. It gives schools, under Section 354(4)(a), the power to offer pupils the opportunity to study any modern foreign language in addition to offering them the opportunity to study one or more of the official languages of the European Union under the foundation subject of modern foreign languages from the start of the school year 2000. It changes the designation of the foundation subject of art to one of art and design from the start of the school year 2000.

The proposals set out in the order were included in the consultation on the review of the national curriculum during last summer, along with non-statutory guidelines for personal, social and health education and citizenship at key stages 1 and 2 and for PSHE at key stages 3 and 4. They received support during the consultation, and final versions (subject of course to parliamentary approval) were sent to all schools in November in handbooks containing the revised national curriculum.

The Foundation Subject (Amendment) (England) Order 2000 is the first stage of a two-stage process. The next stage will be to lay orders under Section 356(2) of the Education Act 1996 to give effect to the revisions to the programmes of study for existing national curriculum subjects—from the start of the school year 2000—and to the new programmes of study and attainment target for citizenship at key stages 3 and 4—from the start of the school year 2002.

We believe that the changes are needed, and that they are sensible. We are renaming art as "art and design" to better reflect the essential relationship of art and design, recognise the importance of the creative industries in the economy, and highlight the role of design in stimulating creativity in industry and commerce. We are reducing the number of attainment targets from two to one to simplify assessment and to integrate the practical and theoretical aspects of the subject. A new eight-level scale will clarify and support progression. And we have reintroduced a programme of study for art and design into the primary curriculum, to give teachers a clear framework for teaching.

The change to the modern foreign languages will allow greater flexibility for schools. European Union languages will have priority, as before, with two recent additions—Finnish and Swedish. So long as the offer of an EU language is made, any other modern language can be taught. It will be for schools to decide whether a language can be taught effectively according to the programme of study, and whether suitable assessment or examination is available. We are dropping the restriction on schools to offer only additional modern foreign languages from a prescribed list to allow a much wider range of languages to be taught in schools. That will be especially helpful in areas where there are large concentrations of pupils who may wish to learn non-EU modern foreign languages. It better reflects the changing needs of our society and pupils, and gives schools the flexibility they need to react to local demand. I should emphasise that the requirement is for a modern foreign language to be taught. Schools are free to offer Latin and so on, but as well as, not instead of, a modern foreign language.

Our plans for citizenship are part of a broader curriculum development. Citizenship in key stages 1 and 2 will be part of new non-statutory guidelines for personal, social and health education which take effect in 2000. But at key stages 3 and 4, we see a need for more distinct statutory provision to reflect the greater emphasis on community involvement, critical thinking and informed discussion within the programme of study. The statutory provision for citizenship as a new foundation subject in secondary schools will take effect from the start of the school year 2002. We have published the details almost three years early so that schools have plenty of time to build up their practice.

Our plans for citizenship have been known for some time. The support for them expressed during the consultations on the national curriculum review builds on the public support which followed the final report of the national advisory group on education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools in September 1998—a project which had cross-party support here and in another place.

That is not surprising. Citizenship education is much needed and long overdue. Modern society is complex and fast-changing. Citizenship will help pupils to understand the world in which they live, how it works and how decisions are made. It will provide opportunities for them to develop the aspirations and the skills needed to make a positive difference to their own lives and the lives of their schools and communities through greater knowledge and understanding of politics and contemporary moral and social issues and a chance to have a real say and exercise real responsibility.

The value of citizenship education is recognised by schools, most of which already provide some teaching in this area. The programme we have developed will build on and extend that. It is flexible and will allow schools to make the most of what they do already: to teach different aspects to different depths and to be innovative in their approach.

The draft order will improve the entitlement it offers to all pupils. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bach.)

12.45 a.m.

Baroness Blotch

My Lords, my understanding is that this is a devolved issue for Wales, yet the Government have seen fit to make some recommendations. They do not represent much of a change but why are they in the order at all if the issue is devolved?

There is art, but not with design, in the Welsh list. The Government may answer that that is a devolved matter, but so too is the whole order. Why are there any national curriculum recommendations? Why is language a matter for stages 3 and 4 for England but only for key stage 3 for Wales? There is citizenship for England, but not for Wales. There is something strange in the way that the order is set out.

I recognise that it is entirely legitimate to present a national curriculum order for England, but why are all the arrangements for Wales not being dealt with by the Welsh Assembly?

The explanatory note states that the order-making power relating to modern foreign languages is being changed and that an order no longer needs to specify a modern foreign language. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that the order gives priority to European languages. The programme of study does so but that is a different matter. The legally binding article is the order, so there is real inconsistency. It would be helpful to know the reason.

According to the Minister, the order does not change priorities in respect of EU languages. What does that mean? The programme of study refers to one or more of the official working languages of the EU and states that non-EU languages can be offered only when secondary to an EU language. If that is legally binding, why is it not part of the order?

The situation is not the free-for-all that the Minister suggested. The Secretary of State has control over languages and will produce the list. We do not know whether the schedule will be the existing one or whether it will be changed. It would be helpful to know.

Schools are free to choose other languages, but if there are no syllabuses, set exam papers, or assessment procedures, there is no choice. When I was a Minister with responsibilities for education, there was constant pressure to remove languages from the list because so few pupils studied them and producing assessment procedures and setting examination papers involved unacceptable cost. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. If there are few student takers, the syllabuses disappear. If one wants to introduce new subjects, there will be the cost of syllabuses, of setting examination papers, and of assessment procedures. Who would incur those costs without knowing whether there would be any takers? How will that aspect be dealt with by the Government?

The Minister in the other place claims that citizenship is too important to be left to chance. What will be displaced that is less important in the curriculum? One cannot introduce a new foundation subject unless something goes. The unacceptable answer in the other place was, "All the other subjects are more or less prescriptive". Something will have to go. What exactly will slip?

Is citizenship a subject to be taught in addition to personal, social and health education? There is a great deal of overlap one with the other. Does one subsume the other, or do they continue to be separate subjects? Whether they are separate or combined, what percentage of curriculum time in schools do the Government suggest should be taken up to cover these matters, given that all children will have to study them?

It would be helpful to hear from the Government about the need for regionalism to be given such a high profile. In whit way does it fit in with the Government's focus on regional policy; and is it at the expense of strengthening communities? We know from the Learning and Skills Bill, which has just passed from this House to another place, that there is a definite movement away from community and locally-based groups to the regions. It would be helpful to know whether what is proposed here is another way to reinforce that agenda.

I am sure the noble Lord agrees that this is not an easy subject for teachers to deliver. As to that, is role play by students to be advocated? I refer, for example, to the sex guidelines, which is another sensitive subject. Certainly, sexuality is to be dealt with in one or other subject. In paragraph 4.4 we are told: Teachers can avoid embarrassment and protect pupils' privacy by always de-personalising discussions [on these sensitive issues]. For example, role play can be used to help pupils 'act out' situations. Case studies with invented characters, appropriate videos, and visits to theatres in education groups can all help pupils discuss sensitive issues and develop their decision making skills in a 'safe' environment. Some of these methods are listed below". The guidelines go on to list them. It will be helpful to hear from the Minister whether it is envisaged that that will be the case.

Very substantial training will be required. A serious subject is to be introduced into the curriculum which covers a wide variety of aspects of life as young people mature into adulthood. How will teachers cope, especially when they deal with very sensitive and controversial issues? It is not an easy task. Are teachers to be judgmental or non-judgmental? What is the advice of the Government to teachers about that? Do they have any views on how the subject is to be delivered?

If there is to be no lengthening of the school day, what is to be sacrificed within the curriculum? What are the resource implications, and the source of funding, for this subject? Teaching mutual respect and understanding is one thing, but to deal with a plethora of political and highly controversial issues is another. I believe that a great deal of advice to teachers and governors, and information to parents, will be required as to how these issues are to be handled. For example, the Government have to an extent focused on marriage. In the sex guidelines there is an equality of focus on other lifestyles alongside marriage in terms of recognising their significance.

Where matters to do with sexuality—that is, lifestyles—as opposed to sex education, are covered in one or other of these subjects, how is the right of parents to withdraw their children dealt with? Is it likely that because sex education will be acceptable to parents their children will not be withdrawn? However, if sexuality is dealt with in a way that is unacceptable to parents, but it is covered with other subjects, where will the right of parents to withdraw their children then lie?

I agree with my honourable friend James Clappison in another place, who, when discussing these matters, said at col. 10 on 9th February 2000 in Standing Committee that, it would have been better if the guidelines had said more about what unites this country and binds us all together and about our common history and sense of nationhood, rather than about the things that set us apart". He went on to say more of the same.

Out of interest, focus groups were used extensively by the Government on the question of citizenship. What a pity that public opinion focus groups were not heeded in relation to Section 28 and the sex guidelines.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments. However, I listened in vain to hear whether she supported the order in principle. Criticisms there were a-plenty, but if positive or helpful comments were made about the order, I must have missed them.

I deal with some, if not all, of the issues the noble Baroness raised. As regards Wales, the foundation subject order that was before the House does not change the law in Wales. The order is drafted in such a way as to amend the law in relation to England, and merely clarifies what the law is in Wales. The passing of the order does not involve legislating in relation to Wales. The order has been drafted and amended in consultation with legal advisers at the Welsh Assembly. They have no difficulty with the order and are in the process of drafting their own order to mirror our provisions.

As regards foreign languages, the noble Baroness may have missed the point. We are giving a greater potential choice. We are dropping a prescribed list. We are making it possible—we give power at least—for any foreign language to be taught. It does not take away from the importance of learning an EU language as well. That still remains. But any foreign language may now be taught provided there is the ability and willingness to teach it. The power relates to teaching any foreign language. That is an improvement, and something that I should have hoped that the noble Baroness would acknowledge.

The noble Baroness raised the point about what will give way to the teaching of citizenship. The noble Baroness will know that many schools already find time to teach citizenship in their busy programmes. We think that the revised national curriculum has a rather sharper focus, and that the citizenship programme has a somewhat light touch and is flexible. The time needed will depend on the approach taken by individual schools, many of which are already covering aspects of the order.

There are no plans to extend the school day, but we recognise that there is a wide variation in the length of time pupils are taught in schools. Although some schools have increased the length of time for which pupils are taught, many have not, or are providing less than the required minima. As levels of taught time can have a significant effect on the quality of the curriculum, we have decided to review the whole issue of taught time and to issue new guidance. Notwithstanding this, schools should, as a matter of good practice, review their taught-time arrangements.

I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not go down the avenue of discussing sex education, education about sexuality, or Section 28 tonight. I think that this House has heard quite enough about that for the time being. I commend the order to the House.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, there is an inconsistency between his remarks and those of his colleague in another place, and what the order and the programmes of study say.

In Standing Committee in another place, the Minister said at col. 5 on 9th February: European Union languages will have priority, as before, except that there are two recent additions—Finnish and Swedish. As long as the offer of an EU language is made, any other modern language can be taught". The order refers to any modern language. It does not refer to any European language. The noble Lord has said that schools will be entirely free to choose a modern language, but the programme of study states that one or more of the official working languages of the EU and non-EU languages can be offered only when secondary to an EU language. Who is right?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the order does not change the priority for EU languages. Schools must offer pupils the opportunity to study one or more of the official working languages of the EU. Non-EU languages count as a foundation subject only when offered with a working language of the EU. The order will remove the restriction on which additional languages schools can offer their pupils. If the noble Baroness will look at Article 2(4) of the order, she will see how "modern foreign language" is defined.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at one o'clock.