HC Deb 13 January 1998 vol 304 c163W
Mr. Gareth Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to raise standards in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy in Wales. [22861]

Mr. Hain

Responses to our White Paper "Building Excellent Schools Together" have strongly endorsed the Government's overriding emphasis on strengthening the basic skills of literacy and numeracy and the targets set for attainment in the core subjects in primary schools. The broad purpose and content of the curriculum in Wales—notably as regards the Welsh language and the Curriculum Cymreig—is also well understood and appreciated. The responses did, however, show that many teachers are concerned about overload within the curriculum taught in primary schools in Wales and feel that this might work against the drive to improve standards of literacy and numeracy.

I take these concerns very seriously and I have therefore asked for urgent advice from the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales (ACCAC) on ways in which the curriculum might be slimmed down in a way which reflects the distinctive nature of the curriculum in Wales. I have also written to every primary school head teacher to emphasise the Government's commitment to the targets set in the White Paper and to explain what I have asked ACCAC to do.

In the light of the responses to the White Paper, I want to be sure that the position of Welsh and more generally of the Curriculum Cymreig have been weighed along with our broader objectives to ensure rigorous standards of teaching and learning together with a sound progression into secondary school education. I do not assume that a reduction in overload would of itself result in a better use of available time and I have, therefore, asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools to provide further guidance to deal with this point.

I expect to receive advice by March. I will then set out an agenda for action and will consult teachers and others before changes are introduced. This timetable will allow for the option of modifying the Welsh curriculum from September 1998 in line with the announcement today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education.

Copies of my letters to head teachers and ACCAC have been placed in the Library of the House.

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