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School Curriculum

Volume 934: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions she is conducting with local education authorities, teachers and parents concerning the curriculum in State schools; and if she will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend has recently completed a series of meetings with educational organisations and associations during which the outcome of the regional conferences on education was discussed. The school curriculum was one of the four main topics considered during these conferences and meetings, and a Green Paper outlining the Government's proposals will be issued shortly.

Is the hon. Lady aware that there is little evidence of even the most elementary law and commerce being taught in our schools, despite the fact that most children will be involved in commerce in one form or another and certainly all will be subject to the law? While preserving the rights of local authorities to decide, why will not the hon. Lady urge them to encourage these subjects?

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. These are the kinds of issues with which children may have to deal, and they should be familiar with them. However, there is considerable concern whether we have not already widened the curriculum a little too far with a certain increased emphasis on some of the basic subjects. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but these are very difficult issues for both schools and local authorities to resolve.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it might be more helpful to give children a greater involvement in civic affairs? I know from my own school experience that all that my generation was taught was how to be a lady. It has never been particularly helpful to me in politics.

I had the same experience, and it has never been very useful to me either. I take my hon. Friend's point. Again, this is an area where we are very concerned to see that children have a reasonable education and are taught the facts of political life. But, again, it is an area involving great pressure on the school curriculum.

Although I agree entirely with the idea that basic subjects must have first priority, will the hon. Lady bear in mind that, by the overwhelming wish of the British people since the referendum, we are now members of the Common Market? Will she, therefore, seek to encourage courses such as those at St. Martin's College of Education in Lancaster to further the co-ordination of European educational teaching in our schools? Will she give that every possible encouragement so that we do not go off half-cock in this regard?

That is just one of the many pressures on the school curriculum that schools have to resolve for themselves.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the aims of education are to give a broad general education as a basis for life? Throughout the ages employers have wanted sheer utilitarianism in schools which is the enemy of real education. This trend should be fought against.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I was dismayed to learn that at a recent conference in my county one employer slightly facetiously but most unfortunately said that he wanted obedient robots.

Whatever the form of the common core curriculum and whatever its scope, does the Minister agree with the Opposition's view that it should include religious education?