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Common Core Curriculum

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he has taken on the findings of the secondary schools survey undertaken by his Department on the common core curriculum.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate's surveys of primary and secondary education, and the Education Department's review of local authority curricular arrangements, have now been followed by proposals for a framework for the school curriculum published in January, and a view of the curriculum published by Her Majesy's inspectors, Consultations are now under way on the framework proposals.

While agreeing in principle to the idea of a common core, may I suggest to the Secretary of State that he proceeds with caution in the matter? Does he agree that the present shortage of specialist teachers in, for example, mathematics, the sciences and modern languages, makes it impossible to introduce a common core? Does he further agree that the cuts in public expenditure affect this issue, and that both of those factors are likely to be with us for some considerable time?

The consultations arise from the desire on the part of the Department to reach agreement, both with local authorities and the teaching unions, as to what should be the general principles covering a core curriculum. Of course, I am aware of the effect of the shortage of teachers in certain specialist subjects on our ability to implement that core curriculum. I am concerned about this. We are trying to persuade the teacher training colleges to give shortage subjects priority within their training systems. We are continuing for a further year the scheme for re-training teachers in the shortage subjects.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend move speedily with the consultations, recognising the importance of implementing the new ideas as soon as possible? Will he turn his attention especially to the imbalance in the curriculum at many teacher training colleges, where not enough attention is paid to teaching practice and too much attention is paid to educational theory?

I shall certainly move as speedily as possible. Overall, the proposals set out in our framework for the curriculum have had a very welcome response.

Were the National Association of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers, among those giving a welcome to the proposals? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise the validity of what they were saying, namely that it is impossible and implausible effectively to introduce a core curriculum unless he is willing to commit the necessary additional finances—which are substantial—to make that an effective change in the provision of schooling in Britain? Will he provide that finance?

I do not accept that. As have said already, the shortage of teachers in specialist subjects is an important matter when considering what can be included in the core curriculum. I believe that one can make improvements in the curriculum in schools, and improvements in the standards without such improvements being always necessarily dependent on the spending of resources.

While approving of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's desire to press ahead with the issue, may I ask whether he is aware that the curriculum and the examination system are inextricably mixed? Is he further aware that his recent decision to make one group, the GCE boards, solely responsible for grades 1, 2 and 3 in a particular examination, and a wholly different group, the CSE boards, responsible for grades 4, 5 and 6, is a recipe for lunacy and cannot work? Will he re-think his examination proposals?

Our proposals for common certifications and common gradings, and an agreement of the national criterion of a common core for the syllabus for examinations, fits in totally with our proposals for a common core curriculum.