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Education Reform

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the proposed national curriculum and the feasibility of implementing and maintaining it.

We have received over 10,000 responses to our proposals. A number of these raised questions about the implementation of the national curriculum. Our decisions on the phasing of its introduction will take account of all relevant factors.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposed introduction of a national curriculum, particularly the inclusion of science as a core subject, is being widely welcomed? I acknowledge that we are producing more science graduates now than we have for many years, but is my right hon. Friend confident that there will be enough science teachers to ensure that science is properly taught as a core subject?

My hon. Friend is right. There are about 30,000 more students studying science in our polytechnics and universities than when we took office. But I am concernd about the shortage of science teachers, particularly in physics. We have a bursary scheme of an extra £1,250 a year for those who want to study physics teaching, and I am glad to say that there was a sharp increase in the number of students for that scheme last year—an increase of 40 per cent. We need several years like that.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in Committee the Minister of State, his hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), undertook to provide for me the details of the teachers who would be required in each of the disciplines in order to implement the national curriculum? Will he tell me when I may expect to receive that information?

We have in hand a review of this and we shall have the figures later this year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern felt by some head teachers that in the preparation of pupils for scholarship at the university entrance the time taken by the core curriculum might leave too little time for some of the other specialist subjects?

I am concerned that the foundation core curriculum should not take up too much time and exclude such important subjects as a second foreign language, a second and third science, and religious education. That is why we are not being prescriptive and saying that the curriculum should take up a particular amount of time. We think, broadly, that it will take up about 70 per cent. That leaves a day and a half a week for the other subjects.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in foreign language teaching—and in craft design and technology—there is likely to be a shortfall of teachers? Does he propose to increase funding in those areas to make sure that we have not just teachers, but suitably trained teachers, to make sure that these very difficult subjects are taught adequately to our children?

Courses are also available for student teachers in craft and design technology. I am also concerned with the potential shortfall in foreign language teachers. Over the next two or three years we shall be using education support grants, together with our in-service training grants, to deal with some of these problems.

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the religious education provisions of the Education Reform Bill; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend and I have received many representations from hon. Members, Church leaders and others about religious education and the Education Reform Bill. The Bill reinforces the existing law on religious education, reflecting the Government's determination to sustain the position of religious education in the school curriculum.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she confirm that the provisions of the Bill, as well as strengthening religious instruction in our schools, will make it easier for parents to protect the Church voluntary aided day schools in their aims, which are under attack from councils controlled by the Opposition?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Education Reform Bill contains provisions substantially to strengthen the position of parents and will enable their voice to be heard when local authorities propose to take action against voluntary aided schools.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the last resort, the effectiveness of religious education depends on the commitment of the teachers?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct in saying that the effectiveness of religious education depends very much upon the effectiveness of the teachers. I can assure him that the place of religious education in the curriculum is very secure under the provisions of the Education Reform Bill, because it continues to be a compulsory subject for all children to study.