Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mark Tami.)
It is nice to serve under your tutelage once more, Mr. Olner.
Many people will not know what the Rose report is, but I think that it will have much further reaching effects than the hot air and froth being engendered in the Thatcher Room at the moment concerning bankers and so on. When the report comes to fruition in March, April or some time later this year, it will affect education not only in primary schools but right across the board. It will instruct and help teachers and help young people develop skills and will establish a lasting effect on education in this country.
This is a serious debate, and I am pleased to see that some MPs take it seriously and are in the Chamber. We should continue to remind our colleagues how important education is and how it fashions all of us. Many young people will benefit from the report. I am encouraged by Sir Jim Rose’s report and by my visits to schools in my constituency and my talks with head teachers, who welcome the report. They are looking forward to some things in the report that I will discuss in a minute or two. Support staff and teachers also welcome the initiative.
There is, of course, some opposition, whipped up by a few subject teaching associations and some newspapers. They say that the proposed new curriculum is the end of subject teaching—history, geography, maths and so on—and therefore the end of proper teaching. It is complete nonsense to accuse Jim Rose of that particular sin. He is way beyond that. The report is logical. It builds and develops on the themes forming the early years foundation stage. It recognises that there is teaching before the initial teaching alphabet takes over, and that changes and developments have taken place in primary phases during the past few years.
The report encourages cross-curricular links between subjects. I went to the George White junior school in Norwich and found that there are improved attitudes, greater enthusiasm and motivation and consequent improvements in attainment when children are taught in a cross-curricular way. We do not learn in subject boxes; learning is, or should be, an inspiring but sometimes slightly messy and confusing business. It makes more sense to acquire and apply knowledge and skills across the curriculum through themes and topics.
That does not mean, however, that basic literacy and numeracy skills will not be taught. On the contrary, they will be taught separately, as the report recommends, and then applied across the curriculum, where they will make sense and have a purpose. Sir Jim’s proposals outline an exciting, flexible, creative primary curriculum that puts the child at the centre, producing practical, thoughtful “ideas people” rather than forcing children into narrow cul-de-sacs of knowledge with an inability to think laterally, creatively and imaginatively or to apply their knowledge and understanding effectively.
The report was called for by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Its aim was to consider the feasibility of reducing the number of subjects in primary education and of introducing foreign languages into the curriculum at that early stage, particularly at key stage 2. The Minister and I will fall out savagely in a few minutes about some of the things that I shall say about key stage 2, because I think that there will be serious consequences if and when the Rose report is implemented. The curriculum should enable schools to provide more personalised teaching, especially for children with special educational needs, about which I shall say more in a minute. Reading, writing and numeracy should be strengthened.
I have identified the following as key points in the review: the aim of instilling a love of learning; changes to the curriculum involving a move away from subject-based education; complementing the use of play in teaching; interaction and general interrelationships between all stages of all education; and allowing teacher innovation within the education sector.
We have read the headlines about the changes from subject teaching to a more thematic approach. People have missed the point if that is what they believe. The quote that has stuck with me—we all had primary education and remember the good bits and bad bits—is
“to instil a love of learning for its own sake”.
That is something a person carries with them through life: the ability to question because of encouragement to ask questions, without the belief that one can ever stop learning, whether at age 16, 18, 23 or whenever. In a good primary school curriculum, learning is continuously built into children, and it extends throughout the rest of their lives. Sir Jim has sent a powerful message by saying that, and we should welcome it.
We neglect a prime part of the education process in talking so much about increased testing. We miss out on making people enjoy learning—there is nothing to say that it cannot be enjoyed. I welcome the fact that many young people skip and run to get to school because they so enjoy the teaching that they receive and are inspired by it. Others, of course, do not do so, but Rose’s scheme recognises that and allows for their abilities to be fed into a new programme. Those who do well at learning and enjoy it do better in exams.
The report is entitled “The independent review of the primary curriculum”, and we can still feed into it with ideas. Many groups by which I have been invaded—I will mention one or two of them—are still taking part in that process.
“A love of learning” is the phrase that we must push, but many opportunities offered under the new curriculum will be compromised and undermined by the continuing presence of what Sir Jim Rose calls “the elephant in the room”—this is the point where the Minister and I savage each other delightfully—meaning key stage 2 standard assessment tests. Key stage 2 SATs are abhorred out there in the community, and it has been recognised that key stage 3 SATs are not as essential as was once argued.
All MPs visit schools. I visited one last Friday and spoke to the head, deputy head and chair of governors about the curriculum issues to which my hon. Friend refers. I congratulate him on securing this debate. Is it not taking Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t talk about the war” approach to education to instruct Sir Jim Rose not to discuss in any detail comments about assessment and testing? They have a central and sometimes malign impact on curriculum development in terms of teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum and so on. Does my hon. Friend hope, as I do, that Sir Jim Rose will set aside that requirement and discuss the future of key stage 2, which should follow key stages 1 and 3?
I agree absolutely. There must be a serious challenge to SATs 2 and their effect on the morale of teachers, young people and parents. We must ask what we should substitute for them. None of us would stand up and say that young people should not be tested by some kind of system, but it should not be a SATs 2. There are other ways to do it, and I will mention some of them. We must trust teachers. They want to inspire their pupils and see that they are being inspired. They are quite prepared to carry out tests, and do so, in their own time and on a more individual basis. Because they know the strengths and weaknesses of the young people they teach, they are able to help them progress.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is the quality of teachers, their enthusiasm and their inspirational ability that make the difference in schools? A good set of well-motivated teachers under a decent head makes for a good school. Does he think that Sir Jim put enough emphasis in his report on the ability for teachers to be flexible and use their skills to inspire children?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for attending the debate. Certainly, Sir Jim Rose has mentioned that issue, and much more credit could be given to teachers in terms of their contribution to the whole education process. The teaching unions, for example, will be pre-eminent in helping to establish the essential part that teachers play in the whole education process.
Teachers’ assessments and judgments are often sidelined in favour of the crude measurements adopted by Ofsted and the Government, which then appear in league tables. I despise league tables—although not football league tables particularly. I despise league tables for schools for being as pre-eminent as they are, because they bias the whole system and miss lots of tricks about the skills and abilities that young people are developing. I do not want to go on about the kind of tests that exist. All I know is that teachers across the country are not impressed by league tables and the information that they provide.
Of course, we need national standards, and testing must exist to track the progress of pupils, but anyone with any experience, expertise or even common sense recognises that the current regime has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum and that it has had a detrimental effect on the education of our young people. I defy any MP to stand up and say that when they go into a school they do not hear that comment time and again from teachers who are absolutely committed to their young people and to their profession.
Let us look at the changes in the curriculum that Sir Jim Rose has suggested. He wants students to have the following abilities: understanding of English, communication and languages; a mathematical understanding; scientific and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding; understanding of physical health and well-being; and understanding of the arts and design. Those are the issues that he has identified as themes; they are the areas where we should be discussing how we inculcate understanding, learning, a love of learning and a questioning attitude.
Understanding English, communication and languages is fairly obvious. We need literacy, of course. Often, however, we miss the importance of communication. Communication is vital. A current instance is the baby P case; it is interesting that at the moment I receive more literature about that case than I do about the Gaza strip. One of the things mentioned over the sacking of the director of children’s services in that case was that communication was very poor.
Communication is a skill and an art. Being able to talk to people, and being confident in doing so, in order to transmit ideas is very important. As an ex-teacher in higher education, I have to say that American students over-communicated. Whenever I held seminars, I could not shut them up. I think that it was part and parcel of their training; they had lots to say, lots to question, and so on. By contrast, generally the English student or the Scottish student—sometimes we get them in England too—used to listen, take notes and then run off to the library to nick the relevant journal before anybody else could. That was their way of becoming involved in a seminar. We should encourage people to talk much more, to argue and not to be afraid of being stupid now and again—they may say something that sounds stupid but might just be on the button in a particular conversation.
As I said, communication is very important. Various groups have written to me on the subject, such as the I CAN charity, which is very active in helping children to communicate; it is specifically a communication charity. It is doing lots of work in that area and I am sure that its work will feed into the Rose report in the next few months.
If the recommendations of the Rose report are accepted, does the hon. Gentleman expect that there will be more teaching of English, including communication skills, and maths, or does he expect that type of teaching to contract to give more time to other aspects of the curriculum?
Yes, I think there will be a slight contraction of that type of teaching. There is an argument that people can be over-teached, and I think that Sir Jim Rose is asking whether over-teaching happens. What are the essential things that a young person needs in today’s world? There will be some people who say that they should be taught financial ability. We will certainly not get bankers to come and tell us anything about financial ability, but handling finances is very important and it is a skill that must be fed into the curriculum. Whether that is done through mathematics, literacy or whatever, young people must be able to handle finances; they must be able to talk about the issues and argue them out.
I think that some of the classic rote stuff that we teach will disappear and I do not think that we will miss it very much. There has been an acceptance in the past that some things are essential and the Rose report has started to ask, “What is really essential?” I am not sure that our answers will ever be 100 per cent. correct, but we will get close to that mark—in the 90s, anyway. That process should be encouraged, so that we really look for what is essential.
My experience is that no one ever wants to take anything out of the curriculum, whether in higher education or junior schools. Every teacher wants their subject to be in the curriculum. Sir Jim Rose is trying to establish a different kind of thinking about how we include subjects in the curriculum.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that there will be a contraction in the amount of time spent on teaching literacy and communication as a consequence of the report, how does he think that we will tackle the problem that one in five 11-year-olds are still struggling to read when they leave primary school?
I am not trying to say that there will be an absolute doing away with numeracy and literacy. I made the point that there will be some teaching of those subjects. It is just a question of what kind of numeracy and literacy children actually need. If teaching is geared to examinations and league tables, it gives a very different perspective on the curriculum and what is taught than if children are taught what is essential to be a citizen of the United Kingdom and indeed a citizen of the world. There is a bigger debate, which Sir Jim Rose is trying to provoke. Whether or not this country is up to having that debate and whether or not the teaching professionals are big enough to engage in it are questions that will be answered in the next few months.
The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. Does he agree that many of the one in five 11-year-olds who have just been referred to could read if they decided that they wanted to learn and applied themselves to learning? They just need the inspiration and motivation to do it. Perhaps a more flexible curriculum that gave teachers more opportunity to inspire students and to do their own thing, rather than simply following a set curriculum, would help children to want to learn to read, which would reduce the illiteracy rate at 11.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to make a small point on my little hobby horse—special educational needs?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that intervention and I absolutely concur with it.
There are charities and volunteer groups that do a lot of work in the field. Volunteer Reading Help is a national charity with a network of about 1,500 volunteers who have helped more than 4,000 children of primary age. A huge number of people are prepared to work and confer with the professional teacher about how to help children. There is great recognition of the need not only to read but to be able to write, spell and so on.
Goodness gracious, I spent from the age of six to the age of 11 learning times tables. I am an absolute expert on nine times seven, although I notice that some Ministers get that question wrong sometimes. We had tables hammered into us and brilliance was demonstrated by a student’s ability to do those tests, and by the ability to spell. I think that I am quite a good speller—but gosh, the hours and hours we spent going through spelling books was a waste of time. We should have done something completely different. Politics would have been a good thing to study at a very early age, and I would not have joined the Conservative party either.
In relation to my hon. Friend’s last but one reply to the Opposition spokesman—the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb)—I encourage him not to be too apologetic about tackling the obesity of the core curriculum, which has pushed too many other subjects to the margins. Those subjects certainly include the visual and performing arts, which have a part to play in improving communication skills, the importance of which he was talking about earlier. A slimming of certain over-mighty core subjects would not go amiss, as the objectives would be delivered in other ways.
Again, I agree with my hon. Friend. We all agree that it is essential to have mathematics of some kind. As some people will know, I am running a mathematical day for MPs here in a few weeks’ time. MPs are very good at quoting figures, but they do not know how people reach those figures, or what the equations are. The aim is not to make MPs into mathematicians, but to make them sceptical about how figures and statistics are collated, and to make them ask what it really means to say that someone has a 5 per cent. better chance than someone else of not getting cancer. I do not know what that means in concrete terms; if anyone does, will they please tell me?
Mathematics is important for young people, and financial understanding can be part of that. It is a huge problem in schools that many young people do not gain an understanding of how to handle finances. That has led to citizens advice bureaux being packed out at the moment, and at other times of the year, because people find it difficult to keep hold of the different, complicated accounts that come their way. That kind of teaching can help.
Scientific and technological understanding starts in primary schools. I have a bee in my bonnet about that. Some teachers do wonderful things by teaching children how to make parachutes and doing nature study, as they used to call it—indeed, I think they still do—teaching understanding about fish and so on. David Attenborough’s television programmes fascinate young people and old people alike, which is quite amazing. There should be more of that kind of teaching at an early stage, and children should get their hands dirty doing experiments such as making parachutes and mixing things together to make smells. That is what stimulates them to try to understand and to ask questions, and they carry that love through to secondary school, where other problems arise in science and technology.
That approach is essential—everyone says so, but no one does much about it. A bit has been done, but not enough. We still lack laboratories for young people to practise the skills and arts of science and technology. Their world is full of television programmes and so on, and we need to reflect that much more in every school.
On the theme of human, social and environmental understanding, how can children avoid hearing about climate change these days? They have heard of it and they think they can see it in individual events. That is arguable, but they need to know what the arguments are.
What are we trying to do with science? Jim Rose will have to ask himself that question, and will have to get support on the issue. Are we trying to make Nobel prize-winning scientists? No, we are trying to make people confident and literate in science so that they can ask the right questions even without knowing all the technical jargon. The jargon may be unnecessary, but it exists and people have to try to be confident with it. We saw that in the debate on genetic modification, when dreadful things were said against GM for all sorts of reasons. That debate is rising to the surface again, and it cannot be ignored.
We can explain things, such as the use of stem cells to handle brain problems. I visited an eminent school, highly rated by Ofsted and at the top of the league tables, which taught about stem cells in religion classes. Fine, but there was nothing in its science classes about stem cells, because the teachers had decided, for their own personal reasons—I do not know whether they were creationists or whether there was another argument—that they wanted to use religion classes to talk about what it meant to use stem cells. We had similar debates on human embryology a few months ago, when people asked if we were playing God, or trying to change the world. That is fine in religion—I am for that—but I am also keen on such subjects being taught in science classes. They can be started in a simplistic but understandable way in primary school. Rose has got that message.
Little needs to be said about physical health and well-being, with the Olympics coming and with obesity on the agenda at last. Young people are keen to participate in some kind of sport, although some do not want to do sport and we have to find out why, but if we can inculcate it into them, that would be great.
The arts and design can blow the mind. We should appreciate, in our society, that there are artists who create great works. One does not have to be a Picasso to get great pleasure out of drawing. Goodness me, every MP—smart devils they are—gets their Christmas cards painted by some young constituent from a school in their patch. Colleagues will know what those drawings are like—they are great! They will never hang in the British Academy, but those young people are very proud when an MP recognises their work. We should say to Rose, “Carry on with the arts and design, because young people really appreciate them.”
The hon. Gentleman skipped over the fourth area of learning outlined in the Rose review—human, social and environmental understanding—although he mentioned the environment. Under that heading, should children also learn, during the seven years of primary school, about the Romans, the Saxons and the middle ages, and about the oceans, continents and rivers of this country and Europe, or should those subjects be moved to secondary school?
No, they should not be moved. It is hard to deny young people the delights of seeing how previous civilisations operated. I do not say that we should be going into Mayan temples and all that stuff, but the children at George White junior school in Norfolk go out to see the broads and learn what they are and how they were formed. That can be explained to them. It is difficult to talk to children—or, indeed, adults—in deep technological terms about such things, but they should know about the countryside that they inhabit. They should know about the history of their street and about the wall around the city, and the city gates. Many young people are now doing those things. I have seen projects recently in which young people have studied a part of the city of Norwich by going to look at it and then going back centuries to how it used to be. There is great interest in such subjects, and some teaching on them is absolutely necessary. I do not say that there should be a 20-lecture course on them, but a few hours can be spent discussing them and looking at pictures. There have been many great, technological advances, which can be used to show on screen the different things that happened years ago in the parts of the world where young people live.
Foreign languages are another area of discussion, but I do not want to say too much about that area because we talk about it often. It is important to learn foreign languages. Not enough people can speak another language, and that is not only hypocritical and arrogant, but also a shambles. I confess that although I passed higher Latin I failed lower French. I think it was the first time that French had ever been taken in Scottish highers. I knew things like “Toto ouvre la porte” from the books, but we learned by rote. We were told, “Here’s the book—read that,” and then we got some questions on them. Being Scottish, I found it difficult to speak French sometimes, but I was red hot at Latin, not that it has done me much good except to get me into university.
My experience reflects that of many people nowadays. They do not see the value of languages, and they still want to speak English everywhere they go. We have to get away from that situation. We have all said that many times, and it is beginning to happen in schools—I acknowledge that there has been a move in that direction—but there has to be a push. The Rose report gives us an opportunity to do more.
On play-related teaching, there are now computer suites in schools for young people to play on. That will be a real advantage, because that is their world, with the internet and so on. Technological advances should be utilised at primary school, and not left until secondary school, as they once were.
Does my hon. Friend welcome the recognition in the interim report that we are seeing the emergence of digital natives, almost, with young people who have sparkling aptitudes and abilities, and who sometimes out-stretch their teachers? Does he hope that the final report in April will focus a little more on the need to bridge the enormous digital divide or void that there can be between the ICT skills and knowledge of young people from different socio-economic backgrounds? Should that not be a priority?
Absolutely. My original comment about people being more worried about what bankers are saying to a Select Committee illustrates where politics have reached. We should be talking about socio-economic problems being a priority for the Government. Where are our discussions about that? I am talking about the generality. Teaching people from different socio-economic backgrounds involves the use of different methods and ways of seduction. Teachers know how to do that, and we should be supporting and helping them. I am disappointed that we do not find people to belly-ache about socio-economic groups and how we can sort things out—it is through primary education that we will do that.
I know that I am ranting on a bit, but I want to mention that through major national initiatives to provide a comprehensive assessment system we are at last beginning to trust teachers to assess the progress of pupils. Assessing pupil progress—APP—will, I think, result in the abolition of the SATs test at key stage 2 and interim assessment models could also be used. There are alternatives to SATs that would inspire teachers and make them less disgruntled at times. Locally administered, moderated teacher assessment with sampling to monitor national standards should have our full support.
Although there is a lot of moaning in the press, the vast majority of teachers are dedicated, imaginative, innovative, inspiring individuals, and that continues to be the case. We are all here because of them. As a member of a Select Committee, for example, we might ask young people—such as those who appeared before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee yesterday—“What made you do this?” and they will say that it is because a teacher at school inspired them. They will not say that it was at university, because it happens long before that. It is often at primary school that a teacher captures someone’s imagination, shows them a book in the library and how to get on the internet and find things out. It is at that point that bright young people from different backgrounds can take things forward and gain great experience.
We should get round to dealing with things and say that teachers can use the Rose report to inspire a generation of young people through cross-curricular education. There was once a medical course that was taught in the following way: students would think about all aspects of the liver—how it functioned, its physiology and so on—but they would also find out how it could be ruined by drink. Extra-curricular matters are taught to medical students. Courses for medical students are changing to recognise that their work takes place in a society with social problems.
We have a real opportunity to inform young people about such issues earlier. We should not dodge the matter. Young people live in a real world that will change, and that is not just because of bankers and what we do to them. The world is really changing and young people will have different values. Education must not lag behind. We should get ahead of the curve and teach things that are relevant to young people’s daily lives.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on giving us, I think, the first opportunity to debate this subject since the original Rose proposals came out. Not only the final conclusions of the Rose process, but the Cambridge primary review will be published in the next few months. This is therefore a valuable opportunity for hon. Members to debate the subject and to hear the Minister’s comments on the development of Government policy.
I am not quite as convinced as the hon. Member for Norwich, North about the importance of the report; I will explain why in a moment. When we consider the challenges in the primary sector—the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) talked about the 20 to 30 per cent. of youngsters who leave primary education with poor basic skills—what Rose has to offer is relatively modest, is unclear in some areas, and may even deal with the least important challenge in primary education.
When I visit schools, not only in my constituency but across the country, I find that most heads are not convinced that a major change in the primary curriculum is necessary. Most particularly, good schools already believe that they have the flexibility and freedom to do much of the cross-curricular work that is picked up in the Rose review. One of the things I want to challenge today is how important Rose will be and precisely what it will mean.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument carefully, but I am a little at a loss to understand his reasoning. He says that 20 to 30 per cent. of children are leaving the primary stage without the necessary skills. I presume that he acknowledges that those children have the ability, but that they have not been inspired to draw that out to learn those skills. That is because they are hide-bound by a fixed and rigid curriculum and teachers are not allowed to do their thing, to be flexible and to inspire children. Does he not think that Rose has started to get to grips with that problem?
No, I am not sure that Rose has done so. Although I entirely agree that, in some way, the biggest challenge in primary education is to make sure that the 20 or 30 per cent. of youngsters at the bottom are inspired by education, pupils should leave primary education not only with good basic skills in English and mathematics, but with a love of learning in other subject areas.
I am not convinced that the review’s proposals will deliver the outcomes for which the hon. Member for Norwich, North hopes. We also have to question the extent to which heads in schools are able to use some of the flexibility that they have to ensure that they do not simply teach mathematics and English in a rather desiccated way, but that they link them up with the other subject areas. That already happens in many schools, as the Rose report indicates.
In the hon. Gentleman’s critique of Rose, does he include Rose’s description of special educational needs, such as individuals with dyslexia and dyspraxia, who have difficulty reading and writing? That is not always picked up and is a huge issue in schools. Rose picks it up and I have never seen anyone else do so. Does he agree?
I certainly agree that that is an important issue, and I shall go on to discuss it, because it is one of the matters to which we should give priority. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Rose review has a fairly limited perspective on primary education and that the Cambridge review has a much broader view of primary education. Although the Cambridge review started before the Rose review, we expect the results to be delivered after Rose’s. The Cambridge review will look at all aspects of the development of youngsters in that age range, and it will deal with the important issue of testing, where concerns that what is being taught and tested is not always the most appropriate part of the English and mathematics curricula have been underscored by bodies such as Ofsted. Testing can also pressure some schools into narrowing what is actually taught. I shall come back to that later.
Will the Minister say to what extent the Rose review consultation process should be taken seriously? It is disappointing that the Alexander review, the Cambridge review and the Rose review have got slightly out of kilter. There is a feeling that the Government are not drawing as much on the Cambridge review as they could and that they will have made many of their decisions before it is published. I understand that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has already started work on a lot of the detailed programmes of study that come out of the Rose review, particularly in relation to the six areas of learning. That work appears to have started even before the end of the consultation process on the Rose report, which I believe will be at the end of this month. I wonder whether we ought to take seriously the consultation in which the Government are involved, or whether this Government-commissioned report has been fairly closely prescribed and consideration of some issues that could usefully have been considered has specifically been ruled out, with the result that the report can lead only to modest changes.
Before I outline my concerns about the report, I want to highlight some of its useful and important aspects. As the hon. Member for Norwich, North indicated, the report emphasises the importance of getting the basics of literacy and numeracy right. In fairness, it also highlights extremely important issues, such as speech and language, where there is a need for more support and better joining up with other services that can help to deliver better speech and language education. The Government took effective action in commissioning a report on that, the Bercow report, which makes many useful proposals that I hope will be picked up.
I question, however, what precisely the Rose report says about the amount of time to be spent on literacy, numeracy and communications. The report’s remit made it clear that the Government wanted that area to continue to take priority, and that is a clear conclusion of the review. The hon. Member for Norwich, North, in response to my intervention, expressed the hope that those aspects of the curriculum would contract to make way for the subjects that people perceive to have been squeezed out, such as history, some of the sciences, geography and some of the non-academic parts of the curriculum. We are therefore being told two contradictory things about the impact of the Rose report. If the report is accepted, does the Minister expect us to end up with more time for those subjects—perhaps with a different emphasis on different parts of the teaching of literacy, numeracy and communication—less time for them, or the same amount of time?
Some of the proposals for teaching modern languages seem fairly sensible. We have a crisis in the number of pupils engaged in modern language education. Ever since the Government ended the compulsory teaching of modern languages beyond the age of 14, without doing anything to encourage youngsters to persist with them, we have had a topsy-turvy approach, whereby we have tried to salvage modern language education by including much more of it in primary education. Its quality is inconsistent, however, and, because of a lack of qualified teachers, some schools teach modern languages that may not be followed up in secondary education, simply giving children a taster of five or 10 different languages. Rose says that what is taught in modern languages during key stages 2 and 3 ought to be joined up, and that is quite sensible.
In what could be seen as a criticism of the present Government and their predecessors, Rose says that he wants a more thoughtful and stable process for reviewing primary education. He says that past reviews have been largely reactive and driven by the need to reduce curriculum overload and over-prescription, and that now he wants a proactive strategy and schools to be afforded a period of stability in which to achieve the agreed curriculum goals. That is very important: if head teachers, governing bodies and teachers generally make one request when we visit schools, it is that we provide greater stability and consistency, rather than a series of initiatives that are introduced and often phased out before they have had a chance to benefit anyone.
Those are the report’s aspects that I welcome, but I have some concerns about other elements. There is a lack of clarity about the proposed emphasis on the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and communication. We know that they are crucial not only to people’s basic skills and to getting a job, but to their ability to engage properly in other subjects. We can teach those English and mathematics skills through the high-quality teaching of other subjects, and they do not have to be taught in a dry way that is all about the two times table, but we must get the basics right. Youngsters cannot succeed in secondary education unless they are taught those important basic skills, but there is a lack of clarity about whether there will be more or less of such teaching.
I also found in the report a great deal of jargon and a good many things that seem to be motherhood and apple pie. Before the hon. Gentleman finished his speech, I flicked at random through the report to any old page just to read a paragraph again. Paragraph 1.51 is typical of the report’s educational mumbo-jumbo, listing rather obvious points with which nobody could disagree. That is a feature of the report which makes it so difficult to engage with the document and to understand what it means. It is almost impossible to disagree with the provisional recommendations; if one were to propose their opposite, one would be considered bizarre or educationally illiterate. The report contains much that is uncontroversial and much with which it is difficult to engage.
Let me finish this point, because I may be being unfair to Rose and the hon. Gentleman may wish to defend him in a second. There is a lack of clarity about themes, about what will happen to subject teaching, about the role of facts and individual understanding of subjects such as history and geography, and about whether the suggestions will undermine a more traditional approach to education, in which youngsters are expected to engage with facts, allowing them an understanding that they can use to exploit the many information-providing vehicles that are available in the modern age.
I am sure that we will have many arguments about data over coffee first thing in the morning, but does the hon. Gentleman not think that, for too long, history has been about kings and queens rather than about the history of the area where people live, or where their parents come from? People come from different parts of the world. For people living in Britain today, is that not the real issue, rather than who was king in 1603?
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants the Government to provide for more flexibility and freedom in what is taught in every curricular area, I entirely agree. We, as a party, do not believe in a curriculum that is so prescriptive that it seeks to prioritise certain parts of history. If, however, he is saying that history teaching should be almost fact-free—perhaps I parody his argument—that poses a serious risk. If youngsters are not given a framework to understand the past, it is difficult for them to use the skills that he rightly wants to develop so that they can improve their education. I am not sure what implications the Rose report has for the teaching of those core subjects, however. When the Government and Rose came under attack because of the perception that the proposals meant dumbing down education, there was a considerable retreat from them. That feature of the report makes it so frustrating when one tries to understand its proposals—whether some might be damaging or whether they are just tweaks to the system.
Some speeches take much longer than one expected when one started, and I have left precious little time to discuss some important points that should have higher Government priority. I shall touch on them briefly.
Any primary education review that leaves out the testing regime leaves out something of great importance and relevance to the curriculum debate, because one cannot debate the curriculum without debating the pressures on schools through the testing regime, which is so crucial. I certainly do not want us to get rid of key stage 2 testing in its entirety; it is important to know in primary schools the proportion of youngsters who achieve basic skills in maths and English. I do not want the testing regime to become more onerous through the introduction of single-level tests, either. The debacle of last year’s SATs results gives us an opportunity to consider whether there is a greater role for teacher assessment with external moderation, because credible tests are still essential for testing the right things in the basic subjects and for giving us an idea of how schools and youngsters are doing in a particular age range.
We also need a much better system of assessing youngsters as they enter primary education, and of ensuring that the interventions that they need, particularly in speech, language and other special educational areas, are delivered. The testing regime should not just be about assessing the performance of schools. More significantly, it should be about the actions that we need to take to improve opportunities for young children. That is why some of our proposals on school funding and the pupil premium, which would put additional money into schools to help the most disadvantaged youngsters, are crucial, and will become even more important in an environment where education funding is being squeezed, as it will be after 2011.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing this important debate. I disagree with most of what he said, but I do agree with his view that Romans, Saxons and the middle ages, as well as the oceans and continents, the rivers of the UK and the countries of Europe, should be taught in primary schools. I disagree with his comment that primary schools should not teach about kings and queens: they are an important part of understanding our history, and I hope that they remain in the primary curriculum.
And the Scottish kings and queens as well.
I agree with the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) that there is no clamour among primary teachers or head teachers for further changes to the primary curriculum, and that what is desperately sought in the primary sector is a period of stability.
The interim report of the Rose review of primary education is both disappointing and confused. It is disappointing because it fails to refer to and therefore to address the fundamental problems in our education system that it was designed to tackle. There is no reference in the report to the fact that one in five 11-year-olds leave primary school still struggling with reading despite seven years of primary education; the fact that 40 per cent. of 11-year-olds leave primary school not having reached level 4 in reading, writing and maths combined; the fact that, in 2007, 37 per cent. of six-year-olds on free school meals failed to reach the national standard in their key stage 1 writing assessment, up from 28 per cent. in 2002; the fact that nearly 3,000 fewer six-year-olds from the most deprived communities achieved a level 2 or above in key stage 1 maths last year than in 2005-06; or the fact that the number of six-year-olds from the most disadvantaged communities achieving the national standard in writing has fallen by 18 per cent. since 1997. None of those key issues is addressed in the interim report.
One of the main problems facing our education system is literacy, yet, despite using the word “reading” 35 times, there is not a single mention of the word “phonics”, let alone the phrase “synthetic phonics”, in the 68 pages of the report. There is not even a reference to Jim Rose’s report on the teaching of reading, which recommended the early and systematic teaching of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading. How can a review of the primary curriculum not refer to how reading is taught and how it should be taught?
It was the Conservatives who initiated the debate on how reading is taught in primary schools. It led to the report of the then Education and Skills Committee and then to the previous Rose review, which was about reading, and the change in Government policy under Tony Blair and Lord Adonis. However, under the current Administration, there appears to be no understanding of the importance of the issue. Is it not odd that Jim Rose appears as the author of both reports? I believe that the Rose review on reading was actually written by Jim Rose himself, whereas the report we are debating today, while claiming to be independent, is actually written by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, as the remit letter instructs. It is therefore hardly what one would call independent.
I take the point that the hon. Member for Yeovil made about mumbo-jumbo in paragraph 1.51, which contrasts starkly with the clear and simple language and direction of policy in the Rose review on reading. It would be hard to believe that the two reports were written by the same person.
There is no reference in the report to how maths should be taught: for example, whether so-called reform maths—the multiple-strategy approach to the teaching of arithmetic—is actually working. The Conservatives have established an inquiry into maths teaching in our schools. It will be headed by Carol Vorderman and will consider whether children should learn their multiplication tables by heart, so that they instinctively know that eight sevens are 56, for example. Children need to know number bonds automatically, so that they can say that eight plus four is 12 without having to count on their fingers. That can be achieved only through practice and direct, whole-class teaching. Automaticity is as vital in arithmetic as it is in the playing of the piano, if one is to progress to more challenging maths or to more complex pieces of music.
None of that is discussed in the report. What is discussed is a proposal to move to more cross-curriculum teaching using themes and projects—all the old 1950s and 1960s mantras that have failed whenever and wherever they have been tried. A 1992 analysis of primary education by the three wise men, including Sir Jim Rose, concluded:
“The resistance to subjects at the primary stage is no longer tenable…There is clear evidence that much topic work has led to fragmentary and superficial learning.”
Page 17 of the Rose review highlights a major survey published by Her Majesty’s inspector of schools in 1978, noting that
“much so-called ‘topic’ and ‘project’ work in those days often failed to match children’s developing abilities and militated against extending their understanding because it lacked progression and was too repetitive.”
The review goes on to state that it is
“certainly not advocating a return to the vagaries of old style topic and project work.”
No, it is advocating a return to a new style of topic and project work and cross-curricular teaching, but it is not how one implements the approach but the approach itself that is the problem. The report does not explain why continuing with the same ’50s and ’60s approach that failed so badly will succeed now, nor does it say how implementation today will differ from implementation in the ’50s and ’60s. I do not believe that the results will be any different if we go back to an approach that failed when it was tried in the ’50s and ’60s, in the ’70s, and even in the ’80s and ’90s.
I have sympathy with some of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but does he agree that many schools succeed in blending different elements of the curriculum? I hope that he does not want to impede the work of good schools that are capable of blending parts of the curriculum together in a useful way.
There should be flexibility in the curriculum. My concern is that the review will replace one set of prescriptions with another and will not increase flexibility. Schools will now feel that they have to do what is in this report rather than what they were doing before.
Of course there are cross-curricular activities: for example, when a class is asked to write up something about the middle ages—a story or what they have learned from the textbook that they have been given—doing so improves their literacy skills. That is the right approach to cross-curricular teaching, not attempts to shoehorn literacy, numeracy and other parts of the curriculum into themes, whether chocolate or rocks, in which one loses the structure and can miss out important parts of what needs to be taught, compared with teaching distinct subjects.
On page 25 of the report is a list of the ideological debates that have plagued education since this ideology was introduced into the British education system in the 1950s. It originated in the United States in the 1920s at Teachers College, Columbia university, under John Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick. The report lists:
“Subjects vs cross-curricular studies;
Knowledge vs skills;
Child initiated learning through play vs teacher directed learning;
Formal vs informal classroom organisation; and
Summative vs formative assessment.”
The report itself clearly comes down on the ideological side of cross-curricular studies and child-initiated learning through play.
On the 50-year debate about whether schools should teach knowledge or skills, page 27 of the report states that
“it is worth noting that, when observed in practice by the Review, the approach which attempts to teach skills…disembodied from a coherent core of worthwhile knowledge has not been convincing in securing children’s understanding of important key ideas.”
But the next paragraph states:
“There will be times when it is right to marshal worthwhile content into well-planned, cross-curricular studies.”
In effect, that is an endorsement of the cross-curricular skills approach that the preceding paragraph dismissed. However, no evidence is given in the review about how and why that approach might be effective now when it was so ineffective in the past.
Paragraph 1.48 says:
“Given the strong tradition of child-centred thinking in primary education, it is perhaps surprising that many respondents to the review found it difficult to answer the question… What is distinctive about children’s learning and development in the primary phase… Typical answers included: ‘It’s a time when they learn how to learn’; ‘It’s not what they learn but how they learn that’s important’”.
Yet, despite dismissing these answers as poor, the review, on page 41, recommends:
“In year one, the range and content will highlight the opportunities for child initiated enquiry and exploration.”
Herein lies the confusion in the report, which is at the heart of this review. Evidence that the 1950s and ’60s approaches do not work is cited, but the report proceeds to recommend those same approaches. The review appears to endorse and promote an ideological approach that has failed.
E. D. Hirsch, in his book, “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them”, sets out clearly the problem in American schools, which also applies to British schools: he says why that ideological approach has never worked and goes into the roots of the ideology. I tried to find a quote from the book that best summarises the argument, but the best quote is from the blurb on the reverse of the book, which says:
“For over 50 years, American schools have operated under the assumption that challenging children academically is unnatural for them, that teachers do not need to know the subjects they teach, that the learning ‘process’ should be emphasised over the facts taught. All of this is wrong…by disdaining content-based curricula, while favouring abstract—and discredited—theories of how a child learns, the ideas uniformly taught by our schools have done terrible harm to America’s students. Instead of preparing our children for the highly competitive information-based economy in which we now live, our schools’ practises have severely curtailed their ability, and desire, to learn.”
That is the point that the hon. Member for Norwich, North made: love of learning comes from learning well in primary schools. Throughout his book, Hirsch talks of the damage that the “naturalistic”, “project-orientated”, “hands-on”, “critical thinking” approach to education has caused.
The communist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, was one of the first to understand the damage that this approach to education was causing. There is nothing new in all this: it all goes back to the 1920s and ’30s; the same old stuff is repeated and fails over and over again, but here we are in 2009 recommending the same stuff again. Gramsci wrote in 1932 that this type of education
“is destined not merely to perpetuate social differences but crystallize them”.
That can be seen in all the data showing the gap widening between the children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from middle-class, educated backgrounds. The gap between the state and independent sectors is widening, too. The review is full of recommendations that would move English primary education even further towards the type of education that so worried Gramsci.
The review states, on page 49:
“Parents also worry that the shift from the play-based environment to a more structured approach to learning in Year 1 of primary school is too abrupt and inappropriate for a child who may have only recently turned five.”
That is a clear endorsement of extending play-based education from the nursery to reception and even to year 1. I asked the Minister for Schools and Learners a parliamentary question about how many parents had been consulted as part of the review process, echoing the concerns about the consultation process expressed by the hon. Member for Yeovil. The answer was eight.
One in five children in London attend an independent school. Many centre-left and left-wing journalists I know send their children to independent schools. When I ask them why, they say that it is not the social cachet or the exclusivity of the intake that makes them spend upwards of £8,000 a year, or even the small class sizes, but the fact that vast majority of pre-prep and prep schools have not adopted the so-called progressive approach to education that is so prevalent in the state sector. Those schools have never abandoned phonics in the teaching of reading: they continued to teach children their times tables by heart and they have 40 minutes a week each of history and geography, with no intention of shunting those subjects to key stage 3 and secondary school, as Rose wants to do in the review, thereby narrowing the curriculum and lightening it by shunting those important subjects up to secondary school.
If we are serious about raising standards in our primary schools, we have to eschew the ideological approach that has so dominated this country’s education system from the late 1950s, particularly following the Plowden report in 1967. We need to replace this ideological approach with a practical approach using what the evidence says works.
The paragraph in the review that most alarmed me was 2.44 on page 42, which says,
“The teacher who once said: ‘If children leave my school and can’t paint that’s a pity but if they leave and can’t read that’s a disaster’ was perhaps exaggerating to make a point.”
That is what the report says—“exaggerating”. If Sir Jim Rose and the QCA do not believe that it is a disaster for a child to leave primary school unable to read, they are the wrong people to carry out a review of primary education.
Mr. Olner, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate. He is right; this is the first opportunity that we have had to debate an important area of education reform. I thank him for his warm welcome for the interim report of the Rose review.
I should like to stress, first, that the report is an interim one and, secondly, that it is on the primary curriculum, not on primary education—some Members may have misinterpreted that point, as a couple of them referred to the review as a report on primary education. That may be what they wished it was, but it is a report on the primary curriculum. My hon. Friend has brought great insight to the debate, as a teacher and from his experience as a constituency Member of Parliament. Unlike the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), the primary schools that I have visited welcome the review of the curriculum, so perhaps we are going into different primary schools.
I want to correct one point that was made. Although the QCA provided evidence, Sir Jim Rose actually wrote and authored the report.
The 21st-century job market is rapidly changing, as are the skills that young people will need when they leave school. Our young people, as we all know, are more techno-savvy and adept at communications. Importantly, new jobs are opening up that did not even exist a decade or so ago. The technological and communications revolution has opened up a whole realm of possibilities for more interactive, engaging learning than we could even have dreamed of 20 years ago, when the national curriculum was first introduced. We need to adapt our education system to that rate of change so that it is flexible enough to accommodate and seize on those opportunities and to prepare our young people for the future.
In our children’s plan, we outlined our ambition for a world-class education system and high-quality children’s services and for this country to be the best place in the world for children to grow up in.
In their plan for a world-class education system, have the Government considered rebalancing the funding between primary and secondary education? We spend much more on secondary education than on primary education, and perhaps that should be rebalanced so that children acquire basic skills before they go to secondary school, where it is much more expensive to correct problems. Perhaps the Government should examine the system in Japan.
The hon. Gentleman will find that many local authorities are rebalancing their funding towards early years and primary education. When I was in local government, my local authority certainly took that policy decision, because it saw evidence of early intervention feeding through into later years.
The review says that we must weave flexibility through the fabric of our education infrastructure from what is taught to how it is taught—the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) referred to that point. Crucially, that flexibility must be underpinned with consistency throughout—high standards, and coherence throughout the spectrum from nought to 19 in education, mirrored by children’s services. The Government created the new Department for Children, Schools and Families more than a year ago to bring that coherence to Whitehall. Looking ahead, we are about to legislate to make local authorities the single point of accountability for all children’s services and provision from nought to 19, and that too will lend greater coherence to the system.
That consistency and coherence must be matched in the classroom to ensure that children going through their school journey experience a smooth progression so that they can pursue their talents and interests in a structured and rewarding way. That is why we modernised the secondary curriculum. We wanted to provide more time for the basics and personalised learning, more flexibility for young people to pursue their interests and talents at a pace that suits them, more support for those at the bottom and more stretch for those at the top.
At the other end of the education spectrum, we have developed the early years foundation stage, which provides play-based learning for children in their earliest years to instil in them the love of learning, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North referred, while encouraging their development. The primary years bridge the two, so consistency and transition are important, but as the longest period of a child’s statutory education, it is an extremely important developmental period in its own right, as well as playing an important part in the progress to secondary school.
Children make huge advances in their physical, intellectual, emotional and social capabilities between the ages of five and 11, so it is vital to have a primary curriculum that can properly support and encourage that development, as well as preparing children for the demands of secondary school and further learning, training and work to take advantage of the new opportunities that I mentioned. We must also support teachers to ensure that they have the best possible system and resources to bring out the best in their pupils.
We have seen real progress in primary learning over the past decade, with 88 per cent. achieving level 4 science, the highest ever. Sixteen per cent. more children have achieved level 4 maths since 1997, and 18 per cent. more have achieved that in English. That translates into 93,000 more 11-year-olds gaining the top level in maths and 101,000 more in English. That is no small achievement, but of course we acknowledge that there is still a great deal more to do.
I was coming to that. The remit for the review emphasises the importance of literacy and numeracy, and we recognise that importance. The curriculum will promote literacy and numeracy throughout all areas of learning. We do not specify the amount of time to be spent on English and maths, but maths will be used in designing and making models, and understanding patterns in art. The emphasis is on excellent curriculum design that will embed English and maths throughout, although Jim Rose says in paragraph 2.24 that
“literacy and numeracy must continue to be prioritised. These skills should be secured through rigorous, discrete teaching and used and applied across the curriculum.”
I am grateful to the Minister for accelerating to that part of her speech, but I am still not clear whether the intention is that more time will be available for English and maths, or whether the expectation is for that part of the curriculum to contract so that other parts can expand.
As I have said, we are not prescribing the amount of discrete teaching of English and maths. The idea is that teachers should be able to use their expertise to spread English and maths and embed them throughout the curriculum. We are not being prescriptive and saying that they must spend x hours on English and maths. We expect both to be spread throughout the curriculum.
Jim Rose’s interim review places a new focus and energy on the primary years to build on the success I outlined, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his and his team’s hard work and commitment in producing such an insightful interim report. I look forward to receiving his recommendations in due course. As my hon. Friend noted, consultation is ongoing until 28 February.
On that point, and in reply to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, eight parents responded to Jim’s interim report, and much wider parent consultation is under way on the web at Mumsnet, face to face and in the ongoing consultation.
That is fine, but the consultation is taking place after the report has said that parents have a certain view. It is asserting views for which there is no evidence. That is what concerns me about the quality of the evidence on which the report is based. It seems to be based on assertion, not evidence.
I emphasise that the report is an interim one, and that consultation is ongoing. We expect wider interest from parents, especially parents who have been involved on governing bodies and in schools. Those to whom I have spoken seem aware of the report and have had the opportunity to contribute—[Interruption.]
A fundamental disagreement with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton concerns the importance of cross-curricular education. Part of Jim Rose’s work considered how the primary curriculum in England compares with that of other countries. The QCA contributed to that work by providing an analysis of 10 countries that have changed their primary curriculum since 2005. Of those 10 countries, eight chose to group learning around areas rather than individual subjects, including France, Spain, Germany, New Zealand and Scotland. Their rationale for the change emphasised the need to improve the transition to primary school and deepening understanding of core areas by integrating different parts of the curriculum and developing connections between them.
Although the report highlighted a tremendous amount of support for a national curriculum framework, it was agreed that the primary curriculum as it stands is outdated for pupils and slightly unwieldy for teachers with its 10 subject areas. That rationale, which other countries have adopted, lies behind Jim Rose’s recommendation to group individual subjects into six areas of learning and understanding. I want to make it absolutely clear that we are not seeking to abolish subject areas from the curriculum. Children will still learn about important individuals, groups and events that have shaped our past, our culture and our communities.
The QCA is indeed working on draft programmes of learning, but the emphasis is on “draft”. With the timetable that we have in mind, we cannot wait for the final report before starting work on the draft programmes of learning, but there is plenty of time for the consultation’s input to the content of the programmes.
They are still very much at an interim stage. I do not expect them to be at a stage where they could go out to further consultation until we receive the results of the current consultation, but I would then be more than happy to share the more rounded programmes of study. Both hon. Gentlemen have the opportunity to communicate with the QCA their ideas of what those programmes of study should look like.
The interim report makes it clear that high quality subject teaching must not disappear from primary schools, and a proposed design for the curriculum will promote challenging subject teaching alongside equally challenging cross-curricular studies. That is the basis from which we are starting. No one subject is isolated. Disciplines are interconnected, and it is important that young people understand how concepts are related—that point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North—to make their learning more relevant and to prepare them for more advanced study or work where concepts do not fall neatly into academic topics.
More opportunity to use and apply skills across the curriculum, such as in maths, science and technology, will give a new practical emphasis that will make learning more relevant and give young people the skills that employers want. As I have said before, the aim of the reforms is not so much to change what children learn as to change how they learn. That is where the focus of public debate needs to be.
When the Minister addressed me, she said that how reading is taught is not an issue for this report because it is about the curriculum; now she is saying that it is all about how things are taught, not what is taught. Which is it? Is it about the curriculum or is it about how things are taught? What is this debate about?
I go back to the point that I made earlier: this is an interim report that sets out the principle of areas of learning. The way in which those areas of learning are taught will be part of the final report that comes out, which is being consulted on. As I said, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity for input into that consultation.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North said, it is no good teaching people dry facts if, when faced with a real problem in science, they do not know which formula to apply. There needs to be practical application and contextual learning so that children can make links between concepts and apply them. It means that teachers will have the flexibility to determine where interconnected learning is most appropriate and where it will enrich understanding, and it will mean more freedom and flexibility for teachers to focus on the basics. The best schools are doing that anyway, as my hon. Friend noted in relation to his constituency. Ofsted tells us that schools without standing curriculums provide both skilled subject teaching and opportunities for children to benefit from cross-curricular studies. It does not mean that the primary framework will be any less rigorous. It will focus on the core areas of learning—literacy and numeracy—to give children a solid grounding in the basics before they progress to secondary level.
Jim Rose’s report will also take into account the important work of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) on speech, language and communication, which, as so many hon. Members noted, is essential for children’s development and success.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the report by the hon. Member for Buckingham led to the speech and communication action plan, which was rolled out in December. I think that it was the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) who mentioned I CAN—it may have been someone else.
The Communication Trust is taking on the consideration of the pilots we are doing in certain areas. As many people know, the trust is made up of I CAN and groups dealing with aphasia and many other issues. That work is about finding the best way to embed very early intervention on speech, language and communication, which can be the key to unlocking children’s talents, particularly in the primary years.
I shall address the elephant in the room now. [Interruption.] I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North has been looking forward to the savaging. We have no plans to abolish externally marked key stage 2 tests. Our system of testing and assessment gives parents objective information on their child’s progress and gives them information to choose the right school, although I acknowledge that is not the only information they should be using. It also helps teachers to secure progress. Although I acknowledge that not all primary heads are enthusiastic about key stage 2 tests, I have found when I go into secondary schools that the heads of those schools find the information invaluable when helping children to progress through secondary school. It also allows the public to hold local government and governing bodies to account on performance.
We have an expert group considering assessment in the wake of stopping key stage 3 tests. Jim Rose is a member of that group, and we will receive reports later this year. The terms of reference include assessment and promoting a broad curriculum. My hon. Friend mentioned league tables and he will remember our announcement. We are currently consulting on new school report cards, which will give a much broader picture of a school and, we hope, will give information that enables parents to make informed choices.
The hon. Member for Yeovil raised the Cambridge review. Jim Rose has met members of that review and in order for it to contribute to Jim’s review, he is bringing forward publication of the curriculum chapter so that it will inform part of his review.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about special educational needs. I share his ambition for young people with special educational needs. I feel particularly passionate about that and I was particularly pleased to announce our Achievement for All project. We have put £31 million into outcomes-based pilots around the country for children with special educational needs, so that we are focusing not on the process of what goes in to help a child with special educational needs, but on what the outcome is and what the expectations are of what a child with special educational needs can achieve. In my view, that is the way we should be going—raising aspiration and expectation and making part of the statementing process the outcomes that we expect young people to achieve.
I think I have covered most of the points made by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. I want to return to literacy and numeracy, because that firm foundation, combined with the subject grouping, will bring the primary curriculum more in line with the early years foundation stage. The deeper understanding, flexibility and independent thinking that it promotes will stand children in better stead when they start their secondary studies. It will help us to achieve the consistency and ease of transition for the pupil that we are seeking to create through our education system and children’s services.
The personalisation principle underlines the new secondary curriculum to encourage more independence in learning and to give young people more control over their education. At the primary stage, independence and having the confidence to learn, explore and develop are no less important. That will be supported by a play-based approach to learning in the earliest years of primary school, which the children have experienced through the EYFS. That, we hope, combined with a less restrictive, more personalised approach will mean a more seamless transition from early years to primary and from primary to secondary.
Well, we all accept that phonics is important. I visited a primary school in Peckham that was going through the intensive reading recovery process. I was privileged to be able to sit in on an intensive reading recovery class and one thing that I noticed was the number of different methods being used to help the child to reach the standard that they should have been at. The results being achieved were amazing. I went into the reception class, where phonics was being used. The majority of children were learning to read, but not every child was, and when it came to reading recovery, a number of different methods were used to enable children to reach the levels that we expect.
There will be the room necessary to incorporate some of the softer aspects of learning, which are crucial to education and development. I am talking about children developing awareness of the world around them, a sense of their responsibilities as citizens and values such as tolerance, respect and understanding, which will stand them in good stead not just for work, but for their personal relationships and possibly their future family life. This is an opportunity for us to prepare our students, at the outset of their journey through school, for life and learning in the 21st century. The primary review will allow us to keep up the momentum in driving up standards, with greater consistency between the different stages of learning to provide the best standard of education to our children and young people, so that they are fully equipped for the challenges of 21st-century life and work. Education cannot be just about exam results; it must be about developing the whole child.
As I said, this is an interim report and the review is ongoing, but the proposals in the interim report pave the way for progress and I look forward to Jim Rose’s conclusions when the final review is published later this year. A richer, more rounded curriculum will lead to a richer, more rounded learning experience and, ultimately, to richer and more rounded young people.