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Core Subjects

Volume 523: debated on Monday 7 February 2011

The White Paper “The Importance of Teaching” emphasises the importance of high quality teaching in the core subjects. We are introducing the English baccalaureate, which recognises achievement in the core subjects of English, maths, science, a humanity and a foreign language. It is intended to ensure that children receive a broad and balanced education, with time in the curriculum for vocational and creative subjects. We are taking steps to strengthen the teaching of reading through the use of systematic synthetic phonics.

I am sure the Minister is aware that in 2009, fewer than one in 25 children who were on free school meals took chemistry or physics, one in five took history, and fewer than 15% took geography or French. What plans does he have to ensure that children from poorer backgrounds get access to a proper academic education?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. That is why we have introduced the English baccalaureate. We are concerned that the number of pupils who currently receive a broad education in core academic subjects is far too small. That is particularly the case for pupils in disadvantaged areas. The English baccalaureate is designed to recognise the success of pupils who gain GCSEs or International GCSEs at grades A* to C across a core of academic subjects: English, maths, a humanity, the sciences and a language. We want to encourage more people to study those core subjects and to give all pupils the opportunity to study them, regardless of the school.

Many youngsters achieve good grades in GCSE maths without ever having studied algebra. That puts them at a disadvantage when they want to pursue mathematics beyond GCSE. Should algebra not be a vital part of GCSE maths?

Yet again, the hon. Gentleman says something with which I wholeheartedly agree. He is passionate about raising standards in our schools, as are we. That is why we recently announced the setting up of a review of the national curriculum. An expert advisory panel of head teachers from around the country will consider English, maths and science as the first part of the review.