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Secondary Curriculum

Volume 554: debated on Monday 3 December 2012

We announced draft proposals for the new primary curriculum earlier this year and we will bring forward proposals for the secondary curriculum in due course.

When I visited award-winning St Lawrence academy in my constituency on Friday, I heard first hand how year 10 and year 11 students were gaining from accessing vocational courses at North Lindsey college. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he still supports Alison Wolf’s recommendation that 14 to 16-year-olds can benefit hugely from access to high-quality vocational education in colleges?

I often find myself nodding along whenever the hon. Gentleman makes a point, and I have never yet found a recommendation by Alison Wolf with which I have not agreed.

Given the cross-party support, public support and professional support, and because he can save 150,000 lives a year, why on earth will the Secretary of State not put emergency life support skills somewhere in the national curriculum, so that every school leaver is a life-saver?

The many heads and teachers who listened to the hon. Lady as she made her point will think that if they have not already incorporated emergency life-saving skills into the way they teach, they should do so in future. Indeed, with such brilliant advocacy, I am sure that even more lives can be saved.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that when reforms of the national curriculum are published, teachers will have more than sufficient time to become fully familiar with them?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is absolutely important that we ensure that teachers have an opportunity to absorb the changes that we want to make, so that they can do what I know they wish to do, which is to raise the bar for all children.

Would my right hon. Friend consider putting enterprise into the school curriculum? This Government are keen to see young people set up businesses, which will be important for the future growth of this country.

There are few in the Government keener than me on encouraging enterprise among young people—in fact, there is one: the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock). However, I would be wary of treating the curriculum as though it were Santa’s sack—as though we could shove into it everything that we wanted and it would magically expand. If we are to ensure that teachers are free from unnecessary prescription, we need to ensure that great teachers can build the curriculum they want with a proper balance between what we expect centrally and what they determine locally.

Ian McNeilly, the head of the National Association for the Teaching of English, has said of the Government’s new English curriculum:

“It is fantastic that Mr Gove has acknowledged that English as a subject needs to move into a different century. Unfortunately for all concerned, he has chosen the 19th rather than the 21st”.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will regard that as the highest praise, but does he agree that that is almost certainly not what was intended? Will he therefore reflect again on the omissions from the curriculum—particularly in areas such as writing, analytical and listening skills—that have been invoked by our friends in the CBI?

I do not see anything wrong with having the 19th century at the heart of the English curriculum. As far as I am concerned, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy—not to mention George Eliot—are great names that every child should have the chance to study. As for the National Association for the Teaching of English, I am afraid that it is yet another pressure group that has been consistently wrong for decades. It is another aspect of the educational establishment involving the same people whose moral relativism and whose cultural approach of dumbing down have held our children back. Those on the Opposition Benches have not yet found a special interest group with which they will not dumbly nod along and assent to. I believe in excellence in English education. I believe in the canon of great works, in proper literature and in grammar, spelling and punctuation. As far as I am concerned, the NATE will command my respect only when it returns to rigour.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley). I would have called him to ask a question if that oration had concluded earlier, but it did not, so I cannot. I will, however, look kindly on him in topical questions. We shall see.