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Volume 575: debated on Monday 10 February 2014

The new national curriculum sets out high expectations of what teachers should teach, but gives them much more flexibility over how to do it. Teachers have the freedom to try new approaches and do things differently in a way that benefits students. A longer school day would also enable schools to build confidence and resilience, as well as the core academic skills vital to success.

I would like—once again—to thank the Minister for meeting me and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) last Monday to discuss mindfulness in education, and I would also like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister for the measurement of well-being, but what more can the Minister and her Department do to use mindfulness in education to raise educational attainment and improve student well-being?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for our excellent meeting last week, which I thought was very helpful. I have taken the research he put forward, and one of the Department’s education policy advisers is considering it in detail and examining the evidence. I note that 120 schools already participate in mindfulness programmes, and also that several Members of this House are using it to improve their performance.

The early-years foundation stage framework makes it clear that by the time children reach the reception class at primary school, the majority of the school day should be spent in teacher-led activities, rather than child-initiated play. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure that the framework is correctly interpreted by schools and that we do not continue to see the dominance, particularly in weaker primary schools, of so-called free-flow methods, which delay children being taught to read and entrench the attainment gap between those from wealthy and those from poorer backgrounds?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. High-quality, teacher-led early-years education is vital to closing the gap between those on the lowest and those on the highest incomes. At the moment, when those children arrive at school, there is an 18-month vocabulary gap, which is why we are keen, and Ofsted has confirmed, that although there should be no decision about exactly what type of teaching takes place, it should be of a high quality and it should raise the attainment of children and close that gap before they arrive at school.

When the Secretary of State opened the Krishna Avanti Hindu school in Leicester, he saw a room dedicated to yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Unfortunately, it was such a quick visit, he could not take advantage of its benefits. However, there is a proposal to open a secondary school, so would the Minister consider opening that school and perhaps making use of the benefits of such a room in any discussions that she or the Secretary of State might have with Ofsted?

That certainly sounds like an interesting invitation, although I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State is very mindful in the Department for Education. There are a number of free schools pioneering these types of approach, and that is one of the reasons we give schools autonomy over how to teach—so that they can explore new and innovative ideas and new ways of delivering high-quality education.

Does my hon. Friend agree it is vital that schools have the freedom to choose which external programmes they adopt and have the flexibility to try novel approaches they believe might benefit their pupils overall?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why the new national curriculum is much more flexible over how teachers teach. We want to see high attainment and high expectations. Also, a longer school day gives schools more freedom to explore different activities with children to help raise their resilience and confidence.