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Schools: Primary Curriculum

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 26 February 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take into account all relevant contributions to the consultation on the Rose Review of the Primary Curriculum which ends on 28 February.

My Lords, Sir Jim Rose’s independent review of the primary curriculum has carried out extensive consultation with teachers, subject experts, researchers and inspectors. Sir Jim will consider all contributions and evidence gained from his meetings and visits, as well as those gained from the wider consultation on his interim report. The Government look forward to receiving Sir Jim’s final report and recommendations, which are expected in the spring.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but will she say why the detailed programme for Professor Rose’s six areas of learning was completed two whole months before the end of the consultation period, thus pre-empting anything other than minor tinkering at the margins? Will she also say why the teaching unions and local authorities have effectively been shut out, as they were told at a meeting at the department that the curriculum framework is already agreed and the QCA has nearly completed the work on the programmes of learning and progression statements? Does that not really make a mockery of the word “consultation”?

My Lords, Sir Jim Rose’s review is very inclusive, involving consultation, as I said, with professionals and curriculum experts. I should have said also that more than 5,000 young people have been consulted in the past year. Recent online surveys have gathered views from 700 teachers and nearly 1,000 parents. I do not accept the noble Baroness’s analysis, although I will take her views back to the department and ensure that they are dealt with, along with the concern that she has expressed.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the procedures followed in this consultation were those to which government departments are committed?

My Lords, as I said, we are very much looking forward to receiving Sir Jim’s final report. He has produced an interim report, which has prompted great debate. With regard to the primary curriculum and statutory changes, there will of course, as I think the noble Baroness is inferring, be proper consultation as agreed within government.

My Lords, would the Minister consider the possibilities of using exhibitions, such as the excellent exhibition at the British Library on the history of British freedoms, which are so important? There are also exhibitions on science. That is part of what we should include in the consultation to ensure that science and history are given a high priority in primary education.

My Lords, my noble friend gives me the opportunity to say that Sir Jim was very clear in his interim report that there has been concern about the focus on subjects such as history and whether we may be returning to the days when there was no subject teaching. He has been clear that that should not be an either/or choice. I believe that we should make the most of the excellent and very popular museums that we have in London. Also, as I said, Sir Jim is consulting subject experts, who are very much a part of our museum tradition.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that subject-based learning provides children with depth and understanding of those subjects, while theme-based learning will make children jacks of all trades and masters of none?

My Lords, as I just said, Sir Jim has been very clear that it is not about either/or. This review of the curriculum is looking to build on the development that children go through in the foundation learning tier into the primary curriculum and key stages 1 and 2. It is very much about creating continuity between primary and secondary. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but we have to create continuity in subjects, which means that subject teaching will remain important in primary so that we can promote that continuity into secondary.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the interim report strongly draws attention to the importance of developing social, emotional and relationship education? Does she agree that this subject—if you can call it a subject—or these skills are best taught partly in the classroom but also in the whole life of the school? Can she confirm, or assure the House, that all head teachers in primary schools will be given the necessary training to be able to deliver these skills effectively?

My Lords, I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord. When the review was commissioned, we were absolutely clear that it needed to focus on the social, personal and emotional attributes essential for young people’s health and well-being. That focus is clearly reflected in the interim report, as is the role of SEAL, which we have talked about often in this Chamber. As regards PSHE, we have already talked about the importance of training and made clear our commitment to training for teachers. Primary heads are very much part of that training need. The review is extremely important in taking stock of how far we have come with the primary curriculum and making sure that it is responsive to the needs of the 21st century.

My Lords, why did the Government think it necessary to set up their own independent review when the Cambridge review, the largest review of primary education for 40 years, was already under way? Would it not have been sensible to have waited for the Cambridge review to report and to have made suggestions after it had been published?

My Lords, I am sure that there will be a great deal of cross-fertilisation between the Cambridge review and Sir Jim’s review. I know that those involved have been in close contact. Those in the education community in this country are very keen to learn from one another. I am absolutely sure that the work will feed in.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness assure us that the concerns of teachers about Sir Jim’s interim report will be taken on board, not least those of the teachers of very young children who feel that the curriculum suggested in the interim report is far too rigid for three to four year-olds?

My Lords, I asked whether the noble Baroness could reassure us that the concerns of teachers about the interim report will be taken on board.

My Lords, I very much reassure the noble Baroness that continuity, as children move from early years foundation into key stages 1, 2 and then 3, is very much at the heart of what Sir Jim is looking at. The whole point of having the review is to take on board teachers’ concerns about the need for flexibility and to have space in the curriculum to personalise it. That is extremely important for children coming in from early years, who may be at different stages of development and readiness for school.