My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place.
“Mr Speaker, with your permission, I should like to make a Statement to accompany today's publication of the coalition Government’s White Paper on schools.
England is fortunate to have so many great schools, so many superb teachers and so many outstanding head teachers. Their achievements deserve to be celebrated, and I was delighted that, last week, the Prime Minister and I were able to meet hundreds of the very best school leaders in Downing Street, congratulate them on their work and welcome their commitment to the academy programme.
We are fortunate that our school system has important strengths, but our commitment to making opportunity more equal means that we cannot shy away from confronting its weaknesses. We are failing to keep pace with the world's best-performing education nations. In the past 10 years, we have slipped behind other nations, going from fourth in the world for science to 14th, seventh in the world for literacy to 17th, and eighth in the world for mathematics to 24th. At the same time, the gulf in the opportunities available to the rich and the chances given to the poor has grown wider; the gap between the A-level performance of children in independent schools and those in state schools doubled under Labour. In the last year for which we have figures, out of a population of 80,000 children eligible for free school meals, just 40 made it to Oxford or Cambridge, a drop from the previous year when just 45 made it. Social mobility went backwards under Labour, and it is the mission of this coalition Government to reverse that melancholy trend and make opportunity more equal so that we can become an aspiration nation once more.
If we are to make the most of the potential of every child, we need to learn from those countries that out-perform us educationally and have more equal societies. This White Paper does just that. It shamelessly plunders the best ideas from the highest performing education nations and applies them to our own circumstances. It is accompanied by an evidence paper that outlines the common features of the countries with the strongest school systems.
The single most important lesson, reflected in the title of our White Paper, is the importance of teaching. The best school systems recruit the best people to teach, train them intensively in the craft of teaching, continue to develop them as professionals throughout their career, groom natural leaders for headship positions and give great heads the chance to make a dramatic difference. That is why we will reform and improve teacher training by establishing a new generation of teaching schools on the model of teaching hospitals, outstanding schools that are showcases of the best in teaching practice; invest in doubling the number of top graduates who enter teaching through Teach First; create a new programme, Teach Next, to attract high performers from other professions into teaching; subsidise graduates in strategic subjects such as science and maths to enter teaching; and create a new Troops to Teachers programme to attract natural leaders from the Armed Forces into the classroom.
Because we know that the biggest barrier to recruiting and retaining good people in teaching is poor pupil behaviour, we will take decisive action on discipline. Unless order is maintained in the classroom, teachers cannot teach and children cannot learn. We will make it easier for teachers to impose detentions on disruptive pupils by abolishing the rule that requires 24 hours’ notice to be given. We will give teachers stronger powers to search students if they bring items into school intent on disruption, give teachers clearer rules on the use of force and protect teachers from false allegations made by disruptive and vindictive pupils if they act to keep order. We will support schools to introduce traditional uniforms, prefects and house systems, prioritise action to tackle bullying, especially racist and homophobic bullying, make it easier for schools to exclude disruptive children without the fear of seeing excluded children reinstated over their heads, and improve education for troubled young people by bringing in new organisations to run alternative provision for excluded pupils.
By improving behaviour, we can free teachers to raise standards. We will reform our national curriculum, so it is a benchmark that we can use to measure ourselves against the world’s best school systems instead of a straitjacket that stifles the creativity of our best teachers. We will slim down a curriculum that has become overloaded, overprescriptive and overbureaucratic by stripping out unnecessary clutter and simply specifying the core knowledge and strategic subjects that every child should know at each key stage. That will give great teachers more freedom to innovate and inspire, and we will support their drive to raise standards for all by reforming our exams. We will reform assessment in primary schools to reduce teaching to the test, make GCSEs more rigorous by stripping out modules, and make GCSE performance tables more aspirational by judging schools on how well all students do, not just in English and maths but in science, modern language, and humanities such as history and geography. We will reverse the last Government's decision to downgrade the teaching of proper English by restoring the recognition of spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSEs.
Because we know that it is great teaching and great teachers who improve schools, we will reduce the bureaucracy that holds them back and put them at the heart of school improvement. We will double the number of national leaders of education: outstanding head teachers with a mission to turn around underperforming schools. We will raise the minimum standards expected of all schools so that primaries and secondaries that fail to get students to an acceptable level and fail to have students making decent progress will be eligible for intervention. We will make £110 million available to create a new endowment fund to turn these schools around, and will introduce a reward scheme to make additional incentive payments available for great heads who improve underperforming schools.
In our drive to improve all schools, local authorities will be our indispensable partners. They will play a new role as parents’ champion, making admissions fairer so that parents choose schools rather than schools choosing parents, acting as a strong voice for the vulnerable by ensuring that excluded children and those with special needs are properly supported, and helping us as energetic champions of educational excellence. As more and more schools become increasingly autonomous, local authorities will increasingly step back from management and instead provide focused leadership—challenging underperformance, blowing the whistle on weak schools and commissioning new provision, whether from other high-performing schools, academy sponsors or free school promoters.
The need for thoroughgoing reform is urgent. Our competitors are all accelerating the pace of their education reforms. From America to Singapore and from New Zealand to Hong Kong, schools are being granted greater freedom, great teachers are being given more responsibilities and exams are being made more rigorous. We cannot afford to be left behind. In the last three years of the last Government, reform went into reverse. Schools lost freedoms. The curriculum lost rigour. Labour lost its way. Now, under this coalition Government, we are once more travelling in the same direction as the most ambitious—and the most progressive—nations. Schools spending is rising, with more money for the poorest through the pupil premium; education reform is accelerating, with one new academy created every working day; and standards are being driven up, with teachers now supported to excel as never before.
The programme we outline today affirms the importance of teaching at the heart of our mission to make opportunity more equal. There is no profession more noble, no calling more vital and no vocation more admirable than teaching. This White Paper gives us the opportunity to become the world’s leading education nation. I commend it to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this Statement in your Lordships’ House. I am not going to make the same jokes about punctuation and spelling within the Statement that were made in the other place. We have two tests that we will apply to education policy: first, will it help every school to be a good school and, secondly, will it help every child to be the best that they can? I am sure that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that we welcome important elements of this White Paper but, overall, it fails the tests that we have set rather miserably.
This is a plan for some of our children but not for all of our children. I believe that the Government will have to work very hard to explain how this plan will not result in the damaging of morale in some schools, throwing them into decline and creating a new generation of failing schools. We welcome the retention of a floor target for secondary schools and the Government’s apparent change of heart about the role of targets in raising standards. This builds on Labour’s successful National Challenge programme and I, of course, welcome that. We welcome the expansion of Teach First, which we championed in government. Labour’s legacy, according to Ofsted, was “the best generation ever” of teachers and we share the Government’s aspiration to achieve the best teaching profession in the world. We also support anonymity for teachers who face accusations from pupils.
However, the Government’s overall direction is very worrying indeed. Their direction is driving us towards a two-tier education system. I support the focus on maths, English and science that we promoted vigorously when we were in government. We have seen the take-up of science doubling since 2004, and of course we set that direction in motion. By focusing entirely on the five academic subjects of the English bac, though, are the Government not encouraging schools to focus only on those children with a chance of achieving that particular batch of GCSEs? Is there not a huge danger of cementing the divide between academic and vocational qualifications, which really is not appropriate for the 21st century? There is a risk of the English bac becoming the gold standard by which schools are judged. The IPPR commented yesterday that:
“Schools will have an incentive to focus extra resources on children likely to do well in those subjects, rather than on children receiving free school meals”.
Is this really the right direction?
Is there not a risk that the pupil premium will not be spent on the children for whom it is identified? At a time when we all need to focus more on the 50 per cent of children who will not go to universities, is it not the case that the Government have very little to say to them today? The Government’s message today is that the vocational route is second best. Is there not a real danger that the combined effect of the announcements today will create a new generation of failing schools? Is it not the case that some improving schools will see themselves plummet down the league tables, damaging morale and risking throwing progress into reverse? Has the Minister considered that in detail? Many of those schools are the same ones that suffered from the Building Schools for the Future decisions. What hope can the Government give them today, having been through that experience, of extra support to raise standards for all their children, academic and vocational?
Teachers, support staff and careers advisers have worked so hard to reduce the divide between academic and vocational studies, to raise the aspirations of all children, and the Government seem to be throwing it away. How does that help to create the engineers of the future? There is a strong emphasis on teacher training in the White Paper and that is very interesting, but is there not a risk of ignoring the advice of experts? I know that there is an evidence paper but I have to be honest and say that I have not yet trawled all the way through it. Still, is there not a real risk of failing to listen to the experts? Ofsted said yesterday:
“There was more outstanding initial teacher education delivered by higher education led partnerships than by school-centred initial teacher training partnerships and employment-based routes”.
There is a real question there, and I am sure that the Minister will have something interesting to say on it.
Why are the Government planning to end university-led teacher training for a schools-based model? Why is that happening now? Will the Minister assure the House that it will not undermine the quality of teacher training and that it is not simply about cost cutting?
There is a much bigger contradiction that I am worrying about. Today the Government are laying down prescriptive standards for teacher training, but the message just a few days ago to free schools and academies was that they would be free to employ unqualified teachers. Is that not mixing the Government’s messages a bit and trying to have it both ways? This exposes a major flaw in the Government’s thinking, repeated throughout the White Paper. The Government talk a good game on central standards, but they say that they want schools to have the freedom not to adhere to them. So which is it—standards or freedom? Will the Government be clearer about that?
We support some of the proposals in the White Paper; indeed, we recognise that some important elements are built on our experience. I agree that improving teacher quality is key, but perhaps the Government are not going nearly far enough on that. This is because in reality, as we all know, the Government’s focus is on damaging structural reforms and pet projects like free schools, which are at best irrelevant for the vast majority of parents and at worst harmful, with poor facilities and untrained teachers. There are real risks in this structural obsession.
In the introduction, the Prime Minister quotes the 2006 PISA study to assert that our schools system is second-rate. Can the Minister tell the House how our young people compare using the more recent TIMSS study, which the White Paper commits to use as a future yardstick? Is it not the case that there is more recent evidence that makes a much better comparison and creates a much better picture of how our young people are doing? Is it not sad that that more recent evidence has been airbrushed out of the Prime Minister’s introduction?
In the Government’s rush to reform, mistakes are being made that will damage our education system. Ministers seem not to have learnt the lessons of the mayhem caused by the botched decision-making surrounding Building Schools for the Future. At the most crucial moment in our sporting history, on the eve of a home Olympics and on the very day of the opening of the Ashes, why are Ministers abandoning a school sports system that the Australians have called world-leading? Is this not ideology going too far in the face of really positive results achieved by school sports partnerships around the country? Does this not embody the Government’s approach to education—competitive sport for the elite, and forget about the rest in spite of the evidence to the contrary?
Ministers have been briefing newspapers that they will abandon the local authority role in school funding, but then telling the BBC the opposite. Quite apart from the protocol of coming to Parliament first on these matters, with the local authority acting as the parents’ champion and champions of excellence in our new free school world, can the Minister explain what powers local authorities will have to exercise this advocacy? In particular, will they have any powers to intervene in order to raise standards?
Is not the Government’s biggest mistake to destabilise the school system by telling schools at this incredibly late stage in the budgeting process that their budgets are protected, raising expectations, and by continuing to mis-sell the pupil premium? I have said before that I remain to be convinced that the pupil premium is anything but a con. It does not look very additional to me—in fact, it looks as if the areas of greatest deprivation will lose out. I look forward to being proved wrong on that. Will the Minister confirm that when schools receive their budgets in a couple of weeks’ time, those in the most deprived areas will be the biggest losers?
Far from helping all schools to be good schools and every child to be the best they can, this White Paper represents a plan for a fragmented and divided education system of winners and losers. This Government have nothing of substance to say to young people today. Vocational studies have been downgraded, apprenticeships for young people frozen and the EMA scrapped. As we sit here, listening to the helicopters circling and watching young people protesting outside, should we not all be worried that we are in danger of creating a lost generation as a result of an education system that confuses elitism with excellence for all?
My Lords, I welcome the points the noble Baroness made at the beginning of her comments about the areas where there is agreement. She knows, and the House knows, that I have always been quick to acknowledge areas where we have built on programmes introduced by the previous Government which have been successful, and I am happy to do so again today. The Secretary of State said in the Statement that he would be shameless about picking the best elements from systems in other parts of the world. I have the same magpie tendencies in terms of picking good things that the previous Government did on which we can build. The noble Baroness mentioned Teach First, for example. There is also agreement on floor standards, which I welcome, and the expansion of national leaders of education and local leaders of education, which we hope to double in size. More generally, there have been developments in recent years towards more partnership working in education, which I know the previous Government were keen on, as are we. There is quite a lot on which we can agree. Ditto the comments about anonymity around behaviour, which we all accept. If it can give teachers more support in their important work, we would be keen on that.
Where I cannot agree with the noble Baroness is in her contention that we are in some way downgrading the value of the vocational qualifications or want to introduce some kind of two-tier system. I am absolutely clear that the Government’s commitment to vocational qualifications is extremely strong. The noble Baroness did not refer to the increase in the number of apprenticeships, or to the debates that we have previously had in this House about university technical colleges and how we want to expand them. I personally am extremely committed to them and to studio schools, which were also pioneered by the previous Government. It absolutely is not the case that saying we want to raise academic standards and rigour implies or betokens any diminution of commitment to high-quality vocational, practical and technical skills. As the noble Baroness said, we absolutely want the engineers of tomorrow.
It is, if I may say so, a false choice to imply that having a more rigorous academic system will in some way damage the interests of the poorest children in society. We want to be in a situation where those children on free school meals and who suffer the greatest disadvantage—this is where the pupil premium comes in—will get the chance of a rigorous education and of going to university. They will have the chance to have their minds opened and extended by pursuing a broad range of academic subjects. The noble Baroness used the word “elitist”. I remember following the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, as he now is, around the Labour Party conference in 1997. She may think that is a rather odd thing for me to have done. He talked about the importance of merit and meritocracy. It is possible to use “elite” or “meritocracy”. I am unashamed in my support for raising standards and aspiration, and for wanting people from all backgrounds to have the chance to experience the best in education.
It is not the case that we want to see the end of initial teacher training provided by higher education institutions. However, where there is high-quality teacher training in schools, we think this is a good idea. Teaching schools can offer an important route for trainee teachers to gain experience in the classroom, learn from others, observe and improve their performance.
The noble Baroness talked about what she called the Government’s pet projects and our obsession—I think that was the word she used—with structural change. We have debated this many times before and I know we will again. I am not in any way obsessed by structural change; nor do I have an ideological approach to any of these reforms. It is simply our contention that giving schools, school leaders, head teachers and staff greater autonomy gives them the opportunity to do what they went into teaching to do. Structures are not the answer to everything; great teachers are the answer to everything. However, our structural changes will give those teachers more latitude and freedom to do what they want to do.
The role of the local authority will continue to be important. We look to work with local authorities to identify schools that are failing and to intervene to raise standards. As the system develops they could acquire new powers to intervene and to act as champions for parents in flagging up concerns and anxieties, perhaps calling in Ofsted to enable a proper, rigorous check to be carried out.
I listened to the case that the noble Baroness made on sport. I know that there is concern around this point. Despite the large sums of money that were spent on school sports partnerships, relatively few children were taking part in competitive sports either against other schools or within schools, and we needed to address that. However, the overall thrust of the White Paper is to give teachers more support. I hope to raise the esteem in which they are held. They are vital to all our interests. I hope that these reforms will set a direction in which we can get out of their hair, interfere with them less, give them a higher professional status and enable them to do what they came into teaching to do—to raise standards for all children, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds.
My Lords, I welcome the White Paper, partly because I have lost count of the number of Liberal Democrat policies contained within its covers and partly because it does not focus on structures but on high-quality teaching and learning and school leadership. I wish to ask my noble friend a few questions. As regards the teaching schools, will there be a cap on the percentage of trainee teachers who can teach children in those schools because children have a right to be taught by experienced teachers as well as by young, energetic ones? Given that it is very important for anybody undertaking training in anything to have time to reflect on their practice and share it with other people, will he ensure that even a single trainee teacher going through the school-based process in a small school will have time to undertake that reflection in some way, perhaps through a higher education institution? I welcome the fact that schools will be judged on the progression of their pupils as well as on absolute attainment. Some schools that do really well with children who start off with very low standards may therefore come out of the failing schools category because they are adding a lot of value. However, can the Minister say how that progression will be measured? Finally, as regards the further guidance on the use of force, can the Minister assure me that all teachers will be given training on the use of force, as are staff in young offender institutions? Will they be given training on how to defuse potentially inflammable situations? If they have to intervene physically in the final resort and when absolutely necessary, will they be given training on how to do that in a way that is safe for the child and for the teacher, and which ensures that the teacher does not land up in court?
I am grateful to my noble friend. The key point around the school-based training is that the quality has to be extremely high. We have to work through the detail of how we will work up the new teaching schools but I will feed back her point about the cap on trainee teachers. My noble friend made an extremely important point about the new floor standards introducing a measure of progression, not just attainment. I accept completely the force of her remarks that judging schools on pupils’ progression, taking into account pupils’ backgrounds and initial standards, is just as important as judging them on attainment. We are working up the detail of how those measures will work and I will be very happy to discuss those with my noble friend. I take the point about the use of force and getting that right. These are sensitive issues. I will come back to her on that and we can discuss further how best to go about it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. There is much that is good and valuable in this document. As a former teacher, I agree that teaching is a noble profession. However, it is a bit hyperbolic to talk about the melancholy trend under Labour. I cannot, of course, entirely agree with those remarks.
I welcome the importance of many issues that the noble Lord raised. I welcome the review of the early years’ curriculum; however, I am not sure how that can take place when one paragraph of the White Paper talks about removing the duty to co-operate with children’s trusts.
I have mentioned the reference to personal, social and health education and sexual relationship education. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is nodding. Many of us have for years supported those as great ways of encouraging young people to relate to each other and to improve their learning and ability to cope with life.
Paragraph 4.14 states that:
“Academies and Free Schools will retain the freedom … to depart from aspects of the National Curriculum where they consider it appropriate”;
yet there is a requirement for,
“a broad and balanced curriculum”.
Suppose that an academy or free school did not wish to teach personal, social and health education, for example. Would that not be against the best interests of the schoolchild and possibly the parents? I hope that the noble Lord can explain that tension. What exactly does the paper mean when it states that those schools can have freedom, given that it could possibly work against the best interests of the schoolchild?
I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness that there is much in the White Paper that she can support. I am extremely aware of her strength of feeling on PSHE, and I have had an education at her hands on a number of fronts on that subject during the passage of the Bill, as I have also had from my noble friend Lady Walmsley. On the noble Baroness’s specific point about the curriculum, which we debated during consideration of the independent school regulations which cover academies, some aspects of sex education teaching would be covered by those regulations. It is important and we know that academies teach those subjects.
My Lords, from these Benches, I, too, thank the Minister for the Statement, its comprehensive nature and, particularly, for the title of the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching. One might make only one improvement to that title by stressing the importance of teachers. Given that I have taught in secondary and higher education, and I have a wife who has given her life to teaching, the emphasis on teachers in the document is particularly encouraging. Pressures on teachers—administrative, evaluative and disciplinary—have undermined morale over the past few decades, and the emphasis on teachers is very helpful. The slimming down of the curriculum is also helpful. I remember a few decades ago that a contrast was always made between France and Britain. France had a highly developed and overprescriptive approach to the national curriculum, and it is encouraging to see something more slimmed down.
However, I still have some points. First, I wish for reassurance about the retention of key core subjects in a slimmed-down curriculum and what those subjects might be. Secondly, the idea of working innovatively in schools on curriculum development is welcome, but support for that in small and rural schools will be required, because the necessary support within the schools themselves will not be there. Some reassurance on that would be good.
We should not lose the higher-education element in the training of teachers, because if we really are going to train teachers to promote a liberal education, the higher education element is just as important as the instrumental work that happens in schools.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate that we could just as easily have called the White Paper “The Importance of Teachers”. I hope he, and other noble Lords, will accept that there is widely shared support on all sides of the House for teachers, for the important job that they do and for the status that we want them to have. As I said, there will be a review of slimming down the curriculum. We want to slim it down so that teachers have more latitude and more time in the school day to teach a broader range of subjects, as they think fit. However, the emphasis on the core subjects will be important, and the introduction of the English baccalaureate as a sign of the breadth of academic standards that a school offers will also help with content. I take the point about the importance of rural schools and making sure that arrangements there are properly taken into account. If schools increasingly work together in federations and partnerships, there will be more opportunities to deal with those arrangements. However, I think that we all need to reflect on the particular circumstances of rural schools, including small ones.
My Lords, I very much congratulate the Government on this White Paper because, even from a quick glance at it. There are a number of things that we can all applaud and look forward to seeing developed. I have two specific points to make. First, the idea of bringing in second-career teachers under the Teach Next programme is excellent as it will bring in a range of different disciplines to schools. Speaking as president of the NGA, I am particularly glad that there is a reference in the White Paper to the role of governors and, indeed, that there will be opportunities for the National College to train the heads of governing bodies. However, I should like to ask about children with special needs and perhaps those who are difficult. Specifically, will there be early intervention to check the needs of children who may have autistic or other problems so that they can be dealt with and supported earlier? Secondly, there is reference to an experiment in how head teachers can be held accountable when they exclude a child from class activities. Can the Minister give us a little more detail about that? It sounds very interesting.
I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s comments, particularly about governance, which she and I have discussed at length. The NGA has repeatedly pointed out to us the importance of training for chairs of governors. As the noble Baroness rightly says, we hope to improve that training and to make it available through the National College. The White Paper also talks about the importance of trained clerks—another subject which I know is dear to the noble Baroness’s heart. We also talk in the White Paper about the option that schools will have to change their system of governance. Again, this is not a compulsory change; it is part of our permissive approach. Moving to smaller governing bodies that are more strategically focused with particular skills, rather than numerically prescribed, is also an option. I completely agree with the noble Baroness’s point about early intervention, and we must make sure that that persists.
The suggestion in the White Paper about a pilot is to see whether it would be possible, as the noble Baroness correctly identified, to give the budget and responsibility for excluded children to head teachers to address the perception of some that some schools parcel out difficult children and then wash their hands of them. Like a lot of these issues, this might not be straightforward. We need to see how it would work, which is why we are piloting it, but that is the thought behind that statement.
I congratulate my noble friend on the emphasis that the White Paper places on the importance of teachers, the training of teachers and support for teachers. I should say in response to some of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that surely having the strongest possible teaching force must be the best way to help all children in all schools. I declare an interest; I am chairman of the council of the Institute of Education.
I have a couple more questions for my noble friend on school-based teacher training, which can be highly successful in the right school and with the right support. It is very expensive. Each Teach First graduate costs £38,000 to produce. Of course, schools have to be very well equipped and supported. I know that my noble friend is very enthusiastic about this and I, too, will be enthusiastic, provided I am reassured that the costs have been taken into account and that the schools that are chosen to do this important work will be supported and equipped. Is my noble friend in a position today to lift the curtain a bit on the balance that he sees between that school-based initial teacher training and the teacher training that will continue to take place in higher education institutions? Have I dreamt it, or will there be a Green Paper on those issues?
I am grateful for the comments made by my noble friend. I know of her concerns for and experience in raising the quality of teacher training. There is not a huge amount more that I can say in a detailed response to her question, but I shall be very happy to continue that debate with her. In the White Paper, we are seeking to set the direction of travel. Basically, we think that the more experience trainees can have in a classroom—to learn from experienced teachers and great heads whom we hope will come through our teaching school idea, to have constructive feedback and to learn from the best in the profession—the better. That is the balance that we seek. I shall respond to her separately on the detail of those thoughts, if I may.
My Lords, in view of the strong support voiced in all parts of your Lordships’ House for the continued inclusion of citizenship education in the national curriculum, will the Minister say whether he is in favour of it and, if so, why the White Paper does not appear to mention it?
In relation to part 6 of the White Paper, on accountability and governing bodies, although the proposal to ensure that under the new regime governing bodies should have a minimum of two parent governors is welcome, will that extend to academies? What proposals will there be for local authorities to nominate a representative to school governing bodies?
On governors, that is the model that applies to academies. Perhaps I can underline the point made in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that schools have the option to move to a freer arrangement of governance if they want it, but it is not something that we are saying they should do. It is absolutely the case that in many places the governors—I have been lucky enough to meet many of them—who have been nominated by local authorities, parents and community representatives, are doing an outstanding job, and I am sure that the schools would want to keep them.
Citizenship is an extremely important issue and one that many noble Lords have raised, including noble friends on this side of the House. I have in mind in particular my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who has strong views on this. I think that everyone accepts the importance of the subject. The review of the curriculum, which will be announced shortly, will look into these and other important issues.
My Lords, I welcome the attention that the White Paper gives to the teaching of languages in schools; indeed, some of the press reports this morning describe the impact of the proposals as restoring a virtually compulsory GCSE in languages in schools. However, will the Minister also acknowledge that there could be a very important role for a mechanism such as the Language Ladder to make sure that children who are not up to GCSE can have language teaching on a virtually compulsory basis until they are 16, too? I have been speaking recently to special needs teachers who have told me that children in their class with conditions ranging from Down's syndrome through to autism are learning a modern language and that it is hugely enjoyable and hugely beneficial for them. So I would not like to see the virtually compulsory nature of language teaching restored in schools only for children who can do GCSE. I would like to see it available for everyone.
My second, brief question to the Minister is this. The importance of teaching is clearly the overarching theme of the White Paper. If languages are to be more important and more prominent in the curriculum, we will need more language teachers. Will he acknowledge the importance for the quality of language teachers of the year abroad they spend as part of their degree as language assistants? In that context, will he please give urgent consideration to restoring to the British Council that element of its funding that runs the language assistants programme? It is currently in suspension for undergraduates from England and Wales, even though those from Northern Ireland and Scotland are currently involved in their applications and their allocations. Without that year abroad as a language assistant—
Given the time, I think the simplest thing would be if I speak outside this debate to the noble Baroness about her concerns about language. I would do that with great pleasure. I do not know about the Language Ladder scheme and would like to find out about it.