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Schools: Curriculum and PSHE Reviews

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with their reviews of the school curriculum and of personal, social and health education.

My Lords, since we launched our review of the national curriculum in January, we have undertaken a call for evidence and are currently analysing the responses. We will announce our proposals on the issues covered by the first phase of the review by early next year. So far as PSHE is concerned, we have been considering the scope and timing of the review announced in the schools White Paper, and we will announce further details shortly.

I thank the Minister for that response and for holding a meeting with me yesterday, which was very useful. Given that parents and children have called for personal, social and health education in the curriculum as part of their life skills education, does the Minister agree that we already have a body of knowledge about this subject and a lot of skills? Is it not time to stop reviewing and to do some implementation?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the time she gave yesterday to discussing PSHE with me and for the advice she gave to my officials. I hope that she will carry on doing that as the review continues. I know from our meeting how impatient the noble Baroness is to make progress and I agree with her that a lot of information is available. However, we want to hold a proper review and to co-ordinate it with the separate review into the national curriculum that is also going on. But her admonition to get a move on is ringing in my ears.

My Lords, in relation to the co-ordination just mentioned by the Minister, will the Government bear in mind the beneficial effects on children’s achievement in other subjects across the curriculum of high-quality PSHE courses? It gives them the skills with which to learn, as well as the self-confidence, the ability to undertake teamwork and all the other qualities needed in order to become effective learners across the whole of the rest of the curriculum. That is why it is so important that these two reviews are properly linked together.

I agree with my noble friend. I know how knowledgeable and passionate she is in this area, like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. I will continue to look to my noble friend’s advice as we go forward on this.

My Lords, are the Government considering including financial literacy as an obligatory element of the national curriculum? It seems to me that it is an essential skill for citizens going forward in this country.

My Lords, generally we are keen to ensure that the national curriculum is as little overloaded as possible because we believe that one should make space in the school day for important subjects such as financial literacy. PSHE would be another good example. That is why we are trying to simplify and reduce the burden of the national curriculum, to leave schools more discretion and time to decide on the subjects they want to teach and the best and most appropriate way to do so, knowing their children.

How much consideration has been given to helping teachers and, therefore, children understand their emotional responses in bereavement, given that we know that 10 per cent of school children are bereaved of either a parent, sibling or close friend and that those who do not have support become victims of bullying and have a higher instance of depression, suicide, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, and so on?

Again, my Lords, I agree with those points. Part of what one would want to look at in the review is what support children need and therefore what support teachers need to make sure those children have the appropriate knowledge and skills.

My Lords, have the Government considered what effect their policies to introduce free schools and particularly schools of different religious denominations will have on personal and social education, particularly education on sexual and reproductive health?

I am not sure that any of those developments would have an impact in the way that my noble friend implies. The requirements on schools, whether they are free schools, academies or maintained schools, are not changed in any regard by any of the reviews that are currently being carried out.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that once again Michael Gove has jumped the gun by changing the school league tables to reflect the new English Baccalaureate subjects before the curriculum review, which might have recognised the vital importance of PSHE, has been completed?

I do not, my Lords. There are two separate processes at work. The national curriculum review is rightly a process that we are working through to look at which subjects should be in the national curriculum. The English Baccalaureate review was to provide us with a snapshot of what is already going on in schools. The English Baccalaureate is not compulsory in the way that some elements of the national curriculum will be, and they demonstrate different things.

The desire to introduce the English Baccalaureate quickly was driven by our concern that too many children, particularly children from poor backgrounds, are being denied the opportunity to study academically rigorous subjects. I am sure the noble Baroness will know how wide the discrepancy is between children on free school meals and children not on free school meals in terms of their current study of what some people would call rigorous academic subjects. Four per cent of children on free school meals study the English Baccalaureate subjects as opposed to 17 per cent on non-free school meals. I do not think that is acceptable. Highlighting the issue and making people realise that there are these discrepancies will help give children from poor backgrounds, in particular, the opportunity to have academic subjects taught to them, which in turn will help them get into universities, which I know is a goal we all share.