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Schools: Curriculum

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 20 June 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish the names and qualifications of all those who advised the Secretary of State for Education on the content of the recent curriculum review proposals for the teaching of primary school mathematics, science and English; and what international comparisons were used to inform the proposals.

My Lords, the Government are happy to publish a list of those who were consulted to inform the development of the draft curriculum documents published on 11 June, and we will do so shortly. The review has drawn on a wide evidence base, including an analysis of the English, mathematics and science curricula of high-performing education jurisdictions, which was published on 19 December 2011. I will send the noble Baroness copies of both documents.

I thank the Minister for that reply, particularly for offering to send me the specifics of the international comparisons on which the proposals have been made. However, is he concerned that three of the four members of the expert panel set up to advise the Government on the curriculum review are reported to be deeply unhappy with the proposals now announced by Michael Gove, which they describe as too narrow and overprescriptive? Is he also concerned about their allegation that the proposals are not drawn from the best available international evidence? Does not Michael Gove’s throw-away response to these concerns in the Commons on Monday, when he said that,

“advisers advise but Ministers decide”,—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/12; col. 603.]

give weight to the view that the expert panel’s evidence has been disregarded in favour of a small Gove clique of advisers in his own department?

First, a number of recommendations made by the expert panel were accepted by the Secretary of State. Secondly, although it is true that there were differences of opinion between some members of the expert panel, and between some of them and Ministers, a difference of opinion between Ministers and expert advisers is scarcely unheard of. However, Ministers ultimately have to take responsibility for their decisions. I think most of us in this House think that that is the way it should be. However, the key point of the proposals that the Government have brought forward is that we are trying to raise ambition and standards in our primary curriculum, particularly as a gap in attainment has opened up between the UK and other international jurisdictions and we are keen to try to narrow it.

My Lords, the reference to international comparisons reminds me that in foreign countries children often start learning languages at primary level, something in which the Secretary of State is very interested. Given the difficulties with the lack of teachers and the fact that many secondary schools have dozens of feeder primary schools, all of which might have taught a different language, will my noble friend the Minister look into language appreciation or language taster courses so that children get a foundation in foreign languages but do not study for too long a language which they may not be able to carry over to secondary level?

My Lords, as my noble friend will know, one of our proposals for the primary curriculum is to make the teaching of foreign languages compulsory at key stage 2. Those proposals are out for consultation. There is clearly an important question to be addressed about the quality of teachers and how to teach languages, because we have fewer than we need and there has been a drift away from modern languages in recent years. One of the things on which we will welcome views to the consultation over the next few months is how we can make sure that teachers have the support they need to ensure that languages can be taught at primary and secondary school.

Given the centrality of English in the whole of education, is the Minister aware that many in the profession are delighted with the steps taken to create a key stages 1 and 2 curriculum that meets our present and future needs? Can he therefore assure us that the Government will do their utmost to ensure the enthusiasm and competence of the teaching body to deliver this most promising curriculum?

My Lords, I am very aware of how important the whole issue of language development is to the noble Lord. I agree with him, and one of the things that we are seeking to emphasise in the new curriculum is the importance of the use of language and language development all the way through. I am grateful for his support for the changes that we are trying to make. As I have said, we will now consult on those proposals and we will certainly do all we can to make sure that teachers have the support to deliver this more ambitious curriculum.

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again but we cannot have the noble Baroness and the noble Lord both trying to speak at the same time. One of them needs to decide who is going to give way. It looks as if the noble Lord, Lord Winston, has given way.

Michael Gove’s somewhat bizarre curriculum review has achieved the stunning result of uniting the whole teaching profession, most academics and even his own advisers against his proposals. Precisely how many hours of physical education will remain within the curriculum in all primary schools? Is it mandatory? I ask the Minister that question against the background of an Olympic legacy that we have promised to the nation. If we do not have sport in schools, the legacy will be in tatters.

I do not agree with the noble Baroness’s basic premise on the nature of the response to the curriculum. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, has just demonstrated, many applaud what is in it, including many teachers who are already delivering such an approach. I agree that sport is important and it is remaining a compulsory part of the national curriculum. We will shortly publish the programmes of study that we propose will go alongside that requirement.