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Education: School Leavers

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 16 January 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the statement by the Confederation of British Industry that pupils leaving school should be “rounded” and “grounded”; and, what steps they plan to take to ensure education policies support that objective.

My Lords, the Government welcome the CBI’s report. We share the view that all pupils should leave school prepared for the next stage of their life in education or work. Our reforms to qualifications, the review of the national curriculum, the raising of the participation age and the introduction of a pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils all testify to this. The academies and free schools programmes give head teachers the freedom they need to achieve the CBI’s vision.

I thank the noble Baroness for that response but does she believe that the Government understand the importance of pupils developing emotional and social skills and that such skills enhance academic learning? I cannot believe that they do understand that because we have now been waiting for well over a year for a review of the curriculum, as well as for a review of personal, social and health education in schools, which has not appeared. Can she say where this review has got to?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s expertise in this subject and to her support for PSHE, which I know is widely shared around this Chamber. It is true that we have not yet announced the outcomes from the PHSE review, which has been extended to take account of the review of the national curriculum. Perhaps I may reassure the noble Baroness by saying that, in its latest report, Ofsted said that 75% of the schools it visited were providing good or outstanding PSHE education. Therefore, although it is not statutory, that figure is encouraging. However, we shall of course be monitoring the situation.

My Lords, we are constantly told that we are short of engineers in this country. CBI director-general John Cridland has said:

“Businesses have traditionally focused on education at 14 plus, but it’s clear we need to tackle problems earlier, instead of applying a sticking plaster later on”.

What are the Government doing to encourage exciting and vibrant maths and science teaching at primary schools, particularly those with lower attainment levels?

My noble friend picks up a very important point from the report, and it was encouraging to see that now almost one in five maths graduates is choosing to go into teaching. Among the initiatives going on, I highlight one under which eight universities are delivering the two-year master’s-level mathematic specialist teacher programmes, which aim to improve the practice and efficiency of primary maths teaching by upskilling existing teachers who in turn train their colleagues. This year, our funding for that programme alone amounts to £2 million.

My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Baroness whether the Government have a policy on helping young people in secondary schools to learn about and to acquire what used to be called the soft skills. By those, I mean interpersonal skills, including relationships skills, self-confidence, leadership, teamwork, communication skills and many others, all of which are very important both in the workplace and in raising a family.

Indeed, it is vital that young people come out of school with the soft skills which the noble Lord has highlighted. As far as parenting skills and others are concerned, there are of course different programmes, including the PSHE programme which so many schools are following. How schools address these matters specifically is for each school to determine locally.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that if pupils are to leave schools rounded, they will have studied and practised the arts within the reformed curriculum? Imaginative capacities are increasingly important, both for the employability of individuals and for the competitiveness of businesses.

Of course the arts are of particular importance. We touched on this in Questions and debates earlier this week. The Government fully support this, and there are various funding streams going into support of the arts. The issue seems to be that they do not appear in the EBacc, but of course not all schools do the EBacc. In any event, there will always be 20% to 30% of the timetable for such things as creative subjects, which are so vital to individuals and the country.

My Lords, is the Minister able to confirm that any future Statements on the school curriculum, including the English Baccalaureate, will include a greater emphasis on the provision of physical education? The current derisory agreement is that there will be a minimum of one hour per week of physical education. The CBI’s aspirations that school leavers be grounded and rounded may otherwise have different connotations when one realises the serious obesity problems with school beginners rather than school leavers.

My noble friend makes her point in her own inimitable way. Of course, PE is an essential component of the school timetable. The amount of time that is spent on it is, again, a matter for schools to determine for their pupils and circumstances. However, particularly following on from the tremendous Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, we would not wish to see the initiative for sport lost.

My Lords, research undertaken by MORI for the Department for Education itself has shown that courses in the creative arts, physical education, design and technology and business studies are now disappearing from schools as a result of the new, narrow EBacc performance measure by which schools will be judged. Will the Government now accept the CBI’s proposal that the EBacc be suspended so that the impact on schools can be properly assessed, before these cuts in courses become irreversible?

My Lords, the EBacc has already had some very beneficial effects on children from disadvantaged backgrounds; we have seen their levels of attainment improving. The EBacc is not for everybody, and there will be alternative provision. We will certainly be monitoring the impact on the arts, sport, and all those other subject areas which are so important within the educational programme.

My Lords, in terms of the roundedness of arts, sport and faith studies, the key issue is: how can the experiences and studies of pupils be recorded and monitored so that they can carry with them a proper record of their achievements and learning in those areas?

The right reverend Prelate makes an important point. Of course, there will be recording of the sorts of achievements that young people make at their schools that are not subject to formalised end testing. I agree with him and, indeed, with the other questions that we have heard that sometimes those are the most important parts of a young person’s education. It is not necessarily the end exams that tend to show how people can progress; sometimes those personal skills are far more important for a successful and rewarding life.