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Education: Politics A-level

Volume 767: debated on Tuesday 22 December 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to revise the Politics A-level curriculum.

My Lords, a public consultation on reformed content for politics AS-level and A-level closed on 15 December. We are analysing the responses and have already started work with the exam boards to develop the content in light of the views expressed. As always, we will listen carefully to the views of the sector and the wider public as part of this full consultation process.

Increasing awareness of the outstanding challenges facing gender equality requires young people to be familiar with the political thinkers and the movements that have generated progress to date. Why, then, do the Government intend to cut feminism and limit study to one political female thinker in the proposed politics A-level syllabus?

The noble Baroness will be aware that there is no requirement in the existing A-level criteria to study feminism. Exam boards have worked closely with universities on the proposed content. That is why the recently consulted-on content has identified three core political theories to be studied. But of course the work of key female thinkers can be included within those.

Why are the Government not supporting the continuation of A-level citizenship alongside A-level politics in circumstances where the Government’s anti-radicalisation programme and the National Citizen Service, of which I am a board member, indicate that at this moment in our history more than ever A-level citizenship, alongside A-level politics, is critical to the well-being and future of our country?

We certainly consider citizenship education important and will continue it within schools. But we believe that the revised content for A-levels and AS-levels that has been undertaken will ensure that the key elements of citizenship A-level will continue to be taught within different A-levels.

My Lords, will the Government encourage more learning of foreign languages, which is so important in life and to international politics?

Yes, we certainly do want to encourage the use of modern languages. We live in an ever-global world, and the more that young people and people heading into the workplace can speak foreign languages, the better their prospects in the economy.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply indicating that there has been an interchange between the exam boards and the universities. Does she accept that the people who have most to lose if the reform goes badly are in fact university teachers in this subject area? It is therefore important that a level of consultation with universities has been undertaken because that had somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent years.

I agree with the noble Lord, and certainly the reason for the new focus for the politics A-level is that universities have indicated that, if students study the three core political theories—conservatism, socialism and liberalism—at A-level, that best prepares them to be undergraduates. There has been and will continue to be close consultation on this. But, as I have said, there has been a public consultation which is now closed and exam boards are looking at the responses.

Would not a useful module in a politics A-level course be the subject of politics in the House of Lords? Students would discover essential facts such as that, under this five-and-a-half-year Government, there have been 123 government defeats in the House of Lords, whereas under a comparable five-and-a-half-year period under the last Labour Government, there were 325 defeats. Would not a splendid A-level question be: “Labour Governments get defeated three times more often than Tory Governments. Discuss”?

As someone who studied politics at A-level, I can certainly say that an understanding of the House of Lords would have helped me.

My Lords, picking up on my noble friend’s question about the issue of feminism in the curriculum, it is now more than 40 years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act, but the wage gap between men and women is still disappointingly wide. Should not young people understand the importance of equality, the history of what has happened with feminism and the future challenges that we all hope will be worked on together to achieve greater equality?

I agree with the noble Baroness. As I have said, the work of feminist thinkers absolutely can be studied within the new politics A-level once the content has been revised. Of course, feminism can also be studied within other A-levels. For example, in the reformed sociology specification, students must study issues of gender.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that we are going to look at broadening the presence of cadet forces in schools, because they do so much good both for local communities and for youngsters? While we are thinking about the military, perhaps the Minister would pass on our wishes for a safe Christmas and a successful new year to all of our forces deployed around the world looking after the safety of our nation.

I am very happy to join the noble Lord in wishing the best to our Armed Forces and to thank them for all they do for us. He is absolutely right. We are seeing an increase in the number of cadet forces in schools, particularly through extra-curricular activities. These help young people to learn about resilience and discipline, which are the character skills that this Government consider to be so important because they complement the academic side of education.

My Lords, I hope that we are not seeing a pattern developing here because, in addition to the A-level politics syllabus, the A-level music syllabus recently had to be changed because it featured 63 male composers and no female composers; now it includes five. With a nod to the season, do the Government have any plans to drop the female reproductive system from the biology syllabus?

My Lords, following on from the very unsatisfactory answer given by the Minister to my noble friend Lord Blunkett, will the Government consider making citizenship classes available to all students who are studying A-levels? Citizenship is absolutely key to the future governance of this country and, as my noble friend said, to issues such as radicalisation.

As I have said, citizenship education remains in schools. I am happy to raise the noble Baroness’s concerns with the department.

My Lords, are the Government prepared to give further thought to enabling all school leavers to have a citizenship ceremony such as the one recently conducted in your Lordships’ House and sponsored by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar? It was a most moving occasion and all our young people would benefit if they signified their citizenship and their responsibilities when they leave school.

Obviously, we have been putting power into the hands of head teachers, and I know that many head teachers offer citizenship baccalaureates and allow their students to do such things. But I think that it is best for schools to decide on what they believe is the best way of recognising the achievements of their students.