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Schools: Data, Digital and Financial Literacy

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to designate data, digital, and financial literacy as compulsory subjects in primary and secondary schools in England.

My Lords, data, digital and financial literacy all feature in compulsory national curriculum subjects. For example, data literacy is covered within mathematics, science, computing and geography, digital literacy within computing and relationships, sex and health education, and financial literacy within citizenship and mathematics. They also feature within the subject content of GCSEs which count within the English baccalaureate. The statutory national curriculum tests and assessments, the Ofsted inspections and the EBacc further encourage schools to teach these subjects.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree, considering so many of the challenges facing particularly our young people in online and offline situations, that it would be helpful to do more than encourage effective quality data on digital and financial literacy—not just through school but throughout life? That would be beneficial not just to young people but to all people.

I absolutely agree with my noble friend that all those are critical skills, and that is why they are woven through the curriculum at all stages, and why we put particular emphasis in the new T-levels on digital skills.

My Lords, given the importance of this subject and the risks that children in particular run on a daily basis with the internet, why have the Government not seized a golden opportunity in the Online Safety Bill to set minimum standards for digital and media literacy in schools and give Ofcom greater powers in terms of media literacy strategy?

Our Online Safety Bill goes a long way to addressing the concerns that the noble Lord rightly raises, but I should like to reassure him that some of that is also reinforced by the work that we are doing at every key stage in our schools.

My Lords, recently I had the privilege of serving on your Lordships’ Communications Committee. What came through consistently in our inquiry into the effects of technology on the creative industries was the need for creative and artistic literacy as well as digital literacy—we need STEAM, not just STEM. I speak as a former scientist deeply committed to science and technology. Does the Minister agree and, if so, what can the Government do to enable that, given their reluctance to review the national curriculum and prioritise arts more?

The right reverend Prelate raises an important point. Certainly, when I was talking to a number of young people recently, they raised exactly the same issues as he does. I do not think that there is any resistance at all from the Government about the importance of a STEAM curriculum; we talk a lot about STEM, but we also talk a lot about our vibrant and incredibly successful creative industries. Our commitment to the teaching workforce has been that, during this period of recovery post Covid, there will be no changes to the national curriculum.

My Lords, seeing that, according to last year’s Ofcom research, 6% of households —1.6 million—have no internet access, have the Government looked closely at the relationship between that and digital literacy in schools? If so, what do they conclude and how many children do they estimate that this affects?

If one looks from the other end of the telescope, the noble Earl will be aware that the Government were proactive during Covid in making sure that children who could not access a laptop and the internet were given equipment to be able to do so.

My Lords, my party has long been calling for reform of the citizenship curriculum to include practical life skills such as budgeting and, most importantly, young people staying safe online. Are the Government still committed to keeping the curriculum in England as it is at present, despite large gaps in the current provision for the children and young people of the 21st century?

I have the advantage of having the citizenship curriculum in front of me. I should like to reassure the noble Baroness and the House that it absolutely covers the issues that she raises. It looks at saving, spending and use of money through key stages 1 and 2 but, in particular, budgeting and managing risk at key stage 3 and beyond.

My Lords, I strongly support the far-seeing proposal of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. Every country in Europe is teaching its students up to the age of 16 in digital, computing and technical skills. Some 90% of our students in school today are taught nothing about artificial intelligence, computer-assisted design, cybersecurity, virtual reality or networking online and coding. Is it not time for torpor and indifference to disappear? The Department for Education and its Ministers should now recognise that they should bring in a curriculum based upon our digital age.

My Lords, while reviewing the school curriculum, will the Minister ensure that pupils have access to compulsory courses on ethics and human rights? This would help to ensure that future generations are relieved of the pain caused by directors of profiteering companies and members of the Government who may be inclined to flout international laws and human rights.

The noble Lord makes a broader point. Many of those issues are indeed covered in the curriculum. Specifically in relation to financial choices, there is dedicated time to look at social and moral dilemmas, to which the noble Lord refers, within the citizenship curriculum today.

My Lords, the APPG on Financial Education for Young People’s recent report alarmingly highlighted that 41% of secondary school teachers in England said they did not think that financial education is required as part of the curriculum, and a further 15% did not know. Does the Minister agree with the APPG’s recommendation that Ofsted undertake a series of deep dives into financial education provision across schools as a matter of urgency?

I am very sympathetic to the issues that my noble friend raises, but our approach to these issues has been to weave them through multiple aspects of the curriculum. My noble friend will be aware that, for example in relation to maths and computing, this is something that Ofsted will regularly be doing deep dives into when it is inspecting individual schools.

My Lords, while I agree very much with what my noble friends Lord Holmes and Lord Baker said, I ask my noble friend to look very carefully at the history curriculum. It really is shameful that young people do not have history as a compulsory subject after the age of 14. It is also shameful that most of them leave school knowing very little about the history of their own country, of Europe or of any part of the world. They have certain samples, such as the Nazis and the Tudors, but there is no chronology. Can we look at that?

My Lords, independent research by Cambridge University, published by the Money and Pensions Service, suggests that money habits are formed as early as the age of seven. This shows that educating children about money at primary school is very important. Has the Minister heard of GoHenry, a charity set up by parents that gives a prepaid debit card to children, along with an educational app so they can understand financial affairs? If she has not, will she meet them? It might be of interest in developing this curriculum.

I have heard of it, but I would also be delighted to meet them. Just to repeat, at the earliest stage, at key stage 1, the compulsory curriculum includes helping children understand how they make choices about how to spend, how to save and how to use money.

My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to improve the balance between technical, academic and creative subjects in schools so that all pupils have the opportunity to pursue and develop knowledge and skills in the areas for which they are best suited, rather than being left behind if they do not achieve five good GCSEs?

I thank the noble Lord for the question. He is aware that the Government are very committed to improving the quality of our skills offer, hence the reforms we have made at level 3 qualifications and the introduction of T-levels. It is not just at schools: we are really stressing the opportunities for young people across a range of apprenticeships and other routes into the workplace so that they can realise their potential.