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Session 1999-2000
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Foundation Subject (Amendment) (England) Order 2000

Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 9 February 2000

[Mr. John Maxton in the Chair]

Draft Foundation Subject (Amendment) (England) Order 2000

4.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Foundation Subject (Amendment) (England) Order 2000.

The order was laid before the House on 24 January and has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The order contains three proposals. First, it creates under section 354(6) of the Education Act 1996 a new national curriculum foundation subject of citizenship in key stages 3 and 4 from the start of the school year 2002. Secondly, under section 354(4)(a), it gives schools the power to offer pupils the opportunity to study any modern foreign language in addition to one or more of the official languages of the European Union--under the foundation subject of modern foreign languages--from the start of the school year 2000. Thirdly, it changes the designation of the foundation subject of art to one of art and design from the start of the school year 2000.

The Committee will be aware that between 13 May and 23 July 1999 the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority consulted on proposals from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment for revising the national curriculum. The main aims of the review and the proposals were to ensure stability in schools by restricting change to the essential minimum; to develop a more explicit rationale for the school curriculum; to ensure a more inclusive framework for all pupils; to align key stage 1 and 2 programmes of study in English and mathematics with the national frameworks for teaching literacy and numeracy; to ensure less prescription and more flexibility, including building on flexibilities recently introduced in key stage 4; to maintain national standards in all subjects; and to establish more explicit and coherent provision in personal, social and health education and citizenship. The overall objective was to ensure that the statutory framework, including the national curriculum is manageable for schools.

In practical terms, the proposals published for consultation in May included the three changes covered by the order, revisions to programmes of study and attainment targets for existing national curriculum subjects to meet the aims and objectives that I have just mentioned, as well as non-statutory guidelines for personal, social and health education and citizenship at key stages 1 and 2 and for personal, social and health education at key stages 3 and 4.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority consulted widely on review proposals. A full set of consultation materials, including revised programmes of study and attainment targets for national curriculum subjects and the proposals for citizenship and personal, social and health education were sent, with a detailed questionnaire, to a sample of 1,000 schools in England. All remaining schools were sent the proposals for citizenship and personal, social and health education. In addition 4,000 copies of the questionnaire and consultation materials were sent to other major organisations, including central education organisations, subject organisations, professional associations, local education authorities and faith groups. In all, nearly 80,000 copies of the proposals for citizenship and personal, social and health education and more than 50,000 copies of the full consultation materials were distributed. In addition to the paper consultation, MORI held discussions with focus groups of teachers, parents and governors.

Questionnaire responses were received from nearly 2,500 people and organisations, including more than 600 schools, nearly 1,000 teachers, almost 200 parents, nearly 100 school governors, 90 local education authorities and more than 20 employers. Details of the questionnaire responses and the responses of the focus groups, which were published in September, showed support for the consultation materials. The majority of respondents agreed that the proposed changes would increase flexibility in the curriculum, including at key stage 4, and supported the revised programmes of study and the proposals for citizenship and personal, social and health education.

In the light of advice from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority following those extensive consultations, my right hon. Friend published his decisions. After a subsequent consultation under section 368 of the Education Act 1996, the revised national curriculum was published in handbooks that were sent to all schools and posted on the internet in November, almost a year ahead of the date when the majority of changes are due to come into effect.

The order is the first part of a two-part process. The next stage will be to lay orders under section 356(2) of the Education Act 1996 to give effect to the revisions to the programmes of study for existing national curriculum subjects from the start of the school year 2000, and to the programmes of study and attainment targets for citizenship at key stages 3 and 4 from the start of the school year 2002.

The changes in the order are sensible and, in some cases, overdue. We are renaming art as art and design, because the new title better reflects the essential relationship between art and design. It also recognises the importance of the creative industries in the economy and highlights the role of design in stimulating creativity in industry and commerce.

The change to modern foreign languages will allow schools greater flexibility. European Union languages will have priority, as before, except that there are two recent additions--Finnish and Swedish. As long as the offer of an EU language is made, any other modern language can be taught. It will be for schools to decide whether a language can be taught effectively according to the programme of study, and whether suitable assessment or examination is available. The list of eligible languages will be dropped. That will allow a much wider range of languages to be taught in schools, which will be especially helpful in areas where large concentrations of pupils wish to learn non-EU modern foreign languages.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am intrigued at the reference to the list of eligible languages being dropped, resulting in any modern language being permissible. Is the Minister satisfied that the examination process will be able to deal with that, bearing in mind past difficulties relating to languages with very few students?

Jacqui Smith: The right hon. Gentleman clearly has significant experience in these matters and understands the challenges involved. I have tried to make it clear that the choice of schools will be dependent on their being able to deliver the necessary assessment. It will follow that, where there is a demand for subjects, examination boards will respond to that demand. There will be two different stages to the process.

We believe that the changes proposed in the order better reflect the changing needs of our society and pupils, and will help to fulfil those needs by giving schools the flexibility that they need to react to local demand.

Our plans for citizenship involve broader curriculum developments. Reflecting current practice, citizenship is included as part of the non-statutory guidelines for personal, social and health education at key stages 1 and 2. However, for citizenship at key stages 3 and 4, we see a need for a more distinct statutory provision to reflect the greater emphasis on community involvement, critical thinking and informed discussion within the programme of study.

The statutory provision for citizenship as a new foundation subject in secondary schools will take effect from the start of the school year 2002, because although most secondary schools offer some teaching in citizenship, it is often not as comprehensive and coherent as the programme published as part of the national curriculum review. Time will be needed for schools to prepare. We have published the details almost three years early so that schools will have time to prepare and to build up their good practice in that area.

Our plans for citizenship have been known for some time. The support for them expressed during the consultations on the national curriculum review builds on the public support that followed the final report of the National Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools, published in September 1998. The group, chaired by Professor Bernard Crick, was privileged to have the Speaker of the House of Commons as its patron, and Lord Baker, the architect of the national curriculum, as a member. It had cross-party support, and I know that many Members of the House welcomed its work and its recommendations.

That is not surprising. Citizenship education is much needed and long overdue. Modern society is complex and changing fast. Young people are exposed to a wide range of personal, social, political and moral questions as they grow up. Their lives are affected by current local, national and international issues and problems related to, for example, the environment, our role in Europe, and the impact of technology on individuals and society. In life, those young people will assume different roles and responsibilities as friends, neighbours, work colleagues, consumers, voters, employers and parents. We would be failing in our responsibilities to them if we did not ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to respond to those challenges. Young people, who say that they want greater knowledge and understanding of politics and contemporary moral and social issues, and more opportunities to have a real say and to exercise real responsibility.

Citizenship education will teach pupils about the human and legal rights and responsibilities of citizens as individuals and as members of communities and the wider society, and about our economy, democratic institutions and the importance of elections and voting in those elections. They will learn about the diversity of society and the need for mutual respect and understanding. The crucial importance of that was sharply brought home by the McPherson inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence.

Through citizenship, pupils will learn to reason and develop the critical thinking skills needed to reflect on and discuss difficult moral and political questions, and develop the skills and confidence to play their part in the life of their schools, neighbourhoods and communities and the wider world. They will gain practical experience of exercising responsibility--through, for example, schools councils, involvement in drawing up and managing schools' anti-bullying policies and taking part in peer support schemes and self-managed projects that will encourage team work and helping others.

The value of citizenship education is recognised by young people, teachers and schools, many of which already provide some teaching in that area. The programme that we have developed is flexible, and will encourage schools to make the most of what they already do, teach different aspects in different depths and be innovative in their approach. We aim thereby to build on current practice and extend it to all schools.

The draft order sets out sensible and long overdue changes to the national curriculum, which are designed to improve the entitlement that it offers to all pupils. It is right that it should be approved, and I commend it to the Committee.

4.57 pm


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