Draft Foundation Subject (Amendment) (England) Order 2000

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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Maxton, for the duration of this brief debate. We should like to raise several matters relating to the order, and the Minister has some important questions to answer.

The order brings about three main changes. First, it introduces citizenship into the national curriculum as a foundation subject for key stages 3 and 4. Secondly, it introduces the possibility of change in the current arrangements for the study of modern languages as a foundation subject at those key stages. Thirdly, it replaces the foundation subject of art with a new foundation subject of art and design. I shall not discuss the third element in any detail, but concentrate on the first two.

I am intrigued as to what the Government are trying to do in respect of foreign languages. The Minister implied that they want the current position to remain, but the order appears to open the door to change. It may assist the Committee if I set out my understanding of the existing arrangements, based on the Education Acts and subsequent statutory instruments.

A modern foreign language is a foundation subject at key stages 3 and 4. It has to be a language that is specified in an order by the Secretary of State. The relevant order dates from 1991, and has been amended since then. It lists 19 foreign languages, to which, interestingly, the Government have added Irish as a 20th subject. However, I note--in the light of today's events--that they have not added Welsh as a subject to be studied in England. The list carries an important qualification, namely that those languages in the list that are not official languages of the European Union can be foundation subjects only if all relevant pupils have the opportunity to study one or more of the official languages of the European Union.

The law ensures that priority is given to the languages of the European Union. Pupils can study a non-official language as a foundation subject only if they have had the opportunity to study an official European Union language. As it happens, the vast majority of pupils studying a modern foreign language at key stages 3 and 4 are studying an official European Union language. In the past year, about 480,000 out of 500,000 GCSE entries were in French, German or Spanish.

Why are the Government proposing to change the order-making power, when it clearly gives priority to official European Union languages? As I said, the Minister stated that it was the Government's intention to give priority to such languages, but the order appears to give the Secretary of State a power to provide that any foreign language can be a foundation subject at key stages 3 and 4. The explanatory note says:

    "an order need no longer specify a modem foreign language".

The Government are relaxing the restriction.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made an interesting point about the number of people studying languages, the way in which examination boards have to cope with different minority languages and the burdens that may be placed on them. Will the Government ensure that priority is given to official European Union languages as foundation subjects? Given that the present arrangements seem to give effect to the Government's intention, why are they being changed? Are the Government not at least opening the door to the possibility of a non-official European Union language being counted as a foundation subject, where a pupil does not have the opportunity to study an official European Union language? There might only be a few such cases, but pupils should be given the opportunity to study an official European language, and priority should be given to those languages. Will the Minister explain why the order is doing the opposite of what the Minister seemed to be telling us?

There are substantive questions to be answered in relation to citizenship. We all want pupils to leave school as good citizens, but we should examine the Government's plans in that regard. Citizenship will be a foundation subject at key stages 3 and 4. Although there is no requirement on schools to allocate a particular amount of time to a subject, I presume that schools will allocate the same amount of time as for other non-core foundation subject: 5 per cent. of curricular time. How much time does the Minister expect to be devoted to the subject in the busy national curriculum?

The Minister made a passing reference to the work of the National Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship, which is chaired by Professor Bernard Crick and has Madam Speaker as patron. That group recommended that citizenship education should be a statutory entitlement in the curriculum, and that all schools should be required to show that they are fulfilling that obligation.

There may be different views on whether citizenship should be in the national curriculum at all, but the Government have some important questions to answer on the difference between the content of citizenship education as recommended by the advisory group, and the national curriculum guidelines. There appear to be differences between what the advisory group recommends and the Government guidelines, not only in what has been omitted but in what has been included. This is a sensitive issue because the national curriculum for citizenship will inevitably be seen by some as giving Governments an opportunity to insinuate their own political agenda and to proselytise their own views. There is a need for sensitivity and balance.

I shall give an example of what I mean by referring to something included by the Government that did not appear in the advisory group's recommendation on the national curriculum, and that to many people, though perhaps not to this Government, would be controversial. Under the guidelines, the proposed national curriculum requires children to be taught about

    "the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding.

That is at key stage 3; there is a similar provision for key stage 4.

I find the provision relating to regional identities especially interesting. Labour Members understand the Government's agenda all too well: they can see it coming. They are very committed to the new curriculum; not everybody else is, and certainly not the advisory group, because there is no mention of regional identities in its report. The word "regional" does not appear in its overview of the essential elements to be achieved by the end of compulsory schooling.

Teaching about regional identity is apparently also a Liberal policy--there is Lib-Lab agreement on that--but it is not to everyone's taste. Can the Minister confirm that teaching about regional identity has been introduced by the Government into the national curriculum in addition to the subjects recommended by the advisory group? The Minister would be hard put to it to deny that regionalism is dear to the heart of the Government and members of the Labour and Liberal parties but not to many other people.

Given the events in Wales today, it would perhaps be kinder to pass over the teaching of national diversity and devolution.

While the Government have included some subjects not included by the advisory group, they have apparently chosen to cut out of the national curriculum other subjects that the advisory group regarded as essential elements. The advisory group recommended that at the end of compulsory schooling pupils should know about

    "the rights and responsibilities of citizens as consumers, employees, employers and family and community members",

but the Government's corresponding provision refers to

    "the rights and responsibilities of consumers, employers and employees".

There is no mention of community or family rights and responsibilities. Although "community" appears elsewhere in the national curriculum guidelines for citizenship, I can find no mention of the word "family". I am not one of those who introduce family with an ulterior motive, but I am interested to know why the Government have chosen to leave it out.

Interestingly, the Government also omit from the curriculum the requirement for pupils to know about dissent. I should have thought that it was well worth their finding out about that, particularly in relation to parliamentary democracy. Certainly the advisory group considered that pupils should find out about dissent and individual views. The Government have also left out of the national curriculum the advisory group's recommendation that pupils should have at the end of their education

    "the ability to recognise forms of manipulation and persuasion".

I could continue with a long list, but the dangers are evident to all fairminded members of the Committee who want balance. Does the Minister recognise that the content and delivery of citizenship as a subject are sensitive and serious matters? There is a need for balance. Do the Government intend to establish a commission on citizenship, as recommended by the advisory group? If so, do they intend to follow the terms of reference that it suggests for such a commission?

Can the Minister also say something about guidance on the teaching of controversial issues--another topic dealt with at great length by the advisory group, which recognised that special consideration should be given to such teaching? In addition to the statutory requirements about the promotion of political views and bias, which must override the national curriculum, does she have anything to say about the teaching of controversial issues?

Does the Minister recognise the challenge that the curriculum presents to the teaching profession? Delivering the curriculum, and especially the teaching of controversial issues, is not the easiest of tasks for the teaching profession. How do the Government propose to help teachers to meet that challenge? Will there be specific training for those who will teach citizenship in secondary schools? If so, how will it be delivered? Does the Department for Education and Employment have any plans for the recruitment and supply of teachers arising from the inclusion of citizenship in the national curriculum, as the advisory group thought it might? Can the Minister give us any idea of the resource implications?

Does the Minister agree that citizenship must be taught with due regard for individual views as well as ethnic, family and religious background? I think that all members of the Committee will agree with the guidelines on teaching mutual respect and understanding, but does the Minister accept that--especially in regard to controversial issues, which may touch individuals deeply at a young and impressionable age and be conditioned in large measure by their background--we must understand the differences between people and respect pupils' individual views: pupils should not have to conform to a group view. That is important for families and individuals.

Although I am in favour of mutual respect and understanding and the appreciation of diversity, it would have been better if the guidelines had said more about what unites this country and binds us all together and about our common history and sense of nationhood, rather than about the things that set us apart and make us different. The sense of inclusiveness does not appear in the guidelines.

It does not take much effort to think of subjects on which individual children might have strongly held views--views that come from their families or are possibly minority views in their schools--that could cause them to be put under considerable pressure if they were taught in an insensitive way. We need answers from the Government on all these matters and a recognition that, in teaching values to young people, we must have balance and sensitivity, because the question of values will arise and must be handled carefully.

The Government must answer those questions. They cannot deal with the matter in a broad-brush way and say that it is something that all sensible people want. They must recognise the risks and dangers to individuals and the implications for our political culture if Governments set out to teach values as part of citizenship. On that score we are particularly worried by some of the things that the Government have chosen to include in the national curriculum and others that they have chosen to leave out.

5.13 pm

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