Education Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Lewis: I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is part of my job as a constituency Member and as a Minister. Baroness Ashton has responsibility for this

Column Number: 448

policy area and deals with these matters in the other place. I shall certainly relay those comments to her for when the Bill is considered there.

Clause 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 78 and 99 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 80

Curriculum requirements for first, second and third key stages

Mr. Touhig: I beg to move amendment No. 289, in page 53, leave out line 10 and insert—

    ''(a) design and technology,

    (b) information and communication technology,''.

The Chairman: With this we may take Government amendment No. 290.

Mr. Touhig: I hope that hon. Members will welcome a small but helpful clarification that is the purpose of amendments Nos. 289 and 290. Clauses 80 and 81 refer to the single subject of ''technology'', which has not existed within the national curriculum in England for approximately six years. Amendments Nos. 289 and 290 simply replace those references with the two subjects that do exist within the curriculum—''design and technology'' and ''information and communication technology''. The legislation works in its present form, but sustaining the notion that there is a national curriculum subject called ''technology'' is seen by many to be unhelpful—hence the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 80, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 81

Curriculum requirements for fourth key stage

Amendment made: No. 290, in page 53, leave out line 38 and insert—

    ''(a) design and technology,

    (b) information and communication technology,''.—[Mr. Touhig.]

Clause 81, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 82

Power to alter or remove requirements for the fourth key stage

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Willis: Clause 82 restates section 368 of the 1996 Act, so it is not new. What has changed is the fact that part I and clauses dealing with earned autonomy allow groups of schools to disapply or change the national curriculum, which can also occur through innovation.

Column Number: 449

The clause implies that only the Secretary of State may order or amend. If, under earned autonomy, a school wants to change key stage 4 and opt for the intermediate international baccalaureate—or, in Wales, the Welsh baccalaureate—would permission of the Secretary of State be required, or can schools act individually through earned autonomy to apply the clause to their circumstances? It should be clarified whether the 10 per cent. of schools that gain earned autonomy—it relates only to pay and conditions and the national curriculum—are most likely to exercise it in respect of key stage 4, for which changes in the curriculum are expected.

When the Minister—I am delighted that it will be the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills—responds, he will be unable to disclose the contents of the Green Paper on the 14-19 curriculum, which I understand is being published next week. The Bill must meet the requirements of the 14-19 curriculum—flexible provision to allow schools and colleges to offer a plethora of different types of post-14 curriculums. Under the 1996 Act, schools were not intended to have the level of autonomy that the Secretary of State wants to give them. Nor did today's plethora of different school organisations then exist. Grant-maintained schools were the only exception to the main rule: everyone else fitted into the traditional patterns.

We are now going to have city technology colleges, academies, perhaps city academies, a plethora of different faith schools and all sorts of different organisations. We hope that we are also going to see 14-19 organisations reflecting, as in Exeter, a dynamic view of a new education system with a different vision. I am not trying to be difficult, but trying to clarify that this part of the Bill—my amendment to clause 82 is only one example—will not thwart the opportunities coming down the road.

Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We need to separate the power to innovate from what may become universally the norm—key stage 4, for example. If a school wanted to innovate by changing its delivery of the curriculum or becoming exempt from current curriculum requirements, other things being equal, would the Secretary of State look favourably on such an application? I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if an individual school applied to the Secretary of State and met all the relevant criteria—and a significant part of the application related to the organisation of key stage 4—it would indeed be acceptable for the Secretary of State to consider it. There would be no difficulty in respect of other changes that Parliament may choose to make for key stage 4 in all schools. The particular power to innovate that we would like for a school relates to key stage 4.

Mr. Willis: The Minister will recognise that, if the Secretary of State grants a school those powers to innovate under part 1 and it gets on with it, an order must be made if the school wants to change the

Column Number: 450

requirement for a national curriculum under clause 82. That would mean that each school that wanted to innovate in respect of its curriculum, whether or not it had earned autonomy, would have to have an order passed through the House. That seems incredibly cumbersome. However, it may not be what the Government intend and I may be misinterpreting such matters because I am not as informed as the Minister.

6.15 pm

Mr. Lewis: I cannot accept that last comment. There is no contradiction between the new power to innovate and clause 82. I shall clarify the power to innovate. If an individual school's definition in its application to the Secretary of State of how it would like to innovate is related to key stage 4 curriculum changes, and the application meets all the relevant criteria and qualifies for the right to have access to the power to innovate, there would be no legislative barrier under the Bill that would prevent a school from putting such an application before the Secretary of State. As for that individual school's request, there would be no requirement for an order to go through the House. We shall enable that process to take place under the power to innovate. There would be no such requirement for each school.

Perhaps I can outline the whole picture for the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough and refer to the wider changes that will follow the publication of the document in respect of the 14-19 framework and a full and open consultation process. As the hon. Gentleman said, while people have not yet read the detail of the publication, there is a significant consensus about its principles and objectives. Both sides of the House and the world of education have been waiting for a long time for a distinct 14-19 phase of education and the opportunity that that will provide.

The curriculum for key stage 4 could be changed universally for all schools only under an affirmative resolution, whereby a debate would have to take place in both Houses. As for the power to innovate, the Bill will give an individual school the right to apply to the Secretary of State and that application will be focused specifically on key stage 4. Does that help the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Willis: Is the distinction that clause 82 deals with the universal changes to the national curriculum? Will it cover schools that wish to stop GCSE examinations at 16 because they have adopted a new curriculum framework?

Mr. Lewis: I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking whether, under clause 82, schools could prevent themselves from holding examinations in respect of the 14-19 framework.

Mr. Willis: Under the 14-19 framework, I hope that the Minister will agree that the GCSE will be irrelevant for many schools. I am sure that he has heard my previous comments on such matters. Will clause 82 and this part of the Bill allow those schools that have the power to innovate and the power of earned

Column Number: 451

autonomy to say that they would not undertake GCSE examinations because they wanted to vary the national curriculum?

Mr. Lewis: So far as I know, the answer is no. Clause 82 is not relevant to examinations. There is a distinction between examinations and curriculums. It is difficult to respond to a specific question about proposals that have not yet been published. When they are published and there has been a consultation process from which conclusions have been reached, the Government will place before the House the specific changes that are required from a legislative perspective to deliver on the consensus that will hopefully have been achieved at the end of the 14-19 consultation exercise. If that included a requirement to change legislation on examinations and that were consistent with Government rather than Liberal Democrat policy, it would be part of the resolution that would be placed before the House.

Mr. Willis: It is important to get this clear. Clause 81 makes clear the requirement to specify attainment targets, and the Government consider attainment targets at key stage 4 through GCSE, because key stage 4 does not involve key stage SATs. It is therefore not fair of the Minister to say that the two things are not inextricably linked—they are. He said that schools will not be able to opt out of GCSE, and therefore the attainment targets at key stage 4, irrespective of whether they have earned autonomy. That will disappoint many schools.

We are all considering different ways of engaging young people from the age of 14 to 19, and the Minister may not share Liberal Democrats' thoughts, but I think that he would agree that ruling something in or out at this stage is probably not right. We should all be floating and debating ideas. I hope that the Minister will reflect on what has been said and ensure that we do not say to schools that genuinely want to fly different kites and use different systems, ''Well, you can do that, but you must still stick to the framework that we have put in place.'' That would be sad, but I have exhausted the subject unless the Minister wants to reply.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 15 January 2002