Education Bill

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Mr. Lewis: I just want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we seek to be radical, imaginative and innovative on future 14-19 provision, although we might define innovation differently. I cannot reveal the document's content in detail, but a significant part will talk about the importance of 14-19 provision being introduced over a period. However, there will be significant early opportunities for piloting, which is important. We all know that there is already good practice on 14-19 provision. In many parts of the country, we can find quite imaginative approaches.

There is a specific link point. The hon. Gentleman said that some 14-19 changes may require structural change. If we are to have a distinct phase of education and learning for 14 to 19-year-olds, organisations that are set up to consider 16-19 provision will need to be reconsidered. There is no point in advocating a completely new phase and approach if we leave in place all the same levers, financial arrangements and

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performance measures. It would not be logical to do so. There is a need to consider 14-19 provision in a totally integrated way.

Let me give one final response that should help the hon. Gentleman. There is no legislative requirement to take the GCSE and therefore no need for a change in that respect.

Mr. Brady rose—

Mr. Willis rose—

Mr. Lewis: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West.

Mr. Brady: I am sorry if I am raising the point that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough wanted to make, but he made a particularly important and valid point—that under clause 81, where there is a requirement for attainment targets and measurement of attainment to take place, the only available mechanism appears to be GCSE. Is that an implied legislative requirement for GCSE to be taken?

Mr. Lewis: It is not necessarily the case that pupils or institutions are required to do so. The levers and pressures in the system lead schools and individual pupils to GCSE, which is why the points made about 14-19 education are valid. If we are considering a distinct 14-19 phase of learning, it is appropriate to examine the factors that influence that.

Chris Grayling: The Minister will be aware that the Liberal Democrats have announced that they would scrap GCSEs. What the Minister has said suggests that the Government are moving in the same direction. Will he clarify that they will not?

Mr. Lewis: Yes, the hon. Gentleman can have total clarification: the Government do not support the Liberal Democrat position that the logical conclusion of having a 14-19 phase would be the scrapping of GCSEs. When we produce the document, it will clarify why that is not the Government's position and how we would deliver a radical, innovative approach to 14-19 education.

Mr. Willis: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lewis: If I give way, the hon. Gentleman will go off track again.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman said that he had exhausted the subject.

Mr. Willis: I have been named in despatches, which was unfair of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and the Minister. The Minister read my speech to the north of England conference word by word: it is emblazoned on his heart. That was not the point that was made. There was no attempt to suggest the universal scrapping of GCSE. I would scrap the idea, reaffirmed by clauses 81and 82, that the only way that one can assess attainment at the end of key stage 4 is GCSE. We should challenge that: for some schools it will mean scrapping GCSE. In others, young people will do GCSEs at different stages, or a combination of GCSEs and other types of qualification. I would hope

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that the Government would say that the mantra of GCSE is up for grabs, rather that permitting innovation as long as the GCSE is kept. That is madness.

Mr. Lewis: I respect the hon. Gentleman's view. There is no consensus on the future of GCSEs. We will have an exciting debate about 14-19 education when the details are published. The principles are clear, and it is only fair for hon. Members to consider the detail and respond accordingly inside and outside the House. We are strongly committed to an extensive consultation process throughout the country. The details will have a significant impact on education in this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 102 and 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 83

Establishment of the national curriculum for england by order

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

Caroline Flint: I seek clarification from the Minister because subsection 12 provides that science shall not include the subject of

    ''Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and Human Immunodeficiency Virus''.

Groups, and colleagues who are members of the all-party AIDS and HIV group, have raised questions about that element. I understand the issues around sex education and health, and am mindful of having to find a balance between, on the one hand, parents' rights under the legislation to withdraw their children from sex education and, on the other, health issues and what fits in with the Bill and may be taught within the ambit of a science lesson.

6.30 pm

Mr. Lewis: My hon. Friend raises a valid point, which has been raised by other hon. Members. At this stage, the Government are not proposing to change the status quo, but I am willing to give a commitment to discuss it further with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to see whether there is a satisfactory way forward. The Government feel that it is appropriate to maintain the status quo on such a sensitive issue, but are open-minded, and willing to consider any representation.

Chris Grayling: Is it the case that science teachers may not refer to AIDS or HIV in a science lesson or give any indication about their nature? If that is true, it is nonsense, and I would echo the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Don Valley.

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Mr. Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is the case, because of legislation introduced by a Conservative Government. There are grounds for re-examining the issue and considering representations. There will be strong views on both sides of the argument as it is an emotive issue, and it is important in those circumstances to strike the right balance. I am willing to consider the matter further, although the Bill at this stage will maintain the status quo.

Mr. Turner: The Minister clarified that in an unexpected way. I am sure that he is right, but a lay reading of subsection (12) does not imply what he has said. All that the Secretary of State may do is ensure that the science attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements laid down in the national curriculum do not include those elements. As far as I can work out, there is no prohibition on a teacher answering a question on those subjects. Will the Minister consider that and perhaps correct the impression that he gave to the Committee?

Mr. Lewis: I can confirm that the hon. Gentleman is correct in his assertion. A teacher may answer a question, but the legitimate debate is also about the national curriculum requirement. It was decided some years ago that it would be appropriate to prohibit the issues that are specifically mentioned. Whether that is still appropriate is a matter for a reasonable discussion and debate, in which we are willing to engage.

Mr. Turner: When the Minister says prohibit, he means prohibit from inclusion in the national curriculum, not prohibit from being taught.

Mr. Lewis: It cannot be part of programmes of study.

Mr. Turner: It cannot be part of programmes of study laid down under the national curriculum; it can be part of a programme of study developed by a school, teacher or governing body. We are in the same territory as when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was accused of banning the teaching of recent history. All that was prohibited was the inclusion of recent history in the national curriculum.

Mr. Lewis: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the debate is legitimate, notwithstanding his point about whether it should be in the national curriculum.

Mr. Willis: The Minister was trying to be reasonable in his answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Don Valley. It is clearly nonsense that a teacher can teach about HIV/AIDS, except in a science lesson as part of the national curriculum. No rational being could support that, other than fundamentalists who believe that that sort of thing should not be taught anywhere, in which case we are back to the section 28 debate. Before the hon. Member for Isle of Wight goes into apoplexy, let me say that the Minister worried me when he said that he understood that that was a genuine issue for debate, but that there would be no change during the Bill's consideration. That is sad, as

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it invites us on Report and in another place to table amendments that challenge the Government's thinking. I suspect that the House would greatly support such a challenge.

Mr. Lewis: I have clarified my assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. Ministers are willing to consider the issue before the Bill is passed, although our position is outlined in the clause. My hon. Friend raised a legitimate issue, and Opposition Members tabled several legitimate amendments. The Government are willing to reflect on whether we should maintain the status quo, or whether the status quo is illegitimate and unacceptable.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 84, 104 and 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 86

development work and experiments

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 263, in page 56, line 30, at end insert:

    ''(1A) For the purpose of enabling development work to be carried out, a school outside the maintained sector may be fully admitted to the maintained sector during which the National Curriculum shall not apply. If the experiment was considered successful, the school would continue as part of the maintained sector.''

This afternoon's sitting started well. The Minister accepted good, common-sense amendments and offered to bring them back in the form that he preferred later in the proceedings. I hope that we may continue in a similar vein, and that Ministers will accept that amendment No. 263 does not seek to undermine the Government's intentions, but pushes in the same direction as ministerial rhetoric and the overall thrust of the Bill. Clause 86 sets out certain special cases in which the curriculum may be suspended to enable

    ''development work and experiments to be carried out''.

The clause appears to limit those circumstances. The disapplication can take place only in a maintained school or maintained nursery school, and only for a specified period that is set out in guidance. Through the inclusion of new subsection (1A), amendment No. 263 would widen the circumstances in which it was possible for Ministers to disapply the curriculum in order to encourage experiments and development work. The amendment would extend beyond existing maintained or nursery schools to allow

    ''a school outside the maintained sector''

to be

    ''fully admitted to the maintained sector''

for the purpose of development work. For an experimental period, the national curriculum would not apply. The amendment states:

    ''If the experiment was considered successful, the school would continue as part of the maintained sector.''

If Ministers are genuine in their desire to promote development and experiment, and if they really welcome the innovation that might occur through

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disapplying the curriculum for a time and in particular respects, they should be open to the possibility that the maintained sector will improve if we accept various types of schools. The Steiner-Waldorf schools are an example, although many alternative approaches to education are, or may in the future, be practised in this country.

If Ministers were to accept the amendment, they would leave the door open for the maintained sector to accept schools with teaching methods or curriculums that prohibited them from entering that sector, although the amendment is permissive and does not oblige schools to do so. In order to facilitate that, such schools will be allowed the same disapplication of curriculum requirements as that which the Bill will allow maintained schools. That is a simple point, against which it is difficult to argue.

I hope that Ministers will consider the amendment as an opportunity to underline their commitment to innovation and exciting experiment. I am hopeful that they will give it a fair wind.

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