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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Education (Amendment of the Curriculum Requirements for the Fourth Key Stage) (England) Order 2003

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Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 10 November 2003

[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Draft Education (Amendment of the Curriculum Requirements for the Fourth Key Stage) (England) Order 2003

4.30 pm

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Education (Amendment of the Curriculum Requirements for the Fourth Key Stage) (England) Order 2003.

I am delighted, Mrs. Roe, to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I am sure that all those hon. Members with a keen interest in education will be relieved that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), a veteran of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education Act 2002, is still with us. We were worried that his youth would be taken in evidence against him when the new shadow team was under construction, given the injunction that only those with experience of Government in the 1980s should have leadership positions. I am delighted that he is here today.

4.31 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.46 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Miliband: I am glad that we all had time to watch the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West cloister himself with some of his colleagues on the new shadow team in the Lobby downstairs.

The order is made under section 86 of the Education Act 2002. It is designed to provide greater flexibility in the curriculum at key stage 4, so that schools can offer programmes that better meet young people's needs and strengths.

Hon. Members may remember the Green Paper ''14–19: extending opportunities, raising standards'', published in 2002. It set out why we need to change the 14 to 19 phase of education and training in England. Too many young people drop out at 16, and only three out of four 16 to 18-year-olds were in education and training in England at the end of 2000. I am sure that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West will correct me if I am wrong, but my memory tells me that we are the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth country out of 29 when it comes to participation in full-time education and training at age 17.

If young people are to be motivated to continue in learning after the age of 16, participating and also progressing in their studies, they must be able to follow courses at key stage 4 that meet their aspirations and match their abilities. In the Green Paper, we set out a clear rationale for the new requirements for ages 14 to 16—in other words, for key stage 4. At that stage, subjects should be

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mandatory if they meet one of two overlapping criteria. They should provide an essential basis for progression, or should be essential for personal development.

In the strategy document ''14–19: opportunity and excellence'', published about a year after the Green Paper, we confirmed our intention to amend the statutory requirements at key stage 4 to enable schools to put the Green Paper proposals into effect. The order will do that. It may help hon. Members if I list the seven major changes that it will bring in.

The order removes design and technology and modern foreign languages from the compulsory foundation subjects to enable schools to offer students greater flexibility and choice.

However, many young people will want to study design and technology and foreign languages, and it is important that they are able to do so. That is why the order will introduce the new category of entitlement areas, which include design and technology and modern foreign languages as well as arts and humanities. Schools must ensure that they make courses in those subject areas available to any student who wishes to study them, and should enable students to take a course in each of the four areas should they so wish.

The order specifies the entitlement subjects that fall within each of the new entitlement areas. In arts, those subjects are art and design, music, dance, drama and media arts. In design and technology, the entitlement subject is design and technology, which stands to reason. In humanities, the subjects are geography and history. In modern foreign languages, the subject will be a European Union language, the choice of which will soon be extended.

The order also ensures that students are given the opportunity to obtain an approved qualification. That will emphasise the significance and substance of the new entitlement areas at key stage 4.

The order introduces a requirement for work-related learning within the curriculum. Schools will determine the nature of the provision, but a non-statutory framework has been developed that sets out the minimum experience that schools should provide.

The order requires the local education authority, the governing body and the head teacher to have regard to guidance issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority relating to the provision of entitlement subjects and work-related learning.

Finally, the order removes the requirement for students to specify attainment targets and assessment arrangements for each of the core and other foundation subjects at this stage. Hon. Members will be aware that these targets are anomalous, given that pupils aged 15 or 16 do GCSEs at the end of key stage 4.

Those are the main functions of the order, which will come into effect in schools in the academic year beginning September 2004.

Overall, the proposals have received a reasonably positive response in the wide-ranging consultation undertaken by the QCA. I remind hon. Members that

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many of the consultees strongly support not only the removal of the requirement for every student to study a foreign language at key stage 4, but the Government's commitment to introducing more foreign language teaching into key stage 2 for pupils aged seven to 11—the primary school stage. We want more young people to want to learn languages, rather than being dragooned into doing so. That commitment to foreign languages at primary school level is an important part of the foreign languages strategy. It was certainly an important part of the consensus surrounding the Government's proposals.

I assure hon. Members that we have taken steps to help schools to prepare for the changes and to ensure that they are supported when they implement them. The order aims to allow for much greater flexibility to meet individual needs, and I commend it to the Committee.

4.51 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Roe. I hope that my brief remarks are not interrupted, as the Minister's opening remarks were. I am delighted to be the Opposition spokesman on this statutory instrument, especially in the midst of the curriculum changes that are being proposed elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster. The Minister knows how much I enjoy these occasions, and I would not miss the chance to deal with these important matters of education policy, which, sadly, are so often debated Upstairs in Committee, depriving Members of the wider House of Commons the opportunity to discuss changes to the key stage 4 curriculum.

The Minister set out the criteria that have been used to decide what subjects should remain mandatory. The subject should provide for further progression or should be essential for further development. I am sure that the Committee was grateful for the Minister's elucidation.

The overall aim of the order is to make the curriculum more flexible, especially at key stage 4. As the Minister knows, I share that aspiration. I believe that the curriculum should be more flexible, and that the mandatory curriculum should be slimmed down to some extent. We welcome the overall thrust of that policy and the attempt to achieve that goal, but not without some reservations. The order is paradoxical in that it aims to promote flexibility, but is remarkably prescriptive in that it lays down what the content of the curriculum must and must not be and what schools should offer. The Minister will probably say that that is necessary because we must maintain a broad and balanced curriculum for all children in secondary education. That is true, but I have reservations about how successful the order will be.

The Minister referred to the position of modern foreign languages. Many Members on both sides of the House have considerable concerns about downgrading the teaching of languages. In the spirit of helpfulness and consensus, which occasionally breaks out in Committees, I agree with the Minister that that is not necessarily a bad thing if, but only if, proper provision is made for language teaching in

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primary schools at the same time as the changes go through in secondary schools. We have also to bear in mind that there is a time lag. Young people who have not had a chance to learn to foreign languages at primary school level could also be denied the prospect of learning modern foreign languages to their preferred level in secondary school long before they reach that stage. Thus a generation of children will find their opportunities to learn modern foreign languages reduced rather than enhanced.

The Minister nodded in the direction of concerns about language teaching. He referred to the overwhelming response to the consultation, which was that it is important to have more language teaching in primary schools. He did not say whether the availability of language teaching in primary schools has been extended, how many primary school curriculums include language teaching for all pupils, or how many new language teachers have been recruited for primary schools since the policy was spawned. He did not tell us how many of those language teachers are qualified teachers and how many are teaching assistants, whose knowledge of the language could vary. It is not satisfactory if the policy is to have classroom assistants who have come from other countries for a short stay in the United Kingdom and who step into the breach to help out in order to ensure that the children have some minor exposure to languages at that level. If we are going to do this properly and to shift the emphasis of language teaching from secondary to primary school, we must ensure that resources are available and that qualified staff are in place. We need figures to back up the assertion that that is being dealt with.

I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance. If he cannot, I hope that he will reflect on whether it is appropriate to proceed with the removal of modern foreign languages from the compulsory curriculum before arrangements have been made to put the building bricks in place earlier in pupils' compulsory schooling.

I have spoken about the need to maintain a broad and balanced curriculum, even in the context of greater flexibility, and the Minister has set out the compulsory core subjects for key stage 4: mathematics, English and science; the foundation subjects of information, communications technology, physical education and citizenship; and the areas that are being termed entitlement subjects. Those, as he explained, will be areas of the curriculum in which any post–14 pupil will be entitled to study one subject. That, too, gives rise to some serious concerns.

In saying that pupils should be entitled to study one of the arts, one design and technology subject, one of the humanities and one modern foreign language, the Government might claim that they are allowing pupils greater flexibility in their studies, and that there will be more space in the curriculum to provide opportunities for children who are not following the academic curriculum to do other things—perhaps more work-related training, or spending time at a local college of further education.

Those changes may be worth while. However, the Government risk creating a situation in which many

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schools may slim down their curriculum too much. A school would have to offer a single arts subject, a single subject in the field of design and technology, either history or geography, and a single modern foreign language—perhaps Spanish rather than French, or, to take a more abstruse example for an expanded European Union, perhaps only Polish rather than French, Spanish or German. That would seriously restrict the opportunities of children attending those schools.

I do not believe that that is what the Government intend, or what the Minister hopes will happen as a result of these measures. However, in allowing greater flexibility for some pupils he may be restricting the choice and the flexibility available to others. I hope that he will deal with that concern. The child with an aptitude for modern foreign languages who, having learned a little French, would like to learn Spanish or German may be seriously disadvantaged, as may a child at a school that offers no history curriculum, who can therefore learn only geography and the new compulsory subject of citizenship—the Minister may think that that would make up for the removal of history from the curriculum in some schools.


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