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Mathematics is important for young people, and financial understanding can be part of that. It is a huge problem in schools that many young people do not gain an understanding of how to handle finances. That has led to citizens advice bureaux being packed out at the moment, and at other times of the year, because people
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find it difficult to keep hold of the different, complicated accounts that come their way. That kind of teaching can help.

Scientific and technological understanding starts in primary schools. I have a bee in my bonnet about that. Some teachers do wonderful things by teaching children how to make parachutes and doing nature study, as they used to call it—indeed, I think they still do—teaching understanding about fish and so on. David Attenborough’s television programmes fascinate young people and old people alike, which is quite amazing. There should be more of that kind of teaching at an early stage, and children should get their hands dirty doing experiments such as making parachutes and mixing things together to make smells. That is what stimulates them to try to understand and to ask questions, and they carry that love through to secondary school, where other problems arise in science and technology.

That approach is essential—everyone says so, but no one does much about it. A bit has been done, but not enough. We still lack laboratories for young people to practise the skills and arts of science and technology. Their world is full of television programmes and so on, and we need to reflect that much more in every school.

On the theme of human, social and environmental understanding, how can children avoid hearing about climate change these days? They have heard of it and they think they can see it in individual events. That is arguable, but they need to know what the arguments are.

What are we trying to do with science? Jim Rose will have to ask himself that question, and will have to get support on the issue. Are we trying to make Nobel prize-winning scientists? No, we are trying to make people confident and literate in science so that they can ask the right questions even without knowing all the technical jargon. The jargon may be unnecessary, but it exists and people have to try to be confident with it. We saw that in the debate on genetic modification, when dreadful things were said against GM for all sorts of reasons. That debate is rising to the surface again, and it cannot be ignored.

We can explain things, such as the use of stem cells to handle brain problems. I visited an eminent school, highly rated by Ofsted and at the top of the league tables, which taught about stem cells in religion classes. Fine, but there was nothing in its science classes about stem cells, because the teachers had decided, for their own personal reasons—I do not know whether they were creationists or whether there was another argument—that they wanted to use religion classes to talk about what it meant to use stem cells. We had similar debates on human embryology a few months ago, when people asked if we were playing God, or trying to change the world. That is fine in religion—I am for that—but I am also keen on such subjects being taught in science classes. They can be started in a simplistic but understandable way in primary school. Rose has got that message.

Little needs to be said about physical health and well-being, with the Olympics coming and with obesity on the agenda at last. Young people are keen to participate in some kind of sport, although some do not want to do sport and we have to find out why, but if we can inculcate it into them, that would be great.

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The arts and design can blow the mind. We should appreciate, in our society, that there are artists who create great works. One does not have to be a Picasso to get great pleasure out of drawing. Goodness me, every MP—smart devils they are—gets their Christmas cards painted by some young constituent from a school in their patch. Colleagues will know what those drawings are like—they are great! They will never hang in the British Academy, but those young people are very proud when an MP recognises their work. We should say to Rose, “Carry on with the arts and design, because young people really appreciate them.”

Mr. Gibb: The hon. Gentleman skipped over the fourth area of learning outlined in the Rose review—human, social and environmental understanding—although he mentioned the environment. Under that heading, should children also learn, during the seven years of primary school, about the Romans, the Saxons and the middle ages, and about the oceans, continents and rivers of this country and Europe, or should those subjects be moved to secondary school?

Dr. Gibson: No, they should not be moved. It is hard to deny young people the delights of seeing how previous civilisations operated. I do not say that we should be going into Mayan temples and all that stuff, but the children at George White junior school in Norfolk go out to see the broads and learn what they are and how they were formed. That can be explained to them. It is difficult to talk to children—or, indeed, adults—in deep technological terms about such things, but they should know about the countryside that they inhabit. They should know about the history of their street and about the wall around the city, and the city gates. Many young people are now doing those things. I have seen projects recently in which young people have studied a part of the city of Norwich by going to look at it and then going back centuries to how it used to be. There is great interest in such subjects, and some teaching on them is absolutely necessary. I do not say that there should be a 20-lecture course on them, but a few hours can be spent discussing them and looking at pictures. There have been many great, technological advances, which can be used to show on screen the different things that happened years ago in the parts of the world where young people live.

Foreign languages are another area of discussion, but I do not want to say too much about that area because we talk about it often. It is important to learn foreign languages. Not enough people can speak another language, and that is not only hypocritical and arrogant, but also a shambles. I confess that although I passed higher Latin I failed lower French. I think it was the first time that French had ever been taken in Scottish highers. I knew things like “Toto ouvre la porte” from the books, but we learned by rote. We were told, “Here’s the book—read that,” and then we got some questions on them. Being Scottish, I found it difficult to speak French sometimes, but I was red hot at Latin, not that it has done me much good except to get me into university.

My experience reflects that of many people nowadays. They do not see the value of languages, and they still want to speak English everywhere they go. We have to get away from that situation. We have all said that many times, and it is beginning to happen in schools—I
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acknowledge that there has been a move in that direction—but there has to be a push. The Rose report gives us an opportunity to do more.

On play-related teaching, there are now computer suites in schools for young people to play on. That will be a real advantage, because that is their world, with the internet and so on. Technological advances should be utilised at primary school, and not left until secondary school, as they once were.

David Taylor: Does my hon. Friend welcome the recognition in the interim report that we are seeing the emergence of digital natives, almost, with young people who have sparkling aptitudes and abilities, and who sometimes out-stretch their teachers? Does he hope that the final report in April will focus a little more on the need to bridge the enormous digital divide or void that there can be between the ICT skills and knowledge of young people from different socio-economic backgrounds? Should that not be a priority?

Dr. Gibson: Absolutely. My original comment about people being more worried about what bankers are saying to a Select Committee illustrates where politics have reached. We should be talking about socio-economic problems being a priority for the Government. Where are our discussions about that? I am talking about the generality. Teaching people from different socio-economic backgrounds involves the use of different methods and ways of seduction. Teachers know how to do that, and we should be supporting and helping them. I am disappointed that we do not find people to belly-ache about socio-economic groups and how we can sort things out—it is through primary education that we will do that.

I know that I am ranting on a bit, but I want to mention that through major national initiatives to provide a comprehensive assessment system we are at last beginning to trust teachers to assess the progress of pupils. Assessing pupil progress—APP—will, I think, result in the abolition of the SATs test at key stage 2 and interim assessment models could also be used. There are alternatives to SATs that would inspire teachers and make them less disgruntled at times. Locally administered, moderated teacher assessment with sampling to monitor national standards should have our full support.

Although there is a lot of moaning in the press, the vast majority of teachers are dedicated, imaginative, innovative, inspiring individuals, and that continues to be the case. We are all here because of them. As a member of a Select Committee, for example, we might ask young people—such as those who appeared before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee yesterday—“What made you do this?” and they will say that it is because a teacher at school inspired them. They will not say that it was at university, because it happens long before that. It is often at primary school that a teacher captures someone’s imagination, shows them a book in the library and how to get on the internet and find things out. It is at that point that bright young people from different backgrounds can take things forward and gain great experience.

We should get round to dealing with things and say that teachers can use the Rose report to inspire a generation of young people through cross-curricular education. There was once a medical course that was
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taught in the following way: students would think about all aspects of the liver—how it functioned, its physiology and so on—but they would also find out how it could be ruined by drink. Extra-curricular matters are taught to medical students. Courses for medical students are changing to recognise that their work takes place in a society with social problems.

We have a real opportunity to inform young people about such issues earlier. We should not dodge the matter. Young people live in a real world that will change, and that is not just because of bankers and what we do to them. The world is really changing and young people will have different values. Education must not lag behind. We should get ahead of the curve and teach things that are relevant to young people’s daily lives.

10.2 am

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on giving us, I think, the first opportunity to debate this subject since the original Rose proposals came out. Not only the final conclusions of the Rose process, but the Cambridge primary review will be published in the next few months. This is therefore a valuable opportunity for hon. Members to debate the subject and to hear the Minister’s comments on the development of Government policy.

I am not quite as convinced as the hon. Member for Norwich, North about the importance of the report; I will explain why in a moment. When we consider the challenges in the primary sector—the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) talked about the 20 to 30 per cent. of youngsters who leave primary education with poor basic skills—what Rose has to offer is relatively modest, is unclear in some areas, and may even deal with the least important challenge in primary education.

When I visit schools, not only in my constituency but across the country, I find that most heads are not convinced that a major change in the primary curriculum is necessary. Most particularly, good schools already believe that they have the flexibility and freedom to do much of the cross-curricular work that is picked up in the Rose review. One of the things I want to challenge today is how important Rose will be and precisely what it will mean.

Bob Spink: I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument carefully, but I am a little at a loss to understand his reasoning. He says that 20 to 30 per cent. of children are leaving the primary stage without the necessary skills. I presume that he acknowledges that those children have the ability, but that they have not been inspired to draw that out to learn those skills. That is because they are hide-bound by a fixed and rigid curriculum and teachers are not allowed to do their thing, to be flexible and to inspire children. Does he not think that Rose has started to get to grips with that problem?

Mr. Laws: No, I am not sure that Rose has done so. Although I entirely agree that, in some way, the biggest challenge in primary education is to make sure that the 20 or 30 per cent. of youngsters at the bottom are inspired by education, pupils should leave primary education not only with good basic skills in English and mathematics, but with a love of learning in other subject areas.

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I am not convinced that the review’s proposals will deliver the outcomes for which the hon. Member for Norwich, North hopes. We also have to question the extent to which heads in schools are able to use some of the flexibility that they have to ensure that they do not simply teach mathematics and English in a rather desiccated way, but that they link them up with the other subject areas. That already happens in many schools, as the Rose report indicates.

Dr. Gibson: In the hon. Gentleman’s critique of Rose, does he include Rose’s description of special educational needs, such as individuals with dyslexia and dyspraxia, who have difficulty reading and writing? That is not always picked up and is a huge issue in schools. Rose picks it up and I have never seen anyone else do so. Does he agree?

Mr. Laws: I certainly agree that that is an important issue, and I shall go on to discuss it, because it is one of the matters to which we should give priority. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Rose review has a fairly limited perspective on primary education and that the Cambridge review has a much broader view of primary education. Although the Cambridge review started before the Rose review, we expect the results to be delivered after Rose’s. The Cambridge review will look at all aspects of the development of youngsters in that age range, and it will deal with the important issue of testing, where concerns that what is being taught and tested is not always the most appropriate part of the English and mathematics curricula have been underscored by bodies such as Ofsted. Testing can also pressure some schools into narrowing what is actually taught. I shall come back to that later.

Will the Minister say to what extent the Rose review consultation process should be taken seriously? It is disappointing that the Alexander review, the Cambridge review and the Rose review have got slightly out of kilter. There is a feeling that the Government are not drawing as much on the Cambridge review as they could and that they will have made many of their decisions before it is published. I understand that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has already started work on a lot of the detailed programmes of study that come out of the Rose review, particularly in relation to the six areas of learning. That work appears to have started even before the end of the consultation process on the Rose report, which I believe will be at the end of this month. I wonder whether we ought to take seriously the consultation in which the Government are involved, or whether this Government-commissioned report has been fairly closely prescribed and consideration of some issues that could usefully have been considered has specifically been ruled out, with the result that the report can lead only to modest changes.

Before I outline my concerns about the report, I want to highlight some of its useful and important aspects. As the hon. Member for Norwich, North indicated, the report emphasises the importance of getting the basics of literacy and numeracy right. In fairness, it also highlights extremely important issues, such as speech and language, where there is a need for more support and better joining up with other services that can help
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to deliver better speech and language education. The Government took effective action in commissioning a report on that, the Bercow report, which makes many useful proposals that I hope will be picked up.

I question, however, what precisely the Rose report says about the amount of time to be spent on literacy, numeracy and communications. The report’s remit made it clear that the Government wanted that area to continue to take priority, and that is a clear conclusion of the review. The hon. Member for Norwich, North, in response to my intervention, expressed the hope that those aspects of the curriculum would contract to make way for the subjects that people perceive to have been squeezed out, such as history, some of the sciences, geography and some of the non-academic parts of the curriculum. We are therefore being told two contradictory things about the impact of the Rose report. If the report is accepted, does the Minister expect us to end up with more time for those subjects—perhaps with a different emphasis on different parts of the teaching of literacy, numeracy and communication—less time for them, or the same amount of time?

Some of the proposals for teaching modern languages seem fairly sensible. We have a crisis in the number of pupils engaged in modern language education. Ever since the Government ended the compulsory teaching of modern languages beyond the age of 14, without doing anything to encourage youngsters to persist with them, we have had a topsy-turvy approach, whereby we have tried to salvage modern language education by including much more of it in primary education. Its quality is inconsistent, however, and, because of a lack of qualified teachers, some schools teach modern languages that may not be followed up in secondary education, simply giving children a taster of five or 10 different languages. Rose says that what is taught in modern languages during key stages 2 and 3 ought to be joined up, and that is quite sensible.

In what could be seen as a criticism of the present Government and their predecessors, Rose says that he wants a more thoughtful and stable process for reviewing primary education. He says that past reviews have been largely reactive and driven by the need to reduce curriculum overload and over-prescription, and that now he wants a proactive strategy and schools to be afforded a period of stability in which to achieve the agreed curriculum goals. That is very important: if head teachers, governing bodies and teachers generally make one request when we visit schools, it is that we provide greater stability and consistency, rather than a series of initiatives that are introduced and often phased out before they have had a chance to benefit anyone.

Those are the report’s aspects that I welcome, but I have some concerns about other elements. There is a lack of clarity about the proposed emphasis on the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and communication. We know that they are crucial not only to people’s basic skills and to getting a job, but to their ability to engage properly in other subjects. We can teach those English and mathematics skills through the high-quality teaching of other subjects, and they do not have to be taught in a dry way that is all about the two times table, but we must get the basics right. Youngsters cannot succeed in secondary education unless they are taught those important basic skills, but there is a lack of clarity about whether there will be more or less of such teaching.

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I also found in the report a great deal of jargon and a good many things that seem to be motherhood and apple pie. Before the hon. Gentleman finished his speech, I flicked at random through the report to any old page just to read a paragraph again. Paragraph 1.51 is typical of the report’s educational mumbo-jumbo, listing rather obvious points with which nobody could disagree. That is a feature of the report which makes it so difficult to engage with the document and to understand what it means. It is almost impossible to disagree with the provisional recommendations; if one were to propose their opposite, one would be considered bizarre or educationally illiterate. The report contains much that is uncontroversial and much with which it is difficult to engage.

Dr. Gibson rose—

Mr. Laws: Let me finish this point, because I may be being unfair to Rose and the hon. Gentleman may wish to defend him in a second. There is a lack of clarity about themes, about what will happen to subject teaching, about the role of facts and individual understanding of subjects such as history and geography, and about whether the suggestions will undermine a more traditional approach to education, in which youngsters are expected to engage with facts, allowing them an understanding that they can use to exploit the many information-providing vehicles that are available in the modern age.

Dr. Gibson: I am sure that we will have many arguments about data over coffee first thing in the morning, but does the hon. Gentleman not think that, for too long, history has been about kings and queens rather than about the history of the area where people live, or where their parents come from? People come from different parts of the world. For people living in Britain today, is that not the real issue, rather than who was king in 1603?

Mr. Laws: If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants the Government to provide for more flexibility and freedom in what is taught in every curricular area, I entirely agree. We, as a party, do not believe in a curriculum that is so prescriptive that it seeks to prioritise certain parts of history. If, however, he is saying that history teaching should be almost fact-free—perhaps I parody his argument—that poses a serious risk. If youngsters are not given a framework to understand the past, it is difficult for them to use the skills that he rightly wants to develop so that they can improve their education. I am not sure what implications the Rose report has for the teaching of those core subjects, however. When the Government and Rose came under attack because of the perception that the proposals meant dumbing down education, there was a considerable retreat from them. That feature of the report makes it so frustrating when one tries to understand its proposals—whether some might be damaging or whether they are just tweaks to the system.

Some speeches take much longer than one expected when one started, and I have left precious little time to discuss some important points that should have higher Government priority. I shall touch on them briefly.

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