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That consistency and coherence must be matched in the classroom to ensure that children going through their school journey experience a smooth progression so that they can pursue their talents and interests in a structured and rewarding way. That is why we modernised the secondary curriculum. We wanted to provide more time for the basics and personalised learning, more
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flexibility for young people to pursue their interests and talents at a pace that suits them, more support for those at the bottom and more stretch for those at the top.

At the other end of the education spectrum, we have developed the early years foundation stage, which provides play-based learning for children in their earliest years to instil in them the love of learning, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North referred, while encouraging their development. The primary years bridge the two, so consistency and transition are important, but as the longest period of a child’s statutory education, it is an extremely important developmental period in its own right, as well as playing an important part in the progress to secondary school.

Children make huge advances in their physical, intellectual, emotional and social capabilities between the ages of five and 11, so it is vital to have a primary curriculum that can properly support and encourage that development, as well as preparing children for the demands of secondary school and further learning, training and work to take advantage of the new opportunities that I mentioned. We must also support teachers to ensure that they have the best possible system and resources to bring out the best in their pupils.

We have seen real progress in primary learning over the past decade, with 88 per cent. achieving level 4 science, the highest ever. Sixteen per cent. more children have achieved level 4 maths since 1997, and 18 per cent. more have achieved that in English. That translates into 93,000 more 11-year-olds gaining the top level in maths and 101,000 more in English. That is no small achievement, but of course we acknowledge that there is still a great deal more to do.

Mr. Laws: If the Rose recommendations are accepted, will there be more time for English and maths in the primary curriculum, or will there be less?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I was coming to that. The remit for the review emphasises the importance of literacy and numeracy, and we recognise that importance. The curriculum will promote literacy and numeracy throughout all areas of learning. We do not specify the amount of time to be spent on English and maths, but maths will be used in designing and making models, and understanding patterns in art. The emphasis is on excellent curriculum design that will embed English and maths throughout, although Jim Rose says in paragraph 2.24 that

Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for accelerating to that part of her speech, but I am still not clear whether the intention is that more time will be available for English and maths, or whether the expectation is for that part of the curriculum to contract so that other parts can expand.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: As I have said, we are not prescribing the amount of discrete teaching of English and maths. The idea is that teachers should be able to use their expertise to spread English and maths and embed them throughout the curriculum. We are not being prescriptive and saying that they must spend x hours on English and maths. We expect both to be spread throughout the curriculum.

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Jim Rose’s interim review places a new focus and energy on the primary years to build on the success I outlined, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his and his team’s hard work and commitment in producing such an insightful interim report. I look forward to receiving his recommendations in due course. As my hon. Friend noted, consultation is ongoing until 28 February.

On that point, and in reply to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, eight parents responded to Jim’s interim report, and much wider parent consultation is under way on the web at Mumsnet, face to face and in the ongoing consultation.

Mr. Gibb: That is fine, but the consultation is taking place after the report has said that parents have a certain view. It is asserting views for which there is no evidence. That is what concerns me about the quality of the evidence on which the report is based. It seems to be based on assertion, not evidence.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I emphasise that the report is an interim one, and that consultation is ongoing. We expect wider interest from parents, especially parents who have been involved on governing bodies and in schools. Those to whom I have spoken seem aware of the report and have had the opportunity to contribute—[Interruption.]

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Order.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: A fundamental disagreement with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton concerns the importance of cross-curricular education. Part of Jim Rose’s work considered how the primary curriculum in England compares with that of other countries. The QCA contributed to that work by providing an analysis of 10 countries that have changed their primary curriculum since 2005. Of those 10 countries, eight chose to group learning around areas rather than individual subjects, including France, Spain, Germany, New Zealand and Scotland. Their rationale for the change emphasised the need to improve the transition to primary school and deepening understanding of core areas by integrating different parts of the curriculum and developing connections between them.

Although the report highlighted a tremendous amount of support for a national curriculum framework, it was agreed that the primary curriculum as it stands is outdated for pupils and slightly unwieldy for teachers with its 10 subject areas. That rationale, which other countries have adopted, lies behind Jim Rose’s recommendation to group individual subjects into six areas of learning and understanding. I want to make it absolutely clear that we are not seeking to abolish subject areas from the curriculum. Children will still learn about important individuals, groups and events that have shaped our past, our culture and our communities.

Mr. Gibb: Is it true, as the hon. Member for Yeovil said, that the QCA is already working on the details on the assumption that the review’s recommendations will be accepted?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: The QCA is indeed working on draft programmes of learning, but the emphasis is on “draft”. With the timetable that we have in mind, we cannot wait for the final report before starting work on
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the draft programmes of learning, but there is plenty of time for the consultation’s input to the content of the programmes.

Mr. Gibb: Can the Minister let the hon. Member for Yeovil and me see a copy of those draft programmes of study?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: They are still very much at an interim stage. I do not expect them to be at a stage where they could go out to further consultation until we receive the results of the current consultation, but I would then be more than happy to share the more rounded programmes of study. Both hon. Gentlemen have the opportunity to communicate with the QCA their ideas of what those programmes of study should look like.

The interim report makes it clear that high quality subject teaching must not disappear from primary schools, and a proposed design for the curriculum will promote challenging subject teaching alongside equally challenging cross-curricular studies. That is the basis from which we are starting. No one subject is isolated. Disciplines are interconnected, and it is important that young people understand how concepts are related—that point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North—to make their learning more relevant and to prepare them for more advanced study or work where concepts do not fall neatly into academic topics.

More opportunity to use and apply skills across the curriculum, such as in maths, science and technology, will give a new practical emphasis that will make learning more relevant and give young people the skills that employers want. As I have said before, the aim of the reforms is not so much to change what children learn as to change how they learn. That is where the focus of public debate needs to be.

Mr. Gibb: When the Minister addressed me, she said that how reading is taught is not an issue for this report because it is about the curriculum; now she is saying that it is all about how things are taught, not what is taught. Which is it? Is it about the curriculum or is it about how things are taught? What is this debate about?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I go back to the point that I made earlier: this is an interim report that sets out the principle of areas of learning. The way in which those areas of learning are taught will be part of the final report that comes out, which is being consulted on. As I said, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity for input into that consultation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North said, it is no good teaching people dry facts if, when faced with a real problem in science, they do not know which formula to apply. There needs to be practical application and contextual learning so that children can make links between concepts and apply them. It means that teachers will have the flexibility to determine where interconnected learning is most appropriate and where it will enrich understanding, and it will mean more freedom and flexibility for teachers to focus on the basics. The best schools are doing that anyway, as my hon. Friend noted in relation to his constituency. Ofsted tells us that schools without standing curriculums provide both skilled subject teaching and opportunities for children
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to benefit from cross-curricular studies. It does not mean that the primary framework will be any less rigorous. It will focus on the core areas of learning—literacy and numeracy—to give children a solid grounding in the basics before they progress to secondary level.

Jim Rose’s report will also take into account the important work of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) on speech, language and communication, which, as so many hon. Members noted, is essential for children’s development and success.

Bob Spink: Has the Minister anything to say about bringing forward plans to make more speech therapists available to tackle that problem in our schools?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the report by the hon. Member for Buckingham led to the speech and communication action plan, which was rolled out in December. I think that it was the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) who mentioned I CAN—it may have been someone else.

Dr. Gibson: I did.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: The Communication Trust is taking on the consideration of the pilots we are doing in certain areas. As many people know, the trust is made up of I CAN and groups dealing with aphasia and many other issues. That work is about finding the best way to embed very early intervention on speech, language and communication, which can be the key to unlocking children’s talents, particularly in the primary years.

I shall address the elephant in the room now. [Interruption.] I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North has been looking forward to the savaging. We have no plans to abolish externally marked key stage 2 tests. Our system of testing and assessment gives parents objective information on their child’s progress and gives them information to choose the right school, although I acknowledge that is not the only information they should be using. It also helps teachers to secure progress. Although I acknowledge that not all primary heads are enthusiastic about key stage 2 tests, I have found when I go into secondary schools that the heads of those schools find the information invaluable when helping children to progress through secondary school. It also allows the public to hold local government and governing bodies to account on performance.

We have an expert group considering assessment in the wake of stopping key stage 3 tests. Jim Rose is a member of that group, and we will receive reports later this year. The terms of reference include assessment and promoting a broad curriculum. My hon. Friend mentioned league tables and he will remember our announcement. We are currently consulting on new school report cards, which will give a much broader picture of a school and, we hope, will give information that enables parents to make informed choices.

The hon. Member for Yeovil raised the Cambridge review. Jim Rose has met members of that review and in order for it to contribute to Jim’s review, he is bringing forward publication of the curriculum chapter so that it will inform part of his review.

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The hon. Gentleman also spoke about special educational needs. I share his ambition for young people with special educational needs. I feel particularly passionate about that and I was particularly pleased to announce our Achievement for All project. We have put £31 million into outcomes-based pilots around the country for children with special educational needs, so that we are focusing not on the process of what goes in to help a child with special educational needs, but on what the outcome is and what the expectations are of what a child with special educational needs can achieve. In my view, that is the way we should be going—raising aspiration and expectation and making part of the statementing process the outcomes that we expect young people to achieve.

I think I have covered most of the points made by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. I want to return to literacy and numeracy, because that firm foundation, combined with the subject grouping, will bring the primary curriculum more in line with the early years foundation stage. The deeper understanding, flexibility and independent thinking that it promotes will stand children in better stead when they start their secondary studies. It will help us to achieve the consistency and ease of transition for the pupil that we are seeking to create through our education system and children’s services.

The personalisation principle underlines the new secondary curriculum to encourage more independence in learning and to give young people more control over their education. At the primary stage, independence and having the confidence to learn, explore and develop are no less important. That will be supported by a play-based approach to learning in the earliest years of primary school, which the children have experienced through the EYFS. That, we hope, combined with a less restrictive, more personalised approach will mean a more seamless transition from early years to primary and from primary to secondary.

Mr. Gibb: Does the hon. Lady believe, notwithstanding what she has said, that in the reception class, children should be receiving 20 minutes of phonics teaching a day?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I want young people to be learning through any method that assists them to read. I know that the hon. Gentleman has something bordering on an obsession with phonics.

Mr. Gibb: It is also Government policy.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: Well, we all accept that phonics is important. I visited a primary school in Peckham that was going through the intensive reading recovery process. I was privileged to be able to sit in on an intensive reading recovery class and one thing that I noticed was the number of different methods being used to help the child to reach the standard that they should have been at. The results being achieved were amazing. I went into the reception class, where phonics was being used. The majority of children were learning to read, but not every child was, and when it came to reading recovery, a number of different methods were used to enable children to reach the levels that we expect.

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There will be the room necessary to incorporate some of the softer aspects of learning, which are crucial to education and development. I am talking about children developing awareness of the world around them, a sense of their responsibilities as citizens and values such as tolerance, respect and understanding, which will stand them in good stead not just for work, but for their personal relationships and possibly their future family life. This is an opportunity for us to prepare our students, at the outset of their journey through school, for life and learning in the 21st century. The primary review will allow us to keep up the momentum in driving up standards, with greater consistency between the different stages of learning to provide the best standard of education to our children and young people, so that they are fully equipped for the challenges of 21st-century life and work. Education cannot be just about exam results; it must be about developing the whole child.

As I said, this is an interim report and the review is ongoing, but the proposals in the interim report pave the way for progress and I look forward to Jim Rose’s conclusions when the final review is published later this year. A richer, more rounded curriculum will lead to a richer, more rounded learning experience and, ultimately, to richer and more rounded young people.

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United States of America

11 am

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Before I call Mark Pritchard, I wish to put it on the record that I am joint treasurer of the British-American parliamentary group. I will take a great interest in this debate.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Olner. I am sure you will not mind me saying that you do an excellent job in that capacity. I, too, declare an interest as I am married to an American citizen.

I am grateful for the opportunity to open this timely and topical debate. I congratulate President Barack Obama on his election to office. His arrival in the Oval Office is an historic event, which I hope will do much to repair America’s reputation in the world. I hope that he will introduce innovative policies to deal with old and new economic and security threats. Those threats endanger the United States and the United Kingdom.

Britons want and need a strong and prosperous America. I wish President Obama political wisdom and courage in equal measure. Our two nations enjoy excellent bilateral relations. As reiterated in recent days by Secretary of State Clinton, we are bound by shared values, shared interests and shared priorities. We also benefit from a shared history; a history that witnesses thousands of Americans leaving their homes each year to search out their British cousins and ancestries. Likewise, thousands of UK citizens journey to America to stay with new-found relatives or to enjoy return visits in cities as far apart as Savannah, Sacramento and Seattle.

Our common bond runs far deeper than the £108 billion trade between our nations each year and far deeper than the thousands of American companies that transact business in this country. It is greater than the 158,000 American citizens living in the UK, many of whom are married to British people. It goes beyond the 16,000 American students who enjoy the benefits of a British university education. The bonds that I speak of are etched in blood.

It would be a dishonour to the American people to hold a debate on this subject and not pay tribute to the brave American sons and daughters who have shed their blood over many generations and in many conflicts when fighting to defend the freedoms that we all enjoy today. In the second world war, in Europe alone, nearly 250,000 American servicemen sacrificed their lives to bring peace. The figure is far higher for the global war. America has an honourable and spiritual legacy of brotherhood and fellowship with this country.

Whatever the rationale or justification behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the brave and fearless servicemen and women of the United States continue to put themselves in harm’s way, often alongside British troops and personnel. They do so not only to protect America’s interests, but to protect America’s commitments to its allies and friends. This morning I pay tribute to the American people and salute them. I hope that colleagues will join me in doing so.

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