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The Earl of Longford: Fifty-three!

Lord Henley: My Lords, mathematics was never my strong point. Let us agree upon four-and-a-half. I agree very much with what the noble Earl and my noble friend Lady Young said about the importance of the family in society.

I turn now to the curriculum. The 1988 Act set out as the central aim for the school curriculum that it should promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and of society and prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. All schools should ensure that the moral dimension is clearly mapped out across the curriculum. I am grateful to all noble Lords who stressed that that should go the whole way across the curriculum and it was not just a matter for subjects such as science, geography or history. It should cover all matters, even sport--a subject which I spent most of my time attempting to avoid.

Like my noble friend Lord Elton, I believe that all teachers have a responsibility regardless of specialism, in the same way as all teachers should be concerned with children's reading and writing, for example. The two major vehicles for moral education within the curriculum are religious education and the range of topics embraced by personal, social and health education.

The Government remain committed to the statutory requirement for RE and the statutory provisions governing its content, which give due emphasis to Christianity while offering--this was something with

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which most noble Lords agreed--the flexibility to meet local circumstances. That matter has been debated frequently in this House, and was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, at Question Time as recently as last week.

The 1994 circular on RE and collective worship says that, in its view, locally agreed syllabuses should extend in a religious context to wider areas of morality. Those would include the way in which people's religious beliefs and practices affect their understanding of moral issues and the consequences that their behaviour has on family and society.

There is personal, social and health education, of which there are two particular elements--sex education and drugs education. They have an important focus on the moral debate. I can give an assurance that we have issued guidance on both matters, emphasising in the case of sex education the requirement that schools must have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life.

The Government have also supported work under the badge of citizenship, designed to promote personal and social responsibility. That means respect for oneself, for others and for the law. It means playing a constructive role in the various groups and communities to which parents belong.

SCAA is not consulting just on the draft framework of core values; it is also seeking views on a range of other work intended to bring greater coherence to the moral, spiritual and cultural dimensions of the curriculum. That includes a full audit of existing provision and practice, and the preparation of guidance, including a programme of study setting out the essential elements which schools should teach. I must stress that in the end it will be Ministers who will take the final decisions in the light of SCAA's recommendations, taking full account of the outcome of that consultation.

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We will not pursue consensus merely for the sake of consensus. I have always believed that a false consensus leading to some form of moral relativism is not always the right approach. The mere fact that only one soldier is in step does not necessarily always mean that he is the one who is out of step. It might be the others who are wrong. Whatever the outcome of that consultation and process, SCAA will ensure that it builds on existing best practice in our schools. I say again to my noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that that is a matter that we believe the Teacher Training Agency must address, although not particularly for the specialist teacher, but, as I believe my noble friend Lord Elton said, for all teachers teaching across the curriculum. As I said earlier, many schools already do excellent work both within the curriculum and through their wider ethos and values. In the very best schools, each reinforces the other.

The daily act of collective worship--the third element I mentioned earlier--can often provide the occasion when curriculum and ethos are wedded most closely together. I give the assurance to the noble Earl, because I know of his concern following his Question last week, that the Government remain committed to that daily collective act of worship in our schools.

For the Government at least this is most certainly not a knee-jerk reaction. The consultation exercise launched earlier this year by Dr. Tate is a first step, but we should remember that the former National Curriculum Council issued guidance on moral and spiritual development as long ago as 1993. We look forward to receiving SCAA's considered advice in February. I know that many of your Lordships will wish to seize your own opportunities to register your views not only through this debate but through other means as part of that process. I hope that the debate initiated this evening by the noble Earl can be seen as part of that process, and for that I thank him.

        House adjourned at four minutes past seven o'clock.

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