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Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 264:

"( ) Where the Secretary of State proposes to make an order under subsection (3) that would affect the education of disabled children and children with special educational needs, he shall first consult such persons as appear to him to be appropriate."

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 264 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 268, 276 and 280. These four amendments deal with the issue of special educational needs in the curriculum. This part of the Bill rewrites many of the previous provisions of the national curriculum but introduces

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greater flexibility, particularly at key stage 4. While there has been a welcome for some of the proposed flexibility in the national curriculum, those concerned with special educational needs have a wide range of concerns about the extent of those flexibilities. Those concerns have to be seen in the context of what the national curriculum is perceived to have done for special education and for those with difficulties.

The national curriculum is widely perceived as having been the single most significant factor in improving special education in the past 14 years. In that time, imaginative teaching has demonstrated that it is possible to teach children with learning difficulties knowledge, skills and understanding that would not have been thought possible only a few years ago; for example, concepts such as evidence in history can be and are taught to children with learning difficulties through creative practical activities.

The concern is that if there is less emphasis to provide all the different aspects of the national curriculum, there will be less pressure to rethink some of our stereotyped ideas about what children with special educational needs can learn. Leaving those assumptions unchallenged in the future may lead to under-expectation of children with special educational needs and a consequent loss of entitlement.

There is a guarded welcome for the new emphasis on vocational training at key stage 4, but, again, there are equivalent concerns that low expectations of children with special educational needs will mean that they are placed in groups that have reduced access to more academic subjects. They may thus receive an impoverished curriculum mix compared with other pupils.

When these proposals are combined with the potential for earlier specialisation and the increase in specialist schools where a decision at the age of 11 may determine areas where a child subsequently specialises, there are even greater grounds for concern. The greatest concern of all is that the power to vary the national curriculum is concentrated in the hands of the Secretary of State with little or no duty to consult on significant aspects of these curriculum provisions. In issuing orders in respect of some of the provisions in this part of the Bill, the Secretary of State is required to refer the proposals to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. In turn, it is required to consult with a range of different groups and individuals.

But as regards some of the duties there is no such requirement, and in particular Clause 82 appears to enable the Secretary of State to amend or suspend the national curriculum at key stage 4 without any consultation. The Special Educational Needs Consortium is particularly concerned that where an order is made there should be an opportunity to consult on the likely impact on education with special educational needs.

Therefore, all these amendments seek to make sure that there is some form of consultation over these changes in the curriculum. We would like some reassurance from the Secretary of State that she will

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endeavour to provide such consultation. Is our reading of Clause 82 correct that the Secretary of State does not have to consult before using these powers? Should not the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority be consulted about any possible orders? Should there not be opportunities to consider the impact of any orders on particular groups of vulnerable children by consulting with the relevant groups and individuals? I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: We have already had discussions about the need to consult those concerned with the education of disabled children or children with special educational needs. Again, I would like to make it clear to Members of the Committee that we have absolutely no disagreement with the intentions behind these amendments. It is, of course, right that all parties with an interest in the education of all children, not just children with special educational needs or disability, should be consulted on any proposal to add or alter the requirements of the curriculum. That is what we intend to do. We certainly expect to consult on any order to be made under Clause 76(3) or Clause 82, ahead of laying the draft instrument for the approval of both Houses. I can assure Members of the Committee that this will involve all relevant interests and will, of course, include those with particular interests in the needs of children with disabilities or those with special educational needs. As Members of the Committee will be aware, orders under these clauses will be subject to the affirmative procedure as set out in Clause 203.

As regards Amendments Nos. 268 and 276, I believe that the case is even clearer. Consultation with both the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and other interested parties is already required under legislation being re-enacted in this Bill prior to any order being made under either Clause 79 or Clause 80 in the Bill. Clearly, any decision to amend either the foundation stage or the core and foundation subjects to key stages 1 to 3 would apply equally to able-bodied children as well as to children with special educational needs or disability. Consultation will occur with all bodies or persons representing the interests of all children.

In addition, government Amendment No. 365, if it is acceptable to the Committee, will ensure that any proposed changes under Clause 79 will also be subject to the affirmative procedure. The requirement already exists in this legislation as regards Clause 80(6). I hope, therefore, that in the circumstances the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Jones: Does my noble friend have knowledge of any government programmes designed to enhance the status of teachers practising in the field of special needs? Their status is absolutely vital if the pupils with specials needs are to have the best chance.

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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The status of all teachers is that they are all responsible for working with children with special educational needs. It is very important that when we train our teachers we enable them to work effectively with such children. The noble Lord will be aware that within schools there are special educational needs co-ordinators who play a crucial role in supporting children, and often their families and other teachers in providing that support. We also want to ensure that our teaching assistants are able to work effectively with children with special educational needs and constantly look at how—there is the implementation group within the department which I am proud to chair—we can ensure that we support our teachers most effectively, where possible.

Another example I give the noble Lord is the role of specials schools. We are working closely with them to examine how best the expertise which, on occasions has been locked away in those schools, is more available in the mainstream and at how they are able to work more closely with us to enable children to participate in the mainstream where that is appropriate. In addition, we are working to offer that expertise to teachers. I hope that that gives the noble Lord a flavour of the work that we are doing.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her very reassuring reply on these issues. As she said, we have debated special educational needs at other times. She has again given us assurances on a wide range of topics. I am delighted to have her assurances on the curriculum. It is very important indeed that we do not lower aspirations here. As has been said, many teachers have been surprised at what has been achieved by some children when set high targets. With the Minister's assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 76 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 265 not moved.]

Clauses 77 and 78 agreed to.

Clause 79 [Curriculum requirements for the foundation stage]:

[Amendment Nos. 266 to 268 not moved.]

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 [Curriculum requirements for first, second and third key stages]:

[Amendments Nos. 269 to 274 not moved.]

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 275:

    Page 54, line 11, after "citizenship" insert "and social responsibility"

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendment No. 277. These two amendments are tabled to draw attention to the risk of too narrow an interpretation of the term "citizenship" in the citizenship curriculum.

There appears to be two schools of thought about what is meant by citizenship in this context. There is the narrow interpretation favoured at present which

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considers good citizenship as mainly promoting active and informed participation in the democratic process. Admirable as that is, there is also a wider view which I favour: it sees citizenship as being the process of being a good citizen.

There are many choices within the law which a citizen can make and which affect the lives of others. Many of these choices affect the lives of the vulnerable, the aged, disabled and young children. If we believe that the welfare of our society as a whole depends on most people making unselfish decisions, at least some of the time, it is particularly important that young people, as they grow up and look forward to adulthood, have the opportunity to think about such issues as the importance of giving as well as taking, of accepting responsibility as well as claiming rights. These issues can be best explored through well-led and well-informed discussion. Manifestly, that must take place in the latter years in school.

This part of social education should not be left to the voluntary PSHE curriculum, but should have the status of being part of the mandatory citizenship curriculum. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I am very glad indeed to have added my name to this amendment. I am also very glad that citizenship will be on the compulsory agenda from September. Early instruction in citizenship should, and I hope will, play a major role in reinforcing the Government's aim of inclusiveness; for example, for all to feel very much part of the country that they live in. Furthermore, it has never been a better time to introduce it. We have probably the largest percentage ever of would-be immigrants. They will add, if and when they are accepted, talents and cultures to enrich our society. It is good to know that their children, together with those born in the UK, will have this early opportunity to learn about their rights and about the responsibilities which are involved in being a citizen of this country. The amendment seeks to encourage the Minister to emphasise the responsibilities side of the relationship.

On 17th April, the Minister, in reply to my Question for Written Answer, kindly explained the bones of what would be taught under "citizenship". The three main strands are: first, political literacy; secondly, social and moral responsibility; and, thirdly, community involvement. She also pointed me to the appropriate website, which I found less than enlightening.

I turn to the three strands of citizenship. Certainly political literacy is vital. Today's children are tomorrow's citizens. They should not only know about, but should also, from an early age, be involved in democratic processes—and, it is to be hoped, value them. Those processes are there to safeguard their freedoms. They should also—I refer to previous arguments in Committee—become involved in those areas that directly affect them, such as school governing bodies and so on.

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However, I want to emphasise social and moral responsibility and community involvement. This country has a long and valued tradition of voluntary work. I am glad to see that increasingly children and young people are being encouraged by their schools and universities to play an active practical part in helping those from deprived backgrounds to achieve their full potential. Quite apart from the effect on the recipient of such help, the value to the individual young person so engaged in that voluntary work is immeasurable, and, I believe, lasts throughout his life.

The other day I was at Stamford University. I sat next to a young man who was personally much involved in this kind of work. He told me about a particular form of social entrepreneurship where the lowest 10 per cent of society—drug dealers, former convicts and so on—were involved in helping one another to emerge from that state of affairs.

In sending me more details about this activity, he drew attention to his own dilemma. He said: "I feel very privileged to have been allowed to get involved in all this. But I worry a little that, as life goes on and other responsibilities come my way, I might actually forget all that I have learnt and not be as actively involved". It is my belief—and I replied to him on the point—that he will never forget his experience at that personal practical level. That will be the benefit in encouraging this side of affairs.

There is one area of citizenship which has not been stressed but which I hope will be taught. It is the social responsibility of being a parent—we have had some discussion about that aspect already—and the duties that this imposes on us all. Today is a particularly appropriate moment to discuss the subject in view of the reaction of one parent and her children to the final sanction of imprisonment, which was imposed for not sending the children to school. It is a salutary lesson as a final sanction, and one which one gathers is having an effect in some other areas too. But all our best efforts surely must be aimed at creating an early awareness of our parental duties.

I would argue that none of us is born a good parent. Most get by on instinct and with help from the wider family. But for those from already vulnerable backgrounds, who no doubt are living also in fairly inadequate circumstances, the early support mentioned earlier could make a great difference to how they carry out their responsibilities.

Finally, I hope that the teaching of citizenship leaves our young people with tolerance for the views of others and a belief that their views and those of others can be accommodated in rational discussions. That is part of freedom of speech—the essential ingredient of a real liberal democracy.

I have another tiny anecdote from my period as a very mature student at the LSE. It was one that made me quite proud. The students were somewhat stroppy about not wanting to hear from members of a political party that they had taken against. The quiet fury of the academics from that establishment at the prospect that there should be a ban in any sense or that they should

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be shouted down, epitomised the kind of approach that we all should have if we value democracy. I hope very much that the Minister will emphasise the social responsibilities as well as the rights—those are important too—of citizenship.

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