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Lord Peston: We are talking only about key stage 4 and not all the other key stages. I strongly support the Government's position of creating room and flexibility in that stage. However, in doing so one must say, "This is more important than that"; in other words, "This is vital and that you can choose". My reading of the Bill is not that no one can study history, geography or the other subjects but that they are not obliged to do so at that stage.
A good reason for that is that students might want to study other subjects, which seems to make good sense. We can all name a subject and make an impassioned plea as to why it is the most important for people to study, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, seemed to be under the impression that one could teach people to make moral decisions. Anyone who has read any moral philosophy knows that that is not the case. However, as someone who is devoted to moral philosophy, I could make an impassioned plea that it ought to be a compulsory subject in schools simply so that young people could learn how difficult it is to make a moral decisionthat is, the very nature of a moral decision and not the decision itself. I could do that with almost any subject one cares to name. However, I do not believe that the Government are wrong in saying that at this stage we ought to create some room and the only way of doing that is to leave it to the school or the child to decide.
It is not in my nature to be supportive of the Government on these matters, as my noble friend knows. However, pupils will have been taught some history and geography and, unless I am on the wrong page of the Bill, music. That is all to the good. The real question is whether it is unreasonable to suggest that
I do not want to prolong the discussion by having a continual debate with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but I must say that maths taught properly is the most exciting intellectual subject one can imagine. The trouble is that frequently it is not taught properly; it is taught rote as a set of rules. However, taught as it is in terms of foundation, with the exception of learning how to write a decent sentence in English, I can think of nothing more important. The one thing I would die in the last ditch for would be keeping maths, taught properly, in the curriculum.
Lord Dearing: I am delighted to find myself for once in total agreement with the noble Lord. If we are to excite all our children to engage in learning by the age of 16, the more we can free up the 14 to 16 curriculum the better. Our key objective must be to want them to engage in learning beyond 16 and for life. Unless we can do so, we have failed them.
Therefore, we need to trust our schools much more to be able to respond flexibly. It does not mean that if that is not prescribed they will not do it. I believe that in the great majority of cases children will want to follow what we might regard as the standard subjects. But I would like teachers to have more freedom not only in choosing subjects but in choosing which elements excite them so that they can then communicate that excitement to young people.
As regards mathematics, I did not have the privilege of finding excitement. It was not until the age of 26 that to my astonishment I found an application for simultaneous equations. For ever after, that was known in the department in which I worked as the "Dearing formula". It was a miracle but it took until the age of 26, having left school at 16, to find it. I think I could have managed without it, but my main point is the more serious one. We must trust our schools more and realise that our primary duty is to engage the attention and enthusiasm of children in learning before they can choose to shed education from their lives.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I could happily join the queue with my favourite subject and equally support the Government's argument that there should be flexibility for schools and individual children to make choices. However, I want to re-open the subject of language teaching for a different reason. If it is to be allowed to be dropped from key stage 4, I want to be assured that it is done for the right reasons.
The OU is currently involved in training more than a quarter of all UK teachers in its Learning Schools Programme which will be running until the end of March next year. And the 10,000 who have already completed the programme are known to have gained significantly more confidence in using new technologies in their teaching.
Surely, too, in partnership with broadcast media, we need more imaginative programmes for the actual teaching of languages, in particular for the young. That will release more teachers for the older generation. A more educational version of "The Tweenies"even "The Teletubbies"in French or German should certainly help turn on the very young at the age when they are most receptive to language and accent. For older children, something similar to "The Simpsons" would almost certainly produce the same result, teaching them within the genre that they find exciting and interesting.
Judging by the concern expressed by Foreign Office Ministersand indeed by Ambassadors from the EUat the suggestion that the UK should drop languages from the compulsory curriculum at key stage 4, practical help with the language and pronunciation side of such programmes might well be forthcoming.
Therefore, although I want the flexibility in the Bill, I want to be reassured about the reasons for dropping particular subjects. Although, let us face it, everyone else speaks English, it would be a great shame if there were not the ability to open minds to other languages and the experience and wider understanding of a culture that that can bring. I find it fascinating that most universities, certainly the LSE at some stage, were teaching with their subject matterperhaps resisted somewhat by the academicsthe language, so that economics or whatever subject it was could be taught against the background of another language.
Baroness Blatch: I take the point made again by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in terms of flexibility at age 14. However, I find it very hard to accept that citizenship is a subject that must be compulsory, however it is taught, over and above history and geography, for example. It seems to me that a proper understanding of one's past and of the physical world around one are so very important. As has been said, citizenship can be imbibed through all subjects, including history and geography. So I find it very difficult.
I am a Monty Finniston fan. It was Monty Finniston who created "education for capability". The process of young people identifying problems and creating solutions to them by making things and by evaluating them, through science and through design and technology, is important. They go together in
Again, there is the idea that that information and communication technology should be compulsory when history and geography are notfor today's children, who are so proficient at communicating and using technology even before they start school. I find the proposition strange that those subjects should still be compulsory at key stage 4 when history and geography are not.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am inclined to support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I, too, have a big reservation about appearing in any way to diminish the importance of the teaching of history and geography. I accept the crucial importance of children understanding information technology and knowing how to access the Internet to find resources there that would never be available to them otherwise; in today's world people must be computer literate. Nevertheless, an understanding of ourselveshere I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucasof how we relate to others, and of our nation's history and the reasons we are as a nation how we are, go to the very heart of how we live our lives. Any proposal that relegates history or geography should be resisted.
I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is examining this matter between now and Report she will consider whether the provision is set out in the most helpful way. It may send a signal into the system that Parliament, having considered these matters, believes that the diminishing of the status of history and geography within the curriculum is a matter that is negotiable. If we were to have a thoroughgoing debate on that subject alone, I do not think that we should necessarily come to that conclusion.
I also support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in what she said about distance learning as a way of supporting the teaching of many of the subjects listed. This is the way in which education is bound to open up in the future, and we need to give more attention and time to that. But, surely, none of it will replace inspired teachers. It is a shame that we have not had a chance during the Committee stage to say a little more about the crisis that is affecting the teaching profession.
At one time, teaching was seen as a vocationa calling in life. Yet many people now are even repelled from entering the teaching profession. They know so much about its lack of status, about the many pressures that are placed on teachers, and about the issues that have been raised during our debates in Committee; namely, violence and indiscipline in the classroomall of which have been registered by teachers.
A very worrying issueone that I raised at Second Readingis the number of supply teachers who are now used in the classroom rather than steady teachers who spend all their time inspiring the children. Supply teachers, by definition, are here today and gone tomorrow, so they cannot bring stability or continuity
All of us, whenever we see the Times Educational Supplement section on "teachers who inspired us" probably go to that section first. We all remember from our own lives at school those teachers who made a significant difference to us. My love of history was certainly given to me by a teacher who knew how to teach history.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Although I agree that we have to teach some factsI do not think that the teaching of any subject can be devoid of the teaching of factsthe way in which we go about it is essential. If the teaching consists purely of a distribution of facts on a rote basis with no inspiration behind it, such teachers have little chance of inspiring the children entrusted to their care.
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