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Lord Jones: The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that she was a Monty Finniston fan. Would that be Sir Monty Finniston, who headed the British Steel Corporation and who headed the Government inquiry on engineering? I see the noble Baroness nodding.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: This discussion is the only chance that we have had to debate the consultation paper on 14 to 19 education. Clause 81 is the precursor to its implementation. We have had a wide discussion on how far subjects should be made compulsory at key stage 4, which is the part of the process relating to 14 to 16 year-olds.
One of my worries about the whole concept of the 14 to 19 paper is the lack of a degree of coherence. There are pathways that diverge from 14 onwards. But one of the problems that we have had in this country for many years is the degree to which we have narrowed down the curriculum post-16the A-level curriculum in particularand students have studied far too narrow a range of subjects. I know that it is hoped that the AS levels will open that up, but they have not succeeded in doing very well so far. I worry, for example, about the dropping of a modern foreign language for 14 to 16 year-olds (at key stage 4). Frankly, in this day and age we should be encouraging students to take a modern foreign language through to 16.
The same is true so far as concerns mathematicsin spite of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I support the idea of the international baccalaureate. It has a coherence. One of its features is that it carries on mathematics. In this country, the kind of mathematics that is taught through to GCSE is not sufficient to support the kinds of applications that we now require in terms of training. If we compare this mathematics with the requirement for vocational courses in Germany it is often totally insufficient.
I am worried that the pathways that are being foreseen in the 14 to 19 paper are too narrow, that it will lead to increased specialisation along narrow pathways rather than to a broad-based, balanced education. That is one reason why we have tabled the
Lord Lucas: To return to the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Dearing, about cluttering up the curriculum, I entirely agree that we should look at reducing the burden in the 14 to 16 curriculum. But the way in which I would set about it is very different from the way in which the Government have set about it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that mathematics is beautiful, if you happen to be one of those people who can read it that way. Even I, who managed to struggle through a university degree in physics, find it difficult. There are a few people who find it wonderful.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, says, mathematics is important in some careers. Yes, it should be included in vocational courses. But there is no reason why someone who will end up as a commercial artist should have to struggle with simultaneous equations. It is not a foundation for such people. It will not give them any joy or purpose, and it will be of no use to them in life thereafter. I think that mathematics should be taken out of the core subjects and put into the foundation subjects.
I think that we should follow the ideas on science put forward by my noble friend Lady Blatch. The current science curriculum is terribly dusty, dry and uninteresting. We should make it much more about problem solving and real, everyday life. We should also combine it with a good element of citizenship. There should be a good understanding of how science relates to society and the world. If scientists understood a little about society, and everyone else understood a bit about science, we might be able to avoid some of the horrors being visited on the world. Science, too, should be a foundation subject.
Design and technology is a non-subject. What else do those involved in it do, other than design plastic windmills or play around in a basic way with a few microchips? Design and technology really should be replaced by proper vocational courses. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, if one knew how to maintain a modern motorcar, one would understand a great deal about the electronics which are at the core of those motorcars. However, it is ridiculous to say that design and technology in its present form should be a foundation subject.
I agree entirely with what my noble friend Lady Blatch said about information and communication technology, which should be part of every subject. One should not have to learn ICT separately. Other than programming, my children can already handle a computer much better than I can. I suspect that my son, by the end of his GCSE course, will also be a better programmer than I am. ICT skills are acquired simply because ICT is part of the way in which children learn other subjects.
We must maintain space in the curriculum for physical education. As we cannot have a nation of desk-bound children, I see the function of physical education. Citizenship should be part of the way in which we teach all sorts of other subjects. Modern foreign languages also should be included. Combining all those subjects, we end up with a thinned down curriculum with lots of room for history, geography and arts and music, as Amendment No. 278 proposes. I think that that would be a much better balance for the core subjects than that proposed by the Government.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I must spring to the defence of science. Last night we had a very interesting debate on the issue of alcohol, and one aspect which emerged loud and clear was the problem of binge drinking by youngsters and their lack of understanding of their own biology and reactions to alcohol. Unplanned pregnancy is another aspect of the problem. Some noble Lords who participated in that debated are in the Chamber now.
If we are not preparing our young people for whatever life lies ahead of them, we are failing them. In establishing any curriculum, we can argue long and hard about whether to include or exclude a given subject. However, we have to educate the whole spectrum of society. Some children come from extremely deprived and difficult backgrounds, and we have to educate them to avoid some of the traps that their parents have fallen into. Part of education should be to prevent the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children.
Lord Peston: As we seem to be having two debates, perhaps logic should also be a compulsory subject; it seems to be lacking at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is being logical. He is saying that he would take one subject out because he wants to put another in. I can understand that although I may not agree with him on what should come out or go in. However, I am totally lost in relation to the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrat Front-Benchers. They have told us what will have to go in, but they have not said what can come out. Logically, therefore, they are saying that they are opposed to flexibility. They must not want a flexible 14 age group. If they do want flexibility, they have to accept that choices will have to be made. But they do not seem to want to do that. When I was a teacher, one of my constant problems was trying to persuade young people that if they chose this, they could not do that. Young people find that incredibly hard to grasp. There are very few points that we can teach beyond, "If this, then not that". The answer, however, is always "both".
It is right that we are having this debate. I believe that we are trying to understand what young people should be doing at 14. I think that there should be as much choice as possible at 14. Indeed, I go further and entirely accept the view expressed by the noble Lord,
As I said in your Lordships' House 10 years ago, if we are preparing people for life, we should be teaching them skills such as how to read the Good Food Guide, and things of that sort, as that is what young people become obsessed with once they join the bourgeoisie. However, I take it that none of us is advocating that. More seriously, in terms of later life, perhaps we should be teaching accounting to young people, including the moral side of the subject, and particularly how to spot a dodgy balance sheet. They will learn very few things more important than that.
I stick to my view that the Government are right on this issue. If I were to criticise them, it would be to advocate fewer compulsory subjects and more choice. However, I certainly would not go down the line of saying, "I think this is important. Therefore, we have to do it". The point is that I think this is important. Therefore, we hope that people will choose to do it. That seems to be the correct way. For once, I strongly believe that the Government are going in the right direction.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I am a great fan of history. I understand that Simon Scharma is presenting his new programme at 9 o'clock tonight on BBC. However, I shall not be able to watch it. That is just a gentle reminder to noble Lords of how much we have yet to do. Nevertheless, I shall ensure that the programme is videotaped for me. I am also glad for the support of my noble friend Lord Peston. I wanted to put that on the record because it is a very great moment for me. I am fascinated by his desire to understand how to strip a car engine. I wonder if he has looked at one recently. They are impossible to understand.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for introducing the debate. She described the gender bias in vocational education and issues affecting ethnic minorities. We want to create a system in which vocational is as good and important, and is seen to be as good and important, as academic. We are therefore not approaching the issue in the same way as we would if we felt that the subjects were being described as inferior. It is important to recognise that we are trying to create a new pathway and a new 14 to 19 phase of learning, the purpose and intention of which is to move away from the culture of leaving school at 16 and to create the opportunities that are necessary if we are to compete successfully in the global economy. We need not only to have the best-educated people possible but to recognise the inherent value of education. As noble Lords will be aware, consultation on the new pathway ends on 31st May.
The Bill does not change in any way the status quo in terms of key stage 3 and key stage 4 subjects. The power to alter key stage 4 is contained in Clause 82. However, the Bill does not change the subjects that must be taught in schools. Moreover, any order made under Clause 82 would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. We would have the opportunity to debate and discuss the matter.
It is also important to realise that history and geography were made optional at key stage 4 some years ago, under the previous Conservative government. I believe that the change was a result of the review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Dearingwho has left the Chamber. Currently, it is for schools to determine whether and to whom they will make these subjects available. In the Green Paper, we are proposing that although pupils should not be statutorily obliged to study these subjects, schools should be obliged to make them available to pupils who wished to take them. That is arguably a stronger position than the current one. It is important to see it in that context.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, talked about language learning. As she knows, I could talk for hours on that subject; but I shall resist the temptation to do so. However, I was very interested in her knowledge of the Tweenies and the Simpsons. I, too, have been in discussion with many people on the language issue. As we speak, the language group which I chair at the department is meeting to consider a language strategy which, as noble Lords will know, will be presented in the autumn. As I have said, the strategy considers issues of motivation and opportunity and how to provide opportunity particularly to the youngest children, whoas noble Lords have recognised in previous debatesare perhaps best able to learn languages. We must also motivate children to learn languages. Moreover, we have to convince them that language skills will provide them with employment opportunities as they grow older.
We have previously debated which languages should be taught and identified 11 or 13. So there is a recognition within our languages strategy of the need to think about the languages that we offer. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about the value of ICT, not only in terms of distance learning as we would normally recognise it, but also as regards the opportunity through video conferencing and other initiatives to be able to join a class in, say, Spain, France or Germany and participate perhaps in a science lesson in a different language. Those are important opportunities.
In both England and Wales we want to create a positive model that offers greater spaceMembers of the Committee have talked about that needat key stage 4 for greater flexibility. We want students to pursue studies that reflect their aptitudes, abilities and preferences while maintaining a strong grip on the basics. We propose that the phase will provide an entitlement for all students to continue to include elements of the national curriculum. We recognise the need for a broad and balanced curriculum.
I address that point as regards Amendments Nos. 279 and 289. I can understand the reasons why the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, tabled those amendments, but I want to assure them that Clauses 75(1) and 96(1) already place a duty respectively on the Secretary of State, in the case of England, and the National Assembly for Wales to exercise their functions with a view to securing the general requirements respectively of Clauses 74(1) and 95(1) for a balanced and broadly based curriculum in maintained schools. That applies as much to the fourth key stage curriculum requirements as it does to the requirements at the other key stages. The duty also applies in respect of the powers to alter or remove the requirements for the fourth key stage.
I hope that those reassurances are helpful to the Committee. I take on board all of the key points that Members of the Committee have made, but our purpose is clear. Within the Bill we are creating the ability to put forward to this Chamber potential changes if we believe that they should be made. That will occur, as I have said, by means of the affirmative resolution procedure. It is worth saying that at the present time neither the Secretary of State nor the National Assembly for Wales envisage a need to remove national curriculum requirements. However, if that became apparent as a result of the consultation, we should be able to do so by means of the affirmative resolution procedure. I hope that on the basis of those comments the Committee will feel able
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