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Baroness Blatch: For clarification, is the noble Baroness able to tell us why this provision was included in the Bill in the first place? I understand that, in fact, the science curriculum does include learning about the science of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. Certainly, the circularI wish that I could remember its name; the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is nodding her head in agreement with merefers to schools dealing with the aspects spelt out in this clause within the science curriculum. Therefore, I am puzzled as to why this subsection is included in the Bill.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Clause 83(12) specifically prevents the Secretary of State from including AIDS, HIV, STDs and sex education in the national curriculum science programmes of study. It re-enacts existing legislation in Section 356 of the Education Act 1996.
I am concerned about the Ofsted reportas was the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We have responded by commissioning new guidance for teachers on HIV and sexually transmitted infections, which will provide up-to-date information and references to tried and tested classroom resources. We expect that guidance to be available later this academic year. We must be clear with children and young people, who need to be well aware of the dangers of HIV and AIDS.
Removing subsection (12) would have no direct legal effect on what can be taught in the classroom. The subsection merely prevents those topics being compulsory in the national curriculum programme of studyit does not prevent teaching those topics. The amendment seeks to ensure that important issues are taught within the curriculum. I hope to put the minds of Members of the Committee at rest on the issue.
This means that these topics are covered within the basic curriculumat present within personal, social and health education. That is the appropriate place for those matters to be discussed. It follows that if subsection (12) were removed, we would not alter the programmes of study. Otherwise, parents would lose the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons that cover HIV, AIDS, STDs and so on. As those topics must be covered as part of sex education and nothing in the Bill prevents teachers from doing so, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Blatch: The subjects in question can be taught in science. I believe that the Minister was making the distinction that when it comes to national curriculum science, which is a compulsory subject, it would be difficult for parents to exercise their right under the law to withdraw their children. In practice, there have been almost no incidences of parents doing so. The circular makes it clear that when questions arise informally in the classroom, they can be dealt with by a teacher. The only prohibition in the classroom is on proselytising homosexuality. The obligation and right of a teacher to respond to classroom questions is not inhibited but is included in the circular.
Lord Lucas: I was puzzled by the Minister's reply. Is she saying that because AIDS is part of the sex education curriculum, when that subject is raised in school it has to be regarded as sex education? Can a teacher not cover what is happeningfor example, in South Africawithout giving pupils the right to opt out? If that is not the case, what on earth is the reason for excluding the subject from science? The immune system is a part of key stage 4 science and if one is teaching that system, one absolutely must discuss AIDS as something of which every ordinary child will be aware from discussion and advertising. It seems extraordinary to say that such education must have a man with a red flag walking in front of it and that pupils who do not want to receive sex education must go home. Is that really what the Minister is saying?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I was saying that we are re-enacting what was already in legislation. Teachers are not prevented from talking about such subjectsthe noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, put it extremely well. Teachers would continue to do what teachers do. The subsection makes it compulsory within the science curriculum to talk about AIDS, HIV, STDs and sex education in that context.
We have always made it possible for parents to withdraw their children from sex education. Members of the Committee may not desire that for their own children. We would argue that sex education is really important, particularly in view of the increase of HIV
Lord Peston: I am completely puzzled. I should not have remarked about sex education because it is not central to the issuewhich is how the national curriculum is taught. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked the central question. Does a mention of AIDS, as one example, within any subject make that subject sex education and therefore immediately invoke the possibility of withdrawing a child from the class? If it doeswhich I find hard to believethere is something seriously wrong. If it does not, we have something of a Morton's fork. If the rule does not apply, it should not apply to science as well. The Government cannot have it both ways. Either parents must have the right to withdraw a child every time that AIDS is mentioned or on no occasion may they do so, when AIDS is mentioned in curriculum subjects.
My noble friend has been most helpful throughout the proceedings on the Bill, saying that she would like to think about things again. She would be well advised to reflect on the proposed amendment without turning it down categorically.
Baroness Blatch: As far as I know, the department's current guidelines and guidance allow for all that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, described. The only reason for re-enacting part of a previous statute is to modify itotherwise it remains. As I understand it, nothing has changed. If the Government plan to change something, what is the distinction between what is on the statute book now and the guidance that flows from it, and what the Government propose in Clause 83(12)? The Minister has not made that clear.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: It is clear that I must reflect further on our discussion, so that I can answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in full and consider further the issues that have been raised. The Committee will understand that I seek a solution that enables us to be clear about parental roles, responsibilities and rights, while ensuring that children are taught appropriately, as all noble Lords want.
Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for her willingness to consider the matter further. We have a great muddle here. I see no reason why the Government should not have the courage of their convictions and remove the subsection, if, as the Minister said, its removal would have no effect. The subsection is misleading.
We all believe that what we teach children should be relevant to their everyday life, so it makes no sense to teach them about the immune system in a science lesson without referring to the aspect of it that they are most likely to encounter these daysthe increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS, particularly in the heterosexual community. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 282 highlights the uncertainty about what is proposed for the foundation stage in Wales. It is clear from Clause 98 that its precise meaning is to be defined in an order to be made by the Assembly. That contrasts with the fairly clear definition of the foundation stage for England and the definition of key stages 1 to 4 in both countries. The Wales Office briefing says that the special section devoted to the national curriculum in Wales,
The uncertainty persists in Clause 100, in which the curriculum requirements for the foundation stage are dealt with. Again, there is a contrast between the firm curriculum requirements of key stages 1 to 3 and the infirm requirements for the foundation stage. According to the Bill, the national curriculum,
Amendment No. 283 is prompted by the question why the learning of a modern foreign language should be reserved to key stage 3 and not allowed earlier, as a foundation subject. We are all familiar with the arguments; we heard some of them this afternoon. We know the ease with which children can pick up languages. In this context, key stage 2 might make more sense than key stage 3, as it would enable children to learn a foreign language from the age of eight, rather than 12, which is certainly not beyond their capabilities. The Minister has left us for a
Subsection (6) of Clause 101 allows the Assembly to amend the preceding subsections, (2) to (5), by order. That means that it can change the core subjects of the national curriculum listed in subsection (2). Why should the Assembly wish to do that? I can understand the exception of SEN pupils; they are covered by the provisions for special cases in Clauses 107 to 110, particularly Clause 109. It makes one wonder what the circumstances might beapart from the cases specifiedin which exemption from core subject teaching might be warranted, especially today, when we rightly lay so much emphasis on literacy and numeracy, the keys to good citizenship and so much else.
I am glad that the Government recognise the special importance of the core subjects, and I cannot see why the Assembly should ever wish to change them or exempt schools from teaching them. Foundation subjects are, of course, a different matter altogether.
Amendment No. 287 refers to Clause 102. I referred to it in an intervention in the debate on Amendment No. 288. As the Bill stands, key stage 4 pupils are limited to learning core subjects and two foundation subjectsphysical education and Welsh, if the school is a non-Welsh speaking school, as defined in the Bill. Surely, that is not the intention; it is, nevertheless, the effect. My amendment would make the position clearer by suggesting that other selected subjects from the foundation subjects or approved vocational courses could be taught.
I suspect that the proposed limited national curriculum for key stage 4 has something to do with the Government's plans for the involvement of the Learning and Skills Council at that stage. That is why the amendment refers to approved vocational courses. If that is the case, we would like greater detail about what the Government have in mind for key stage 4. I beg to move.
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