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Lord Jones: The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, said that he would be brief and he was. However, when in office he did not have a brief tenure. I recollect that when he was in the Welsh Office he had a similar set of portfolios as I had, but his tenure was three times as long as mine. I served in only the fourth administration of the then Mr Wilson and the only

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administration of my noble friend Lord Callaghan. The noble Lord was a distinguished Minister and was, and still is, highly respected throughout Wales. Today he poses a relevant and shrewd set of questions.

Arguably the finest work in our schools today takes place at the foundation stage. The quality of teaching is very high. I agree that the teachers show professional expertise and dedication. The young people in our schools at the foundation stage receive huge benefits from the proximity and number of ancillary staff who are ever present in classrooms. The tenderness of the age to which these amendments refer points to the general rather than to the specific in so far as the guidance and instructions to our teachers are concerned. I like to think that our teachers and their ancillary staff should receive the benefit of the doubt on these matters without the injunction of the word "shall".

The terminology of the amendment is resonant of the era of Anthony Crosland. Some Members of the Committee may remember that his proposed solutions had greater import than the set of amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and in reverse, because he rubbed out a "shall" and put in a "may", whereas the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is advancing the opposite. Mr Crosland's decision had a large import on the future of some grammar schools. I wonder whether the noble Lord is advancing rather a hard solution to a general problem.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Before I respond to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, I am sure that he and other noble Lords will want to join me in welcoming the fact that the provisions in the Bill provide, for the first time, a separate national curriculum for Wales. Part 7 of the Bill relating to Wales re-enacts existing legislation to reflect better the distinct structure of the national curriculum in Wales. That has the full support of the National Assembly and has been warmly welcomed by local authorities, schools and others involved in education in Wales.

For the record, it may help if I tell the Committee that the changes that we discussed with my noble friend Lady Ashton on the previous amendment—the separation out of the parts that deal with Wales—are the reason for the re-enactment. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked why we were re-enacting parts of previous legislation. The reason is to provide in discrete form the provisions as they apply to Wales which, of course, involves re-enacting those that apply to England. I hope that that helps to answer the point made by the noble Baroness.

The National Assembly's paving document, The Learning Country, consulted on a proposal to establish a foundation phase extending from ages three to seven. That proposal received widespread support. However, the full details of how the foundation stage would be implemented and its implications for the first key stage of the national curriculum as it currently exists could not be finalised to the timescale of the Bill. The

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National Assembly is waiting for advice from its Early Years Advisory Panel and from the Qualifications Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales on the implications of the foundation phase, in the light of which it will wish to consider a number of issues: for example, whether, and if so how, the desirable outcomes can be better fitted with expectations for key stage 1; the duration of the foundation stage; and any consequent change to the definition of the first key stage for which powers in the Bill allow. That work is likely to take at least until the end of 2002.

Amendment No. 282 would seem to require the National Assembly—this was, I believe, borne out by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy—to establish the foundation stage for the national curriculum for Wales as soon as the provisions come into force. That is inconsistent with our intentions and, indeed, with Clause 104 of the Bill which confers the specific "power" on the Assembly to make orders specifying desirable outcomes, educational programmes and assessment arrangements for the foundation stage. The duty imposed by subsection (1)(a) of that clause is a duty on the National Assembly to exercise its powers so as to establish a national curriculum for Wales for the foundation stage,

    "as soon as reasonably practicable".

That wording is consistent with the equivalent clause for England.

The Assembly will consult on the scope and structure of the foundation stage probably later this year. The expectation is that the foundation phase will cover both the foundation stage and key stage 1. The intention is not to remove key stage 1 altogether. That may allay the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. Once the Assembly has decided the scope of the foundation stage the order will be final. It will also amend, if necessary, the definition of key stage 1.

Like my noble friend Lord Jones, I pay tribute to and declare an interest on behalf of members of my family for the work of the teaching and non-teaching staff in schools in Wales, especially in the early years. The value of the work that they undertake is widely appreciated by many people in the community.

In response to Amendment No. 283, the National Assembly for Wales takes the learning of languages in schools extremely seriously. It certainly wishes to see pupils opting to study languages beyond the third key stage where it is compulsory for all pupils. The National Assembly's vision for language learning is set out in the national strategy for modern foreign languages, Languages Count, which was debated and approved by the Assembly in its plenary session on 28th February.

That document makes provision for the introduction of modern foreign language teaching in primary schools in Wales on a pilot basis. At this stage, that is the only sensible way to proceed. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, knows only too well, from the inclusion of Welsh as a compulsory subject in primary schools when the national curriculum was first introduced, the tremendous challenges that that can

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pose for schools, for teachers and for pupils. The number of teachers in primary schools who possess the necessary linguistic and pedagogical skills to deliver effectively a modern foreign language is a real challenge, as is the availability of suitable materials for primary schools and the necessary support structures at local and national level.

For that reason the Assembly is already working with the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research, Wales, with Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales, and the Qualifications Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, to tackle those issues so that the pilots stand the best possible chance of success.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will agree that that is the way to encourage language learning in primary schools and should the pilots prove successful, there will be a stronger case for rolling out language teaching in primary schools by designating it a foundation subject. That would be the National Assembly's preferred route and one which can be achieved under Clause 101 of the Bill.

Turning to Amendment No. 284, I do understand the desire to protect the position of a set of core subjects within the national curriculum for Wales. After all, these four subjects, mathematics, English, science and Welsh in Welsh-speaking schools, have been so designated since the national curriculum was first instituted by the Education Reform Act 1988.

There is no current intention on the part of the National Assembly to change any of the core subject requirements. We believe that it would be a mistake to constrain their ability to do so if circumstances altered in the future. Welsh legislation and developments since the 1988 Act have been positive: the position of Welsh as a core subject is now stronger than ever. It is a policy which has achieved a very large measure of consensus.

The content of the national curriculum for Wales is a devolved matter. It is right, therefore, that the Welsh Assembly's freedom of manoeuvre should not be fettered. Furthermore, it is a fact that the power to amend the core subjects of the curriculum is not a new power. An identical power was vested in the Secretary of State by the Education Act 1996, and the Education Reform Act 1988 before that. In practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and my noble friend Lord Jones, recognised, the then Secretary of State for Wales held the national curriculum's reins before the devolution settlement.

Clause 102, as drafted, reflects the current position as regards the fourth key stage in Wales. The core subjects, mathematics, English, science and Welsh in Welsh-speaking schools, are all compulsory. As in England, there are two foundation subjects which are also compulsory in Wales. They are physical education and Welsh in schools which are not Welsh-speaking.

As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, recognised, the National Assembly's vision for education and training to the year 2010, as set out in The Learning Country, indicates that beyond the age of 14 pupils should be offered greater flexibility over and above a core

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entitlement. That could mean less emphasis on the prescriptive approach to specific subjects; it could also mean a greater emphasis on vocational subjects.

There is also concern that if there were to be more compulsory subjects of whatever nature, in some circumstances the impact of the amendment would be to restrict rather than to enhance pupils' options. Pupils wishing to pursue a subject for which they are admirably suited would find themselves unable to do so because of the augmented number of compulsory foundation stage subjects. It could preclude them from exercising their preferred choice. I am sure that Members of the Committee will recognise that one of the issues concerning the size of school is that it can affect the range of options available to the pupils.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, did not intend his amendment to make curriculum matters worse for key stage 4 pupils in Wales. I hope that he supports the National Assembly's policy of moving towards a curriculum offering pupils greater flexibility to take options which suit their needs and talents, and which match more closely the knowledge and skills needs of Wales.

With those explanations, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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