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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have to admit that I am still no wiser as regards what it is that cannot be done now by a teaching assistant that will be enabled by the Bill. I have to say that, out in the schools, I do not detect a concern about the use of teaching assistants. What I have detected is a sense of confusion and a suspicion with regard to exactly what it is the Government mean by "changing" the nature of teaching assistants.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in returning to this matter I wish most warmly to thank the noble Baroness for writing to me. However, I have to say that, if representatives of the Plain English Society are listening, then I wish to read out one paragraph of the letter to them:
In a sense, that paragraph encapsulates my concerns. The Government want to do one thing: they want to add a foundation stage to nursery education to make it a statutory part of the national curriculum. While no one argues with thatindeed, I believe that it has been welcomedperhaps I may put an interesting question to the noble Baroness. Children below the age of five years are not of statutory school age, but now we are to introduce a statutory stage of the national curriculum. How will that square in law with regard to children who are not of statutory school age?
I know that we shall be discussing this in a few moments, but given that Montessori schools do not cover everything suggested by the Government at nursery school age, what impact will the foundation stage have on such schools? I have mentioned Montessori schools, but the question applies equally to any other nursery school not wishing to adopt the new system.
The whole of Part 5 of the 1996 Act has been transposed into this Bill in order to achieve one aim. A power could have been taken by the Secretary of State simply to add a foundation stage to the national curriculum for nursery school-age children. Part 5 did not have a foundation stage for the nursery school national curriculum. I find this very puzzling. As I say, the paragraph I have quoted epitomises the difficulty that not only I but teachers have with this kind of legalese and gobbledegook when these missives come down from on high. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I confess to being similarly puzzled by this gobbledegook. Clearly some of it is nonsense. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I cannot see why the Government have had to do it this way. I, too, am puzzled as to why there is a statutory foundation stage for a non-statutory age group for attendance at school. We live in hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the situation.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has spent much longer than I have working with those who ensure that our legislation does what it is meant to do. Having had the paragraph read back to me, I apologise for it. It made sense when I read it to myselfI did of course read the lettersbut I understand the difficulty that the noble Baroness has with it.
I shall try to put the issue on the record. I was concerned at the press reports that I saw over the weekend and it is important that we should be clear about this. I hope that my explanation will be in plain English. I try always to speak plain English in your Lordships' House.
Clause 203 of the Bill does not in any way change the duties of nursery schools or nursery classes with respect to sex education and religious education or in any other substantive way except in regard to the policy objectives that we have set out in relation to the foundation stage.
My brief states that the noble Baroness will have received a letter and that it was as clear as I believed I was. I shall refrain from commenting on that. There is some doubt in the noble Baroness's mindas there was in a fanciful newspaper reportand so I repeat that there will be no requirement for nursery-aged children to have sex education. That is completely ludicrous. The Education Act 1993 first introduced the duty for secondary-aged pupils to have sex education. That is not changed in any way by the Bill.
Nor does any school have a duty to make a statement about sex education that did not have such a duty before the Bill. The duty never applied to nursery schools; it will not do so as a result of the Bill. Nor are the duties with respect to religious education changed in any way by this legislation.
We have two main policy aims in the Bill with regard to the curriculum. First, to create the flexibility necessary to take forward the 14-19 agenda; secondly, to introduce the foundation stage as a statutory part of the national curriculum. We are also ensuringthe noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is no longer in his place, would be pleased by thisthat schools are not prevented by legislative inflexibility from accelerating pupils through key stages.
In addition, we have a technical legal aimthat is, to separate out the provisions relating to the national curriculum in England and the national curriculum in Wales in order to clarify for users of the statute book what had become quite a muddled set of sections because of the differences between Welsh and English schools. We sought no other changes to the law other than to implement these aims. The repeal of Section 410 was necessary to implement the foundation stage but, apart from enabling the implementation, we replicated its effect.
Let me set out the legal position, put it on the record and, I hope, clarify it in plain English. A great deal of Part 5 of the Education Act 1996 has already been or will be repealed by the Bill. Part 5 of the 1996 Act originally had four chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 dealt with the national curriculum, which we repeal and re-enact here. Because we are adding the foundation stage it is necessary that these re-enacted provisions now apply to nursery education.
Chapter 3 of the 1996 Act as originally drafted concerned religious education, which is one of the elements of the basic curriculum. However, Chapter 3 was replaced by the School Standards and Framework Act, so we have amended the relevant parts of that Act to ensure that religious education still does not apply to nursery classes or nursery schools.
Most of the remaining provisions of Part 5 of the 1996 Act are incapable of applying to nursery education. The provisions in regard to SACRE, which noble Lords will know advises the local education authority on collective worship and RE, apply to the extent that I have explained in relation to collective worship. Public examinations are clearly irrelevant.
The provisions that prevent political indoctrination and secure balanced treatment and the provisions in relation to information and complaints apply to maintained schools and thus to nursery classes within such schools. This is consistent with wanting to treat the classes as part of the whole school. It is clearly right that if we treat the foundation stage on a par with other stages of the national curriculum these provisions should also apply.
Clause 81 of the Bill clearly sets out the six learning areas of the foundation stage curriculum and has been warmly welcomed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. If the government are funding it, the nurseries must provide the foundation stage. No child has to have a nursery education, but if the child is funded by the Government the nursery must provide the foundation stage.
If there had been a simple way of doing this we would have taken that course. This is the way that we had to do it. I hope that when noble Lords and others read in Hansard what does and does not apply, they will see that what we have done is exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, wants us to dothat is, to bring in the foundation stage curriculum, which the noble Baroness said she warmly welcomed, and to ensure that inappropriate matters are not applied to it. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the confusion has arisen because of the application of Part 5 to nursery schools. I believe that, given that the foundation stage is not included in Part 5, it would have been possible simply to insert a power to introduce it.
My record in the department is fairly miserable in the sense that I was always a thorn in the side of officials and pressed them to use, where possible, plainer English. I failed miserably and nothing appears to have changed. They still get their way.
My only real success was bringing together, against incredible opposition from the department, a Peer with whom I argued vociferously on the Floor of the House and parliamentary counsel. I said, "Perhaps
Sex education is not banned in primary schools; it is compulsory only in secondary schools. Therefore the application of Part 5 to this part of the Bill leaves open the possibility of that part of the Act being applied to nursery schools. So it is not surprising that at least some people have been fairly fertile in their imagination of what the importation of Part 5 could mean.