National Curriculum

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1992.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby 12:00 am, 17th November 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will report on the progress of the implementation of the national curriculum.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

The final subjects in the national curriculum—art, music and physical education—were introduced on time in September this year. That is in line with the timetable that we set in 1989 and have kept to ever since.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he further confirm that he has no intention of stopping the testing of seven-years-olds in our primary schools?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I have absolutely no intention whatever of stopping the successful tests of seven-year-olds in our schools. A very few people, harking back to the outdated theories of the 1960s which did so much damage to education in this country, have suggested that we should get rid of tests for seven-year-olds. What do they have to hide or to fear? We shall continue with the tests and we shall continue to see an improvement, for which I am grateful to the many hard-working school teachers. Her Majesty's inspectors of schools have said that last year's tests showed a marked improvement over those of the year before and that teachers had higher expectations of their pupils. The tests are excellent and much appreciated by parents.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

Does the Minister agree that the pace of implementation of the national curriculum may depend in part on the Government's decisions about capital expenditure for 1993–94? With its huge problems of schools with basic needs, can we expect a generous settlement for Manchester?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

On capital expenditure for maintaining schools, following last year's 15 per cent. increase in the amount of money available for schools, this year we have maintained the level of the capital programme. I recognise that implementation of the national curriculum is not always easy for our hard-working teachers, but I am glad that there is at least bipartisan agreement that the national curriculum introduced by the Conservatives is supported by both sides of the House.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

How much money have local education authorities received in grants to help implement the national curriculum, and has that money been used to good effect?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Each year we have been giving several hundred million pounds to local education authorities, both in England and in Wales, my hon. Friend's area, to help implement the national curriculum. The fruits of some of those schools' labours will be clear tomorrow when, for the first time, the Government publish the A-level and GCSE results for every secondary school in the country. That will pinpoint attention where it is needed locally and on standards where they need to be improved. It is the biggest ever public information exercise. Once those new tables are launched, parents will expect them year by year in future, and they will get them year by year —and quite right, too.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor Shadow Secretary of State

Does the Secretary of State not think it remarkable that he has managed to unite everyone in education, from the National Union of Teachers to the Girls' Schools Association in the independent sector, so that all are criticising his handling of the national curriculum and assessment procedures? Is it not about time that the Secretary of State started to listen to those parents and teachers who believe that the national curriculum is overloaded and too prescriptive? Should he not consult the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has just withdrawn proposals for the testing of seven-year-olds, which the right hon. Gentleman has just defended?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I meet teachers as I go around schools in this country. With my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools and the Minister of State, Baroness Blatch, we have visited 64 separate schools in the seven months since the general election. I have not visited one school where the head teacher or any classroom teacher has said that he or she does not support the national curriculum. There is a wide measure of agreement on that. I am delighted that the national curriculum is being delivered on time and will lead to improvements in standards. Was it not Matthew Arnold who talked about the last enchantments of the Middle Age"? It is right for many people to debate the national curriculum, and I do not dispute that there will always be lively debates on the subject, but there are faint echoes of the 1960s in what is being said by many people.