Education: Tomlinson Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:06 pm on 16th March 2005.

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Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 4:06 pm, 16th March 2005

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing this important subject for debate. I hope that some of your Lordships might have had the opportunity, as I had, of talking to some of the young people who were lobbying outside the House earlier today for more money for colleges.

I welcome the report in one respect, in so far as it encourages more respect for those whose abilities are not academic. For too long the educational establishment—I say this with great respect—has felt that those members of our community were less than important. Of course, they are very important indeed. I will not try to cover all the ground that other noble Lords have covered today—I am speaking simply on one point. The weakness of the report is that it does not set out effectively how more respect for those who are less able can be achieved.

The idea seems to be that you simply introduce vocational skills and say that they are just as good as other sorts of skills, and that then everyone will want vocational skills. I believe that only a limited number of vocations involve really interesting skills that will make interesting courses. Inevitably, many young people in our society will end up doing rather boring activities which will not make appropriate university vocational courses. I do not understand how the proposal will work, but it seems that you have not only the sheep and the goats but also, if I may say so, the rabbits. I am interested particularly in the people at the bottom of the pile.

I want to take the House back to the Education Reform Act 1988. It had such a brilliant definition of a curriculum, already mentioned by one noble Lord. It states:

"The curriculum for a maintained school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which . . . promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and . . . prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".

The introduction of the Tomlinson report states:

"We must ensure rigour and that all young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for HE, employment and adult life".

Note the order: HE first, then employment, then the more general subject of adult life. Paragraph 30 contains an important quote:

"They should have the opportunity to develop their individual potential to the full, whether intellectual, creative, practical, or a combination of these".

But there is no mention whatever of social skills or family life. Probably, the role of being a parent and bringing up the next generation is one of the most important things that most young people will do.

What I find missing is a clear vision of how such young people who do not have academic potential are going to achieve parity of esteem. I ask myself what are the skills, knowledge and attributes that are going to make 14 to 19 year-olds more able to cope with the opportunities and challenges of adult life. I want to refer to just one: the ability to get on with oneself and with other people, which is sometimes nowadays called life skills or interpersonal skills.

In the report, no mention is made of those skills. But many of the problems in our society today derive from the need that each of us has for some measure of self-respect, linked to respect for others: the need to understand that each of us has a unique role to play in this world.

To achieve that, young people need to understand a number of things: the emotions of others and how to be able to control their own emotions; how to communicate, whether it is in a discussion group, a presentation, a major debate or just a smile. They need to know how to work as a team; to sink sometimes their own perceived interest to that of the group; to lead and to follow; to distinguish between good and evil—or good and bad; to assess risk; to solve problems. They need to understand about responsibility and trust and how to make decisions and the importance of positive attitudes to others and, especially, the responsibilities of family life.

I follow the right reverend Prelate—who is not in his place, alas—in drawing attention to the importance of the RE curriculum in that context. I should also like to draw attention to what is now called in some schools the co-curriculum—that is to say, all the things that happen outside the curriculum: music; art; dance; drama; team games, to which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, will refer later; competitive sports; outdoor activities and adventure; participating in charitable and community activities and projects; challenges undertaken individually or in small groups, such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.

Year after year, those wider but essential forms of education have fallen to the axe of budget cuts; and Tomlinson makes no reference to them—why not? The co-curriculum is not just for fun, although pleasure and, indeed, competition can be important motivations for young people. It is an essential element in the rounded preparation for adult life in the 20th century.

I want to ask the Minister a specific question: what are the Government's plans for reviving the co-curriculum in maintained schools? What are their plans for reviving the youth service and the facilities provided for out-of-school education for 14 to 19 year-olds? Further, what plans do they have to protect those who work in such organisations from false accusations of abuse and litigation, even when there was no negligence, which is at the moment a tremendously strong deterrent to people entering such work or leads them to cease to work in that area?

If the Government do not have a plan today, I ask them to make a commitment to commission a study to see what it would cost to produce a proper co-curriculum either in all schools or in youth services and voluntary organisations running in parallel and working with schools.