To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to launch a commission to consider how the school curriculum may be updated to include (1) data literacy, (2) digital literacy, (3) financial literacy, and (4) character and resilience education.
My Lords, the Government have no plans to launch a commission to review the curriculum. Data literacy is covered within mathematics, science, computing and geography; digital literacy within computing, and relationships, sex and health education; and financial literacy within citizenship and mathematics. Relationships, sex and health education, and citizenship, directly support the development of character and resilience, and schools can reinforce personal development in other curriculum subjects and through their extracurricular enrichment offer.
My Lords, if AI is to human intellect what steam was to human strength, your Lordships will see the extent of the issue. Steam literally changed time. This is just AI; when it is considered alongside the other emerging technologies, issues around data and privacy, the platforms and the approaching metaverse, is it not clear that it is high time to launch a commission to consider a complete overhaul of the curriculum? It should enable young people—ultimately, all people—to be safe, secure and successful, optimising the opportunity for human talent to lead technology.
I agree with my noble friend’s point about the importance of data and AI and how they may transform many aspects of our lives. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear about our national commitment to be a leader in this space. There is a great deal of work going on across government but, in the interim, we are absolutely committed to elements within the curriculum that deliver on all the issues my noble friend raises.
My Lords, everyone would agree on the need for a relevant curriculum, so the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, makes a very good point, particularly on building character and resilience. Can the Minister explain to the House how children’s resilience can be built when the Public Accounts Committee report published yesterday found that the attainment gap in respect of the most disadvantaged children has continued to grow? The Government appear to have no specified measurement for the success of the additional investment in the National Tutoring Programme.
This country is not unique in its disadvantaged children having suffered particularly during the pandemic. We have been very clear about our vision for the National Tutoring Programme, which is particularly relevant in giving disadvantaged children access to some of the privileges enjoyed by children from more socially advantaged homes. Tutoring on its own is not enough, which is why we have made a number of commitments including, at one end of the spectrum, putting senior mental health leads in our schools and, at the other, reinforcing our commitment to sport, music and other resilience-building activities in our schools.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the building of character and resilience does not require the appointment of a commission? Teachings of right and wrong, and of responsibility and resilience, are common in our different religions and other world views, but are, sadly, badly obscured in formal RE, with its overfocus on rituals, artefacts and the shape and size of religious buildings. Does the Minister further agree that much greater emphasis should be put on the important ethical commonalities between religions?
I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord’s description of the RE curriculum, but he makes the broader point that schools play a part—along with, obviously and incredibly importantly, families—in setting the moral compass of our children and our nation’s future.
My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Holmes asked a similarly important Question a little while ago and I raised the importance of our schoolchildren having a real foundation in the history of their country, my noble friend replied very positively and was encouraging. Has she any further progress to report?
We are not changing the national curriculum, but we did a major review of it in 2014. A knowledge-rich curriculum, which evidence suggests is particularly important for children from disadvantaged communities, continues to be our focus.
My Lords, I think we all agree that there will be a point when the improvement and radical updating of the curriculum are needed. If that is to happen, putting in place the required backing for teachers to get support will be necessary. The Minister gave a very helpful answer when she talked about citizenship. Will she reflect that some of the people who have the greatest character and resilience in reality are those living in the most desperate circumstances—often a single parent abandoned by their partner with three or four children in a high-rise block? Preaching to them is not what they need.
I really hope that I did not give the impression that any element of preaching was going on. I absolutely recognise the description that the noble Lord gave. I just ask the House to reflect on this idea of radical improvement being needed in the curriculum. England just came fourth in the PIRLS global reading survey; we are, as we like to say in the DfE, the best in the West. That does not sound to me like a curriculum that needs radical overhaul.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that resilience is not something primarily that is taught? It is something that develops as you take what is thrown at you in the experiences of life. To that end, is any thinking going on in government about future curricula which allow for children in our schools, particularly secondary schools, to be exposed to opinions and things with which they do not agree in order that they are able to live in a world of conflicting dogmas and opinions, and do not have to run away from them?
The right reverend Prelate makes a very important point. The House is obviously familiar with the emphasis we have put on freedom of speech, particularly in our higher education institutions, but the skills of critical thinking, analysis and debate—which data will feed into in coming to objective and balanced views and an ability to listen to others—obviously need to start in our schools and homes.
My Lords, these exchanges have already pinpointed the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, is trying to highlight. The skills required by the next generation to understand and deal with new technologies are real and present now. Quite frankly, the list he put forward of skills to be acquired are beyond the reach of a single department, including the Department for Education. His idea of a commission, possibly sponsored by the Prime Minister, who has skills in this area, is now needed to avoid moving into another era when most of our population are ill-equipped to deal with the technologies serving them.
It would help to understand some of the specific areas of concern. Data and its use are firmly embedded in the mathematics, science, geography and computing curriculums. Computing is a statutory national curriculum subject from key stage 1 to key stage 4. We have introduced, and are introducing, a number of digital-focused T-levels. The fundamental point is that, as shown in the OECD PISA surveys, without strong mathematics and reading, you cannot achieve literacy in any of these things. That is why our focus on those building blocks is so crucial.
My Lords, numerous reports, including the publication in February from the APPG on Financial Education for Young People, of which I am vice-chair, have consistently highlighted that the provision of financial education is severely lacking in our schools. Can the Minister tell me why the Government do not prioritise this issue, given that doing so would result in more of our children leaving school with a crucial life skill?
I cannot accept my noble friend’s assertion that we are not providing this effectively. We appreciate that there are some issues in the delivery of financial education—for example, we know that only 69% of secondary schools say that they teach money management. I know that reviews have shown a lack of confidence among some teachers in delivering financial education, which is why the Oak National Academy is producing more dedicated materials to support teachers. The Money and Pensions Service produced financial education guidance for schools in 2021. We are working on this across every aspect, but I reiterate that without mathematics and reading, we will not achieve financial literacy.