Clause 10

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 2nd February 2010.

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Areas of learning

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 54, in clause 10, page 12, line 17, leave out ‘areas of learning’ and insert ‘subjects’.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 52, in clause 10, page 12, line 21, leave out ‘areas of learning’ and insert ‘subjects’.

Amendment 238, in clause 10, page 12, leave out lines 22 to 29 and insert—

‘(3) The following are the core subjects for the first and second key stages—

(a) mathematics;

(b) English, and

(c) Science.

(3A) The following is a core subject for the second key stage—

(a) a modern foreign language.

(3B) The following are the other foundation subjects for the first and second key stages—

(a) geography;

(b) history;

(c) art;

(d) music;

(e) physical education and sport;

(f) information and communication technology.’.

Amendment 50, in clause 10, page 12, leave out line 36.

Amendment 182, in clause 10, page 12, line 36, at end insert—

‘( ) The governing body and head teacher of every maintained school or maintained nursery school shall have responsibility for developing areas of learning to meet the needs of children in their schools.’.

Amendment 53, in clause 10, page 13, line 4, leave out ‘area of learning’ and insert ‘subject’.

Amendment 183, in clause 10, page 13, line 5, at end add—

‘( ) The Secretary of State shall from time to time, though not more than once in each parliament, review the effectiveness of arrangements for areas of learning including attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements.’.

For reasons given previously, I am not minded at this stage to allow a stand part debate, as all these matters will be considered as part of the debates on the amendments.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Clause 10 introduces the new primary curriculum as recommended by the Rose review. It will replace section 84 of the Education Act 2002 with proposed new section 83A. The new section will replace the requirement to study mathematics, which was set out in section 84(2)(a), with “mathematical understanding”. The clause will also replace “English” with

“understanding English, communication and languages” and “science” with “scientific and technological understanding”. It will take out “history” and “geography”, which are separately itemised in the 2002 Act, and replace them with “historical, geographical and social understanding”. It replaces separately itemised “art and design” and “music” with “understanding the arts”, and “physical education” with

“understanding physical development, health and well being.”

Other than the last one, which looks like replacing running and jumping in the gym or playing field with sitting at a desk studying human anatomy, the others appear to be the same as before, but with the word “understanding” plopped in front. If that is all it is, why worry? However, if that is all it is, why bother changing the legislation and have two reports—the interim and the final Rose reports—on the primary curriculum?

When I asked Jim Rose what the difference was between “mathematics”, as currently written in the legislation, and “mathematical understanding” in clause 10, his response was

“I am not sure that it is anything different from what we have now.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 21 January 2010; c. 82, Q1.]

It does mean something different, or why else go to all the bother? Jim Rose’s interim report was greeted with howls of derision and criticism, because it revealed too openly the aim of moving from discrete subjects to the cross-curricular teaching methods of the 1960s. That was odd because Jim Rose is one of the so-called three wise men who, in 1992, conducted a government inquiry into low reading standards. Their report explicitly criticised progressive teaching methods:

“Over the last few decades the progress of primary pupils has been hampered by the influence of highly questionable dogmas which have led to excessively complex classroom practices and devalued the place of subjects in the curriculum”—

Jim Rose, Chris Woodhead and Professor Alexander said in 1992 that the place of subjects in the curriculum had been devalued.

More importantly, the clause takes primary education towards an outcome-based education system—known as OBE for short, in the jargon. The OBE approach has been defined by many educationists, pro and anti, but it is best summed up in Kevin Donnelly’s book—which cites the South Australian framework, which adopted OBE—as

“understandings, dispositions and capabilities which are developed through the Learning Areas and form an integral part of children’s and students’ learning from birth to Year 12 and beyond... These understandings, capabilities and dispositions are personal and intellectual qualities, not bodies of knowledge”— that is the issue at stake.

That approach to education originates in the 1920s at Teachers college, Columbia, New York. Wherever and whenever it is tried, it fails. It particularly fails those children who have no access to education elsewhere,  other than school—they have no access at home or through a personal tutor. Kevin Donnelly says in his book, “Dumbing Down”:

“Australia’s adoption of OBE is the reason why our education system is consistently at the centre of controversy. Since the development of the Keating Government’s national statements and profiles in the early to mid-1990s, all states and territories have adopted OBE to various degrees. Internationally, only a handful of countries have attempted to implement OBE and those educational systems that outperform Australia in the TIMMS tests ignore OBE in favour of a more academic and teacher-friendly syllabus.”

On the issue of maths, the debate is best summarised by the US mathematician David Ross, quoted in Kevin Donnelly’s book:

“The reformers think that students should struggle with mathematical problems on their own and that, from these struggles, methods of solving the problems will emerge. Having devised these methods themselves, students will understand the abstract conceptual structure of the methods. Their opponents think that unless students are taught the traditional algorithms, they will not be able to do math.”

Donnelly goes on to quote from Rhonda Farkota who argues that successfully mastering higher-order skills first requires being taught the basics in a structured, systematic way:

“It is generally accepted that a student-directed approach is more suitable when it comes to the employment and cultivation of higher order skills where reasoning and reflection are required. However, for the acquisition of basic mathematical skills, the research clearly shows that teacher-directed learning is better suited. Needless to say, these basic skills must be firmly in place before students can approach problem-solving questions with any degree of competence.”

In essence, that is the debate to have plagued education in this country for 50 years. It is all about what has been termed the constructivist approach, which is defined as

“a theory of learning that builds on the work of Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky... Adoption of a constructivist approach in the classroom involves a shift from predominantly teacher-directed methods to student-centred, active discovery learning and immersion approaches via cooperative group work, discussion focused on investigations and problem solving.”

As Kevin Donnelly states that when applied to maths, it means that memorising times tables, mental arithmetic, learning by rote and mastering basic algorithms, such as long division, give way to using calculators, co-operative hands-on learning and relating maths to real world applications.

I remember meeting a primary school teacher who said, “You don’t teach children to multiply by 10 by adding a zero, or to multiply by 100 by adding two zeros. That is just mechanical and doesn’t teach them an understanding of maths.” That view is widely held, and probably explains an incident that happened to me a few years ago when I spoke to a year 6 group in a primary school in my constituency about the campaign to ensure that every child in sub-Saharan Africa had a teacher. I asked them how much we could raise if we asked every taxpayer, of which there are about 30 million, to pay 10p. Almost immediately, a teacher burst in and said, “They can’t answer that question.” They were the brightest year 6 children in the school, who were co-ordinating the campaign. Members will probably remember receiving letters in which we were invited to go to the school and receive a model of a teacher that they wanted to have in every sub-Saharan country.

The fact is the teacher told me that those children could not do that kind of calculation; they had not been taught how to multiply large numbers. The obsession with not teaching algorithms means that children cannot do problem solving, because they do not have the tools to do it. Jim Rose let it slip that the constructivist approach is behind the reforms recommended in his report. He said:

“In the recent past, Ofsted commented on maths and said that children are taught sums, but often do not know what sums to do or how to apply that knowledge when it comes to a practical situation. Given that sort of evidence, which has come forward fairly consistently, I think that the way in which we are suggesting things should be structured is very sensible.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 21 January 2010; c. 82, Q1.]

Clause 10 covers the new primary curriculum. The 76 prescriptive objectives in the maths programme of learning and the 84 prescriptive objectives in the English programme of learning are clearly crafted in a way that takes the curriculum in a constructivist direction and an outcomes-based approach. If I am wrong, as Jim Rose says, there is nothing different from what we have now. In either case, we should not be amending the national curriculum as set out in clause 10.

I want to come to the English curriculum when we debate the next set of amendments and the programmes of study. Amendments 54, 52 and 53 would replace the phrase “areas of learning” with “subjects”, which is the term used in the Education Act 2002.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I seek some clarification. Given that hon. Gentleman thinks that head teachers should have more freedom in implementing the curriculum—that is certainly my party’s view—should there not be the opportunity for one school to choose a cross-curriculum route and another to choose a subject-based route, because that would give parents a choice, and I believe in that sort of choice.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I agree with the hon. Lady: a very prescriptive curriculum that insists on a certain philosophy of education is proposed, and we should be giving the discretion to head teachers to use the philosophy that they think will deliver the highest standards. As a quid pro quo, parents should be able to choose the school that they think will be best for their own children. In my judgment, schools should have to publish on their website the educational philosophy, the approach and the curriculum in their schools, so that parents can make an informed choice. What we have at the moment is wrong. It is a centralised approach, the levers of which have been used to promulgate a particular ideology of education—

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

No, it is not the one in which I believe. I shall finish my point, and the Minister can jump in.

Such a system has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried. It is not new. It has been tried many times in this country, and whenever it is tried, it results in a poorer outcome of education for children. Let us consider, for example, the phase when children did not know their multiplication tables. Such periods do enormous damage to young people’s confidence in learning maths and taking it to a further stage. Even though it is now in  the national curriculum that children should learn their tables to 10 times 10 by the time that they are nine-years-old, that still does not happen in many schools. I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. She is absolutely right. It should be a matter for the professionalism of teachers, but that is not the system that we have at the moment, and what we have is moving in the wrong direction.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 4:45 pm, 2nd February 2010

I apologise for jumping in. The hon. Gentleman accuses us of pursuing an ideology, but what is he pursuing?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am happy to have a debate about approaches to education. For too long, such issues have been debated among educationists behind closed doors. Those who are affected by it are excluded from the debate. I feel strongly as a Member of Parliament and as a shadow Education Minister that we should be debating such matters in public and I take every opportunity to do so. I believe strongly in phonics and learning multiplication tables by rote, so that the child has an automaticity and is not busy floundering, working out seven times six in a long division sum.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Forty-two, incidentally. That system is the best approach to teaching maths and to teaching children to read. Children should be taught general knowledge, history and the geography of this country and of the world. However, as I said to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, such matters should ultimately be for schools, but that does not mean to say that Members of Parliament and shadow Ministers should not take part in such debates and let the public contribute to them.

One organisation that takes part in the debate is the Campaign for Real Education. It has commented on the clause. It said:

“Sir Jim Rose recommended that primary schools should do away with the subject-based curriculum and subsume the subjects into 5 ‘areas of learning.’”

It went on to say:

“This goes completely against the advice of good teachers who emphasise that the subjects provide structure for essential knowledge and content.”

The documentation and Jim Rose’s report are defensive about the accusation of subsuming subjects, and the final report goes to great lengths to deny that, particularly following the outcry that greeted the interim report. However, the wording of the six areas did not change between the interim report and the final report, and it is that wording that will last if we implement clause 10 when Jim Rose is long forgotten.

The wording of the clause changes “subject” to “areas of learning”, but we believe that subjects matter. The constructivist approach is that learning how to learn is more important than subject content. It asserts that generic learning skills can be taught and then applied to subjects later—I am not sure when, but later. But the only genuine cross-curricular skill is literacy. How to  read and write can be improved as we write a history essay or write up a geography field trip or a chemistry experiment, but learning French is different from learning maths or physics. The mind is developed by learning and understanding more and more concepts, by remembering more and more pieces of information and by developing knowledge, not by being told how and what to think.

As Kevin Donnelly writes,

“An essential aspect of what it means to be educated is to be taught traditional subjects like mathematics, history, science, literature and music. Such subjects have evolved over hundreds of years and each is unique in the way it defines how we experience and understand the world and our place in it.”

Another influential book is “The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them” by E. D. Hirsch. He is critical of the objectives approach to the curriculum. He said that, in that approach,

“One first defines a few highly general ‘objectives,’ and one then carries them through several grades”— he is an American academic; he is referring to years. As his objectives are quite general, they are then repeated each year—the theory being that they are taught in increasing depth. Hirsch argues that that leads to repetition and boredom as children learn the same issue over and over again in increasing depth. It also leads to gaps in children’s knowledge as the broad objectives result in some subject content being taught over and over again while correspondingly, other important areas are missed out altogether.

Amendment 238 would undo clause 10 and return to what is in the 2002 Act, with the exception that languages would be put in as a core subject for key stage 2, together with English, maths and science. It emphasises that music should be a separate foundation subject, rather than being subsumed into “understanding the arts”. Finally, amendment 50 would take out the Henry VIII clause that gives the Secretary of State the power under secondary legislation to amendment the curriculum which has, until now, been amended only by primary legislation.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I find this debate slightly odd in that I appear to agree with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, although I obviously come to this from a totally different perspective. I will speak to the whole clause, but I will not repeat myself later, Mr. Betts.

I do not think that we should restrict ourselves to cross-curricular work for every school, although I appreciate that some excellent work is going on in our schools, where inspired head teachers have managed to work around the straitjacket of the national curriculum and introduce innovative teaching programmes and methods that suit their children. Personally, I would probably choose a school with something similar to the Rose curriculum, but I cannot accept that we start imposing that on everybody. I am content to let hon. Members have a choice of schools that are subject-based. I come at this from a different perspective, but we agree on the point that the head teacher and the school should have more freedom. However, we risk taking away one straitjacket and starting to put on another, and that is what I object to.

I hope that our position is clear. In amendment 182 we have tried to convey the point that the governing body and head teacher should have responsibility. In  amendment 183, we want to stop a situation where the Secretary of State can start fine-tuning the curriculum from the centre on an almost annual basis. We have suggested that that should happen not more than once each Parliament, so that we can review its effectiveness.

Coming from a totally different perspective, I have some difficulty in supporting the amendment, but I am reassured that we in Opposition think that there should be a choice for parents and a minimum curriculum entitlement that can be interpreted in different ways by different head teachers in different communities. It is important to have something that is right for children, and I am not supporting the full Rose review for those reasons.

Perhaps it is important to look again at what the Children, Schools and Families Committee said about the national curriculum—this point is picked up in the next group of amendments, so I will not repeat it. The report stated:

“We take the view that the main purpose of a national curriculum is to set out clearly and simply a minimum entitlement for every child.”.

That is important. It goes on:

“We are not convinced by the proposed Programmes of Study for the primary curriculum put forward in the interim report of the Rose Review, which seem unnecessarily complex.”.

I agree with both those statements.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour, Wolverhampton North East

I do not favour a dogmatic approach to teaching, nor do I believe that many different schools offering many different platforms of learning is an appropriate way for urban areas in our cities to take advantage of the choice that is being suggested. I favour a more eclectic approach to teaching.

I listened with interest when the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton mentioned Piaget—an interesting name to bring up. He may correct me, but I recall that the essence of Piaget’s view is that children develop to think in the abstract at different ages. It is different for boys and girls. From the ages of five to 15, children develop an ability to think in an abstract way. Given that teachers work with children who develop rapidly and those who develop slowly, those who take a great leap and those who do not get off the diving board, an eclectic approach to teaching seems to be necessary. That approach would give children, particularly in tightly knit urban boroughs such as mine, the opportunity to go to a school and get an appropriate teaching method so that they can reach their potential.

I urge both Opposition parties to recognise the relatively dogmatic view in the way in which we teach subjects, rather than areas of learning. I appreciate that it is not a totally dogmatic view. The hon. Gentleman made an excellent case for his point of view. However, I think eclecticism should rule the day in the teaching platform so that our children get the maximum possible choice in the school that they attend to enhance their abilities.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Betts. I referred back to the evidence that Sir Jim Rose gave before the Committee and was struck by his comments about how the primary curriculum can take what is learned at the foundation stage for early years into the structured secondary stage. As we  all know, there is a play-based approach for the foundation years, which teaches communication, language and literacy; personal, social and emotional development; physical development; knowledge and understanding of the world; creative development; and problem solving, reasoning and numeracy. How the transition into primary is made is important. Children make the transition out of foundation and at the end of year 6, they make the transition into years 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11, which are obviously more subject-based.

We are all concerned about education and how it is delivered. For me, good teaching is the key component, whatever the system. In most primary schools, the most important person is the generalist teacher and there might be a classroom assistant and specialists who can be called on in certain areas.

Sir Jim’s review of primary education reassured me about the emphasis on numeracy and literacy. I also felt encouraged that primary schools give some of the best examples of where subjects are studied in cross-curricular experiences, which can better engage children and help them to understand just how arithmetic, for example, might apply in other settings—that is not always the case.

We need to think about this age group and the transitions they make from foundation into primary and onwards into secondary. We must bear that in mind when we try to impose on them a certain approach, such as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton with his more secondary view of education.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I agree with the right hon. Lady’s point about good teachers providing good quality education for all our children. Does she think that the programmes of study we have heard about, with their 84 objectives for teachers to fulfil, will help to provide good teaching, or are they too prescriptive?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley 5:00 pm, 2nd February 2010

My understanding, from the evidence witnesses gave the Committee a few weeks ago, is that while there might always be room for manoeuvre to see whether the 84 objectives should be reduced, the number has actually been reduced since previous Governments were in power, when the system was far more prescriptive. That was the evidence we were given. I would not say no if asked whether some of the indicators and prescriptive ideas could be reduced further, but I think that they are going in the right direction. One of the opportunities of looking at a cross-curricular theme is that it might allow a classroom teacher—we are usually talking about one classroom teacher and perhaps 30 children—to think about how those areas can be blended together.

The example we were given in evidence was that of Charles Darwin. Many schools approach their targets or indicators by combining the science element of Darwin’s work with the historical context in which he lived, creative writing and art. As I understand it, we are going in the right direction on indicators, which is down, and that is welcome.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Some interesting comments have been made. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton accused us of having  an ideological obsession with one form of teaching and then went on to present his own ideology regarding what should constitute a primary curriculum. I totally accept that there is a clash of views about that, and I do not use the word “ideology” against him in a disparaging sense, because we are just talking about different views on how things should be done, but let us take the debate beyond that. It seems to me that if people accuse each other of ideological fanaticism with regard to how the primary curriculum should be organised or taught, it leads to a sterile debate. I would not accuse him of that, except perhaps a bit with regard to phonics, but not on anything else. I take your point, Mr. Betts, about going a little broader than the specific amendments because we will not have a clause stand part debate.

Our approach is the result of an extensive review by Sir Jim Rose, who impressed me, frankly, during our evidence session. I have been impressed by him before, and although not everyone would agree with his evidence, I thought that it was clear and that he made a good philosophical, as well as practical, case for what he was suggesting. We are, of course, not alone: since 2005, eight countries have reorganised their primary curriculum around areas of learning rather than around subjects, including France, Spain, Germany and New Zealand, so it is not as though we were pursuing a rip-roaring Government initiative on which we were alone in the globe.

With regard to the level of support, Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has said:

“This makes me want to go back to teaching”.

The Independent Schools Council has said:

“Overall the recommendations reflect current thinking and practice in our schools. In general terms, much of what is proposed is already happening in the sector.”

I will not upset my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, by quoting from the General Teaching Council for England. The Historical Association has stated that it

“has always maintained that the national curriculum as it stands is over-prescribed, and this is detrimental to teaching and learning. We fully support a modified framework that supports the development of a less prescriptive and more flexible National Curriculum

My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley is right that the number of objectives in the national curriculum used to be around 280. It sounds like a good debating point, but we are proposing a reduction from 280 to 84, so there is a reduction in the number of objectives.

We talked a lot about maths. Sir Peter Williams, who carried out the independent review of maths in primary schools in 2008, has said that Jim Rose’s recommendations will give teachers more freedom and flexibility. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, made about the need for flexibility. It was the point that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole made, too. Jim Rose’s recommendations will give teachers more freedom and flexibility to use maths in exciting and creative ways in the classroom. That is the important bit, because that is where the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton thinks that it is a question of either/or—we either have subjects where everyone learns how to count,  or areas of learning where no one does anything except play around with dice, while rolling around in the sand; that is his caricature. However, Sir Peter Williams said:

“Jim Rose’s recommendations will give teachers more freedom and flexibility to use maths in exciting and creative ways in the classroom, as well as focusing on the basics of times tables, mental maths and fractions.”

There is not a choice between teaching young people to count and them enjoying themselves and having fun. Of course it is important that the basics, as everyone calls them—reading, writing and counting—are done in primary school. However, we think that reorganising them in the way that we propose will allow less prescription and more flexibility for the teacher to teach in a way that they feel is appropriate to the learning of the young people in the classroom, which is the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East.

It is a caricature to say that our primary schools do not teach young people to count, read or write. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said that there are people who do not learn their times tables, but there is a subject-based curriculum in place now. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said, it is a question of good teaching, the appropriateness of the curriculum and ensuring that the basics are there. However, there are other things about maths, as Jim Rose pointed out; that is why he talked of mathematical understanding, as well as of maths. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said that literacy was the only thing that he could think of that was appropriate in many other areas, but I would have thought that numeracy was another skill much used across the curriculum.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Minister cited third parties that supported his policy. However, when he quoted them, we saw that what they supported was the increased flexibility and reduced prescription. Although the clause may reduce the number of objectives, there are still 84 of them—the system is still prescriptive—and no one seems to be supporting that aspect. Other than increased flexibility, what is it about the outcomes-based, “areas of learning” approach, which France, Germany and New Zealand have adopted, that is an improvement on the current system?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That is like the hon. Gentleman answering his own question. I cannot answer, “Flexibility” or “The fact that it is not over-prescriptive,” but if I do not say that, what is the answer going to be?

The fact is that it depends. The approach that we propose will allow people to develop their professionalism and feel that they can teach in a way that is appropriate to the needs of their particular class, rather than feel—as some do—that they are in a straitjacket. It will also allow teachers to teach in the classroom in a way that establishes links across a range of topics, rather than just teaching subjects in compartments. Many teachers, professionals and parents feel that that is a better approach.

I know that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will have read about the areas of learning. It is important to put on the record, in case we are accused of not believing that focused subject content is important, that the documents on each area refer to the need for focused subject teaching. Indeed, in the document on mathematical understanding, the first sentence states:

“Learning in this area should include an appropriate balance of focused subject teaching and well-planned opportunities to use, apply and develop knowledge and skills across the whole curriculum.”

We are not saying that because we are talking about areas of learning, subject content is not important. However, that is the caricature that the hon. Gentleman seeks to portray.

I would like to say, as an opening, before I deal with the specific amendments, that the clause has been welcomed by the profession and many professionals. The Rose review is good, and it will mean the return of flexibility to our primary schools, which is what classroom teachers in schools and communities up and down our country have been asking for.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Minister almost implies that he agrees that subjects should be taught, in which case why not leave the legislation as it is in the Education Act 2002—an Act piloted by his Government? Why not leave that provision and scrap all the prescriptive lesson plans and programmes of study? We object to those programmes because they promulgate a particular ideology of education. If the Minister went back to the wording of the 2002 Act and scrapped the programmes of study, we would have agreement.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

On the programmes of study, people will want to know what it is we are requiring people to learn under each of the headings. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that we should simply say, “Do maths, English, history and geography”? The areas of learning for the first and second key stages are laid out in the Bill, which mentions:

“understanding English, communication and languages...scientific and technological understanding” and so on. Is he suggesting we should not have a programme of study? That we should not specify what people should learn? I know what the hon. Gentleman will say to me—that I have not got a clue what pupils will be doing under any of the programmes, and his amendments will say, “We need a bit of meat on the bone. We need a bit of detail on the proposals.”

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to enable a proper, responsive debate. However, I am suggesting, as I said in my opening remarks, that the programmes of study say the same thing year after year:

“to recognise how authors of moving-image and multimodal texts use different combinations of words, images and sounds to create effects and make meaning”.

Later in the primary curriculum, the programme is:

“to evaluate structural and organisational features, including the use of different presentational devices, layouts and combinations of formats, and their effects”.

It is the same thing year after year, as the programme becomes more sophisticated. That is the problem. I would not want to take away all content from the curriculum, but let us set out in simple terms the knowledge and skills that children should have by a certain year group in school, and not have these amorphous, over-complicated phrases that can mean all kinds of things to different people and will lead to a) a certain type of education and b) potential huge gaps in children’s knowledge and skills.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I just do not accept that. I know the hon. Gentleman will have read the document. I go back to the point about good teaching made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. The document lays out the essential knowledge and what the skills should be. It lays out the breadth of learning. Every professional to whom we talk recommends organising teaching around areas of learning, which show how the themes, topics and skills link together in a cross-curricular way. That frees up the curriculum and allows teachers to teach in an appropriate way without taking away the importance of knowing facts, of knowledge and of the basic skills that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton believes in.

Mr. Gibbrose—

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I will take one more intervention before we move on, or you may feel that we are straying too far, Mr. Betts.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Minister is talking about pedagogy. Issues about cross-curriculum teaching are for the teacher to decide; they should not come out of a Government report, Government legislation and Government programmes of study. These are pedagogical matters for teachers. Policy makers and Government should ensure that all children have a minimum level of knowledge and skills. That is what we policy makers should be doing, not telling teachers whether to use cross-curricular or group teaching, or “circle time”. All those are matters for teachers, and we should keep out of that area.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That is an amazing comment. The hon. Gentleman was continually telling people that they should be teaching phonics. [Interruption.] The national curriculum and areas of learning laid out in the Rose review promise an exciting time for schools, and have been broadly welcomed.

Let me deal quickly with the specific amendments. Amendment 50 would remove a power relating to the key stage 1 and key stage 2 curriculum. That power, which is in the Education Act 2002, relates to the primary curriculum. Before the proposed curriculum areas could be amended by order, the Secretary of State would be required to refer any proposal to the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, so that it could undertake statutory consultation with head teachers, governing bodies, organisations representing school interests and other appropriate bodies. The Secretary of State would then have to consult on the draft order before laying it before the House. Without that power, any future changes to the areas of learning, no matter how small, would require primary legislation. To change one word in the title of even one area of learning would require primary legislation.

The checks and balances for when the curriculum is amended by order are more than sufficient, even though they are not in the Bill. Furthermore, the amendment would introduce the anomaly that the existing power to amend the curriculum by order would continue in relation to key stages 3 and 4, but not key stages 1 and 2.

Amendments 52 and 54—taken with amendment 238 —fail to deal with the feeling of overload among primary teachers trying to teach high levels of literacy and numeracy and the 10 subjects of the national curriculum. The rigid retention of subject fails to address the need for smoother transition from the early years foundation stage to key stage 1, which was a good point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. The six areas of learning in the Bill build on the early-years foundation stage and will help to prevent the sudden change that can happen at the age of five, with the move from play-based provision of early years areas of learning and development to 10 separate subjects of the primary curriculum.

The proposed areas of learning continue to incorporate traditional subjects, which is at the heart of the debate between the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and myself, such as English, maths, science, history and geography, particularly during the middle and later stages of primary. However, they also provide greater opportunities—this is the key difference—to strengthen and deepen subject knowledge through well-planned cross-curricular studies, where children can use and apply subject knowledge across the curriculum. The six areas of learning included in the Bill have been subject to extensive consultation and development, and together they constitute a broad and balanced curriculum and have had strong support during consultation.

Some 71 per cent. of respondents to QCDA’s consultation agreed that areas of learning helped children to make useful links between related subjects. In a National Foundation for Educational Research survey of teachers, 72 per cent. of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that areas of learning would improve manageability for classroom teachers. On amendment 182, it will, of course, be the responsibility of head teachers to develop the curriculum for the areas of learning to meet the needs of their children, which gives some of the flexibility that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole wanted. That has always been the responsibility of the governing body and the head teacher of every maintained school, and it will remain so. That process includes ensuring access to the curriculum for children who may be learning English as an additional language, children with special educational needs and children with disabilities.

The new primary curriculum is not only a better match to the early years foundation stage and what already occurs in many primary schools; it is also less prescriptive and more flexible and allows schools to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of all pupils in their care. Some 70 per cent. of respondents to the consultation agreed that the curriculum will give the schools the flexibility to adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of all pupils, and 69 per cent. agreed that it is less prescriptive than the existing one.

On amendment 183, we believe that reviews should be carried out only when it is absolutely necessary. As recommended by Sir Jim Rose, it is our intention to have regular and planned curriculum reviews over time. The recent review of the primary curriculum, to which the clause relates, was the first review for a decade following only two other reviews of the primary curriculum since the national curriculum was introduced more than 20 years ago. The new secondary curriculum introduced in 2008 contained the first significant changes since 2000. We believe that schools and pupils should have  periods of curriculum stability, but, nevertheless, the curriculum should be dynamic and involved, so it can meet the changing needs of our children in a rapidly changing world.

The clause is very important. I know that I have strayed wider than the amendments, but a useful and interesting debate has resulted from doing so. All the evidence from the consultation indicates that the profession agrees with the direction in which the clause is taking us. It will be seen as a significant and substantial change. In the light of that, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment. I do not often say that, but if he presses his amendments to a vote, it is important that we vote against in this case.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 5:15 pm, 2nd February 2010

It has been an important debate, highlighting the philosophical issues that bedevil education. Ideology has bedevilled education in this country and in the United States since the 1920s, coming to Britain in the 1950s in particular. For 50 years or more we have had an ideological debate about education, the consequence of which has been damage to our state education system. Talking to educationists in other parts of Europe—not those, incidentally, cited by the Minister in adopting such an approach to primary education—they find it extraordinary how the British state education system has gone down that route.

For many decades children were not taught to read using the tried-and-tested method of phonics, common throughout the world, whereby children are taught the alphabetic code and how to blend letters together and to decode words. Extraordinarily, I was not taught using that method—people of my generation and younger were not—but by the “look and say” or whole language method, in which children are meant to absorb words by being exposed to them, with words being repeated over and over again. Bright children could pick up learning to read in that way, but less able children could not, which is why in 1996—I realise that was towards the end of the last Conservative Administration—a National Audit Office report showed that 23 per cent. of adults in this country had literacy rates that prevented them from being able to read the dosage on an aspirin bottle. That is the consequence of 50 years of a constructivist education ideology, which I believe has been hugely damaging to our education system.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and am aware that perhaps I should not distract, but I want to make a point about the difference. I hear a rigidity in his tone and would like a reassurance that in putting forward the case for synthetic phonics, he appreciates the exceptions, deaf children being a big one, and others with some form of hearing impairment. It is important that where children do not respond to synthetic phonics, other methods are used as well. I appreciate that for a large number of children phonics is a good scheme, but there are exceptions. Also, children who learn by look and say in their pre-school years should certainly not be held up by phonics if they are already reading fluently when they go to school.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

On the latter point, if children are reading, of course they should never be held back, but pushed ahead and encouraged to read ever more sophisticated books and texts. I absolutely agree. I do not agree with  the approach that prevailed in the 1970s, when parents could be criticised by teachers for allowing their children to race ahead and learn to read. That approach was absolutely wrong. Every child should be stretched to the best of their ability. The hon. Lady is also right about a small percentage of children having particular neurological conditions who have a problem with any method in learning to read, and phonics is not the panacea for such children.

However, the point that I am making is a wider one about the constructivist approach, which also applies in maths—we have a severe problem with maths in this country. That same figure of 23 per cent. in literacy also applies in maths—according to the survey done by the NAO in 1996, 23 per cent. of adults could not add two figures together to come to the right number.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

In many respects, I have a lot of sympathy with the concerns, which I think are sincere, being put forward by the hon. Gentleman. My view, which may be a perception, is that while there is a long way to go, actually the debate between phonics and real books has moved on in some respects. Certainly in the schools that I go to in my constituency, and having brought up three children myself in the past 20 years, what I have seen is much more of a mixture of phonics and books. We had the basics, but we are not trying to displace the enjoyment that can go along with it—reading stories and so forth is part of that. That is what is happening in most schools I know. If it is not being delivered properly, there might be a problem with the teachers in the schools not doing what they need to do, and the head teachers not delivering what they need to deliver. I do know whether the problem is because of the curriculum or because the teaching is not as good as it should be, and I have no truck with that.

I consider that the debate has moved on. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about maths. The Ofsted report showed that, while people were being taught to add up, in some cases when it came to a real life situation and applying that learning, it was not happening. We must have a mixture of skills and knowledge, and apply it to scenarios outside the classroom. We have been moving towards that, and such an area of learning will allow us to develop towards it even more.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I was not terribly impressed by the particular Ofsted report that I cited. It did not properly reflect the real problem of teaching maths in our schools. I shall pick up on the hon. Lady’s point first. Children enjoy reading when they can do it. They are not taught the basic skill of how to translate the jumble of things on a page into a word and still struggle with it, yet they are taught to memorise passages and pretend to read it back to teachers. Seven-year-olds have read to me a text from “Winnie-the-Pooh”, but the word “Pooh” was not on the page; it was just “Winnie”. Where did they get that word from? Clearly, they had memorised it. That is the problem with the “look and say” approach. Some children just memorise and do not learn the skill of decoding, so when they come across a new word they struggle with it.

Phonics can be enjoyable. When children learn to do it and enjoy it, they can go straight into reading books. The key thing about the reading books is that they must not go beyond the phonic knowledge of the child. If the  child had only learnt the basic consonants and the simple vowels, such as those in “The cat sat on the mat”, fine, but if the rhyme went on and said, “The cat sat on the mat and saw an elephant”, and the children were encouraged to guess the word “elephant” because they had not learnt the “ph” sound, all the education psychologists at universities say that that would damage the children’s ability to learn to read. They must acquire the skill to decode. When people play the piano, they learn that the middle C looks different on the stave than it does on the piano. Until children are told such things and practise them, and they become automatic in the brain, they will struggle to play the piano. The same theory applies to how reading is taught.

I shall now deal with rigidity, to which the hon. Lady referred. I accept that nothing in what I say is meant to be rigid. It could be that research from the States and about Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire is wrong, and that I am wrong, and that it is not best practice. There might be an even better system of teaching children to read than synthetic phonics, but we need to debate the issues fully in public and not allow the debate to be swept under the carpet, as it has been for 50 years. We must have the debate openly and let parents choose the philosophical approach that they want for their children. That is my party’s approach to education.

When people have money and can choose their education, they tend to go for such an approach to teach their children to read. The problem is in the state sector and the levers of the state seem to be held by people who want to impose their ideology on our education system, which is what has been so damaging in the past 50 years. The clause applies to our schools a particular approach to primary education. If the Minister was just increasing flexibility and wanted subjects to be taught as subjects, it would be hard to disagree with him, but that is not what is laid down in the clause nor what the programmes of study have said either. Given that we have had a wide debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 148, in clause 10, page 12, leave out lines 18 to 21.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 159, in clause 10, page 12, leave out lines 19 to 21 and insert

‘shall set down a minimum curriculum entitlement for all children.’.

Amendment 48, in clause 10, page 12, line 19, leave out ‘programmes of study’ and insert ‘curriculum objectives’.

Amendment 150, in clause 10, page 12, line 20, after ‘arrangements’, insert

‘(the validity and viability of such arrangements to be reviewed from time to time)’.

Amendment 160, in clause 10, page 12, line 22, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) The Minimum Curriculum Entitlement shall be determined by the Secretary of State, after consultation with all relevant bodies, and shall be reviewed not more than once in each Parliament.’.

Amendment 193, in clause 10, page 12, line 41, leave out ‘84A(3)’ and insert ‘84A(3)(a) to (e)’.

Amendment 51, in clause 10, page 12, line 43, leave out ‘programmes of study’ and insert ‘curriculum objectives’.

Amendment 161, in clause 10, page 13, line 5, at end add—

‘(3) The Secretary of State shall review the validity and viability of assessment arrangements relating to the primary curriculum, and publish the results of this review no later than 31 December 2010.’.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Amendments 148, 48 and 51 would remove the requirement to specify programmes of study in the national curriculum. That is where the national curriculum has gone wrong. What the public, parents and policy makers have always wanted from the national curriculum was a simple statement of the core knowledge and concept of pupils’ needs to be taught in each subject, each year. It is as simple as that; a de minimis level to ensure that children are not missing out on key elements of their education. Even with a measure that, as the Minister says, purports to reduce prescription, we still have a hugely prescriptive set of objectives. There are 84 for primary English, and 76 for primary maths. They prescribe not curriculum content but an approach to education that is controversial.

Let me take the “Understanding English” programme of study as an example. This has objectives that run from E1 to E24 for the early part of primary school, from M1 to M29 for the middle years of primary school, and from L1 to L31 for the later years. Among the early objectives for four, five and six-year-olds, E3 is,

“to reflect on how talk varies in different circumstances and for different listeners”.

E15 is

“to identify the characteristic features of texts with different purposes”.

For the middle years—eight and nine-year-olds—M15 is,

“to recognise how authors of moving-image and multimodal texts use different combinations of words, images and sounds to create effects and make meaning”.

I am not sure whether the phrase “make meaning” does actually make meaning. In later years for 10 and 11-year-olds, L15 is,

“to evaluate structural and organisational features, including the use of different presentational devices, layouts and combinations of formats, and their effects”.

John McIntosh was the headmaster of the London Oratory school, which includes a junior school. He summed up the issue when he gave evidence to the Committee:

“I feel that the over-prescription and regulation of the curriculum—not just in primary but across the board—has to a degree led to what I might call the deprofessionalisation of teachers, who are now expected to behave in an almost robotic way in accepting orders from QCA”.——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 21 January 2010; c. 84, Q8.]

John McIntosh’s views appear to have been confirmed by the answer given by Sue Barratt, the primary head teacher who served on Jim Rose’s review. She said:

“We do need the objectives, to drive us as we take things through, and for progression, moving the child through from key stage 1 to key stage 2 and key stage 3.”.——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 21 January 2010; c. 85, Q10.]

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 5:30 pm, 2nd February 2010

I am trying to understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. We have programmes of study, and he gave some examples of those. What is a curriculum objective? If curriculum objectives were to be laid out for English, how many would he expect to have? Does he have any examples to give to the Committee, so that we can understand the difference between the sorts of things that have been laid out in the programmes of study, and the sorts of things that would presumably be laid out under the subject-based curriculum that he favours? Presumably, content, skills, knowledge and some sort of objectives would have to be laid out. How many of those would the hon. Gentleman expect to have, and what would they be?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

They would be very few and they would relate to the reading ability of the child, their writing ability, and the level of words and degree of difficulty to which the child should be spelling. In subjects such as geography, we would ask specialists to specify at what age they think people should know certain things and what is important. However, it would be things such as the rivers of the United Kingdom or the countries of Europe. I remember learning the map of Europe by heart in what is now year six, and my knowledge of Europe today is based on that. If the Minister wants to look into the issue further, he could look at the core knowledge curriculum developed by E. D. Hirsch in America and the core knowledge schools. That curriculum sets out a simple set of knowledge, concepts and skills that children should acquire in each year of state education in the United States, and it is very effective.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

What is the difference between curriculum objectives and programmes of study?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The programmes of study, as drafted by the Government, are based on an outcomes-based educational system that drafts them in very broad terms that are the same for several years running. I would give examples if I had the right piece of paper in front of me, but in the science curriculum, for example, it will say, “the development of life” and there will be the development of life in each of the years. However, because it does not say that children need to learn about seeds, mammals and then reptiles, children could often learn the same facts about seeds in each year but in increasing depth. That is the point; issues are being repeated over and over again. That is seen in history, which has already moved to a competence-based approach in key stages 3 and 4. Very often, we find that children are learning the same period of history over and over again, but they are learning a different historical skill in each of the years, which may or may not be useful. What they are not doing is learning a broader part of the history of this country and the world. They are learning the same period over while they develop their historical skills. That is the difference in approach.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

No, we have made it clear that schools that opt out or become academies will not be subject to the national curriculum. The national curriculum should be for schools that remain within the maintained sector.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge

I have been there not just as a parent but as a teacher. I was trained in the middle years, so I have taught in both primary and secondary schools. What the hon. Gentleman talks about sounds even more prescriptive than the things he has been denouncing. Am I right in assuming that what he is saying is that on 2 February, all six-year-olds will do page 27 of such and such a book about the Tudors, or about the sources of rivers? It sounds even more prescriptive than what he has denounced.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

No, I am not saying that at all; I am saying the opposite. As policy makers, we are the people who levy the taxes from the public and who provide a free education system at the point of use, which is very expensive. As policy makers, we are trying to say what our education system needs to provide. The system in clause 10 and in the programmes of study that come with it promulgates a very particular approach to education that I have described in my previous remarks. It is an outcomes-based education system, which has been tried and is in place in some parts of the world. We can assess the results of the system if we wish, but as policy makers we should be aware of what is happening—of what the system is doing. The provision has been carefully drafted so that it ticks all the boxes for people such as me. None the less, it is still an outcomes-based education system with broad curriculum objectives. What I am saying is that as policy makers, we need to ensure that young people leave school educated, and that we should debate among ourselves and with the general public what it means to be educated. Do we want children to leave school illiterate?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

Is the hon. Gentleman talking about primary school?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Yes. Well, this debate goes wider than primary school, but we are focused on that. Do we want children to leave primary school illiterate? Do we want them to know nothing about the continents or countries of the world? Is that something we want to preserve for secondary school? Do we want them to know the rivers, long division, long multiplication and equations? Do we want them to know how to add and take away fractions? The role of policy makers is to say that by the age of 11, children should know certain things. That does not mean to say that I think they should learn fractions during the afternoon of 4 June. What I am saying is that by the time they leave primary school, or by the time they are nine, they should know or should have been taught certain things. It may be that they are taught by brilliant teachers and still cannot remember certain things.

There is a role for policy makers in Parliament, and therefore Government, to set out a minimum of what children should know by the time they leave primary school. That is all I am saying. Teachers should be able to teach in whatever way they see fit. If they think they can teach by standing on their heads, good for them. If they want to use cross-curriculum methods or an  outcomes-based approach, that is fine, so long as when children leave primary school they are reading at a sufficiently fluent level and have reached a particular level of maths. I do not see how anyone could object to that.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge

I do not object to it, but it seems even more prescriptive than what the hon. Gentleman has denounced. It is not just about children coming out of school with a list of things they can do; they should have learned in a way in which they can apply all of that. For teachers and parents, from my experience, a holistic approach is best, rather than a prescriptive shopping list for each subject that children come out with at the other end.

Recently, the Children, Schools and Families Committee took evidence about young people going to university. According to it, although they may know certain things, they cannot apply their knowledge because they have been taught how to get the right answers, not about thinking and applying knowledge. Part of what teachers—and, to a certain extent, parents—do is to help children and young people function as a result of their education and apply their knowledge and skills, rather than knowing a list of geography and history facts.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The hon. Lady is talking about pedagogical skills. That should be left to the professionalism of teachers. We can debate those issues, but they should not be part of a national curriculum. That is why I object to the programmes of study; they are very pedagogical.

On applying maths, the evidence says that in the early years in primary schools, children should acquire the basic skills, such as how to multiply 30 million by 10p and come up with £3 million as the answer. They should be learning not necessarily real-life examples but algorithms and techniques, such as, in order to get 10 per cent. of a large figure, the decimal point can just be moved one point to the left. Once those basic skills have been acquired, they can be applied as children get older and acquire higher order skills.

What is happening is that people are not acquiring the basic skills and are having to learn them in secondary education, when they should be beginning to learn how to think. Therefore, when they arrive at university, they have not learned the higher order skills. That is the problem I am trying to highlight.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

I have looked at the areas of study and although I agree that some of the wording could be in plainer English, I think they are helpful to teachers. For example, the part covering history and geography talks about geographical features. The River Don flows past a school in my Don Valley constituency. We have Conisbrough castle, which Harold passed by on his way to the battle of Hastings. Sir Walter Scott wrote “Ivanhoe” at the Boat inn. This was all in my maiden speech, so hon. Members can look it up. My point is that the skills identified in the document can be used and applied locally.

Coal mining is clearly the main historical industry of the past 100 years in Doncaster, although the situation has changed. The environment, the houses and the landscape have all been affected by that industry. In  inner-city areas such as Coventry and London, the effects of the second world war can be seen on the landscape, for example in places where bombing took place.

It is not clear to what extent the hon. Gentleman is trying to prescribe what teachers should teach, whether in history or geography, and whether the immediate environment is to be used as the stepping-stone at primary level, which will be the catalyst to spark young people’s imaginations for more generic learning down the road. I used to have the skill of being able to recite every king and queen of England. I will not attempt to do that today. I used to think it was a pretty interesting party skill, but it did not tell me any more of what I needed to know about the history of England.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I do not disagree with the right hon. Lady. There is nothing wrong with schools taking children out and showing them local historical sites; in fact it is commendable. Of course they should do that, but they should not just go to see local things in Don Valley. They should know about the battle of Hastings, which took place at the other end of England. They should know what was happening in Europe.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I really do not understand the Conservative party’s position on the issue of core skills and core knowledge versus the ability to opt out. An e-mail has come into my hands exchanged between the Liberal Democrats and one of the hon. Gentleman’s party’s advisers, in which the Conservatives make it clear that that they would allow providers to set their own curriculum. The question that went back to the Conservatives from us was, “Even if it does not include a proper narrative of British history?” and their answer was, “Yes, they could opt out of the national curriculum.” How on earth can there be fundamental, core skills if some schools can simply opt out?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 5:45 pm, 2nd February 2010

The hon. Gentleman is confusing two parts of our policy. Once a school has opted out of the system and becomes an academy—[Interruption] not immediately—and new providers come in, at that point, there will be sufficient capacity in the system to give parents a genuine choice, which is key. If someone from Sweden sets up a school in this country, they have to attract parents to the idea of sending their child to that school. They will only go to that school if they believe it is offering the curriculum that they—parents who now have a genuine choice; in other words, those who have sufficient money to have a choice—want. It is our belief that they will choose schools that provide a high-quality education. However, they should also be free to send their children to progressive schools with the Kunskapsskolan or Bedales type of approach. However, I believe strongly that most parents will want to send their children to a school that provides rigorous academic education, where children leave fully educated and skilled in reading and have a good grasp of maths.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

What on earth has choice got to do with the presence of one academy? There could be an academy serving a town where there is no choice at all, and four ordinary maintained comprehensive schools offering  the potential for real choice. The hon. Gentleman’s policy would impose a monopoly of one provision on a town that relies on one academy, but not allow choice to operate where there are four secondary schools.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

If that scenario develops, there will be a lot of parental dissatisfaction. Therefore, a new provider will come in. [Interruption.] They will. That is the essence of our proposal: we will make it much easier for schools to establish by removing the bureaucratic hurdles that schools will have to go through and the rule on surplus places. We believe that as a consequence of those reforms, many new providers will come in and provide things like the Harris academies, which give a first-class education. Their school in Crystal Palace was graded by Ofsted as perfect in everything that it examined. I believe that our system will lead to a huge opening up and diversity of providers, who will have to provide the kind of education that parents want for their children.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being so patient. He will be aware that at the moment, academies are at the forefront of schools using their flexibility to drop core subjects such as history a year earlier than was thought to be specified in the existing national curriculum. If an existing academy decided to drop history earlier—at age 10, nine or eight—what would he do?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Existing academies are subject to funding agreements that will prevent them from doing so. However, we believe that there will be a rapid increase in new providers coming into our system. I repeat: if schools are not providing the type and quality of education demanded by parents, a new provider will come in. It will be easier for new providers to come in, and they will begin to provide the education demanded by parents. Children will drift away from schools that are not teaching history beyond the age of 11, toward those that do. At the moment, we have a system that is letting down significant segments of our population, and I believe that this is the only way in which we can tackle underperforming schools in our system in the long run.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

If that is the hon. Gentleman’s party’s policy, I urge him to think again. He is a strong advocate of a core curriculum. Is he really saying that the only thing he is relying on to protect young people where there is potentially one school in a catchment area is the market mechanism? It could be four or five years before another school is established. A young person could have missed the opportunity to get an education in precisely the type of core subjects that the hon. Gentleman has always argued are important.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

But if schools want to do what the hon. Gentleman is proposing—speaking to many heads, I doubt that they will want to do so—they will probably be deficient in many other areas, in schools that are currently not providing a high-quality education to parents. The hon. Gentleman is painting a scenario of extremis, and I do not believe that we will go down that route, because we are dealing ultimately with a profession and its members are professional people.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

Having visited a Kunskapsskolan school in Stockholm and, indeed, state schools there, is the hon. Gentleman aware that what creates choice for parents in Sweden is not the provision of those schools, but the over-provision of places? Without keeping places paid for but empty in schools, at huge cost, it is impossible to provide parents with the choice that he implies would be provided. I am eager to hear whether he thinks that any putative Conservative Government would be able to fund—would be willing to fund—the level of over-provision that Swedish schools happily fund to guarantee that parental choice.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Yes, there needs to be capacity in the system—the hon. Gentleman is right—but there is not a huge cost, because schools are and, under our proposals, would be funded only on the basis of the number of pupils in the school. If a school is undersubscribed compared to its capacity, it will have to close classrooms, turn the radiator off and reduce the staff accordingly. That is the system in Sweden and it works there and does not cost huge amounts. Incidentally, Sweden introduced the system in a recession and it proved very cost-effective. So it is not usually expensive to have money following the pupil and to have surplus places in the system at the same time.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

Order. We are beginning to stray quite a way from the specifics of the amendments before us. Could we now come back to the amendments? We have had an interesting debate, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will come back to the amendments.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Yes, I will, Mr. Betts; I take your point. The objectives that I read out some time ago, from the programme of study, are all about deconstructing texts. Kevin Donnelly says:

“Deconstructing texts not only removes the focus from learning to read with discrimination and understanding, but the joy of reading is destroyed as students are forced to view literature through the narrow prism of what is currently defined as acceptable.”

Donnelly goes on to say:

“Primary school children instead of reading for enjoyment are told that they must become ‘active meaning makers through critical reading and thinking strategies’.”

There is that phrase “making meaning” again, now cited by an Australian academic. These are all in the programmes of study: L10, L15, L16, L19 and L20.

The key to reading in primary schools is to ensure that early on, children have mastered the skills of decoding text effortlessly. As that is being mastered, children can read to learn, read to increase vocabulary and read to increase comprehension. We need to encourage children to read for pleasure and to read book after book after book. That was certainly the approach taken in the elementary school that I went to in Canada, where every time that any child finished a book, up on the wall went another leg of the bookworm. As a seven-year-old, I would have been mortified if I had had to analyse the text. Ensuring that children understand the story is enough at that age.

The amendments would take out the phrase “programmes of study” and replace it with “curriculum objectives”. Amendment 193 was inspired by the NASUWT, which said in its brief to members of the Committee:

“The proposals put forward in relation to the incorporation of PSHE into the National Curriculum made it clear that the subject orders would not include attainment targets or statutory assessments. Although the Bill does not introduce such provisions, it does create a legal framework within which attainment targets and statutory assessment might be introduced subsequently.”

Amendment 193 would apply that approach, not to PSHE but to understanding physical development, health and well-being. Clause 10(2) gives the Secretary of State power to apply attainment targets and programmes of study to all six areas of learning. The amendment would remove that power from the sixth learning area—physical development, health and well-being, which is not an area that I believe should be examined, not because I was not any good at PE and physical development, but because I do not think that every area of the curriculum needs to be assessed, tested and subject to a target.

Amendment 150 would ensure that the attainment targets and assessment arrangements were kept under review.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I started the important debate on the last string of amendments by pointing out that I felt that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil were coming at this issue with a different approach from the Conservatives. With this string of amendments we are running parallel and are never going to meet. That is quite bizarre. Perhaps I should refer to our three key amendments, which I hope have a coherence and consistency that I felt were distinctly lacking in the previous debate.

We believe strongly that there should simply be a minimum curriculum entitlement set down for all children. That truly means giving the freedom to implement that to the head teachers, governors and teachers. It applies to all schools; we do not start picking and choosing. If it is good for academies then, we would argue, it is good for maintained schools, and we think that should be the case. We need a minimum curriculum entitlement, but we do not need prescribed from the centre masses of detail and prescription, of which we have had a lot in the last half hour or so.

Secondly, moving on to amendment 160, we think the minimum curriculum entitlement should be determined by the Secretary of State, but after consultation with all relevant bodies, and it should be reviewed not more than once in each Parliament. We have to put an end to the constant tinkering with the curriculum from the centre.

Amendment 161 looks at assessments in relation to the primary curriculum. We currently have a situation where, perhaps excepting Government Ministers, there is a strong feeling that teaching to the test at key stage 2 is distorting whatever curriculum has been set down. It would not matter if it was areas of learning or subject-based, when we get to year 6 in many schools the key stage 2 test overcomes everything else. In line with moving to a minimum curriculum entitlement, we want a proper review of the validity and viability of assessment processes. We are not just making a cheap political statement of “Scrap this, scrap that” but looking at it seriously and seeing that the assessment is there for a purpose, to develop our children’s learning rather than becoming an end in itself, with so many objectives, many going back to the school and the local authority. Our children are losing out and not having that rich curriculum necessarily  at the moment. In many schools, excellent head teachers and teachers give the necessary leadership and it is possible to have that rich curriculum and survive with the test. We do know examples of where that does not happen, and therefore it is important to have a proper review.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am sure because it sets out the coherent position that the Rose review laid out for the reform of the curriculum. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton did his best but was left with a paucity of detail. The difference between “curriculum objectives” and “programmes of study” is not clear to me. The hon. Gentleman just listed a range of content and said something like, “Because it is content and your programmes of study are vague and I do not agree with them, we are going to call them curriculum objectives.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge laid out from her experience some of the consequences of the constraints that the hon. Gentleman would place on teachers. The hon. Gentleman chided me earlier—without using the words flexibility and allowing teachers to teach in the way that they want—and asked the advantage of what we are doing. Essentially, the Rose review allows that return of flexibility, of teacher professionalism, and of allowing schools to determine how best to teach their young people.

The amendments would change the current national curriculum system of setting out programmes of study, assessment arrangements and attainment targets for the areas of learning. They would take out all the programmes of study and therefore the essential knowledge. The hon. Gentleman talked about English; under each of those areas of learning the appropriate essential knowledge is laid out in the national curriculum handbook. The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends will be able to read that and see what the essential knowledge is. The key skills for each area of learning are then laid out. The document is concrete and specific. It then lays out the cross-curricular studies, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge rightly pointed out, are absolutely essential. The Rose review and many professionals say that any programme of study rather than some content-based curriculum objective is absolutely essential.

The heart of the debate and of our difference is that the hon. Gentleman says that the content must be laid out as a prescriptive list and we say that of course content is important, but the use of that knowledge and being able to apply it in a cross-curricular way is a key fundamental part of any curriculum reform. The amendments in the first group laid the matter out in one way and this group lays it out in another, but the debate is essentially the same. I am sorry to deal with the matter in this rather restrained way with a lecturing tone, but people read these debates.

As well as essential knowledge, key skills and cross-curricular studies, there is breadth of learning and trying to develop that. Teachers feel excited and inspired  because the document is driven not only by content—knowledge—but by skills and understanding. That is all laid out. It then lays out the curriculum progression in three stages: the early stages, years 1 and 2; the middle stages, years 3 and 4; and the later stages, years 5 and 6. It lays out what teachers would reasonably expect of their pupils in those situations. The hon. Gentleman’s amendments completely cast that aside and say that none of it is relevant or appropriate, or leads to good teaching or learning, which is at the heart of what we want.

In its place, the hon. Gentleman wants curriculum objectives—a list of content. As soon as someone starts to list content, people will say, “You haven’t included this”. To try to make a list of content for history, geography, science, maths, English and so on, in a way that is manageable for the curriculum is difficult. If the hon. Gentleman looks back at the introduction of the national curriculum about 20 years ago, he will remember that the people introducing it were plagued by trying to lay out the content that schools should cover. Reform ever since has been to reduce the amount of content, to make the curriculum manageable for schools.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge 6:00 pm, 2nd February 2010

My hon. Friend has just reminded me of the nightmare introduction of the national curriculum. I remember folders upon folders of different subject areas, which we had to divide down into how many children we had. I literally had to have my clipboard with me so that I ticked something when a child showed some skill or showed that they understood the knowledge, and it was horrendous. Children do not learn in such a way. Sometimes young people look as though they have understood something and then one might find a week later that they have not quite grasped it yet. It was impossible to do that, and it will be impossible to do a similar thing in terms of subject knowledge. It would be ridiculous. It points to the fact that the Conservatives are not talking to the professionals who actually deliver education. It is naive.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

What my hon. Friend has just said and the passion with which she said it outlines the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman will find himself in when he tries to list content in the way that he started to when I asked him what he meant by curriculum objectives rather than programmes of study. With respect to the previous Conservative Government, it bedevilled them when they tried to do it. They were castigated for not having all those things in it.

The Rose review lays out programmes of study and of course contains skills and cross-curricular provisions as well. It is not clear from amendments 48 and 51 what function the curriculum objectives would be intended to fulfil. Nor is it clear how they would provide access to the knowledge, skills and understanding, and curricular continuity across the key stages—a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley—to which all children are currently entitled through the national curriculum programmes of study.

The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will know that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) laid out 24 areas of history in the Evening Standard, which he said were an essential part of the history curriculum.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

If the hon. Gentleman tries 24 areas over nine years, he will be castigated. It will be 30 over six and 58 over 10. That is where it will end up if the hon. Gentleman is not careful. He also started to get into trouble with the free school notion. He does not understand the illogicality of the point that he made to the hon. Member for Yeovil. He said that it is an essential curriculum—so essential that everyone should do it—and then he said, “But we are going to set up loads of schools that do not have to.” That is an illogical position—his Whip wants me to finish; my own Whip does, too. I totally disagree with him, but he laid out what he thought with clarity and passion, and then said, “It is so important for every school to do this that we are going to set up a system where schools can do what they want.” Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, the logic drives a coach and horses through it, let alone the chaos that would result in the system from the market free-for-all that he envisages in school places.

So I hope the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will withdraw his amendment. On assessment, we recently had an expert group look into the future of testing arrangements and we have made changes to key stage 2, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will know. Formal assessment arrangements exist at the end of key stage 2 with respect to maths and English. There are, of course, attainment targets laid out in the national curriculum document. They will remain the same. The Government have no intention of changing the assessment arrangements at present. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

This has been an interesting debate, but I do not know whether the Minister understands what he is introducing, or whether he believes his own rhetoric about reducing prescription and increasing flexibility. That could easily have been achieved in secondary legislation by simply getting rid of or slimming down the objectives in the programmes of study. If he examines the programmes of study and reads Kevin Donnelly’s book and/or E.D. Hirsch’s book, “The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them”, he will see that that conforms closely to an outcome-based approach to education.

The first two items in the English programme of study for essential knowledge are, (a),

“how language is used to express, explore, and share information, ideas, thoughts and feelings” and (b),

“the power of language and communication to engage people and influence their ideas and actions”.

Those broad phrases can mean almost anything, and the real devil is in the detail, which is set out in the programmes of study, which again tend to lead to repetition in different years, and focus on a particular competence-based curriculum rather than a knowledge-based curriculum. It is ideological, and that is why I feel so strongly that it should not be in this legislation. It has become a feature of the QCA’s approach to our education system during the past six or seven years, and it has done untold damage.

If clause 10 goes through and the programmes of study are inflicted prescriptively on our primary schools, I know what will happen. Someone will go into a  primary school on the date mentioned by the hon. Member for Stourbridge and will see written on the board, “Today we will do N15. Objective: authors.” That approach to education will kill the joy of learning, and of reading, and it will be a retrograde step.

We have had a wide debate, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 186, in clause 10, page 12, line 36, at end insert—

‘(7) The Secretary of State shall ensure teachers have appropriate guidance and resources to teach the areas and stages of learning set out in subsection (3) to pupils with special educational needs or a disability in relation to—

(a) programmes of study, and

(b) attainment targets and assessment arrangements.’.

The amendment obviously refers to the areas of learning proposed in the Bill, and is a belt-and-braces measure to ensure that we carry our responsibility to children with special educational needs or a disability through to any new curriculum that might be introduced. I seek assurance from the Minister that teachers will have the appropriate resources for and clarity about the stages of learning and applicability of the new curriculum and the attainment targets for children with special educational needs.

I have mentioned that we rushed through inclusion without first obtaining everything that needed to be in place, and before we rush into a new curriculum, we should ensure that it passes a number of tests on what needs to be in place for children with special educational needs.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

In line with my comments about the hon. Lady’s amendments to an earlier clause, she has made an extremely important point, but it is not necessary for that to be in the Bill. However, I assure her that in all cases the QCDA will provide guidance for teachers on how the national curriculum will be taught, and an important part of that will be the needs of pupils with special educational needs and disability. With that assurance that we can achieve the purpose of her amendment in another way, I hope that the hon. Lady will see fit to withdraw it.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education) 6:15 pm, 2nd February 2010

I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I just wanted to put down an important marker, as we move into what may be a new era, to make sure that the guidance covers all the aspects of my proposal. I thank the Minister, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 6.

Division number 8 Decision Time — Clause 10

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.