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Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is still serious under-achievement in both reading and mathematics in many primary schools, and that some pupils go on to secondary school unable to read, while in some primary schools pupils are over five years behind the pupils at other schools in mathematics and three years behind in reading? What is being done to improve those essential skills of numeracy and reading, without which one cannot understand any other subject?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, as I intimated just now, the Government have set tough targets for all primary schools to achieve with regard to the scores that children at the age of 11 obtain in both literacy and numeracy. It is extremely important that children do not go on to secondary school without having reached the scores that they should, otherwise they are in danger of falling behind. The Government have also decided to make it clear to all primary schools that the amount of time that they allocate to both literacy and numeracy should be increased. It is because the curriculum was somewhat over-burdened in terms of the number of national curriculum subjects with prescribed programmes that the decision was made to lift the prescribed programmes in the six foundation subjects.
Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords. My noble friend will be aware that the Government have published a Green Paper concerning children with special educational needs, on which we are consulting. We are looking, and hoping, for a debate on how to improve opportunities for children with disabilities, whether slight or more profound. Every child should be given the opportunity to reach his or her potential.
Lord Elton: My Lords, does the Minister accept the enormous importance of equipping teachers to teach in methods that we regard as traditional and simple but which from the 1660s became regarded as old-fashioned--
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am not sure which table I have fallen foul of! I refer to the enormous importance of equipping teachers to teach children. Merely addressing teachers who are already teaching will not suffice. We need a professional teaching body. Urgent attention must be paid to this matter in the teacher training colleges so that teachers are taught how to teach in such methods before they begin their careers.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not sure what the curriculum was like prior to 1660, but it is extremely important that all teachers are adequately trained. That is why in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill that is now before the House we are introducing new arrangements for the induction of teachers when they arrive in school. The first year can be vital in terms of the qualities that teachers can later reveal in their classroom performance. We are also looking at ways of improving the quality of teacher training. Again, that Bill contains provisions to ensure that Ofsted is able to inspect all teacher training courses, including those in universities.
Lord Tope: My Lords, does the Minister agree that not only is a broadly based curriculum important in itself, but it is also essential in providing a proper framework for the promotion of literacy and numeracy? Is the Minister aware that the initial relief felt by teachers at the fact that the Government had at last recognised that the national curriculum was over-burdened has now been replaced by confusion about exactly what they are going to do? Can the Minister tell us when guidance will be issued to teachers
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, teachers are aware that they are required to continue to teach the six foundation subjects as well as the core subjects of English, Maths, Science and IT. However, the Qualification and Curriculum Agency is currently working on new guidance to inform teachers, and to reassure them, about exactly what breadth in the curriculum should mean.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the extreme anxiety among musicians about the effect that the reduction in the time given to music in schools will have? There have been letters in The Times, particularly from Sir Simon Rattle, about the poor quality of music that will result if children are no longer required to be taught music in primary school as a serious part of the national curriculum. Can the Minister reassure the public in general that special steps will be taken to improve the quality of music in primary schools?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am of course aware of the anxieties as I have been lobbied as somebody with a long-standing interest in the teaching of music and of other arts subjects in both primary and secondary schools. The Government have no intention of seeing music knocked out of the primary school curriculum. On the contrary, we very much value the excellent work of many teachers in providing music tuition. Sir Simon Rattle has been invited to join a new government committee which will consider innovation and creativity in young people and how to develop it in our schools.
Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Does he agree that if criminal penalties were imposed to enforce metrication throughout the United Kingdom it would add substantially to the already considerable anti-European
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I repeat that the Government do not intend that people should be locked up simply because they do not use metric units of measurement. I can reassure my noble friend that until the end of the century goods sold loose from bulk by weight such as fresh fruit and vegetables can be sold in imperial units. Moreover, after that date consumers can continue to ask for a pound of apples or potatoes and the shopkeeper will provide the metric equivalent. There are exceptions. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that the pint of beer in the pub and the doorstep pint will continue indefinitely and road signs will continue to be in miles. That said, the trend in business is strongly towards metrication. We are members of a single market, and a worldwide market, where metric measures are used overwhelmingly. We would surely find ourselves at a competitive disadvantage if we did not conform.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, far be it for a Member of this House to discount the difficulties of the elderly, but can the Minister confirm that the process of metrication was started some 30 years ago, five years before we joined the European Community, and that the pioneer in that process was that champion of old Labour then known as the right honourable Anthony Wedgwood Benn? Can the noble Lord confirm that since that time every other member of the Commonwealth has both started and finished the process of metrication and that it is now almost a quarter of a century since the state school system, then presided over by my right honourable friend, now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, discontinued instruction in imperial measurement? Further, does the noble Lord believe that it would help the process of improving numeracy in schools if new Labour completed the process which old Labour set in hand so long ago?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I confirm that the process of metrication started in 1965. It was very shortly after the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, became Prime Minister that the Metrication Board was abolished.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Australia people were happily and easily converted to metric distances, in particular by their introduction in horseracing? Does he believe that if we encouraged all sports to use metrication the process would proceed more rapidly? The noble Lord said that road signs were still in miles. Does he agree that if we are to go metric it is time that our road signs were also changed to metric?
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