Life Skills and Citizenship

Thursday 7th September 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question for Short Debate
Asked by
Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that life skills and citizenship are taught in primary and secondary schools.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this debate. I thank all who are taking part and apologise that they have only two minutes to speak. I also bring apologies from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that he is unavoidably unable to be with us on a topic where he has great expertise.

It is widely recognised that personal and social development are key aims of education at all levels. However, there are only minimal requirements on schools and funding pressures mean that these areas do not get the priority they deserve. DfE advice for education providers is that they should include

“other non-qualification activity to develop students’ character, broader skills, attitudes and confidence, and support progression”.

This might include their ability to travel independently, to cook and eat healthily, to stay safe and to understand their all-important personal finances. This should be at the heart of education. Employers tend not to prioritise academic qualifications. They look for resilience, problem-solving, contributions to the community—life skills that impact on young people, our communities and our country.

I am currently on a committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, to look at education for 11 to 16 year-olds. As we take evidence, it is becoming increasingly clear that our current school priorities are not fit for purpose, whatever the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, may think. The EBacc and other programmes are directed to academic achievements, with GCSE, A-level and university being the main drivers. Young people whose interests and talents lie in more practical directions are largely overlooked, their motivation declining with every year when “Hamlet” and calculus are deemed more important than engineering, catering, music, the arts—indeed, all forms of creativity. Preparation for adult life is given minimal attention.

There are some brilliant citizenship programmes where young people learn the key skills of working with others, communication and self-management. They are taught about democracy; the importance of voting; human, moral, legal and political rights and duties; tolerance and diversity; and the invaluable contributions that can be made by volunteers. They are advised of financial literacy to enable them to manage their future incomes; of course, this is particularly important in these times of hardship and so much more relevant than algebra. When did noble Lords last use quadratic equations? They were fun while they lasted—I thoroughly enjoyed them—but by golly were they transient. Pupils are pointed to sex and health education although citizenship is not the same as PSHE, important as that is. They learn about ways in which they can play their part in the community, such as caring for others, old and young, disabled or sick, who may need help in everyday life, and the satisfaction that comes from activities that earn them money but help the world to be a better place.

As chair of the cadet health check team, I am constantly encouraged by the achievements and life skills of cadets, helped immeasurably by the committed adult volunteers who change young lives. The coalition Government boosted the availability of cadets in state schools with the cadet expansion programme. The University of Northampton recently produced a report showing the immense value of cadet training to individuals and the community. Of course, the independent sector has long seen the immeasurable value of cadets and other uniformed youth organisations, which breed leadership skills. It is to the credit of the Government that they are continuing their support, particularly for disadvantaged young people in state schools to have opportunities to discover the immense variety of activities that will enhance their lives. They could lead to careers in the military but that is not the purpose of the cadets, whose main purpose is to challenge the young to achieve more than they thought possible and to face risks in controlled environments and under supervision. The glee and satisfaction on the faces of cadets who have faced fearsome challenges successfully is always wonderful to behold. The boost it gives to self-confidence and self-respect is invaluable.

At my remote girls’ school, there was no mention of life skills or citizenship. I still remember the only lecture that touched on our futures, which was when a rather superior gentleman gazed at us and said, “Well, girls, most of you will get married so you won’t need to bother with a career. A few will go to university so you have another three years to think about the future. For the rest of you, you could be a teacher, a secretary or a nurse”—end of careers lecture. How he spun that out for an hour, I still cannot remember, but what a bewildering choice for us all.

When I graduated from Oxford, happily engaged to a wonderful RAF pilot, I was again offered three options: teacher, secretary or unemployable. In time, I was grateful to her for being so brutally realistic. We moved 24 times in 30 years, never had much money, and my husband’s frequent promotions always seemed to carry additional expensive social responsibilities. I did indeed drift into teaching and discovered the hard way that teaching skills are very different from academic ones. None of my pupils seemed interested in medieval French, which was a main contributor to my degree. I also found work as a clerical officer, a filing clerk and a copy typist—never, alas, as a secretary. There were also times when I was indeed unemployable: when having small children, when my husband’s postings called for a full-time wife and when I could not persuade anybody to employ me. It is difficult to be a good citizen when you feel that you are no use to anyone.

When I was a “compulsory wife”, I was aware that we had no guidance or training to help in our roles, which were apparently essential to our husbands’ success. I proposed training to include public speaking, chairing committees and comforting the bereaved. I was particularly concerned with welfare counselling in the hands of the untrained, as I had witnessed the harm that well-meaning but ignorant wives could do. There were other skills that we were just expected to have. Although there are no longer compulsory partners, I understand that this programme still exists at the Staff College for partners of senior military people. There was a touching male assumption that women just had relevant skills but, of course, that was always flawed. We all need help with life skills.

When we appeared settled in London, I found work with City & Guilds which was looking for graduates with teaching experience—heigh-ho, I covered two of those—and stayed with it for 20 years working on vocational qualifications, so full of life skills and good citizenship. Why do the Government not fully appreciate vocational or indeed technical or craft skills?

Like many women of my generation and older who were denied careers, I turned to volunteering with the CAB and SSAFA, welfare counselling and even as a reluctant organist in RAF chapels. My desire to contribute came more from my family than my education. My mother, who had a first-class degree from Cambridge, was denied graduation—it was not until 1948 that Cambridge allowed its women students to graduate—and she had to retire from the Civil Service as soon as she married, but she did constant good work with the church, marriage guidance and tutoring.

Of course, as I now know, we can all be good citizens in myriad ways and life skills accrue with experience. The importance of these subjects at primary school is vital, particularly for children who find academic school subjects taxing. If you are constantly near the bottom of the class, how important it is to learn the life skills of tolerance, kindness, curiosity, listening, hearing and speaking. Oracy is often overlooked in the curriculum, but being able to express oneself plays a key part in success in life.

For children whose home lives are limiting, discouraging or even dangerous, the importance of school to enable them to cope and thrive is crucial. Children who have caring responsibilities, and there are more of them than we appreciate, are forced to learn life skills at too early an age. The school curriculum should be wide enough to encourage and support them.

We need a long, hard look at our education system. I hope our committee will have some pointers to a more relevant and productive time at school. All children have interests and skills which could be channelled into fulfilling lives. None should feel that the only way to be noticed or make a difference is to end up on the streets in gangs, empowered only by damage and destruction. We must move away from the academic snobbery which has limited employability and fulfilment for so many. We need engineers, builders, retailers, plumbers, hairdressers and artists.

Our creative industries are among the most productive in the country, yet music, drama and art have disappeared from many state schools. We hear that music hubs are to be reduced by 63%. Hubs have spent years establishing relationships and partnerships with schools and music establishments; there is a great danger that the restructure will leave many young musicians and would-be musicians bereft of music education.

It would revolutionise school for so many young people if their future needs, interests and talents were recognised. It would benefit the community and the country too if schools prioritised turning out good citizens—children who feel confident that they have the skills and knowledge to be useful. Will the Minister say what measures the Government are taking to ensure that life skills and citizenship are taught in all primary and secondary schools by qualified and committed teachers? The next generation deserves nothing less. I beg to move.

Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for obtaining this important debate and for such an excellent introductory speech. Schools do not single-handedly teach life skills and citizenship but only supplement what is taught and mainly caught in families. Of course, that can be far from ideal but, particularly in how sex and relationships education is taught, schools can contradict good values parents seek to instil in their children, which are often faith-based. Parents have found their children learning to be “sex positive” in their attitudes to relationships, which means

“stepping away from monogamy-based assumptions”.

Sex education used to be based on evidenced human biology; now it imposes gender and coercive liberal ideology, which is causing unnecessary confusion and stress. Will the Minister confirm when much-needed guidance in this area will be published by the Government?

Similarly, citizenship education that teaches critical race theory and other forms of cultural Marxism as fact is indoctrinating young people and denying them the skills to evaluate critically current strands of thought. The pervasiveness of these ideologies highlights that everyone needs a belief system to live by. By ignoring faith-based beliefs, schools are in fact promoting atheism—the belief that there is nothing. On what grounds do I say this? Teaching against committed family relationships contradicts tenets particularly those of Christianity, which is predicated completely on our status as children of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Flimsy manmade ideologies that insist there is nothing of the divine beg the question that if there is nothing how come there is something? It is impossible to have something from nothing. All human beings face these existential questions, so what is the Government’s attitude towards this de facto teaching of atheism in state schools?

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by reminding noble Lords of my education interests in the register, in particular as chair of the E-ACT multi-academy trust and as a director of Suklaa Ltd. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for how she opened the debate, although I say to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, that I think I disagreed with pretty much everything that he said.

We must start by recognising the capacity limits in the time that children spend in classrooms. The curriculum is already overwhelming for teachers and learners and, if we are to add more to it, it has to be at the expense of something that we are willing to take away. The conundrum, however, is that children are leaving school ill prepared to prosper in a complex, dynamic world—surely, then, we should make more room for life skills and citizenship education. Some argue for adding it to PSHE, which is too often where citizenship is also taught now. When I was Schools Minister, I added financial literacy to the subject, and I welcome the inclusion of relationship and sex education, but that part of the timetable is now full.

I argue that the conundrum can be resolved through rebalancing the curriculum. Our “knowledge-rich” curriculum, the EBacc and the nature of Ofsted inspections combine to deliver a highly academic diet in primary and secondary schools. There is so much detailed content crammed in that, as the Institute of Physics told your Lordships’ Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee, there is no space to teach “the big ideas”. If we stripped out a lot of the minutiae of the curriculum, we could free teachers to be more relevant and engaging and include life skills and citizenship across the curriculum. This was the vision of my Private Member’s Bill in the last Session. I wanted a new aim for the national curriculum, instilling

“an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment, for present and future generations”.

More knowledge is not power; it is boring. But powerful knowledge is exciting and empowering. It must be relevant to the here and now, deliver life skills and make us successful sustainable citizens, and it will follow when we deliver a broader and more balanced curriculum.

Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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My Lords, as a state secondary school teacher myself, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and thank her for this opportunity. The teaching of these subjects is part of a more fundamental discussion—as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, just said—about our whole curriculum.

The Skills Builder Partnership and Edge Foundation recently published a report that estimated that the lack of vital skills, such as problem-solving, teamwork and leadership, cost the UK economy £22 billion pounds last year. These skills, like the creative skills that contribute to the UK’s vital creative industry, are not passed on genetically or by osmosis; for most children, they are mainly learned at school. If we can enrich children with these skills, we can improve not only their life chances but the chances of those around them.

We should be teaching life skills and citizenship all day every day to our students as an embedded part of every subject, not as a separate subject. Problem-solving, both mental and practical, should have a much larger share of the curriculum. Teamwork, critical thinking and analysis, physical activity, manual dexterity and personal health and well-being would be far more useful than the rote learning that still clings to much of our national curriculum.

We should not be educating children so that they can go on to university; we should be educating children so that they can go into life. University should be a choice, not an inevitability and, whether they choose to go or not, our school leavers should be robust, practical, critical thinkers who are better prepared for a life as healthy, compassionate, ambitious, self-aware, resilient and employable citizens.

Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for securing this important debate, and I thank her and all noble Lords who preceded me. I, too, want young people to be educated to take their full place as citizens, educated in this country’s history, cultural heritage and traditions, which are characterised by its protection of freedoms—economic, political and, over time, religious—and its thriving voluntarism, with the state kept in its place by an informed democracy and the ballot box.

The question is: how can this best be achieved? Should—or, indeed, can—it be done by designating teachers and lesson time to potted citizenship classes, recruiting a cadre of teachers trained in what officials believe to be the fashionable subjects of citizenship today? At the very best, this can do little more than skim the surface but, at worst, it could end up undermining beliefs, traditions and aims that we all seek.

Today’s national curriculum already requires pupils in secondary schools to be taught specific citizenship programmes for 11 to 16 year-olds. For instance, GCSE headings cover such things as the development of the political system of democratic government; the role of citizens, Parliament and the monarch; the nature of the rules and laws of our justice system; voluntary bodies; and, of course, as has been mentioned, the management of finances, to mention but a few. Teaching these can best be achieved as a by-product of learning important subjects such as history, literature, classics, religion and mathematics, with teachers educated to degree level in their subjects. It is good, confident teachers who engage their pupils and can illustrate and make comparisons with today, imparting the skills needed and the aptitude to develop, whatever path in life is taken, be it professional or vocational.

I urge the Government to focus on recruiting able, academically qualified and committed teachers for all schools—primary as well as secondary—in the central subjects. This is the surest way to understand a culture characterised by parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and individual freedom.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome today’s debate, and I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for introducing it in such a marvellous autobiographical way. In my short contribution, I will say something about the citizenship element of this debate. When you look around the world, you see that democracy is in a very fragile state. In many countries, including our closest allies, it is under real attack, if not violent attack. We have a great duty to help to preserve our democracy for the future, and our education system will be a key part of our success.

The broad issues of citizenship should start early on, at the primary school stage, in an appropriate way. Sometimes, I look up at the Gallery and see a group of primary school children—in fact, I can see one there now, watching our debate. It is a pleasure to see them. We have had several groups here since this debate started. I remember coming to this House when I was the age of some of the people here now, and I sat in the side gallery—it must have been about 1957 or 1958. I no longer remember the subject of the debate, and these children may not remember it either, but they will remember the sense of occasion and something of the experience.

I am not saying that citizenship education amounts solely to a visit to this House or another place, but it is an important part—and our education department does a wonderful job of bringing in students and young people to learn about this place. I am one of those Members who welcomes the chance to see schools and colleges, and I hope to do so more. I find that there is a great deal of interest in how things work and in democracy. When I last met a group of sixth-form students, they asked some pretty pertinent questions about this place.

My time is up. I sometimes feel that, in a debate like this, we should have the Minister’s speech first, so we can better understand what is in the Government’s mind. I look forward to hearing what she has to say. We cannot take anything for granted—and an active programme of citizenship can help to preserve the very democracy that we value so highly.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, I was lucky enough to be a member of the committee that looked at this issue, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. In our report, The Ties That Bind, we found that citizenship education, which should be the first great opportunity for instilling our values and encouraging social cohesion, was often being subsumed into individual development. This is undoubtedly important, but it is not the same as learning about the political and social structure of the country, how it is governed, how laws are made and how they are enforced by an independent judiciary. It also does not offer an opportunity for practising civic engagement in schools, local communities and beyond. We said then that the Government should reprioritise the subject by enabling a target for every secondary school in the country to have a dedicated, qualified teacher.

The Government’s main instrument for delivering citizenship programmes is the National Citizen Service. I am a long-standing critic of this organisation. It was born with a huge endowment of political will from the Conservative Party, and it was given the status of a royal charter body, which it neither needed nor merited. It receives £63 million—the lion’s share of government funding for youth services. Its website lists eight things that it does: everything from health and well-being to working together for success and employability. Deep down, in the middle of that list, is citizenship and British values. There is no detail about any of the work it does with schools, other than statistics about the number of people and places that have been engaged on short programmes that last for six weeks in the summer. It has a new chair and a new strategy for the next five years. Will the Minister agree that now is the time to have a proper comparative analysis of the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of the National Citizen Service, as opposed to that of other organisations that have a long history of working in this field?

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I was a member of the Select Committee that produced the report, The Ties That Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century. It exposed major failings in the teaching of citizenship in schools. The Government’s response did nothing to suggest that these failings were being addressed. The Liaison Committee’s follow-up report, which was debated in April this year, again pointed out continuing failures in this area. All this is well set out in the excellent Library briefing.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the chair of the original committee, much regrets that he is not able to be part of today’s debate because of an operation. In April, he said that

“our follow-up report made a number of recommendations at paragraphs 72 to 77 about Ofsted’s work. It is no exaggeration to say that Ofsted rejected the lot. It persistently mixes up citizenship education with PSHE—personal, social, health and economic education. In truth, they are completely different”.—Official Report, 17/4/23; col. GC 178.]

Is the Minister satisfied that Ofsted now distinguishes citizenship education from PSHE, or is the former still too often subsumed in the latter?

I will again raise two of the many concerns from the earlier reports. First, is a record now being kept of the number of trainee teachers in citizenship education? If not, why not? Secondly, are bursaries now available for those who want to teach the subject, as there are in other subjects where teachers are in short supply?

When we look around the world today, we see far too many oppressive dictatorships, military coups, managed democracies and elective autocracies. Of the 195 countries in the world, only 72 are democracies or flawed democracies. Democracy is a precious historical achievement, but it is fragile, as the noble Viscount just emphasised. There is no guarantee that it can survive. Young people should be taught why democracy matters and how to be a responsible citizen in democracy. Too often, at the moment, this is not being done at all, or only very inadequately.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, the diocese which I am privileged to serve has 138 church schools in it and another group of independent schools with Christian foundations. I am glad to have the opportunity to visit them regularly—I have been in one already this morning. As I go round, I am heartened by the teaching I see already going on on citizenship and value-based education. I want to comment, though, on just a couple of things and to suggest that, while it is important that the Government are clear what they are doing, there is actually a vital role for families and a vital role in collaborating with other bodies that are seeking to do similar sort of work.

I want to comment on financial education. The Government recognise the importance of financial skills, but research indicates that children form their habits around money by about the age of seven, yet no time is allocated in primary school curricula for financial education: 5% of parents believe their children are leaving school with the adequate skills to manage their money. Though not part of the national curriculum, programmes such as LifeSavers, which the Church of England is working on, could be a huge help, teaching children about this important life skill. What steps are His Majesty’s Government taking to work further with organisations providing financial education?

Then I shall say a very brief word on citizenship. In this era of increasing partisanship and division, our fundamental British principles of mutual respect and freedom of conscience are vital. Again, the Church of England’s project, Living Well Together, aims to help young people and equip them to better understand different beliefs. Is the Minister aware of this project, and will His Majesty’s Government give their support to it?

Lord Sandhurst Portrait Lord Sandhurst (Con)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for obtaining this debate and for her excellent introduction. My focus is on the vital life skill of financial awareness and the need to include financial education in primary schools. Children nowadays do not handle cash every day and learn to budget, as some of us here did in the past. As adults, they will have to manage rent, mortgages and household bills. They must be equipped for this, but the evidence is that too many school leavers are not. Children do not see cash going out of their physical pockets. In a cash economy, no cash means you cannot spend. But cash is no more.

As a child, I knew if I had the pennies to buy sweets. It was easy. A seven year-old faced with a bank or card statement has a much harder task. Children must therefore be taught. Skills must be embedded young. To manage money and to budget is a vital life skill. Without the skill, debt and disaster follow. We know that gambling is a growing problem among the young as well as adults. As the Centre for Social Justice has explained, money habits and behaviours that will stick for life are formed by the age of seven, but two-thirds of primary schoolchildren receive no formal financial education. While financial education is now taught in secondary schools, since 2014, teachers say that too many children leave without an adequate grasp of finance, so it must start before then, in primary schools. We must act now and incorporate financial education in primary schools. I ask the Minister: if not, why not?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for her very lively introduction to this debate and for the opportunity to repeat a key Green principle—that education should be for life, not just for exams or, indeed, just for jobs. That means we need far more stress on such skills as food growing, cooking, first aid and financial management. I am going to focus particularly on the area of citizenship and begin by questioning the division that occurs, with the idea that there are life skills and there is citizenship. I see being a good citizen as an essential life skill; the two things are not separate.

In the interests of being democratic, I am going to go to the report from the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK, which was a participative democracy project run by the Constitution Unit of the University College London and Involve. One conclusion from that group of citizens was that good democracy requires an informed and active electorate, so that people understand politics, the consequences of their vote and how to hold the Government to account—boy, do we need a lot more of that.

We need to think about how people actually learn, and for this I am going to go way back in history to Confucius, who said:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”.

The thesis I would put in this short speech is that we need to see far more democracy in schools. We need to give pupils, like the young people who have just been in our Gallery, the chance to decide what happens in their schools, what they learn, how they study and how the school operates. It is by doing that democracy, starting from the younger stages, that we will truly prepare people to be citizens who, as we must have for our future, make politics what they do, not have done to them.

Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for securing this important debate. Life skills in schools are crucial in preparing our young people for a successful, rewarding and happy life, and I would like to declare my interest as vice-chair of the APPG on Financial Education for Young People.

Financial literacy is a vital life skill that gives our young people the ability to better navigate and manage their money and gives them better chances in life. Research by Cambridge University, published by the Money and Pensions Service, suggests that habits and attitudes towards money are formed around the age of seven. Further research in 2021 by the Centre for Financial Capability has found only one in five primary-aged children receive any form of financial education. Recent research by Santander shows that over two-thirds, or 68%, of parents believe teaching children about money should start young and be on the primary-school curriculum, and nearly 70% of UK adults say better financial education would have increased their ability to manage their finances as the cost of living rises. If we can give our young people a really good start to their financial education in primary schools, it would help lay a solid foundation to further their knowledge in secondary schools, where it is a compulsory part of the curriculum.

Financial education is on the curriculum in primary schools in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so why not put it on the curriculum in England? There are some really good examples of financial education provision in some of our primary schools, assisted by organisations like Young Enterprise, but it cannot be right that not all of our children have the same access and, as a result, potentially risk missing out on achieving higher earning potential, less chance of debt, more savings—and the list goes on. We cannot control what decisions young people will make later on in life, but we can make sure that every child leaves school with this important life skill. I believe beginning this journey in primary school is necessary and it should be added as a compulsory subject to the primary school curriculum.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
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My Lords, citizenship teaching can help develop an understanding and respect for the norms of society. But these norms are constantly changing; what was considered acceptable in one generation, can be seen as cruel and oppressive in another. The less than equal treatment of women was the accepted norm until quite recently. In the 1960s, it was perfectly okay to have adverts in shop windows for accommodation to let stipulating “No dogs, blacks or Irish”. In the early 1980s, it was lawful to stop a Sikh child going to school in a turban.

A Christian hymn reminds us,

“New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth”.

It is not only time, but also space that makes ancient good uncouth. In our shrinking, interdependent world of the 21st century, we cannot afford the old luxury of disparaging foreigners, including Scots and Welsh, as lesser beings, to strengthen our sense of unity and superiority. Nor should we look on other religions with traditional negativity. We are, as Sikhism teaches us, all members of one somewhat imperfect family. It is important that we move away from the old narrow view of identity and equip pupils to meet new challenges and responsibilities in a shrinking and interdependent world.

Does the Minister agree that citizenship teaching should not be based on past norms but on underlying ethical imperatives? The often-ignored ethical three Rs—right, wrong, and responsibility—must be taught and learnt in schools.

While the RE curriculum provides for the teaching of different religions as discrete entities, we should also recognise ethical commonalities between faiths, which I believe should underpin the teaching of citizenship to help children meet the challenges of the world of tomorrow.

Lord Shinkwin Portrait Lord Shinkwin (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, for securing this timely debate. I say timely because it follows the recent publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report, Progress on disability rights in the United Kingdom. I pay tribute at this point to the commission’s excellent chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for producing this report in the face of some very unpleasant distractions. I am sure my noble friend the Minister will share my concern that, as the commission has noted,

“Although some positive steps have been taken to combat bullying, more needs to be done to tackle negative stereotypes or prejudice against disabled people”.

As I can sadly attest, bullying and discriminatory behaviours in relation to disability start at school, and that is where the sneers, the snide remarks or worse—which I still encounter—need to be nipped in the bud. This is central to nurturing a society in which equality and respect for the individual inform citizenship.

The plethora of DfE guidance on the importance of respecting each other as unique and equal, and on how stereotypes, including those based on disability, can cause damage, is all very welcome. But in closing, I ask my noble friend, in responding to the important question of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, if she could also explain what plans her department has to evaluate the impact of its guidance in terms of the lived experience of school and bullying from the perspective of pupils like Archie? Archie features in the BBC’s excellent key stage two class clips film for PSHE, “Archie’s Story: cerebral palsy”, which I commend to my noble friend and indeed to all noble Lords.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Garden for initiating this important debate, and for her valuable, witty and life-affirming contribution. I suppose we ought to start by understanding what we mean by life skills. The list of life skills varies depending on who you talk to and the circumstances and needs of society. There are various lists, but, for me, UNESCO and the World Health Organization hit the mark. They say that life skills are problem solving, critical thinking, effective communication skills, decision-making, creative thinking, interpersonal and relationship skills, empathy and coping with stress and emotions. I would add understanding, relating and engaging with people from different backgrounds and cultures to that list.

The next big question is how to develop and provide for these skills. It cannot just be a curriculum unit on decision-making; it must be a whole-school ethos which supports, develops, encourages and ensures that all its practices are aware of these issues. There must be related curriculum opportunities to reinforce this, but it is the ethos that the governors, head teacher, staff and parents develop which is so important. In early Ofsted inspections, a school’s ethos and values were not things it would report on, because when it went into the school, it had an understanding of what the school’s ethos was.

Finally, there are other skills children need so that they can be safe and protected. One example very close to my heart is that of life-saving water safety skills. I have a Private Member’s Bill on that topic and, although I have run out of time now, I hope that the Minister will take it on board.

Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak today and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for initiating and introducing such an interesting debate.

Labour is committed, as part of our breaking down the barriers to opportunity mission, to building a broad school education that enables children to thrive and to develop life skills. Life skills should be taught throughout the curriculum. When I was chair of governors at a London academy, the pupils I met were most keen to access financial education. Citizenship education is vital. It is right that we ensure that children and young people understand the role of active citizenship—including an understanding of the role of government, Parliament and the justice system—and develop an interest in volunteering, responsible activity and activism, and critical thinking skills, as well as an understanding of how we should treat each other.

Part of that education must be the normalising of engagement with politicians and institutions, and I commend the work of the Parliament Education Centre, which opens up what we do. Many Peers also take part in the Learn with the Lords programme, which includes Peers being zoomed into classrooms all over the country, at both primary and secondary level, as well as speaking to children who are being home-schooled.

Even so, most children will not get the opportunity to come to Parliament or speak to politicians on a regular basis, so maintaining the teaching of citizenship in schools is also vital. Good teaching that makes politics and civic engagement interesting requires investment. The fall in specialist citizenship teacher numbers is regrettable. It would be useful for the Minster to tell us how the Government think that this issue, which is part of a wider issue, will impact citizenship and life skills. Can she also tell us when the Government next intend to make changes to the citizenship curriculum, and how they plan to embed better a range of life skills across the curriculum.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, on securing the debate and thank all noble Lords for their brief but pertinent and thoughtful contributions.

Like every noble Lord who has spoken today, we want pupils to leave school prepared for further study, work and other aspects of adult life. That is why every state-funded school has a duty to offer a curriculum which is broad and balanced, which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils, and which prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for his remarks on the important role of the family in all those aspects, alongside the school. I also thank him for raising awareness of the Living Well Together programme, which I have noted.

Subjects such as relationships, sex and health education and citizenship directly support the development of life skills. However, in the broad statutory framework, schools have considerable flexibility to organise the content and delivery of their curriculums. Schools can therefore reinforce personal development in other subjects, and through their whole-school policies and extracurricular enrichment offer, in a way that focuses on what their pupils need. From her experience in City and Guilds, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, gave examples of subjects which were about one particular topic but gave skills in a number of other areas—that is exactly how the Government see the existing curriculum. That issue was also raised by the noble Lords, Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Hampton.

I turn to statutory relationships, sex and health education. This equips young people to manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way. Teaching in secondary schools develops knowledge about respectful relationships, including online, importantly, and develops pupils’ understanding of health and well-being, how to identify issues and where to seek help. The noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, talked about the ethical principles that need to underpin some of these issues.

My noble friend Lord Farmer asked about the timing of the review of the RSHE curriculum. A public consultation is expected this autumn, with revised guidance being published in 2024, and an advisory panel is providing advice on what should be taught in RSHE and at what age. I can clarify for my noble friend that the Government firmly believe in the importance of religious education, which is why it remains compulsory for all state-funded schools at all key stages.

The citizenship curriculum is compulsory within the national curriculum at secondary school and prepares pupils to play a full and active part in society. It is organised around core content about democracy and the political system. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and my noble friend Lady Lawlor both raised this. It enables pupils to understand their statutory rights, civic duties and responsibilities and to become the active citizens that your Lordships have described in their speeches today.

Other essential life skills such as financial literacy and media literacy are specifically included in citizenship education. My noble friends Lady Sater and Lord Sandhurst were among noble Lords who focused on the importance of financial literacy. I hope that the House knows that the Government feel that financial literacy is extremely important. It is covered in the national curriculum, within the maths curriculum at key stages 1 to 4 and within citizenship at key stages 3 and 4. That covers the functions and uses of money, including personal budgeting and money management. It also includes—unfortunately—taxes, debt and financial risk, as well as financial products. In the primary citizenship curriculum, pupils learn about where money comes from, how it can be used and how to save for the future.

Noble Lords did not particularly dwell on the importance of PE and sport within the curriculum, but the Government believe that it should be a core part of what every good school offers to pupils. It can help develop some of the essential personal qualities, such as resilience and the ability to work well as a team, which a number of your Lordships raised. That is why we have committed over £600 million over the next two years to fund high-quality PE and school sport in primary schools, with an additional £57 million up to March 2025 to support more sport outside school hours.

Noble Lords also touched on the importance of cultural education in developing life skills. That is why we are investing £115 million in music and the arts up to 2025, in addition to core school budgets. We have published a new music education plan and we will publish a cultural education plan in 2023 to support arts and heritage, working with DCMS and Arts Council England.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, was critical of the EBacc. However, one of the key elements of it, which I know many of your Lordships would agree with, is its emphasis on the importance of learning a foreign language, given how that equips students with the tools and the mindset to connect with people from different backgrounds—which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised—and giving them an appreciation of cultures, customs and history around the world.

I simply do not recognise the description given by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, of the National Citizen Service. It works very closely with and actively supports local grass-roots youth organisations, and in 2022 over 120,000 young people took part in its work, which is open to all 16 and 17 year-olds, with particular support available for the most disadvantaged. However, I would echo the recognition by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, of the important work of our uniformed youth organisations.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, asked about Ofsted’s assessment of citizenship and education. It looks at that in relation to both the quality of education and the school’s support for a pupil’s personal development, so at how a school prepares its pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in modern Britain, which many of your Lordships felt was extremely important.

I am left with some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Knight—I apologise if I misquote him—about how we can tweak or change the curriculum in a way to be able to fit in some of the life skills which your Lordships have alluded to this afternoon. I do not think that anyone in the Government disagrees with many of the aspirations with regard to life skills that were raised in the House today; the question is how we deliver them. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, put it very well when he gave the UNESCO definition of life skills but asked, “How do we prepare for those skills?”. Of course, the curriculum is an important part of that—although not the only part, as many of your Lordships recognised.

I point out to noble Lords who question our focus on a knowledge-rich curriculum that it is that curriculum which has delivered our extraordinarily successful creative industries and is delivering enormous innovation in technology, green skills and other areas. There are others in the House, including the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, who understand better than I do about how children learn, but my understanding is that without basic knowledge in fundamental subjects, children cannot access what the noble Lord, Lord Knight, described as the powerful knowledge. Therefore, I am concerned when I listen to the House suggest that we should take part of the knowledge-rich elements out of the curriculum and replace them with life skills, because we know what can happen if we do that. It is the deprived and disadvantaged students who will be told that they do not need to aspire or get academic qualifications, and that that is good enough for them. No one in this House wants to return to the soft bigotry of low expectations.