Life Skills and Citizenship Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Life Skills and Citizenship

Baroness Barran Excerpts
Thursday 7th September 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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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.