God, sex and geography help to fill the in-tray

15th August 2003 at 01:00
CUTTING teenage pregnancy, overseeing geography teaching and tackling racism are just a few of the items in Stephen Twigg's in-tray.

Since he joined the department 15 months ago, Mr Twigg's duties have been reshuffled three times. He has had a remit for London since he became a junior minister, but he was taken off work on the 14 to 19 curriculum in September 2002 when he took on equality issues. Then in December 2002 he was made responsible for raising standards in primary schools.

In the latest change two months ago, he was given a brief for English, history, geography, modern foreign languages, citizenship, sport, PE and playing fields.

Mr Twigg, under-secretary of state for schools, is also responsible for drug, alcohol and sex education - partly shared with children's minister Margaret Hodge.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the education and skills select committee, said he would be most interested in what Mr Twigg had done for London. He said:

"We will be looking at what has happened in the couple of places where private-sector involvement has not worked out as the Government expected."

The London Challenge was announced in May. It includes focusing on the five boroughs with the lowest-performing schools, setting up new city academies, a mortgage guarantee scheme for teachers and the introduction of chartered London Teacher status.

Mr Twigg's equality remit has led to him being named as the department's representative for "the God group", the steering group reviewing the way government works with faith communities.

He describes himself as an atheist, but he does not see that causing problems on a group which is about encouraging dialogue between people with differing views.

His most high-profile curriculum subject has been languages. The National Languages Strategy, launched last year, begins in earnest this autumn when 19 local authorities will trial ways of teaching languages in primary schools. Here he must counter claims that government plans to make languages optional at 14 could make them middle-class subjects.

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