Plans to sweep away a "culture of compliance" in schools and replace it with more freedom for teachers to teach what they want will be unveiled by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, this week. He is promoting the changes to encourage more inspirational teaching.
The White Paper outlining the Government's vision for the future of state schools will be unveiled on Wednesday. One of its main components will be a review of how the national curriculum operates.
Mr Gove insists he has taken on board teachers' complaints that they are weighed down by bureaucracy – ticking boxes to comply with government initiatives and school inspections. Their concerns were graphically illustrated by Gillian Low, president of the Girls' Schools Association, last week when she complained that UK education had "lost its way". Mrs Low, headmistress of Lady Eleanor Holles school in Hampton – which was featured in the film An Education, about the teenage years of former pupil Lynn Barber – said there had been "a national shift" towards "examinations rather than education" and "inspection rather than inspiration".
Mr Gove will make it clear he wants a slimmed-down national curriculum – spelling out what should be known by every youngster in the core subjects at each key stage (seven, 11, 14 and 16). There will also be plans for a reading test for every six-year-old so teachers can see who in their class is struggling to read and take swift remedial action. He has made it clear he believes that "the classroom is a place where teachers should be doing the learning and the Government should be adopting an appropriately modest role".
He will also cut the requirement for Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, to pass judgement on 18 different aspects of school life, including whether it promotes community cohesion and healthy eating. Instead, inspections in future should focus on just four things – quality of teaching, leadership, the attainment, achievement and progress of pupils, and discipline and behaviour.
He wants to see the "culture of compliance" in schools scaled back and replaced with "praise and respect" for teachers from the Department for Education. However, teachers' leaders fear the changes will herald a return to the traditional teaching methods of the 1950s with Mr Gove's call for the curriculum to focus on what pupils should have learnt by the end of each key stage.
Other important elements of the package include measures to improve school discipline – by scrapping a pupil's right to appeal against being excluded from school and giving teachers greater powers to search youngsters and confiscate goods. In addition, Mr Gove will ensure teachers' right to use "reasonable force" to break up fights is enshrined in new legislation. Teachers will be able to search pupils for mobile phones, MP3 players and any device that might disrupt lessons. Pupils also face penalties for poor spelling and grammar.
He will also give heads more power to set their teachers' pay and introduce more on-the-job training for new entrants to the profession.There will be the pledge of extra resources for good and outstanding schools to take leadership roles in neighbouring institutions that may be struggling and where inspectors have identified weaknesses.
However, teachers are wary of plans to introduce more performance-related pay, saying that earlier moves to do so under Labour failed to show any link with improved performance.