Leading article: A change that makes sense

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The Independent Online

There is much to welcome in the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's (QCA) draft new national curriculum for 11-14 year olds. It does away with the prescriptive reading list of pre- and post-1914 authors and poets of the present national curriculum, which English teachers claimed limited the choice of writers they could offer to pupils. The more lurid tabloid headlines of the weekend suggested this meant that established writers like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens would be barred from the classroom but nothing could be further from the truth. It is simply that teachers will be given the freedom to choose which works to set their pupils. The likelihood is that many will still give their pupils the chance to study books like Bleak House, which made such an impression during the recent television serialisation.

Likewise, no one should be fooled into thinking that the attempt to put the history of the British Empire at the heart of the history curriculum means that teachers will be adopting a gung-ho attitude to a glorious past. As the QCA, the Government's exams watchdog, argued last week, this should open up opportunities for a more detailed discussion of Britain's past, including an exploration of the role played by ethnic minority groups in our history, which the Commission for Racial Equality has argued is sadly lacking at present.

A third interpretation of the draft suggested that swimming had been dropped from the curriculum. While this is certainly true, swimming is no longer singled out as a compulsory element - nor is any other sport or game. The document simply says that pupils should have a choice of at least three activities that could, for argument's sake, include swimming, football and dance.

Overall, the impression created by the draft is that it will be less prescriptive (it runs to less than half the length of the current curriculum requirements for that age group), while still insisting on an emphasis on basic skills. We hope that ministers approve this draft. We also hope that Downing Street does not pander to the excesses of the tabloid press by saving the prescribed reading list. This would, thereby, make it more difficult for teachers to introduce their pupils to the likes of Edgar Allan Poe or Gabriel García Márquez, as our columnist Bethan Marshall pointed out, both of whom are missing from the present list.

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