Chalk Talk: The national curriculum that schools won't be able to resist


I have a feeling Tim Oates, the man chosen by Education Secretary Michael Gove to head his review of the national curriculum, is a glass-half-full man. Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference during a debate on whether there was a need for a new curriculum, he admitted the review was "a gamble".

Mr Gove has said that all his flagship academies and free schools will be free to ditch the national curriculum and decide themselves what they should teach – thus leaving Oates and his team with the prospect that few may follow what they outline. There are now 1,635 academies.

John Bangs, visiting professor at London University's Institute of education, suggested Mr Oates' review might have "zilch" effect on the system, as many schools could be exempted from it. It was then that Mr Oates, a director with Cambridge Assessment, put his brave face on and said the prospect of exemptions would concentrate the minds of the review panel. It would force them to come up with recommendations so good that all schools would decide to stick with the national curriculum. If so, then Mr Oates may get his second wish – that the new curriculum should last for 10 or 20 years and that politics would have been taken out of curriculum. So far, the national curriculum has been reviewed four times since it was introduced in the late 1980s.

The teachers' union easter conference season kicks off on Monday with the three biggest unions all having their conferences in the ensuing nine days.

One hardy perennial will be missing: there is no motion on behaviour at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers annual conference. As a journalist, you could rely on it – with tales of abhorrent six-year-olds running riot in the classroom.

Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, assures me it is not because the issue has been solved. "I wouldn't want Michael Gove taking credit for that," she says. No, it is because there are more pressing issues – pay, pensions, teachers' stress levels, privatisation ... the list goes on.