Education Diary: National curriculum's 20th anniversary

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Last week was the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the national curriculum, and it was marked by the former education secretary Kenneth Baker remembering his debates with Mrs T when they were hatching their plans. She wanted a core curriculum – based on English, maths and science – while he wanted a broader offering. The Iron Lady loved argument, according to Baker. You had to be careful to marshal your facts, and you could expect the odd pounding – but he eventually won out. "I was pulverised from time to time, but you have to bob up and come back," he said. His big regret was that he didn't compel schools to stay open for an extra period to fit in the curriculum. At the time, he was recovering from a bruising 18-month pay dispute with teachers, so he didn't want to push his luck. Now he would have no hesitation in extending the school day, he says. And with the number of admin staff in schools, it would not be as disruptive as it would have been 20 years ago.

Michael Barber, former head of Tony Blair's delivery unit and now a consultant at McKinsey, is unrepentant about all those targets to ensure schools improve. At a dinner of the 1994 group of universities (the small and beautiful ones like Exeter and Sussex), he talked about how much political decision-making had changed in the last century and how the 24-hour society had taken over. In 1926, the Government put out a consultation document to abolish elementary schools. Barber sought the NUT's response to this. A researcher scuttled off to find out and returned with the information that the NUT didn't respond. Barber didn't believe this. He made the researcher go back. She eventually found that the NUT responded two years later, in 1928, and that the legislation wasn't changed until 1971. That's political dynamism for you.

Do you remember being free range as a child? Playing outside on your own? It seems children today are missing out, and that traffic is partly to blame. It doesn't have to be like this. Sustrans, the charity for sustainable transport, is asking families to swap just one car trip between 30 June and 5 July and walk, cycle, use public transport or stay home instead. They say if we all drove one less journey a week, we'd reduce car traffic by 10 per cent. So go on, give it a go. Sustrans plans to count how many of you "changed your world" and to let Gordon Brown know that you want the Government to take action too. Sign up at

First Israel, now Keele. The university has one week to avoid what the the University and College Union (UCU) calls "the ignominy" of becoming the first university to receive an academic boycott from it. The UCU warned last week that unless the university refuses to halt attempts to get rid of 38 academic staff and to deduct pay from staff taking part in industrial action, it will "greylist" the institution. Despite sounding like a pensioners' hobby, greylisting is the ultimate sanction available to UCU members, and entails a voluntary boycott of academic and other university activities. If the union goes ahead, it would follow the greylisting of Nottingham University by one of the UCU's predecessor unions, the Association of University Teachers, in 2004 over a new pay structure. That campaign resulted in a negotiated settlement.