Leading Article: Hargreaves has got it mostly right

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The Independent Online

Professor David Hargreaves, the former head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, came up with some thought-provoking recommendations for improving education standards last night. Key among them was the idea that the different phases of education – primary and secondary – would cease to exist as more institutions capable of delivering an all-through education from age three to 19 were created (notably among the new academies).

The advantage of this revolutionary idea is that the brightest pupils could be more stretched because they would be allowed to move up the system at a faster rate than less able children of the same age group. Hargreaves is engaged in some blue skies thinking here. Reorganising schools in the way he suggests would create a colossal upheaval and untold expense.

He does have a point, however. One of the biggest worries under the present education system is the effect of transferring youngsters from primary to secondary school at the age of 11. Research suggests that up to one-third slide back in the first year of secondary school. A more palatable solution would be to encourage all primary schools to forge formal links with the secondary school nearest them, so that transfer can be better planned and so that the brightest can be encouraged to switch at an earlier age. This would be less costly than wholesale reform.

Hargreaves, who is a senior researcher with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, also says that younger teachers and students should have more autonomy to plan what is taught. His argument here is that they are more likely to be on the same wavelength over the best way to use online resources. Head teachers, most of whom are "upwards of 45 and often 50" – to quote Hargreaves – may have too traditional an approach to learning.

Fast-tracking the most talented to senior curriculum posts could help to offset this. The problem, however, may solve itself in the not too distant future. IT incompetence among teachers may cease to be a problem once those past the age of experimenting with the internet have retired from the classroom.

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