Labour backs down over curriculum

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TRADITIONALISTS triumphed yesterday as the Government backed down over its proposals for a new national curriculum to begin next year.

Critics accused ministers of bowing to pressure from small right-wing groups and the media. Ministers said the changes showed that they were responding to consultation.

In English, teachers will be barred from using books by pre-1914 authors who are not on an official list, after protests that they would neglect literary classics. Government sources insisted the new curriculum was more flexible than its predecessor, but said they believed there was a collection of classic English literature to which all children should be subjected.

In history, all primary school children will have to study the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Details to be published in November will make it clear that ministers expect history lessons to cover Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, rather than just the social history of Tudor times.

In personal, social and health education, there will be a new emphasis on marriage after accusations that ministers were failing to support traditional religious and family values. Seven-year-olds will be taught to be "aware of different types of relationship including marriage". Fourteen-year- olds will be taught the dangers of early sexual activity.

Yet the consultation conducted by government curriculum advisers found that there was broad support for the original proposals for five- to fourteen- year-olds published in May. In history, for example, only a small minority wanted more facts and dates and those claiming that famous people and events would be removed were described as atypical.

Nick Seaton, of the right-wing pressure group the Campaign for Real Education, said his organisation had achieved its goal of rewriting part of the curriculum for English, history, geography and moral values. He said he was delighted at the success of his campaign.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "The present Government as much as the last seems to give way to the latest media pressure and the overall result is a haphazard, over- centralist curriculum."

Earl Russell, the historian and the Liberal Democrats' social security spokesman in the Lords, said the curriculum should not be subject to ministerial whim: "I have no objection to people studying the Bletchley Park code- breakers but it shouldn't be there just because David Blunkett [Secretary of state for Education] wants it to be."

Bethan Marshall, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, attacked the decision to make a list of pre-1914 authors compulsory instead of exemplary. "Surprisingly, the Labour Government has succumbed to pressure from small right-wing groups. Teachers need to be able to choose books which reflect their enthusiasm and their children's needs."

Mr Blunkett said: "This has been a genuine consultation, ensuring the right balance between the compulsory elements in the curriculum and greater flexibility and choice for teachers and pupils." He defended the decision to reinforce teaching about marriage despite fears that it will stigmatise children of divorced and single parents. "Rather than being a stigma it will be an indication of what for many of us is an ideal that doesn't always work out, but is still preferable to what some call moral relativism," he said.

Deborah Orr, Review, page 5