National curriculum is torn up

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MINISTERS yesterday abandoned Government's 10-subject national curriculum and tests introduced only five years ago for pupils aged five to 16.

The decision to accept proposals from Sir Ron Dearing to cut back testing and the compulsory content of lessons and to give teachers more say is a victory for teachers.

Their boycott of national testing last summer, which compelled John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, to set up the inquiry proved one of the most successful pieces of industrial action in recent years, although last night they were divided about whether to end the action.

Sir Ron's recommendations to restrict testing at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 to three rather than nine or ten subjects also accord with the views of Baroness Thatcher who, as Prime Minister, wanted only English, mathematics and science as compulsory subjects. She was defeated by Kenneth Baker, the former Secretary of State and architect of the original proposals.

The biggest change proposed by Sir Ron, the former Post Office chairman, is for pupils aged 14-16. As revealed in the Independent on Sunday, he wants to reduce the compulsory content of the curriculum to allow some 14-year-olds to pursue vocational courses in subjects such as bricklaying instead of the traditional academic diet.

Some teachers believe this will create a twin-track system with pupils divided into sheep and goats as they were in grammar and secondary modern schools.

Working parties will begin an immediate review of all national curriculum subjects and the arrangements will be introduced in September 1995 with no further changes for five years. A core of material which must be taught will be separated from optional material.

In primary schools there will be cuts in the content of the curriculum prescribed by law of about 50 per cent in subjects other than English, mathematics and science.

Fourteen-year-olds will have to study only those three subjects and short courses in technology and a modern language. Once time is allowed for physical and religious education, about 40 per cent of the timetable will be free for other subjects. Schools will be able to spend less time on science than at present.

Traditionalists have lost the battle for simple factual tests. The 10- level scale on which pupils are placed after national tests at 7, 11 and 14 will be retained though simplified and will end at 14. The GCSE will be the national test for 16-year-olds and present grades will be kept.

The number of subjects to be tested at 14 still has to be decided and will not be increased until after 1996. Lady Blatch, Minister of State for Education, would like most subjects included.

Sir Ron said: 'I hope teachers will see this as an honest and constructive response to their concerns. I think they will welcome very much the trust these proposals place in schools and teachers.'

Mr Patten said: 'The decisions consolidate the key benefits of the national curriculum but they also liberate teachers from bureaucracy and overprescription.'

Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, said the report was the Government's 'latest and greatest U-turn'. She likened Mr Patten to 'the arsonist who called in the fire brigade'.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that it had already advised members to mark this summer's tests but the National Union of Teachers said its boycott would continue.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'I hope the teaching profession can see the victory that it has in its hands.'

Unions divided, page 4

History of testing, page 4

Leading article, page 17