Schools struggle to cover curriculum

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The Independent Online
The national curriculum is still too crowded in junior schools despite the Government's efforts to slim it down, says the first official report on the new timetable. Most teachers believe the new slimmed-down curriculum for 5- to 14-year olds is an improvement on the old one but that in some subjects they are struggling to cover all the material required.

Teachers of 7- to 11-year-olds, the age group whom inspectors say are the worst taught, have the biggest problems.

Far from neglecting the basics, these teachers, the evidence shows, are spending so much time on English, maths and science that they may be squeezing out other subjects.

Two years ago, ministers asked Sir Ron Dearing, head of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which advises the Government on the curriculum, to cut back the curriculum after teachers complained that it was overloaded.

The decision to review all subjects came six years after the national curriculum was introduced and after there had already been a series of changes which left most teachers bewildered. Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, has promised there will be no more changes until the year 2000.

The report from the authority, designed to show whether revision will be needed, says that schools find the new curriculum much more manageable and straightforward than the old.

But the report, based on school visits and interviews with teachers and experts, suggests some worries remain. In English, teachers have difficulty covering the material required for reading. In maths, some primary teachers say they cannot squeeze everything into the time available. Sir Ron aimed to free up time to allow schools to offer subjects not included in the prescribed curriculum but that has not happened.

The authority says: "Many schools have used the freed-up time . . . to concentrate on the national curriculum subjects rather than to extend the curriculum into areas such as modern foreign languages or environmental studies."

The report also says lack of funds is preventing teachers from meeting all curriculum requirements. Few schools are teaching Information Technology properly, because they do not have enough computers, or lack suitably trained teachers.

The report says it is too early to say whether the curriculum is raising standards but it has led some teachers to change their methods.