Curriculum adviser quits over plans for English

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The Independent Online
THE HEAD of a leading girls' independent school has resigned as a government adviser on the curriculum in protest against proposals to change the teaching of English in schools.

Joan Clanchy, head of North London Collegiate School, says plans drawn up by the National Curriculum Council to give more emphasis to grammar and spelling will reduce English to a series of dry exercises and will lower standards.

The proposals, which were leaked to the Independent last month, have been agreed by the council and are being sent to John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, today. Mr Patten had been expected to publish the new proposals shortly after Easter, but that timing is now uncertain: earlier this week he announced that Sir Ron Dearing will take over chairmanship of the National Curriculum Council next month in preparation for the transfer of its role to a new body, the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, in October.

Mr Patten originally asked the council to revise the present English curriculum, drawn up less than four years ago, because he thought it was too sloppy on spelling, grammar and punctuation.

The new proposals are much more precise and prescriptive. At seven, children must use capital letters and full stops correctly; at 11, commas; at 13, apostrophes and speech marks and at 16, colons and semicolons. Lists of books are suggested for each age group.

Mrs Clanchy said yesterday that children should be taught grammar and punctuation, but the proposals would mean that they were taught in the wrong way: 'I pepper my writing with commas. I am a real colon enthusiast. But you build up punctuation gradually through children's writing, not by teaching the use of the comma at a certain stage.'

In particular, she is concerned that knowledge of language - how words change and how people use them - has been removed from the curriculum. 'It is our best weapon against cliche,' she said.

She also opposes the stipulation that teachers should require children as young as six and seven to speak grammatically correct English.

The subject was being reduced to a series of instructions, she said. 'It's as though the driving test just involved doing a three-point turn without taking the driver out in traffic. The interest, enjoyment and excitement will go. The whole nature of the national curriculum is changing . . .

'Giving a reading list doesn't improve reading. Enjoyment of books improves reading . . . I am resigning because this is an ill- timed, unnecessary exercise. It doesn't build on the excellence of the present curriculum.'

Officials at the council have made changes to the original proposals to meet criticisms made by members, but they were not enough to prevent Mrs Clanchy's resignation. She is pleased, however, with one small victory: 13- year-olds will not now be required to show they can use the reflexive pronoun in speech.

Chris Woodhead, chief executive of the council, said: 'We shall miss Mrs Clanchy's highly individual contribution to council debate. She is, however, quite wrong about English . . . We have set out not to undermine creativity and imagination but to equip children with the basic skills of literacy which makes creativity possible.'