Curriculum change 'has hit reading standards': Teachers say gains have been minimal

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The Independent Online
READING standards have declined as a result of the introduction of the national curriculum four years ago, according to the first major study into its impact.

The four-year study by researchers at Warwick University says that the pounds 500m spent on the reform has had little or no effect on the infant school curriculum. Only in science has there been a noticeable improvement.

Professor Jim Campbell and Dr Sean O'Neill say that both the Government, which claims the curriculum has raised standards, and its critics, who say schools and children have been damaged, are wrong. In fact, little has changed.

Professor Campbell said yesterday: 'Few experiments in education can have cost teachers so much time and effort and delivered so little.' His findings are based on interviews with more than 400 infant school teachers from more than half the local authorities in England and Wales. Nine out of ten said the curriculum had either had no effect on reading standards or had lowered them. The study says this may be because teachers are so busy with the nine-subject curriculum that they have less time for reading.

Teachers also believed standards declined in art, music, physical and religious education, and in lessons about health, safety and social skills. In science, technology, history and geography, however, teachers thought standards had been raised.

The researchers acknowledge that teachers' perceptions are only part of the picture. Some HMI reports say teachers' planning and teaching in some subjects, including maths, are improving.

But the report argues that, even if the difficulties lie only in the perceptions of teachers, they are still damaging to schools and children and are not the result intended by Kenneth Baker, former secretary of state for education and architect of the reform.

The research, commissioned by the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers, found that the teachers worked a 50-hour week on average, compared with 44.5 hours in 1971. Teachers are spending only a third of their time teaching because of increased administration and paperwork.

The Department for Education said that inspectors at the Office for Standards in Education had confirmed that standards across the curriculum were rising, contrary to the report's findings.

'The report's findings on teachers' workload have been overtaken by the Dearing review of the national curriculum: the Secretary of State published proposals last month which will dramatically reduce the content of the national curriculum, releasing a day a week for use at teachers' discretion.'

Curriculum at Key Stage 1: Teacher Commitment and Policy Failure; Longman; pounds 14.95.