Curriculum in primary schools 'should be cut': Outgoing council chairman says testing and courses need fundamental review

THE GOVERNMENT'S chief curriculum adviser yesterday urged his successor to reduce the national curriculum to 70 per cent of teaching time in primary schools.

David Pascall, who has only two weeks left as chairman of the National Curriculum Council (NCC), said that both the curriculum and testing need to be reviewed fundamentally by the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA).

The curriculum and testing are administered by two authorities - the NCC and the Schools Examination and Assessment Authority. Sir Ron Dearing, former chairman of the Post Office, is taking them over on 19 April and will run them in parallel until SCAA starts up in the autumn.

Mr Pascall had expected to run the new authority and has, therefore, limited some of his strongest views about the development of the curriculum to private advice for ministers.

But, having been passed over for the job, he yesterday used a primary education debate at Oxford Brookes University to 'go public' on his belief that testing and the curriculum must be better linked.

His speech heralds an intense public debate over Easter on the future of testing and the curriculum. The three biggest teaching unions will all be debating boycotts of tests at their annual conferences, while the curriculum council publishes its revised English proposals, and new guidance on moral and spiritual education. John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, will be outlining his own plans at next week's Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference.

Teacher union plans to boycott this summer's tests were 'unprofessional and irresponsible', Mr Pascall said. 'I would urge the new authority to stand back and look again at the balance between curriculum and assessment, to look again at the structure of the national curriculum and what the tests are telling us, and to look again at the balance between external tests and teacher assessment.'

Few disagree with the principle of a national curriculum, he said. Doubts centred more on the pace of change, and on 'the collective weight' of material which the law requires in each subject. Most primary teachers say that the legal requirements of the national curriculum take up all the teaching time available.

The council had provided support and advice to teachers 'but the fact remains that the national curriculum at primary level is overloaded and that quality and depth of teaching is being sacrificed in order to achieve the necessary curriculum coverage'.

He rejected the idea of reducing the number of compulsory subjects, because it risked a return to 'an excessively narrow curriculum'. He advocated 'significant reductions' in the content of each subject, so that it occupied roughly 70 per cent of teaching time. The spare teaching time could be used to develop spiritual and moral education, and to introduce other options.

Pupils at Archway comprehensive school in Stroud, Gloucestershire, are boycotting compulsory Standard Assessment Tests for 14-year-olds after 88 per cent of parents voted not to allow their children to sit them.