Leading adviser says curriculum will be simplified

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The Independent Online
THE Government's top curricular adviser yesterday accepted that primary school teachers are suffering from overload and promised to simplify the curriculum.

David Pascall, chairman of the National Curriculum Council, signalled a detailed reappraisal of the entire nine-subject national curriculum in primary schools, while reassuring teachers that changes will be introduced gradually. He was 'not yet confident that the testing system, any more than the curriculum, is as simple and practicable as it could be'.

The council also wants to reduce the use of 'topic' work. A guidance pack being piloted this term will encourage the teaching of more single subject lessons. Junior schools, in particular, should be using a range of specialist teachers, rather than expecting one generalist classroom teacher to cope with the full range of subjects, the council believes.

That represents a significant change in primary teaching methods. At present, most primary teachers tend to cover a wide range of subjects within all-embracing 'projects', often occupying children across a whole term's work. Mr Pascall accepted that there was a place for topic work but argued that projects were most effective when limited to material covered in two linked subjects: weather in science and geography and databases in maths and technology, for example. The council's review of the primary curriculum follows complaints that reading, writing and arithmetic have suffered in the infant years because teachers now have to cover a wide range of learning targets in other subjects - science, technology, art, music, history and geography, and PE.

Mr Pascall insisted that the wider curriculum remained an 'essential reform'. Prior to its introduction, 'the curriculum in many primary schools was too often narrow and unimaginative', and focused too heavily on children of 'middle ability'.

But the curriculum was placing 'considerable pressures on hard- working primary classroom teachers' - a burden compounded by the 'almost daily' documents and brochures despatched to schools. 'Has the desire to ensure that nothing of value is omitted from any of the subjects resulted in a curriculum which is too complex, and over-prescriptive?' he asked.

One way forward, Mr Pascall suggested, would be to lift the legal obligation to teach all the other subjects to younger children and only give statutory support to the basics in English and maths. But he said that would risk 'returning to an excessively narrow curriculum', which might deny children 'the rich learning experiences that subjects like history and geography undoubtedly offer'.

The alternative would be to retain the breadth of nine subjects, but reduce the requirements in each subject to 'an essential core of knowledge, skills and understanding'. That would mean distinguishing between knowledge that is 'crucial' for every child, and that which is simply 'desirable', Mr Pascall said.

Failure to tackle criticism of examination standards would be an 'unforgiveable confidence trick on children', Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, warned the Joint Council of the GCSE yesterday, writes Donald MacLeod.

Government ministers are taking direct responsibility for examinations at age 16 under the national curriculum, she said at the council's annual conference in Belfast.

Lady Blatch made it clear that ministers intended not only to pursue a more hands-on approach to the exams but also to the content of the syllabus.

She strongly criticised the inclusion of books and television programmes of no literary value in syllabuses. 'Such recommendations send highly undesirable signals to teachers and to pupils, and bring the GCSE into disrepute,' she said.