Patten faces new revolt over school curriculum: Anger among English teachers and top authors threatens consensus. Ben Bradley reports

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The Independent Online
THE SECRETARY of State for Education, John Patten, is facing a serious new threat to his school reforms because of a revolt by English teachers and opposition from some of the country's best-known children's writers.

The dispute is threatening to undermine the new consensus which the Government's chief curriculum adviser, Sir Ron Dearing, is attempting to forge with teachers over revisions to the national curriculum.

Eight teachers and a local authority adviser, appointed to an 18-member committee set up earlier this year to advise Sir Ron on a new English curriculum, have accused him of ignoring or radically altering their key recommendations.

They have also accused Sir Ron and other senior members of School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which is conducting the review on Mr Patten's orders, of bowing to political pressure by making controversial changes which are bitterly opposed by many English teachers.

The changes, announced this week and approved by Mr Patten, include a greater emphasis on standard English in primary schools, which the group says is unrealistic. It also condemns plans to introduce a compulsory list of approved authors for secondary school pupils, which it claims will undermine teachers' professional judgement and do nothing to promote enthusiastic reading.

In a joint statement issued yesterday the group says: 'We would like to know for what reason, by whom and at what point in the review process, these changes were made.'

Its opposition is likely to strengthen support for the boycott of school tests being carried out by the biggest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers. Action by NUT members severely disrupted tests for 600,000 14-year olds this week and is threatening to wreck tests for seven and 11-year-olds.

Mr Patten is likely to come under growing pressure to take action to end the boycott, which is not supported by the other big teaching unions. Ministers are considering changing teachers' contracts to force them to administer the tests, but have so far adopted a low-key approach for fear of reuniting the unions against the tests.

Last year, all three big unions boycotted the tests, claiming they were too cumbersome and time-consuming. Their revolt, in which English teachers played a leading role, prompted a climb-down by Mr Patten, who was forced to appoint Sir Ron to review and slim down the national curriculum and simplify the tests.

The planned changes to school English were also condemned yesterday by 17 authors whose works are recommended or required reading.

The authors, who include popular children's writers like Michael Rosen and Beverley Naidoo, criticise the reading list for making too little allowance for regional and cultural differences.

'Such lists, with their anonymous origins and lack of critical commentary, run counter to the spirit in which literature circulates in a free society,' they say.

The decision to reject the advice of its advisers was strongly defended yesterday by Chris Woodhead, SCAA chief executive. 'Standard English is important because a youngster who cannot speak standard English fluently and confidently is disadvantaged throughout adult life,' he said.