Teachers call for slimming of curriculum: Six unions put forward changes to assessment and testing

THE national curriculum should be slimmed down and many of its legal requirements replaced by non-statutory guidance, a new document drawn up by the six teacher unions says.

The nine-page document has been sent to Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, who is reviewing the curriculum and testing. It urges him to pare down each subject to its 'basics', which should be agreed by a special committee for each of the four age groups.

It argues that the achievements legally required by the curriculum should be 'substantially reduced, leaving far more in the realm of non-statutory guidance'. It rejects the argument that such guidance can be overlooked or ignored, on the grounds that numerous other mechanisms, including governing bodies, statutory tests, regular inspections and teacher appraisal, now ensure teachers carry out what is required.

On testing, the document fails to suggest how specific improvements could be made - presumably because the teacher unions have differing views. But they 'reassert that assessment must support, not dominate the curriculum, and must take full account of continuous teacher assessment . . .'

They also criticise the present testing arrangements for attempting to combine too many objectives - for instance, using the information obtained not only to measure attainment but also to make comparisons between teachers and between schools, and to draw conclusions about national standards.

The document demands greater teacher participation in reviewing the curriculum, and sets out a formal process for introducing revisions.

The aim of Sir Ron's review, as set out by John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, is to 'simplify the current framework (of the curriculum and testing) so as to remove needless over-elaboration and over-prescription, while retaining clear teaching objectives which lever up national standards and underpin robust testing arrangements'.

Sir Ron is inviting comments from 1,400 schools and 200 bodies representing teachers, parents, governors and employers, on four key areas: slimming down the curriculum; revising the 10 assessment levels; simplifying the testing arrangements; and improving the central administration of the curriculum and testing to enable schools to implement them more smoothly.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, which will announce the result of its ballot on a boycott of all tests next week, said: 'Sir Ron must not ignore the weight of professional opinion against the prescription and overload of the curriculum this submission identifies . . .'

Bryan Maybee, chairman of the Independent Schools Association Incorporated, was also critical: 'The national educational scene is in turmoil because Mr Patten's pattern for education has become too prescriptive, too overloaded with assessment and simplistic testing.'

Leading article, page 19