The National Curriculum Review: Teachers give welcome tinged with scepticism: Diana Hinds finds staff at one London school unconvinced by the report's proposals

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS at Parliament Hill School, a girls' comprehensive in north London, yesterday welcomed the 'sentiments' of Sir Ron Dearing's review, but remained sceptical about the real improvements they would bring.

Don Hoyle, a maths teacher and member of the National Union of Teachers, said he would support a continued union boycott of testing as he did not believe the proposed streamlining of tests would reduce teachers' workload sufficiently. 'Tests will be reduced in terms of pupil time, but the marking load is still considerable.'

Tests for 14-year-olds in English will be cut from three to two papers, but Elizabeth Kitcatt, head of English, complained they were still too prescriptive in setting specific texts. 'Sir Ron says he's giving more scope for teachers' professional judgement, but in reality there's too little flexibility.'

She added that she was inclined to favour a boycott of testing, but was doubtful that there would be sufficient public support for one this year.

Some teachers remain fundamentally opposed to the format of the Government's tests. 'I'm not convinced that sitting pupils down on the same day to take a test gives you a very good picture of where they are. It smacks to me of the 11-plus,' Jo Lang, a science teacher, said.

Many also expressed weariness and frustration about yet more changes to the national curriculum and testing, and the extra work that they believe will be involved in adapting. 'Everyone is now going to have to go back to the curriculum and re-learn what is defined as the 'core' of the subject and what is 'extension',' Trisha Jaffe, the deputy head, said.

Sir Ron's proposals to introduce vocational courses alongside GCSEs for 14- to 16- year-olds were welcomed by the head teacher, Judy Bax. But she emphasised that such courses should not be too narrowly based on specific careers and should lead to qualifications of equal standing with academic ones.

Ms Jaffe agreed that greater choice for 14-year- olds was a good thing in principle, although she said that it would create difficulties for schools in planning and coordinating courses and qualifications.

Ms Kitcatt said vocational options at 14 would create 'even more of a two-tier system' than the present one where less able pupils take fewer GCSEs. 'If vocational courses are going to be made a priority, they should be for everybody and not just for a minority,' she said.

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