Richard Garner: Beta plus: some smart thoughts but what's going to happen to tests?

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The Independent Online

At first glance, there is much about Sir Jim Rose's inquiry into the primary school curriculum to commend. The major complaint about the present state of affairs is that children have become bored with the rigid concentration on testing – brought about by, in particular, heads' fears they will do badly in league tables if they do not insist noses are kept to the grindstone.

Why not, therefore, have a curriculum which concentrates more on delivery through the medium of arts and drama, such as role playing in history and acting out plays and books in English lessons? (These activities are variously described as "hot-seating" – sitting in a seat and getting your classmates to guess who you are – and "eavesdropping" – listening to two colleagues' conversation and guessing who they might be.)

Dance will also be a feature of the new curriculum, building on the success of TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing and playing a dual role in making learning more enjoyable and helping to keep pupils fit as part of the Government's anti-obesity drive.

Of course, this review is not welcomed by everyone. Nick Gibb, the Conservatives' schools spokesman, describes it as "a worrying step in the wrong direction", adding: "The new curriculum is less rigorous and will give children a less thorough grounding in the academic basics they need if they are to flourish at secondary school."

I would argue that that is not the flaw in these proposals. It is more a question of whether the reforms are deliverable. Through no fault of his own, Sir Jim has failed to deliver a verdict on the national curriculum tests, which almost everyone in the education world believes has led to this current rigidity. He described the tests as "the elephant in the room" which everybody wanted to talk about as he went about seeking evidence.

We have to wait for the Schools Secretary Ed Balls' "expert group" on testing and assessment to report – probably later this month – before we find out whether teachers will find Sir Jim's reforms manageable.

Another key question arising from the report is this: is it right to guarantee every four-year-old a school place in the September term after their birthday at a time when many in the education world are pointing to the success of Scandinavian countries in delaying entry to formal education until six? The answer is probably yes – so long as it is voluntary and any attempt to put pressure on parents to start their children's formal schooling earlier is resisted. Starting school at four would not suit some children but may suit others.