Tories promise curriculum shake-up after 'easier exams' research

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Tuesday 02 March 2010 16:52

A major review of the English, maths and science curriculum will be launched if the Conservatives win the next general election.

Party schools spokesman Michael Gove told a conference in London today there would be a rigorous overhaul of the national curriculum following research showing exams had become easier.

Research by Durham and Coventry University had shown it was now “easier to secure good pass marks at A level now than a generation ago” in subjects like maths and science.

“Papers which had barely secured a pass now being awarded top marks,” he added.

Mr Gove said he would like to see a return to algebra and geometry being placed at the heart of national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds. “We need your help to ensure it is a more rigorous exam,” he told the conference of maths teachers.

He would also like to see all pupils learning the three separate science of physics, chemistry and biology between the ages of 11 and 14 rather than just high flyers.

“We will ensure that each of the three basic sciences takes its place within the curriculum in significantly greater depth and greater detail than now,” he told the conference held at the Royal society. “Studying what has now become known as triple science should not be an elite activity but a basic curriculum entitlement.”

The aim of the review would be to define what pupils should be able to master at key stages in their education 7, 11, 14 and 16.

“The expectations we will set of what children should know will be more ambitious; it must be a floor not a ceiling that limits schools’ aspirations to introduce children to very challenging ideas at as very young age.”

His comments were greeted with scepticism by teachers and university lecturers who called for a halt to years of curriculum changes.

Catherine Brooker, headteacher of Gillotts School, Henley-on-Thames, said: “I would urge you not to make curriculum changes immediately you’re elected.”

Diane Cochrane, from the University of Wolverhampton, added: “Continual change is one of the biggest problems that teachers are facing.”

However, Mr Gove insisted change was necessary.

Teachers had been “trapped in an educational system which has been in relative decline for years now because of bureaucratic failure”.

If elected, the Conservatives would scrap the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority – the body responsible for delivering the national curriculum and devising the syllabuses for exams.

Instead, this role would be given to universities to devise the kind of exam questions they believed potential students should be able to answer.

“The individuals with the keenest interest in ensuring that A-levels require the depth of knowledge necessary to flourish at university are our teaching academics,” he said.

“So we will take control of the A-level syllabus and question-setting process out of the hands of bureaucrats and instead empower universities, exam boards and learned societies with the task of ensuring these qualifications are rigorous.

“The aim of the next Conservative Government will be to have a school examination system which is the most rigorous in the world, safeguarded by the nation’s guardians of academic excellence.”

Other ideas floated by Mr Gove yesterday included encouraging the brightest pupils to by-pass GCSE’s and push on to A-levels at an earlier age.

“We must have a flexible system that does not bore very talented children by holding them back,” he said.

More than 1,500 primary school teachers will undergo training to become specialist in maths, Schools Minister Diana Johnson told the same conference.

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