Advisers clash on primary timetable

Nicholas Pyke reports from the TESNational Union of Teachers' Progress in Partnership conference in London. The Government's two senior curriculum advisers are at odds over the shape of the primary timetable - a key element in Labour's campaign to raise standards.

The chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, this week called for an immediate slim-down of the national curriculum, allowing teachers to spend more time on literacy and numeracy.

But this was described as "naive" by Dr Nicholas Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which starts work next month. He warned against recreating "some kind of elementary school curriculum."

Speaking at a joint TESNational Union of Teachers' conference, Mr Woodhead called on the Education Secretary David Blunkett to reduce the workload of primary teachers.

"The Secretary of State ought to bring forward at least a limited revision of the national curriculum to allow primary schools to focus on the Government's priorities," he said. Some primary headteachers feel the present national curriculum leaves no room for the additional work on maths and English favoured by ministers.

But the next speaker on the platform, Dr Tate, said precisely the opposite. "There will be no changes to the statutory curriculum before September 2000," he announced. "It would be naive to think that we could make cuts at earlier key stages without reviewing the national curriculum as a whole.

"Cutting out parts of the curriculum at key stage 2 for example, can only be done simultaneously with reviewing and almost certainly revising the curriculum at KS 3."

According to Dr Tate, "there is little pressure from teachers for changes of any kind at this point". The curriculum is already under long-term review. Mr Woodhead's speech appeared to suggest that in future the curriculum should concentrate on the basics, rather than breadth. But Dr Tate disagreed, warning against recreating "some kind of elementary school curriculum". The problem, he said, is not the amount of time allocated to maths and English, but the way that the time is used.

* Intelligence can be developed at any time in life - but schools have not yet got to grips with the fact, said John MacBeath from the University of Strathclyde. Recent research on brain function, he said, is transforming our idea of how people learn, and teaching should not be constrained by existing conventions.

* There has been an element of grade inflation in the steadily rising GCSE pass rate, according to Professor Michael Barber, head of the Government's Standards and Effectiveness Unit.

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