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'Anne Boleyn will still lose her head. Trafalgar will still take place'

Ministerial fads or valuable lessons? Whatever your view, it looks like global warming, healthy eating, the slave trade and financial know-how will be taking their place on the key stage 3 curriculum from 2008, after the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority launched its 11 to 14 review on Monday.

It has been hailed as a "slimmed down" curriculum by teachers' unions, but it is not so much a radical overhaul as a facelift that aims to enforce "key skills" rather than a set diet of facts and figures. Long lists of recommendations have been dropped in favour of concise bullet points.

Skills in English, maths and critical thinking are emphasised and teachers are encouraged to teach broad themes across different subjects. However, the world wars and Shakespeare - designated "untouchables" by the secretary of state - will retain their central place.

The authority said it was the first curriculum to have a legally binding mission statement: to make pupils "successful learners", "confident individuals" and "responsible citizens".

Sir Anthony Greener, QCA chair, told the audience: "Our pupils need to know how to ask the right questions, how to find the right answers and how to manage the mass of information that is out there."

But Mick Waters, QCA director of curriculum, reassured staff that the traditional bedrock of facts would not be disturbed: "Anne Boleyn will still be beheaded. Trafalgar will still take place. Litmus paper will still turn red in acid," he said.

According to John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, it is high time the curriculum was de-cluttered. "I strongly recommend the QCA report, which will give schools greater flexibility," he said.

The National Association of Head Teachers agreed. "The opportunity to move away from subject boxes to an integrated approach to learning will be welcomed by students and teachers, as will the chance to re-design our curriculum to make it more fit for the 21st century and employers' needs,"

said a spokeswoman.

But others were concerned that some changes, such as the promotion of healthy eating and climate change, were little more than ministerial fads.

"The best message schools could receive from ministers is that government has decided to remove the politicisation of the curriculum and conduct a genuine consultation," said Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

Schools and officials will have five months to give feedback. The final draft of the curriculum will be submitted to the Department for Education and Skills in June, with teaching set to begin in September 2008.

* http:www.qca.org.uksecondarycurriculumreview

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