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Blunkett's slimming pill;Digest

Government plans to lighten the national curriculum load from September to make more time for teaching the 3Rs have caused both relief and confusion in primary schools.

Under the proposals, schools must teach the full curriculum only in English, maths, science, information technology and religious education. Art, music, PE, design and technology, history and geography still have to be taught, but how they are covered is now up to teachers. Some will make no changes at all, while others will make more radical decisions.

The move has been welcomed by the teacher unions, but arts and humanities organisations are worried subjects like music and history will suffer.

Although consultation runs until the end of March, it is unlikely Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett will change his mind, and both the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the inspectorate, Ofsted, are preparing advice for schools.

The changes do not officially come into force until September, but effectively they start immediately. Ofsted inspectors are being told they should no longer criticise schools for failing to cover the full syllabus in the six foundation subjects, although they should continue to report on the quality of teaching and learning, and on the contribution that teaching in all subjects makes to standards in literacy and numeracy. Schools whose existing Ofsted reports criticise them for neglecting specific aspects of these subjects will not be held to account when the inspectors return. However, failure to teach a subject altogether remains a serious matter.

QCA's advice on teaching the foundation subjects should go to schools by the summer term, and inspectors will be guided by it in judging quality.

A planning framework to help schools audit their curriculum coverage and decide what, if anything, to trim is still in draft form, but Chris Jones, head of the national curriculum review division at QCA, says it looks likely to advise schools in the following way: 1) make sure you have allocated sufficient time for English and maths each day; 2) ensure there is time for the full science, IT and RE curriculum; 3) consider other areas important to the school, such as personal and social education; 4) look at the remaining time to see how to divide it up among the other subjects; breadth may have to be sacrificed for depth.

QCA's subject advice should help. That is expected to contain: 1) a brief statement about the significance of each subject at each key stage; 2) QCA's view of the essential components of each subject; 3) three ways forward for each subject - carry on as before, cut back using a range of options to be set out in the document, or do your own thing (with reference to QCA's "essential components"); 4) expectations for pupils at ages seven and 11.

QCA is still conducting a full review of the national curriculum to take effect in the year 2000, and this advice may well point the way forward.

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