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Consultation fudge leaves bitter taste

The fudge in the draft Orders for technology and a modern foreign language at key stage 4 is a serious matter. It seems that schools are to be "offered" the short course at minister's requirement, the decision having been taken in January 1994. How kind of them! Despite the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's later consultation exercise being the most thorough yet, it is now clear that this was not a proposal we were being consulted on. The consultation was therefore more selective and less thorough than we supposed.

The responses in the report on the 1994 consultation make it clear that most people thought they were being consulted. The idea (sorry, the decision) is unpopular with schools and parents, and for good reasons.

First, it drives a coach and horses through "the freeing up of the curriculum at KS4" which was a "key issue" for SCAA as a whole. Short courses will result in fewer options for - and less motivation from -students during the GCSE years. Second, how does a school satisfactorily timetable short courses when, say, 30 per cent of the most academic students feel they could achieve better in subjects other than technology, whereas 30 per cent of the least academic will struggle with a language? For many students, the short courses will be unpopular because they will mean lost opportunities elsewhere, and for many teachers the classes will be unsatisfactory to teach.

Third, teacher supply in both subjects is limited and schools facing financial pressures may be forced to part with staff in those other subjects which will be squeezed.

It is surely wrong that the curriculum should be at the mercy of political rather than educational imperatives in this way, and wrong that teachers and parents should not have been consulted. That's what happened before and why so much money had to be spent reviewing the resulting mess.

The fudge over consultation has carried over into the draft Orders themselves. The critical sentence in the access section for the modern foreign language refers to the programme of study (POS) for each key stage being taught to "the great majority of pupils"; whereas the POS section states baldly: "In England, the minimum statutory requirement at KS4 is a short course." And the confusion in technology is even worse - the short course doesn't even get a mention. If I were a local education authority technology adviser, I should be tearing my hair out.

Though SCAA may wish to fudge this issue, schools cannot: they have to take action. This wretched decision needs review now so that we do not repeat the kind of mistakes made with the first version of the national curriculum.

ALAN DEBES Headteacher Bramhall High School Stockport, Cheshire.

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