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Controversies to be resolved

Diane Hofkins examines a guide to the national curriculum. Professor Bob Moon's A Guide to the National Curriculum, aimed primarily at parents and student teachers, has now been revised to take account of the Dearing Review. The author, who is professor of education at the Open University, sets out 10 "controversial and unresolved issues" which should be pondered before the next revision at the turn of the century.

* Fitting everything in Although the slimming exercise went some way to answering the criticisms of overload, some teachers still talk of over-prescription. It is also hard work to plan a whole curriculum at each of the four key stages. This, he says, "is likely to be one of the most important educational issues for debate and development in the second part of the 1990s".

* Subjects missed out One criticism is that the subjects are old-fashioned, and, apart from design technology, could have come out of a 1950s grammar school. A pressing issue is ensuring that the key stage 4 curriculum contains opportunities for both vocational and subject based study.

* Planning across the curriculum Themes such as environmental education and citizenship, not specified in the national curriculum, must be taught across subjects. "These topics involve highly significant issues for the last decade of the 20th century. How are schools ensuring that they are covered?"

* Dated content Will the five-year moratorium on change ensure the details enshrined in the curriculum can be kept up to date and responsive to changing social values and attitudes?

* Recording achievement There is still a long way to go in providing assessment evidence that is reliable and fair, and gives useful information to teachers, parents and children, he says.

* Giving parents information Finding the best way of reporting, and "making school-parent links a national part of any child's education," are still a challenge. Professor Moon points to the controversies surrounding league tables and says looking at the value added by the school to a child's education is "a complex area, one likely to be a focus of educational debate for some time. "

* Equal opportunities Schools are expected to monitor the curriculum and assessment and try to remedy any difficulties that arise. "How this is done, however, is controversial and open to a variety of different approaches".

* Resources He points to arguments that there has not been enough money for implementing the new curriculum. For instance, new textbooks have been needed, as well as equipment and supplies for technology, IT and primary science. The cost of staff development has also been an issue.

* Teacher shortages and skills Finding enough teachers for subjects like science, design and technology and science is difficult in some places. In others, core subjects are being taught by teachers without qualifications in them. Primary teachers don't usually have subject knowledge across the curriculum.

* Teaching to the test Raising questions of whether national tests will make some subjects seem more important than others, and whether testing will constrict the curriculum, Professor Moon says these issues will need monitoring and evaluation between now and 2000.

A Guide to the National Curriculum, Oxford University Press Pounds 6.99.

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