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Curriculum debate

Sir Ron Dearing's finale report on the national curriculum granted teachers a repossession order on what they teach. It acknowledged that a good part of not just how children learn but also of what they learn could be decided by schools; not simply because it is safe to leave such choices to professionals but because it is necessary to do so if they are to make the best of the aspirations and motivations of their pupils.

That recognition, and the practical challenges the Dearing settlement posed for schools, demand a new professional debate on the content and organisation of teaching. That debate is particularly urgent in respect of the new discretion schools now have over one fifth of curriculum time up to the end of key stage 3 and the two-fifths in years 10 and 11.

It will be all too easy for schools, distressed by by cuts and beset by league tables, to remain locked into the rigidities of the mark one national curriculum for lack of the inspiration or confidence to consider options, let alone the time and energy to organise a break-out. However, in the belief that, despite everything, teachers remain consummate professionals, interested in providing the very best for their pupils, we are launching this week (TES2 page 5) a new, weekly page devoted to the discussion and description of curricular alternatives.

The intention is to provide a regular space for debate and analysis of the issues raised by Dearing and of practical whole-curriculum and cross-curricular issues. We expect it to appeal to those in primary and secondary schools who carry whole-school responsibilities for curriculum planning and coordination as well as those interested in how their class teaching fits into the whole-curriculum jigsaw. The page will also deal from with more specifically subject, teaching and assessment matters to complement the coverage already provided in our regular Extras and on the Primary Forum page.

We hope too that its influence and readership will be wider and reflect the responsibilities of governors for the curriculum; Dearing is not an invitation to rehang the gate on the secret garden. Teachers are often accused of hidden social agendas. Section 1 of the Education Reform Act powerfully legitimises their role in promoting not just "the spiritual, moral, cultural mental and physical development of pupils" but also "of society". But this is a duty they must exercise in concert with governors, society's representatives.

A professional page, however, requires professional input if it is to reflect the leading edge of development. Fruitful discussion requires ideas, insight and inspiration. This, then, is an invitation: come, join the new curriculum debate.

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