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Curriculum 'nightmare' hits lecturers

MANY low-achieving college students have left further education lecturers struggling to deliver Curriculum 2000, according to a survey by the largest lecturers' union.

Research by the lecturers' union NATFHE has swept aside the common belief that schools have suffered more teething problems than colleges in implementing the Curriculum 2000 reforms.

The survey of 1,000 college lecturers, commissioned by the union and carried out by the Institute of Education, London, found that the reforms have meant more marking and assessment and bigger classes for most lecturers.

One in three lecturers claimed they had coped "poorly" or "not at all". Just over half of respondents felt they had coped adequately.

The consensus was that Curriculum 2000 was "excellent in theory but a nightmare in practice".

Dan Taubman, FE officer for NATFHE, said: "We had been picking up on a lot of unhappiness about implementation and this survey backs this up."

The majority of lecturers backed the aim of a broader curriculum but 53 per cent claimed the reforms were a change for the worse.

A major criticism was that the new key skills qualifications and advanced vocational certificates of education (AVCE) have proved "too academic". Some 80 per cent of lecturers were worried their students were unable to cope with the extra demands.

The report claims that in many cases, "students choosing to come to FE colleges have lower GCSE attainment than those remaining in school sixth forms or attending sixth-form colleges".

But Maggie Scott, curriculum and quality adviser for the Association of Colleges blames FE lecturers' heavy burden on structural problems rather than less academically able students.

"Colleges have implemented the key skills to all their students whereas schools have not," she said. "So schools have not been under the same pressure and have taken a wait-and-see attitude."

She believes the problems with Curriculum 2000 are tied up with assessment and testing: "Exams aren't serving students any more but they are driving the curriculum. Assessment is getting in the way of good learning practice."

One issue the AOC and NATFHE do agree on is that lecturers did not have enough time to prepare for the new curriculum.

In contrast to the negative findings by NATFHE, the Learning and Skills Development Agency has just published a very favourable report on the impact of Curriculum 2000 on schools and colleges. Tony Tait, the LSDA's development adviser, said: "The report which looked at 60 institutions , represents something significant happening as a result of Curriculum 2000. It shows there are equal challenges for schools and colleges. We found that the institutions have been successful in delivering."

He admitted, however, that both schools and colleges have encountered problems, but claimed issues such as the high standard of the vocational certificates and excessive testing are being dealt with by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

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