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Curriculum reformers under attack

Qualifications quango's critic urges more experimental approach for top primary schools, reports Biddy Passmore

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should "grit its collective teeth" and stop intervening in the primary curriculum, according to a senior academic.

Professor Jim Campbell, of Warwick University's Institute of Education, says the present national curriculum has now become "part and parcel of teachers' professional knowledge repertoire".

He believes it would be "especially helpful" if there were some national self-restraint in thinking up more things for primary teachers to teach, "whether Latin, modern foreign languages, national identity or citizenship".

Writing in a collection of essays on the future of the curriculum, Professor Campbell criticises reforms since 1988 for failing to lead to demonstrably higher standards in mathematics and English, and for failing to bring about experimental approaches to the curriculum in individual schools.

He blames the top-down model of curriculum change, with little autonomy for schools, the lack of nationally-authorised textbooks, and an obsession with teaching methods rather than content or resources.

Although the Education Reform Act of 1988 permitted schools to apply for exemption from the national curriculum to pursue curricular innovation, not one primary school has yet done so.

He proposes that primary schools winning outstanding inspection reports should be rewarded with an invitation to experiment with their curriculum, especially in disadvantaged areas. And he suggests the QCA should encourage schools to evaluate for themselves their own curricular strengths and weaknesses.

Professor Campbell's essay, published yesterday with 38 others by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, is a contribution to the debate on the reform of the national curriculum due to take effect in 2000.

The essays were written before Education Secretary David Blunkett said that primary schools could ignore the national curriculum and focus on the basics in order to meet literacy and numeracy targets.

Many contributors take the "I wouldn't start from here approach", criticising the authors of the curriculum for failing to look at the broader aims of education.

John White, professor of the philosophy of education at London University's Institute of Education, says the originator of the curriculum "started too far in, with traditional grammar-school subjects rather than fundamental purposes.

"We need something more intelligent than the mechanical assumption that pupils need nine years of geography, 11 of maths and so on.

"If personal and civic aims are central, let this be reflected in more sensible and properly considered time-allocations and timings. Personal and social education would not then be marginalised. Students would no longer leave school with next to no exposure to 20th-century history and none to social studies."

Take Care, Mr Blunkett is available from ATL Despatch, 7 Northumberland Street, London WC2N 5DA, price pound;5.99 for members and pound;9.99 for non-members.

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