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Guru attacks 'deeply patronising' strategy

Education guru Professor Robin Alexander has criticised the Government's primary strategy, saying it is not serious about broadening the curriculum and is deeply patronising.

In an article in today's TES, he writes that the primary strategy document, Excellence and Enjoyment, ignores much research and reads as if history began in 1997, when Labour came to power.

Professor Alexander is one of the "Three Wise Men" whose 1992 report recommended that teachers should be free to choose the best method for each lesson, but was used as a launchpad for the Tories' back-to-basics drive.

In his full paper, Professor Alexander says that the Government was still giving out mixed messages on how much freedom was on offer to teachers.

He points out that the new inspection frameworks for initial teacher training and schools concentrate on English, maths, science and information and communications technology - undermining calls for breadth.

He says that the primary strategy is "deeply patronising in its assumption that teachers will be seduced by Ladybird language, pretty pictures, offers of freedom and enjoyment and populist appeals to their commonsense".

Professor Alexander says it was clear 20 years ago there were two primary curriculums: the high-status 3 Rs and the low-priority arts and humanities, and that since then the crowded curriculum has become more difficult to manage. He thinks the primary strategy will do nothing to alleviate the problem.

He adds: "Do we still need to argue that education is meaningless without the arts and humanities and without a more generous concept of the teaching of English than basic reading and writing competence alone?

"The demeaning reduction of these to 'enjoyment' and 'enrichment' and the readiness of the Government to sacrifice them on the altar of 'standards'

signals that they remain insecure."

He also argues that the strategy has missed the chance to tackle workforce reform, saying that the growing mismatch between what needs to be done and who is to do it has been resolved by trimming the education.

The Government's decision in 1998 to allow primaries to devise their own curriculum for art, music, PE, design and technology, history and geography for two years while the literacy and numeracy strategies were introduced was an example of the way the curriculum is used to side-step true reform.

"Teaching assistants may be useful," he says, "but in the context of children's statutory curriculum entitlement they are no substitute for a policy which gives each school a team of professionals.

"Between them they have the range and depth of knowledge to do justice to every aspect of the curriculum, and the flexibility to deploy such knowledge."

Professor Alexander's full paper Still no pedagogy? Principle, pragmatism and compliance in primary education can be obtained from Sally Roach at the faculty of education ( tel: 01223 742029).

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