Schools must follow the national literacy strategy even if they are hitting the national target for reading and writing, according to strict new Government guidance.
Only those who meet exceptionally stringent criteria are free to ignore the strategy and innovations such as the literacy hour, says a letter sent to all local education authorities this week.
Primary heads and teaching unions have reacted with concern to the "heavy-handed" rules which, they say, will damage the standards drive by destroying teachers' enthusiasm.
David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, has already described the national literacy strategy as "non-negotiable". Yet it is not legally compulsory, causing some doubt about its status.
Meanwhile, the Government's parallel strategy for numeracy makes it clear that schools can tailor the numeracy guidance as they choose.
The new instructions, signed by John Stannard, director of the national literacy strategy, are an attempt at clarification.
"Although the (strategy) is not a statutory framework, there is a clear expectation that schools will adopt it," says the letter. "If a school chooses not to do so, there should be close consultation with the education authority on the principle that the onus is upon the school to opt out - not to opt in."
It says that the authority, in advising schools, should make a negotiated judgment bearing in mind the following criteria:
* Are standards high enough and rising in relation to the local authority's projected target for the school? Reaching the 80 per cent level 4 target for 2002 is not a justification for opting out. Both school and authority need to be confident that the school's own projected target is highly likely to be achieved.
* Is the school's scheme of work comparable in detail, quality and comprehensiveness to the strategy?
* Does the school have a proven management structure guaranteeing standards?
Each school must attend a two-day conference on the strategy and reserve three training days.
John Bangs, assistant secretary at the National Union of Teachers, said the Government's heavy-handed approach was counterproductive. "This quasi-statutory approach is likely to set back teachers' enthusiasm. Any headteacher who knows his onions is likely to ask 'what am I actually required to do?'" David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government could be forced to accept schools' judgment because local authorities were in little position to offer detailed advice.
Chris Woodhead, page 13
Letters, page 16