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Ministers revert to literary tradition

The eleventh hour reinstatement of classic writers and the addition of early British history to the compulsory national curriculum has been hailed as a victory for parents by traditionalists.

But teachers' leaders have criticised the new September 2000 curriculum for not being radical enough and condemned ministers for continuing to prescribe too many details of the school timetable.

In a last-minute hardening of the Government line, Education Secretary David Blunkett ordered that compulsory lists of classic authors and poets be restored. He has also made the study of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings and Tudors compulsory for junior pupils for the first time.

However, the teaching unions fear the revised curriculum is over- loaded and that schools will struggle to introduce the new compulsory citizenship lessons for secondary pupils.

A total of pound;18 million from the 2000-1 Standards Fund will support the introduction of the new curriculum next September.

The Government's curriculum quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which conducted the review, had hoped to increase curriculum flexibility by allowing teachers to choose which events, historical figures and classic authors were taught.

Their proposals prompted a storm of protest from traditionalists when they were first announced in May, although the plans were popular with many teachers who welcomed the increased professional autonomy.

Most of the QCA's ideas have survived the final revision despite Government spin to the contrary. Historical figures and events are no longer part of the statutory curriculum but are listed as optional examples for each period.

Historical topics do not have to be taught in chronological order although non-statutory guidance will stress the importance of teaching significant dates and events and their chronology.

John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, said: "There is still far too much prescription. The Government does not have confidence in schools to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum while having the flexibility to innovate."

For the first time, the English curriculum also contains an eclectic list for 11 to 14-year-olds of recommended non-fiction authors, including Winston Churchill, veteran broadcaster Alistair Cooke and TV naturalist David Attenborough.

The QCA had previously only included lists of novelists, poets and playwrights but during the consultation teachers themselves asked for more guidance for teaching non-fiction.

The QCA also assembled a list of contemporary journalists but it was not approved by ministers who felt it was too difficult to decide on.

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