Primary heads get permission to be flexible

New curriculum guidance allows schools to shift the emphasis away from literacy and numeracy, reports Helen Ward

PRIMARY schools will be able to ease off on maths and English after a long-awaited report on timetabling was published this week.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's guidance looks at all aspects of the primary curriculum from starting times through planning across the key stages.

It says that maths and English are best taught daily and children should have some physical education every week.

But it makes the point that "children might make judgments about a subject's status based on when it is taught". Schools which vary timetables, building in some afternoon sessions for the core subjects and teaching foundation subjects - such as history and geography - in the morning are praised.

A QCA spokesperson said "Some schools have already adopted innovative approaches to delivering a quality curriculum.

"This guidance will give all schools the information and confidence to make their own decisions about the nature and shape of their curriculum. It's all about showing schools how they can make the curriculum their own."

The guidance was first expected in 2000, alongside the slimmed-down Curriculum 2000 which allowed primaries to cut back on subjects such as art, PE and music to concentrate on literacy and numeracy. This focus has seen the proportion of children achieving level 4 in English rise from 63 per cent in 1997 to 75 per cent last year and in maths from 62 per cent to 71 per cent.

But there are fears that other subjects are losing out. A National Union of Teachers study published this month found in some primaries only 30 minutes a week were spent on music and in some art was dropped in Year 6.

John Bangs, the NUT's head of education, said: "Headteachers don't think they have permission for this flexibility. I think this is a good contribution and the QCA has gone as far as it can. But the Office for Standards in Education is the critical body in the sense that it powerfully influences attitudes to freedom and flexibility."

John Coe, of the National Association of Primary Education, said: "We strongly support flexibility and teachers being able to vary the times of lessons according to the children's needs. We think teachers are the best judge of what to do and we have been worried about overprescription and pressure for maths and English test results. This seems to be a radical document."

Secondary timetableoverhaul, 9

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