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Reading and writing may be de-skilled

Reshaping the English curriculum for the 21st century in a 'national conversation' may lead to core skills being re-evaluated.

A review of the English curriculum is to question whether reading and writing will remain basic skills as technology progresses over the next 10 years.

In a four-month "national conversation", the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will ask authors, literary associations, teachers, employers and young people to help to reshape the curriculum in the English 21 project.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the authority, said: "The intention is to energise and engage the nation in a conversation about its living language."

As well as questioning fundamentals such as reading and writing, the review will examine the canon of English literature, types of assessment and the impact of technology on language.

The review, due to launch on Wednesday, asks: "Will reading and writing still be basic skills in 2015? Will the printed book disappear?

"If most screen reading is in short chunks, how important is stamina in reading and writing longer texts?"

But the Confederation of British Industry said poor literacy among school-leavers was a "scandal" and that the focus on reading and writing as basic skills must remain.

"The absolute focus of educational reform must be dealing with the shocking number of youngsters who don't even achieve a basic standard in English, the 40 per cent who don't achieve a grade C," the CBI spokesman said.

Gary Snapper, editor of the National Association for the Teaching of English magazine, English Drama Media, said he was confident that reading and writing would be confirmed as core skills.

But he said it was important to debate how they were altering.

"We have a situation where things are changing, where young people are using technology and texts differently and we need to investigate what effect that is having on our teaching," he said.

English, where the curriculum has not changed significantly for more than 15 years, is the latest in a series of subjects to come under review.

Last week, The TES revealed that the Historical Association was recommending an overhaul of history's "narrow" and "formulaic" exams, while the QCA criticised the heavy concentration on Hitler and the Nazis. The Futures Project, launched by the QCA last month, will involve overhauling the curriculum for all other subjects.

English had been chosen for this public review because many people in the community have an interest in the subject, and not because of any failings, a QCA spokesman said.

Public opinion will be sought at a national seminar at the Royal Society of Literature and in a series of events, adopting the BBC's Question Time format, in England's major cities.

A board of people in the media, arts and business, including Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, and the author and TV presenter Melvyn Bragg, will be the public face of the review.

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