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Reforms have a familiar ring

SOME years ago a secondary head on the brink of retirement said to me that the educational El Ni$o came at around 12-year intervals. I dismissed this at the time as cynical.

Recent ideas on the reform of the 14-19 curriculum indicate that I should not have been so hasty.

Compare the reforms now to those at the end of the 1980s: the proposals for A-level distinctions look like S-levels; greater choice at key stage 4 looks like the option blocks; the struggle to create parity between vocational and academic subjects looks like the aspiration for GCSE before it was compromised by the GNVQ Intermediate; and the wish to establish a 14-19 continuum looks like the moves to create a more appropriate curriculum for all students by increasing flexibility and co-operation between schools and colleges.

The idea that modern languages need to be taught in the primary schools if standards are to be radically improved was also raised at that time.

What does this tell us? First, that the people who really understand the curriculum and practical implications of matching it to student need are the reformers working in schools. We should trust them; instead they were vilified as madcap progressives.

Second, successful reforms need to be tested with authoritative research and then disseminated in a systematic way. Third, national government and its agencies should remember that reform has to be achieved within the boundaries of what is possible in terms of school budgets, teacher availability and so on, as those who have to write timetables know only too well.

At a time when membership of the EU has given governments fewer domestic policy areas to work on there is a tendency to want to "fiddle" in education. Of course, some national reforms have been worthwhile but they need to be fewer and better organised.

Who said that the reason history repeats itself is that nobody listens?

Peter Arnold 1 Beech Avenue Ripley, Derbyshire

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