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Romeo woos today's teenagers

But teachers disappointed new curriculum signals return to prescription

ROMEO AND JULIET has topped a poll of teachers and English advisers as the most popular and engaging Shakespeare play for 11 to 14 year-olds.

The National Assessment Agency found that the saga of the Montagues and Capulets was the best known, tried and tested play by teachers. Those surveyed thought that children in key stage 3 would identify with the characters of the young lovers. Othello was also popular, because of its themes of jealousy and love, but teachers thought its content may be too mature for young teenagers. A Midsummer Night's Dream was thought more suitable.

The agency will now recommend that Romeo and Juliet joins As You Like It, Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream in a rolling programme from 2009. Until then pupils will continue with Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III and The Tempest.

The consultation comes as the review of key stage 3 teaching was announced.

Critics say it has suffered from too much interference by ministers.

Ruth Kelly, then education secretary, was quite clear what needed to happen when she wrote to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in March 2005.

"The amount of prescription in some of the current programmes of study leaves schools with little flexibility to secure the basics, support those who are struggling, and stretch the most able," she said. "In particular, it does not enable schools to ensure the basics in English and maths are sufficiently secure for those pupils who enter key stage 3 below the expected standard."

Subject associations and teachers, tired of the level of central prescription, welcomed the opportunity to be trusted to use their professional judgment.

Bethan Marshall, lecturer at King's College, London, celebrated, saying:

"Anything that cuts what teachers have to do is a good thing because you have to have professional trust."

But her joy was to be short-lived. Alan Johnson's appointment as Education Secretary appeared to herald a different approach to curriculum reform. In August he demanded that the prescribed list of classic pre-1914 authors including Trollope, Dickens and Austen, "must" be restored.

In October he asked for the slave trade to be a compulsory part of history.

He then said any idea of dropping world wars from KS3 would be "stamped on very quickly". Next, Tony Blair wanted "life skills", including cooking lessons, to be included.

Finally in January the Ajegbo report called for the inclusion of a new "fourth strand" in citizenship bringing in British history.

John Dunford, Association of Schools and College Leaders general secretary, said: "We want schools to have flexibility to develop their own lessons and for ministers to resist the temptation to add in their latest fad."

Teachers will be able to submit their own views by responding to the consultation, until the end of April at www.qca.org.uk. The curriculum will be phased in classrooms from September 2008.

KS3 - what is expected:

English Restoration of prescribed list of pre-1914 authors, including Jane Austen, Charlotte Bront , Emily Bront , John Bunyan, Wilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Henry Fielding, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift, Anthony Trollope, H. G. Wells

History Compulsory study of the slave trade, two world wars, the Holocaust and Empire

Life skills An entitlement to cooking lessons

Citizenship Lessons on contemporary British history, immigration and equal opportunities

Geography Lessons on climate change

Maths Some history of the subject and appreciation of its cultural importance. Generally less prescriptive

Design and Technology Schools expected to be allowed to drop at least one of the following: food, textiles, product design or electronics

Overall Schools to evaluate how the curriculum is developing pupils'

personal, learning and thinking skills

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