Gareth mills, head of curriculum development at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is a personable man. He wears a tie, but his glasses are pushed on top of his head. Formal, but not too formal.
He tests the mood of heads and advisers at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel with an icebreaker - designed to show them how the voting pads on their tables work: "Apos'trophes arent necessary" flashes up on the screen. Minutes later the results are in: 61 per cent strongly disagree. Only 18 per cent join in the joke.
Mr Mills teases them about it and gets a laugh. That is the last laugh of the morning.
In three weeks' time, on the last day of term, consultation on the new primary curriculum will end. Sir Jim Rose, the former head of primary at Ofsted, has proposed that from September 2011, it should be restructured around three aims - successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens - plus the essential skills of literacy, numeracy, ICT and personal development and six areas of learning.
There are 120 delegates in the windowless, air-conditioned room - and quite a few elephants. The QCA is prepared for this. Every table has a monitor - people who helped develop the new curriculum to take notes of the discussions. The other stuff - tests, the National Strategies - can go on the blue notepads that are also on the tables. Nothing will be lost.
There are certain questions that the QCA wants answered. Are the aims appropriate? Will there be enough flexibility? Do areas of learning help?
There are the questions the delegates want answered. How is training going to be organised? What will happen to initial teacher training? What about Ofsted? But the latter are only discussed during the coffee break. It has been almost 10 years since the last curriculum review and, with just four hours today, delegates are on-task.
The votes reveal a profession willing the Government to raise its expectations. Will there be more flexibility? Yes. Will the areas of learning help? Of course. Are the aims appropriate? Well, who could disagree?
At times it feels as if schools are already implementing what's being discussed and the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the QCA are catching up. What the delegates are more interested in is clarity and implementation.
Dividing progression into early, middle and late is one of the least popular ideas. Only half the delegates support it. They also suggest - let's paraphrase: Stop harping on about ICT and just get on with it. Stop being so defensive: the changes are not as radical as many schools would like (whatever the papers say). Drop "understanding" from the areas of learning. Promote the notion of entitlement.
Finally, 98 per cent support personal, social and emotional development being moved to the core curriculum - and they applaud the view that these should be listed above literacy and numeracy.
At the end of the day, they seem pleased. Siobhan Collingwood, head of Morecambe Bay Primary School, says: "There is a feeling that the cat is out of the bag in a way. The profession is moving in that direction, regardless of what is happening. They are not waiting to be told what to do."
While newspapers and lay commentators remain unconvinced by Sir Jim's latest iteration, teachers seem already ahead of him.
Four for debate
The QCA is running four consultations, all of which finish on July 24:
- The primary curriculum
Proposals include restructuring subjects into six areas of learning and putting more emphasis on personal development.
- Personal, social, health and economic education
This will become statutory in primaries and secondaries, but parents can withdraw their children from sex education.
- Subject level descriptions
Changes to ICT and modern languages reflect draft changes in the primary curriculum.
- Religious education
Updated non-statutory guidance that includes its role in promoting community cohesion.
Ed Balls announces Sir Jim Rose will carry out a root and branch review of the primary curriculum.
- December 2008
Interim report proposes six areas of learning. Children to start school the September after they turn four. There should be much higher expectations in ICT.
- March 2009
Final report published.
- April 2009
- July 2009
- September 2009
Government response due.
- January 2010
Guidance materials produced.
- September 2011
New curriculum to start.