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Take charge of your day

It is almost 20 years since Kenneth Baker proclaimed that the country could no longer continue with an education system under which "teachers decide what pupils should learn without reference to clearly agreed objectives". Within two years the national curriculum was born, leading to a test and target-driven culture, which has made England's school system one of the most centrally directed and accountable in the world.

The poll we publish today makes it clear that teachers are fed up with being told in minute detail what to teach and how to teach it. They feel excluded whenever changes to the curriculum or assessment regime are made.

And they feel driven to ensure performance targets are met, teaching to tests even if it means their pupils learn in less depth.

It would be easy to seize on these negatives and say the national curriculum is a failure. Yet few teachers support this view. Most would like less prescription and more choice for schools to set their own curriculum outside a common core, in consultation with parents and pupils.

What would a national curriculum devised by teachers look like? Formal schooling might well be delayed until age six or seven, building on an early years foundation as in Wales or Scandinavia. Primary schools would be able to devote more time to local priorities - more science, ICT or sport, for example. Secondary schools would be able to offer skills-based programmes to less academic pupils at key stage 3, and apprenticeships at key stage 4 (see The TES magazine, page 14).

Most teachers, as our poll shows, believe pupil motivation and behaviour would improve if they could set their own curriculum. The prize would be a less prescriptive core curriculum, with non-statutory guidance for most other subjects. This takes us to an interesting crossroads. Which direction will the Government (and opposition parties) take? Will ministers trust schools to make the right choices or continue to keep the Whitehall straitjacket on?

* Poll reports, pages 1 and 14 to 17

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