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Teachers can whip the curriculum back into shape

IN 2001, the Government asserted that it had "sorted out" primary schools, and that the agenda was now about secondary education. This was seriously misguided and gave support to the view of primary school leaders that their sector was being neglected.

Although the Government's "Investment for Reform" document outlined a commitment to a broad and varied curriculum, an enhanced take-up of sporting opportunities and access to modern foreign languages, the reality is that many schools have experienced a narrowing of the curriculum.

The target-setting agenda is getting out of hand, with heads being severely lent on by local education authorities to set ever-more challenging targets. The target-setting process is distorting the curriculum.

There appears to be no joined-up thinking at government level. The Government's 14-19 policy, and its paper on transforming secondary education, received a positive response. But there is still an urgent need for a strategy for primary education.

Such a strategy must do more than take account of the complaints about targets and performance tables. It needs to produce a genuinely broad and balanced curriculum. Certainly, literacy and numeracy should be at the core. But teachers should have more professional control over how it is taught. Effective transition to secondary school must become a reality everywhere. The current testing and assessment system is in dire need of an overhaul. National tests at seven are undesirable; instead, teacher assessment should be given real weight across both key stages. Policies to address the gifted and talented are needed. Primary schools deserve a fair crack of the whip when it comes to funding for ICT and e-learning credits.

Time to focus on the quality of teaching and learning would result from the Workload Reduction Agreement if the resources were to be genuinely available.

Primary education is at a crossroads. School leaders and their staffs have moved mountains to raise standards. But "more of the same" from the national strategies will not deliver better results. Excessive national and local prescription must be replaced by professional autonomy tied to suitable accountability. Only a new primary strategy, backed by proper resources, will achieve higher standards.

David Hart is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

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