A Week in Education

12th December 2008 at 00:00

Plans to change the primary curriculum panicked the press and opposition politicians who wailed that this would mean scrapping traditional subjects such as history and geography.

Sir Jim Rose, who is leading the review, patiently explained that, no, primary schools would continue to teach those subjects. What his interim report proposed was that they could be taught within a framework of six learning areas, such as "human, social and environmental understanding".

Primary teachers seemed to grasp the idea, many saying that it had the potential to make the curriculum less crowded and repetitive, and more flexible.

But the subtleties were lost on the mainstream media - some commentators blithely ignored the fact that primary pupils have received some cross-curricular teaching for decades.

Vanessa Feltz fumed in The Daily Express that the plan would create a "thematic hell" for children. "The poor things won't be allowed to focus on Roman centurions, fractions or handwriting," she wrote.

Sir Jim's proposals received further merciless kickings in the leader columns of The Times ("Primary error"), The Daily Mail ("Have they learned nothing?") and The Daily Telegraph ("The slow learners in our teaching establishment").

The Financial Times suggested parents would flee to prep schools to ensure their children received subject-specific teaching. Similarly, the Telegraph harrumphed that "parents who can afford independent education for their children do not opt for schools that embrace a trendy curriculum short on facts and rigour and long on empathy".

That might surprise those private schools that have adopted the international baccalaureate's primary years programme. The qualification is based around - oh look! - six transdisciplinary themes: "who we are ", "where we are in place and time", "how we express ourselves", "how the world works", "how we organise ourselves" and "sharing the planet". Which actually sound more hippyish than anything in Sir Jim's report.

England's pupils performed astonishingly well in an international league table of maths and science, outshining pupils from Sweden, Germany, Norway and Denmark. Indeed, the only countries where 10 and 14-year-olds did better were in the Pacific Rim, such as Singapore.

Such incredible news did not stop the Conservatives from focusing on the fact that in just one of the four tables - maths for 10-year-olds - Kazakhstan ranked ahead of England. Hence the headline in The Daily Star: "Pupils' 'Borat' shame", and in London's Evening Standard: "Borat cultural learnings make better than in UK". Pages 18-21

But headline of the week was "Primary school bans love". The Sunday Express reported that St William's School in Norwich had prohibited playground romances after they caused disruption in classes and playtime.

Boys had been fighting over girls while girls had fallen out over boys.

Nigel Wood, the headteacher, said there was no actual ban on romance. His school dealt with any pupil upsets individually.

Children might describe themselves as boyfriends or girlfriends but "at this age" a relationship could be "a confusing and sensitive matter that can lead to jealousies and fall-outs".

Indeed - though true for all ages.

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