As politicians focus on raising literacy standards, can all those in favour of a broader curriculum - including preparing children for adult life - hope to find a niche? Sarah Cassidy reports
Morality, spirituality, political awareness and creativity are at the heart of the latest battle for curriculum time.
Plans to teach citizenship in schools are far from complete but have already split educationists - although many see it as a unique opportunity to improve what is already taught in schools.
The debate has reopened a seemingly unbridgeable divide between those who advocate a wide curriculum and others who would prefer to concentrate on literacy and numeracy, arguing that children unable to read or write are unlikely to reap the benefits of a broader education.
The Government has now controversially rejected the findings of its own curriculum quango and instead plans to introduce compulsory "citizenship lessons" in secondary schools from 2002. Ministers are also expected to recommend that every child be taught citizenship skills from age five.
The proposal comes after months of in-fighting between the high-profile groups which contributed to the Qualification and Curriculum Authority group's report.
It drafted ideas on what every pupil needs to know, which will be included in the national curriculum, currently being rewritten for 2000. Ministers have promised that preparing pupils for adult life will be a major strand of the review. In response the QCA, set up a Preparation for Adult Life group to recommend its content.
But while the PAL group has been discussing what to add to the curriculum, the QCA has been deliberating what to take out as part of the wider curriculum review. Their brief is to create a more flexible curriculum with minimum upheaval for schools while preparing pupils for adult life.
David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, is currently considering which direction to take but he faces the formidable task of squeezing five quarts of ideas into a pint pot.
Last year he established four working groups - on creativity, citizenship, personal and social education, and sustainable development - which fed their ideas into the PAL group, along with proposals from a QCA project on pupils' values.
More than 100 heavyweights from the worlds of business, entertainment, culture, charity and environmental joined practising teachers to deliberate how best to inject their subject into the curriculum. But each working group is jostling for space in an already packed curriculum. Their ideas must be combined in a form that can be adopted by schools.
The PAL group sent its recommendations to Mr Blunkett before Christmas but insiders say he was not enthusiastic about the report.
Marianne Talbot, PAL member and leader of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development project, said: "The group recommended that there should be a single citizenship framework put forward to schools.
"We presented the Secretary of State with a list of simple statements of what should be included as part of a framework. There was no mention of how much time should be devoted to it or how it should be implemented - it is simply too early for that."
But while some group members say a happy balance between the five groups was reached, others believe the final report was dominated by the citizenship group, chaired by Bernard Crick, professor of politics at Birkbeck College, London, and a former Sheffield University tutor of Mr Blunkett.
His group published its own recommendations in September and controversially called for 5 per cent of the curriculum to be devoted to compulsory lessons in "civics", to the dismay of many secondary headteachers.
Headteachers on the PAL committee had successfully lobbied for ideas for "citizenship lessons" to be toned down, fearing an unacceptable increase in teachers' workload. But this could have been the report's undoing as Mr Blunkett had already indicated he wanted citizenship to have a distinct place in the curriculum.
Insiders have always expected Professor Crick's recommendations to gain ground. Mr Blunkett has given very public support to his report and is known to listen to the man who was his political mentor.
The other groups presented the PAL group with more general ideas to shift the emphasis of the entire curriculum. They are happy with a new "values, aims and purposes" section at the beginning of the new curriculum and hope it will underpin the school week with a new focus on values, relationships and virtues such as truth, justice and duty.
But disagreements between the groups have been a long-running distraction. Comedians Dawn French and Lenny Henry, conductor Sir Simon Rattle and designer Helen Storey are on the panel advising the Government on creativity in schools which has been criticised for "trying to reinvent the wheel". Their group, chaired by Ken Robinson, the ebullient professor of arts education at the University of Warwick, also stands accused of being united only in its dislike of Professor Crick's citizenship proposals.
Professor Robinson admits he believes too much weight has been given to Crick's proposals and that the creation of the PAL group was a mistake. He said: "Conversations on the PAL group were dominated by ideas of citizenship. PAL and citizenship have become conflated in people's minds which is a mistake. Citizenship is important but it is not a metaphor for the work of all the other groups.
"I have serious reservations about the concept of the PAL group. It suggests that there will be something created called Preparation for Adult Life as a distinct part of the curriculum. It plainly isn't - it should be what the whole curriculum is about.
"The PAL group met three times with a particular agenda - to produce a digestible report in a very short timespan. I would be very unhappy if the work of the groups was reduced to the ideas put forward by PAL. I want to ensure that the Secretary of State reads our full report."
Nick Pearce, senior research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research, the think-tank possibly most closely linked with New Labour, acknowledges both the cases for, and against, Crick's proposals. He said:
"The Crick report stands a better chance of implementation than most, not simply because of close personal connections to the Secretary of State, but because of the importance of the subject matter his advisory group has addressed and the astute nature of its recommendations.
"Nonetheless, it is unlikely that the report will emerge unscathed from the processes of consultation and compromise.
"For those whose exclusive focus is on raising standards in the basics of literacy and numeracy, citizenship education is a luxury schools can ill afford. For others, Crick's recommendations constitute the vessel through which political correctness will once again infect our schools."
But most PAL members are positive that, whatever Mr Blunkett makes of their preliminary report, provision for pupils will improve.
Jane Jenks, vice-chair of the personal, social and health education group, said: "This is a difficult time because it sometimes seems that the report has disappeared into a black hole. The problem with a vacuum is that rumour and speculation grow.
"You do not necessarily have to elbow space in the curriculum for it but we probably need some designated time for personal social and health education."
The creativity group is currently putting the final touches to its report, due to be submitted to the DFEE next week.
But the group's report is still waiting for ministerial approval although it finished work months ago. The delay is likely to be explained by a parallel report report on teenage parenthood being compiled by the Government's social exclusion unit. Ministers are believed to be keen to co-ordinate release of the two reports.
Jane Jenks is confident the PSHE report will be well-received. "Politicians are jumpy about anything to do with sex and drugs. But the Government is committed to this reform - which is a radical change. They see this as an integral part of raising standards, not something that is bolted on to the curriculum," she said: Professor Crick himself is delighted with Mr Blunkett's proposals which reflect many key recommendations of his report.
"My report did not recommend there should necessarily be a separate citizenship subject for primary children, only that some simple citizenship outcomes should form an essential part of PSHE," he said.
"There has been a some understandable opposition to an overly-prescriptive citizenship curriculum. But it could be very light-touch. It needs to be tight enough to affect schools which have so far been ignoring it but not so tight that it means re-writing the curriculum in schools that are already doing good work.
"I have no difficulty with its full introduction in 2002. The report recommended the phasing in of citizenship. We were against a big bang approach; it is important that schools know it's coming and have time to prepare."
The Sustainable Development group's report is available from the council for environmental education, tel 0118 950 2550, priced pound;1. The Creativity and Culture group report is due out next month Teenage pregnancies, Friday magazine, 4
THE ADVISORY GROUPS AND THEIR CHAIRS
Sustainable Development Education Panel: Sir Geoffrey Holland, Exeter University vice-chancellor
National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education: Ken Robinson, Professor of Arts Education, University of Warwick
Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools: Bernard Crick, Emeritus Professor of politics, Birkbeck College, University of London
National Advisory Group for Personal, Social and Health education: Estelle Morris, school standards minister, and Tessa Jowell, public health minister QCA Project for Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development: Marianne Talbot, Brasenose College, Oxford