Comment

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

It was sudden. But it wasn't a shock.

The national literacy and national numeracy strategies were flagship reforms created by New Labour, building on the Conservatives' idea of a literacy hour.

They arrived fast. The national literacy strategy was announced in 1997 and introduced in 1998. The national numeracy strategy followed a year later.

Schools felt under pressure from Ofsted to comply with the "guidance" and, initially, results rocketed. In 2001, the two were joined by the key stage 3 strategy.

Many headteachers now acknowledge that the early focus was beneficial. But the 2002 official evaluations from the University of Ontario and Ofsted both warned that strategy had to evolve. Both warned of the danger of creating a "culture of dependence" in teachers and the pressure on the rest of the curriculum.

And when 11-year-olds failed to hit the Government's high-profile targets in the same year, there were rumours the strategies would be chopped.

Instead, the following year saw the umbrella primary national strategy, with the accompanying document Excellence and Enjoyment. But at the same time as announcing the new primary strategy, the Government re-advertised the contract to run it. It had been held by CfBT, but in April 2005, Capita took over the Pounds 177.5 million five-year contract for the primary and key stage 3 (later to become secondary) national strategies.

Frameworks for literacy and numeracy were renewed, with mixed results. The literacy hour was out, a move teachers welcomed, but an interactive planning tool proved unwieldy and time-consuming.

In recent years, the organisation has uneasily tried to match a low profile with involvement in such politically tricky areas as early years and "coasting" schools - quickly re-branded Gaining Ground - as well as churning out curriculum guidance. For example, the website's RSS feed shows 37 items were added to it in the seven days to last Monday.

When in 2008 the contract was due to be tendered again, it wasn't.

Earlier this year, The TES revealed that there had been no discussions between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Treasury about future funding - the hair holding up the sword of Damocles appeared to be breaking.

And when the Government published Sir Jim Rose's proposals for a new primary curriculum, which promised more freedom for teachers, it was clear that one-size-fits-all strategies had had their day.

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