Don't blame the curriculum

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
We have some sympathy for Robert Belcher ("Fast Track to Failure", November 11). It does sometimes feel as if the joy and creativity are being squeezed out of teaching by the demands of a target-driven culture.

However, we would like to take issue with some of his assertions about the place of the curriculum for teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) on teachers' hit lists.

The adult curriculum is huge, it's true. But as well as making a truly substantial door stop, it acts as a national reference document that teachers can draw on and a source of ideas from which teachers can write a syllabus or scheme of work to suit their own learners.

The writing team included ESOL teachers, with respected academics on the advisory board. During its inception, ESOL teachers were consulted widely through regional networks and Natecla, the independent association of the ESOL profession. Our team from London south Bank university ran the workshops introducing teachers to the new curriculum from 2001 to 2003.

While some teachers were initially suspicious and a few, like Belcher, even hostile, the vast majority found the curriculum a useful and supportive document. Belcher also takes exception to the naming of the levels: Entry 1, 2 and 3 and Levels 1 and 2, complaining that they are illogical.

Confusing maybe, but not illogical - the levels fit into the National Qualifications Framework which goes from Entry to Level 1, 2 etc. Because so much of ESOL fits into Entry, it has been sub-divided, and that's where the Entry 1, 2 and 3 come from. Before the curriculum and the National Standards, it was difficult for teachers and learners to talk about the levels of classes, as there was no common way of describing levels - elementary means different things to different people. Now we have descriptions that apply nationally; so a learner leaving an Entry 2 class in Hull halfway through the year to move to Newcastle knows that heshe will be looking for an Entry 2 course There is some evidence that, though the intention is to provide a supportive reference tool, managers in some organisations see the document differently and require teachers to cross-reference every lesson plan and even every activity on every lesson plan to the curriculum. This could be why teachers like Belcher see the curriculum as a rein on creativity rather than a source of new ideas. But to blame the curriculum document for managers' insecurities is a bit like blaming the dictionary for an overemphasis on spelling.

Helen Sunderland and the ESOL Team

London South Bank university

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