Don't take fright at Sir Jim's terms

12th December 2008 at 00:00

Twenty years on from the creation of the national curriculum, debate over what we teach our children has never been more intense. This is both a blessing and a curse.

This week, Sir Jim Rose offered up a potential blueprint for a more streamlined primary curriculum. If accepted by ministers, his proposal to regroup the curriculum into six areas of learning - replacing the present 11 statutory and three non-statutory subjects - should make it easier to teach lessons that engage and enthuse pupils while allowing more time to reinforce what they have learnt.

Everyone agrees that the curriculum suffers from over-prescription and overload. The national curriculum has been bedevilled by demands to teach pupils something about everything. Accordingly, Sir Jim, whose final report is due in the spring, has been asked to plan for cutting down on primary curriculum content.

The problem is that, while there is broad agreement among primary teachers, there is no clear consensus among the public at large about what should be cut. Hysterical press reporting, along the lines that Sir Jim is planning to cut traditional subjects such as history and geography, illustrates the problem. He has proposed nothing of the sort, yet because perception is all in the age of 247 media coverage, there is a real danger that ministers will take fright, reject his central proposal and insist on retaining a subject-based curriculum more appropriate to a Victorian school system.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, showed encouraging signs this week of wanting a 21st-century approach to education. Welcoming the latest international tables - which show that pupils in England are performing among the best in the world in maths and science, but also that their enjoyment of these has declined - he said he wanted to make sure "every child has fun in the classroom as well as good results".

The best way to do that is to accept Sir Jim's framework for primary schools. But he also needs to go further. Sadly Sir Jim's remit prevented him from looking into the stultifying effect teaching to the test has had. This issue must be urgently addressed. With that in mind, we eagerly await the final report of the more wide-ranging primary review that is being conducted by Robin Alexander of Cambridge University, also due in the spring.

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