Expensive primary review that is only stating the obvious?

27th February 2009 at 00:00

I'm afraid damp squib can't do justice to the disappointment I felt as I read the Cambridge Review's report Towards a New Primary Curriculum. Despite its title and its espousal of a trivial new terminology, such as "domains" instead of "areas of learning", it has almost nothing new of substance to say.

The curriculum issues it aims to address - that it is overcrowded and superficial, and that there needs to be agreement over its aims - were raised by Her Majesty's Inspectors in the 1970s and 1980s. Finding solutions to these issues is not a promising baseline for a review claiming a 21st century vision, especially when you realise that one of the domains proposed, "faith and belief", would continue to legitimise the religious indoctrination of young children.

I'm not against these golden curricular oldies being given another airing, but a key question is how to make sure that a report on the curriculum has a sustained impact on policy and practice in schools.

The review promises to address this, either by simply demanding change or by persuading central agencies to adopt the review's position. This might be thought a little naive, especially in the context of a government-commissioned review on the same topic.

I estimate that up to 20 per cent of the review is devoted to criticising the ideas in Jim Rose's report. This is a bit silly, given that the final report from Rose has not been published, and makes the review seem to be protesting too much, and too soon.

I'm also uneasy about the way empirical evidence is used in the review. A little more caution in interpreting the evidence might be expected in such a high-profile report.

Towards a new primary curriculum? Perhaps, but not very far towards it.

Professor Jim Campbell, Warwick University.

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