Freedom - if Sir Jim cuts clutter from the primary curriculum

7th November 2008 at 00:00
Staff hope the primary curriculum review will allow them to adapt and evolve lessons as they see fit

Sir Jim Rose's interim report on his review of the primary curriculum will be published in a few days.

It represents the biggest overhaul of the primary curriculum for years.

If Sir Jim gets it right, then the long-awaited report could leave teachers with considerably more freedom to adapt and evolve the curriculum. For example, among the many significant changes will be a curriculum which has an explicit set of skills but subjects will still be central to the curriculum.

Areas of learning trailed as a replacement for traditional subjects may make an appearance in the earlier years, but are not expected to replace subjects altogether.

The roots of the review, which was commissioned at the beginning of this year, lie in two long-standing issues: children leaving primary school without the expected level in English and maths and the pending introduction of another subject - modern foreign languages - into the primary curriculum.

But with the publication of the Children's Plan last year, it has acquired more issues: concerns about children in Year 1 being faced with a formal curriculum too soon, concern around children's emotional literacy and a desire for a more flexible start to school.

While Sir Jim must "cut the clutter" to provide more room for the 3Rs, there are also signs that he will try to avoid the type of top-down revolution prompted by the introduction of the national literacy and national numeracy strategies.

Modern foreign languages are already being taught in 84 per cent of primary schools so finding time to teach an extra subject has largely been done. In contrast, English and maths teaching takes up about half of the curriculum time. Sir Jim has said it is not quantity, but quality, that needs to be addressed.

Certainly it seems likely though that the new curriculum will be less prescriptive. Sir Jim has recognised the need to tackle the clutter - the constant flow of advice, guidance, strategies and initiatives. This can be seen as a direct response to complaints from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

"Previous attempts at dealing with manageability have focused on slimming down the curriculum. This has not necessarily increased the proportion of schools that say the curriculum is manageable," the QCA said in its response to the review. It pointed out that the "crowded and cluttered" curriculum is partly due to the additional requirements which accrue over time such as community cohesion, healthy lifestyles, financial capability and culture.

But will Sir Jim be able to recommend a change in the way the national curriculum is set up, monitored and reviewed?

The key question is whether he thinks it possible to review the curriculum as a whole rather than in stages in the future. For example, he told a Commons select committee that "we need to grab it by the neck and say that it should be strategically managed". This would be widely welcomed by teachers, heads and unions.

But the "elephant in the room" remains. Testing is not part of the remit, something that many feel could curtail its influence.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It doesn't matter what the curriculum says, if your school is judged and people's jobs depend upon, achieving certain scores in a narrow range of subjects, then they will go for certain scores in a narrow range of subjects. There is no getting around that."

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