Give us freedom to teach

17th November 2006 at 00:00
Most teachers believe a less restricted curriculum would improve pupil behaviour, says TES poll

TWO OUT of three teachers say the national curriculum is too prescriptive and more than half believe classroom behaviour would improve if they could set their own curriculum, a TES poll reveals.

One in ten called for the national curriculum to be completely scrapped.

Since its introduction in 1988, it has expanded to cover a dozen compulsory subjects in Years 7 to 9 and spawned the national literacy and numeracy strategies, which place a huge emphasis on the teaching of core skills during the primary years.

The findings support an Association of Teachers and Lecturers campaign to hand responsibility for the curriculum over to schools, claiming it is "not fit for purpose". They will boost ministers efforts to introduce more leeway for vocational training, including the specialist diplomas in the 14 to 19 reforms, and national schemes like Skill Force.

Steven Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"Both Tory and Labour governments still haven't realised the need for greater flexibility and respect for teachers' professional judgment.

Without relaxing the restrictive nature of the current curriculum, many young people will continue to be disengaged."

The right to decide what to teach includes intelligent design in science lessons. The TES poll of 600 teachers, carried out by FDS International, found that two thirds said they supported that right. This week the Department for Education and Skills wrote to schools warning them against using pro-creationist material sent to them by the Christian group Truth in Science.

Peter Edmead, head of science at Hampton community college in Richmond, south London, said: "I'm no creationist but you could argue that it is better to teach it in science than in RE, because you can put the counter-arguments."

More than 40 per cent of teachers believe a foreign language should be compulsory at GCSE. A recent survey by Cilt, the national languages centre, revealed the number of 14-year-olds opting for languages had slumped to less than half. Languages are mandatory in only one in five state secondaries.

A significant number want RE and citizenship to be dropped at the same age.

The poll's finding supports a recent Ofsted report which found that many schools were hoping citizenship, introduced in 2002, would simply "go away". Despite this, 68 per cent of teachers believed pupils should learn what it means to be British. Proposals to do so are under review, despite government adviser Sir Bernard Crick dismissing them as "populism". A further 36 per cent supported teaching the national anthem.

And when it comes to primary schools, 39 per cent of teachers want to bring us in line with most of the rest of Europe, and raise the school starting age to six or seven.

Full survey, pages 14 to 17

Truth in science, page 4

Are schools driving kids mad? Magazine, page 14

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