Hooked by a word

7th March 2008 at 00:00
It is wonderful how a clever word can get you off a hook. "Entitlement" solved the intractable problem of the key stage 4 curriculum. Now all that is left of the old compulsory curriculum are "skills for life": English (and Welsh in Wales), maths and science (of some sort) and enterprise, PSHE, citizenship and work-related learning. (In Wales, citizenship is not separately identified.) Everything else is an "entitlement".

So what is a school legally obliged to do? More than might be thought. Local authorities, governors and headteachers have a statutory duty to make available the arts, design and technology, humanities, modern foreign languages (and any other study that the Secretary of State prescribes by order), to pupils who want them.

So schools where learning a modern foreign language is as alien as a lad being asked to carry a bag, cannot emulate the retail sector and say, "No, we don't stock it. There's no call for it round here."

If a school does not provide itself, it must arrange for it elsewhere. (There is an implication that a school providing a language should admit the solitary linguist from the school which doesn't.)

It is not impossible that the loss of pupils going elsewhere and the costs of off-site courses may mean job cuts at the despatching school. The law is silent on that.

Entitlement can be over-ridden, however, if "a local authority determine that the making available of a course of study within a specified entitlement area would involve disproportionate expense". Despite a rash promise by a minister that the whole entitlement will be available to every English child, this does presumably prevent a single child being taxied over the Cumbrian fells in pursuit of a single subject.

Clever words sometimes get you off one hook on to another.

Richard Bird, Legal consultant to the Association for School and College Leaders.

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