Literacy and numeracy are `Dearing day' priorities

24th March 1995 at 00:00
May I offer some comments on your report (TES, March 17) that some primary teachers cannot yet identify the "Dearing day"?

Our approach to releasing time for use at the discretion of the school involved is, of course, a major reduction in content. That was the core of the task.

But there is another major element; increased discretion for schools over the depth of treatment of the content of the revised curriculum.

There is no requirement to teach every specified topic at the same level of detail. It is for teachers to decide which elements to treat in depth and which in outline.

Recognising that schools with inspection in prospect would be anxious about using such discretion, HM Chief Inspector of Schools joined me in writing a letter to all headteachers in November 1994 giving support for this approach.

It may be that teachers have not yet taken this fully into their thinking. Saying it again here may help. I recognise that teachers take a conscientious approach to their duties and feel a commitment to cover the curriculum with great thoughtfulness. It has been a major part of my enterprise to restore trust in the professionalism of teachers. I urge them to use that professional judgement.

Teachers will not yet have moved to the new method of assessment, against the level descriptions at the end of key stages 1, 2 and 3.

When they do, they should find that the abolition of statements of attainment has considerably reduced the burden of assessment and record-keeping.

The aim was always to produce a revised national curriculum which could be taught, in the average school, in about four days of the school week.

The first call on the time released should then be to secure children's command of basic literacy and numeracy, especially in the early years of schooling.

Teachers beginning to use the time in this way are doing what I intended. In the later years of primary schooling, the time demands of English and mathematics may decrease and allow teachers greater range.

It is, if I may say so, early days yet. The revised curriculum is not even formally in place. We at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority will do all we can to help, but it is teachers themselves who must interpret the reduced level of demand with good sense and professional judgment.

I hope that they will be helped by reflection on the points I have made.

Sir Ron Dearing School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

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