Meanwhile down in England...

20th July 2007 at 01:00
The new curriculum we unveiled in England last week will give young people the knowledge, skills and awareness to flourish in our fast-changing world.

At its core is a belief that we must give even more attention to the basic functional skills and rigorous academic standards on which our economy depends. This means ensuring that high-quality teaching in the 12 core subjects, and thorough testing, continue to be essential ingredients.

I am absolutely convinced that traditional teaching methods in a modern setting are the way we can raise standards. By cutting back on duplication in the curriculum, we will free up more of the school day to devote to the 3Rs, which will help us to ensure that all pupils leave school with a good grasp of grammar, spelling and arithmetic. Teachers can focus on pupils struggling with basic maths and English, as well as giving other students extra challenges to stimulate them.

It is vital that our curriculum continues to pay close attention to traditional areas of study. We will protect the classics and ensure all pupils are familiar with the canons of British literature: the likes of Austen, Dickens, Hardy and Shakespeare. But pupils also need the everyday skills that employers and universities are increasingly demanding such as being able to express themselves clearly and having a dynamic, "can do" attitude.

Education must also have a practical, everyday relevance for pupils, giving them essential life skills that will set them on the path to a prosperous future. That's why I'm introducing a new focus on economic well-being and financial capability, helping young people become better at managing their money sensibly. It will also give youngsters the drive to aim high in their careers and the skills to succeed in the workplace.

Young people also need to be aware of the world around them, which is why we are putting a stronger emphasis on climate change and world poverty in new style geography lessons. We know this approach should get pupils more engaged in the subject and motivated to succeed without neglecting traditional content: for example a survey carried out last year found that half of 11 to 17 year olds wanted to spend more time learning about climate change. But these lessons will also allow young people to start to explore how key global issues affect them and question the implications for their own lifestyle choices.

We also want the curriculum to engage with important issues, such as the need to cultivate greater community cohesion across the UK. Changes to citizenship classes will help, by developing shared British values, exploring concepts of identity through the prism of both historic and contemporary events and creating greater understanding of different communities.

In short, the curriculum reflects our strong commitment to raise standards, improve exam results and ensure that the education system gives young people the hard skills they need to do well in life.

We want to nurture the high-achieving global citizens of the future well informed, confident and equipped with the essential functional skills to flourish in an increasingly competitive global economy.

I am confident teachers and headteachers will rise to the challenge over the coming years. In the process, they will place our schools and our young people at the forefront of efforts to forge a fairer, safer and more prosperous society.

Ed Balls

is Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in England

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