Minister admits to too much literacy

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Broader primary curriculum has suffered, says Twigg. Helen Ward reports

The Government's message of "literacy, literacy, literacy" was a mistake, Stephen Twigg, the minister in charge of primary education, has admitted.

Mr Twigg, who took over the post in 2002, said literacy had been over-emphasised in the past.

Results in English at age 11 have stayed static, with 75 per cent of pupils gaining level 4 for the past four years.

Last May, the Government launched its primary strategy, Excellence and Enjoyment, as it tried to raise scores nearer to its target of 80 per cent, which was originally set for last year.

Mr Twigg said: "We came to realise that simply more of the same was not going to lift us of the plateau."

Excellence and Enjoyment maintained that high standards in literacy and numeracy were essential, but played down targets and testing. It also emphasised the freedom that schools had in timetabling lessons and said it would support innovation and school autonomy.

Mr Twigg admitted there was a "legitimate criticism" of the literacy policy in that the broader curriculum was not emphasised. It was very deliberately and openly 'literacy, literacy, literacy'. Part of the business of not carrying on as we were before is saying we recognise we can strengthen the literacy and numeracy progress through other areas of the curriculum as well."

John Coe, spokesman for the National Association of Primary Education, said: "The two-tier curriculum is a reality. I think the Government is now worried about it and people like Mr Twigg are having to think laterally. I detect signs that the new primary strategy has meant a major shift of thinking at the centre, but that is still overlaid with the political considerations."

When the national literacy and numeracy strategies were first introduced, schools had two years in which they could devise their own "light-touch curriculum" in arts and the humanities.

Mr Twigg said: "The literacy and numeracy strategies were unashamedly centralist. The primary strategy looks at the literacy and numeracy, recognises schools have made good progress but have now reached a plateau and the way we will address it is by unleashing the energy and enthusiasm there is in the system among teachers, teaching assistants and parents. The form this takes will vary from school to school."

Analysis 18 SEE THE wonder years, 24-page primary supplement in your TES

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