Ministers yearn for a little passion

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Firing pupils' enthusiasm for specific subjects is a priority for the Education Secretary. Warwick Mansell reports.

ALL six education ministers are to become ambassadors for specific subjects in a dramatic new government drive to make the curriculum more "exciting" for thousands of English secondary school pupils.

Each member of Education Secretary Charles Clarke's ministerial team is to be allocated a particular subject, as the Government seeks innovative ideas from teachers to enrich learning in schools.

The move comes as Michael Bichard, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, told a conference for specialist arts colleges that creativity was undervalued in schools.

"Developing creative skills in the early years should be a central plank of education," he said.

Schools could be encouraged to bring in professional writers, musicians or scientists to work with pupils. Other possible ideas include creative writing competitions and theatre visits for all students.

Mr Clarke revealed this week that he was interested in an idea from poet laureate Andrew Motion to get poets to record recitals of their work on a website, accessible to pupils.

The Education Secretary has made enlivening subject teaching a priority since he succeeded Estelle Morris last autumn. All subject associations have been at meetings with ministers this term.

Mr Clarke believes that Labour has not done enough since coming to power to fire the interest of pupils, and their teachers, in particular subjects. He told a London news conference: "We all remember teachers who inspired in us a love for music, a passion for history, a life-long attachment to a particular author or who encouraged our scientific inquiry. That is a tradition we have to strengthen."

John Johnson, chairman of the National Association for the Teaching of English, told its annual conference last weekend that Mr Clarke and Baroness Ashton had unveiled the plan at a meeting last month. He said: "I need to ask you to understand what a shock this was. The normal order of events is that they ask you what you want to say, listen politely, state government policy on the issues, promise to consider what you've said and shake your hand nicely as you go.

"In this case, however, they asked us for ideas about refreshing the teaching of English."

NATE has been asked to report back to civil servants next week with ideas.

The options put to teachers at its conference also included professional development for teachers and accreditation schemes in which schools would win "kitemark" recognition for excellent English teaching.

Mr Johnson told The TES that many of these proposals would be expensive.

But he added: "It is good to be consulted in this way. We will just have to wait and see what response we get when we put forward proposals."

David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, said he would be proposing that all key stage 3 students get the right to go on field trips.

My best teacher, Friday, 4


CHARLES Clarke must have had fun matching ministers with specialist subjects.

Five of the six ministers studied either politics or economics, or both, at university. Only Mr Clarke, who read maths and economics at Cambridge, has a degree in a core national curriculum subject. Maths is one of his specialisms, alongside ICT and RE.

School standards minister David Miliband gets music and art. Margaret Hodge,FEand HE minister, is to carry the torch for science and technology.

Junior minister Stephen Twigg gets geography, history, personal, social and health education and citizenship.

Ivan Lewis, minister for young people and adult skills, gets work-related learning, enterprise and skills, while junior minister Baroness Ashton has to get to grips with English, modern languages and PE.

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