MPs: give lessons back to the teachers

3rd April 2009 at 01:00
Select committee wants limits on national curriculum which, it says, has de-skilled staff, plus an end to ministerial meddling

Teachers will need extra training so they can design their own curricula to replace the national one that has de-skilled the profession and turned schools into government-operated franchises, an influential group of MPs said this week.

Members of the Commons' schools select committee published two damning reports that called for the scrapping of the national curriculum as it stands and an end to ministerial meddling in what schools teach.

The main report, by Labour and Liberal Democrat members, called for all schools to be given the same freedom as academies over what to teach and how long to make the school day. The national curriculum should be left as a rump covering the core subjects of English, maths, science and ICT, they said.

Conservative MPs on the committee went even further. Their report said all schools should have the freedom to opt out completely.

The whole committee agreed the national curriculum had become over-prescriptive and that trust in teachers needed to be restored.

Teacher training was described as "particularly inadequate" at developing their understanding of curriculum design, according to the main report, which recommended much greater emphasis on this.

Barry Sheerman, Labour chair of the committee, told The TES he believed teachers had the capacity to make their own decisions about what pupils should learn.

"Now is the time to act," he said. "We have one of the best generations of teachers. This is an opportunity to train them better and trust them to deliver in their own way."

The main report called for the amount of teaching time taken up by the national curriculum to be capped at less than 50 per cent.

It said the National Strategies should be "discontinued in their current form", warning that Ofsted inspections encouraged schools to stick rigidly to guidance on how to deliver the curriculum even though it was non-statutory.

"At times, schooling has appeared more of a franchise operation, dependent on a recipe handed down by government, rather than the exercise of professional expertise by teachers," the report said.

It also criticised Sir Jim Rose's interim primary curriculum review, rejecting his call for all children to begin school at four. It noted the "disquiet" at the strong steer given to him by the Government and described the programmes of study he proposed as "unnecessarily complex".

The select committee main report also warned that the introduction of single-level national tests linked to targets could further narrow the curriculum for pupils.

The independence of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency should also be guaranteed with a requirement to report to Parliament, they said.

There should be less emphasis on monitoring schools from the centre, and all parts of the curriculum should be designed from the pupil's perspective, with a copy provided for every parent.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokeswoman said ministers were publicly accountable and should be able to say what was taught in schools.

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