The national curriculum is a sinister attempt to control hearts and minds

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
It seems that primary schools can do nothing right for Chris Woodhead and his team of Government "hit-men". The article "Basics bring brickbats for primaries" pointed out many of the problems which the inspectorate has pounced upon to explain a perceived slide in standards in our schools - it is a pity that it skims over the truth.

What is surprising about the idea that primary teachers have not got the specialist training in all the subject areas - is this their fault? The national curriculum was imposed on the profession with indecent haste. In primary its champions did not consider either professional practice or national expertise, and it was based on a model imported from the United States and Australia.

The model divided subjects into levels and brought with it an over burdening assessment system which created a hierarchy of knowledge. Emphasis switched from a liberal arts curriculum to one which placed maths and science at the centre of learning, a change at odds with organisational patterns which had become commonplace in our schools. There were perfectly good reasons for this change since as a nation we sought to compete in a technologically developing world.

But the Government reduced funding in schools using the blunt instrument of the Standard Spending Assessment. This led to an inability to resource that curriculum properly either with hardware (information technology, books, maths and science equipment) or with much-needed in-service training.

Many primary teachers (especially in one or two-teacher schools) faced a Copernican revolution. Many who were in their middle career years had been trained at a time when the curriculum was the free domain of the professional teacher - many only experts in one or two subjects. This also came when class sizes increased, and it is simply not conducive to good teaching and learning when children are sat on top of each other.

Standards have declined despite the national curriculum, but it is not the fault of the classroom teacher who constantly battles with the under-privileged, the poorly parented, the neglected and under-valued children of our society - largely the working classes -dumped in under-funded, dilapidated and inadequate buildings. I cannot help but think that what is at the heart of the national curriculum is not the access to learning, standards and value for money that the profession is constantly lectured on, but a sinister attempt to control the hearts and minds of a future generation, to enable them to know their place and to deny them the opportunity to question that which is morally and intellectually wrong.

THOMAS RATCLIFFE Primary school governor Bloxham Banbury Oxfordshire

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