Necessary tinkering;Leading Article;Opinion

14th May 1999 at 01:00
The review of the national curriculum has been - until now - the dog that didn't bark. Open public debate about what has been going on behind the closed doors of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has not been encouraged. Even when regional consultations were held, they were invitation-only affairs with the press excluded. Not for nothing, perhaps, did the QCA move into MI5's old premises last year.

What was eventually published this week was not the QCA's recommendations but the Secretary of State's proposals based on the authority's work. How far David Blunkett's plans differ from those received from his advisers is not apparent - except in history and geography, where leaks have occasioned panicky last-minute changes in what are only proposals for consultation anyway.

Given that the curriculum in question affects every teacher, child and parent in the land and the nature of schooling for the next millennium, a little more openness and sensible debate of the underlying issues would not have gone amiss.

But fresh thinking was no more welcome at this stage than the sort of high-octane media outrage which forced rapid rewrites of the history and geography proposals. The aim has been to make only strictly necessary changes with the minimum disruption for schools - and national curriculum tests.

The result is intended, then, to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary; many teachers will bless the Secretary of State for that. As this week's belated report from the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education underlines, schools should be creating well-rounded, competent human beings. And being literate and numerate is an essential element in that aim, not an alternative.

How it is all to be fitted in, along with citizenship and personal, social and health education, is a crucial issue. Kenneth Baker, the original architect of the national curriculum, later regretted not lengthening the school day. He held back for fear of having to renegotiate the new contracts he had just imposed on teachers.

Since 1988, however, schools spending in real terms has fallen, class sizes have risen and teachers are working longer hours. If Mr Blunkett wants to extend the school day, he will have to fund the extra teaching that will be required.

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