New national curriculum could reach into the home
A reformed national curriculum could reach beyond the school gates and help pupils to learn at home, the man leading the Government's review has revealed.
Tim Oates (pictured) has told The TES that greater family support for pupils' learning and wider reading outside school could even be "the next stage of our development as a nation".
The idea has had a mixed reception, with one heads' leader describing it as "positive", while a parents' group said it was "very irritated" by the prospect of "pointless change".
Mr Oates, head of the expert panel reviewing the curriculum, said international evidence shows the link between home and schooling in high-performing education systems is key.
"If we are really going unlock higher standards in this country maybe we can use the national curriculum to do something about that," he said.
"There is certainly no legal power for the secretary of state to set levels of homework, but one can put things in the national curriculum which obviously require a volume of work which couldn't be entirely covered within the hours of school."
Mr Oates said he wanted to encourage a debate on how the new curriculum might contribute to learning at home, a plan he has discussed with ministers.
Concerns are already being raised that it could widen the gap between "haves" and "have-nots" with chaotic home lives. But Mr Oates argued it would do the opposite.
"The national curriculum could be one of the instruments which one uses to encourage wider reading among younger people," he said. "If they are doing it at home it may help us to close the gap between those from well-off and not so well-off backgrounds.
"If we have clarity in the national curriculum, parents from any social background would have a greater chance of understanding what it is that they should be doing at home at any one time which would help children's attainment," he said. "It could be just talking about a topic."
But Margaret Morrissey, from the Parents Out Loud pressure group, said: "The national curriculum is already extremely clear. Every responsible parent already does the things that (Mr Oates) is suggesting and those that don't will never do them in a million years anyway."
Mr Oates cited Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong as high-performing systems where "a lot more" learning takes place outside school to support attainment in schools.
Research has shown a lot of the after-school work in Asian countries was through private tuition, he said. But Mr Oates wants to ensure that changes do not drive more families towards tutors in England.
"We don't want to define a national curriculum which will invoke unreasonable levels of pressure on young people," he said.
National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby said: "Making the national curriculum clearer so that families build on what goes on in school would be positive.
"This will of course mean that families that are more engaged in education will take advantage of it and parents that are less engaged won't. But I don't think that is a reason not to do it."
PATHWAY TO REFORM
Phase one, begun in January, will decide future status of the eight non-core subjects, support needed by schools, and develop programmes of study in English, maths, science and PE.
Autumn 2011: ministers consider recommendations on phase one.
Early 2012: public consultation on draft programmes of study for core subjects in time for teaching from September 2013.
Phase two: programmes for other subjects with ministers by autumn 2012; public consultation early 2013; teaching from September 2014.