Primary curriculum is 'eyewash' without new targets, says guru

6th November 2009 at 00:00
Attainment goals essential, argues former QCA man Mick Waters

The new primary curriculum is in danger of becoming "eyewash" because no new targets are being set to meet its controversial new "areas of learning", according to the man who until a few months ago would have headed its implementation.

That is the "big flaw" in the changes proposed for 2011, Mick Waters warns in an article for this week's TES.

The revisions suggested by Sir Jim Rose arrange the primary curriculum into six "areas of learning", such as "English, communication and languages", and were criticised by commentators who felt they had jettisoned traditional subjects.

Mr Waters, who finished a stint as the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's (QCA) head of curriculum in April, says the changes "hold the promise of helping children to understand the way the world has been shaped". But he is concerned attainment targets have not been changed to match them.

"Does this mean that the new programmes are expected to attain the same things as before?" he writes. "What would be the point of that? Are we not intent on raising standards for our young people? Without new attainment targets setting clear goals for the new curriculum, the whole thing is in danger of being eyewash.

"Why are there no new targets? Is it because the whole assessment edifice is seen as too important to change? Are we protecting the data at the expense of our children's learning?"

Until now, Mr Waters, who has become an education professor at Wolverhampton University, had kept his counsel on the curriculum, and told The TES earlier this year that he had "no big reservations" about it.

His words today will have a strong impact in schools because of the reputation he gained at the QCA as a teachers' champion.

He uses his article to encourage teachers to trust themselves to "design real learning", using texts, maps, artefacts, people and places for the revised curriculum, and to not be tempted into spending money on new textbooks and IT programmes.

Mr Waters also poses the question of whether staff who remember nothing but the national curriculum will be able to adjust and make the new curriculum their own.

As The TES revealed in July, John Crookes, of successor organisation Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, has admitted that the new flexibilities risk widening the achievement gap between the lowest- and highest-performing schools.

But Mr Waters says evidence from pilots is that teachers revel in the changes. A bigger worry was that older staff could see the new curriculum as a "throwback" to pre-national curriculum days.

A DCSF spokesman said: "Teachers teach a wide variety of subjects across the curriculum and not just what is going to be tested.

"The new curriculum will give teachers greater flexibility to teach in the way they feel best suits the needs of their pupils and we know there is a great enthusiasm in schools for the proposed reforms."

Comment, page 37.

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