Regime change or muddle?

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
pin may be misleading, but presentation matters. Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, must be ruefully reflecting on that this week. For the profession, never mind the public at large, can be forgiven for wondering what exactly he announced last week as he unveiled his "big ideas" for curriculum and assessment change. What looked like an almost casual attempt to test the waters by trailing plans to end publication of exam tables ended up earning him a bad press (although not in the nation's staffrooms).

This was completely unnecessary since the Executive had already publicly committed itself to doing so in the coalition deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

More importantly, the "league table" issue completely obscured what Mr Peacock actually did announce - major proposals for reforming 3-14 assessment and the 3-18 curriculum. Even here, he was hit by suggestions that 5-14 testing was to be no more - when, in fact, he announced the opposite. Indeed, it is arguable that we will end up with more assessment as the coverage of subjects and stages is extended.

In one sense, assessment regime change is relatively simple once the educational principles and online technicalities have been sorted. The curriculum plans could well be much more controversial - if they live up to billing. Mr Peacock has already come close to declaring his disenchantment with subject-based teaching, does not want the present system merely "refreshed" and demands an end to the overcrowded curriculum.

Unfortunately he went on to demonstrate exactly the deficiencies he was exposing by urging a place in the curriculum for the Executive's commitments on enterprise education, environment education, citizenship education and parenting skills. The minister's curriculum review group will have to be very robust and radical if it is to withstand these pressures and come up with something which is more than a rehash of the Munn report's "modes of knowledge" of almost 30 years ago.

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