Sputnik effect

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
In reviewing Phil Revell's book, The Professionals: better teachers, better schools (TES, April 8), Kate Myers refers to Jim Callaghan's 1976 Ruskin speech as the "first time a politician had presumed to comment on what was taught in schools".

It was an important landmark, but the pathway to the national curriculum had begun many years before. The Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik in 1957 worried western ministers of education in case it was the result of a superior education system.

In 1960 the then minister, Sir David Eccles, told the House of Commons that the Crowther report on sixth forms was a temptation to get into the secret garden of the curriculum.

By 1962, the government had set up the Curriculum Study Group headed by a civil servant and an HMI and this was paralleled by substantial projects by the Nuffield Foundation on the teaching of science.

It was opposed by the teachers' unions and the local education authorities and in 1964 was replaced by the Schools Council.

That was brought to an end in 1984 by Sir Keith Joseph because the council was regarded as having too little influence - not least, in my view, because it had no adequate resources for turning its written reports into active training and, until near its end, failed to take a view on the whole curriculum. By then, the introduction of a national curriculum was only a matter of time.

Is there inevitably a 30-year cycle in the education system? Will it take another 15 years before school league tables disappear?

Norman Thomas 200 St Michael's Street St Albans Hertfordshire

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