MODERN LANGUAGE and design and technology specialists are preparing to do battle over the Government's plans to let teenagers drop their subjects at key stage 4. But headteachers' leaders have welcomed the proposals.
Education Secretary David Blunkett wants to extend the disapplication rules so more 14- to 16-year-olds can opt out.
At present pupils can drop two subjects out of science, modern languages and design and technology at key stage 4 to concentrate on work-related learning. The rules are also relaxed for children with special needs. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority estimates some 8,700 teenagers in around 500 schools take advantage of this arrangement at present.
The Department for Education and Employment is consulting schools on proposals to allow them to respond to pupils' individual talents by dropping a language andor design and technology in order to spend more time on a favourite subject and take A-levels early. Students could therefore concentrate on a second foreign language, arts or sports.
The proposals will also allow pupils who are falling behind their classmates to study fewer subjects and give them time to catch up with the basics.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, thought that most heads would welcome this flexibility to interest children disaffected by the traditional national curriculum.
But, he added: "Others feel strongly about offering a broad and balanced curriculum which is available for everyone."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government had still not gone far enough in letting schools decide what was the appropriate curriculum for individual pupils.
The two subject areas feel especially let down after fighting to keep their place in the core curriculum in the face of fierce lobbying for more choice at key stage 4 during the consultation process.
In May it seemed they had won the day when Mr Blunkett said all subjects currently taught from 14 to 16 would remain mandatory. So the new move is seen as betrayal.
Andy Breckon, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association, said it made people lose confidence in consultation. "We are closer to Europe and live in a technological age; so why are ministers doing this?"
The Chartered Society of Designers was equally scathing. Georgina Follett, who chairs its lifelong learning forum, wants design to become a freestanding subject. Ms Follett accused the Government of ignoring the economic benefits of design "readily recognised by countries like Japan" and "sadly ignored by a new curriculum that is already 20 years out of date".
Brigitte Boyce, president of the Association for Language Learning, was alarmed at the prospect, saying that it would put Britain way behind the rest of Europe in language learning.
Vivien Warren, head of Archway school, an 11-18 mixed comprehensive of 1,000 in Stroud, Gloucestershire, said she would not be looking for large-scale opt-outs, but the school had sent one or two pupils from Years 10 and 11 for work experience or training when it was more appropriate.
She welcomed the opportunity to "unlock the curriculum".