Teachers too busy to fret about changes

7th November 2008 at 00:00

There is some excitement about the primary curriculum review. But possibly not in primary schools. It's not that teachers do not want some slimming down of what they have to teach. They are simply too busy to worry today about what might happen in 2011 when any changes come in.

After all it was only last year that phonics was shaken up, which was a year after the renewal of the literacy and numeracy frameworks. Then there have been drives on healthy food, social and emotional aspects of learning and the duty to promote community cohesion. That is on top of the day job, which for many means replanning their own curriculums.

Will a new national curriculum help? It could do. Less tinkering with content and a bit more focus on the principles would help. Professor Robin Alexander, of Cambridge University, has been leading an independent non-government commissioned review of primary education which has ranged further and wider than Sir Jim Rose can.

One of its findings was that there was no clear picture of what primary education was for. The original two aims of the 1988 national curriculum were replaced by two pages in 1999. Last year they were streamlined by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority which is now urging schools to aim for successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

There is more detail about how these aims can be met through lessons, events and the school environment. But how much more detail on content and pedagogy is needed? The Dutch, for example, set out much more about the philosophy, aims and rationale of education in their curriculum - and a lot less about methods, resources and how to teach.

Like England, the compulsory school starting age is 5 but most children are in school by 4.

The language curriculum expressly states one aim as "deriving pleasure" from reading, calls for lessons to be interesting and exploratory but leaves teachers to find ways to meet the aim.

The Dutch do better than England in the international league table of reading. And Dutch children are also at the top of Unicef's league table of happiness - English children come bottom. Maybe there are lessons to learn here.

Helen Ward, TES primary specialist.

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