'They took a sledgehammer to crack the nut of a minority of underperforming staff'

25th July 2008 at 01:00

Associations for the core subjects of English, maths and science feared that "testing could dominate . and lead to teaching to the test".

Experts were warning there was no evidence for the Government's claim that national tests were a proven and essential way to raise achievement.

Meanwhile, childcare groups were worried about the advent of a national curriculum that would force four-year-olds into formal education too early.

All these stories could have appeared in The TES this year.

But instead they featured in the newspaper in 1987 when discussion about the launch of the national curriculum was at its height.

Margaret Thatcher's government received more than 5,000 responses in consultations on its plans.

In a leader column in November 1987, The TES said: "The national curriculum is not such a bad idea. There does need to be a clearer framework.

"But it needs to be a core curriculum, not the whole apple."

Teachers' views were similarly mixed. Writing in this autumn's edition of the education journal Forum, Maggie McClean, a primary head, writes: "A national curriculum, in some form, was a necessity to ensure fairness and equality. Much has been good, but many basic building blocks (of teaching) got lost."

Ros Bayley, a teacher for 20 years before 1988 and a teacher-educator for 20 years after it, writes in the same edition of her "unbridled enthusiasm" for teaching before Lord Baker's Act. She realised after visiting other schools, that not all pupils were receiving such inspiring teaching. There was little accountability for those who were being let down.

However, this related to only a minority. The national curriculum, backed by central targets and tables, had been a "sledgehammer" to crack the nut of a minority of underperforming staff, she said.

"Centrally controlled attempts to improve the practice of an uninspired and unmotivated minority have left many excellent teachers in a stranglehold of fear," she added.

"In such a situation, qualities like creativity, courage and resilience are at a premium. Professional confidence and a sense of rebellion can also come in handy.

"Praise be that many teachers have these qualities in abundance."

- `Forum', Volume 50, edition 3 will be available from: www.wwwords.co.ukforum.

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