Tiny turnout for Rose debate at Commons

13th February 2009 at 00:00
MPs stay away from primary curriculum review event in droves, and those that do show up lay into consultation process

Just eight MPs turned up on Tuesday for the first debate to be held on the primary curriculum since Sir Jim Rose was appointed to conduct a "root and branch" review over a year ago.

The sparce turnout in Westminster Hall - possibly a consequence of the high-profile interrogation of bank bosses by the Treasury select committee on the same day - attempted to discuss Sir Jim's latest recommendations.

Dr Ian Gibson, the Labour MP and former academic who initiated the debate, refused to be distracted by the tiny numbers present.

Indeed, he was enthusiastic about Sir Jim's recommendations, saying that they had the potential to have more far reaching effects than the "hot air and froth" over bankers' bonuses that was being discussed at the same time elsewhere in the Houses of Parliament - and attracting more attention.

The interim report on the curriculum, published last December, proposes that the curriculum is reorganised into six areas of learning.

It also recommends priority is given to literacy and numeracy and that a new framework for developing personal skills and attitudes is drawn up.

But as well as discussing the interim report itself, those MPs that bothered to show up raised concern about the lack of public debate and the way the consultation process is being handled.

Dr Gibson said: "We don't learn in subject boxes, learning is or should be an inspiring, if slightly messy and confusing business. It makes more sense to apply knowledge and skills across the curriculum in themes and topics ... This is an exciting, flexible, creative primary curriculum."

Afterwards he added that it was important to draw attention to the report.

He said: "I don't want the Rose report to disappear in a bottom drawer, I want to get primary curriculum changed. I want to make sure young people enjoy going to school and there is something they enjoy doing there."

Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister, agreed on the importance of the debate before ripping into the proposals, saying they failed to address the fundamental problem that one in five children left primary school struggling with English.

He also condemned the cross curricular approach as "the old 1950s and 1960s mantras which have failed wherever and whenever they have been tried".

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said he thought what Rose had to offer was relatively modest, especially considering the challenges in the primary sector being considered by Professor Robin Alexander, who is leading the Cambridge Primary Review. Mr Laws added: "I wonder whether we ought to take the consultation seriously or whether this government-commissioned report has been fairly closely prescribed."

Mr Laws also said he agreed with Sir Jim that priority should be given to literacy, numeracy and communication. He also thought the proposal to set up a more stable process for reviewing the curriculum would be very welcome in schools, but also criticised the amount of jargon and "motherhood and apple pie".

The consultation on the interim report ends on February 28, but the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) was told to draw up draft programmes of learning by the end of December 2008, and carry out informal consultation on them straight away, in order to include them in the final report - which will then be consulted on again.

Although Sir Jim's remit specifically excluded looking at assessment at key stage 2, his interim report pointed out that the assessing pupil progress training being carried out by the National Strategies was due to be complete by 2011, just as the reformed curriculum is due to begin.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry, minister for schools, said that there were no plans to abolish externally marked key stage 2 tests, saying it gave parents an objective assessment of their child's progress.

Sir Jim's report: what's in, what's not

- It does call for six areas of learning: understanding English, communication and languages;

mathematical understanding;

scientific and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding;

understanding physical health and wellbeing; understanding the arts and design.

- It does not call for subjects to be shoehorned into a single topic: "The review is certainly not advocating a return to the vagaries of old-style topic and project work."

- It does not call for the end of subject teaching: "Given the excellent examples of both witnessed by the Review, neither discrete subject teaching nor cross-curricular studies must disappear from primary schools"

- The report does recommend that children should start reception in the first September after they turn four, something that has created concern among early years experts.

- It does recommend that schools only teach one or two languages and tries to ensure these are the same ones that pupils will learn in secondary school.

- It does want children to make more progress in ICT. The QCA, working with Becta, the educational technology agency, will consider moving some of the key stage 3 curriculum for ICT into key stage 2.

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