Trimmed but not transformed

11th February 2000 at 00:00
Martin Tibbetts of NATE feels bold moves are missing from the revision of English.

As one of several members of the National Association for the Teaching of English who were involved in the consultation process before the "new revision" was published, I feel some disappointment about the resulting English curriculum.

I was involved in the Primary Planning group as well as the English group and couldn't help but notice the different outlook of the two camps. The Primary group was full of optimism and looking at what might be possible, whereas the English group's approach was cautious to the point of nervousness. The rewrite could not be burdened with additional words. This difference in mood is reflected in the resulting English document.

On the positive side, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has tried, quite cleverly, to recapture some of the territory lost to the literacy hour. Speaking and listening has received a long-overdue boost, and drama has been grudgingly welcomed back. There is also a less obsessive view of the place of Standard English. But key stage 1 and 2 teachers, wondering how extended reading and writing are to be addressed within the national literacy strategy, will find no practical answers here.

Media education and ICT have not fared as well in the new Order as we had hoped. The opportunity to transform the English curriculum into something that addresses the new millennium has not been fully grasped by the authors. Media and ICT are such powerful players in the modern world thatit seems remarkable that we are not allowing students greater access to the skills they need to be critical users of new technologies and the media. NATE's New Technologies Committee intends to provide, by Easter 2000, exemplar materials to support the limited references to the potential of ICT in English.

NATE has always struggled with a limited range of prescribed lists of writers and the issue has not gone away. Teachers can be trusted to find challenging texts that move learning boundaries forward and inspire young people.

QCA had a difficult brief. The document had to look and feel slimmer and there was always the problem of reconciliation with ministers' personal enthusiasms, political beliefs and former school experiences. The hope was that greater use would be made of the printer's gutter. I note with sadness that many of the examples and ideas that were in the margin of the final draft have been deleted.

We had hoped we could restock the garden and create something exciting that would engage our students and equip them for life beyond 2000. The new curriculum is an improvement but it lacks that act of bravery we hoped and prayed for. It remains a cautious and retrospective model. A few annual bedding plants have been added, but the whole exercise has been one of "light pruning" in the autumn.

Martin K Tibbetts is chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English, 50 Broadfield Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S8 OXJ. Tel: 0114 255 5419. E-mail:

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