The Week

27th March 2009 at 00:00

A leaked draft of the new primary curriculum was summed up by the press as "Twitter and Wikipedia - in; Second World War and Victorians - out". The Guardian stressed the increased focus in Sir Jim Rose's plan on technology and the stripped-down specifications for history and geography. The tabloids which copied the story went further, suggesting WWII would be banned while pupils would be forced to rely on Wikipedia. The proposals do not require compulsory study of WWII (a relief for pupils, perhaps, who have to study it all again at secondary). But it would be near-impossible for primary schools not to touch on it, as they will have to give a chronological overview of major events in British history. The plans suggests pupils should develop an understanding of social and collaborative forms of communication, which it defines in a footnote as including "emails, messaging, wikis and twitters". But making pupils "critical readers" of such sites does not suggest they will have blind faith in them - the opposite, in fact.

Ofsted put a grammar school in special measures for the first time, outraging supporters of academic selection who claimed it was the victim of a politically correct plot. The Daily Mail summed up the inspection report on Stretford Grammar in Manchester with the headline: "Grammar school with 96 per cent GCSE pass rate branded a failure by Ofsted. Why? Its race policy is out of date". Interesting theory - except the school was branded inadequate by inspectors on 13 counts, including its curriculum, its pupils' progress, its leadership and its ability to improve. Its race policy was mentioned in criticism of the school's governors, though they were also branded inadequate for being uninformed and failing to hold senior managers to account. Healthy scepticism is always required around Ofsted reports. But claiming a race policy is to blame for a school's woes seems a cynical attempt to stir up trouble.

The Tories continued their habit of announcing radical initiatives that schools have already implemented. Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, suggested schools should extend their opening hours to offer extra classes and activities. Which, erm, more than 15,000 do now as part of the extended schools programme. Mr Gove also promised to give academies the freedom to run longer school days. Which they already can, and do - the Walsall Academy in West Midlands, for example, which pays staff 10 per cent more so pupils can get an extra 10 hours of classes a week.

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