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`Thank God we're within the law again'

Elaine Williams details how four schools are coping with the changes ushered in by the Dearing review.

The way our timetable works, I guess we've now got about 3 12 hours free every week." Glenn Cannon, the headteacher of Whiteoak Junior School in Swanley, Kent, would like to be able to regain the reputation the school had for team games and sport.

He said: "Historically, sport and games had a high priority in this school. A few years ago 15-20 per cent of our time was spent on PE, games, swimming, dance and drama. When the curriculum was introduced, we lost almost all of our dance and drama and more than half of our games time."

Mr Cannon felt the 20 per cent of discretionary time earmarked by Dearing meant that the school could now make regular pool bookings and reintroduce some folk and expressive dancing. Working in an urban school in an impoverished area on the edge of Greater London, with up to 75 per cent of its 180 children on a special needs audit, Mr Cannon believed that pupils would benefit from the social development that increased physical education and team sport would afford.

He said: "It's easy to dismiss PE and games as just playing, but many of our children have learning difficulties and are from disadvantaged backgrounds and the social benefits would spin-off into the academic work."

Due to the demands of the national curriculum and the fact that the school concentrated on basic language and Reading Recovery, Mr Cannon said that many things had been squeezed.

David Brook, headteacher of King Charles Primary School, Bentley, in Walsall, West Midlands, agrees that increased discretionary time has made life easier. The school was able to have days for special events such as a recent Environment Day. "We can consider having school shows again," he said. The timetable now looked "suspiciously like it was before the national curriculum was introduced".

The school is well-known for its innovative reading initiative, Books and Beyond, which rewards children and parents for home reading and has also stimulated many activities in school. He believed there would be more time for this or for extended work in history or geography. Although much of this was already going on, the school would be vindicated in its choices. His teachers, he said, could breathe a big sigh of relief and say: "Thank God we're within the law again."

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