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Timetable cuts for basics

New schools minister puts the focus on the three Rs in secondary schools

SECONDARIES WERE given the go-ahead this week to drastically prune their timetables to provide extra lessons for pupils struggling in English and maths.

Ed Balls, the new schools secretary in England, said the changes would mean a quarter of the school day is freed up for a "relentless focus on the basics".

The revisions are the final stamp on proposals first put forward six months ago by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and will take effect from September next year. Lessons on economic well-being and financial capability, as well as a focus on climate change and sustainable development in geography, have also been proposed.

But opposition was mounting to the move from subject specialist associations following the announcement, with many claiming it would have an adverse effect in their areas this week.

The QCA's review had the overall aim of allowing schools more freedom to tailor the curriculum to their pupils' needs.

The department for children, schools and families said that the outcome of the review helped remove an overlap in the subjects, ensuring all pupils mastered the three Rs. The move, it claimed, would be welcomed by employers constantly complaining about a lack of basic skills by school-leavers.

But Richard Green, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association, said: "We have always argued that if you need to develop skills in maths and English, you should do so in a realistic context.

"Design and technology reinforces maths and some pupils will learn better through more practical activities."

Heather Scott, chair of the Historical Association's secondary committee, said: "My worry would be that the Government is giving the green light to schools to top-slice the amount of history teaching that many pupils receive."

And Doug French, former president of the Mathematical Association, said he would question giving struggling pupils extra time.

He said the current amount of timetabled maths, between 10 and 12 per cent of the school week, was probably adequate for all pupils.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the curriculum's new flexibility.

But he said that extra lessons in English and maths would inevitably lead to cutbacks in other subject areas for some pupils.

The proportion of time spent on English and maths at key stage 2 rose from 42 to 49 per cent between 1997 and 2004 and has not fallen since.

If schools take full advantage of their extra freedoms to spend a further quarter of the week offering catch-up lessons in these subjects, some pupils could be looking at spending half their time on them.

However, it is still not clear whether the Government believes the 25 per cent extra time set to be devoted to English and maths teaching should be on top of existing allocations for these subjects.

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