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Welsh Orders welcomed

Guarded satisfaction emerged in Wales when the new national curriculum was held up for inspection this week.

The controversy, as ever, centres on the teaching of Welsh, which is required either as a core subject or as a second language in all schools.

Some primary teachers in Wales will have less time freed from the demands of the national curriculum than their colleagues, because of this requirement. In junior classes in Welsh-speaking schools, only 5 to 10 per cent of time will be left to the teachers' discretion, compared with 20 per cent in England, and 15 to 20 per cent in other classes in Wales.

However, at key stage 4, there will be more time for schools to use as they choose - half the timetable as opposed to 60 per cent in England - because there are no requirements for modern foreign language, technology or information technology.

Wales has separate subject Orders from England in history, geography, art, music and Welsh.

When it comes to the teaching of Welsh, it is impossible to please everyone, but by and large there has been little change in the Order, which was welcomed by most of those consulted. The national curriculum is seen as a major instrument in the revival of the Welsh language and culture.

But bilingualism for all means extra work. David Winfield, secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers in Wales, says the needs of Welsh-medium schools have not been fully addressed. There have also been concerns about the demands of Welsh as a second language on teachers who are learning Welsh themselves.

And the importance of Welsh, a tongue spoken by one in five of Wales' 2.7 million inhabitants, does not command universal support. Sheila Naybour, founder of the Parent-Teachers' Association of Wales, asserts that compulsory Welsh poses problems, particularly in schools on the border where the postal address is Wales but pupils are drawn from England as well. "Support for the Welsh culture and language would be stronger if there was less compulsion, " Mrs Naybour affirms - a view strongly contested by others.

In the final version, there are more references to quality literature, more prominence given to the media, and more emphasis on grammar at key stage 2. The Welsh as a Second Language requirements have been further reduced.

Other main changes and differences are: * History: the Order has been trimmed, with fewer study units at key stages 2 and 3, where the unit on the 20th century has been revamped. Respondents' views were mixed on the balance of Welsh, British and world history - an issue which the Curriculum and Assessment Authority expects to review over the next five years.

* Geography: the Order differs from the English version in that Wales is covered in specific place studies, while in England, Britain fits into thematic studies. At key stage 1, there is now only one theme required, reduced from 11 strands. At key stage 2, the requirements have been cut to four themes. At KS 3, there are 10 trimmer themes, to enable a wide range of studies.

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