School curriculum opened up

Reforms to make the school curriculum for 11 to 14-year-olds more flexible and better tailored to pupils’ needs have been published by the exams watchdog today.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) proposals would keep the same core 12 subjects but offer teachers more choice in how to teach them, for example by scrapping traditional timetabling and doing more group work.

There will also be more flexibility in the subjects pupils can study – English teachers will still teach Dickens and Shakespeare, but also Benjamin Zephaniah and Philip Pullman, and history will include Britain’s role in the slave trade as well as the world wars.

Education secretary Alan Johnson said: “The curriculum should evolve to meet a rapidly changing world, and enable teachers to teach in a way that will continue to interest and enthuse their pupils.

“These proposals move us away from a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum to one that offers more flexibility to tailor teaching to pupils’ needs and aspirations. More flexibility for teachers, more interesting for pupils.”

However, the government has been criticised by unions for advocating this new flexible curriculum but at the same time calling for ever more compulsory subjects.

For example, Mr Johnson wants a greater emphasis on teaching about national identity, beyond existing citizenship classes, and also wants schools to take on teaching pupils about basic life skills.

These include how to cook healthy food and how to exercise properly in PE, and personal, social and health education (PSHE) will be expanded to include learning about personal finance, mortgages, interest rates and balancing credit cards.

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), welcomed moves to cut down the “desperately overloaded” secondary school curriculum.

But he warned: “Only one thing matters. Does the curriculum help maintain youngsters’ enthusiasm for learning?

“Cooking, Shakespeare and Mandarin are all important but at the moment they look like ministers’ bright ideas rather than part of a coherent curriculum that will enthuse teachers and youngsters alike.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the QCA had the right approach to a national curriculum, by providing a smaller framework and a menu from schools could choose what suits their style.

But he warned: “There is a danger that future ministers will fill the newly created space with their own priorities and the curriculum will become as crowded and inflexible as it ever was. Going forward, ministers must resist the temptation to add more statutory topics, trusting schools to teach the curriculum appropriate for pupils in their area.”