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Teachers propose scrapping of national curriculum

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Rebecca Smithers

Teachers will today back radical new proposals to abolish the national curriculum and end all national testing for the under-16s.

Delegates attending the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference in Gateshead will debate controversial plans to rip up the hundreds of ring binders that contain detailed subject-by-subject specifications - originally introduced by the Conservatives in 1988 - and replace them with a "shortlist" of skills.

The plans for the curriculum in England and Wales are set out in a newly-published position statement released by ATL today, called Subject to change - new thinking on the curriculum. The ATL argues the current detailed requirements for each subject should be replaced by a shortlist of the skills needed by all young people. The curriculum itself should be designed and negotiated locally, within a nationally agreed framework. Teachers would be free to decide what was taught, the ATL says, as long as the full range of skills are developed and assessed. The association recognises that there should continue to be an exam at 16-plus and 18-plus to guide learners, employers and those involved in further education.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the ATL, said a centrally set one-size-fits-all curriculum could not provide the skills-based curriculum young people needed.

"Pupils and teachers alike are turned off by the current system of cramming pupils with useless facts for a never-ending round of tests. We know that the education systems which do best are those which test and select the least number at the latest age.

"We need to give teachers the freedom to inspire youngsters so they want to learn, not just pass tests. We also need pupils to have the space to develop as rounded people, and that includes physically, emotionally, creatively, socially and ethically."

Martin Johnson, the ATL's head of education, said an existing, albeit limited model, was the Opening Minds project being trialled by the Royal Society of Arts in a small number of schools. It involves teaching youngsters across a range of specified "competences" rather than specific subjects.

But Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, said yesterday of the ATL's proposals: "This is disturbing nonsense. The point about testing is that we discovered quite shocking things about how few of our children could handle words and numbers properly at the age of 11. Without that testing we would have assumed that everything was ok."

Richard Wilson, of the Institute of Directors, said: "Even if employers do want skills over knowledge - and they don't - employers aren't the only ones who determine education in this country. Of course employers want people with skills, but they also want people who know about subjects as well. They would want employees to have a knowledge of history and a grasp of geography because some of the skills they are using are embedded in those subjects."

— Rebecca Smithers
The Guardian


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