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Free children from national curriculum, says watchdog

18-03-2008

Free children from national curriculum, says watchdog
17/03/2008 :: UK :: Independent

The head of the body responsible for monitoring teaching standards will make an impassioned plea today for ministers to release pupils from the stranglehold of the national curriculum and give teachers the freedom to decide what should be taught.

Keith Bartley, chief executive of the General Teaching Council (GTC), will warn that the current primary school timetable presents pupils with lessons that are "too formal, too early".

A relaxation of the strict regime based on tests, targets and league tables may be the best way to motivate and inspire children, he argues.

His intervention comes just before a debate tomorrow at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) conference in Tor-quay over establishing a Royal Commission to determine why so many children are unhappy at school.

Mr Bartley insists the education system is "at a crossroads" and doubts whether ministers are "prepared to take the risks of innovating" after decades of an education system which has been "prescriptive of the curriculum, assessment and testing and latterly of teaching methods".

He will argue that a less prescriptive curriculum is essential, as pupils say they enjoy learning most "when they are taught by teachers who are passionate about their subjects and bring fun to lessons". These are the findings of a Good Childhood inquiry set up by the Children's Society charity.

Parents told the inquiry they believed "teachers should be allowed flexibility to decide how and what they teach, to inspire them-selves and the children".

Mr Bartley will argue for a move away from the "divisive mechanism by which schools are encouraged to compete against each other within league tables".

"The debate needs to be had about how much of the curriculum needs to be spe-cified for all children and how much can - I would ar-gue, should - be left to teachers to determine locally.

"We are talking about dis-ciplined creativity - as highly accountable professionals you are not going to experiment with the life chan-ces of young people on the basis of hunches."

Mr Bartley makes his comments to a conference organised by the GTC to discuss pressures on children. It comes amid evidence from the Cambridge-based Primary Review, the biggest inquiry into primary education for 40 years, that shows pupils are put off by the testing system because teachers spend time teaching to tests.

The ATL will also debate a motion warning that suicide rates among children are rising and pinning the blame on the pressure of too much testing.

The Government has set up a review of the primary school curriculum, being carried out by Sir Jim Rose, former head of inspections at Ofsted. Its remit is to introduce recommendations for a new primary curriculum to be brought in by 2011.

The GTC was set up by the Government to carry out a similar role to the General Medical Council, to put teaching on a more professional footing.

 

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