Education notes: FRFI 171 Feb / Mar 2003

Labour Education Minister Charles Clarke’s announcement that by 2005-2006 the present form of the National Curriculum will be scrapped represents a fundamental change to the state education system. Schools will no longer have a statutory obligation to provide teaching in more than three subjects after the age of 14 (science, maths and English), plus sex education and religion modules.

The National Curriculum (NC) for England and Wales was imposed with the Thatcher/ Baker Education Act of 1992. Teachers and educationalists naively welcomed the Act, believing that for all pupils to have access to the same range of subjects at the same standard was both democratic and fair. In reality, however, schools were never given the resources to carry out the Act’s legal obligations.

Initially there were ten subjects in the NC and the result was a huge and unwieldy mass. The Tories emergency fixer, Ron Dearing, slimmed the curriculum to six ‘core’ subjects and four options. This was still a burden to most schools because of under-funding, teacher turnover and class size. Very quickly, testing, standards and targets were bolted to the syllabus. The curriculum has been reduced to bullet points, set answers and exam passing. Today infant class teachers must tick 117 competencies for each five-year old. What happens with such information is not clear.

Mrs Thatcher wins in the end
Margaret Thatcher always wanted only three compulsory subjects in the national curriculum – maths, English and science – and now she gets her way with Labour’s plans for ‘the biggest shake-up in schooling for 50 years’. State schools will not offer traditional academic subjects likes foreign languages, history and geography to pupils who do not do well enough in exams. Schooling will become a purely functional basic skills agency for the majority of the working class. Bingo Mrs Thatcher!

A butcher or a banker

The ruling class say there must be ‘parity of esteem’ for vocational and academic studies. Yet strangely there are no plumbers nor hairdressers on the benches of the House of Commons. Those employed in the ‘caring professions’ and catering are among the lowest-paid workers in Britain. In reality, work-related learning schemes cheapen the cost of schooling and are intended to deal with the 25% of pupils who leave secondary school with no qualifications. Research evidence shows that 66% of the differences in results at age 16 in GCSEs are due to family income not inherent ability. Britain is 24th out of the 29 leading industrialised nations for post-16 education.
Susan Davidson

FRFI 171 February / March 2003


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