Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 17:01 UK

History to stay in new curriculum

By Alison Smith
BBC News education reporter, at the ATL conference

Queen Victoria
The Victorians stay, the government promises

History will remain a "central part" of England's primary school curriculum, Children's Secretary Ed Balls has said.

The idea children would learn to use Twitter and social networking sites at the expense of the Victorians and the Tudors was "just complete nonsense".

At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference, he apologised again for the post-16 funding disaster.

He said the Learning and Skills Council had sent out letters "based on budgets that weren't there".

Every college affected would be given an update by the end of April, and he did not want any 16-year-old being turned away from college in September, he said.

The government was "working very hard" to make sure budgets would be in place by then, he added.


Mr Balls also reinforced his commitment to finding a suitable replacement for the Key Stage 2 tests taken by those aged 10 and 11 at the end of primary school and said he was "looking at making this system better".

"I've made it clear that I've no intention of getting rid of assessment altogether," he said.

A survey of over 3,000 people for the Department for Children, Schools and Families suggests three quarters think information on primary schools' performance should be made public.

Of just under 500 who had children of that age, 78% thought the national curriculum test or "Sats" results were an accurate reflection of their child's performance.

The problem was not the tests per se, Mr Balls said, but the system of school accountability and the way results were being used.

He said the new report cards, which will give schools a single grade based on their achievements and progress, were vital because schools would no longer be measured on one test taken on one day.

The potential replacement for the current tests, called single level tests, will involve primary school children being tested during two possible times each year.

Some teachers have expressed concern at this, fearing that primary school will become about teaching to these tests.

Moral purpose

Much of Mr Balls' speech to the hundreds of ATL delegates was about his passion for every child, and he spoke enthusiastically of the work to be done to break the link between poverty and attainment.

He returned several times to the theme of a "moral purpose". This was why he did the job, he said.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted praised his commitment, saying he had "a passion for those children who had previously been left behind".

"This government has gone beyond pious handwringing," Dr Bousted said.

But she said her union did not believe that single level tests, the potential replacement, were the way forward.

Mr Balls said two main aims underpinned his policies:

  • To raise standards for all
  • To close the gap in attainment

Faster progress had been made by schools in the most deprived areas, he said, but "breaking the link between poverty and attainment was everyone's business".


On the history content of the primary school curriculum, Mr Balls said: "It is important for me to set the record straight."

There would be no either/or choice between learning history and learning information technology, he said.

"But it's also absurd that children are stuck in a dark age of technology when they learn history", he said.

The sooner children learnt computer skills, the better, he added.

Children will be taught the broad chronology of major events in Britain and the wider world - from ancient civilisations through the Romans, the War of the Roses, the industrial revolution and the world wars to the modern day.

Government adviser Sir Jim Rose is currently finalising his recommendations for six broad areas of learning in the primary school curriculum in England.

He will recommend that one of the six new areas of learning will be "historical, geographical and social understanding", Ed Balls said.

MPs call for simpler curriculum
02 Apr 09 |  Education
Pupils 'should study Twitter'
25 Mar 09 |  Education
Teachers schooled on curriculum
02 Apr 09 |  Scotland
Primary school subjects overhaul
08 Dec 08 |  Education
Primary education 'too narrow'
20 Feb 09 |  Education


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