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Tuesday, January 13, 1998 Published at 23:17 GMT


English schools told to go back to basics
image: [ The Government wants teachers to drum into young children the basics of reading, writing and maths ]
The Government wants teachers to drum into young children the basics of reading, writing and maths

English primary school teachers have been told to go back to basics and make room on the timetable for the "three Rs" - reading, writing and arithmetic.

Blunkett: "Reading, writing and numeracy have to be at the very core" (4'19'')
The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, told head teachers to teach less history, geography, arts and physical education, to make way for basic literacy and numeracy lessons.

He is allowing the National Curriculum to be diluted from September to allow schools to focus more on reading, writing and arithmetic.

[ image: David Blunkett: changing the focus of primary education]
David Blunkett: changing the focus of primary education
The extra elbow room in the school day is intended to ensure that schools hit the ambitious targets in the three-Rs on which the Government has pinned its credibility.

Each school is to be expected to spend an hour a day on both literacy and numeracy, and to spend most of that time using traditional methods of teaching.

Mr Blunkett told a London news conference: "For too long, too many primary school teachers have been prevented from giving literacy and numeracy the attention they deserve because the National Curriculum has lacked the very clear focus on the basics which is crucial in primary education.

"As a result, literacy and numeracy have too often been subsumed into other subjects. It is no surprise that so many pupils leave primary school ill-equipped in the three-Rs."

The previous Government promised it would not touch the National Curriculum before 2000.

Chief Inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead discusses latest directive to the teaching profession
The measures were broadly welcomed by teachers' leaders, who have been complaining for some time that the 10-subject primary school curriculum was over-crowded.

But history teachers said they feared that primary education could become more "narrow" as a result.

Mr Blunkett stressed that no subjects presently included in the National Curriculum were being "dropped".

Schools would still have a statutory duty to provide a "broad and balanced curriculum", he said.

"Children should still have knowledge and understanding of our history and culture and of the world around them," he said.

Estelle Morris describes teachers' views (19")
The Education Minister Estelle Morris, who initiated a consultation on the primary school curriculum shortly after the election said: "The problem at the moment for too many children is that they don't get a broad curriculum because they cannot read or write."

[ image: Estelle Morris : curriculum change will free up teachers]
Estelle Morris : curriculum change will free up teachers
The government expects primary schools to have a literacy hour and a numeracy hour each day, taking up about 40% of the timetable.

Some experts say the emphasis on the three Rs will make for a less rounded education but the Government says schools must get the basic rights first.

Big issue at general election

Labour made education a big issue in last year's general election and is keen to improve literacy and numeracy rates.

The Government has set a target of 80% of 11 year-olds reaching Level 4 in English by the year 2002.

Mr Blunkett says children should be able to do the following by the age of 11:

  • read and write with confidence, fluency and understanding
  • know and understand a range of genres in fiction and poetry, and be familiar with basic literary ideas of setting, character and plot
  • plan, draft, revise and edit their own writing
  • have an interest in words and word meanings and a growing vocabulary
  • have fluent and legible handwriting


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