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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
National curriculum 'must be cut'
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter at the ATL conference

Pupils at a Lincoln school
Pupils should learn broad skills, says the ATL
The national curriculum should be fundamentally reformed with more focus on skills rather than specific subjects, a teachers' union has said.

Tests for under-16s in England should also go, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers argues.

It wants ministers to give children "entitlements" to broad skills, such as creativity and physical co-ordination, rather than specific knowledge.

The Department for Education said tests provided objective benchmarks.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said the current system was "not fit for purpose".

'New world'

Speaking at the union's annual conference in Gateshead, she said "skills" were needed, rather than knowledge on its own. Subjects could be used to "illustrate" them.

Dr Bousted said: "It's important to understand the world we are moving towards, where what people need to know changes very often."

Under the ATL proposal, schools or councils would be able to set their own curriculum content and to replace "artificially divided" subjects.

For example, they would decide what is studied in history, allowing more crossover with other areas such as geography.

Asked whether this meant children would be able to go from the age of five to 16 without studying any British history, Dr Bousted replied that it was "extremely unlikely" but "not impossible".

The ATL's proposals say the national curriculum should be replaced with a "framework of entitlements" ensuring:

  • Physical skills of co-ordination, control, manipulation and movement
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Information management
  • Learning and thinking skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Citizenship

Dr Bousted said there could be some role for government, such as ensuring all pupils learnt some British history or Shakespeare, but further debate was needed.

She said: "We want a curriculum that's more skills-based.

Setting goals and targets is what every person, every team, every organisation does that wants to succeed
"To have this skills-based curriculum, we can't have a curriculum that's carved up into subjects but one that's more culturally and more thematically based.

"We can't have a curriculum that's put down by bureaucrats in Whitehall."

The national curriculum was not engaging pupils, she said, adding: "Even if the kids don't physically truant, they are absenting themselves mentally."

This contributed to England's having the 24th lowest rate of staying on in education after the age of 16 in Europe.

The Swedish national curriculum, for all subjects, was just 30 pages long, Dr Bousted said.

'Objective benchmark

ATL delegates voted to back the proposals on Tuesday.

The Department for Education said tests helped provide an independent, objective benchmark of performance.

A spokesman said: "Setting goals and targets is what every person, every team, every organisation does that wants to succeed. And we want schools to succeed.

"We are driving forward with 14 to 19 reforms, with the first high quality diplomas coming on stream in 2008 to engage young people in learning, ensuring that by 2015 nine out of 10 will choose to stay on in post-16 education or training."

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