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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 11:27 GMT
Curriculum for 'changing society'
Languages such as Mandarin and Arabic could be taught
An updated secondary school curriculum, offering skills and languages relevant to modern learners, has been announced.

It will give pupils "social and cultural flexibility" and a "feeling for justice and fairness", says the QCA curriculum watchdog.

The proposed changes for 11 to 14-year-olds in England encourage languages like Mandarin and topics such as global warming and the slave trade.

Meera Syal, comedian and author, is among a new list of approved writers.

"The curriculum should evolve to meet a rapidly changing world, and enable teachers to teach in a way that will continue to interest and enthuse their pupils," said the Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

Classic texts

The proposals for updating the curriculum, put forward by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, will cover the school years between starting secondary and beginning exam courses, such as GCSEs.

Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Blake, Charlotte Brönte, Robert Burns, Geoffrey Chaucer, Kate Chopin, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Thomas Gray, Thomas Hardy, John Keats, John Masefield, Alexander Pope, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare (sonnets), Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift, Alfred Lord Tennyson, HG Wells, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Wordsworth and William Wordsworth

Among the proposed changes for the 12 subject areas is an encouragement for a more diverse range of languages - particularly economically-important languages such as Mandarin and Arabic.

"We need to raise our game in languages in schools if we are to compete in an increasingly globalised economy," said Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson also promised that the "classic canon of literature" would be protected.

William Shakespeare remains as an approved author for this age group - alongside novelists such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

While writers such as Joseph Conrad, Anthony Trollope and WB Yeats no longer appear on the recommended lists - Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and the 19th-Century United States novelist Kate Chopin are now included.

There is also a category of authors from "different cultures and traditions" which includes writers including Maya Angelou, Anita Desai, Benjamin Zephaniah and Meera Syal.

My son has just started learning Mandarin. I don't have a problem with it, I just can't help him if he gets stuck!
Amanda Barrett,

The list of contemporary authors for these younger teenagers includes Alan Bennett, Roger McGough, Michelle Magorian, Michael Morpurgo and Willy Russell.

Among the recommended modern classics are Graham Greene, Seamus Heaney, Wilfred Owen, DH Lawrence and Dylan Thomas.

'Tolerate difference'

In history, the QCA says there will now be a specific requirement to cover the slave trade as part of an expanded study of the British Empire and a greater emphasis on chronology.

As part of the drive towards healthier eating, the proposed curriculum will include an increased emphasis on practical cooking skills and nutrition.

Financial literacy will also be promoted as part of personal, social and health education.

The QCA's curriculum director, Mick Waters, writing for the BBC News website, highlighted the need for the curriculum to promote such citizenship skills as "an ability to tolerate difference" and "the capacity to cope with change".

The proposals, which if accepted would be implemented from 2008, are designed to allow schools more flexibility in teaching the curriculum.

The National Union of Teachers warned that the key issue was not to add further complications to an already overloaded curriculum.

"Only one thing matters. Does the curriculum help maintain youngsters' enthusiasm for learning?

"Cooking, Shakespeare and Mandarin are all important but at the moment they look like ministers' bright ideas rather than part of a coherent curriculum that will enthuse teachers and youngsters alike," said the union's general secretary, Steve Sinnott.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the promise of greater flexibility in how schools delivered the curriculum.

"The overcrowded curriculum for 11 to 14 year olds has been allowed to run for too long. It is high time that it was slimmed down," said Dr Dunford.

"However, there is a danger that future ministers will fill the newly created space with their own priorities and the curriculum will become as crowded and inflexible as it ever was."

The Conservatives' education spokesperson, David Willetts, welcomed the move for more teaching of Mandarin, but warned against short-term changes.

"Curriculum development should be long-term and robust, not driven by ministers' desire for a quick headline, something teachers' unions have recently criticised them for doing," he said.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Sarah Teather, questioned how extra subjects could be taught without sufficient teachers.

"Without talented teachers to lead Mandarin or Arabic classes, a new more diverse curriculum will remain a pipe dream for most schools," she said.

Pupils will be taught modern subjects

Meera Syal joins the set text set
05 Feb 07 |  Education
Plans for Mandarin school lessons
04 Feb 07 |  Education
Anger over cookery classes move
02 Feb 07 |  Education
New curriculum: exciting learning
05 Feb 07 |  Education
How will flexible curriculum work?
05 Feb 07 |  Education

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