Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 13:35 UK

Computers key in primary review

girl at computer
Sir Jim Rose is expected to recommend greater use of computers

A major review of England's primary school curriculum says computer technology should be at its heart along with English, maths and wellbeing.

Former chief inspector of schools Sir Jim Rose recommends a new focus on speaking and listening skills.

And he says children should be able to start school in the September after their fourth birthday, if parents wish.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls says he accepts Sir Jim's recommendations, subject to a consultation.

Mr Balls says the government will fund children to begin school in September after their fourth birthday from 2011, or pay for a nursery place up to 25 hours a week.

About two thirds of local authorities already have a September start date, but some defer younger children's starts until January of the following year.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Sir Jim's report stresses the importance of children's personal development, saying that wellbeing is underpinned by the acquisition of a range of skills.

The government recently said that personal, social and health education would be compulsory from age five.

'Computer-savvy'

Sir Jim said children today were computer literate from a young age and should be taught to use podcasts and computer presentations in primary school.

He recommends the internet become embedded in the curriculum, with pupils using websites like Google Earth and Wikipedia.

Primary teachers should be given extra training to stay ahead of computer-savvy pupils.

The government's technology agency, Becta, is believed to have warned Sir Jim that if information communications technology (ICT) was not built into the curriculum, there was a risk that a "digital underclass" would emerge.

The primary curriculum has become too "fat", Sir Jim says.

"We need to slim it down and give teachers more flexibility and opportunity to think creatively," Sir Jim told Radio 4's Today programme."

Children's reading and writing depended on what they could say.

"If children can't say it, they can't write it. The interdependency is very clear," he said.

SUGGESTED AREAS OF LEARNING
Understanding English, communication and languages
Mathematical understanding
Scientific and technological understanding
Human, social and environmental understanding
Understanding physical health and well-being
Understanding the arts and design

In his interim report he suggested there should be six broader "areas of learning", rather than up to 14 individual subjects such as history, geography and science.

But he stresses arts subjects, as well as history and geography, will still be given weight.

Previous reports that individual subjects would be undermined were inaccurate, he said.

Many subjects do not need to be taught discretely, and serve more than one purpose.

Drama, his report says, "is a powerful arts subject which also enhances children's language development through role play".

But it can also enrich personal development by exploring concepts such as empathy, as well as historical and religious studies.

'Shackles'

Teaching unions have welcomed Sir Jim's focus on allowing teachers flexibility, but say the regime of testing is undermining attempts to improve the curriculum.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says Sir Jim "has not managed to break free from the shackles of the government's criteria for his review".

"It is the high stakes requirements of testing that will continue to determine primary schools' priorities - not the permission to innovate that the review envisages."

The final Rose review is being published as a report by an educational think tank concludes government strategies to improve literacy and numeracy in primary schools have failed.

The Policy Exchange said standards were rising faster before ministers introduced national strategies.

The government introduced its first primary literacy strategy in 1998 and a primary numeracy strategy in 1999, at a cost of £2bn, the report found.

It said most of the improvements in standards came after national curriculum tests (known as Sats) were introduced in 1995 - before the Labour government launched its strategies.

Schools should be allowed to choose their own literacy and numeracy programmes, it says.

But Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: "Last year 120,000 more pupils left primary school having mastered the basics compared to 1997 and we've gone up in the latest international league tables.

"Only 53% of children left primary school reaching the expected level in English and maths under the Tories. After a decade of investment and reform under Labour that's now up to almost three-quarters."


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SEE ALSO
Part-time school starts supported
07 Dec 08 |  Education
Primary school subjects overhaul
08 Dec 08 |  Education
Rose denounces impact of testing
20 Oct 08 |  Education
Primary curriculum to be reviewed
09 Dec 07 |  UK Politics
Summer-born to start school later
09 Jan 08 |  Education
What will curriculum review mean?
11 Dec 07 |  Education
Summer-born pupils 'doing worse'
24 Oct 07 |  Education

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