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Paul Maynard
Blackpool North
& Cleveleys
 
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Cleveleys and Blackpool North
Why oh why ...

Why oh why ...

Today's proposals from the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority - backed by Education Secretary Alan Johnson - I find deeply depressing. The aim is to make the school timetable more flexible, with more 'new issues' covered.

Today's proposals from the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority - backed by Education Secretary Alan Johnson - I find deeply depressing. The aim is to make the school timetable more flexible, with more 'new issues' covered. Mick Waters, their director, says he wants the new curriculum to promote citizenship skills such as "an ability to tolerate difference" and a "capacity to cope with change". Worthwhile aspirations, certainly, but in focusing on the modish concerns of the day we risk losing sight of what the longer-term purpose of schooling actually is.

Hardly a news story - Jade Goody, the slave trade, global warming, multiculturalism, healthy eating - goes by now without Alan Johnson popping up and saying it should be added to the curriculum as though a curriculum was a set of values that had to be acquired. They are all things worth studying but only in a wider context. It is no use learning only about the slave trade without putting it into its wider historical context of British history - yet history is no longer compulsory. There is nothing wrong with learning Mandarin, but you need basic English grammar to learn any foreign language really.

I don't often agree with the teachers' unions, but I agree with their leader today who said "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".

All this is happening at a time when more basic skills such as letter writing and mental arithmetic have fallen by the wayside. Too many are leaving school functionally illiterate and innumerate. The Government has dropped the compulsory study of foreign languages and history - so it is no wonder children are insufficiently aware of the nation's history. Most worryingly, our science base is withering away by the day as fewer pupils take the sciences, meaning fewer go on to study them at university, meaning chemistry departments and the like are now shutting.

If only just once, just once, the Government didn't govern solely in response to the previous day's headlines, but rather set about eliminating the incompetence that pervades every department, and just got the basics right.