Tuesday 11 December 2007

Is the Children's Plan focused enough?

I've now had a chance to read through the Children's Plan . There is no doubting its ambition; it confirms quite a lot that was already in train, adding extra resources and targets including more nursery places for two year-olds, well-equipped children's centres and better youth facilities. There are well-trailed initiatives on everything from new adventure playgrounds to a clampdown on inappropriate videos and websites. Plans for progress tests by stage rather than age are confirmed - Ed Balls gave some encouraging reassurance in his statement to the Commons on how they will be taken forward in the future. There is welcome recognition of the importance of data in raising standards, and a reaffirmation of proposals in the 2005 Schools White Paper - which are already underpinned by legislation - to give parents proper information on their children's progress. Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum is also confirmed, and there are good ideas on improving school leadership and teaching - especially the Finnish-style Master's Programme for existing staff. But wading through the 168-pages, I am left with a niggling concern that the agglomeration of initiatives - many doubtless worthy in their own right - could distract from the central task of raising standards for all. There is a danger of a lack of sufficient focus. For example, Rose's phonics review from 2005 should be being implemented vigorously now across all primaries, yet phonics is not prioritised in the Plan; for many schools, there is a real danger of a clamour to join in these many other initiatives, distracting them from them their primary task of improving the basics. Shouldn't one question for the new Rose review be to decide not just which curriculum subjects should remain a requirement for primary schools, and their relative importance, but also the extent to which attempts to make schools an extension of social services are genuinely helping (or hindering)the drive to raise standards for all, and the relative value of the linked initiatives?

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