Thursday, 23 October 2008

Government must be clearer about its curriculum priorities

Today's news that Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) is to become a compulsory part of the curriculum in both primary and secondary schools shouldn't trouble the majority of schools which provide such lessons in any case. And the fuss over sex education is overdone: the government has been at pains to point out that lessons should be age appropriate, placed in their proper moral context and developed in consultation with parents. Indeed, schools minister Jim Knight has framed the arguments in an exemplary manner.

However, there are two issues where ministers must be clearer.

The first relates to the relative importance being given to different subjects. There is a danger that primary schools that already offer sufficient lessons will feel obliged to offer more, and that literacy and numeracy will suffer in the process. The government must set priorities, or it will repeat the mistakes made when the Primary Strategy was first introduced, which led many schools to downgrade the 3Rs. When Jim Rose produces his review, he should be explicit about this; otherwise his own excellent phonics report could be downgraded. With the recent abolition of Key Stage 3 tests, there is also a danger that some secondary schools could do the same.

And the second relates to parental choice. Will parents still have a right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons they consider inappropriate because of their own religious beliefs? Those lobbying for compulsion have always argued that they shouldn't have this right: but if they don't, won't this just mean more are home schooled in a totally insular environment or sent to mediocre independent religious schools?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was involved in the drug and alcohol education review - somewhat lost in the excitement about SRE lessons for primary school children - and you're right about getting this in proportion.

Our view was that seeing schools as the only delivers of drug and alcohol education would be a bad mistake and we were clear that more support needed to be given to parents in their efforts to protect children from the harms caused by drugs.

Nevertheless, we did think that PSHE should be made statutory, in part because of what we heard from the professional field - see our survey for details. But no one on the review group thought this was the silver bullet that would get rid of the problems that a minority of young people have with drugs and drink.

We were also acutely aware of the training needs for teachers - particularly initial teacher training - and the need to integrate early identification and support for children and young people needing support.

Personally, I think we have enough experience of delivering good drug education at primary level to feel quite confident that it can be done in an age appropriate way. In fact I'm slightly more worried about the increasing number of younger teenagers in FE colleges. The government's commitment to extend the guidance about drug and alcohol issues to that sector is very welcome indeed.