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The government's defensive response to the select committee's recommendation that the National Curriculum take up no more than 50% of the timetable is as frustrating as it is predictable.

The government's defensive response to the select committee's recommendation that the National Curriculum take up no more than 50% of the timetable is as frustrating as it is predictable.

Central control of curriculum content has been a feature of education policy for 20 years. The National Curriculum may at one time have been part of a dynamic process of driving up standards, but over time these efforts have seen diminishing returns, and the once-clear policy direction has had to account for an increasing number of valuable but contradictory initiatives - the Academies programme being a good example.

This problem is apparent in McCarthy-Fry's assertion that "the national curriculum has been at the heart of raising the quality of education", while the standards pages on the DCSF website claim that academies, which must only follow the core of the national curriculum, "have the opportunity to develop a curriculum to meet the needs of the individual pupils in their school...the outcomes expected are not simply good examination results but also young people superbly equipped for active citizenship; committed to lifelong learning; and, ready for progression into further and higher education and work."

The tenses at work here are telling: McCarthy-Fry speaks of how the National Curriculum "has been" effective at raising standards, while the web text on academies talks about how they "have the opportunity to" use curriculum flexibility to raise standards. The National Curriculum is a nod to the past: yesterday's problems, when not only were some schools failing to provide a basic educational entitlement to their students but accountability for that failure was unclear, while the academies programme is an attempt to look to the future, to stimulate diversity and innovation within the system.

It is easy to see why the National Curriculum was brought into a system where large numbers of schools were failing, and to see why the notion of an educational entitlement for every child retains its value. But understanding why the National Curriculum was introduced does not compel us to justify it in its current form, in a system with different problems that require fresh thinking to solve.

That fresh thinking exists, both in maintained schools choosing to innovate in the face of National Curriculum restrictions, and in the academies programme, not to mention in many schools in the independent sector. If freedom to innovate can work for academies and for independent schools, why not for all schools?

There is no shame in admitting that policies have a shelf life, and that after time it becomes necessary to change direction. After over a decade in power, it is perhaps unsurprising that the government may lack sufficient political capital to make such a sensitive change. Even so, the pressure to do so will only grow.

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