IF YOU are in your 40s and British, it is quite possible that your spelling is an embarrassment. You may never have been taught the distinction between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, or perhaps even your times tables. If you moved house during your primary years you may have entirely missed some vital topic–joined-up writing, say. And you may have struggled to learn to read using the “initial teaching alphabet”, a concoction of 40 letters that was supposed to provide a stepping stone to literacy but tripped up many children when they had to switch to the standard 26.
Those days of swivel-eyed theorising and untrammelled experimentation–or, as the schools inspectorate put it at the time, “markedly individual decisions about what is to be taught”–ended in 1988 with the introduction of a national curriculum. But though that brought rigour and uniformity, it also created an unwieldy–and unworldly–blueprint for the Renaissance Child. Schools have struggled to fit it all in ever since. Now, 20 years later, the primary curriculum is to be cut down.