The government which promised less top-down micro-management from the centre has, only some two months after dictating how primary school teachers should teach children to read (see post of 9th April) now come up with proposals for the primary school curriculum which are so unrealistic that we must question whether the Department of Education and its Secretary of State live on the same planet.
Among the most achievable, but pointless, is that children must learn to spell a centrally-prescribed list of words. Since teaching to the test is necessary for a school to maintain its place in the league tables, this will inevitably lead to less emphasis on the correct spelling of the words the children actually use.
From 2014 all children are to be taught at least one foreign language from the age of seven. This is to redress the decline of foreign languages taken in the 16+ and 18+ examinations. Very laudable, of course. But since this decline has already taken place, one wonders where the government expects to find the teachers to teach these languages in every primary school. Clearly a somewhat longer time scale is needed.
The teaching of statistics in primary schools is to be slimmed down to make way for more mental arithmetic. Is this so that the right-wing may more easily fool is into believing their propaganda that the present method of defining poverty (family income less than 60% of the median) means that poverty cannot be eliminated since there will always be people below the median income? (There will, but they needn't be 60% below it: in fact no-one need earn less than 60% of the median, so by this definition poverty in the UK can be eliminated.)
Most puzzling is that children are to learn "the use of the subjunctive by the end of year 6." Either Mr Gove is completely batty or he has been mis-reported.( I did after all read it in the Grauniad, but what else could they have meant?) I'm aware of only two uses of the subjunctive in English. One is illustrated, I'm assured, by "God save the Queen," though that has always seemed to me to be more of an imperative, giving God His orders, than a subjunctive, the realm of what might be, hinting that under certain circumstances God might not save the Queen. The other is the use of "were" rather than "was" after "if", as in "If I were a blackbird I'd whistle and sing."
There's probably more to it than that, and I'd be happy to receive further enlightenment, so please make full use of the "comments" facility, as I'm fond of arcane information. So, actually, are many children in year 6, but it's usually more to do with dinosaurs than the more obscure corners of English grammar.
When I studied French under the old "A" level system, that is, before the introduction of AS and further "top-down" dictation of what should be taught and when, our teacher decided that our class not capable of coping with the French use of the subjunctive until the second year of the course. And that's how it should be. The function of the government in education is not to prescribe what should be learned, but to provide sufficient funds for decent schools, and teachers knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subjects, good communicators and capable of judging what their pupils should learn and when they are ready to learn it.