UK students must now learn about Shakespeare, slavery, Holocaust

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Shakespeare, the world wars and algebra are "untouchable" parts of pupils' study, the education secretary will today tell a review of the secondary curriculum.

Alan Johnson will stress the importance of traditional topics as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority publishes its plans for overhauling the subjects studied by 11- to 14-year-olds.

The proposals will give schools greater flexibility in deciding what to teach pupils, including dropping French and German lessons in place of Urdu or Mandarin tuition. They also aim to make it easier to allow children of different abilities to progress at their own speeds.

The education secretary has already announced that studying Britain's involvement in the slave trade and broader issues of "identity and diversity" will become compulsory. Today Mr Johnson will focus on existing subjects. "There are certain untouchable elements of the secondary curriculum that all teenagers should learn for a classic, well-rounded British education. It's nonsense to claim that the curriculum is being dumbed down."

Mr Johnson will say that essential elements of education include algebra and geometry in maths, and classic authors such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot in English. He has insisted that Shakespeare's sonnets, as well as his plays, should remain on the curriculum.

He will add: "It is essential too that children learn about important parts of history like the world wars and the Holocaust - and the debt of gratitude we owe those who gave their lives for their country."

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