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Primary Education News
News 'Tough and rigorous' new national curriculum published
David Cameron and Michael Gove hail revised curriculum but teachers' leaders say timetable for implementation is too tight
Sweeping changes have been made to government proposals for teaching English, history and modern languages in schools – leaving a spaghetti-like tangle of overlapping course content for teachers and pupils to digest.
Under the new national curriculum published on Tuesday, schools will have more choice over which languages they can teach; the much-criticised British emphasis in history lessons has been pared down; and the teaching of spoken language skills is restored to English after an outcry at its removal in the initial draft.
ICT has been dumped in favour of computing, and the teaching of word processing will be dropped in favour of allowing five-year-olds to create and test their own computer programs.
The changes follow what the Department for Education (DfE) described as "unprecedented levels of interest" in the draft documents, published in February. The education secretary, Michael Gove, said the new courses would be introduced in state schools in England from 2014.
But Gove's swift timetable and the need to redesign GCSE exams and key-stage criteria mean many pupils will still be taught using the existing curriculum, potentially creating headaches for schools and teachers having to bounce between old and new course content.
David Cameron defended the redesigned curriculum. The prime minister said: "It is tough and rigorous and some people are worried about that, but it is the right thing to do."
The curriculum applies only to state maintained schools in England. Academies and free schools can choose to ignore its requirements, while independent schools have never been subject to it.
Teaching groups and unions have complained that the September 2014 implementation date could cause problems as the changes are phased in.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Michael Gove continues to be in too much of a rush and seems to care more about making changes than making sure they are the right ones for children."
According to the DfE's consultation document, primary school pupils in years 2 and 6 (ages seven and 11) will be taught maths, science and English using the old curriculum, because the key stage tests (Sats) to be held in summer 2015 will not have been revised in time to include the new curriculum.
The same thing will happen to secondary school pupils in year 10 (age 15) in 2014 and year 11 (age 16) in 2015, with the old key stage 4 curriculum content taught in the core subjects of English, maths and science because GCSE exams in those subjects will not be ready in time to take account of the new content.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the timescale for implementation was ridiculously short. "In less than a year teachers will be expected to implement a curriculum that they have had no say in. This will almost certainly lead to confusion and chaos and comes on top of reforms to GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications, all of which are also being rushed through with little thought given to the practicalities of implementation, never mind the content," he said.
The DfE said it had avoided a legal tangle by scrapping the need for state schools to follow most of the existing national curriculum – a process known as disapplication – from the start of the next school year in September onward.
The latest documents contain major revisions to February's draft attempt to overhaul the curriculum for pupils aged five to 14, which attracted sustained criticism from industry and the education profession. The DfE said it received 17,000 submissions during the consultation period, from teachers, employers and parents, as part of what it described as "a vigorous national debate on the content and purpose of the national curriculum".
Gove said the new curriculum would be more demanding to help pupils keep pace with peers overseas. He told ITV's Daybreak on Monday: "I want my children, who are in primary school at the moment, to have the sort of curriculum that children in other countries have, which are doing better than our own.
"Because when my son and daughter graduate from school and then either go on to university or into the workplace, they're competing for college places and jobs with folk from across the globe, and I want my children to receive an education as rigorous as any country's."
Under the new maths curriculum, five-year-olds in their first year of school will be taught to read and write numbers up to 100, count in multiples of ones, twos, fives and 10s, and learn addition and subtraction. Year 1 pupils will also be expected to do basic fractions, two years ahead of the existing curriculum, and algebra is to be taught from age 10.
Courtney said not enough effort had been made to design a curriculum for lower-attaining children or children with special educational needs. "Teachers have concerns about whether this curriculum is right for children with special educational needs, who form 20% of the student population, and should not be an afterthought," he said.
Complaints after the first draft, and the subsequent changes
Geography Failed to mention or allow study of the effects of climate change. Response Added explicit references to climate change at key stage three, to "understand how human and physical processes interact to influence, and change landscapes, environments and the climate".
English Concentrated exclusively on reading and writing, and ignored speaking skills. Response Speaking and listening skills restored to the curriculum at primary school level. By age 11 pupils expected to recite poetry from memory, and debate and present a topic.
Design and Technology Business leaders attacked the first draft as "diluted" with the inclusion of "life skills" such as bicycle maintenance. Response The DfE ripped up the first draft, replacing it with technology-based programme that includes 3-D printers in secondary classrooms, while primary school pupils will design and test structures and circuits.
Computing/ICT The information communications technology course was seen as dated. Response New computing syllabus to include teaching computer programming and creation and retrieval of digital data. Secondary school pupils to be taught coding. Internet safety to be taught from the age of five.
Languages Languages that could be taught in primary schools restricted to French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek. Response Lifted restrictions on languages, giving schools a free choice over which modern or ancient language pupils could study over the four years of key stage two.
History Exaggerated emphasis on British history and linear timescale. Response Cut back the amount of British history and simplified the early topics. Comparisons of historical figures including Rosa Parks and Tim Berners-Lee added.