Viewpoints: National curriculum in England

Class scene The national curriculum is being revised for maintained primary and secondary schools in England

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Changes to the national curriculum in England are likely to see pupils being taught a robust "core knowledge" of facts and information.

Details of planned changes to the national primary and secondary national curriculums will be announced by the Education Secretary Michael Gove in the House of Commons - alongside a formal announcement of the abandoning of plans to scrap GCSEs in key subjects.

Ahead of the announcement Mr Gove promised to rid the curriculum of "vapid happy talk" and ensure pupils have a structured "stock of knowledge".

The BBC News website has gathered a range of viewpoints on the national curriculum.

BBC School Reporters from Haberdashers' Aske's Crayford Academy in Bexley

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I think the national curriculum is a good thing because it makes you learn maths, English, science and humanities”

End Quote Lisa, 12

Lisa, 12: I think the national curriculum is a good thing because it makes you learn maths, English, science and humanities which you'll need in any job. In my dream school I'd learn DT (design technology) because I am really good and making stuff and want to be a fashion designer. I wouldn't learn maths - I know it is useful but sometimes it is really hard and I don't enjoy it, so I wouldn't study it!

Millie, 13: The curriculum helps you in your future life but it can also be unhelpful - if you get stuck on one subject that you're not good at it could jeopardise all your learning and your whole future. I think the curriculum should cover maths and English because they help you with skills for your future life like money and speaking.

I'd also like to just learn drama and religion - drama because I love it, and religion because when you learn about other cultures and religions you are less likely to offend anyone. If I could, I would just learn all of the creative subjects like drama, music and photography because they are the subjects that I enjoy the most. I wouldn't learn geography because we don't need it any more, we can use GPS!

Seray, 12: The national curriculum isn't a good thing. If someone wants a job that doesn't use maths then it isn't relevant to learn maths at school. Drama is important because if you don't like someone it teaches you to act like you do, and if you are a doctor it teaches you how to not show that the news is really bad!

Siobhan Freegard, Net mums
Siobhan Freegard

Parents want their child to learn from a curriculum, but they also want him or her to grow as a person. A good curriculum should give pupils a core knowledge of essential subjects, instil a love of learning and teach them how to discover more on a subject, but also shape them into a well-rounded person.

Ideally children should get a good grounding in English teaching literature and creative writing alongside grammar and punctuation, maths which they will use in the real world and a solid understanding of the sciences. Modern children need to learn IT skills and at least one language along arts and music, plus it's also essential for kids to continue to have PE lessons.

Many parents are also calling for the return of home economics and cookery classes to combat rising child obesity, alongside personal finance and money management skills which will equip children for the fast-moving world we live in now.

There is no doubt that many children today are not learning the basics at school and employers complain they are struggling to find school leavers with even rudimentary maths and English skills, so this needs to be urgently.

Nick Gibb, former Conservative schools minister

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Nick Gibb

The new secondary curriculum will be a knowledge-rich curriculum”

End Quote Nick Gibb

The government is publishing a new national curriculum. The English curriculum for primary schools emphasises the importance of the tried and tested phonics method of teaching children to read; the importance of spelling and grammar; and it promotes reading for pleasure, including children's classic literature and important poems, fables and plays.

The primary maths curriculum will ensure pupils become fluent in long multiplication and long division as well as calculation using fractions. Children will be expected to know the multiplication tables by heart, including the 12-times table by the time they are nine.

The new secondary curriculum will be a knowledge-rich curriculum, the type that is commonplace in the independent sector and in the successful emerging economies that Britain will compete with in the globalised marketplace of tomorrow.

Although the new curriculum will not be compulsory in academies, it will set the benchmark for what parents can expect their children to be taught and will drive what will be examined when pupils take their GCSEs or its replacement qualification. The new curriculum is a further step towards meeting the government's objective of closing the attainment gap between those from wealthier and poorer backgrounds.

Dr Simon Gibbons, National Association for the Teaching of English

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Dr Simon Gibbons

The assessment system has put a stranglehold on curriculum”

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If a curriculum is important its job should be to outline a 'minimum entitlement'. That is it should set out what all children (and their parents) can expect to have access to during their time in school. It should give a broad and balanced view of the subject.

I understand the current rhetoric suggests that a slimmed-down curriculum will give teachers more freedom, but my concern is that children's experience of English will be impoverished unless certain expectations are made clear in curriculum documents. Also, freedom has to come with proper support in the form of teacher education and professional development. Current changes to teacher education threaten this - and it is difficult to exercise freedom without proper knowledge.

The question of freedom is an interesting one. My view is that a well constructed, broad and balanced curriculum that sets out minimum entitlement but includes plenty of non-statutory guidance gives teachers the freedom to adapt whilst also providing a decent level of support - provided, too, that the curriculum does not stray into the area of pedagogy then teachers have freedom over the 'how'.

I would add a couple of other concerns. Primarily the lesson of the last 25 years is that - in a culture of high stakes testing and accountability - the assessment system has put a stranglehold on curriculum.

John White, emeritus professor of philosophy of education at London University's Institute of Education

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Prof John White

I would like the curriculum to be in the hands of a national commission at arms-length from meddling ministers”

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I have found no convincing reason for taking traditional subjects as the starting point for curriculum planning. The obvious place to begin is with larger questions about what schools should be for. As it is, statements of curricular aims are no more than high-sounding mission statements.

Backed by their powerful subject associations, science, history, mathematics, languages and other subjects arrogate to themselves as much compulsory curricular time as they can manage, forcing everything else to the margins. Some teachers are happy with this; others are not. Whether this regime is good for every student is a question now increasingly under scrutiny.

I would like to see a revival of the post-2000 moves towards an aims-based national curriculum, curtailed in 2010. It is that you first work out a set of defensible overarching aims eg that schools should equip students for a fulfilling life, both personally and as citizens and workers.

From these, you derive more specific aims eg that as citizens, they will need to understand the society they live in, its economy, and the contribution of science, maths and technology to the latter. The more specific aims thus cover much of what we teach now in the conventional curriculum, but much else besides. The difference from what we have now is that every school activity, whether compulsory or optional, is specifically designed to help young people to lead a full and socially valuable life.

I would like the curriculum to be in the hands of a national commission at arms-length from meddling ministers. It would lay down the overarching and some of the more specific aims that all schools should follow. Beyond that point, it should leave schools free to work out how to realise these aims in the light of their own circumstances.

James Fothergill, Confederation of British Industry
James Fothergill

The bedrock of the National Curriculum should be to ensure all young people have good levels of literacy and numeracy. That includes being able to digest texts, take in essential information and act on it, work out percentages and interpret data. There is also a strong business demand for people with science and computer science skills. Alongside this, employers want to see the Curriculum help develop the broader behaviours and attitudes, in young people, which are vital to work and everyday life. For example, it needs to encourage enquiry and understanding, problem solving and good communication. Finally, the curriculum should provide equal development opportunities for those who choose a vocational route rather than an academic route. That is why the CBI has called for the introduction of a new gold standard vocational A-level at 18.

Prof Duncan Graham, first chairman and chief executive of the National Curriculum Council set up in 1989

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Duncan Graham

I should like to see a return to an entitlement and to a balanced rounded education”

End Quote Prof Duncan Graham

In 1985, a White Paper entitled Better Schools published by Sir Keith Joseph recommended moving towards a nationally agreed curriculum which led in turn to a consultation two years later, instigated by his successor Kenneth Baker. The aims were: introducing an entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum, setting measurable standards, ensuring greater accountability of schools and fostering a wider public involvement.

Evidence was overwhelming at that time that there were huge inequalities in standards and in the curricula offered by schools. Secondary education to the age of 16 was often grossly unbalanced in subject choice, in effect closing career doors before they were opened. There was need for change.

While the importance of the "3Rs" was recognised in the distinction between "core" subjects (English, science, and mathematics) and the "foundation subjects" (art, music, PE, geography, history etc) all had to be studied from five to 16 and modern languages from 11 to 16.

I should like to see a return to an entitlement and to a balanced rounded education. The evidence is that overconcentration on the "3Rs" is counter-productive and that too much of it unleavened by a wider cultural approach makes Jack a very dull boy and Jill a very dull girl. In the competition for jobs and college places now, competence in the basics is assumed, and what matters more are the rounded personality, character, and extracurricular achievements.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Thinking is the core skill.
    And we manifestly don't do it.
    We're very good at hurling unsupported opinions at each other - unsupported, that is, except by our personal prejudices - but thinking, looking at the real world, checking against evidence, that's something we'd rather not bother with. Pity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Seems to me that the Core curriculum wouldn't be able to fit in all the irrelevant information that every Secretary of State for Education thinks is important whilst keeping happy every preceeding Secretary of State and every Parent. Because every Parent I know who has oppinion beleives their child to be poorly educated in comparison to themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Good idea to review the national curriculum but please engage education professionals,parents,business leaders and employers in the process;as well as opposition parties.Children and parents need to have a clear idea what is required of them for the longer term.We don't need any more knee-jerk policies from Gove.Education is too important to be used as a political football.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    29. Megan

    A human being should be able to change a diaper.

    Wouldn't know how to change a diaper, as we don't have them in the UK! can change a nappy though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    23.l j s
    English, Maths, Physics and Chemistry.

    Not biology? You wouldn't like your next surgeon to know the difference between your tonsils and your testicles? It would make medicine rather interesting ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    1 Hour ago

    Yet another curriculum forced upon teachers and children by here today gone tomorrow ideologues. Of course Gove uses the myth of the 'progressive educational establishment' to do all of this and cherry picks dodgy data from dubious 'international' tests to back the myth up...."

    Cherry picks data? As opposed to all of the credible sources given in your diatribe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Looks like we lost our chance to create an education system focussed on academic excellence instead of socially engineering "equality" and "diversity". Grove had the right idea but he was undermined by his coalition partners.

    We can blame this missed opportunity on the Lib-Dems . The Tories might do better going it alone as a minority government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    We got it right in the 1950's. Then we changed it all around again, because politicians like to have grand ideas.

    "If it isn't broke, don't fix it."

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Reading, writing, mathematic along side with social skills like manners are the core skills that the vast majority of the planet use so are core skills. Whilst accepting that certains standards of "literacy" amd "maths" may not be understood by all of the population everone knows when something is more or less and that a mark indicates something.
    Are core skills that difficult?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    English, Maths, Physics and Chemistry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    people from the Institute of Education are to my mind communists of the old Stalinist tendency.

    Surely we are not going to let (the DoE) kill of the quality of education like the NHS did for care?
    You both need help! You can get medication for hallucinations you know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Given all the supposedly clever people in the UK one would have thought it was fairly simple to devise a successful education system. Seemingly not.

    I am relieved that the GCSE is to remain as change for changes sake is pointless, but its standards need to improve.

    Education, within certain socially defined parameters, should be left to the teachers. Why train them and treat them like cyphers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Good to see England following Wales and keeping tried and tested GCSEs. Well done.
    But this does worry me...

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    There’s far too much interference in education from politicians of whatever hue of Government.

    Micro-management of schools simply serves in many cases to throw money at problems that don’t exist, and ignore local crises.

    How long will the country put up with doctrinal revisionism? Content of curricula should be kept at arm’s length from politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    School league tables and suchlike have created a situation where goverments keep fiddling with education policy in attempts to make the figures look good.

    For example: Labour's pledge to get half of school leavers into University could only be met by reducing standards - you can't suddenly make 50% of kids more intelligent.

    Concentrate on educating kids - NOT the statistics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    And yet still they do not teach or prepare for the real world. And continually governments from all sides meddle in the running of schools just to put their footprint on it. Stability is the key to any success, especially with children and to have them focused at just one end result isn't going to achieve anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Edcuation works well in this country, but there is always scope for improvement. We do not need radical systemic change; we need gradual and well considered improvement.
    Gove's proposals were so inept that even his own party (which liked the intial idea), have rejected them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    One of the important things to deal with is the failing "Department for Education", it's clearly one disaster and stupid idea after another.

    Surely we are not going to let this kill of the quality of education like the NHS did for care?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    It is not the curriculum that needs to change. It is the way it is run. I have worked in a school science dept for 11 years and have seen the GCSE science curriculum change 5 times. Each time the teaching staff have to write new schemes of work and the school has to buy a new set of books and supporting software. The exam boards are own by book publishers so with each change they sell more books.


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