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”

End Quote

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 53.

    The NC was never a telephone size doc, in fact it was compact... What were large were the QCA schemes of work and the later strategy and framework docs and associated support material. Mainly because all political groups try to control how teachers teach, so as to control the enculturalisation process. That's why they don't trust teachers, they tend to see through such obvious machinations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The NC has been revised from a telephone directory sized document to something far less. This is manipulation of the population. Private education provides a significant proportion of the 'ruling class' (unlike other countries) so the political football of state education is never going to matter, as this is seen as providing the fodder of UK society. Hence the UK's decline in the World..

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    People better educated 50 years ago, don't make me laugh!

    Oh and we're going to need as many teachers we can get soon:

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Take the education system back 40 years and you will solve all your problems, and while you’re at it take the NHS back also, because over the last 40 years each government has slowly destroyed everything that was good in this country

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    When I was educated (1950s/1960s) there was no such thing as a National Curriculum, and it seems to me that people were better educated than nowadays. Why do we persist with this one-size-fits-all approach when all the evidence suggests that it doesn't?

    Pupils need to be competent in arithmetic and English and many school-leavers aren't. They don't need indoctrination in the latest PC nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Mr Truculent, I'd be happy for teachers to do that so long as everyone else in employment does the same! Solicitors, doctors, welders, road menders, everyone...including you. Most sec teachers have subject degrees on what they teach, all primary teachers in pri education, so it would seem you are arguing from a position of ignorance, as do most people commenting on teaching, Gove included.

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    Comment number 47.

    They should get the teachers qualifications sorted first. The teacher should have a degree in the subject they want to teach, nothing less & a higher salary awarded to these teacher. A lot of teachers moan these days that children dont want to learn, (how can they if teachers are not qualified enough for the job) Teachers should sit yearly exams to decide salary rates

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Children soak up knowledge like sponges in the right surroundings and situations. Should they not be encouraged to do as much as possible? By that I mean not specialising until they absolutely have to. Maths and English should be compulsory, however.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I'm glad I was educated in Scotland when I read about the hub-bub of the English education system.

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    Comment number 44.

    This isn't the 50s any more. All the talk of Grammar education and all it entails is all well and good, but what is not being addressed is what to do with "the rest". The main issue of "standards" is the ridiculous pressure to make a silk purse from a sow's ear. Not every child is academic and no amout of rote learning will change that. All it will achieve is disenfranchisement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Had a chuckle at the idealistic innocence of the young commentators.
    Enjoy it now. Childhood's end looms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    You're not another one of those Gove 'paid up' for bloggers are you?
    But as you are obviously in need of enlightenment:
    So like I said, cherry picked, a usual ploy by politicos and their erks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The key skills everyone needs to learn are English language, maths, a disciplined/organised work approach and stress management. Clearly the last two are not examinable but are fundamental to having a productive and internationally competitive population. All other subjects should be optional from 13 years onwards.

    Pupils should not be forced to study subjects like RE, history and Welsh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Core Knowledge, who decides what that is, Mr Gove, Mr Balls, Mr Clegg? All would have that knowledge written to suit their needs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    We are talking about the under-16 compulsory curriculum & at this level I do indeed think that 'specialisation is for insects' (with apologies to Robert A. Heinlein, there wasn't room to credit him for the quote).

    It is in post-16 education that students begin to specialise in whatever it is that interests them, that they are good at and/or that fits their aspirations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Trust politicians to screw things up.
    Every time there is a change of government,there is a change of ideas.
    Look at the damage blair did with his "50% to go to university" stupid idea.
    He should have stuck to illegal wars and making money for himself--for which the day of reckoning will surely come soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    A human being should be able to .... Specialization is for insects.

    Well aren't you off with your analysis?
    The whole point of human civilisation is the development of specialisation. Human society thrives on co-operation between specialists, not generic ability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Old Father Thames
    In the 1950's we had industry which needed factory fodder, supported apprenticeships and gave employment. No one really worried about the huge percentage that left school with no qualifications, literacy or numeracy at the age of 15.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Take a look at Finland :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Comment number 21 is an Editors' Pick
    one would have thought it was fairly simple to devise a successful education system.

    It is: everyone gets one to one teaching, and support to find their talents.
    The problem lies not in the process, but in devising one that fits the constraints: resources, fairness and objectives.


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