Curriculum changes 'to catch up with world's best'

Cameron launches new national curriculum David Cameron launched a curriculum with computer coding in primary schools

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Five year olds will start tackling fractions and computer algorithms, as a more stretching national curriculum is announced for state schools in England.

The government says the curriculum changes are designed to catch up with the world's best education systems.

Prime Minister David Cameron says this "revolution in education" is vital for the country's economic prosperity.

Labour said the curriculum should be written by experts and not depend on ministers' "personal prejudices".

Teachers' unions have warned that the timetable for implementing the changes in autumn 2014 is "completely unrealistic".

Head teachers have also asked whether politicians should be so directly involved in deciding what is taught in the classroom.

'Engaging and tough'

The re-written national curriculum sets out the framework for what children in England's state schools should be taught between the ages of five and 14.

However, academies - which are now a majority of secondary schools - will not be required to follow the curriculum.

"This is a curriculum that is rigorous, engaging and tough," said the prime minister.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the changes to the curriculum were necessary to keep pace with the achievement of pupils in other countries.

"No national curriculum can be modernised without paying close attention to what's been happening in education internationally," said Mr Gove.

He cited Hong Kong, Massachusetts, Singapore and Finland as "the world's most successful school systems".

The new-look curriculum puts a stronger emphasis on skills such as "essay writing, problem-solving, mathematical modelling and computer programming".

  • The history curriculum takes primary pupils through British history from the stone age to the Normans. They can also study a later era, such as the Victorians. "Significant individuals" studied include Elizabeth 1st, Neil Armstrong, Rosa Parks and suffragette Emily Davison. Secondary schools will teach British history from 1066 to 1901, followed by Britain, Europe and world events from 1901, including the Holocaust and Winston Churchill. This is a less detailed curriculum than an earlier draft, no longer including Clive of India, Wolfe or a reference to economic changes up to the election of Margaret Thatcher.
  • Maths will expect more at an earlier age. There will be a requirement for pupils to learn their 12 times table by the age of nine. Basic fractions, such as half or a quarter, will be taught to five year olds.
  • English will strengthen the importance of Shakespeare, with pupils between the ages of 11 and 14 expected to have studied two of his plays. Word lists for 8 and 9 year olds include "medicine" and "knowledge", by 10 and 11 they should be spelling "accommodate" and "rhythm".
  • Science will shift towards a stronger sense of hard facts and "scientific knowledge". In primary school, there will be new content on the solar system, speed and evolution. In secondary school, there will be a clearer sense of separate subjects of physics, biology and chemistry. Climate change will also be included.
  • Design and technology is linked to innovation and digital industries. Pupils will learn about 3D printing and robotics.
  • Computing will teach pupils how to write code. Pupils aged five to seven will be expected to "understand what algorithms are" and to "create and debug simple programs". By the age of 11, pupils will have to "design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems".

Anthony Seldon, head master of Wellington College, welcomed the idea of a more demanding curriculum, saying that "young people shouldn't be patronised by work that is too easy".


England's re-designed curriculum is meant to match the "world's best school systems". So where does England currently stand?

Pisa tests, run by the OECD, compare 15 year olds' abilities in reading, maths and science.

The most recent results from 2009 show the highest achievers to be Asian school systems, such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore. Finland flies the flag as top European performer.

England is ranked 25th in reading, 27th for maths and 16th for science, with results hovering around the average.

The OECD says England isn't so much getting worse, as being overtaken by other countries improving more quickly.

There will be intense interest later this year when results from Pisa tests taken in 2012 are published.

But there are other international tests. US researchers produce global league tables, known as PIRLS and TIMSS, also based on tests in maths, reading and science.

This shows a stronger performance for England, particularly in maths where it is in the top 10.

And another global education ranking from education firm Pearson, places the UK in sixth place with Finland and South Korea in the top places.

"Factual knowledge is essential," he said, providing the "building blocks" for more advanced ideas in subjects in the sciences, arts and humanities.

He says it is important for all youngsters to learn a common core of knowledge.

"It can get too fluffy to say 'It's all on the internet,'" said Dr Seldon.


Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said that heads shared the aspiration for high standards, but warned of the practical problems of implementation.

"One year to implement such ambitious proposals effectively alongside the vast number of concurrent reforms is a tall order."

He also questioned the level of political involvement in the process.

"Drafting a curriculum is a highly specialised and professional task. Unlike previous versions of the national curriculum, which were drafted with a heavy involvement of teachers and school leaders, these proposals have been driven and closely directed by politicians without that professional input."

He said the government needed to take "urgent steps" to include head teachers in implementing the changes.

The CBI's Neil Carberry welcomed the changes to the design and technology curriculum, saying that it seemed "much sharper and focused on the technical skills industry and employers need".

But he called for more improvements in maths. "The big challenge is equip all young people with the basic numeracy they need before the GCSE syllabus starts," he said.

Mary Bousted, leader of the ATL teachers' union, accused the education secretary of wanting to "steamroller ahead" with rushed changes.

"The timescales to which he is operating are completely unrealistic. He shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how much planning is needed to bring in a totally new curriculum and new exams for children in all age groups at the same time."

'Ideological crusade'

Chris Keates, leader of the Nasuwt teachers' union, accused the education secretary of "trotting out tired old and false assertions about England's alleged slide down the international leagues tables as a justification for tearing up the qualifications and curriculum framework and pursuing his personal ideological crusade".

The National Union of Teachers' deputy leader, Kevin Courtney, said: "This is a curriculum written by government advisers and officials, not teachers."

She warned that it failed to recognise the need to serve children of different ability levels and that the time for introducing this was "ridiculously short".

Russell Hobby, NAHT: "It's not all about creativity and it's not all about facts and times tables"

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "David Cameron and Michael Gove have spent the last three years trying to personally rewrite the national curriculum - they should have listened to the experts in the first place.

"They have had to go back and change the programmes of study for design and technology, geography and history after experts warned there were serious omissions and they were not suited to prepare young people for the challenges of the modern world. It's right that changes have been made to ICT and computing following concerns raised by Labour and the ICT sector, but we await further details.

"Labour wants to ensure the national curriculum sets clear expectations for the knowledge and skills children and young people should reach by a certain age. This curriculum looks like more of the same though."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    As a Teacher of Maths, I find nothing better than watching students apply their skills, maybe needing to modify their approach and then celebrate their successes.

    I believe this is what employers want and what young people need for later life?

    Why then are we moving to a curriculum that favours memory and rote learning over application?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I'm on the left, but hope that Neville Gwynne's emphasis, of the key importance of grammar to thought itself, and therefore to all other subjects is widely accepted.

    I'd hoped that this would become accessible to all with the Comprehensive movement. But under the tories it became available to none in many schools.

    However, it's worth noting that Gwynne himself was self-taught.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Wonder if Ernie has ever taught children? And I wonder if he has any idea of some of the circumstances some children go through before they get to school...then to be told they're doing computer debugging....give me a break!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I feel so very sorry for those little ones. I teach in MA. Here, we are driven to produce data I have not heard the words "developmentally appropriate" for years. I see K students crying in the hall - being "assessed". I have students in my own classroom crying -saying "I used to be good at math, now I can't do it!" How well do think their data comes out? How do you think they feel?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I feel rather sorry for the kids being used to accomplish political posture.

    Childhood is being confiscated so that the mirage of future businesses can reap benefits of manpower.
    It is not the school we need to change but the ethics of having 1 Million young unemployed and employers importing cheap labour from abroad.
    There is also great earnest on further automation to reduce cost of humans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The words "goalposts", "move" and "again" spring to mind. I spent 35 years at the "chalk-face"...pre National Curriculum, post National Curriculum, revised National Curriculum, plus the myriad of literacy/numeracy initiatives introduced along the way. Millions spent printing the documents and on re-training staff and they still can't get it right! I'm so glad I've retired!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I’m not surprised that the education establishment is alarmed at this demanding new curriculum. A trainee teacher recently asked me to explain how to calculate a half of a third. This is why we so desperately need these changes to the way maths is taught in primary schools.

    @18 anotherfakename illustrates the gulf of ignorance eloquently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    While our education system does need to be overhauled (25th/27th for english/maths is appauling), it need sot be done while involving the experts in education i.e. the teachers.
    And then it needs to introduced over a period of time, one year is not enough.
    Not to mention that no attention is being paid to the pupils with higher learning capabilities,inevitably resulting in them being dragged down

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    If you want to improve education, it will take more than this. Why not give every parent a voucher equal to cost of sending a child to a state school a year and allow them to redeem that voucher at public schools? This would give thousands more students access to public schools, making them no longer a place for the elite and put the state and public sector more in competition with each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    "Education, edukation, edukashun".

    Where did it all go wrong Mr Blair?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    It has probably escaped Gove's notice but the best education system in Europe in Finland consists of non selective local comprehensives, no exams, long summer holidays, respect for teachers and kids don't start until aged 7.

    Hi obsession with the Far East ignores the fact that these countries worry about the rote nature of their teaching, and the huge stress on students leading to suicides

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    More on music...
    Mozart's education was very far from that needed by most children - including most musicians - he was basically hothoused by a pushy parent;
    Music in schools has been greatly downgraded and turned into a hobby subject by this government's changes;
    The govt says all children are learning an instrument, but they only get to play eg the ukulele for 1 term - longer tuition is out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Its a trickery stick disguised as a carrot

    It is 100% pointless introducing such a curriculum to just a few state schools outside of accadamies & freeschools.

    Most of remaining state schools are mainly Liebour controlled, or have left wing leaning administration etc

    This so called change is basically to effect more schools opting out & becoming accadamy status

    So, these schools either

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    How long before we hear -

    'This method is not working and we will be reverting back to . . . . . . . . . . . '

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    13 years of Labour's dumbing down and "prizes for all" got the UK in to the mess it's in.

    Hopefully we can start to turn education around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    A curriculum like this will only exacerbate current problems.

    My preschooler is by no means Motzart (sorry Son, but you're not) but is reading, writing has a grasp on maths and is interested in a variety of subjects which we encourage.

    Many other children his age I've seen aren't given the same tools. If the effort isn't put in before school, you're just going to create more elitism in kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    So can we assume then that religious studies will no longer be compulsory as they are now basing this new curriculum on 'factual' studies?

    One can only hope!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    When are we going to give up our "not invented here" syndrome? It has been clearly shown that delaying formal education until the age of 7 gives superior results and a more equal society. Oh wait, I've just answered my own question: our "leaders" don't want a more equal society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    If this curriculum change is so magnificent, why are the Academies not being asked to do it? Highlights how the government is really struggling to sell their economic restructuring to schools. Surely our schools should be about teaching and learning and should not be spending their time being held to ransom for political ideologies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.


    Without basic mathematical literacy being given to the very young we will not develop the minds to stay at the forefront of science, tech and engineering.
    And teaching programming is an excellent way to introduce kids to analytical, logical thinking and problem solving.

    The school system seems to have been allowed to slack off and fail kids for too long. Lets push them to do better.


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