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 59.

    The fact is that successive government policy has encouraged people who should not have children to have many because it is directly correlated to benefit payments. This underclass produces more of the same and consequently we have and imbalance of "epsilons" (Brave New World). This is not the right material, just look how Singapore raises the bar for it's successful population and economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    @43. themaningreen
    ..... you really wouldn't want to go down the rote learning, testing, more rote learning route. This only serves to stifle creativity and imagination and it doesn't produce happy children.
    Yes, lets forget what UK industry & commerce needs to sustain our economy & well-being, lets concentrate on keeping our children happy at school with nothing too taxing. Oh Dear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    When he says the UK will match the 'world's best' does he means those countries where it is common for a lot of children to be privately tutored for several extra hours each day?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    To build anything well, you need a solid base. If the first two years, the really important ones, are spent giving a thorough grounding in the three R's, so every child can adequately read, write, and do simple arithmetic by age 6, then everything else will be absorbed so much more easily. A pupil heading towards GCSE's who still has difficulty deciphering 2 syllable words is going nowhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    another reason not to have kids in this country unless your 'elite'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I don't think we'll have a successful education system until we remove all the segregation that's been introduced over the last two or three decades ("faith"schools, etc). Every kid should be in an outstanding school. A decent maths curriculum would help - the current Maths GCSE is not fit for purpose, it's boring, doesn't stretch the students, and doesn't prepare for A-levels in Maths or Physics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    29 steve "... in Finland consists of non selective local comprehensives, no exams, long summer holidays, respect for teachers and kids don't start until aged 7"

    The Scandinavian countries also have much more emphasis on family, shorter working weeks, more worker rights, higher taxes and just a different society structure

    I'd love if we did the same, but it'll take more than changing the schools

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    #20 ernie. Presumably the people downmarking you are the same that downmark me too. I genuinely get students with 1st class honours degrees who can't convert milligrams into micrograms or even apparently divide by 10. As a result we end up with drugs being tested at 10x more or less the dose they should be used at & £1000s of worth of experiment is wasted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    An irrelevant waste of time, as the latest waste of taxpayers’ money, free schools and academies don’t have to use it.

    What’s the point?

    Typical Gove

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    The Tories are playing politics with health and education. They are forcing policies on both areas that no one voted for, and no one in the professions supports. Both health and education should be planned for the long term with all party support - not used as a political football to be kicked around according to the whims of the sitting government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    In what walk of life do people have to learn reports and presentations by heart in normal life so they can get up to fellow professionals and recite them from memory?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Or we could remove charitable status from the public schools and make them pay tax like other businesses, putting the revenue into state education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The disgrace in the present system in all parts of the UK is the number of kids who leave school without being able to read.
    An old lady, a former Scottish primary schoolteacher once said to me with a puzzled expression " In my day, there was no such thing as a non- reader."

    All the fancy 'improvements ' have thrown the baby out with the bath
    water. ABC may not be fashionable, but it worked!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Rote learning does nothing to expand the brain ."

    Certainly doesn't, but it does provide a "database" of facts on which you can build brain-work. I learned "times tables" in the early 1950s and still use them instinctively today; they are quicker than a calculator.

    But certainly we need rid of Gove. He is a wrecker and, like all politicians, actually knows nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    So Gove’s reality is free schools and academies can teach what they like for a price that only the privilege will soon only be able to afford, while the rest of the unprivileged will be taught to remember rather than use critical thinking, so as to standardise a new low paid workforce that can be continued to be exploited.


  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    23. BadlyPackedKebab

    Depends how you look at RE.

    If you're assuming they spout the hocus pocus that many religions peddle in order to convert the children then yes I agree with you.

    But many people are religious. You can't escape it. My experience of RE was learning about many faiths and how they affect how people live their lives.

    I don't think its wrong for children to be taught this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I keep reading that we are slipping down the international table with regards to educational standards. As someone who has lived and taught in Korea for many years, you really wouldn't want to go down the rote learning, testing, more rote learning route. This only serves to stifle creativity and imagination and it doesn't produce happy children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It always makes me wince when people aspire to Asian - particularly Chinese - schooling systems. Yes, they do produce science-skilled students, but the results are skewed by prolific cheating. There were full-blown RIOTS in China recently, instigated by parents of a student who was called out for cheating on the grounds that not allowing their kid to would put them at an unfair disadvantage. (1/2)

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I am all for rigour and stretching pupils as my time at school can be best described as utterly tedious and frustrating. However, fractions at five?

    I suppose it all comes down to how it is taught which goes back to the skills of the teacher. I am unconvinced that teacher training as it is currently constituted is in any way adequate to meet the demands of this curriculum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    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.


    It was those "experts" that got us in our present situation.


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