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 159.

    @119. Ernie

    Obviously, nobody mentioned JavaScript or C+, it's not meant to be taken literally.

    There's a clear difference between understanding how a computer works and how to write code. I know how a computer works (I'm a Senior Network Analyst) but I don't know anything about coding. That type of knowledge at that age is unnecessary, and should focus on what the basic components do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    I don't trust the teaching professsion OR Gove. The teachers and politicians between them have lowered standards to the point where a BA now compares unfavourably with five tolerable O level passes thirty years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    29. steve -

    "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...
    ...huge stress on students leading to suicides"

    And which country has one of the world's highest suicide rates? - Finland!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    @146 very similar for me, a product of the home computer generation where we didn't have closed box console toys but computers we tinkered with and learned to code. Raspberry Pi is a great move back toward this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    "..Secondary schools will teach British history from 1066 to 1901"

    Thereby avoiding any reference to the massive growth of the Trade Unions in the early part of the 20th century?

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Normally I try to make apposite, informed and perhaps challenging comments. But this is all I'v e got on this subject: hahahahahahahahahaahahahahahaahahahahahaah ohahahahahahahahahaahaha LOLOLOLOLOL hilarious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Is it so wrong to want the best for our children ?

    My mother was a teacher and when we went to a play at my daughters school she challenged the head over several spelling mistakes on various displays the teaching staff had done, the head seemed unable to grasp that these were important points !

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    @ 70 Unfortunately religion is deeply tied into culture in many areas of the world and therefore we have to teach children ABOUT religion. We should be teaching them about how it influences people, politics, commerce, but any indoctrination into a specific religion or reinforcement of those beliefs is not something to be done at schools .

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    139. bongo77
    Most teachers I know in the UK weren't the brightest sparks at School. There are some exceptrions, but teaching was where most of the sixth form dropouts ended up.
    6th form drop out implies no A-levels, never mind anything higher. Unlikely to get a job teaching without at least a degree these days. I suspect this is a made up 'most of the .... I know' story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    I think most of us would agree that our education sysytem needs to change to enable our children to fulfill their potential in the future. However, before any change can be delivered you need to agree what that change should be and have in place a structure and resource that can deliver it!
    YOU CANNOT SIMPLY MANDATE CHANGE and knee jerk reactions will only continue to let pupils down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    and by the time they are nine the will know their 11 &12 times tables, because we all buy in lbs bushels and we can retire in 4 score and ten.

    DC election manifesto ? bring back imperial measures

    Gove is the worst education minister this country has ever had

    The roof leaks the window will fall out if opened the classes are cramped and there is no play ground but you can go to a free school ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    @137 Pauline "There is also LOGO (getting a bit long in the tooth) and now SCRATCH as simple programming languages for primary school children"

    Yup, there are loads of good learning tools out there. Kids/teachers don't have to jump in at the deep end. I like the idea of young'uns being given an insight into computers, it's useful.

    Not sure why you got downvoted for your helpful comment...

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    There is only one way this country will get back on its feet. By creating jobs. There are so many highly qualified people out here in unemployment land that degrees can, and are being asked for jobs with salaries of £25-30K, because employers know applicants are desperate. Tory answer? More over qualified fodder for industries we no longer have. Won't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    @137.Pauline, I remember LOGO programming it to move a Turtle connected to a BBC and trying to get it to draw a picture was a great way to learn programming.

    30 years I'm now an IT consultant speialising in databases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Why Finland's Unorthodox Education System Is The Best In The World

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    How about a little self-awareness and humility? That might be valuable when looking for a job - someone to take on the cost of training them to do something productive with their talents and energy.
    I get the impression - perhaps this is an inaccurate impression - that kids are encouraged to believe that they have some superhuman ability to succeed without any experience. They are wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    I particularly like making nine year olds study the 12 times table


    Nine years old is two years too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    130 the teacher
    Do you resent teaching the 12 times table because you think multiplying 2 two digit numbers should really be done with a calculator, bypassing the brain (or because you tried remembering your times table and gave up at 8X8)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Why do Teachers Unions think we believe them anymore than politicians?

    For years they lied and told us higher grades were due to improved teaching methods, while they just dumbed down exams to fix the "improvements".

    Frankly, I don't trust the teaching elite with our education and they deserve all the change they are getting.

    Let's just hope it's better for the kids, which is all that matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    the idea of a voucher to spend on public school places will not work - public schools currently cater for 7% of our children. The public school system would have to expand enormously in a very short space of time. Public schools' ability to teach all kinds of children would have to be examined - they are used to dealing with the cream, socially and financially speaking.


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