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 179.

    Backchatter: 'Look what they’ve achieved in the last forty years'

    In the last 40 years the average teacher has re-written their teaching materials 25 times! due to political inteference from right wing ministers afraid that children will not be taught the right way to think (right being the operative word)
    this latest oaf is no different. if brains were TNT he couldn't blow his nose!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    131. themaningreen
    Yes, you can have both: As long as you get the basics right first, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go on to be as creative as you can. However, very few people are (or need to be) creative in English. How many stories or poems have you written?
    130. The_Teacher
    Pity we didn’t stick with 12 – a far more useful number in maths than ten, as you no doubt realise...

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Does this mean all other curriculum's were not world class?
    If yes
    Why not?
    and can i sue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Genius idea!
    At last a new government driving us forward...

    Sad that this has become a new priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Teachers try too hard to make lessons fun and enjoyable, and end up losing the plot with lesson. The best way to educate is through traditional methods, which so far have done well

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    In the UK you can teach physics if you got a 3rd in media studies.
    -Only if you are teaching in One of Michael Gove's Free Schools or a Fee Charging Private School.

    No you can't

    The Minimum requirement to teach in a state school is a B Ed or PGCE which has a a minimum 2:2 Entry Requirement and relevant GCSE's.

    You shouldn't believe everything you read in the Daily Heil

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.


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

    Idea seems to be....
    Sabotage state schools, make 'em fail, turn 'em all into Academy's and thus able to ditch National Curriculum and one more thing.
    Gove wants RE in the Academies

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    To me this is making the curriculum rigid. In addition, a happy child in a happy family will learn more. In recent changes forcing families to take holidays in term holidays will have dramatic affects on an already broken society. Those that cannot afford 'peak' holiday bookings will go without quality family time.This without mentioning the effects on businesses that benefit from holiday spending

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    The usual cliches are here; "revolution in education", "rigorous, engaging and tough", all that's missing is "fit for purpose".

    This empty rhetoric masks an enforced change that is about satisfying political egos. The new curriculum may or may not be a good thing but a politician shouldn't decide it.

    Would you have a plumber fix your car? Or your dentist fix your television?

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Every second comment on here contains at least one spelling or grammar mistake.

    It is amusing, but it is also a damning indictment of the education system in the UK over the past few decades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

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

    Rubbish! .... there are thousands upon thousands of 30,40 and 50 somethings currently languishing on the dole who have the skills that industry wants.
    It's not their fault that companies are seeking younger graduates with little or no experienceto fill positions.

    ..and we don't need to import the skills!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    130 the teacher# ......."no change change..".say the teachers.

    Its the teachers that won't be able to tell you what the change is; its them that don't want any. Everything in life is changing all the time...when someone says I don't want any have to question their motives. We all know what the motives of the teachers and their Unions are don't we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    117. xyriach
    If you can't prove it, don't teach it.


    Prove what? Whether there is a god?

    RE should be teaching the facts. That religions are out there and they believe certain things which you the pupil may not agree with. But they believe them nonetheless.

    Analysing and debunking should be left to history and science courses.

    105.Vendrus - I agree. Luckily my experience was different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    In my day to day job, being able to list facts and figures by rote is no help at all

    Another one missing the point of eductation! Primary & early secondary education should be about a broad range of knowledge with strong basics of 3R's. As you get older strengths are identified & you start to specialise. Your "day to day job" will be different to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Ratiometric fractions (e.g. 3 3/4) are as obsolete as Roman numerals. All real life measuring instruments -- be they weighing scales, rulers, voltmeters or anything else -- are decimal. So let's do away with this pointless anachronism forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    I would love to see the costings for this new initiative. A complete set of new documentation for each school, training of teachers who will have to completely redo their planning schemes, new sets of textbooks and other resources. I can see that the educational publishers and software creators are going to be laughing all the way to the bank.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    A good start would be manners in the classroom and a skirt longer than a blazer hem. I feel sorry for teachers who are blamed for the decline in IQ obvious if you observe what passes for conversation between teens on their way to school. Add to that foreign kids struggling with basic english and teachers need the six week break to get their marbles back. I hated school but left with an education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Gove's worldview is prehistoric. The curriculum is constricting and far less imaginative. Boredom will rise and standards will fall. He want us to return to the 1950's. He has never taught children and he does not know what he is talking about!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    I need to implement a balanced binary tree.

    Where can I find a five year old to help me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Why "British" history only? Remarkably insular.


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