‘Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1992, a number of changes have been made to its structure and implementation. Identify and explain these changes and assess the contribution of the National Curriculum in the effort to raise standards in Education’.
This essay will describe, identify and explain the changes that have occurred to the ‘National Curriculum’ (NC) since its conception in 1992. It will also assess these changes and evaluate the benefits and difficulties that it has experienced since 1992.
The ‘Education Reform Act’ (ERA) came into effect in 1988, this enabled Kenneth Baker the Conservative Minister of Education to implement the roll-out of the National Curriculum in 1992 within primary / secondary education. However, prior to 1992 there had been no National Curriculum and previously teachers had worked out their own schemes of work that they deemed appropriate for their pupils.
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As a result of this the standard of education across the country varied considerably and the methods employed to teach were wide-ranging. With the implementation of the National Curriculum in 1992, responsibility was shifted away from teachers to centralised government over what was to be taught. The National Curriculum established a ‘set-framework’ of learning to enable children to move freely between schools as they would be learning from the same framework.
The National Curriculum ensured that schools taught a certain range of subjects, this consisted of ten subjects. The subjects were divided into two sub-categories (core and foundation). The three main core subjects were English, Maths and Science, and together with seven other foundation subjects (Art, Home Economics. Music, History, a Modern Foreign Language (only compulsory in secondary schools), Geography and Physical Education created the foundation of the National Curriculum. Compulsory National tests (SATS) were introduced at 7, 11 and 14 on core subjects. The results are published annually in league tables (along with GCSE/A levels and truancy statistics).
Changes occurred to the National Curriculum from its inception. Rather than being embraced the National Curriculum was met with hostility from some teachers and most of the larger teachers unions. One of the main criticisms of the National Curriculum by teachers and teaching unions was that at first glance that it contained far too many subjects and was considered to be too rigid, compared to what was previously taught. This meant that it was difficult to teach the subject well as the students had to learn so many subjects, and they presumed that it would be very difficult for students.
The National Curriculum was also criticized for being extremely ‘Eurocentric’, as it was primarily focused around European culture, giving those from ethnic backgrounds very little opportunity to learn about their roots. Certain sections of the public also argued that the government intentionally fashioned the National Curriculum to remove subjects which they as a political party are against for political reasons, such as sociology, politics, and environmental sciences (they were never contained in the National Curriculum).
However, a benefit to the National Curriculum was that teachers now had to educate students in a range of subjects. This gave children / students a better start for the skills they would need for later in life. It was also disputed that the national Curriculum helped to reduce the division of girls and boys subjects, as both sexes were taught the same subjects. This helped to reduce the stereotyping of gender.
In 1993, teachers decided to boycott the national curriculum testing arrangements (SATS) after complaining about the workload. The Secretary of State for Education, in a move in the right direction asked Sir Ron Dearing, who was the current Chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment AuthorityHYPERLINK “http://www.bookrags.com/tandf/school-curriculum-and-assessment-tf#p2000a9f68830215001” (SCAA), to review the national curriculum. Dearing made an Interim Report in 1993 and a Final Report in 1994 (The Dearing Report) after a period of consultation with teachers and the teachers unions. In his report his recommended on slimming down the curriculum, and improving its administration. He also recommended that the slimmed down national curriculum should not be altered for five years and that national tests should be simplified without sacrificing validity or reliability. The revised curriculum was implemented from August 1995.
The 1992, Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education) formed as part of the major overhaul and centralisation of the school system begun by the Education Reform Act 1988, which introduced the National Curriculum, extensive testing in schools and the publication of league tables. Ofsted inspections were carried out on school every 6 years. This change was introduced as it was believed standards needed to be raised in schools.
Many people thought Ofsted inspections were a good idea, if schools were failing, it was noticed and measures were put in place in order to improve these schools. However, Ofsted were also often seen to be too strict on schools, making it difficult for schools to pass inspection highly.
Also, it was felt that many teachers and schools would improve their teaching standards while they were being inspected. Some schools would also send some of their worst behaved students on school trips for the inspections. This defeated the object of Ofsted inspections as it wasn’t the normal teaching standards that were being tested. Recent inspections by Ofsted have revealed that although a good proportion of schools had improved since they were last checked many were stilling failing.
Figures released by Ofsted in 2009 show that 11% of schools checked since last September were rated outstanding, while 9% were not up to scratch. [Angela Harrison, BBC]
In the year 2006-07, 14% of those checked were outstanding and 6% were “inadequate”. [Angela Harrison, BBC]
In 1997, the incoming ‘The New Labour Government’ came into power in the UK. They Introduced the National Literacy Strategy to all Primary Schools in England from September 1998 after setting targets for pupils at Key Stage 2 in English (80%), Mathematics (75), but not in Science.
Previously a pilot project had been tested during 1996, which involved schools in 14 Local Education Authorities. The strategy was planned for teachers to teach a daily Literacy Hour, which followed a pattern of 30 minutes whole class teaching, then group work and concluding with a plenary session. A number of documents have been published by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) to help teachers raise standards in literacy at the time.
The National Literacy Strategy framework endeavoured to improve standards for all primary aged pupils. The strategy’s purpose was to make sure that all pupils were receiving on a daily basis dedicated one hour of literacy. The end result would give pupils the opportunity to develop skills in reading, grammar, spelling, and oral work and help raise standards in teaching and learning.
In the following year of September 1999 The National Numeracy Strategy framework was introduced and like the literacy strategy, aimed at raising standards for all primary pupils. Similar to the National Literacy Strategy it prescribed a one hour daily mathematics lesson for all pupils.
The Five Year Review in 2000 set out the main aims and purposes of the National Curriculum for the first time. The four main purposes of the National Curriculum are:
- To establish an entitlement.
- To establish standards.
- To promote continuity and coherence.
- To promote public understanding.
The National Curriculum has been put into place in the hope that children will achieve and will have an entitlement to learning irrespective of their background, be it race, gender, cultural or otherwise. It also makes expectations for children’s attainment explicit for all concerned and sets out national standards for performance. These standards can then be used for target setting, measuring progress and monitoring progression.
The Foundation Stage was introduced by the Labour government in 2000, to provide guidance for settings which provide care and education to pre-school children (aged 3 to 5). It was named the Foundation Stage because “…it lays the foundations for children’s later learning.” [Neaum and Tallack, 2002]. It evolved from the Rumbold Report of 1990, which investigated the educational provision for the under 5’s, and found that there was a patchy, unplanned curriculum which was unsatisfactory.
In 2004 a review was carried out of Key Stage 4, from this review the introduction of ‘Entitlement subjects’. The Curriculum Entitlement Framework provides pupils with access to a wider range of learning opportunities suited to their needs, aptitudes and interests, irrespective of where they live or the school they attend.
In 2007 the government abolished formal written Key Stage 1 SATS and replaced them with teacher recorded assessments. The Key Stage 1 assessments are very low key and completed by the pupil’s teacher over a period of a few weeks so they will be hardly aware that an assessment is taking place.
In 2008 a review of Secondary National Curriculum resulted in new Key Stage 3 and 4 Curriculum which was introduced in 2009. This updated part of the curriculum now offers Diplomas and other alternatives to current GCSE and A-level examinations.
In 2009 the then current Labour government announces that Key Stage 3 Sats examinations are to be abolished and that Sir Jim Rose will be conducting a full review of the Primary National Curriculum. The findings of the report will be implemented from September 2011.
In May 2010 a general election was held and ‘New Conservative’ / Liberal Democrat government came to power under David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The future changes to the new primary national curriculum which were put forward by Sir Jim Rose to be implemented from September 2011 have been shelved, the government stating that it does not intend to proceed with the new primary curriculum. Instead they are committed to giving schools more freedom from unnecessary prescription and bureaucracy. They have always made clear their intention to make changes to the National Curriculum that will ensure ‘a relentless focus on the basics and give teachers more flexibility than the proposed new primary curriculum offered.
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The National Curriculum has undergone considerable change and development over the past twenty years and is still being altered and adjusted at the present day. Controversy still exists as to the approach education should adopt for those over the age of 14 testing is thought to be heavily based on recall of knowledge encouraging a lack of skill development activities. Many of the original subjects that were mandatory no longer are, as it was felt the curriculum was too full.
In my opinion, since the introduction of the National Curriculum, I believe that it was the keystone to greatly improving the standards of education that children receive in today’s society. This is because before the standard of education students received was highly based on class status and was typically biased towards the middle / upper class families, another factor was your locality in the country. Teachers also taught a range of subjects that they wished to teach as there were no set subjects so what you could be taught varied across the country. This led to many students leaving school with limited knowledge.
With the introduction of the Literacy and Numeracy hours Sats results have increased again of the subsequent years but again now have slowed to a halt. As seen in the table below.
But on the flip side having felt that on the whole the National Curriculum is effective it is also somewhat flawed. Children are ‘taught to the test’ at a detriment to other subjects, and so they are missing out on a broad and balanced curriculum.
Schools and teaching staff will also admit that they are being forced to “teach to the test”; cutting out subjects such as history, geography and art to inflate their position on national league tables or else look as if they are failing.
The national tests also distort children’s education as they are being offered a restricted timetable as teachers are forced to focus on the core subjects. In a number of schools an emphasis on tests in English, Mathematics and Science limits the range of work in these subjects in particular year groups, as well as more broadly across the curriculum in some primary schools.
Having said this, the positive points outweighed the negative greatly as it was the start towards the National Curriculum that we currently have today.
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