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Primary education is an important part of life that influences the individual and the society we live in. Therefore it is important that schools have a meaningful curriculum that reflects the changing shape of society. This discussion focuses on the values and principles underpinning the curriculum and the opportunities it offers and those that are required for future generations. In particular, we shall discuss: the Primary National Curriculum (NC), the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and other significant documentation.
We shall start by exploring the NC in terms of its values, aims, purposes and principles to deduce what primary education is for. The NC is a universal framework implemented by maintained schools, which enables children to have access to a consistent teaching and learning environment (White, 2000). It stipulates the subjects to be taught, the skills, knowledge and understanding expected from each subject and the associated standards or attainment targets for all children. There are four main purposes, which are to: 'establish an entitlement, establish standards, promote continuity and coherence and promote public understanding' (QCA, 1999). The QCA highlights that whilst these purposes remain static over time; the curriculum cannot and must be adapted to meet the dynamic changes in society. It is also imperative that teachers reassess their pedagogy to adapt with the changing requirements of their pupils, economic, social and cultural aspects of society (Q29).
'Education only flourishes if it successfully adapts to the demands and needs of the time'. (QCA, 1999)
In terms of the principles, the NC embeds a statutory inclusion statement, which emphasises that every child should be entitled to a 'broad and balanced curriculum' (QCA, 1999). This summarises how teachers can change the programmes of study to meet the diverse needs of children with the appropriate level of work. There are three principles to develop an inclusive curriculum which teachers should instill in their practice. These are: 'setting suitable learning challenges, responding to pupils' diverse learning needs, overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils' (QCA, 1999). These principles can impact teachers as the three elements need to be addressed and balanced in practice. More importantly, pedagogies need to be adapted to facilitate all children's learning so that the curriculum is accessible to them (Q15, Q25b).
Davis and Florian (2004) stressed the importance of 'connective pedagogies', in particular, using a combination of teaching approaches to connect with SEN children to stimulate an inclusive culture. This is an approach also supported by Knowler (2008):
'…in supporting pupils with SEN…a combination of teaching approaches for different purposes and in different contexts has the most potential to help teachers to develop an inclusive practice… ' ( [online] Knowler, 2008)
In terms of applying these principles to my own practice, seeking the advice of a SENCO and the use of assessment for learning can inform my pedagogy, which would be important for: inclusion strategies, curriculum planning and selecting best classroom practices (Q10, Q18, Q19, and Q20).
The principles and aims are connected in the sense that they are informed by values, which in turn shapes all elements of education. The main values underpinning the school curriculum include: having self-belief, valuing others in our diverse society and having a sense of moral duty. These educational values exist to enable the holistic development and well-being of the individual; and promote a desirable economy (QCA, 1999). Therefore schools would need to create a rich environment, which encompasses these values; I believe this is essential to shape children's development. In my base-school at Robin Hood Primary, these values are embedded within their culture. In terms of practice, I would need to integrate these values within the curriculum planning and school context (Q3b).
There are two broad aims of the NC, which encompass the values and purposes. This provides schools the framework to develop their own curriculum; especially by working collaboratively with families and other stakeholders to realise these aims, which are:
Aim 1: 'The school curriculum should aim to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn and achieve'. (QCA, 1999)
Aim 2: 'The school curriculum should aim to promote pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and prepare all pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life'. (QCA, 1999)
These aims focus on the personal qualities, knowledge and skills that pupils require to become conscientious citizens and thrive in a diverse society.
The QCA (1999) highlighted how both aims are interdependent as the spiritual, moral, social and cultural developments of individuals are important for them to be able to learn, achieve and raise attainment standards for every pupil. Schools are obliged to promote community cohesion to enable children to learn about diverse cultures, which reinforces 'Aim 2' (DCFS 2010). Nottingham's Global and Anti-Racist Perspectives (GARP) is an effective mechanism to achieve this by integrating it into the curriculum (Q18, Q19). I believe this is an essential aspect to embed within education so that children learn about different cultures; which is important for those who have little experience outside of school.
These values, aims, purposes and principles provide us a sense of what primary education is for. Education is about considering the whole child in terms of their well-being, individual needs and educational development. Thus, it is important for teachers and in my own practice to manage these aspects effectively to ensure that equality and inclusion are reflected in teaching (Q18, Q19). By doing so and having high expectations for every child, barriers to learning can be mitigated and children's potential can be realised (Q1).This reinforces the NC principles of inclusion.
The Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda (2003) supports the concept that education is more than the '3Rs'. ECM is a government initiative and a multi-agency approach. It addresses that children's performance and well-being are interconnected (Q3a, Q3b).The five main outcomes for children include; be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and to achieve economic and social well-being. These principles would impact practice as there is a duty to safeguard and ensure the well-being of every child. Spender (2006) stated that successful ECM implementation involves changes to the school culture:
'…implementing ECM would mean much more than just adjusting the curriculum… it would require a complete change in culture.' ( [Online] Spender, 2006)
In terms of my practice, I would need to ensure that I provide rich learning experiences for children so they can sustain high ECM outcomes.
If we consider the NC: aims, values, purposes, principles and the ECM documentation; education is not just about academia but centres on the holistic development of the child to reach their potential. However, these elements still remain an intricate area for discussion to ensure that education reflects the changing society we inhabit. There have been two contemporary reviews in education; the Rose Review (2009) and the Cambridge Primary Review (CPR, 2009), which was an independent enquiry led by Prof. Alexander. More recently, the announcement of the White Paper: Importance of teaching (2010) has suggested changes in the curriculum, assessment and teaching; which are likely to have a great impact in practice. Although the coalition government have scrapped Rose's model, both do provide worthy insights into the proposed changes of primary education; which shall now be discussed.
One of the areas they both assessed was the current aims and values underpinning the curriculum. Rose suggested that the aims and values should be the same for all stages of statutory education. In particular to take the form of the revised three aims of the secondary curriculum, which embodies the ECM outcomes. In contrast, the CPR questioned this approach and criticised Rose for devising a curriculum first then attaching the aims. Similarly, Wyse et al (2002) believed it was not an adequate rationale to build an outstanding curriculum. The CPR suggested that there should be 12 core educational aims, which relate to the: 'individual', 'self, others and the wider world', and 'learning, knowing and doing'. They argued that their aims were independent and essential to consider the needs of every child and not just inclusive to those at risk.
'The aims are interdependent. Thus for example, empowerment and autonomy are achieved in part through exploring, knowing, understanding and making sense, through the development of skill…'(Alexander, (CPR) 2010, p. 199)
Considering both viewpoints, there appears to be a degree of overlap. They both place greater emphasis on the child in terms of enjoying and striving positively in life, which I believe is essential. It could be argued that these aims and values fit better with modern society.
Now that we have an understanding on what primary education is for considering recent research, it is important to explore what children currently learn in the EYFS and primary phase.
The EYFS is a statutory framework from birth to five years which came into force in 2008. The overall aim is for all young children to achieve the ECM outcomes through its four main principles, which include: a unique child, positive relationships, enabling environments and learning and development (Q15) (DCFS 2008). These principles highlight the notion that all children are able learners from birth who best learn through positive relationships and enriched learning environments. The learning and development theme has six early learning goals: Personal, Social and Development, Communication, Language and Literacy, Problems Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy, Knowledge and Understanding of the World, Physical Development, and Creative Development (DCFS 2008). These areas of learning are inter-connected to support the holistic development of a child. This demonstrates how the EYFS framework closely aligns with how children learn as it recognises that children learn and develop in various ways. By understanding how children learn; the statutory frameworks support the conditions for learning to harness a greater teaching and learning impact (Q19). I believe the EYFS has a positive impact in practice (and through my experience) as practitioners can plan a range of creative activities to support the diverse needs of children (Q18, Q19, Q30).
We can see from the EYFS that children are essentially learning to develop their social skills and most importantly to become independent learners. However, it could be argued that these secure foundations become unstable when children enter Key Stage 1. This is because the NC is subject-orientated compared to the EYFS. Therefore, entering Key Stage 1 can be an abrupt process for Foundation Stage children as there is a sudden change from play-based learning to structured teaching. This can hinder the learning development for children and can cause some to regress in progress. This can impact teachers as they would need to consider the best pedagogical approaches to ease any transitional issues and cater for the variance in progress amongst children. However, the Foundation Stage Profile can be used to assess and plan according to the children's needs (DCFS 2008). The government has realised that there should be more play-based learning in Year 1 to reduce such impact. The Williams Review (2006) also reinforced this concept to strengthen children's development; especially in mathematics.
It should be noted that the CPR (2009) advised that the EYFS should be extended to age six therefore eliminating Key Stage 1 from the curriculum. They believed this would permit children to form affirmative attitudes to learning and develop essential language and study skills. It could be argued that this is a conceivable approach as children's social and learning skills would be secure to enable them to progress firmly into the primary phase.
The NC places greater emphasis on Standard English and ICT in learning across the curriculum for Key Stage 1 and 2 (QCA 1999). Schools are able to plan their own schemes of work to incorporate this and other programmes of study; which offers some flexibility. In an approach to promote creativity, the government introduced a new strategy for primary schools entitled 'Excellence and Enjoyment'. This enables flexibility to teach a creative curriculum where children can enjoy learning through different experiences (DfES 2003). It also encourages opportunities for social and collaborative aspects of learning, whereby there are opportunities for children to participate in their own learning through a 'negotiated curriculum' (Kendall-Seatter, 2005). At Robin Hood Primary, they believe creative approaches are essential to promote learning; it is more likely to engage and strengthen learning as children are able to make connections. This is likely to have a positive impact in practice as theoretically teachers have greater opportunities to adapt the curriculum to fit more closely with their school ethos and children's needs (Q10).
The Primary National Strategy (PNS), which is a non-statutory framework, was introduced as a mechanism to enable schools to deliver the NC more effectively, especially raising standards in literacy and numeracy (Q15). This framework supports teachers by building on objectives in a consistent manner and facilitates development across the different age ranges. In terms of my practice, this framework would enable me to use the objectives, materials and resources in planning and teaching. It would also permit me to assess children's learning to deduce the children's needs (Q15, Q25a, Q25b). However, it should be noted that the PNS has been criticised for placing emphasis on literacy and numeracy compared to other areas. Rose's Synthetic Phonics (2006), which is part of the PNS, has also been critiqued. The UKLA (2009) suggested that it is difficult for children to utilise these skills in their reading experiences unless it encourages enthusiasm and a sense of enjoyment. But the recent White Paper has emphasised that synthetic phonics is essential and there will be new reading checks at age six to boost literacy attainments.
After considering what children learn in the primary phase it is important to discuss what children should be learning. Pollard et al (1992) have stated that we have a 'hurry-along curriculum', which focuses on coverage rather than learning:
'…the hurry-along curriculum has diminished the frequency of responsive teaching in which teachers takes cues for their pedagogical moves from the responses of children'. (Pollard cited in Kendall-Seatter 2005 p.11)
Rose (2009) and the CPR (2009) have emphasised that the curriculum is overloaded and prescribed in nature. They have recommended significant changes which shall now be discussed. In considering any curriculum changes, it is important that it matches how children learn to make it both meaningful and accessible for them (Hayes 2004). They both are in agreement that a new curriculum needs to build on the EYFS which provides a secure platform for progression and enables children to enjoy learning. In terms of addressing assessment within the curriculum, there is a shared notion that a range of assessment modes should be considered, which involves children. I think this is crucial for them to progress and learn successfully too.
They both believe that the organisation of the curriculum content needs to be interlinked and flexible, which is important to create the conditions for successful learning. This can be supported by the Cognitive Development theory of learning as they advocate that learners actively build their own understandings. Learning occurs as a result of people making connections with what they already know and establishing what they need to get out of it; which links to the 'what's in it for me' concept (Hughes 2010). Vygotsky's (1978) research into the importance of scaffolding also supports this notion. He suggested that it was crucial to assess the child's abilities and build on their knowledge to enable them to understand their surroundings. He developed the 'zone of proximal development' concept where adult interaction helps children in the next stage of learning. Therefore this would be an important principle to apply in practice, whereby children's learning is scaffolded to build on prior experience to make connections (Q25a).
However, there are marked differences in their view on a new curriculum design. Rose's framework arranges the curriculum into six areas of learning, closely aligned to the EYFS (see below). The content is organised into three phases (early, middle and later) to highlight curriculum progression across the Key Stages.
In comparison, the CPR's model is based on its proposed matrix of twelve aims with eight curriculum domains that focus on skills acquisition and related to life experiences (see below). An important concept underpinning this model is that each of the domains has a national and local aspect to provide schools greater flexibility to match local learning needs and support innovation (Q10). The CPR also stressed the importance of ICT across all of the domains, rather than being a separate discipline as portrayed in Rose's model. They argued that there is a huge array of ICT such as electronic media that has developed and would be important for children to learn and utilise. Considering the dynamic digital culture we inhabit, I believe it is important that the primary phase places emphasis on ICT as it is an important life-skill for children.
From the above discussion, we can see that both Rose (2009) and the CPR (2009) put forward some interesting viewpoints on what children should be learning. Most importantly they have to some extent matched this to how children learn which ties in with successful learning. Their frameworks highlight the importance of self-development which links in with the Social Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL). SEAL is important as it helps children to develop essential social skills and manage emotional stresses to promote effective learning (PNS online, 2010). Therefore it is important that the primary phase continues to attend to the social needs as children learn best when they feel safe, secure and respected by others.
It could be argued that both frameworks have organised the curriculum to provide personalised learning opportunities for children to bring about successful learning. This can be related to Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (1982). This theory suggests that there are eight different intelligences which people possess at varying degrees; which has implications for teaching. For example, by presenting lessons in a variety of ways it can leverage the intelligences of individuals to strengthen their learning Armstrong, 2010). Therefore, from Gardner's research, it suggests that the primary phase of learning should consider these individual needs to enable children to reach their full potential.
Overall, primary education is more than acquiring academic knowledge it is about the holistic develop of a child and equipping them with a variety of essential life skills. We can see from the above discussion that the curriculum needs to align with how children learn. The White Paper has indicated a focus on subject content, which offers flexibility to teachers. However, research shows that we need to move away from a stringent subject-based curriculum and provide opportunities where essential knowledge and skills can be connected to real life experiences.
In my view it is evident that when considering the country and the world in which children are growing up, a curriculum needs to provide rich, meaningful and diverse leaning environments. This is not only to promote enjoyment but to ensure that we have a high quality educational system in place, which adapts to the changing competitive and economic climate we live in.