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‘The touchstone of an excellent curriculum is that it instils in children a love of learning for its own sake’
Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, Sir Jim Rose (2009)
The National Curriculum (NC) was introduced into the United Kingdom by the Conservative government as an ‘integrated framework for learning’ [i] (National Curriculum Primary handbook, 2010, p8) through the Education Reform Act of 1988. A statutory nationwide curriculum for all state and maintained primary and secondary schools and organises schools into four Key Stages (KS) and applying to all children and young people between the ages of 5 and 16, it sees itself as lying at the heart of ‘policies to raise standards’. [ii]
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The NC’s objective is to ensure that these schools follow a common curriculum which specifies the subjects taught for children throughout their school career (the core subjects being Literature, Numeracy and Science) and to standardise the content taught at schools across the UK, with the exception of Academies, which are publicly-funded and have a significant degree of autonomy. Independent Schools may set their own Curriculum. The curriculum also sets out the knowledge, skills and understanding required in each subject and sets standard or attainment targets for each subject, enabling teachers to plan for individual children’s learning needs.
In the following I will explore the values and principles which underpin the National Curriculum and the opportunities it offers, drawing on other relevant documentation, for example, The Foundation Stage Curriculum, Every Child Matters, The Rose Report, The Cambridge Report and the recent Government White Paper ‘The Importance of Learning’, whilst offering how they will impact on my own teaching and my personal views of their success in meeting their objectives.
Values and Princilpes
‘Education influences and reflects the values of society’ [iii] (The Primary National Curriculum, 1999, p10).
There are four main purposes and two principal aims set out in the National Curriculum:-
1. To establish an entitlement for every child to develop and apply the skills and understanding necessary to ensure self-fulfilment through motivation and engagement. ‘Teachers should aim to give every pupil the opportunity to experience success in learning and to achieve as high a standard as possible’ (The National Curriculum Primary Handbook, 2010, p9). Whilst teachers are bound by a mandatory curriculum, the teaching of knowledge, through inclusion, skills and understanding must be taught in a flexible way which suits an individual’s needs, drawing on a child’s previous knowledge and with a clear agenda for the route forward to obtain maximum pupil progress.
If a child falls significantly behind, a teacher may use the curriculum’s programmes of learning to differentiate to a greater degree and plan according to ability.
For high achievers, suitably challenging work can be found again within the curriculum’s programmes of work and differentiation met through planning a greater breadth and in depth study of the subject.
To establish publicly accessible national standards of children’s academic performances enabling a framework for targets and improvement, and also a regulated assessment of achievement in the form of Assessment through Standard Assessment Tests (SATs), introduced into the UK in 1991, and initially taken at the end of Years 2,6 and 9. Arguably never a popular addition to the school calendar, Year 9 SATs were subsequently abolished in 2008 and replaced by continual student assessment through Assessing Pupil Progress (APP). The SATs results lead to a compilation of published league tables, giving parent and carers not only newfound access to achievement statistics for each school and measuring the ability of individual schools to successfully teach the National Curriculum, but also a free choice in the school they wish their children to attend.
To promote continuity and coherence of taught subject matter in order to allow ease of transition between key stages and establishments, while providing the support for lifelong learning.
4. To promote public understanding, allowing the general public to understand and be assured of the achievements and worthiness of compulsory education, to instill confidence in the general public and promote an understanding of the achievements and values of compulsory education.
Aim 1: The school curriculum should aim to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn and to achieve. .
The implementation of equal opportunities and inclusion for all pupils to achieve including pupils with special educational needs, pupils with English as a second language, pupils from all cultural and social backgrounds, pupils from different ethnic groups including travellers, refugees, and asylum seekers, boys and girls saw the barriers of discrimination and stereo-typing challenged and dispelled. Children and young people are enabled to achieve at all levels of their personal and professional lives, producing a fair and healthy society and a productive economy with sustainable employment.
‘When planning, teachers should set high expectations and provide opportunities for all pupils to achieve ‘(The National Curriculum Primary Handbook, 2010, p9).
Teacher’s need to be aware that the diverse mixture of children in their care should all have access to the same opportunities to achieve and their learning will be influenced by their inherent different experiences, interests and strengths. Through the integrated framework of statutory subjects, the National Curriculum’s objective is to ‘provide a breadth and balance as well as securing the fundamentals of literacy, numeracy and ICT’ (The National Curriculum Primary Handbook, 2010, p8) and through rigorous planning allowing flexibility to adapt to individual child’s learning styles and needs and overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils.
The promotion and implementation of a thorough and high standard of literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology curriculum, essential to effective education, will enable children and young people to ultimately gain access to a more fulfilled future and have more choice in its direction. 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.
Every Child Matters (?) acknowledges the link between pupil well-being and effective pupil performance and drawing on the outcome, Making a positive contribution’, a non-statutory PHSE programme designed to develop the social and emotional skills of all pupils through complementing, consolidating and strengthening good practice in [iv] the school was soon rolled out nationally to address this challenging role. With the introduction of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) (primary) and Citizen(secondary) programmes, using a whole-school approach, the tools to help children reinforce links between emotional wellbeing and effective learning now has a firm place in every day school life. Children and young people are given the confidence to manage risk, adversity and change and encouraged to take up opportunities. An effective school should contribute to the pupil’s sense of identity through developing their knowledge and understanding of themselves and their wider environment, celebrating the achievement and aspirations of what they see around them, whilst contributing to widening their outlook and raise their own aspirations about further education and work opportunities. Schools today continue to celebrate cultural and religious diversity and along with the implementation of PHSE, offer a broad range of subjects and experiences, enabling children and young people to obtain valuable knowledge and skills which will allow them to think creatively and critically, draw out their ability to be innovative leaders and know how to lead safe and [v] healthy lives. These skills will in turn allow the children to grow into responsible adults and as parents they will instil these values in their own children which in turn will benefit society as a whole.
Enable children and young people to; value themselves, their family, their close and wider relationships, the diverse range of people, cultures and heritages in today’s British Society and environment in which they live. Through nurturing a child as a valued individual, promoting self-esteem, self worth and emotional well-being, the school curriculum should enable them to form worthwhile and meaningful relationships whilst learning the fundamental difference between right and wrong. An appreciation, engagement and respect for others will direct them into becoming responsible partners, parents and citizens with a constructive, responsible and valued role to play in society, whilst preparation for further education, training and employment, will ensure they become ‘successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens’ (The National Curriculum Primary Handbook,2010, p5).
Children and young people are expected to commit to the virtues of truth, justice, honesty, trust and a sense of duty whilst them to cope with the pressures of a rapidly changing and technically challenging global environment, and in particular communications technology, giving them the tools to succeed as individuals, parents and workers.
‘Education only flourishes if it successfully adapts to the demands and needs of time’ (The Primary National Curriculum, 1999, p11)
Let battle commence! Following the introduction of the National Curriculum; the criticism, reforms and attempts at reform have come in abundance! Tim Oats, Head of Assessment, Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment argues that ‘a well-defined and enhanced national curriculum based on concepts, principles and key knowledge can lead to a greater focus on deeper learning, with fewer topics being pursued to greater depth’.(2010)
Read more about School curriculum ‘needs reform’ on ESLwatch.info
Excellence and Enjoyment 2003
In 2003 Excellence and Enjoyment, the strategy document for teaching children with English as a Foreign Language (EAL) in Primary Schools was published. Built on National Literacy Strategy (1998), and the National Numeracy Strategy (1999), in the executive summary, the document was bold enough to state it wished to, ‘Take ownership of the curriculum, shaping it and making it their own. Teachers have much more freedom than they often realise to design the timetable and decide what and how they teach’. (ExcellenceÂ and Enjoyment, 2003, p3)
In his forward, Charles Clarke, the then Education Secretary states; ‘Children learn better when they are excited and engaged’ (Ibis, p2), ‘Different schools go about this in different ways. There will be different sparks that make learning vivid and real for different children. I want every primary school to be able to build on their own strengths to serve the needs of their own children’ (Ibis, p2).
The debate for the relaxing of the stronghold of the curriculum expectations was well and truly under way.
Revised Secondary Curriculum 2007
A revised Progamme of Study for secondary schools was introduced in 2007. Claiming the revised curriculum offered greater ‘Flexibility and Coherence’ (The new secondary curriculum. What has changed and why?, 2007,p4) it offers to give schools the flexibility to personalise learning and design a curriculum that meets the specific needs of their learners;
‘To give schools greater flexibility to tailor learning to their learners’ needs, there is less prescribed subject content in the new programmes of study. Instead, the curriculum focuses on the key concepts and processes that underlie each subject.’ (Ibis, p4). In relationship to the argument for a more cross curricular approach, it states;
‘The common format contributes to greater coherence, making it easier to see links between subjects. Several subjects share key concepts and processes; curriculum opportunities highlight the potential for cross-curricular links’ (Ibis, p4).
Early Years Foundation Stage 2008
In 2006 the Childcare Act provided a legal framework for the creation of the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and was introduced in September 2008, giving a new framework for learning, development and welfare for children in all registered early years settings (including child minding provision), maintained and independent schools. This covers children from birth to the August after their fifth birthday.
Cambridge Report 2009
In 2008, Ed Balls, the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, commissioned Sir Jim Rose to carry out an independent review of the primary curriculum in England. Before the report was delivered, The Cambridge Primary Review, an independent enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England and which had been launched in October 2006 was published, led by Professor Robin Alexander.
Whist acknowledging a need for some kind of national curriculum and that the EYFS areas of learning provide a good basis, the Cambridge Review sees the current curriculum as ‘over-crowded and unmanageable'( Alexander, (2009)) with too little value put on creativity and imagination. With 900 pieces of data being collected from both official and independent sources including academics, children and teachers the in-depth report accuses the National Curriculum of implementing a system that values facts more than understanding and enquiry, and suggests a complete over-haul of the curriculum with the introduction of 12 new underlying aims and 8 subject domains. It proposes only 70% of teaching be attached to the National Curriculum with the remaining 30% being attached to a newly proposed Community Curriculum.
Alexander argues that the current curriculum places an over emphasis on the importance of children gaining high standards in the basics (reading, writing and arithmetic) at the expense of the peripheral subjects and, as such, are undervaluing the importance of creativity and imagination, leading to problems occurring in their progression through school and beyond.
He also argues that an obsession with curriculum testing of the ‘core’ subjects is jeopardising children’s right to a full and broad education.
Rose Report 2009
Sir Jim Rose’s remit was to propose a curriculum which would inspire life-long learning while reducing prescription and giving teachers greater flexibility.
In particular he was asked to consider at how primary schools could develop children’s personal skills and proposes a new curriculum based on six areas of learning (English, communication and languages, mathematics, the arts, historical, geographical and social, physical development, health and wellbeing, scientific and technological) which would help them achieve academically as well enable them to have a smooth transition between early years and primary school, and into secondary school.
Proposing that summer-born children should start reception class in the September after they turn four years of age, acknowledging that children with birthdays in August who start school in the September after they turn five, do less well at school, and are also slightly less likely to go to university.
Sir Jim, a former Ofsted chief, in recognition of the changing face of the world around us, calls for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to be made a core skill of the new curriculum (making provisions for additional training for teachers) ,alongside literacy and numeracy, and although he insisted this would not mean other subjects such as science – traditionally seen as a core subject – would become less important ‘In no way does that suggest we are stepping back from recognising the importance of science and technology’ (Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, Sir Jim Rose (2009)) and although imperative that we should allow for a digital generation of children who are being brought up using technology in their recreation to make the link between this technology and learning, again the bias of curriculum is shifting away from reasoning and creativity.
Also recommended is a more ‘theme based’ cross-curricular approach to teaching subjects, which will provide children with ample opportunities to apply and use their knowledge and skills in cross-curricularÂ studies, allowing them to deepen their understanding and think creatively. There will be an emphasis on personal development and on social and emotional learning and finally, a focus on spoken communication, making particular use of the performing and visual arts, especially role play and drama.
The Creative Curriculum
Government White Paper- The Importance of Teaching – 2010
As it warned it would, the new government abandoned the Rose framework for the primary curriculum and recently launched its own review in the form of the Government White Paper, The Importance of Teaching. It is also abolished the curriculum and assessment ‘watchdog’, the QCDA. However, in the interim, the version of the national curriculum introduced in September 2000 will continue in force until 2012, at least.
Michael Gove the Secretary of State for Education having accused Labour of squeezing the “fun and enjoyment” (GMT interview 24 Nov 2010) out of school, unveiled the most radical programme of education reforms for a generation overhauling the national curriculum, a far more rigorous screening of would-be teachers will be enforced and staff given more power to discipline pupils. All schools (including primary schools for the first time) will be forced to meet tough new targets. Proposals to toughen up exams as a result of the supposed dumming down of education, as pupil’s are accused of taking ‘soft’ options in order for the school to achieve well in the League Tables, yet leaving school with subjects which prospective employees simply do not value.
A reading test for six-year-olds to check if they can recognise simple words like “cat” and “street” will be brought in and in the most rudimentary reform of the education system for a generation. Mr Gove describes the national curriculum as a ”straitjacket which stifles the creativity of our best teachers” (Ibis) and intends give teachers more freedom to ”innovate and inspire” (Ibis) and prior to the release of the White Paper, Mr Gove said on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, “I want to slim the National Curriculum down,”
“The original intention behind the National Curriculum was that it shouldn’t cover everything in the school day and our Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have made the case very powerfully that what schools should follow is a minimum curriculum entitlement that takes up perhaps 50 per cent of school time.” .
Reading through the proposals, I am unable to find any real commitment to a slimming down of the curriculum and only real radical objective appears to be for a far more rigorous screening of teacher training applicants, including tests of character and emotional intelligence and the encouragement of ex-forces applicants no doubt to bark orders at their pupils.
Disappointingly, in the light of the Cambridge Review, very little has been learned and very little has been implemented to create a less prescriptive curriculum and once again, it is the teachers who take the brunt of the blame for the purported failure of the education system when in my opinion it is surely due to lack of investment. With the budget of an independent school, surely every state school (even with their commitment to inclusion-unlike the private system) could begin to address class-sizes and never want for resources again. With a proposed £359m programme of education cuts, the present government seems to me to be looking for a quick fix agenda. If the government would finally put their money where their mouth is and, dare I suggest, give prospective teachers the wage structure they surely deserve, given the responsibility they have towards educating the next generation, maybe finally teachers would be seen in the light of respect they deserve.
– Trainee teachers will spend more time in the classroom
Ensure support available to every school for the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics
For existing teachers, schools will be given more freedom to pay the best staff higher salaries and greater powers to sack the worst performers.
“No-one is helped when poor performance remains unaddressed,” said the report. “Underperforming teachers place additional pressures on their colleagues and let down the children in their care.”
The White Paper said current regulations surrounding teacher competence procedures were too “complex, lengthy and fragmented” – meaning heads were reluctant to fire staff not fit for the classroom. They will be shortened and simplified under Coalition plans, although full details are yet to emerge.
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Mr Gove said: “The countries that come out top of international studies into educational performance recognise that the most crucial factor in determining how well children do at school is the quality of their teachers.
“The best education systems draw their teachers from among the top graduates and train them rigorously, focusing on classroom practice. They recognise that it is teachers’ knowledge, intellectual depth and love of their subject which stimulates the imagination of children and allows them to flourish and succeed.
“But for too long in our country, teachers and heads have been hamstrung by bureaucracy and left without real support.”
“The initial promise of entitlement to a broad, balanced and rich curriculum has been sacrificed in pursuit of a narrowly-conceived ‘standards’ agenda. By Martin Beckford, Social Affairs Correspondent 6:01AM GMT 20 Feb 2009 Telegraph
“The most conspicuous casualties are the arts, the humanities and those kinds of learning in all subjects which require time for talking, problem- solving and the extended exploration of ideas,” By Richard Garner, Education Editor
Friday, 20 February 2009 the I ndependent
For each National Curriculum subject, there is a programme of study. The programmes of study describe the subject knowledge, skills and understanding pupils are expected to develop during each key stage.
Within the framework of the National Curriculum, schools are free to plan and organise teaching and learning in the way that best meets the needs of their pupils.
Many schools use the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) Schemes of Work to plan their curriculum. These help to translate the National Curriculum’s objectives into teaching and learning activities
The prime duty of the school, I believe, is to instil a positive commitment to, and love of education, in order to allow each pupil to reach their full potential in life as outlined by Mick Waters, the then Director of Curriculum, QCA (2007) when he said, ‘Most of all, young people should relish the opportunity for discovery and achievement that the curriculum offers’. Without motivation and a thirst for knowledge, a child will neither benefit from their school years nor aspire to let education be the door-opening to a better future. Through encouragement of their interests, inherent strengths and experiences, children will develop a confidence in their ability to learn as independent individuals or collaboratively with their peers, whilst developing a creative, inquisitive and rational mind in the process.
I firmly intend to use my role as a teacher, working within a collaborative framework, to use my gained knowledge and skills, creativity and adaptability, to capture and enhance the learning capabilities of the children within my remit.
Teacher assessment is an essential part of the national curriculum and is carried out as part of the teaching and learning process.
It spans the programmes of study, and takes into account evidence of attainment in many contexts, including discussion and observation.
The national curriculum tests provide a snapshot of attainment in English and mathematics at the end of key stage 2. Schools have a statutory responsibility to report teacher assessment levels in core subjects of English, mathematics and science for each eligible pupil to QCDA. Schools must also report teacher assessment level judgements to parents, carers and guardians for both core and non-core subjects
What will the new primary curriculum look like?
The new government has made it clear that it intends to restore the National Curriculum to its original purpose – a minimum national entitlement for all our young people organised around subject disciplines.
An announcement outlining next steps is expected shortly.
What happens in the meantime?
The existing subject-based National Curriculum requirement will remain in force for primary schools. The current framework, introduced in 2000, provides flexibility for schools to adapt the curriculum to their needs. Details are available from the Key stages 1 & 2 section of this site.
Will primary schools still be getting an additional training day in 2010/11?
Yes. Primary schools teaching Key Stages 1 and 2 will still receive an extra non-contact day in 2010/11 to help them prepare adequately for the next school year and consider new approaches.
Why have you sent out handbooks?
That decision was taken by the previous Government. They proposed to introduce a new primary curriculum from September 2011 and put in place a programme of support and guidance for schools from January this year. The new Government has decided not to go ahead with this policy for the reasons set out in the Minister’s statement to Parliament.
Will schools get a refund for primary curriculum materials that they have purchased.
Yes. A full refund will be made automatically to those who placed orders on account. (The account will be credited rather than a refund made.) Those who purchased by credit card will need to call our orderline on 0300 303 3015. All customers have been contacted directly by QCDA with information about the refund policy.
Can I still access the Curriculum design tool from the primary curriculum website?
Following the Secretary of State for Education’s decision not to take forward the last Government’s proposals for a new primary curriculum, associated material which had been published on the National Curriculum website has been removed.
This means that the curriculum design tool will no longer be available. Registered users have been contacted and asked if they would like to have any stored information returned to them.
Can I still access pages from the new primary curriculum website?
Following the Secretary of State for Education’s decision not to take forward the last Government’s proposals for a new primary curriculum, material which had been published on the National Curriculum website has been removed.
Material on the statutory requirements that schools must meet in relation to the National Curriculum, is available from theÂ Key stages 1 & 2 section of this site.
The programmes of study also map out a scale of attainment within the subject. In most Key Stage 1, 2, and 3 subjects, these “attainment targets” are split into eight levels, plus a description of “exceptional performance”. The exception is Citizenship, which has separate attainment targets for the end of Key Stages 3 and 4.
Children develop at different rates, but National Curriculum levels can give you an idea of how your child’s progress compares to what is typical for their age. For example, by the end of Key Stage 1, most children will have reached level 2, and by the end of Key Stage 2, most will be at level 4.
 Failure and adverse effects of the ‘free market’ objective
Although the primary purpose for the National Curriculum was to enable league tables and inform parental choice, many parents or guardians still fail to get the school of their choice and there is concern that the league tables have a detrimental effect on pupils:
focus on league tables had resulted in pupils being pressured to attain high grades and so opt for subjects that are seen as easier to get good marks in such as art, drama and history. The result has been for the more difficult mathematics in subjects such as chemistry and physics being dropped
Gillard D (2010) Hobson’s Choice: education policies in the 2010 general election www.educationengland.org.uk/articles/29election.html How, I wonder, does Gove reconcile his many statements about ‘freeing schools from central control’ with his imposition of ‘systematic synthetic phonics’ for teaching reading? Every education report from Hadow onwards has urged teachers to use a variety of methods and warned against relying on one. Almost every expert on the teaching of reading opposes this policy, so what is it doing in the Coalition’s programme? Another generation of children is to be used as guinea pigs to satisfy some ignorant advisor – or to make money for a textbook publisher.
The National Curriculum, we are told, is to be reformed (yet again!). In primary schools it will be subject-based and – in a phrase that tells us everything we need to know about Gove’s lack of understanding of education – it will be ‘based on evidence about what knowledge can be mastered by children at different ages’.
To make matters worse, Gove has invited Niall Ferguson, ‘the British historian most closely associated with a rightwing, Eurocentric vision of western ascendancy’ (Charlotte Higgins The Guardian 30 May 2010) to help rewrite the history syllabus. Freedom for schools? I don’t think so.
The study of most subjects under the National Curriculum would usually culminate in the sitting of a GCSE at the end of Key Stage 4. Although the GCSE examinations replaced the earlier, separate GCE O-level and CSE examinations, the syllabi were still initially devised entirely by the examination boards, whereas since the implementation of the National Curriculum the syllabus outline is determined by law. Thus much of the attention surrounding the claimed dumbing down of GCSEs is, indirectly, a criticism of the National Curriculum.
Public schools are free to choose their own curriculum and examinations and many have opted for the more demanding IGCSEs which are not tied to the National Curriculum. It is claimed that this is creating a two-tier system with state school pupils losing out. From time to time ministers have suggested that state schools may be given funding to enter pupils for IGCSE examinations but a study was undertaken by QCA, which concluded that IGCSEs do not follow the programmes of study required by the Key Stage 4 of the National Curriculum and therefore could not be offered as a state-funded alternative.
Gillard D (2010) Hobson’s Choice: education policies in the 2010 general election www.educationengland.org.uk/articles/29election.html The report, however, does find that the national curriculum has been effective in raising standards, improving pup
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