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Curriculum review is warned off subject focus

Primary schools must not come under pressure to conform to a secondary model of subject-based curriculum, a major new report from Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning has argued.

The national curriculum is currently subject to a government-commissioned review, which has seen more than 4,000 individuals and groups respond by the time the consultation closed this week.

Many have called for a return to a more traditional, knowledge-based curriculum in primaries.

But Julie McCulloch, author of the report and policy manager at the centre, which is part of education and media company Pearson, said many primary teachers were sceptical about what they saw as a secondary model of subject-based teaching and were keen to work in themes.

"The whole subject-versus-themes debate is a perennial question for primaries and it is one that is not particularly helpful," she said.

"We looked at best practice and what successful schools were doing on the ground to get beyond that sterile debate. I think all primary schools in some way look for links between subjects to make timetabling work and to aid learning, but what we found was one size does not fit all."

The report, Subject to Change, is based on a review of research and case studies of five high-performing schools and five high-performing school systems. It is due to be published by Pearson next week.

It found that many successful primary schools in the UK and abroad do not structure learning around subject disciplines but used themes, and that thematic teaching did not mean a neglect of the basics.

It also recommends that schools explicitly teach learning strategies and the Government should resist the temptation to pressure primaries into a particular curriculum design.

"The Government must avoid becoming fixated on ensuring content coverage or enforcing an unpopular approach to curriculum design," she concluded.

Four of the five primaries visited described their approach as "tending towards the thematic", that primary schools in Finland, Singapore, Ontario and Korea also had no one pattern but used both subject and themed-based teaching.

Insight, page 23.

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