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Different . . . for boys;Briefing;Document of the month

In part three of The TES guide to the curriculum review, Sarah Cassidy looks at English

THE NEW English curriculum is a much more clear and streamlined document than the existing programmes of study.

No major changes are proposed although new emphasis is given to a wider range of reading and writing skills and clearer progression between the age groups.

However, English is one of the subjects which attracted the last-minute attention of Education Secretary David Blunkett. He is particularly concerned about the gap between boys' and girls' literacy standards, and personally intervened to introduce a new statutory list of boy-friendly teaching strategies.

The revised curriculum says "specific provision for improving boys' achievement in English should be made". Teachers should recognise and build on what boys do well in English, and channel their ability in spoken language into constructive drama and role play.

They should appreciate that boys like to read "non-literary" texts and develop strategies for making the most of boys' chosen reading, it says.

Teachers are advised to set writing assignments which require concise analysis rather than the traditional use of imagination and expression of feelings which could alienate boys.

However, it ends by insisting that the amount and nature of attention given to boys' and girls' work should be monitored for consistency.

Within the programmes of study themselves, the biggest change is at primary level. This has been rewritten to ensure alignment with the national literacy strategy, which will have been running for two years by the time the new curriculum is introduced.

In reading, infants will first concentrate on using phonics to decode words. In writing, the emphasis is on helping pupils to enjoy writing and to see its value in communicating, creating imaginary worlds, exploring experience and explaining information.

Juniors should begin to analyse and discuss texts while developing the independence and stamina to read more challenging and lengthy books. Non-fiction plays a much bigger part in the list of compulsory materials following national test evidence that pupils struggled with writing non-fiction. Diaries, autobiographies, biographies, letters, leaflets and advertisements are now part of the statutory curriculum.

Detailed grammar is introduced much more explicitly than ever before at primary level. The new curriculum demands that seven-year-olds should begin to learn the functions of word classes such as nouns, verbs and adjectives, understand clauses, phrases and connectives, and use paragraphs to link ideas.

Speaking and listening topics are more explicit in the new curriculum. Drama, role play, discussion and public speaking were strengthened after concerns that the literacy strategy could squeeze out these topics with its focus on reading and writing skills.

The statutory requirements for primary reading and writing can be covered by implementing the literacy strategy in full. Some aspects of speaking and listening can also be covered in this way, according to the Secretary of State's proposals. Guidance on how the rest of speaking and listening can be delivered is to be published later this month.

At secondary level, pupils are to practise a wider range of writing skills including imaginative, descriptive and analytical writing, and persuasive argument. Pupils will also be taught to use writing as part of the learning process by hypothesising, paraphrasing and summarising.

Compulsory booklists have also been removed to allow teachers more flexibility, say officials. They are replaced by more lists of recommended authors and new lists of contemporary authors and writers from other cultures.

Many giants of English literature, such as Anthony Trollope, Henry James and Mary Shelley have been removed to make way for new writers. But officials stress these are merely suggestions and teachers are free to teach their own choice of authors.


Key stage 1:

* Pupils should learn to read and write independently and with enthusiasm. They develop confidence as speakers, make relevant contributions and learn how to listen to others attentively. They use language to explore imaginary worlds and their own experiences.

Key stage 2:

* Pupils should learn to adapt their speech and writing according to context, purpose and audience. They read a range of texts and respond to different layers of meaning in them. They explore language in literary and non-literary texts and learn how language works.

Key stages 3 and 4:

* In KS3, pupils' repertoire in writing and speaking extends to formal and public registers. They develop their ability to evaluate language in use. They study classic and contemporary texts and explore social and moral issues.

* During KS4, pupils learn to respond with confidence to the language demands of academic study and of the workplace. They use and analyse complex features of language. They read many kinds of texts efficiently and make articulate, perceptive comments on a range of issues.

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