Indifferent and opposed

Two-thirds of primary teachers are unconvinced about new curriculum

William Stewart & Warwick Mansell

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More than two-thirds of primary teachers do not think the national curriculum changes proposed last week will do anything to help their teaching, a joint poll by TES and the NAHT heads' union suggests.

The results come as an academic who advised ministers on their planned curriculum reforms warned they risked losing the support of the profession because of the way the changes have been presented. "If teachers aren't on board with this it won't work," Professor Dylan Wiliam told TES.

The poll of more than 500 primary leaders and classroom teachers found that 38 per cent thought the draft primary programmes of study in English, maths and science would "hinder" their teaching. Another 30 per cent said that the proposals would make "no difference". Nearly half of respondents said that the draft programmes contained too much detail. "Please don't return to rote learning," one teacher said. But a minority were happy, with praise for the "inclusive approach".

The survey also suggests that much of what the government highlighted to the media as new last week - including foreign language teaching and learning times tables up to 12 - already takes place in most primaries.

"It's clear that much of what is being described as `new' in the primary curriculum is simply an extension of existing good practice already present in the majority of schools," Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said.

They were being asked to do more in some areas, he added. "But this could have been achieved more effectively had government not chosen to alienate much of the profession by denigrating what was already being achieved."

Professor Wiliam said that he could not see how research on the "world's best" education systems had contributed to the draft programmes of study. He said there was a danger that without an underlying set of principles they just became a list of ministers' preferences and "their hunches about what will work".

"If you wanted this to have more widespread support it needs much more careful explanation," Professor Wiliam said.

But he supports the year-by-year structure and is pleased that education secretary Michael Gove accepted most of his panel of expert advisers' recommendations. Professor Wiliam is the third of the four-member panel to speak out about the handling of the review. Last week, TES revealed that the concerns of professors Andrew Pollard and Mary James ran so deep that they tendered their resignations.

When speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Gove dismissed his critics as "a few professors and some individuals seeking to curry favour in Ed Miliband's Labour Party".

Tim Oates, expert panel chair, argued that by restricting the curriculum to core knowledge the proposals could "open up space for professionalism of teachers, rather than closing it down".

A Department for Education spokesperson said that the draft programmes of study had been "informed by rigorous national and international research".

Not so `new'

Primary pupils are already taught their 12x12 multiplication tables, according to 54 per cent of primary teachers surveyed.

In the survey, 54 per cent said that their pupils normally mastered long division, 80 per cent said that they could add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions and two-thirds said that pupils at their primary learned algebra.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of primary teachers said that their pupils could recite poems from memory, 44 per cent said that their pupils were taught the subjunctive and 88 per cent said that pupils learned the names of solar system planets.

A foreign language was taught in the primaries of 90 per cent of teachers and 83 per cent said that this began in Year 3.

Acting against advice from Ofsted

The government rejected advice from its own inspectorate by publishing a draft national curriculum that sets out what should be taught year by year in primaries, TES can reveal.

Ofsted advised against a year-by-year prescription for topics in English, maths and science in its submission to the government, saying that teachers should have more freedom.

In English, the proposals specify yearly content for key stage 1 and for every two years in key stage 2. However, the watchdog's evidence, submitted in April 2011 but never published, said: "There would be no advantage in setting the curriculum out year by year and it would limit opportunities and expectations."

In maths and science, ministers propose yearly lists of topics. Ofsted said that a year-by-year approach in science would reduce flexibility and in maths could lead to a "more fragmented approach", while a curriculum broken down into longer sections "would allow deeper development".

The issue has split the panel of expert advisers, with half arguing that a yearly structure would be "far too prescriptive" and the others pointing out that it would not be mandatory.

The influential Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education also opposes a year-by-year approach.

Warwick Mansell

A matter of opinion

If the draft primary national curriculum programmes of study in English, maths and science were introduced would they .

  • Help your teaching 13%
  • Hinder your teaching 38%
  • Make no difference 30%
  • Don't know 19%
    • The level of detail in the draft primary national curriculum programmes of study in English, maths and science is.

      • About right 26%
      • Too much 47%
      • Not enough 5%
      • Don't know 22%.
        • Original headline: Two-thirds of primary teachers unimpressed by curriculum changes

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William Stewart & Warwick Mansell

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