The Structure and Balance of the Curriculum retains the existing time allocations for each of the five areas of the primary curriculum, amounting to 80 per cent of the available time in primary schools. The same core proportion will also continue in S1-S2.
But Ian Barr, director for the 3-14 stages at Learning and Teaching Scotland which drew up the guidelines, points out that these should be regarded as minimum times across the whole primary and early secondary stages. "There are different priorities in different schools," he said, "and at different stages schools will need to spend more time on one learning activity than on another.
"But we believe it is important to set out the balance required over time as a safeguard so that provision in any one area is not depressed to the point which we would regard as putting it at risk."
Mr Barr said the key was "allowing schools flexibility and recognising the professionalism of teachers which gives them a paramount place". Schools which wanted to spend more time on writing could do so, while the balance within the 80 per cent primary core time could be tipped in favour of environmental studies in the final primary years, as pupils have to bridge the gap between the overall 15 per cent recommended for primary schools to 3 per cent in the subject-based years of S1 and S2.
Curricular debates over the years have raged back and forth between those who fear rigidity and those who say over-concentration on literacy and numeracy would narrow the curriculum. The revised guidelines state simply that "it is a matter of professional judgement to ensure that a necessary emphasis in one curriculum area does not detract from pupils' experience in other areas."
The guidelines also differ from the initial version in having a rationale for the 5-14 curriculum, designed to fit with approaches in the pre-school and later secondary years. The result is "a significant move to a full curriculum covering the years 3-18," Mr Barr said. But the watchwords remain "breadth, balance, continuity, coherence and progression".
Mr Barr defended the minimalist approach. "There are hard questions to be asked about the nature of the curriculum. But we were not asked to look at these fundamental issues. Our remit was to make minimal changes, to clean up the documents and make them more manageable."
The new guidelines are accompanied by a guide for teachers and managers on the 5-14 curriculum illustrating varying ways of implementing the recommended approaches. Learning and Teaching Scotland has also issued revised guidelines for environmental studies which has been realigned more closely with the relevant secondary subjects.
Health education and information and communications technology (ICT) have been removed to be given a stronger cross-curricular place.