Moves to mix subjects

A review of the junior and infants curriculum is expected next year. Helen Ward speaks to the man pushing for change and looks at schools that have already adopted imaginative approaches.

The primary curriculum should be restructured, possibly by combining subjects, to create a smoother route from early years to secondary school, according to a leading Government adviser.

Mick Waters, director of curriculum for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, told The TES that he hoped any review would not lead to nitpicking about content. Instead he called for improvements in its structure.

A formal review of the primary curriculum is expected to start next year.

The Government has already pledged to add an additional subject - languages - to the primary curriculum.

Mr Waters suggested that the primary curriculum could become a halfway house between the six areas of learning and development in the foundation curriculum (which have broad titles such as "Knowledge and Understanding of the World") and the 13 traditional secondary subjects, such as geography.

Under the existing curriculum, pupils study 12 subjects from the age of five.

The changes could involve the creation of "umbrella" subjects, combining subjects, and more flexible cross-curricular work.

"At the moment children come from six foundation stage tracks on to 12 subject tracks at key stage 1," he said. "It must be a jolt and many children derail from individual subjects for all sorts of reasons as they go through primary and secondary. We need a good points system to smooth the transition all the way through the curriculum, so children travel as far as possible on all learning tracks.

"There is a growing acknowledgement that, with changes happening on either side of primary education, it would be sensible to look at the primary curriculum from the point of view of coherence, progression and continuity."

Mr Waters said that while theme-based projects had advantages, there was nothing wrong with subjects per se.

"Children need to learn how subjects work, what is special about the way a historian or a scientist thinks and works, and how one subject can be a resource for another. Some learning should be focused on the subject and nothing else.

"However, we probably need English, for example, in most subjects. And if people think through the way in which the content is organised, so they decide which subjects stand alone, which link with something else, and which are truly integrated. Then they probably find something more appetising for children."

But Mr Waters said he was keener that schools exploited possibilities in the current curriculum, than that they got bogged down in debates over changes.

A three-month consultation on the KS3 curriculum ended last week. At its launch, Mr Waters called for secondaries to consider cross-curricular themes, something more usually associated with the single-teacher classes of primary schools.

A new curriculum for under-fives is due to be introduced in 2008, but it does little to tackle the need for a smooth transition between reception and Year 1.

Professor Robin Alexander, of Cambridge University, is leading a two-year review of the primary curriculum, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

It will consider what primary pupils should learn, the approach and assessment that should be taken, and whether the split between the three core subjects -English, maths and science - and other foundation subjects should continue.


1967 Plowden report, "Children and their Primary Schools": promoted child-centred education.

1978 HM Inspectors of Schools Primary Survey of 542 schools found no evidence that a narrow curriculum led to better basic skills; the differences between boys' and girls' curriculum should cease; and the curriculum needed to be deeper rather than broader.

1985 HMI Curriculum 5 to 16: introduced the concept of areas of learning.

1988 Education Reform Act: introduced the National Curriculum

1993 Dearing report: recommended a slimmed-down National Curriculum

19981999 National Literacy and National Numeracy Strategies introduced.

Teachers were allowed to devise their own "light-touch" curricula for art, music, PE, design and technology, history and geography until 2000, while the literacy and numeracy strategies were bedding down.

2003 Excellence and Enjoyment strategy: schools encouraged to have a broad and rich curriculum.

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