How to tackle the new English curriculum

27th June 2014 at 01:00
In September, England's curriculum is changing for key stages 1, 2 and 3. This week, teachers reveal how they are approaching English


At first glance, the new English curriculum is dry and prescriptive, with lists of spelling words, yearly expectations for the learning of grammar and no mention of group work or drama.

All this might lead one to believe that teaching is heading down a 1950s road filled with creativity-free rote learning, but we are planning quite the opposite for our school. We teachers understand that the national curriculum is the bare bones of what we do. Our job is to cover this prescriptive content at the same time as giving our pupils a love of literature, a thirst for reading and all the skills they need to write and communicate effectively.

We welcome the explicit teaching of grammar and spelling and are already seeing the impact on writing that this offers, particularly for children who speak English as an additional language or those for whom spoken English is not well-modelled at home. Every class from Year 1 to Year 6 receives a specific grammar lesson each week, and this links directly to the more creative aspects of English that we focus on for the other four days.

Although phonics is given renewed focus at the expense of any other method for teaching children to read, we know that we have to deliver more. Our phonics teaching is highly developed and we teach it robustly. However, phonics is only one tool in the armoury of young readers and so we will continue to work hard to teach other techniques alongside it.

Reading for pleasure is mentioned explicitly in the new curriculum for the first time, which is excellent news for us. Teachers at our school immerse their classes in high-quality texts over a period of three to six weeks, using drama, art, music and technology so students can experience a broad range of genres, styles and authors. Using this method of teaching, attainment in reading and writing has improved significantly, particularly among the less able.

We will continue to use these tactics and have already mapped books to the new curriculum, making links to history and geography units where appropriate.

To us, the new curriculum represents a challenge but also an opportunity. We are attacking it with enthusiasm and are confident that we can deliver on the more rigid elements required without sacrificing the creativity, immersive learning and richness of content that we know is so effective.

Jack Sloan is deputy headteacher and English manager at Hanover Primary School in London


As key stage 3 coordinator, the job of assessing the new curriculum has fallen to me. First, I used our existing curriculum map, which is updated annually, to see if and where there were areas that needed developing. I devised a new map, adding changes such as a focus on grammar, as well as developing the schemes of work already in place to provide more strategic and cogent learning objectives.

As anticipated, there is a stronger emphasis on reading, specifically non-fiction texts. This is in line with the GCSE specifications in all exam boards, so our schemes of work are already focusing on this. Shakespeare is still compulsory, but the major change in reading is that students are expected to study "two authors in depth each year".

Our schemes of work follow the same pattern of topics: Shakespeare, poetry, novel, non-fiction, modern play and creative writing. Having to study two authors seems a big task; teachers will understand the frustration of trying to read an entire novel in a six-week term with a range of abilities. We have resolved this by opting for modern and short texts. Having shorter stories means we can pick apart meaning, the students enjoy their reading time and the unit can include the in-depth aspect outlined by this change.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest alteration is the introduction of a specific "grammar and vocabulary" area. With Ofsted commenting on the importance of this during visits and plenty of newspaper headlines suggesting that many students leave school without basic reading and writing skills, it is an obvious addition. It has always appeared in the curriculum but this time it has equal weighting.

I believe this is a positive change to the current curriculum, as the transition from key stage 2 to 3 in grammar, vocabulary and literacy needs to be more linear. Developing literacy - including grammar and vocabulary - doesn't have to be about comprehension, endless writing and mundane activities; instead, adding literacy skills to a novel, Shakespeare or poetry unit is a more dynamic and realistic approach to teaching the necessary skills.

Our ultimate goal is to prepare all our students to be well-rounded individuals. We want to teach them how to handle the literacy demands of everyday life as well as achieving their best in their English GCSE. With education an ever-changing force, it is vital that we all get on board with any changes that are thrown our way. Being adaptable is obviously a key requirement of our profession - and it is one that we should instil in each child who passes through our classrooms.

Georgia Neale is key stage 3 coordinator for English at a school in the South of England

English: What you need to know

Key stage 1


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