More room for creativity, but no workload let-up

27th March 2009 at 00:00
Primary review suggests teachers will have greater choice in how they deliver subjects

A leaked draft of Sir Jim Rose's primary review suggests teachers will have greater choice in how they deliver subjects, although critics point to lack of cuts in crowded curriculum.

The future of the primary curriculum is on a knife-edge, with new documents showing teachers will have much the same amount to cover, although there is less prescription.

The changes could enhance the "creative curriculums" currently sweeping primaries, but observers warn there is not as much wriggle room as expected.

Sir Jim Rose has been leading an inquiry that was promised by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, to be a "root and branch" reform of the primary curriculum.

Although Sir Jim has played down the need for radical change in primaries, he was clear that his role was to cut down a curriculum that was overcrowded.

But draft copies of what primary schools will have to teach from 2011, which were leaked this week, show few cuts seem to have been made.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said: "I think it is on the cusp and it will come down to an issue of how they sell it. You either have a framework curriculum that schools develop, or you have a detailed curriculum that has no room for movement, which is what we have now. This is a halfway house, although there are some genuine changes, such as the shift toward ICT."

A change of structure means details have been stripped from descriptions of what children should learn - but in many cases only to be reinserted as "explanatory notes", which expand further.

But in some places, the lack of specifics will allow more variety.

In history, for example, pupils no longer have to study either the Victorians or Britain since 1930, although they do have to study two periods of British history.

Sir Jim's interim report, published in December, set out the basic framework for the new curriculum. Subjects were to be incorporated into six areas of learning: human, social and environmental understanding; mathematical understanding; understanding English, communication and languages; understanding the arts; scientific and technological understanding; understanding physical development, health and wellbeing.

ICT is to be incorporated in all subjects and, as Sir Jim promised in his interim report, is expected to be far more ambitious.

Podcasting, webcams and video conferencing are all there, reflecting what is already going on in many primaries.

There is also more of an emphasis on environmental education and global awareness.

There have been some changes since the interim report. Although Sir Jim said subject teaching would remain, this was overshadowed by the introduction of areas of learning - these now include subject headings for junior, but not infant children.

The recommendation that schools should focus on teaching "only one or two" languages has been changed to "one language or more".

But many commentators felt the review was hamstrung by Mr Balls' ruling that national key stage 2 tests were not to be considered.

Human, Social and Environmental Understanding - Covers citizenship, geography and history

History: In the new draft, there is no longer any mention of the Victorians or the Second World War, although pupils must study "characteristic features of and changes within two key periods of history".

Immigration has been put into historical context, as lower primary (Years 3 and 4) pupils will be taught "about the movement and settlement of people in different periods of British history".

Geography: There is more emphasis on environmental issues. Pupils will not only be taught about how environments are managed sustainably, but why it is important. But overall this curriculum appears largely unchanged.

Citizenship: Currently a non-statutory subject in primary, it is now proposed that key stage 1 pupils will learn to "investigate issues, express views and take part in decision-making activities to improve their immediate environment or community". In KS2 they will learn ways of getting involved in communities, environmental issues and why laws are made, the nature of communities and how to balance different rights. The only part of the current non-statutory curriculum not explicit is the need to "reflect on spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues".

Mathematical Understanding

Money and statistics are to be explicitly taught in new maths lessons.

The credit crunch curriculum will see nine, ten and 11-year-olds taught "to solve problems related to borrowing, spending and saving", and "how to manage money and prepare budgets for events including using spreadsheets".

Money in maths will start with infants being taught to compare costs.

The draft curriculum is divided into six areas: numbers and the number system, number operations and calculation, money, measures, geometry and statistics.

There is an emphasis on learning to work collaboratively with others, fitting in with research evidence showing that talking about maths helps children understand.

Lynne McClure, chair of the joint primary sub-committee of the Mathematical Association and the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, said: "Some of the content has been reduced in the early stages, and there is more emphasis on the purposeful activity. But the rest of it is pretty well more or less what was before, just expressed in different ways. There is also quite a lot of additional stuff on understanding how maths is used in society."

Understanding English, Communication and Languages

English: Perhaps the most picked over subject in the curriculum, and the subject where the influx of ICT is most prominent.

Infants will be taught typing alongside phonics and grammar.

Children will be expected to understand emails, messaging, wikis and twitters, alongside websites, film, newspapers, leaflets and adverts. They will be expected not only to read books, poetry and plays, but also graphic novels, modern poets and cultural tales.

In writing, pupils will be expected to share ideas using ICT by combining written text with illustrations, videos and sound. By age 11 they should be able to create webpages.

Pupils will also be expected to punctuate, understand the roots and origins of words and evaluate how language is used by writers and poets for effect.

As now, the curriculum is divided into speaking and listening, reading and writing, but drama has been moved mostly to the area of Understanding the Arts, although opportunities remain in English.

Teresa Cremin, president of the UK Literacy Association, said: "By and large, we are very pleased with it. We are extremely concerned that reading for pleasure is not in it at this moment, but we are hoping that will be put in the final version."

Languages: Foreign languages are to become a compulsory part of the KS2 curriculum from 2011. The draft curriculum says this could include community languages, where appropriate.

Understanding the Arts - Covers art and design, dance, drama and music

Art: There will be more hands-on artwork, and far less discussion of any emotions that the work inspires, under the new curriculum.

Previously, pupils from KS1 on were required to discuss the inspiration behind their work. The draft curriculum asks KS1 pupils to explore a wide range of media and materials, and to experiment with different tools and techniques.

At KS2, pupils are no longer explicitly required to discuss the ideas behind their artwork, or to compare their approach with that of classmates.

The new curriculum encourages visits to art galleries and museums. But it does not ask pupils to explore the role of artists living in different times and cultures.

Dance: Instead of cutting across both PE and arts curriculums, dance has now, controversially, been restricted to the arts.

But the range of dance activities that teachers should explore with pupils is significantly more detailed than it has been previously.

At KS1, there are few specifically dance-based goals. Instead, pupils are required to "communicate ideas and experiences through the arts", including movement in response to music.

But, where older pupils were previously only required to perform dances from different times, places and cultures to a range of accompaniment, their instructions are now more detailed. They are asked to "learn, practise, refine and perform dance phrases", demonstrating physical control, rhythmic timing and musicality.

Drama: A new emphasis on "human significance" has been incorporated into the arts curriculum.

Previously, pupils were merely required to use character, action and narrative in performance, as well as to use dramatic techniques to "explore characters and issues".

But the new curriculum is more specific. It calls for even the youngest KS2 pupils to be able to sustain and develop a range of roles, for purposes that would include "feelings and issues of human significance".

In Years 5 and 6, pupils are then expected to "experiment with a broad range of drama conventions and forms for different purposes and effects."

And pupils are expected to "communicate aesthetically" areas of personal interest, as well as of wider social or global concern. Again, this should include "issues of human significance".

Also new is the detailed requirement that children understand how facial expressions, body language and movement can communicate different characteristics of behaviour.

Music: KS1 teachers will no longer have specific music aims to meet with their pupils, under the new curriculum.

Early-primary pupils will be required to "sing songs and play musical instruments with expression and control". They will also be asked to move in response to music, and to explore the role music can play in storytelling.

But there will no longer be specific requirements that KS1 pupils learn to organise musical sounds and ideas, develop aural memory or learn to use pitch, tempo and timbre expressively. Nor will they be required to explore how sounds can be made in different ways.

For older pupils, the curriculum remains largely unchanged.

Scientific and Technological Understanding - Covers science and design and technology

Science: In an echo of the new KS3 curriculum, pupils will be encouraged to learn not just about scientific principles, but the role science plays in the world.

Children in Years 5 and 6 will learn to "explore and explain practical ways in which science can contribute to a more sustainable future".

The new curriculum gets rid of many details, although the concepts remain. For example, the current KS1 curriculum says children are taught "to explore ways of keeping living things alive and healthy, treating them with care and sensitivity", this is to include "movement, reproduction, sensitivity, growth and nutrition in plants, animals and humans, and the need for food and water in animals and light and water in plants. There is also a need for exercise and medicines". These two sentences cover around nine of the previous curriculum statements.

Some things are missing: KS1 pupils no longer need to find out about the plants and animals in their local environment, and at KS2 there is no mention of the water cycle.

The effects of tobacco and alcohol on the body have been moved to the area of Understanding Physical Development, Health and Wellbeing.

Design and technology: the draft new curriculum states that children will continue to develop and create designs and to use different materials to make "functional solutions to meet user needs".

The early stage of primary learning calls for pupils to investigate the properties of everyday materials and taking account of these when deciding how to make things with them. Older pupils will need to build on this and also bring in ideas "from other cultures and times".

As with the current curriculum, designing sandwiches and slippers are possible options - but they have not been mentioned.

Understanding Physical Development, Health and Wellbeing

PSHE: There is a new and very pointed focus on nutrition, exercise and healthy living in this area of the curriculum.

This includes a strong emphasis on the relationship between physical activity and nutrition. And there are entirely new requirements that KS2 pupils learn to plan, prepare and cook simple healthy meals.

This focus on healthy eating is even incorporated into lessons about puberty and physical development: there is a requirement that pupils learn how "hygiene, physical activity and nutrition needs might change as a result of growth and adolescence".

John Lloyd, policy adviser for the PSHE Association, said: "The link with PE is actually quite an important one, given that healthy lifestyles are central to personal wellbeing. It's related to nutrition, exercise, self- esteem, and the Government's agenda on obesity."

But he adds that it is important to ensure that sex and relationships education is not lost amid this focus on diet and exercise.

PE: Subject specialists are concerned that physical education has been buried within the curriculum, and will therefore be overlooked.

Margaret Talbot, chief executive of the Association for Physical Education, points out that the words "physical education" do not appear until the curriculum is broken down into detailed sections.

She adds that, in countries such as Australia and South Africa, where PE was similarly buried, it gradually slid out of the curriculum.

But PE specialists have welcomed the new links between PSHE and social and emotional wellbeing. "There are a lot of common concepts," said Professor Talbot. "Challenge, risk, enterprise."

However, the new curriculum encourages a range and breadth of different sporting activities. These are detailed more explicitly - the explanatory notes mention football, rugby, tennis, ballroom dancing and trampolining - than in the previous version, which merely referred in more general terms to "competitive net, strikingfielding and invasion games".

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