What the proposals mean for you

12th December 2008 at 00:00

Q: Is this the end for history and geography in primary school?

A: No, the interim report proposes a framework with six areas, into which subjects can be fitted. This is designed to make cross-curricular teaching easier, and most primary teachers do this already. It will also help primary schools provide a smoother transition from the early years to the start of secondary education (see diagram).

The shift does signal a slimming down of curriculum content. But if a teacher wants to spend a whole lesson focusing on history or geography - which they may well want to do with Year 5 and 6 pupils - that will be fine. "We are certainly not getting rid of subjects such as history or geography", Sir Jim Rose told The Times.

Will all teaching have to be cross-curricular?

Again, no - even though more lessons may be. The report says there are benefits to both discrete subject teaching and cross-curricular work, and the best schools use a mixture. It points out that, in the 1970s, inspectors complained that too much theme-based teaching led to repetitive lessons that did not develop pupils' abilities. "The review is certainly not advocating a return to the vagaries of old-style topic and project work," it states.

Will children start school younger?

In practice, yes. The report recommends that children should start in the first September after they turn four, rather than at five. But a TES survey of local authorities last year found that most had already established admissions arrangements that saw pupils start primary at four. Such an early start remains controversial and is opposed by most teachers and heads. But the report also recommends introducing more play-based learning to primary education, particularly during the first years. The new areas of learning should also make moving from early years to primary less of a jolt.

As for summer-born pupils and those with special educational needs, some flexibility will exist to allow them a period of part-time attendance. However, the report said that an analysis by the National Strategies team of 35,000 pupils' results suggested there were "clear benefits" when all children, including summer-borns, started at the same time in the school year.

What about languages?

The report recommends that primary schools teach only one or two foreign languages when they become compulsory in 2011. They should try to ensure, as far as possible, that they are languages the pupils will be able to continue learning in their secondary schools.

Will pupils spend more time learning about sex, relationships, obesity and finance?

The Government has already announced that personal, social and health education will become compulsory in primaries. But the report suggests that some topics related to drug abuse, obesity, sex and relationship education, violent behaviour, e-safety and financial capability might be better delayed to secondary schools. "Consideration is being given to the feasibility and, indeed the wisdom, of covering all these aspects in the primary years, and the degree to which some aspects might be better placed in key stage 3," the report states.

What will pupils study at a younger age?

Some aspects of ICT. The report recommends that the subject should be developed across the curriculum and that parts of the KS3 curriculum could be taught in KS2. Some more high-tech primary schools are already doing this.

How can anyone - let alone a five-year-old - ever claim to fully "understand" the arts or science?

The "understanding" part of the new areas of learning is not supposed to be comprehensive. "Understanding is provisional and subject to change as new knowledge is won," the report states. "Moreover, understanding is a matter of degree."

How can I influence the final report?

You can download the report and respond to it by February 28 at www.dcsf.gov.ukprimarycurriculumreview

Despite reservations about the possible squeezing out of some subjects, responses to the interim report are mainly positive

- Sarah Gallacher, Year 1 and 2 primary school teacher

I think the change from traditional subjects to the more thematic approach is definitely what is needed.

There are currently so many subjects to try and cram in that you end up only touching on certain subjects just so you have covered them. It can also lead to basic literacy being neglected because teachers feel they can't spend as much time as they'd like on reading and writing since we have to teach all the other subjects as well.

- Huw Thomas, head of Emmaus Primary in Sheffield

The six areas are perfect. They are how primary education works. The one issue that bedevils any moves to lighten up teaching of English and maths is testing arrangements. They still stand as the one thorn in the side of this report.

- Stephanie O'Farrell, primary school teacher in Stapleford, Cambridgeshire

It was with a feeling of "here we go again" that I read the six themes proposed. Every week there is a new proposal for "something that should be taught in schools", usually thought up by someone who has never taught.

Is this a fudging way of squeezing out history, geography and RE?

- Anne Krisman, an RE co-ordinator based in Redbridge, Surrey

Those of us who care about religious education will hope that the big umbrella of human, social and environmental understanding will do justice to this important area.

My fear is that we are on the path to losing RE as we know it, where strong "crunchy" lessons, which help children approach real issues, will take second place to a quick story about Noah's ark in a global warming project.

- Michael Thorn, deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School in Hailsham, East Sussex

I rejoice in the hope that maybe, just maybe, this review will herald a return to a time when teachers were trusted to make their own informed and educated judgments about what different groups of students should encounter.

- Susan Coles, educational consultant specialising in arts and creativity

For the first time ever, I can see a possible whole picture in education.

I welcome the emphasis on ICT and the recognition that our young "digital natives" know far more than secondary schools assume they do in ICT.

"Understanding the arts and design" is a move away from the arty-clarty vision of primary school "doing" arts, into an appreciation of the role of these subjects, not just for fulfilment but as possible career routes.

- Colin Richards, emeritus professor of education at the University of Cumbria

The over-emphasis on literacy and numeracy is being reinforced. Because of this, and the absence of references to the effects of national testing, the shape and dynamics of the upper key stage 2 curriculum won't change in many schools.

Jennifer Beckles and Helen Ward.

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