Is your school really ready for the new primary law in town?

4th December 2009 at 00:00
Whittled down from 13 subjects to a 'magnificent' seven by the Rose report, the revised curriculum is lean, mean and looking to be rubber-stamped soon. But are teachers all on-board? Helen Ward reports

The new primary curriculum, due to be introduced in September 2011, is now going through the process of becoming law. Sir Jim Rose, former chief primary inspector, published his interim report, the Primary Curriculum Review, in December 2008, which proposed that the current 11 statutory subjects and two non-statutory subjects are rearranged into six areas of learning, plus religious education.

There are also six essential skills: literacy, numeracy, ICT, thinking skills, personal and emotional skills, and social skills.

The new curriculum has been mainly supported by teaching professionals, who say it mirrors what many primary schools do already. It also allows for subject teaching, especially for older children. Guidance on cross-curricular lessons will be published early next year.

But in responses to the consultation, other proposals from the review have been noticeably less welcome. A move to bring all children into school aged four was altered to say all children will "have the option" to start at four, but there will also be funding for paid places in private nurseries until the age of five, if preferred. The review has also been kept separate from the issue of testing.

John Bangs, head of education at teaching union the NUT, said: "The issue now is about how to ensure a depth of subject knowledge while working in a cross-curricular way. It has to be subject to intensive professional development - people working with each other, and doing it properly.

"We managed to get a promise of one day training for all schools, but this is not going to be done in one day."

So as it gets closer to being ratified, how has the new curriculum evolved, which areas are most controversial, and what do teachers really think?

UNDERSTANDING ENGLISH, COMMUNICATION AND LANGUAGES

What is it? Combines English and the soon-to-be-statutory foreign language, with an increased emphasis on speaking and listening. Websites, films and adverts to be studied alongside books.

Changes from the draft: A new progress point has been added under languages, called "inter-cultural understanding".

Flashpoints: Whether to teach one or two languages in depth or to take a more linguistic route covering a larger number of languages. And, of course, it is one of the two Sats subjects.

In touch with teachers? 94 per cent say the right key skills have been identified.

MATHEMATICAL UNDERSTANDING

What is it? Statistics and money are to be taught explicitly in the new curriculum. The latter includes converting currencies, preparing budgets and understanding profit and loss.

Changes from the draft: None.

Flashpoints: Unlikely. Maths continues to have a high profile, with the Government agreeing specialist teachers for primaries following Sir Peter Williams' early-years review, and good results from the first Every Child Counts trials. But it is also one of the two remaining Sats subjects.

In touch with teachers? 92 per cent back the rationale, knowledge and skills in the draft.

SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL UNDERSTANDING

What is it? Combines the current science and design-and-technology curriculums, with an emphasis on the role that science plays in the world, including issues such as sustainability.

Changes from the draft: Evolution is now made explicit after a campaign from the British Humanist Association.

Flashpoints: Some concern over its status - it is a core subject in the current curriculum.

In touch with teachers? Fewer (80 per cent) agreed with why the area is important than did in English and maths. One in four did not think it encapsulated the big ideas of the subject.

HISTORICAL, GEOGRAPHICAL AND SOCIAL UNDERSTANDING

What is it? Covers history, geography and citizenship and was originally called "human, social and environmental understanding".

Changes from the draft: Using the internet to explore remote and imaginary locations was moved to the scientific and technological area.

Flashpoints: History. While the broad chronology of major events in the UK and key events in the wider world should be studied, but teachers can choose which two periods to study in depth.

In touch with teachers? The key skills are backed by 86 per cent, but fewer (76 per cent) thought the content was sufficient.

UNDERSTANDING THE ARTS

What is it? This brings together art and design, dance, drama and music. Pupils will create, refine, present and evaluate artworks. In the early stages there will be more emphasis on doing and less on discussion, but evaluating work remains for older children.

Changes from the draft: None.

Flashpoints: Concerns that the arts are sidelined in favour of the tested subjects.

In touch with teachers? More agreed that the key skills were right (87 per cent) than the content (82 per cent) or progression points (76 per cent).

UNDERSTANDING PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT, HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

What is it? Combines PE and PSHE, with a focus on nutrition, exercise and healthy living. Cooking classes are expected in primary years, while economic well-being includes showing initiative and taking part in enterprise projects.

Changes from the draft: None.

Flashpoints: Compulsory sex education is still controversial, while the Association for Physical Education says incorporating PE into learning will undermine attempts to reduce child obesity.

In touch with teachers? A lowly 7 per cent agreement. More than one in three said that it does not capture the main ideas.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

What is it? A statutory subject, but not part of the statutory national curriculum. Children are expected to develop an understanding of key ideas. Christianity should be included, but at least two other principal religions should be studied over the six years.

Changes from the draft: Not known - an illustrative programme is published in January.

Flashpoints: Concern that the subject becomes subsumed into citizenship studies.

In touch with teachers? One-third said that the content was not sufficient, while 29 per cent said it did not capture the big ideas.

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