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National Curriculum

Your questions answered

Why is the curriculum changing?

There have been great steps forward in science, technology and in society since the curriculum was last changed a decade ago. The curriculum that we offer our children needs to acknowledge our changing world and reflect best practice. Many schools are already following these principles and tailoring their curriculum to suit their local circumstances and the needs of children in their care. Thinking afresh about the curriculum should be part of every school's regular planning, review and self-evaluation processes.

When will the new primary curriculum be introduced?

The new primary curriculum will become statutory from September 2011.

Will the new primary curriculum be phased in or will it be introduced all at once?

It will be introduced for all year groups in September 2011. The exception is the new languages element, which will be phased in over four years starting with year 3 to allow time to increase languages capacity and skills in the primary school workforce.

What has changed as a result of the consultation?

Ministers have agreed some minor changes to the new curriculum as a result of consultation responses, most notably the explicit inclusion of evolution in scientific and technological understanding.

What is the structure of the new primary curriculum?

The new curriculum is based around three important aims. All children should have the opportunity to become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.
Underpinning the aims and running through the new curriculum are the skills and qualities that enable children to become well-rounded individuals and lifelong learners. These are known as the essentials for learning and life. They are: literacy, numeracy and ICT capability, learning and thinking skills, personal and emotional skills and social skills.

The new curriculum organises essential knowledge and key skills into six areas of learning. The areas of learning are: understanding the arts, understanding English, communication and languages; historical, geographical and social understanding; mathematical understanding; understanding physical development, health and wellbeing; scientific and technological understanding.

Are there core areas of learning?

The areas of learning will not be designated as core or foundation.

Why areas of learning?

During Sir Jim’s review many primary schools said that organising the curriculum into 12 or more subjects was not appropriate for primary. They also said that organising subject content within broad areas and encouraging links between subjects was much more in line with what actually happened in primary schools.

Ofsted said that some of the most effective learning occurred when connections were made between subjects. Areas of learning made these connections more explicit and made planning for them more manageable for schools.

How do these changes stack-up against other countries?

Internationally, many countries choose to organise learning in the primary curriculum around areas of learning. Where they do there is broad consensus about what these areas should be and what they should cover.

Where is the evidence that this works?

The review drew from a wide evidence base and there has been extensive consultation on the proposals. The best international evidence supports the ‘areas of learning’ approach. Of 10 countries that have changed their primary curriculum since 2005, eight have organised learning around areas rather than subjects. Among those using areas are France, Spain, Germany and New Zealand.

Ofsted evidence shows that schools with outstanding curricula provide both skilled subject teaching and opportunities for children to benefit from rich, cross-curricular studies. For example, learning to tell the time and to count to ten in French gives children confidence in number and in using other languages.

Among parents consulted, 92% agreed that the six areas of learning would help children develop essential life skills, with a real emphasis on children's reading, writing and mathematics as well as on their learning to respect each other and on how to be healthy themselves. 83% felt that learning about teamwork and information technology at primary school were as central as English and mathematics, all of which are strongly emphasised in the new curriculum.

What is the status of RE?

Religious Education is a statutory subject and part of the primary curriculum. The syllabus is locally determined, supported by a non–statutory national framework and programme of learning.

What else is new?

The new curriculum makes dance, drama and citizenship part of the statutory curriculum and introduces an entitlement for all children to learn a modern foreign language from the age of seven.

How does this fit with the new Ofsted inspection framework?

The new primary curriculum will not require a new inspection framework.

Ofsted inspectors keep up to date with changes to the curriculum and make their judgements on outcomes. The new framework, introduced in September 2009, places the emphasis on how well the curriculum is tailored to meet individuals' needs.

How will this improve transition between early years and key stage 1 and between key stage 2 and key stage 3?

The new primary curriculum builds on the principles of the EYFS and promotes play-based learning. In the early stage the content of the curriculum is generic to the area of learning. By the middle and later stages schools have the opportunity to organise their curriculum more as subject disciplines if they judge this appropriate.

What is the role of subjects in the new primary curriculum?

Subject disciplines remain important in their own right, especially as pupils move through their primary education. Making links between subjects will enrich children’s learning. Subject associations have been closely involved in the development of the programmes of learning. For example, representatives from the Historical Association and the Geographical Association helped draft the historical, geographical and social programme.

Curriculum progression is set out in three stages – early, middle and late. Late primary focuses on ensuring children have the essential subject knowledge, skills and understanding to make progress in secondary school.

What information and guidance materials are available?

This site has been updated with the new primary curriculum and associated guidance. QCDA has also sent an introduction to the curriculum and a revised national curriculum handbook to all schools and local authorities. Further support and materials will be produced during 2010. This will give schools five terms to prepare and plan for introducing the new curriculum.

Will there be an additional INSET day?

An additional school closure day has been agreed for the 2010 academic year. The National Strategies are producing resources that schools and local authorities can choose to use to structure these days if they wish.

How much support will be available for implementation?

DCSF is coordinating a system-wide implementation plan, which includes initial teacher training and continuing professional development. Regional networks will be developed to offer support to LAs and school clusters. The National College will support school leaders in managing change through local networks, regional conferences and online communities.

Becta will also offer support on the effective use of technology for all aspects of the implementation. Other existing curriculum support providers, such as the network of science learning centres will adapt their provision to have a stronger focus on primary schools and the opportunities presented by the new curriculum. Schools are free to pick and mix the support that best meets their needs.

What is the status and relationship of the revised level descriptions to the primary curriculum?

Primary schools will continue to use the revised level descriptions to help teachers assess progress in subject-specific aspects of areas of learning. The new curriculum outlines progression more clearly than before, but teachers may still find the level descriptions useful to refer to, particularly in the later stages of the primary curriculum.

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