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Schools: Primary Curriculum

Volume 715: debated on Thursday 19 November 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Following the announcement in the Queen’s Speech yesterday about our intention to introduce a new primary national curriculum from September 2011, I am today publishing the details of what the primary curriculum will look like and announcing improved accountability arrangements for primary schools from 2010.

Primary Curriculum

The new national curriculum has been developed following an independent review of the primary curriculum by Sir Jim Rose. In January 2008, I asked Sir Jim to carry out the review, the first in 10 years, to update the primary curriculum and ensure that it is the very best it can be to meet the needs of all children in the 21st century. Sir Jim published his interim report in December 2008 and final report and draft new primary curriculum at the end of April 2009. In carrying out his review, Sir Jim drew on a wide range of responses including over 1,000 e-mails and letters, 50 primary school visits to see what is already happening in good schools to bring learning to life, and evidence of international best practice in other successful countries. He was supported by an advisory group made up of teachers and head teachers and an expert editorial group to write the new curriculum made up of subject experts.

His recommendations, which we accepted in full, were published and well received by the teaching profession in April this year. Underpinning Sir Jim’s recommendations and the design of the new curriculum was attention to building on best practice, securing the essentials of literacy, numeracy, ICT capability and personal skills and development as part of every child’s entitlement to a broad, balanced and well rounded primary education. And to achieve this through both rigorous and direct subject teaching and equally rigorous and enriching cross-curricular studies. To quote his final report:

“Our best primary schools already demonstrate that, far from narrowing learning, these priorities—literacy, numeracy, ICT skills and personal development—are crucial for enabling children to access a broad and balanced curriculum. Excellence in the basics supports the achievement of breadth and balance in primary education.

Our primary schools also show that high standards are best secured when essential knowledge and skills are learned both through direct, high quality subject teaching and also through this content being applied and used in cross-curricular studies”.

The proposed curriculum was the subject of extensive consultation over the summer by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) and the results of that consultation are also being published today. QCDA received 1,057 responses to the general consultation survey; 507 responses from a consultation specifically designed for children; and 375 responses from a consultation specifically designed for parents. In addition, QCDA held 49 focus groups with head teachers, initial teacher training providers, local authorities, organisations concerned with inclusion issues, unions and professional representatives. They also ran a series of conferences with over 700 attendees made up of governors, education professionals, subject associations, teachers and head teachers.

The findings of the consultation showed high levels of support, between 70 per cent and 80 per cent, for Sir Jim’s main proposals. In addition:

70 per cent agreed that the areas of learning help teachers plan meaningful learning experiences;

71 per cent agreed that they will help children make useful links between related subjects;

83 per cent agreed that the proposals to integrate ICT through the curriculum will help children use technology to enhance their learning;

70 per cent agreed that the proposed curriculum will give schools more flexibility to adapt to the needs of their children; and

69 per cent agreed that the proposed curriculum is less prescriptive than the existing curriculum and provides schools with greater flexibility to adapt the curriculum to the needs of their pupils.

In the light of such overwhelming support from teachers, parents and pupils, we have agreed with Sir Jim that the new primary national curriculum will be organised into six broad areas of learning, rather than the current subjects with less detailed programmes of learning to allow greater focus on strengthening literacy and numeracy skills and more time to study essential knowledge and skills in depth. There is also a greater emphasis on developing ICT capability and personal learning and thinking skills and smoothing transition to and from primary school.

The six areas of learning are:

understanding English, communication and languages;

mathematical understanding;

understanding the arts;

historical, geographical and social understanding;

understanding physical development, health and wellbeing; and

scientific and technological understanding.

While RE is not part of the statutory national curriculum it is no less important and we will be publishing an illustrative programme of learning alongside new non-statutory guidance in January.

Due to the positive response to Jim Rose’s proposals, few changes have been made to the proposed areas of learning. However, after consulting with parents, teachers, the science community and other interested parties, pupils will be expected to explicitly cover evolution as part of their learning. Learning about evolution is an important part of science education, and pupils already learn about it at secondary school. The revised area of learning for historical, geographical and social understanding also confirms learning about British history is a key feature.

The new primary national curriculum promotes:

high standards and good progress for all learners, with no child left behind;

a strengthened focus on securing essential literacy and numeracy skills with opportunities to develop, use and apply these skills embedded throughout the new curriculum;

increased expectations of children’s ICT capability and the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning;

a continued entitlement to a broad, balanced and coherent curriculum through the creation of broad areas of learning, which will be underpinned by the new “pupil guarantee”;

recognition that children need a well-rounded school experience to succeed, and that personal development is essential to wellbeing and achievement; and

better transition from the early years through to primary and through to secondary education.

It will also provide schools with a powerful tool to tackle continuous school improvement through self assessment, renewal, development and review of the effectiveness of their curriculum. The reduced prescription will encourage teachers to use their professional judgment and expertise to design the curriculum and allow schools to increase flexibility to tailor learning to their local circumstances and the needs of all children in their care.

Setting out the content of the new curriculum in three phases—early, middle, later primary—will aid planning for progression and help reduce the dip in performance in the middle years of primary school. It also recognises the opportunities that play-based learning offers for approaches into key stage 1 and encourages active learning in the whole primary phase.

Our new curriculum lies at the heart of our policies to raise standards and help every school to improve all of the time. It should help children become the very best they can be. We live in a changing world, and our new curriculum will ensure that our children are fully prepared for the opportunities and challenges of life in the 21st century.

Primary School Accountability

In May 2009, I accepted in full the recommendations of the Expert Group on Assessment. They recommended that key stage 2 tests in English and mathematics should remain in place because they are vital for accountability and for providing information to parents about their child’s progress.

They also made a number of recommendations to strengthen the quality of teacher assessment and said that, “As these changes are made and as chartered assessors are introduced, DCSF should monitor progress in strengthening the reliability and consistency of teacher assessment, and in developing an infrastructure which provides assurance about this”.

In line with the Expert Group’s recommendation that tests should remain in place, I have today approved QCDA’s choice of preferred test operations contractor for delivering English and maths tests for 11 year-olds in 2010.

Following consultations with key stakeholders and with members of the Expert Group, I have also decided to take a further step in recognising the value of teachers’ own assessments. From 2010, we will publish primary schools’ teacher assessment data for pupils in year 6 in English, maths and science. This will be published alongside test data for English and maths in our achievement and attainment tables. It is also my intention, from 2011, to introduce a light touch local moderation process for this teacher assessment. We will consult with schools, local authorities, other stakeholders and the expert group on the introduction of a system that will best support teachers and strengthen their assessments.

I have always said that the assessment and testing system is not set in stone and that what is important is that it works best for pupils and schools and provides parents with the information that they need. To that end from 2011, we are introducing the new school report card, which will be underpinned by the new powers we are taking in the Bill. We are currently consulting with stakeholders on the school report card, and we will consider data on teacher assessments as part of that consultation. These changes taken together are further evidence of our commitment to strong accountability.

I am placing a copy of the correspondence between myself and the chief executive of the QCDA, Andrew Hall, concerning the contract for the 2010 tests in the Libraries of both Houses.