Response to the English Government Consultation on the Proposed Changes to the English National Curriculum
Coordinated and finalised by Sara Knight
1. Comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document:
The aims are somewhat vague and not necessarily applicable to the 21st century and all the challenges that face society. We agree with the statement that pupils should be offered a broad and balanced curriculum that;
“Promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
Prepares pupils at the school of the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.”
However, given the tight prescriptions and overloaded content in the Programmes of Study (PoS) it is difficult to see how the two aims on page 6 of the proposals can be met. The curriculum seems to be neither balanced nor broad with a list of prescribed facts in many of the subject areas.
The unimaginative content gives little time to allow teachers to deliver, as the document states, “exciting and stimulating lessons”. As stated so often by employers and politicians, we need creative citizens and entrepreneurs to contribute to society and this curriculum provides little room for creativity. Creativity goes hand in hand with knowledge and understanding, one does not preclude the other and creativity stems from developing autonomy and confidence, using imagination and exciting communication. Nowhere in this document is the learning process alluded to, nor how children and students are agents of their own learning. There is nothing stated until key stage 4 about how pupils are part of society and we all have a part to play in this increasingly globalised and complex world apart. We would recommend the twelve aims as stated the final report of the Cambridge Primary Review as being more appropriate to the 21st century.
We do not agree that schools outside the state system are required to follow the PoS. It is ironic that these schools will be freed up to deliver a balanced and broad curriculum. As free schools and academies and others outside the state system grow we will have a more fragmented and incoherent education system, and it will be increasingly hard both for parents and members of the wider society to make any sense of the school system.
2 Comments on the stated intent to free teachers to shape their own
This is not reflected in the content of the PoS, which are largely a lack-lustre and outdated regurgitation of early 20th century goals. It misses the opportunity to prepare children to be flexible and adaptable members of the workforce by virtue of their abilities to think laterally, creatively and sustainably.
3 Comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study
These seem to have little relationship to “promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development….., and ….. the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life”. For example, one future responsibility children will be dealing with environmental and climate change, which is mentioned no-where. There is nothing in any PoS, in particular science and geography, about individuals’ place in the globalised society. There is nothing mentioned about how we as individuals and society as a whole interact with these processes, such as resource depletion, and the impacts on the natural world upon which we depend for all our lifestyles, also climate change and how we can influence and care for these key processes. At key stages 1, 2 and early key stage 3 there is no mention anywhere about how school and pupils can take an active part in caring for the environment and community. While PSHE is a thread throughout and we welcome the emphasis on PSHE in enabling pupils to be emotionally resilient and manage relationships, none of this spills over into the rest of the curriculum as borne out in the POS. We do not understand why citizenship is not one of the foundation subjects in Key Stages 1and 2. Not having citizenship in at key stage 1and 2 surely gives out the wrong signal when we are citizens as soon as we are born.
As a part of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, on 13th March 2013, Learning for Sustainability became an entitlement for every pupil in Scotland. On the same day the professional standards for teachers were revised. Learning For Sustainability (and within this all aspects of outdoor learning) has become a key area in their CPD. In the definition of LfS, values and attitudes are in there alongside knowledge and skills. The core values of Curriculum for Excellence echo the key concepts of outdoor learning: challenge, enjoyment, relevance, depth, development of the whole person and an adventurous approach to learning. Similarly, the Welsh Foundation Phase emphasises the importance of practical learning from a very young age. The authors claim to have looked at other curricular – we suggest that they would have done well to look closer to home.
4 Response to the question “Does the content set out in the draft programmes of study represent a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage?”
The narrow focus and the fact-heavy content will lead to the unambitious delivery of a stodgy curriculum, lacking the innovative spark that would ignite perspiration, let alone inspiration. There is not enough aspiration particularly in key stage 1 and 2 – in science for example pupils are able to understand basic processes such as ecological interrelationships. We can evidence that children can gain these concepts from the Foundation Stage onwards. In Physical Education at key stage 1 there is no reference to outdoor activity and adventure and yet it is stated in key stage 2 and above and in the new EYFS, we feel this should be included in key stage 1 – there are many adventurous activities to be had in the outdoors that do not necessarily conform to the normal activities such as climbing and canoeing. This could include climbing trees, playing outdoor games etc. To state that Art is the optimum of human creativity is symptomatic of a miscomprehension of creativity, which should infuse every aspect of every subject. This would illuminate the learning journey for each child, exciting them to travel ever further and faster.
5 Comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets
If this is to be real world learning there needs to be more reference to taking children out of the classroom and into our communities and landscapes to experience and contribute to the wider world. It seems disingenuous that at primary school history stops at Wars of the Roses, and there is very little mention of local history.
While we welcome the inclusion of fieldwork in the geography curriculum. There is no reference about engendering a sense of place within the local landscapes and community in key stages 1 and 2, which is a fundamental part of geography in determining our ‘place’ in the world.
Whilst the layout of statutory and non-statutory guidance will be helpful to less experienced teachers, the content seems uninspired.
6 Comments on whether the draft programmes of study provide for effective progression between the key stages?
We do not feel that it does, particularly with regard to science and geography. There is little coherence between key stages and little sign of progression particularly in geography, science, citizenship, and design and technology. There is no reference to processes underpinning the understandings in key stage 1 and little reference to these in key stage two. It is all based on descriptions and there is therefore little to build on when the key processes are introduced properly at key stage 3. In science for example, while we welcome the inclusion at key stage 3 concepts of energy flow, material cycles and interdependence there is little to build on as these are hardly tackled at an earlier stage – in key stages 1 and 2, it is all about description and naming, revealing a woeful lack of understanding of the learning styles of young children. This is indicative of the piece-meal approach of the document.
7 Comments on whether the new National Curriculum embodies an expectation of higher standards for all children.
Clearly “higher standards” is a subjective judgement, but the children starting this curriculum in 2014 will probably not leave education before 2028. The world will be a place that is unknowable to those of us working with young people now. Higher standards must mean adaptability, flexibility, confidence and good communication skills. This curriculum will not give them that.
8 Comments on the impact of the proposals on the ‘protected characteristic’ groups.
It could be argued that where there is no stated discrimination then none exists, however the ethnocentric tone of the document, the unwieldy loading of History towards an old-fashioned focus on the dates and famous people of English history (are children in year 2 likely to be more interested in the history of their landscape or in Elizabeth Fry?), and the absence of an acknowledgement of our multicultural multifaith society will almost certainly disenfranchise large numbers of children. There is little reference to a globalised society and how we need to equip pupils and schools to participate in this rapidly-changing society and the most vulnerable will be left behind if this is not addressed.
9 Comments on the extent to which the new National Curriculum will make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education
Parents will be very confused by the disconnected sections of the curriculum, in particular between the stated aims in the preamble and the statements in the PoS
10 comments on the key factors which will affect schools’ ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014
It will be important to give schools time to assimilate the detail in order to draw up their best school curriculum that will cover the requirements whilst providing something inspiring for their pupils. Funding for CPD and resources (human, electronic and physical) will be essential to the process
11 Comments on who is best placed to support schools and/or develop resources that schools will need to teach the new National Curriculum?
Schools will need to be able to draw on the expertise of specialists and inspirational educational leaders. They need to respect their sources of support, and so need the freedom to select those whose expertise matches the schools’ perceptions of need. Given the evidence of this document, it is unlikely that it will be forthcoming from the DfE
12 Do we agree that the Government should amend the legislation to disapply the National Curriculum programmes of study, attainment targets and statutory assessment arrangements, as set out in section 12 of the consultation document?
We disagree for two reasons, 1) that this document is not yet fit for purpose, and 2) a “big bang” switch-over does not give the flexibility to tweak and adjust as needed as sections are implemented.
13 Additional comments about the proposals in this consultation
It is extremely disappointing that yet again the Government has shied away from bringing the curriculum into the 21st Century. The Cambridge Primary Review is still the most innovative and creative approach to the needs of our children and the world in which they will have to live. And to fail to make any mention of the environmental issues that will be so fundamental to their wellbeing is completely reprehensible.
The timing and scope of this consultation are limited. Also, there has not been enough publicity and direct contact with schools and teachers at the chalk face.
In the light of our serious concerns we recommend that the current curriculum stays in place until a curriculum more fit for the 21st century is in place. We, the Forest School Association, which represents over 10,000 educators, are willing to support this process to serve the best interests of children and young people. Bottom of Form