The Framework for the National Curriculum

This document was published by the Department for Education on Monday. I have read this document in document in its entirety. There are a number of people that have commented on it that I have seen appear in my twitter feed, however I deliberately wanted to read the orignal document before reading others commentary. This is my summary of the document. This is a particularly useful document for anyone doing research into curriculum design and comparative education; it is a good source of references for further reading.

The document sets out two key some what contrasting aims for the reform of the National Curriculum. It states that the aim of the revised national curriculum should be to both give teachers more professional autonomy while at the same time being more prescriptive about what students should learn in terms of subject content. One of the opening principles states “Schools should be given greater freedom over the curriculum. The National Curriculum should set out only the essential knowledge (facts, concepts, principles and fundamental operations)” (Page 6).

This documents makes it clear that the National Curriculum should not set out the only information that is taught in schools; in fact it states “the National Curriculum should not absorb the overwhelming majority of teaching time in schools”.

The writers of the document support the government’s intention to re-write the National Curriculum so that it sets out a core of essential knowledge to allow more scope for curriculum development at school level.

Knowledge in the Curriculum

This document sets out the importance of knowledge; and particularly the interaction between knowledge and learners. This is important because knowledge does not exist in a vacuum and must be relavent to the students.

The document defines subject knowledge representing the accumulated experience of the past and the representation for the future. The concepts, facts, processes, and language, narratives and conventions of each subject constitute socially refined forms of knowledge – knowledge that is regarded as ‘powerful’. The interesting aspect of this will be later when the consultation of the National Curriculum revision looks at what knowledge should be included in each subject.

Aims and Purpose of the Curriculum

The authors of the report initially set out the challenges of writing a National Curriculum “pupils have fewer than 10,500 hours of compulsory lessons between the age of 5 to 16. This is just the amount of time estimated to be necessary to become expert in a single field e.g. playing the piano”.

The authors of the report also set out what schools are expected to conribute to students development:

  • Economic – the eduction of pupils is expected to contribute to their own future economic wellbeing and that of the nation or region;
  • Cultural – the education of pupils is expected to introduce them to the best of their cultural heritage(S), so they can contribute to its future development;
  • Social – the education of pupils is expected to enable them to participate in families, communities and the life of the nation; and
  • Personal  – the education of pupils is expected to promote the intellectual, spiritual, moral and physical development of individuals.

It is positive to see that one of the aims of the curriculum should be to promote the understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources.

The report goes onto state that the Programmes of study for all subjects should start with outlining the specific purposes of study in that subject and the key capabilities to be developed. I see this as an extension of the ‘importance statement’ contained within the current National Curriculum.

Structure of the School Curriculum

Arguably the most revolutionary part of the report discusses the changes to the structure of the school curriculum; the report begins by setting out the current situation followed by the authors suggestions and rationale for change.

They state that statutory assessment should be carried out by teachers at the end of each key stage; with the exception of Maths and English at the end of Key Stage 2 where there should be external testing.

The report puts further emphasis on a ‘local curriculum’ to support pupils in their studies alongside the national curriculum. The report states that this local curriculum can be then used to develop curriculum innovation and allow schools to develop specialisms.

The report then states that the breadth of the current national curriculum was broadly supported however the authors wanted to focus the existing curriculum on the essential knowledge only.

I agree with the authors assetion that Information Communicaiton Technology should be reclassified as part of the Basic Currciulum and should therefore permitate all National Curriculum Subjects. In the 21st century it is uneccsary to spend large amounts of time teaching pupils basic computer skills in isolation; this should be included in normal subject teacher. I do however feel strongly that it would be appropriate to teach specialised computing as a discrete subject; not however desktop publishing.

Positively for Geography the review recommends that Geography (and history); be added as a foundation subject for Key Stages 1-4; currently both subjects are foundation only at 1-3. This does not however meen that students should study for a GCSE in both Geography and History; it does in fact open the way up for other qualificaitons.

The authors justified their decision by statign that the existing arrangements narrow teh curriculum too early; and this foucsed breadth at Key Stage 4 complement the development of the EBACC.

The proposed curriculum requirements would therefore be as shown below:

The proposals also include splitting Key Stage 2 into a ‘lower key stage 2’ and ‘upper key stage 2’; the aim of this is to include more pace and ambition into Years 4 and 5.

There are also proposals to make Key Stage 3 two years and Key Stage 4 three years. However the authors of the report present a variety of different options for this. They do however state that the aim of this is not to have students sitting GCSE examinations a year early.

They cite one reason for this is a need to attempt to remove the ‘Key Stage 3 Dip’ when pupils regress from moving from primary to secondary.

Organisation of the Programme of Study

The authors state that the new revised programmes of study should be written in a year by year format rather than in a key stage format.

The authors present a number of advantages for this:

  • May support teachers by setting out subject progression requirements.
  • Suggests explicit expectations for each year.
  • Parents can be informed of annual curricular objectives by central government.
  • Publishers can produce explicitly targeted resources.
  • May facilitate deeper learning and understanding of key topics.(I am not sure I agree with this!)
Assessment and Pupil Progression
The report argues that there is a concern with England’s current assessment system; as it encourages the differentiation of learners through the award of levels to the extent that pupils come to label themselves in these terms. They go on to say that this does not achieve its aims but instead exacerbating social differentiation.
They expand on this by saying – this assumption that there are limits on what children are capable of learning – has had a negative influence on expectations of achievement and how learning and assessment is organised.
They argue instead for ‘high expectations for all’. They have exemplified ten ways that high expectations for all can be demonstrated:
  1. Presumption of capability for improvement.
  2. Maintenance of high exceptions.
  3. A focused curriculum with appropriate depth.
  4. Tangible learning objectives.
  5. Constructive feedback for all pupils.
  6. Valuing of effort.
  7. Resolute commitment to essential knowledge for all.
  8. Monitoring to record the attainment of pupils who are ‘ready to progress’
  9. Provision of pupil support to maintain progress.
  10. Engagement of parents and carers in authentic learning.
The report states that with a revised curriculum the current ‘best fit’ leveling approach would no longer be appropriate; and instead there should be a tracking approach to determine which elements of the curriculum they have adequately achieved and those which require more attention.
Oral Language within the National Curriculum
The report also addresses the use of oral communication within the curriculum. Although the report goes into detail about ways in which this could be addressed the key element is that oral communication should be promoted more widely as an integral feature of all subjects.
My Summary

On balance as a practising teacher I welcome the majority of the proposals. The real concern is subject content that will be included in the revised subject curriculum.

The complete report can be read on the Department for Education site here. I have also uploaded the report to my site.NCR-Expert Panel Report