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How do we engage with the National Curriculum?

Created on 20 April 2010 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 05 April 2013 by ncetm_administrator


What is the Curriculum?

How do we engage with the National Curriculum?

In this strand you will examine the whole curriculum and consider what constitutes an appropriate curriculum for all children, to enable all learners to achieve their potential.

When you have completed this strand you will:

  • have developed a deeper understanding of the whole curriculum;
  • be aware of recent curriculum developments;
  • have a thorough understanding of your school’s curriculum.
'The curriculum should be treasured. There should be real pride in our curriculum: the learning that the nation has decided to set before its young. Teachers, parents, employers, the media and the public should all see the curriculum as something to embrace, support and celebrate. Most of all, young people should relish the opportunity for discovery and achievement that the curriculum offers.’
Mick Waters, Director of Curriculum, QCA
When was the last time youlooked at the National Curriculum? You may like to read the values and purposes underpinning the National Curriculum.

The National Curriculum website devotes several pages to the values, aims and purposes of the primary curriculum. When reading these, it is useful to be reminded that ‘It is for schools to choose how they organise their school curriculum to include the programmes of study.’

Read The structure of the National Curriculum to remind yourself of the content of the various sections of the National Curriculum and how they fit together. Use the various tabs and Quick links to explore further. Although there is a great deal here, many of the headings offer only a single page, so you can decide how big a chunk you can take in at once; all pages can be saved and printed.

The structure of the National Curriculum defines such terms as programmes of study, attainment targets and level descriptors. Write your own short definition of each. How are they related to each other? You might find it easier to show this in a diagram.

Within the values, aims and purposes pages of the primary curriculum, one page finishes with the following paragraph:
Developing the school curriculum
While these four purposes do not change over time, the curriculum itself cannot remain static. It must be responsive to changes in society and the economy, and changes in the nature of schooling itself. Teachers, individually and collectively, have to reappraise their teaching in response to the changing needs of their pupils and the impact of economic, social and cultural change. Education only flourishes if it successfully adapts to the demands and needs of the time.

Reflect on how the curriculum is responsive to change.

Listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s 20 minute talk for an entertaining and moving reflection on the need to create an education system that nurtures creativity instead of the current system where, he argues, we educate children out of creativity.

Record your thoughts in your Personal Learning Space. Include your definitions and relational diagram, as well as your thoughts on how the curriculum is responsive to change.

How much do you know about the various reviews of the Primary Curriculum?

The primary curriculum was re-examined in recent years. How much do you know about the consultation process and the outcomes?

The Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum

In January 2008, Sir Jim Rose was asked to carry out a review of the primary curriculum on behalf of the then-government. One of his conclusions was that the curriculum was overloaded and that there was a need to reduce prescription and review the programmes of study. He went on to detail seven key features of a new primary curriculum.

The Cambridge Primary Review

From October 2006 until the production of the final report in October 2009, the Cambridge Primary Review led by Professor Robin Alexander investigated the condition and future of primary education in England. The review subtitles itself as ‘The most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education for 40 years’. It produced 31 interim reports examining matters as diverse as childhood, parenting, learning, teaching, testing, educational standards, the curriculum, school organisation, teacher training and the impact of national policy. These reports have provoked considerable media and public interest. They will continue to influence both policy and the wider debate for several years.

The review considered the curriculum as ‘unfinished business’. It recommended putting the implementation of the Rose review on hold, pending consideration of the Cambridge Review’s more comprehensive analysis of the problems.

The curriculum: not there yet. There is much unfinished business from the government’s Rose review of the primary curriculum, and this calls into question the decision to press ahead with implementing it. The report disputes the Rose claim that the central problem is ‘quarts into pint pots’ and shows how the quality of the curriculum, as well as its manageability, reflect patterns of staffing and notions of professional expertise which have survived since the 19th century and have skewed the entire discourse of curriculum. The report also rejects the claim that schools can deliver standards in the ‘basics’, or a broad curriculum, but not both, and argues that in any case the notion of ‘basics’ should reflect 21st century realities and needs. The report proposes a curriculum which is driven by the proposed 12 aims (see above) and is realised through eight clearly-specified domains of knowledge, skill and enquiry, central to which are language, oracy and literacy. It also guarantees entitlement to breadth, balance and quality; combines a national framework with an innovative and locally-responsive ‘community curriculum’; encourages greater professional flexibility and creativity; demands a more sophisticated debate about subjects and knowledge than currently obtains; and requires a re-think of primary school teaching roles, expertise and training.

The report had a number of key points to make about a new primary curriculum.

Watch Too Much Too Young (duration 52.59), part of the teachers TV The Big Debate series. Jonathan Dimbleby and a distinguished panel including Robin Alexander examine the issues around the state of today's Early Years and Primary education.

If you would like to find out more about the Cambridge Primary Curriculum review, visit the website where you can download a special booklet summarising the report's background, key findings and recommendations, read the interim reports and order a copy of the final report.

Independent Review of Mathematics Teaching in Early Years Settings and Primary Schools

In July 2007, Sir Peter Williams was asked to carry out a review of mathematics education on behalf of the government. The final report sets out the Williams review’s findings, supported by evidence, regarding educational best practice to enable young learners in primary schools and early years settings to acquire an understanding and appreciation of mathematics and of its importance to their lives.

In his letter of 9 July 2007, the Secretary of State set out the following remit for a review of mathematics teaching in early years settings and primary schools:

‘Through examination of the available evidence, including international best practice, and through engagement with the teaching profession, to consider and make recommendations in the following areas:

5 What is the most effective design and sequencing of the mathematics curriculum?
Recommendations in this area should inform a future review of the primary curriculum as a whole.'

In his final report, Williams had much to say on Initial Teacher Training, continuing professional development, early years, under attainment and intervention, parents and families as well as curriculum and pedagogy. Williams addressed curriculum and pedagogy together since he believes they are intimately interconnected. Two of the recommendations related to the mathematics curriculum in particular:

Recommendation 9: The Primary National Curriculum in Mathematics should continue as currently prescribed, subject to any changes which may result from Sir Jim Rose’s forthcoming review of the Primary Curriculum; the latter should examine the concept of ‘use and application’ more generally across subjects to assess whether mathematical or other aspects of the curriculum need amendment.

Recommendation 10: This review recommends a renewed focus by practitioners on ‘oral and mental mathematics’. Providers of ITT and CPD should ensure that this practice receives careful attention, both during ITT and in CPD programmes.Chapter 5 of the review focuses on Curriculum and pedagogy.

This extract details the ten points of particular relevance to the mathematics curriculum. 

Now that you have explored the recent curriculum reviews, what is the same and what is different about them? Using this chart, Identify three similarities which occur in at least two of the reviews. Identify a unique point from each of the three reviews. Which points do you consider to have the most relevance to your school? Number the points from one to three in order of importance.

Discuss your chart with a colleague. Ask them to choose three points which have the most relevance for your school and rank them in order of importance. Do you agree? Discuss your conclusions. 

Record your thoughts in your Personal Learning Space. Include some notes on your discussions with a colleague.

You will find more discussion about the future of education in the paper on the 21st Century Curriculum.

The Early Years Foundation Stage

Are you familiar with the curriculum in the Early Years Foundation Stage? Many teachers who work in the primary sector have very little to do with the Early Years and therefore have a limited understanding of the Early Years curriculum and methods of teaching.

Four guiding principles shape practice in early years settings.

These are:

  • every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be  resilient, capable, confident and self-assured;
  • children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships;
  • children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers; and
  • children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates. 

For an overview, browse the Early Years section on the DfE site. Read about all the different aspects of the framework, including the Mathematics section. You might like to finish with this area.

Discuss what you have read with an Early Years practitioner and arrange to observe the Early Years in action. Focus on a particular area such as child/adult interactions, child-initiated play, the development of learning through questioning or your own area of interest. This will help to develop your understanding of Early Years practice.

Using your observations in the Early Years, reflect upon the differences in the curriculum in the Early Years and Primary phases. You might like to consider how children experience the curriculum in different phases, as well as the underlying content. Keep your focus tight as this is a large area.

Record your thoughts in your Personal Learning Space. Make some notes on your observations and your reflection on the differences between the Early Years and Primary curricula. There may be areas of this strand that you want to work further on. Note down what they are and devise a plan for how you can set about this.









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