Today, at Twyford CoE School in west London, Michael Gove launched the Department for Education's (DfE) review the National Curriculum for 5-16 year olds in England. The new curriculum will focus on the essential knowledge that children should learn and will be conducted in two phases.

The review states that the National Curriculum should aim to, "embody rigour and high standards and create coherence in what is taught in schools; ensure that all children have the opportunity to acquire a core of essential knowledge in the key subject disciplines; and allow teachers the freedom to use their professionalism and expertise in order to help all children realise their potential."

In the DfE's press release, Michael Gove said:

We have sunk in international league tables and the National Curriculum is substandard. Meanwhile the pace of economic and technological change is accelerating and our children are being left behind. The previous curriculum failed to prepare us for the future. We must change course. Our review will examine the best school systems in the world and give us a world-class curriculum that will help teachers, parents and children know what children should learn at what age.

Writing in today's Daily Telegraph, Michael Gove also said:

While we have one of the biggest curricula in the world – at nearly 500 pages – it has failed a generation by not preparing them for the modern world.

We have a compulsory history curriculum in secondary schools that doesn't mention a single historical figure – except William Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano (and then only in the explanatory notes). No Churchill, no Queen Elizabeth, no Gladstone, no Disraeli, no Florence Nightingale, no Horatio Nelson.

We have a compulsory geography curriculum in secondary schools that doesn't mention a single country apart from the UK, doesn't mention a single country, city, continent, river or oceans.


The new National Curriculum will concentrate on setting out "only the essential knowledge that all children should acquire, and leave teachers to decide how to teach". The objectives of the review are to:

  1. give teachers greater professional freedom over how they organise and teach the curriculum;
  2. develop a National Curriculum that acts as a benchmark for all schools and provides young people with the knowledge they need to move confidently and successfully through their education, taking into account the needs of different groups including the most able and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities;
  3. ensure that the content of our National Curriculum compares favourably with the most successful international curricula in the highest performing jurisdictions, reflecting the best collective wisdom we have about how children learn and what they should know;
  4. set rigorous requirements for pupil attainment, which measure up to those in the highest performing jurisdictions in the world;
  5. enable parents to understand what their children should be learning throughout their school career and therefore to support their education.

Phase One

Phase one of the review will prepare new Programmes of Study for English, maths, science and physical education. It is intended that Programmes of Study for these subjects will be available to schools by September 2012, with teaching in maintained schools starting in September 2013. The first phase of the review will also decide which of the remaining subjects that currently form part of the National Curriculum (art and design, citizenship, design and technology, geography, history, ICT, MFL and music) should be part of the National Curriculum, with statutory Programmes of Study. Religious education and PSHE will remain statutory requirements, but are outside of the remit of the review as the content needs to reflect local circumstances.

Phase Two

Phase two of the review will produce Programmes of Study for all the other subjects that phase one concludes should be a statutory part of the National Curriculum. Any subjects which are not recommended to be part of the National Curriculum in future will either become non-statutory or will be compulsory, but with the detail of what is being taught decided at local level. Programmes of Study from this phase will be made available in September 2013, with teaching commencing in maintained schools from September 2014.

Advisory Committee, Expert Panel and Call for Evidence

An advisory committee consisting of head teachers and others from the education sector will help the DfE with recommendations and provide advice on strategic issues arising from the review. They will also work with an expert panel, led by Tim Oates (Director of Assessment Research and Development, Cambridge Assessment) who will lead on the construction and content of the new National Curriculum. A call for evidence was issued today to which anyone can contribute their views. Further information is also available on the DfE's Facebook site.


Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, suggests that ministers are, "determined that children should have a 1950s-style curriculum" and ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said, "most school leaders are happy with the current version of the National Curriculum and don't believe it is overly prescriptive. It is contradictory for the government to argue on the one hand for less prescription and on the other for an increase in prescribed subject content."

What Does This Mean for Schools?

Schools are advised by the DfE that they are legally required to continue to follow the current National Curriculum, but that curriculum materials on the QCDA and DfE websites are currently being slimmed down in line with pledges to reduce prescription. The DfE admit that the transition year (2013-14) will "present some challenges", but the review will consider how best to minimise the impact of this transition. Academies, of which there are now more than 400, will be able to depart from the new National Curriculum just as they are able to depart from the current one. They will still be required to teach a "broad and balanced curriculum" and will be held accountable for their performance in examinations which will reflect the content of the National Curriculum.

Categories: Senior leaders, News and policy

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