Education Secretary Michael Gove has unveiled the draft Primary National Curriculum Programmes of Study for English, maths and science on 11th June 2012. They will be subject to an informal consultation before being re-published for formal consultation later in the year. The final programmes will be introduced from September 2014.

The drafts followed a report by an expert panel into the future framework of the national curriculum, which was chaired by Tim Oates, a Group Director at Cambridge Assessment. They indicate a move to a more rigorous curriculum which is in many parts very specific about the content to be covered in the three subjects.

Michael Gove said in a letter to Tim Oates:

In order to ensure that our children master the essential core knowledge which other nations pass on to their pupils, we are publishing primary Programmes of Study in mathematics, science and English which are explicitly more ambitious than before.
I believe it is particularly important for us to lay out the content that each child should be expected to master.

In maths, pupils will be expected to know their times table up to 12x12 by the age of nine (currently only up to 10x10 by the age of 11); and know ‘number bonds’ up to 20. In addition teachers will be expected to teach more challenging content, including fractions, decimals and negative numbers.

In English there will be stronger focus on spelling, grammar and phonics. The government has released a list of words pupils will have to be able to spell, and there “will be an expectation that pupils master formal English through poetry recitation, debate and presentation”.

In science there will be an increased focus on practical scientific experiments, and new content such as the solar system and evolution.

There will also be a consultation on the plan to introduce foreign languages from age seven at Key Stage 2. Pupils should gain a basic understanding of the grammar and be able to speak and write short sentences from memory in one foreign language. Shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, said that it is “absolutely right” to make foreign languages compulsory from an early age.

In addition, Michael Gove has said that the current system of reaching ‘levels’ will be ”removed and not replaced”. However there will be “some form of grading of pupil attainment […] so that we can recognise and reward the highest achievers as well as identifying those who are falling below national expectations”. What this will look like is not yet clear.

The Association for Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has criticised the curriculum for being too prescriptive:

“The detailed programmes of study will lead to a uniform education, with next to no opportunity for teachers to excite children and adapt learning to suit their pupils in their local area.”

Other unions have expressed some positive views, with Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), saying "It is appropriate to express high expectations in a statement of curriculum aims, but schools will need time and support to develop their teaching to reach those aims.”

And Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said:

There are still many unanswered questions about how it will look in the classroom and our full response to the primary proposals will depend what the secondary proposals look like.

The National Curriculum documents for the other primary subjects are expected later in the year, although they are anticipated to be less specific than those for English, maths and science.

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