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Debate: Interim report of the primary curriculum

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By John CoeGeneral Secretary of the National Association for Primary Education

Sir Jim Rose’s interim review of the primary curriculum represents an opportunity and a challenge. So what has he recommended?

John Coe

You have to hand it to him. Sir Jim Rose is an arch fixer and he has successfully plotted his way through a maze of competing interests and political constraints to produce an interim review of the primary curriculum that has received wholehearted professional support. We expect his final report by the end of March. So far, so very good.

At last, official support for our wish to take an axe to the grossly overcrowded National Curriculum

Redefining the curriculum

The most radical proposal is to redefine the curriculum into six areas of cross-curricular learning and to ask the QCA to slim down the statutory-subject content. No wonder teachers are cheering. At last, official support for our wish to take an axe to the grossly overcrowded National Curriculum wished on us by specialists with a secondary-school approach in mind. Now, armed with a definition of really essential knowledge and skills, we will be able to focus on the needs and nature of children. The evidence offered to Sir Jim was overwhelming. Only two per cent of respondents to the call for evidence advised that single-subject curriculum design should remain and only seven per cent were opposed to the reduction in prescription and content in the programmes of study.

There was equally strong advice that the Early Years Foundation Stage should be extended into the primary curriculum; 93 per cent of respondents were in favour and 28 per cent sought an extension to play-based and child-initiated learning. In following this advice, the report goes a long way towards solving the problem of discontinuity between the EYFS and Key Stage 1.

Although any consideration of changes to current national testing and league tables was specifically excluded in Ed Balls’ brief, Sir Jim has made the most of the opportunity provided by the invitation to ‘take account of the Making Good Progress* work.’ His review reports the advice received that the system constrains teaching and should be changed. Unable to include abolition of league tables as a recommendation, Sir Jim sets out the advice that he has received and so brings his work in line with every other organisation concerned with primary education. He knows full well that as long as the present system remains, many schools will feel unable to push ahead with the implementation of the changes in curriculum design and teaching that are recommended.

Time for change

Changes to the National Curriculum following the final report will not become law until September 2011. We must not wait that long. Already an increasing number of schools are developing well thought out programmes of cross-curricular study. But, there is no doubt at all that the primary sector faces a major challenge. It will not be easy to break free from delivering an impoverished test-driven curriculum. Very many colleagues have known nothing else. Break free we must – our children demand it. Sir Jim Rose has given us encouragement and opportunity to create a more fulfilling and productive school life for them.

Look out for…. insightful curriculum review article written by regular contributor, headteacher Huw Thomas. What might the changes mean for you? Post a comment on our forum, Teacher Talk.

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