National Curriculum Proposals: Curriculum Foundation Response

1 Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document?

A curriculum that seeks to call itself world-class should begin with aims. The first and most important question a curriculum review should begin with is ‘What are we trying to achieve?’

In this review, there has been inadequate discussion over the proposed aims and underlying values of the National Curriculum. Unless there is clarity, and some democratic consensus, about what a curriculum is seeking to achieve it is impossible to properly consider how a curriculum should be organised. The way learning is designed (its form) should reflect what it is trying to achieve (its function).

In previous reviews undertaken by educational experts there has always been such a debate. Prior to the Secondary Review, a whole series of booklets was produced by QCA which captured the views of employers, parents, teachers, pupils and subject associations. One booklet, titled ‘1000 Words to Shape the Future’ received contributions from more than 56 different organisations including submissions from organisations as diverse as the Institute of Directors, Youth Justice Board, Amnesty International and the Girls’ School Association.

The current review has enjoyed no public debate and the proposed aims are not aims at all. They convey little sense of what education is for. This makes a rather poor contrast with the curriculum aims in Singapore, Finland and New Zealand which are often cited by Government as education systems worthy of emulation. Singapore’s curriculum aims demonstrate a breadth of expectation for pupils which is lacking in these proposals.  Pupils should learn, for example, to ‘appreciate the beauty of the world’, have a ‘zest for life’, be ‘confident’, ‘think independently and critically’, ‘communicate effectively’, ‘ask questions’, ‘use initiative’, ‘take calculated risks’ and develop into a ‘concerned citizen’. For further details see Singapore’s Desired Outcomes for Education at

Finland: Integration and cross-curricular themes at

2. Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?

This is problematic for a number of reasons. In the absence of clearly articulated values, aims and purposes for the whole curriculum, the ‘content in the programmes of study’ does not provide any meaningful ethical framework. Teachers should have many freedoms, including elements of content and pedagogies, but these freedoms need to be exercised within a clear aims based framework. The proposed curriculum framework, and the abandonment of the concept of an entitlement for all children, fails to provide this structure.

There are also problems with the aims currently proposed within the individual subject programmes of study. These read as a summary list of contents rather than a broader rationale for what pupils will be expected to study. English for example glaringly omits the potential of the subject to develop creativity or inspire children to use their imagination.

3. Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study? 

Again – the evaluation of curriculum content should take place against a framework of agreed curriculum aims so that judgments can focus on the potential of the content to deliver those aims. The proposed overall aims (Q1) offer very little against which to make these judgements.

There is also a problem in the discrepancy between what is prescribed as content for the core subjects and History and other Foundation Subjects giving the impression of a two tiered curriculum.

The year by year approach in core subjects at KS1 will also create an inflexible approach to planning, teaching and learning. Andrew Pollard has commented in his IOE blog that this very detailed year-on-year model was one of the main issues which caused the Expert Panel as a whole to withdraw from the development of programmes of study, leaving only Tim Oates to work with Ministers and the DfE teams.

Comments on proposals for individual subject content:

English: We welcome the emphasis on reading for pleasure. However, there should be a clear oracy/speaking and listening strand within the English curriculum. Drama should also be reinstated, as both play a key role in enhancing children`s language skills and confidence. Synthetic phonics is now the statutory method for teaching reading. No-one disputes the importance of phonics in the teaching of reading but it is not the only thing young children need to learn about reading.

There is an over emphasis on technical aspects such as phonics and grammar. The Cambridge Primary Review emphasise that there is no evidence that learning grammatical terms and labeling words and phrases in sentences helps children to write better.

There is a great and puzzling primary/secondary imbalance and the degree of detail and excessive statutory appendices (over 20 pages) are more like a scheme of work than programme of study. The lack of reference to digital texts, multimodal texts, media, new technologies etc does not reflect what it means to be a reader in the twenty first century.

Maths : We are concerned that proposals for the maths curriculum focus too exclusively on content acquisition and there should be a greater emphasis on mathematical thinking, reasoning and problem solving. The movement of some content from later to earlier years is also problematic.

Science: We welcome the strand that ensures children will work scientifically including carrying out independent investigations at KS2.  We agree with the Cambridge Primary Review that expectations at KS1 are low and important topics such as electricity and light have been removed.

Art and design: We agree with the view stated by the ASCL that this POS is so cursory that teachers are at a loss to understand how this is an improvement. There should be an emphasis on progression in skills, on evaluating and developing work, investigating artists and crafts people from different cultures and working with digital media.


Music: There should be a greater emphasis on enjoying music and having fun with it, especially at Key Stage 1, and references to the inclusion of different cultures and traditions in music.  There needs to be a greater emphasis on creativity and imagination. Expectations at KS1 are low and there is a lack of any reference to music from different cultures and lack of any form of composition at KS1


Citizenship:  Current proposals are greatly inferior to the existing programme. Citizenship should begin in KS1 not wait until KS3 and focus on developing active citizenship and the notion of global citizenship not just information about UK law and governance.


Computing:  Very technical and content heavy, it almost completely removes all the practical ICT skills that students will need for adult life.


Design and technology: The draft PoS does not promote progression in children`s learning. It is a return to more of a craft-based, maintenance skills approach, which will not prepare students for the real world or provide the rigour and challenge for the 21st century.


Geography: There is too little emphasis on cultural understanding, sustainability and diversity. Also a curriculum that allows primary children to learn Mandarin at KS2 but only encounter China in Geography at KS3 simply illustrates that the proposed curriculum has not been scrutinised through the eyes of a learner. Learning about climate change in these Programmes of Study should be included. All references to sustainable development have been dropped. A further concern is that the primary geography Programmes of Study focus on the British Isles to a large degree.  There is no mention of Africa, the Caribbean or Indian sub-continent, for instance, although many pupils will have family connections with these areas which could increase their motivation to learn in this subject.  In addition, the existing curriculum has encouraged many primary schools to establish links with schools globally.The failure to include Africa, the Caribbean or Asia seriously jeopardise these important links.


History: A high-quality history education equips pupils to think critically, weigh evidence, sift arguments, and develop perspective and judgment. We agree with the concerns made by many organisations including the Historical Association and Cambridge Primary Review that this proposed curriculum pays little attention to child development and does not reflect age-appropriate topics. The subject content of KS1 with concepts such as “civilization, parliament, democracy ‘ is inappropriate and unachievable for children of this age. The world history strand has been removed from primary schools and the amount of content to cover at KS2 and 3 is unworkable. It will lead to superficial learning and is likely to turn students away from history. It is a real departure from the current syllabus, which shows an interest in parts of the world beyond Britain and introduces children to critical thinking.


In Key Stages 2 and 3, pupils are expected to grasp a huge swathe of the history of Britain. The pressure to cover so much content, with no time to go back to revisit and reinforce, as well as some of the actual content (e.g. Wycliffe’s Bible for 8-9 year olds) will be likely to turn off some pupils from the subject and lead to less interest in historical study at later stages of education, as they will believe it is not relevant to them, their lives and their communities,


No rationale has been given for replacing the current exciting National Curriculum primary history units, such as those on the Victorian world and World War 2 Home front, which Ofsted has highlighted as good practice.


Languages: The study of at least one foreign language is a welcome addition to the Key Stage 2. Less welcome is the prescribed list of seven languages for primary schools to choose from (French, Spanish, Italian, German, Mandarin, Latin and Ancient Greek) rather than the ability to provide an introduction to language families or teach community languages as is current practice in some primaries. There is a notable omission of reference to intercultural understanding and the range of languages proposed is limiting.


Physical education: The focus on team games, rather than developing a good understanding of healthy living is a major shortcoming. The PoS are so brief they are meaningless. Entitlement to high quality PE, dance and sports provision should be an entitlement for all children. This Programme of Study seems to be little more than a list of activities, with scant reference to inclusion or encouragement of enjoying and achieving in PE.


4. Does the content set out in the draft programmes of study represent a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage? 

A complete answer to this question clearly requires an analysis of the proposed programmes of study for all subjects. Most content, particularly when it is presented as a list of topics, could potentially be taught to a broad range of levels, and hence the degree of challenge depends on the teacher’s ability to differentiate. It is far too simplistic to suggest that teaching certain topics at a young age represents an ambitious level of challenge.

The decision to present the content of the proposed History programme of study in chronological order clearly runs counter to providing appropriate challenge at different key stages. A chronological list of events, none of which is intrinsically more challenging than any other, cannot possibly represent a hierarchy in terms of level of challenge.

Generally proposals for core subjects are more ambitious than for non-core subjects which lack ambition particularly in some subjects such as Science and Music where the expectations for KS1 are lower than the current National Curriculum.

5. Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?


The assessment requirements should have been published at the same time as the National Curriculum draft framework.  It is difficult to comment on proposed programmes of study without knowing how children`s progress and attainment are to be assessed.


6. Do you agree that the draft programmes of study provide effective progression between the key stages?

The draft programme of study do not provide clear routes for effective progression particularly from the four overarching principles and seven areas of learning and development of the EYFS.

7. Do you agree that we should change the subject information and communication technology to computing to reflect the content of the new programmes of study?

ICT and computing would more accurately reflect the practice schools should be aiming for in primary schools. Focusing too heavily on programming will fail to provide learners of all ages with the every day ICT skills necessary in the 21st century and risk disengagement with this important area of study.

8. Does the new National Curriculum embody an expectation of higher standards for all children?

The proposed new National Curriculum clearly does NOT embody an expectation of higher standards for ALL children, if it will not be statutory for children attending Academies and Free Schools. Higher expectation should encompass higher levels of learning (understanding, applying, evaluating and creating) in addition to the memorisation of knowledge.

9. What impact positive or negative will our proposals have on the protected characteristic groups?

There are likely to be negative effects for pupils for whom English is not their first language due to the emphasis on technical aspects of English at the expense of meaning making. The exclusion of community languages such as Polish (now the second language of the UK) Bengali, Gujarati and Urdu will also be detrimental. There is likely to be a negative impact on minority groups as the curriculum has a decreased focus on inclusion and as it excludes world history and geography relating to parts of the world significant to many communities.

10. To what extent will the new National Curriculum make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education.

We support the proposal that the National Curriculum should be made clear to parents and welcome the fact that the new curriculum proposals show KS1, 2 and 3 in the same document. However, the proposals focus on what children know rather than what they can do. This will mislead parents into thinking that learning is nothing more than memorisation of established knowledge.

11. What key factors will affect schools ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014?

Key factors affecting schools ability to implement the new curriculum successfully will be insufficient time, support and effective CPD. These proposals are being rushed through without sufficient time for revision, trialing and piloting by schools as occurred in previous reviews.  Schools will need to be supported to undertake whole school  curriculum development as well as making individual subject changes if they are to develop a vibrant, relevant curriculum that will inspire and challenge their pupils.

12. Who is best placed to support schools and or develop resources that schools will need to teach the new National Curriculum?

Building confidence of head teachers and teachers to develop their curriculum as a whole should be the main goal of non statutory guidance and CPD. Organisations such as the Curriculum Foundation are already working with schools around the country to make this happen.

13. Do you agree that we should amend the legislation to disapply the National Curriculum programmes of study, attainment targets and statutory arrangements, as set out in section 12 of the consultation document?

We should not disapply any programmes of study which could affect entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum


General comments

We have serious concerns about the impact that these reforms could have on education in the future if they go ahead.  We agree with the findings of the Cambridge Primary Review that Overall, we find the proposals in many respects educationally unsound and evidentially questionable. They are based on a flawed critique of existing arrangements and an overly selective response to international data.’

Learning and understanding – the current proposals favour ‘essential knowledge’ over concepts, skills and attitudes. This will not achieve the Government’s aim of raising standards and are likely to increase rote learning, at the expense of understanding and critical thinking. Governments around the world are recognizing the need to move in the opposite direction, developing concepts, skills and attitudes in addition to essential knowledge.

Relevance – the proposals do not take sufficient account of what is known about how children learn, or allow sufficiently for individual differences. Some of the programmes of study are not age appropriate, risking a sense of failure and disengagement amongst some pupils.

The programmes of study lack relevance to the needs of primary-aged children in the 21st century, and will not adequately prepare them for the future. The prescriptive approach that is set out for the primary curriculum is excessively detailed and overly-focused on core subjects and History. This increased over prescription may lead to a loss of breadth and balance in the curriculum and make cross curricular links hard to forge.

We therefore call on the government to

  • Listen to teachers and academic experts – particularly as to what can realistically be expected of children at particular ages. If the pitch of the programmes of study are inappropriate, then there is a real risk of encouraging failure, which could have long term consequences in disengaging pupils from learning;
  • Delay the proposed statutory implementation of the new National Curriculum in September 2014, to give time for proper review and revision of  the current drafts, in light of the many representations and responses made during the consultation period;
  • Allow for further debate on the content of the National Curriculum as proposals for assessment and accountability are developed;
  • Given the importance of achieving consensus and legitimacy over the aims of the National Curriculum, develop clear statements that promote positive attitudes to learning in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders.

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