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Government announces National Curriculum shake-up

Teachers have certainly had a lot of changes to keep up with since the coalition entered office last May – the most recent of which is the announcement that the government is to conduct a wholesale review of the National Curriculum.

Led by the Department for Education (DfE), the review will look to replace the current National Curriculum, establish the age at which children should be taught certain subjects and what the teaching of those subjects should entail.  Announcing the review, Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "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."

One of the key reasons for this shake-up was said to be the sinking of the UK's education system down the international league table; the evidence of which was recently shown in a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Although the review will be led by the DfE, it will seek the input of an "expert advisory panel", comprising leading teachers, academics and business representatives.  Chairing the panel is Tim Oates, who said the current National Curriculum meant educators were forced to take a "tick box approach" to teaching.

"We will work with the advisory committee, as well as appraising carefully both international and national research, as part of this review. We will make changes only where justified, in order to avoid unnecessary disruption to the education system," he added.

All subjects covered by the National Curriculum are up for review, which will also take into account the conclusions which emerge from the study into the Early Years Foundation Stage "to ensure a smooth transition" is available for those moving between stages.

At the core of the review, according to the DfE, is allowing teachers more professional freedom, 'setting rigorous requirements' with regard to attainment, making sure the UK's curriculum compares with those in other countries, taking into account the needs of diverse groups and ensuring parents understand what their children are being taught in the classroom.

Teaching of the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, as well as Physical Education, is to be the focus of the first phase of the review, which will look at considering the 'essential knowledge' children require in this field and drafting study programmes for the subjects.

Early 2012 will see the second stage of the review commence, where programmes will be drawn up for all additional subjects the review determines should form part of the National Curriculum.

Shahed Ahmed, Head of Elmhurst Primary School, Forest Gate and a member of the advisory committee, said: "It would also be very helpful if the National Curriculum is slimmed down so that schools have more time and flexibility to fit in what else they think it important to have in their own school curriculum. I also think it important to emphasise that a good grounding in the basics is the foundation to being creative."

However, not all are in support of the review and a number see it simply as a way to return the National Curriculum to the much more traditional system previously taught in British schools. Among the critics of the review is NASUWT, with Chris Keates, General Secretary of the union, claiming: "Teachers want another curriculum review like a hole in the head." She added: "This is a pointless review when ministers have already determined that children should have a 1950s-style curriculum."

The suggestion that the curriculum was being returned to the type seen in the 1950s was also made by Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham, who questioned the priority that could be given to subjects such as Latin over others like ICT.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, despite reservations, was much more receptive to the idea. "It is encouraging to see that one of the principle objectives of the review is to give teachers professional freedom over how they teach," Ms Blower said, although she warned this could potentially be undermined by the system of league tables and targets. "It is a serious error to have no classroom teachers on the review panel. These are the people who have hands-on experience in the classroom and who know what works and what doesn't," she added.

The draft curriculums for the core subjects are being drawn up with the intention of them being brought in to mainstream schools in 2013. The remaining programmes for study will be introduced in 2014.

A call for evidence has also been issued with the review, meaning those classroom teachers and education professionals looking to share their views should at least have a chance to be heard.