Fractions At Five And Shakespeare At Seven? The New National Curriculum And What Parents Need To Know

11/06/2015 16:48 | Updated 11 June 2015

The new National Curriculum and what parents need to know

Big changes to what your children learn at school are coming soon. Here's our parents' guide to the new National Curriculum and what to expect.

What is the National Curriculum anyway?

The National Curriculum defines the programmes of study for key subjects in maintained/ state primary and secondary schools in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own equivalents). Fundamentally, it sets out what your child is supposed to learn and when.

A new version will be introduced in September 2014.

Academies, free schools and independent schools do not have to follow the curriculum.

Why the changes?

The current Government's view was that the old curriculum wasn't sufficiently challenging.

The new curriculum has been developed partly by comparing England's curriculum to those in other countries. As the Department of Education puts it, it's all about trying to compete in the global economy and the forthcoming curriculum "combines the best elements of what is taught in the world's most successful school systems, including Hong Kong, Massachusetts, Singapore and Finland, with some of the most impressive [existing] practice from schools in England."

Education Minister Nick Gibb told Parentdish: "This September sees some changes in schools. To make sure that many more children get a better start in life, we're improving what children study, how they study it and how their progress is assessed. It's a lot of change, but it's necessary. Why? So that this country keeps up with the demand from universities and employers for top-class knowledge and skills."

The idea - somewhat controversially - is for children to "go an earlier age" and it's clear from reading through the official literature that expectations are considerably higher for any given year group. Whilst some of the content is totally new, existing topics will be introduced a year or two earlier than would currently be the case for most children.

Generally, whether you like the plans or not, the days of critics muttering the words 'dumbed down' about modern state education are likely to be over...

So what's all this about fractions at five then?

Well, yes this is one of the amendments that's inspired news headlines but don't worry, your five-year old is not expected to be adding 11/54ths to 14/33rds just yet (we're told the answer is 373/594 by the way!) This is about very simple fraction work initially, such as understanding what a half or a quarter of a cake or biscuit is. Oh and calculators will not be allowed until secondary school!

Other well-publicised aspects of the maths curriculum include pupils being expected to be taught times tables to 12 by age 9 (versus up to 10 by the end of primary school at the moment), and converting fractions to decimals in year 4.

Some higher ability children will know how to do these things now but the difference is that the majority will be expected to do it.

What about English? Let me guess, Shakespeare at seven?

Nice alliteration there but no, in fact the Bard will only have to be introduced later on, with pupils studying at least two of his plays in full in the first few years of secondary school (at the moment they only need to do one and not always from start to finish).

For primary pupils there will be greater emphasis on grammar, spelling, poetry and debate. A list of challenging spellings should be learned by age 11 and reciting poetry is set to become a key activity in Key Stage 1.

Does the new curriculum cover subjects beyond maths and literacy?

The new curriculum, like the old, encompasses other subjects too – from science and RE to history and foreign languages. What's different is the content. Changes include more programming within ICT/ computing and compulsory cookery lessons.

Fractions at five and Shakespeare at seven? The new National Curriculum and what parents need to know

Tell me more about how this affects secondary age children.

Whilst much of the media coverage about the new curriculum has focused on primary education, secondary school pupils will also face more rigorous lessons come September 2014.

The secondary plans have been described by the Department of Education as 'more precise and challenging'. Changes include learning several computer programming languages and more depth in the sciences.

What about those National Curriculum levels - all that 1b, 2c, 4a stuff?

At present state schools must use a standard system of assessing and reporting pupil's attainment and progress but this is being scrapped too. Schools will be able to choose their own arrangements, although they will still have to track progress and report it to parents.

OK then, what happens when my child moves school? Presumably the new school won't be able to look at levels from the old one?

Some secondaries currently use year 6 levels to set and stream children but the changes will make this tricky if there's no universal system. Cue more secondaries doing their own entry assessments when their new year 7 pupils start (many do so already though anyway and feel they can't rely on the accuracy of primary levels).

Will there be chaos come September 2014?

The Department of Education is confident that all will be well. Teachers might disagree...Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, has been one of the more vociferous critics: "The timetable for implementation is dangerously and recklessly short and will leave schools facing potential chaos which could be hugely detrimental to the life chances of a generation of children and young people."

As parents, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope...

Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years.

What are your views on the new National Curriculum?

A welcome return to a more rigorous, traditional style of schooling or too much too soon for some children?

Are you a teacher? What do you think?

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