National Curriculum

National Curriculum

Dr Curran’s ideal National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 & 2

Time to end one size fits all educationAlthough the new curriculum introduced in 2014 has been an improvement on its predecessor, the expectations for children are still too low. Further improvements need to be made to the maths and English curriculum for future generations to be able to effectively compete on the world stage. The main issue is in the primary curriculum, as this shapes everything that succeeds it.

The employment of maths and English specialists in primary schools would assist in the delivery of a more challenging curriculum. One of the problems many primary schools face is that teachers are having to deliver so many subjects but cannot be a specialist in every one of them. The division between the generalist and the specialist teacher may be a way forward, and this is certainly an approach that many preparatory schools have successfully employed.

Mathematics:

As a subject, maths involves the memorisation of techniques as well as an understanding of mathematical concepts. In more progressive mathematical approaches, too much emphasis has been placed on the second aspect and too little on the first. Maths should be taught in a structured, step-by-step way: the four rules of number, then decimals, then fractions. During the process of learning and mastering the techniques, students will also gradually understand the concepts that are being taught and will develop the freedom and creativity to find alternative ways to solve mathematical problems. In the end, whether one takes a more progressive or traditional stance, both approaches are striving for the same outcome – children who are numerate and able to apply mathematical principles to problem-solving. It is just a matter of emphasis and approach. I strongly believe that technique should feature more highly and, if it does, children’s understanding will not suffer but will be enhanced. The new curriculum does emphasise the learning of technique. However, it is badly organised and structurally confusing.

Key Stage 1 (Years 1-2)

Improvements have been made to the year 1 and 2 maths curriculum. However, it can be further enhanced by providing more structure to the learning process by ensuring that children are consistently using paper and pen methods of calculation before the end of year 2.

Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6)

More changes are required in the Key Stage 2 curriculum:

  • Children should know the four rules of number: how to add, subtract, divide and multiply. This has received more emphasis in the new curriculum and this should be commended. Ineffective strategies such as ‘partitioning’ and ‘chunking’ do not feature as highly as they once did and are generally discouraged as the preferred method. There still needs to be more emphasis on ensuring children are thoroughly conversant with column addition, subtraction, long multiplication and long division.
  • Although the current curriculum requires children to able to convert decimal fractions to simple fractions by the end of primary school, this is far too simplistic a requirement. Children should know the four rules of decimals and the four rules of fractions in depth by the end of year 6; this is foundational maths. Although it is now part of the curriculum, it requires more rigour and greater emphasis. Children are only taught to multiply and divide decimals by whole numbers and this should be extended to multiplying and dividing by decimals.
  • The current curriculum expects children to know their times tables up to 12, which is better than the previous expectation of only up to the 10x table. However, there appears to be a lack of enforcement and too many children are still slipping through the net and relying heavily on calculators to do the simplest of calculations. Currently, the curriculum states children should know their tables by the end of year 4. I think this is too late and they should know them by the end of year 3. This is a standard requirement for children in many Asian countries.
  • The new curriculum only requires children to be able to find basic percentages from an amount. Children should also be taught how to increase or decrease an amount by a percentage and how to find an amount from a percentage. It is not logical to teach the percentage to amount operation without teaching the reverse operation.
  • Children should have a clear understanding of ratios and this could receive more emphasis in the new curriculum.
  • Probability should also be taught, but this has been completely left out.
  • The new curriculum still allows calculators to be used, which I strongly disagree with, as it discourages children from becoming proficient in mental arithmetic. Calculators should be banned from use until year 6 and, even then, only scientific calculators should be introduced. These are an ideal tool for advanced students who have mastered all the basic mathematical operations.
  • Algebra should be taught more comprehensively, as it is the basis for so much in mathematics. Although very basic linear equations are included, this could be extended to include equations with variables on both sides.

English

English skills include reading, comprehending, responding and writing. By the end of year 6, a child should be making real progress and the current curriculum is, again, an improvement, but could be more rigorous. The new SATs papers are very demanding, but the curriculum does not fully prepare children to meet these demands.

Key Stage 1 (Years 1-2)

  • There should be an even stronger emphasis on the development of vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and spelling, alongside asking children to respond by writing creatively. Although it is important to encourage a free response to stimuli, this needs to have some structure particularly during year 2. From the beginning, spelling should be corrected, and basic grammatical elements should be emphasised.

Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6)

  • The current curriculum requires children to be able to use a dictionary by the age of 8, and by age 11 to be able to look up word meanings, use a thesaurus and spell 200 complex words – such as mischievous, privilege and yacht; this is too undemanding. By the end of year 6 a child could have an expressive vocabulary of over 5,000 words. We should not be settling for less than children can achieve.
  • Children should be reading and comprehending challenging passages of literature, including prose and poetry, and answering questions on a factual (on the line), contextual (between the lines) and evaluative (beyond the line) level.
  • Children should be encouraged to read not only modern classics but older classic literature as this will help expand their vocabulary and comprehension skills. Lists of recommended books could be included in any revised curriculum.
  • Children’s writing should be grammatically well-constructed and syntactically correct. It is important that children can write in proper sentences that are correctly punctuated, and understand paragraphing.
  • Children should have a good understanding of grammar and parts of speech, and be able to employ an extensive vocabulary. Having these abilities will enable them to write confidently and correctly.
  • Children should be able to write passages of sustained writing and be able to clearly express their ideas and thoughts.