MARCH 2013
  1. The National Union of Teachers’ (NUT) response to the draft National Curriculum framework and associated consultation document has been informed by consultation, via a survey and focus groups, with members currently teaching Key Stages 1 to 4, who will be responsible for its successful implementation in schools.
  1. The proposals entirely ignore the recommendations on curriculum models proposed in recent comprehensive studies of both primary and secondary education. The final report of the University of Cambridge Primary Review[1], for instance, has much to offer in shaping policy on the direction of the primary curriculum. Its recommendation for ‘a 30 per cent Community Curriculum’ is reflected in the debate at the centre of this review: who should be responsible for making the curriculum a living reality for children – schools or the Government? The Cambridge Primary Review’s recommendations that the primary curriculum should be reconceptualised into aims and domains and that there are genuine alternatives to a traditional subject based curriculum deserve equal acknowledgement by the Government.
  1. Similarly the Tomlinson Review of 14-19 Education in 2004, the independent review by the Nuffield Foundation of 14-19 education led by Professor Richard Pring and the review led by QCA of the secondary curriculum, introduced in 2008, should inform these draft proposals.
  1. Although it is called the ‘National’ Curriculum, it is not an entitlement for all pupils. A substantial proportion of children, including those who attend academies, free schools and independent schools, are outside its statutory requirements.
  1. The statement on the importance of a broad and balanced curriculum at the start of the draft framework looks tokenistic. Instead, a very narrow set of aims has been proposed, which do not appear to consider children in their own right. There is no place for them to be active learners.
  1. There is a clear tension between the Coalition Government’s stated policy of curricular freedom and the detailed, prescriptive content of the draft statutory core subjects’ Programmes of Study at all key stages. The proposals reduce substantially the ways in which teachers can exercise their professional judgement in terms of pedagogy and interpreting the Government’s words.
  1. The 1988 Education Reform Act enshrined in law the principle that the Secretary of State should not prescribe pedagogy, yet the draft Programmes of Study are full of prescribed teaching methodologies and therefore the Secretary of State has completely ignored the law regarding his powers in intervening in curriculum matters.
  1. It is difficult to imagine how the draft framework could be considered fit for purpose with regard to SEN pupils. It is expected that all children should achieve the ‘expected’ levels, regardless of any special educational needs. This is a one size fits all approach which the NUT believes is a backward step.
  1. The draft framework document implies that good teaching and high expectations are sufficient to enable every child to achieve the acceptable levels of progress and that it is teachers’ fault if such pupils do not meet expectations. It is disingenuousand unhelpful to ignore how factors such as poverty and economic disadvantage have significant impact on pupil progress.
  1. The proposals appear to be based on the notion that all children and young people compete on a level playing field with the same opportunities to succeed inschools regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation and background. They do not. The school curriculum needs to contain encouragement to teachers to educate about the positive nature of difference within society, as well as teaching about universal human rights.
  1. The proposals for the primary Programmes of Study are generally more demanding, with content currently appearing in the National Curriculum moved down to younger age groups. There is a sharp distinction between the detail of the core Programmes of Study and the looseness of some, but not all, of those for the foundation subjects. There is little or no differentiation of approach between Key Stages 1 and 2.
  1. The draft National Curriculum framework is not intrinsically linked to curriculum assessment. Little thought appears to have been given to what appropriate assessment forms should be used to measure progress and achievement.
  1. There is little reference to the use or value of teacher assessment in the proposals; the kind of assessment that informs students, parents and teachers of young people’s progress and achievement.
  1. The influence of statutory assessment and accountability mechanisms on practice in schools should not be underestimated. Even schools which have ‘freedom’ not to use the National Curriculum or which are currently exempt from Ofsted inspection by virtue of their previous inspection grade are likely to have their curricular practice determined by national assessment and accountability demands.
  1. The proposed timetable for the introduction of the new Programmes of Study in schools, from September2014, is unreasonable. The recommendations and proposed areas for further work have major implications for teachers, who have implemented a plethora of educational initiatives in recent years.
  1. There is no reference in the proposals to how teachers will find the time in the school day to cover the high level of content in the Programmes of Study. This must be given serious consideration by Government.
  1. Professional development for staff must run alongside these proposals. Whilst agreeing that schools should have autonomy to choose exactly what kinds of support they need, some needs will be common to all or most schools, such as guidance on the statutory requirements, exemplar schemes of work and assessment sample materials. These should be provided as central and free resources to schools which are statutorily required to deliver the National Curriculum.
  1. There is also a role for local authorities to play in supporting the introduction of the new National Curriculum, as part of their responsibilities for promoting high standards. They could usefully co-ordinate local networks, encourage local collaboration to share best practice in curriculum design and use any existing advisory expertise to provide bespoke support for those schools which require it.
  1. There is a particular concern for primary schools, where teachers will have to prepare to teach all the new Programmes of Study simultaneously. Some primaries are very small and/or have mixed age classes, which will have an impact on the capacity to introduce a totally new curriculum.

NUT Resp to NC Cons (2013) Summary_HH107 December 2018

Created: 15 March 2013/KDR&SA

Revised: 25 March 2013/CS

[1] Alexander, R. et al, Children, Their World, Their Education: Final Report of the Cambridge Primary Review, University of Cambridge/Esmee Fairbairn, 2009.