Press release

National curriculum review launched

Education Secretary Michael Gove announces a new world-class curriculum to help reverse the fall in international league tables.

The Secretary of State for Education today announced a major review of the national curriculum in England.

The review will be led by the Department for Education, supported by an advisory committee and expert panel made up of top teachers, academics and business representatives.

The review will:

  • replace the current substandard curriculum with one based on the best school systems in the world, providing a world-class resource for teachers and children
  • consider what subjects should be compulsory at what age
  • consider what children should be taught in the main subjects at what age

Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

We have sunk in international league tables and the national curriculum is substandard. Meanwhile the pace of economic and technological change is accelerating and our children are being left behind. 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.

Chair of the expert panel, Tim Oates, said:

The national curriculum that we have at the moment has led teachers to move with undue pace through material and encouraged a ‘tick list’ 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.

Members of the advisory committee and expert group welcomed today’s review.

Shahed Ahmed, Head of Elmhurst Primary School, Forest Gate, and advisory committee member, said:

I believe this review will be very helpful to re-establish that the best way to teach the primary national curriculum is through a rigorous subject-based approach. 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.

Dame Yasmin Bevan, Executive Principal and Head of Denbigh High School and Challney High School for Boys, and advisory committee member, said:

We need a national curriculum review to establish clarity about what teachers must teach, what children must learn and what parents can expect of their children’s learning. We want to avoid overload, allowing time to ensure concepts, knowledge skills and understanding are fully developed. We also want to establish clarity about the standards we expect our young people to achieve so that they can compete confidently with the best of their peers globally.

Mike Harris, education skills lead at the Institute of Directors, and advisory committee member, said:

Education is on the frontline of the battle for the UK’s future competitiveness. We need to be confident that what we teach, the way in which we teach it, and how we assess and examine the knowledge we impart, matches the best in the world. The national curriculum review will play an important part in that effort.

Professor Nigel Thrift, Vice Chancellor, Warwick University, and advisory committee member, said:

The national curriculum review is important for universities. We need a national curriculum that delivers the knowledge children need to attend university and we need it now. Too often we find that, despite teachers’ hard work and dedication, children do not have what we would consider as the basics in the disciplines that they wish to study at university, and the hope is that - in conjunction with other changes in the educational landscape - this state of affairs can be changed for the better.

Professor Dylan Wiliam, former Deputy Director at the Institute of Education, Professor of Educational Assessment, and expert panel member, said:

There is growing acceptance all over the world that the quality of the teacher is the most important determinant of how much students learn. In this context, it makes sense to check that the national curriculum provides the right balance between providing a firm structure for shared national expectations for what students should learn and allowing enough scope for teachers to have the freedom to use their creativity to maximise student learning.

Notes to editors

  1. The government set out in the Coalition Agreement its commitment to give schools greater freedom over the curriculum. As part of that commitment, the government has announced proposals for a systematic and comprehensive review of the national curriculum in England for 5- to 16-year-olds.

  2. It is important to distinguish between the national curriculum and the wider school curriculum. The national curriculum was originally envisaged as a guide to study in key subjects, which would give parents and teachers confidence that students were acquiring the knowledge necessary at every level of study to make appropriate progress. As it has developed, the national curriculum has come to cover more subjects, prescribe more outcomes and take up more school time than originally intended. It is the government’s intention that the national curriculum be slimmed down so that it properly reflects the body of essential knowledge all children should learn and does not absorb the overwhelming majority of teaching time in schools. Individual schools should have greater freedom to construct their own programmes of study in subjects outside the national curriculum and develop approaches to learning and study that complement it.

  3. The new national curriculum will be developed in line with the coalition government’s stated principles of freedom, responsibility and fairness - to raise standards for all children. The national curriculum should have the following aims at its heart:
    • to embody rigour and high standards and create coherence in what is taught in schools
    • to ensure all children have the opportunity to acquire a core of essential knowledge in the key subject disciplines
    • beyond that core, to allow teachers the freedom to use their professionalism and expertise to help all children realise their potential
  4. The national curriculum will continue to be a statutory requirement for maintained schools but will also retain its importance as a national benchmark of excellence for all schools, providing parents with an understanding of what their child should be expected to know at every stage in their school career.

  5. The work of the review will be managed by the Department for Education and will report to the Secretary of State for Education, who has statutory responsibility for the national curriculum. The Secretary of State has appointed an advisory committee to guide the review and help frame recommendations, which will be chaired by the Director-General for Education Standards in the Department. The Secretary of State has also asked Mr Tim Oates to lead an expert panel that will provide an evidence base for the review and ensure the construction and content of the new national curriculum is based in evidence and informed by international best practice.

  6. The principal objectives for the review are to
    • give teachers greater professional freedom over how they organise and teach the curriculum
      • develop a national curriculum that acts as a benchmark for all schools and provides young people with the knowledge they need to move confidently and successfully through their education, taking into account the needs of different groups including the most able and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
      • ensure the content of our national curriculum compares favourably with the most successful international curricula in the highest performing jurisdictions, reflecting the best collective wisdom we have about how children learn and what they should know
      • set rigorous requirements for pupil attainment that measure up to those in the highest performing jurisdictions in the world
      • enable parents to understand what their children should be learning throughout their school career and therefore to support their education
  7. The review will also take into account the emerging conclusions of the review of the early years foundation stage (EYFS), to ensure a smooth transition from the EYFS to key stage 1.

  8. The government’s ambition is to reduce unnecessary prescription, bureaucracy and central control throughout the education system. That means taking a new approach to the curriculum. The national curriculum should set out only the essential knowledge all children should acquire and leave teachers to decide how to teach this most effectively and to design a wider school curriculum that best meets the needs of their pupils.

  9. To too great an extent, the national curriculum has been over-prescriptive, has included material that is not essential, and has specified teaching method rather than content. The government envisages schools and teachers taking greater control over what is taught in schools and how it is taught, using their professional skills and experience to provide the best educational experience for all of their pupils. To bring the curriculum to life, teachers need the space to create lessons that engage their pupils, and children need the time to develop their ability to understand, retain and apply what they have learned.

  10. The new national curriculum will, therefore, have a greater focus on subject content, outlining the essential knowledge and understanding that pupils should be expected to have to enable them to take their place as educated members of society. It should embody our cultural and scientific inheritance; the best our past and present generations have to pass on to the next. The national curriculum must not, however, attempt to cover every conceivable area of human knowledge or endeavour, and should not become a vehicle for imposing passing political fads on our children or dominate the school curriculum time in its entirety.

  11. As noted in paragraph 2, it is essential to distinguish between the national curriculum and the wider school curriculum. There are a number of important components of a broad and balanced school curriculum for which, as is currently the case, it would be inappropriate to prescribe national programmes of study. This applies, for example, in the case of religious education (RE), where what is taught needs to reflect local circumstances. Religious education will not, therefore, be considered as part of the review of the national curriculum. The government does not intend to make any changes to the statutory basis for religious education.

  12. Similar considerations apply to PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) education. The government recognises good PSHE education supports individual young people to make safe and informed choices but that often schools need more support and help in the way they cover the important topics dealt with within PSHE education, including sex and relationships education. The recently published schools white paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’, announced the government’s intention to conduct a separate internal review to determine how schools can be supported to improve the quality of PSHE teaching, including giving teachers the flexibility to use their judgement about how best to deliver PSHE.

  13. The review will consider all subjects that are currently part of the national curriculum:
    • art and design
      • citizenship
      • design and technology
      • English
      • geography
      • history
      • information and communication technology (ICT)
      • mathematics
      • modern foreign languages (MFL)
      • music
      • physical education (PE)
      • science
  14. The review will take place in two phases. The core subjects of English, mathematics and science will remain subjects within the national curriculum, with statutory programmes of study from key stage 1 to key stage 4. The first phase of the review will therefore consider the essential knowledge (e.g. facts, concepts, principles and fundamental operations) children need to be taught in order to progress and develop their understanding in these subjects, and draft new programmes of study with a view to them being taught in maintained schools from September 2013.

  15. Children need access to high quality physical education. Physical education will, therefore, also remain a compulsory part of the national curriculum at all 4 key stages and the first phase of the review will advise ministers on a much simplified and less prescriptive programme of study. This is also for introduction in 2013. It is proposed the revised curriculum for physical education will set out a clearer expectation that all pupils should play competitive sport, and will retain the expectation that all children learn to swim. The government will also consider whether there would be merit in providing some form of guidance to schools about the allocation of time to outdoor physical activities. These considerations will be informed by the outcomes of the review.

  16. The first phase of the review will also consider whether each of the remaining subjects listed in paragraph 13 above should be part of the national curriculum, with statutory programmes of study, and if so, at which key stages. For any subjects that are not recommended to be national curriculum subjects in the future, the review will advise on whether there should be non-statutory programmes of study available at particular key stages, and/or whether those subjects - or any aspects of them - should nevertheless be compulsory but with what is taught being decided at local level.

  17. The second phase of the review, starting in early 2012, will produce draft programmes of study for all other subjects in addition to English, mathematics, science and physical education, which the government decides should be part of the national curriculum in future or, where it is decided there should be a non-statutory programme of study, with a view to them being taught in maintained schools from September 2014.

  18. The review will also provide advice on the following:
    • the extent to which the content of the national curriculum should be set out on a year-by-year basis, to ensure knowledge is built systematically and consistently
    • what, if anything, should replace existing attainment targets and level descriptors to better define the standards of attainment children should reach, and be assessed against, at various points throughout their education
    • what is needed to provide expectations for progression to support the least able and stretch the most able
    • how the national curriculum can support the provision of more helpful advice and information to parents on their child’s progress
    • how the content of the national curriculum can support the embedding of equality and inclusion.
  19. The national curriculum will continue to inform the design and content of assessment at the end of key stage 2. The review itself will not provide advice on how the statutory testing and assessment arrangements should operate.

  20. Instead, the government has asked Lord Bew to conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of the current key stage 2 tests. The review will consider how to deliver rigorous, valid and reliable assessments that promote attainment and progression and ensure schools are properly accountable to pupils, parents and the public for the achievement of every child. It will also consider how to ensure assessments provide parents with good quality information on their child’s progress. Lord Bew will make his final recommendations to ministers in June 2011. The national curriculum review will link to Lord Bew’s review, to ensure the standards and expectations set for pupil attainment measure up to those of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world.

  21. The national curriculum will continue to inform the design and content of GCSEs. Requirements in the national curriculum should be capable of being embodied readily into GCSE subject criteria and support the effective operation of public examinations at the end of compulsory schooling. The development of new GCSE criteria themselves is outside the scope of this review.

  22. The successful development and implementation of the new national curriculum will require commitment from schools and teaching professionals. The review will advise ministers on:
    • how introduction of the new programmes of study in each subject should be phased in
    • what kind of support the school workforce will need to implement the new national curriculum effectively, taking account, in particular, of the implications of introducing new programmes of study in some subjects in 2013 and others in 2014, and
    • what issues need to be considered in relation to related policy areas such as assessment, accountability and inspection, to ensure all aspects of the education system are coherent and aligned behind the new national curriculum.
  23. The review will run from 20 January 2011 and will be conducted in two phases.

  24. As explained above, the first phase of the review will focus on
    • the overall shape and nature of the national curriculum, including which subjects beyond English, mathematics, science and physical education should have statutory or non-statutory programmes of study in the future
    • cross-cutting issues including the support needed by schools to enable effective implementation
    • the development of new programmes of study in English, mathematics, science and physical education Recommendations from phase 1, including draft programmes of study, will be provided to ministers for consideration by autumn 2011, and there will be a public consultation on the draft programmes of study in early 2012.
  25. The second phase will focus on the development of statutory and non-statutory programmes of study, as appropriate, in relation to all other subjects where it is decided at the conclusion of phase 1 that programmes of study are needed in the future. This second phase of work will begin early in 2012, with recommendations including draft programmes of study to be provided to ministers for consideration by autumn 2012. There will be a public consultation on the draft programmes of study in early 2013.

  26. The intention is that the new programmes of study for English, mathematics, science and physical education will be prepared and available to schools by September 2012, with teaching in maintained schools to commence from September 2013. New programmes of study for all other subjects that are either to form part of the new national curriculum or to have non-statutory programmes of study will be available to schools by September 2013, with teaching in maintained schools to commence from September 2014.

  27. The advisory committee will support the Department for Education in the conduct of the review by helping to frame recommendations, offering a wider perspective on the proposals from the expert panel and providing advice on strategic and cross-cutting issues that may arise from the review.

  28. The committee will consist of the following members:
    • Jon Coles, Chair of the advisory committee (Director-General for Education Standards, Department for Education)
      • Tim Oates (Chair of the expert panel and Director of Assessment Research and Development, Cambridge Assessment)
      • Shahed Ahmed (Head of Elmhurst Primary School, Forest Gate)
      • Peter Barnes (Head of Oakgrove School, Milton Keynes)
      • Dame Yasmin Bevan (Executive Principal and Head of Denbigh High School and Challney High School for Boys, Luton)
      • Mike Harris (Head of Education and Skills Policy at the Institute of Directors)
      • Patrick Leeson (Director of Education and Care, Ofsted)
      • John D. F. Martin (Head of Castle Hill Junior School, Basingstoke)
      • Bernice McCabe (Head of North London Collegiate)
      • John McIntosh OBE (retired Head of the London Oratory School)
      • Ruth Miskin (Founder, Read Write Inc and former Primary Head)
      • Joe Prendergast (Head of Wennington Hall School, Lancaster)
      • Heather Rockhold (retired Head of Lauriston Primary School, Hackney)
      • Professor Nigel Thrift (Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick)
      • Sir Michael Wilshaw (Head of Mossbourne Community Academy, Hackney, and Director of Education at ARK)
  29. The expert panel will lead on the construction and content of the new national curriculum. The panel will develop a robust evidence base to inform the drafting of new programmes of study, and build a detailed framework for the national curriculum taking account of the requirements set by the highest performing international jurisdictions. It will also reflect the views of teachers, subject communities, academics, employers, higher education institutions and other interested parties.

  30. The expert panel will consist of the following members:
    • Tim Oates, Chair of the Expert Panel (Director of Assessment Research and Development, Cambridge Assessment)
    • Professor Mary James (Associate Director of Research in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge)
    • Professor Andrew Pollard (Professor of Education at the Department of Quantitative Social Science, Institute of Education, and Director of ESCalate at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol)
    • Professor Dylan Wiliam (formerly a Deputy Director at the Institute of Education and Professor of Educational Assessment)
  31. A secretariat for the review and a research team to support the expert panel will be provided by the Department for Education.

  32. The review will be open, transparent and outward-facing. A Call for Evidence has been launched, inviting all interested parties to contribute to the review and the development of the new national curriculum. A further Call for Evidence will be issued in early 2012 for phase 2 of the review. The Department for Education will organise a series of consultation events for key stakeholders and work to ensure headteachers, classroom teachers, parents and others are able to contribute to the work of developing the new national curriculum. Regular updates on the progress of the review will be provided via the Department for Education’s website.

  33. Read further information about the review.

  34. Read Michael Gove’s speech announcing the review.

Enquiries

Help us improve GOV.UK

Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.