Press release

New primary curriculum to bring higher standards in English, maths and science

Details of changes to the primary national curriculum.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Plans to restore rigour in the key primary subjects are today set out by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The draft primary national curriculum programmes of study for English, maths and science are more demanding than the existing national curriculum. They align England with those countries that have the highest-performing school systems.

By raising standards in basics such as reading, grammar, fractions and basic scientific concepts, children will be equipped to do more advanced work once they start secondary school.

The draft programmes of study published today will be subject to an informal consultation so they can be widely discussed. Some will think aspects are too demanding, others that they are not demanding enough, and there will be debate about what is appropriate at different ages. The Department for Education will consider the public debate and re-draft the programmes before re-publishing them later in the year for formal consultation. The final programmes will be introduced in primary schools from September 2014.

The drafts include the following:

Higher standards in maths

  • Pupils will be expected to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions in primary school so they can progress to more advanced topics like algebra when they go to secondary school. These four operations are not in the current primary curriculum. The proposed change is consistent with expectations in the high-performing education jurisdictions of Singapore and Hong Kong.
  • By age 9, pupils should know their times tables up to 12x12. This is in line with expectations in the high-performing jurisdiction of Massachusetts. Currently pupils only need to know up to 10x10 by the end of primary school.
  • By age seven, pupils should know “number bonds” up to 20. These are simple addition and subtraction facts that pupils should be able to recognise and use instantly (e.g. 9+9=18 or 16-7=9).

Higher standards in English

  • Pupils will be taught to read fluently through systematic phonics. There will be a much stronger emphasis on reading for pleasure.
  • There will be a focus on spelling - for instance, there will be a list of words that all children should be able to spell by the end of primary school. There is currently no such list in the national curriculum.
  • There will be a focus on grammar - for instance, children will be expected to understand how to use the subjunctive and correct use of the apostrophe - for example, not using it to indicate plurals such as “I went to buy some apple’s” or using “it’s” as a possessive.
  • There will be an expectation that pupils master formal English through poetry recitation, debate and presentation.

Higher standards in science:

  • There will be a greater focus on the acquisition of scientific knowledge with new content on the solar system, speed and evolution.
  • There will be an increased focus on practical scientific experiments and demonstrations, similar to the approach taken in Alberta and Massachusetts.

Additionally, there will be a consultation later this summer on our plan to introduce foreign languages from age seven at the start of key stage 2.

There will be no other changes to the structure of the primary curriculum. The government will maintain the requirement for the teaching of art and design, design and technology, geography, history, ICT, music, and physical education across all the primary years.

Programmes of study for these subjects will follow later this year. They will be much shorter than the drafts for English, maths and science being published today. This will give teachers much more freedom in these areas.

Education Secretary Michael Gove also announced today that the current system of levels and level descriptors - which is confusing for parents and bureaucratic for teachers - will be removed and not replaced.

The publication of the draft Programmes of Study for English, Maths and Science follow a report by an expert panel, chaired by Tim Oates, which made recommendations on the framework for a new national curriculum, and a parallel report by the Department for Education which identified the key features of curricula for maths, science and English in high-performing jurisdictions.

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s letter to the Expert Panel can be found here.

The draft Programmes of Study for English, maths and science can be downloaded. These apply to England only.


Notes for editors

The Expert Panel comprised: Tim Oates (Director of Research and Assessment at Cambridge Assessment), and Professors Mary James, Andrew Pollard and Dylan Wiliam.

The key stages of the national curriculum are as follows:

Key stage Ages School years
Primary school    
1 5-7 1-2
2 7-11 3-6
Secondary school    
3 11-14 7-9
4 14-16 10-11

DfE enquiries

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General enquiries - for members of the public 0370 000 2288

Published 11 June 2012