A new primary curriculum
by Sonia Sodha
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, there is evidence that pupil attitudes towards their learning are becoming more instrumental, and that they see what they learn at school as less relevant. Attitudes towards reading have become more negative since 1998 and we have one of the highest proportions of children with poor attitudes towards reading in Europe.
Given mounting critique from all sides, the government could not have failed to take these concerns seriously. In late 2007 it launched a review of the primary curriculum led by Sir Jim Rose. This review has already published an interim report and it looks like the new primary curriculum it will recommend will place much greater significance on a broader skill set – including speaking, listening and communication skills, social and emotional development, and ‘skills for life’.
However, there is a significant flaw in the review. The original remit set by the Secretary of State Ed Balls limited the review to looking only at the curriculum itself – not at other aspects of the system like assessment and testing. But the ‘lived curriculum’ as experienced by teachers and learners in schools cannot simply be determined – or understood – with reference to a curriculum document. Achieving a real shift in how pupils experience their learning requires examination of a much broader set of issues, including the pedagogical techniques used to teach the broader set of skills, and how the curriculum is assessed. As well designed as a new primary curriculum might be, it simply will not achieve its aims unless issues of how it is taught in the classroom and how schools are held accountable for delivering it are also considered alongside curriculum content. Previous curriculum reforms have demonstrated the futility of trying to achieve curriculum reform by simply changing the curriculum document. For example, the new Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum for 0-5 year olds is based on structured learning through play. Yet studies show it has had little impact on the learning of 3 and 4 year olds in nursery and reception classes in primary schools, primarily because teaching through play is a skill that many primary teachers have never been trained in.