Page last updated at 05:30 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2008

Primary school subjects overhaul

Primary class
The review wants to create a more flexible primary timetable

A major review of the curriculum for England's primary schools suggests that six broad "areas of learning" could replace individual subjects.

The report from government adviser Sir Jim Rose wants to create a more flexible, less "overloaded" timetable.

It also calls for children to learn more about well-being, happiness and healthy living.

Sir Jim rejected this was "dumbing down" and said the changes reflected the skills most needed by children.

Responsible citizens

Sir Jim was asked by the government to carry out a "root-and-branch" review of what is taught in primary schools.

understanding English, communication and languages
mathematical understanding
scientific and technological understanding
human, social and environmental understanding
understanding physical health and well-being
understanding the arts and design

His interim review suggests that there could be six broader "areas of learning", rather than up to 14 individual subjects, such as history, geography and science.

"We're not destroying subject teaching - far from it. We want it to be done more rigorously," says Sir Jim.

Speaking at the launch of the review, he said there had been a false distinction between teaching individual subjects and across topics and that it was possible to do both.

The proposals suggest that "key ideas" might overlap different subjects - and Sir Jim gave as an example the way that learning about human settlements could teach about both history and geography.

But he said that this would mean a reduction in overall content - with the details of the subject matter which would no longer be taught still to be decided.

As well as cutting out subjects, Sir Jim proposes a greater emphasis on life skills, including making lessons about emotional well-being and social skills a compulsory part of the curriculum.

Pupils should have the "personal, social and emotional qualities essential to their health, well-being and life as a responsible citizen in the 21st Century".

Sir Jim also argues that the primary curriculum needs to reflect changes in children's experiences and it should recognise that many young children have developed computer skills in their own homes.

Primary podcasts

He says the level of lessons in information, communication and technology (ICT) currently taught in secondary schools should now be taught to primary-age pupils.

Such technology skills should also be used in other lessons, recommends Sir Jim.

This could include using the internet for research, word-processing work and making podcasts.

"Good primary teaching deepens and widens children's understanding by firing their imagination and interest in learning. One highly promising route to meeting the demand for in-depth teaching and learning is undoubtedly emerging through ICT," says Sir Jim.

"The primary curriculum needs to be forward-looking."

He said advances in technology and the internet revolution were driving a pace of change that would have been unimaginable when the national curriculum was created 20 years ago.

Happiness is not a learnt skill and is not measurable - what brings happiness to one will not bring it for another
Lynne, Newport Gwent

The report also says that summer-born children should start primary school the September after their fourth birthday, but some children should be able to begin school part-time if that is what their parents want.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls, attending the launch of the report, also highlighted the technology skills of primary-age pupils.

"We need 21st Century schools which make the most of the opportunities technology offers our computer-savvy youngsters," said Mr Balls.

The final report of the review will be published in spring 2009, with any recommendations accepted by the government to be introduced from September 2011.


The Conservatives' Children's Secretary, Michael Gove, said the shift away from subjects meant a dilution of learning.

"The government’s changes to the primary curriculum will lead to children learning less not more. The move away from traditional subject areas will lead to a further erosion of standards," said Mr Gove.

Liberal Democrat Children's spokesman David Laws said schools needed greater freedom to set their own teaching priorities, not a new set of government directives.

"While IT skills are extremely important, they must not come at the expense of giving children a good grounding in the basics of literacy and numeracy."

The National Association of Head Teachers welcomed the emphasis on well-being, saying that such an "ethos of holistic education" was one of most important aspects of primary school.

But the Nasuwt general secretary Chris Keates warned that any benefits from the changes would still be constrained by the tests and league tables at the end of primary school.

"The Rose Review presents an opportunity to remove this outdated, divisive method of school accountability," she said.

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