Page last updated at 06:48 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 07:48 UK

MPs call for simpler curriculum

Barry Sheerman
Mr Sheerman wants a cap on central government control of the curriculum

The national curriculum for five to 16-year-olds in England is too heavily controlled by government, the Commons schools select committee has said.

The curriculum should be slimmed down, according to the cross-party committee of MPs.

And schools should have to follow the curriculum only in the core subjects of English, maths, science and ICT.

The government has accepted some reform is necessary, but says the curriculum is crucial to raising standards.


Three Conservative MPs on the committee went further than colleagues and called for schools to be allowed to opt out of the curriculum altogether.

The committee's report said there should be a cap on the proportion of the curriculum prescribed by central government.

"Our view is that it should be less than half of teaching time," it said.

It said teachers had been "de-skilled" by high levels of central government guidance and prescription.

"At times schooling has appeared more of a franchise operation, dependent on a recipe handed down by government rather than the exercise of professional expertise by teachers."


The MPs said all schools should be allowed to follow just the curriculum in core subjects - a freedom already enjoyed by Academy schools.

Foundation: Pre-school to end of Reception, ages 3 - 5
Key Stage 1:
Years 1 - 2, ages 5 - 7
Key Stage 2:
Years 3 - 6, ages 7 to 11
Key Stage 3:
Years 7 - 9, ages 11 to 14
Key Stage 4:
Years 10 - 11, ages 14 to 16

The committee's report recommended parents be given a copy of the national curriculum for their children's Key Stage so that they were "better informed". Key Stages are the age groups into which learning is divided.

The report raised concerns about a lack of continuity between the primary and secondary curriculums and criticised the Department for Children, Schools and Families for not taking pupils' opinions and experience of the curriculum into account.

The committee also rejected calls for pupils to start reception at age four because of their low staff to pupil ratio.

Key Stages 1 and 2:
art and design, design and technology, English, geography, history, information and communication technology, mathematics, music, physical education and science, plus religious education
Key Stage 3:
art and design, citizenship, design and technology, English, geography, history, information and communication technology, mathematics, modern foreign languages, music, physical education and science, plus careers education, sex education and religious education
Key Stage 4:
citizenship, English, information and communication technology, mathematics, physical education and science, plus careers education, sex education, work-related learning and religious education

An interim report of Sir Jim Rose's review into the primary curriculum - due to be published later this month - suggested summer-born children might benefit from starting school in the September after their fourth birthday, rather than in the following January.

Mr Sheerman said: "We need a simpler, more coherent curriculum. We need to trust schools and teachers more and empower teachers to do what they do best.

"There is a regrettable tendency for governments to make continual changes to the structure and framework of the curriculum.

"Ministerial meddling must stop."

Conservative committee member Graham Stuart said allowing parents and governors to vote on opting out of the curriculum would prevent too much central control.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Ministers are prone to interfering. We have seen it again and again, whether it's [over issues like] obesity or parenting skills."

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said it "utterly rejected" the claim that schooling was a "franchise operation" run by ministers.

Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: "The national curriculum has been at the heart of raising the quality of education.

"No-one wants to go back to the days where there were no minimum national standards for what children were taught and parents had no idea what was going on in classes.

"We agree with teachers that the curriculum should be slimmed down and more coherent so children don't fall back when they change schools - that's why we are have already overhauled the secondary curriculum and launched the biggest review of the primary curriculum for more than a decade."

She said it was disappointing that the report had "written off Sir Jim Rose's root-and-branch review of the primary curriculum before it is even published".

Around the UK

The select committee said that since 2007 England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had each reformed their national curriculum. Each involved slimming down the prescribed syllabus and emphasised curriculum aims, cross-curriculum learning and pupils' development of learning and life skills.

England has only removed Key Stage 3 testing, whereas elsewhere there has been "a more concerted shift to teacher assessment".

The reforms have been most radical in Northern Ireland, the MPs said. For the primary curriculum, apart from English and mathematics the content within each area of learning has been very significantly reduced to a minimum requirement.

The secondary curriculum content requirements have been reduced to a single page.

Scotland's "Curriculum for Excellence"

Wales: national curriculum

Northern Ireland curriculum

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