Page last updated at 13:15 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 14:15 UK

Bullet points for primary schools

By Gary Eason
BBC News website education editor

Ed Balls and Jim Rose with children on PCs
Ed Balls and Jim Rose have put computers over science

Primary schools in England are being given a new set of bullet points: the curriculum is being overhauled.

Just how many bullet points is a moot point, however.

Recommendation eight (of 25) in Sir Jim Rose's review, accepted by the government, is:

(i) "Literacy, numeracy and ICT (information and communication technology) should form the new core of the primary curriculum."

That seems clear. Until you get to recommendation 13(ii): "Personal development together with literacy, numeracy and ICT constitute the essentials for learning and life."

OK (what have the Romans ever given us?) personal development is right up there too.

The press release from the Department for Children, Schools and Families highlighted it as being "key to raising standards".

It also added:

• "New focus on speaking and listening."

But then we find that the thrust of the curriculum review is that there should be six "areas of learning", involving a good deal of "understanding":

• understanding English, communication and languages

• mathematical understanding

• scientific and technological understanding

• historical, geographical and social understanding

• understanding physical development, health and wellbeing

• understanding the arts.

So: there are either three, four, five or six things to focus on.

Plus what Rose tends to call "subject disciplines".

At present schools have to teach a dozen separate subjects, with a lot of prescription in what should be covered, and say they are overloaded. This was one of the things Rose sought to address.

Sir Jim complains in his report: "The proposal in my interim report to bring aspects of subject content together within areas of learning to facilitate cross-curricular studies was reported in some circles as 'abolishing subjects' such as history and geography.

"The reverse is true: subject disciplines remain vital in their own right, and cross-curricular studies strengthen the learning of the subjects which make up its content."

(By the way I wonder what "its" refers to in that sentence?)

So it is rather odd that nowhere in the Rose report do we learn what these vital subjects are for primary schools.

'Necessary basis'

Some subjects are hinted at: " ... the essential knowledge and skills all children should be taught, particularly in the middle and later phases of primary education, can be organised through clearly visible subject disciplines, such as history, geography and physical education."

classroom trays
Maths remains firmly at the core of what will be studied

Science is conspicuous by its downgrading from a core subject to "scientific and technological understanding" - which in turn has raised questions about the future of the science national curriculum tests or "Sats".

Its removal from the core is all the more remarkable given that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority says "competence in language, numeracy and scientific method is considered a necessary basis for the remainder of the curriculum and for all aspects of adult life".

Where the familiar subjects are listed is in a table showing the "curricular progression" from the primary years, Key Stage 2 of the curriculum, to secondary schooling in Key Stage 3.

In secondary schools, ringing bells typically still trigger a rush from one room and teacher to another, from history to science to English to art and so on.

The Rose report can see the resulting mismatch with what it is proposing. So it suggests splitting primary schooling, with only the earlier years following the new pattern.

"In the later phase, Years 5 and 6, curricular content can be increasingly configured as subjects to help ease transition into Key Stage 3," the report says.

Which does raise the question of what all the fuss is about and just how much will really change - and whether it was ever going to be possible to review part of the national curriculum in isolation.

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