The new curriculum

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Changes to the secondary curriculum aim for greater attendance and enjoyment of school, personal and social development, and the Every Child Matters goals. This article explores what the strategy means for schools.

Secondary schools are about to experience the biggest curriculum shake-up in almost two decades. Aiming to develop successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens, the new curriculum takes a wider view than that of individual subjects, covering all activities that add to children’s learning experiences. It considers contexts such as healthy lifestyles, creativity and the development of skills for life and work.

The Government’s aim is to create a dynamic and diverse education system built upon high expectations and a commitment to the needs of every child, underpinned by new levels of professionalism among teachers.  In this context, the Government’s new relationship with schools supports them in maintaining a focus on their priorities through sharper self-evaluation, simplified data and information systems and a new inspection regime.

The new Key Stage 3 curriculum has been introduced at the start of the 2008–09 academic year. Schools started teaching the new curriculum at Year 7 in September and it will be phased in over a three-year period. From September 2010 it will apply across Years 7, 8 and 9.

The marked shift in focus has inspired education publishers to renew their portfolios of course material, making it more relevant to the new requirements. Involving teachers at an early stage of developing course material is crucial for publishers who have been working with focus groups and pilot schools on the secondary curriculum for two years to develop resources to suit the needs of teachers and their pupils.

High on the list of requirements set out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is pupils’ progress. The new course materials aim to be inspirational and compelling, encouraging them to progress and move ahead. This is combined with plenty of guidance for each pupil on how to measure their own progress and know how to improve. Key Stage 3 is the stage at which pupils are most likely to fall back. In order to keep on track, pupils need to be aware of the level they are aiming for. For this reason, the new course materials place greater emphasis on personalisation and assessment for learning.

Assessment for learning should be central to new resources, encouraging self- and peer-assessment as well as assessment by teachers. Explicit guidance on levels of achievement means that students are able to see their progression and, in turn, be further motivated by their own success. By engaging more with their learning they can build confidence and be encouraged to embrace continuous studying.

The new framework aims to guarantee an entitlement for all, stretching the more able and helping those who fall behind to catch up. Moving away from a model that makes the same provision for every learner, the framework is sufficiently flexible for schools to  build  their  own curriculums, which reflect their local contexts and meets their learners’ needs, capabilities and aspirations.

To give schools greater flexibility to tailor learning to their pupils’ needs, there is less prescribed subject content in the new programmes of study. Pupils will still be taught essential subject knowledge, but this will be balanced with the key concepts and processes that underlie the discipline of each subject.

The key changes in the subjects at Key Stage 3 are as follows:

Coverage of  functional  skills means being able  to  read and write non-fiction pieces  (information, persuasion, instructions  and  so on), with  technical  accuracy being important.  Pupils need to understand the difference between fact and opinion. There is an increased focus on multi-modal texts, understanding that there are different ways of communicating information through different media such as web pages, audio, books, newspapers and so on.

Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and other pre-20th century literary classics, including Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and George Eliot, remain on the curriculum. There will be a new list of suggested contemporary authors including Benjamin Zephaniah, Philip Pullman, and Bill Bryson.

Schools must continue to offer at least one language at KS3 and there will be more freedom to teach a wider range including languages such as Mandarin and Urdu.

Here there is a shift towards ‘how science works’, in order to engage pupils more closely and help them to apply science to real-life contexts. There is an emphasis on the development of scientific skills, and also an understanding how scientists and science work in the ‘real world’.

Personalised learning and thinking skills have a higher profile, combined with some new content in KS3 such as behaviour. This is the subject most heavily affected by the KS3 curriculum review.

There will be greater emphasis on assessment for learning and intervention strategies. A tendency towards longer and more coherent units of work will be accompanied by a focus on calculation skills and also using and applying mathematics.  There will be a new emphasis on the applications and implications of maths and its relationship with other subjects. Learning will be increasingly personalised, and real-life contexts will be encouraged, to build pupils’ interest and prepare them for functional skills at KS4.

There is a strong focus on reducing prescriptiveness and enabling teachers to engage pupils, with the aim that more stay on with this subject at GCSE. Sustainable development and environmental change will also be given a much stronger focus.

History will see increased flexibility with seven key themes being addressed; these should be selected from the medieval, early modern, industrial and 20th century periods.

There is greater emphasis on developing chronological understanding and delivering a balance between British, European  and world history,  thus making the subject more  relevant  to  the  current generation of pupils. The four periods of medieval, early modern, industrial and 20th century should all be covered, to ensure that pupils receive a complete grounding in history.

Functional skills
Functional skills in English, mathematics and ICT have been built into the curriculum, meaning that pupils have skills required later for work.

Foundation subjects
There will be nine foundation subjects: design & technology, information & communication technology (ICT), history, geography, modern foreign languages, art & design, music, citizenship and physical education.

The QCA has prepared new guidance materials to show how the whole curriculum contributes to learners’ personal development and the achievement of the Every Child Matters agenda. 

Non-statutory subjects
There are also two new non-statutory programmes of study: one for personal well-being and another for economic well-being and financial capability. These draw together personal, social, health and economic education, sex education, careers education, enterprise, financial capability and work-related learning.

Progression through secondary

A key focus in the renewed secondary curriculum will be the ability for learners to make a smooth progression from primary, through secondary and beyond, encouraging more young people to go on to further and higher education.

The revised programmes of study at Key Stage 3 share a common format:

importance statement – this explains the vital aspects of each subject and what the learner can expect to gain from them
key concepts – identifies the main ideas that learners will need to understand to broaden their learning
key processes – identifies the essential skills that students need to make progress
range and content – outlines the breadth of the subject matter that teachers should draw on to develop knowledge, concepts and skills
curriculum opportunities – identifies opportunities to enhance and enrich learning and enhance the understanding of the subject. These include making links to the wider curriculum such as off-site visits.
This common format aims to contribute to a greater coherence, making it easier to see links between subjects. Several subjects share key concepts and processes; curriculum opportunities highlight the potential for links between subjects and dimensions such as enterprise, creativity, and cultural understanding; and diversity can be used to cut across the curriculum.

The new framework presents the curriculum as much more than a set of content to cover. It maintains the best of the past while offering increased opportunity to design learning that develops the wider skills for life as well as making links to the major ideas and challenges that face society and have significance for individuals.

I t is a framework that   recognises the school curriculum as the entire planned learning experience. This includes lessons, but also the events, routines, visits and activities that take place out of the classroom and beyond the school, extending to experience in the workplace through the diploma programme.

The curriculum should enable all young people to become:

successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives
responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.
These aims, which incorporate the five outcomes of Every Child Matters, have been the starting point for all the changes to the secondary curriculum.

These changes to the curriculum mean that schools may be looking for resources that support the new ways of teaching and learning. Publishers such as Heinemann, a leading secondary publisher, have used the QCA requirements at the core of new KS3 resources, helping teachers adapt to the new curriculum.

As students’   engagement and progress are so fundamental to the new curriculum, some publishers have incorporated more structured assessment activities in textbooks.  The difficulty  level  of  these tasks can be indicated by numbering or colour coding, which enables students to progress gradually, always aware of the  level they are working at and what they need  to  know  and be  able  to do  in order  to  achieve higher grades.

Also in an effort to engage students more closely, publishers have looked to create more up-to-date resources, including electronic textbooks such as Heinemann’s LiveText. Publishers have not only used these highly visual pages to attract attention but also added topical information which puts each curriculum subject into context, helping students to understand the relevance of their learning in today’s world.

A good resource which is tied in closely with the QCA requirements will make teaching the new curriculum easier for teachers. 

14-19 reforms

Central to the new provision for 14- to 19-year-olds is the choice of not just a wide range of GCSEs and A-levels but also diplomas, functional skills and the International Baccalaureate.

All GCSEs except maths, English, ICT and science are being revised for first teaching in September 2009. The most significant change will be the reduction of coursework.

Functional skills are a new qualification that will be introduced in English, maths and ICT in September 2010. It was developed in response to employers’ concerns about numeracy and literacy levels in school leavers and aims to build skills in these areas. Students must pass level 2 in order to achieve a C or above in GCSE English, maths and ICT. Students taking a vocational diploma will also need to gain functional skills awards in these subjects in order to pass.

From September the UK’s education gets a further shake up with the introduction of the first phase of diplomas. The most profound change since the introduction of GCSEs, the new 14–19 framework will give students more choice than ever in developing their personal educational experience.

The diplomas aim to provide a real alternative to traditional qualifications, giving students the flexibility to choose more rounded courses of study.

At A-level the main change is the reduction from six to four units for most subjects, cutting the volume of assessment for both teachers and students. There will also be a review of coursework, lowering the level of internal marking wherever possible.

With more ways to demonstrate progress and more pathways to choose from at Key Stage 4 including the new diplomas, learners are likely to find something that motivates them, continue learning for longer, and gain the qualifications they need to progress into further and higher education and secure employment.

Jill Duffy is publishing director with Pearson Education. See

Taken from Managing Schools Today.

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