Curriculum Support - Unpicking the new draft Programmes of Study

New draft Programmes of Study for English, maths and science have recently been published as part of the government's review of the national curriculum, which was launched by Michael Gove back in January 2011.

All three draft Programmes of Study are significantly longer than their current equivalents. The DfE explains this with the assertion that as English, maths and science are 'the essential building blocks of education and the foundation of our system of school accountability', it is important that government 'sets out in detail what children should be taught and when in the Programmes of Study for these subjects'.

The new curriculum will be introduced for all subjects in 2014 however the Programmes of Study for other subjects will apparently be much shorter, in order to ‘give primary schools greater flexibility to set high expectations for these subjects and tailor their school curriculum to bet meet the needs of their pupils’.

So what will make up these ‘essential building blocks of education’ and what, crucially, will primary teachers and children be required to do differently from September 2014?

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English  Maths   Science   MFL   Other Subjects   Assessment & Levels



The shift towards phonics in the government's policy on reading is further reinforced in the draft Programme of Study for English (RIP 'literacy'), with a clear dictate that:

  • phonics should be emphasised in the early teaching of reading to beginners;
  • pupils in Year 1 should practise their reading with books that do not require any strategies other than decoding;
  • in every year, children who are still struggling to decode need to be taught to do so urgently through a rigorous and systematic phonics programme.

Phonics isn’t the only way in which the government plans to introduce greater rigour into the English curriculum. There is also a clear emphasis on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the English language, particularly grammar and spelling.

The level of grammar children will be required to master is often more challenging than in the current curriculum with, for example, Year 4 children needing to be able to use fronted adverbials, Year 2 children to be able to talk confidently about suffixes, and Year 5 children about modal verbs.

In terms of spelling, the draft Programme of Study includes a long appendix of words children should be able to spell by the end of each year, as well as the spelling rules and guidelines they should be taught.

The emphasis on exposing children to a range of genre that featured so strongly in the National Literacy Strategy has now gone and new focus ha been given to debate and recitation. Children ‘should be competent in the arts of speaking and listening, making formal presentations, demonstrating to others and participating in debate’. In Year 1, children should learn by heart and recite rhymes and poems, in Years 3 and 4 they should participate in discussions about books, and in Years 5 and 6 they should take part in formal presentations and debates.



The emphasis on earlier mastery of the 'nuts and bolts' that can be seen in the English curriculum is even more pronouced in the draft Programme of Study for maths.

Indeed, if everything in the draft makes it through to the final version, maths in primary schools will get significantly more difficult. Many things will now need to be taught one, two or even three years earlier than is currently the case, and Year 6 now includes a raft of content which was previously not touched until Key Stage 3. Examples include:

  • Year 1 children will need to be able to recognise, name and write ½, ¼ and ⅓ as parts of an object, shape or quantity (this was in Year 2 in the National Numeracy Strategy, and even then only looked at ½ and ¼);
  • Year 2 children will need to know addition and subtraction facts to 20 (previously only to 10);
  • Year 4 children will need to know their times tables to 12 (previously they only needed to know their 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10 times tables);
  • Year 6 children will need to recognise binary numbers up to 15, add and subtract mixed numbers and fractions with different denominators, calculate the areas of parallelograms and triangles and be introduced to algebra – none of which is currently in the Primary curriculum at all.  

Overall, there is a much greater focus on developing written calculation skills (such as column addition and subtraction) early, and on knowing maths facts (e.g. times tables and number bonds) off by heart.



Many of the trends seen in the English and maths draft Programmes of Study are also present in science. The familiar emphasis on knowledge can been seen here as a greater focus on scientific content rather than on enquiry and investigation.

As in English and maths, much of that content, including magnetism, the digestive system and respiration, will be taught much earlier than in the current curriculum. And the focus on encouraging children to develop the meta-language of a subject also continues here, with a strong emphasis on naming, labelling and describing scientific phenomena.

New content has been added about the solar system, speed and evolution and there is an increased focus on practical scientific experiments and demonstrations. Pupils will also study the lives of famous scientists such as Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton.



The new Curriculum proposes that learning a foreign language should be compulsory from the start of Key Stage 2, at the age of seven.


Other subjects

There will be a continuing requirement for art & design, design & technology, geography, history, ICT, music and physical education in the new primary curriculum and teachers will have greater freedom in how these subjects are taught. The programmes of study for these subjects are due to be published towards the end of 2012.


Assessments and levels

The new National Curriculum for England also includes major changes in how pupils' achievement is measured and proposes to remove the current system of levels. Education Secretary Michael Gove believes the current system is “confusing for parents” but there has been no decision as yet about what will replace the levels. So watch this space...


Our local area consultants can help support you through curriculum change in the classroom, please get in touch if you'd like to find out more.



 See the Draft Programme of Study for Maths


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