Testing times for our students and teachers

Children at schools across the area will be studying under a new National Curriculum soon
Children at schools across the area will be studying under a new National Curriculum soon

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This month, the government introduced the brand new National Curriculum. It’s faced criticism by some for being brought in too quickly. But what do our local schools think about it? Education reporter Ruth Scammell finds out more.

Demands for schoolchildren to study fractions at the age of six and for pupils to have studied two Shakespeare plays by the age of 14.

Councillor Peter Edgar'Ian Hargreaves  (142526-1) PPP-140826-160730003

Councillor Peter Edgar'Ian Hargreaves (142526-1) PPP-140826-160730003

These are just two of the tasks teachers will be expected to perform as part of the new National Curriculum introduced by the government this month.

Brought in by the former education secretary Michael Gove, some headteachers have criticised the new curriculum, saying it has been introduced too quickly, and that teachers haven’t had enough time to implement it.

There are also concerns that its demands may not suit all pupils’ needs.

So, what do our local schools think of it?

Colin Harris is the headteacher at Warren Park Primary School in Havant.

He says: ‘The core of the new curriculum we altered quite a long time ago.

‘But it feels like there’s quite a lot of new stuff to put in. We will be taking our time to ensure it’s appropriate for the needs of our children.’

Mr Harris says a tougher curriculum has its pros and cons.

‘I think that there are children who will benefit as always from being stretched,’ he says.

‘But the reality has still not come through to a lot of people who make these decisions. Some of the things they are suggesting will not be appropriate.

‘We will introduce it if it’s appropriate for our children. The important thing is our bottom line is to get every child to fulfil their potential.

‘But it’s not achieved by changing the curriculum and teaching fractions to six year olds.

‘It doesn’t up everyone’s ability by saying they are going to do it. It just enables that tick box to do it.’

The curriculum is being implemented for most year groups simultaneously.

The Department for Education has said its aim for the new curriculum is to prepare children for life in ‘modern Britain’.

However, the new curriculum is not compulsory for academies. Academy schools, which are funded by central government but not linked to the local authority, can choose their own curriculum.

Sara Spivey is headteacher at Springfield School in Drayton.

She says: ‘I’ve got mixed views on it. As a school leader and a teacher, having high expectations and a demanding curriculum is a good thing for the students.

‘We want them to do well and be challenged.

‘But we would have appreciated another 18 months to be able to prepare for some of these changes.

‘I think teachers are very hardworking. Given the time they will adapt to it.

‘That’s what we always ask the government — let us do a good job on this that will have the very best impact on the children before looking at other changes.

‘I would agree with an emphasis on more expectations for maths and English. Some of these changes do put us on a par with some other countries.’

The new curriculum sets out the framework for what children should be taught between the ages of five and 14.

Mr Gove has in the past said the changes were necessary to keep up with the world’s best education systems.

James Humphries is the headteacher at Priory School in Southsea.

He says: ‘I welcome many of the changes in the new curriculum. We need to have more ambition for our young people, particularly in English, maths, science and computer science.

‘These are essential if our country is going to be competitive in the global future we face.

‘Our most able youngsters need to be stretched and the new curriculum makes that more likely.

‘The new curriculum will work because teachers will make it work.’

But Mr Humphries agrees that bringing in the changes can be very difficult.

‘The problems we face in implementing it are more about the lack of coherence across the system,’ he says.

‘Half of all secondary schools are academies and therefore do not have to implement it.

‘Pupils currently in our schools haven’t had the experience of the new curriculum on which to build, so there will be gaps in their knowledge and understanding.

‘This feels like five years’ worth of reform rushed into one. However the creative and talented teachers in our schools will make this work in the best interest of their pupils, as they always do.’

Councillor Peter Edgar, executive member for education for Hampshire County Council, says: ‘The teaching profession over the years has always been extremely innovative where politicians have decided on certain types of curriculum.

‘They have adapted their teaching methods to make sure there is always motivational learning in the classroom. I think that’s what will happen this time.

‘At the end of the day it’s about the relationship with the teacher and the pupil. Teachers are very motivated people.

‘They are used to dealing with changes in the curriculum. I think teachers will do a good job and I think children will come out of it well.’

Councillor Neill Young is the cabinet member for children and education at Portsmouth City Council. He adds: ‘It’s always a bit of a challenge when you have a new curriculum like this.

‘It’s presenting a challenge to teachers but when you look through it, it feels like we are getting back to basics and some of the things they are going to be doing will help them.

‘Especially with things like computer programming – that’s the way the world is progressing.

‘Yes, it’s going to take a bit of time to embed but we have got a real opportunity to develop something new.’

What’s in the new curriculum

The new curriculum covers primary school pupils, aged five to 11, and secondary schools pupils up to the age of 14.

A new curriculum for 15 and 16 year olds will come into force from September next year.

There are changes to the content of all subjects in the national curriculum.

In maths, children will be expected to learn more at an earlier age - for example to know their 12 times table by the age of nine.

Five year olds are now beginning to learn fractions and computer coding. The new computing curriculum will require pupils to learn how to write code.

In English, pupils will learn more Shakespeare, with children in secondary school studying at least two Shakespeare plays. There will also be more importance placed on spelling.

In science, there will be a shift towards hard facts and more scientific knowledge.

The only exception to the rule this year is that pupils in years two and six will not be taught the new curriculum.

It means the first new Key Stage One and Key Stage Two tests in English, maths and science will be sat in 2016.