The state education system in England and Wales is divided into five key stages. The first is key stage 1, which children are required to go through between the ages of 5 and 7. It consists of eleven statutory areas that children and teachers are required to follow:
- English language
- Information and Communication Technology
- Design Technology
- Art and Design
- Physical Education
- Religious Education
There are eleven subjects on that list. There are 5 days in a week. Children are taught for around 5.5 hours per day, which works out at 2.5 hours per subject per week.
Is it really surprising that so many young children are underperforming? This curriculum is far too general, and it aims to cover far too many bases. Such a crowded syllabus does not allow students to engage with the topics to any meaningful level.
Recently schools minister Nick Gibb suggested a greater need focus and emphasis on the teaching of reading and writing in primary school. How realistic is it to ask teachers to do this when they are already burdened with covering all of these areas in those two years?
In 2008, former director of Ofsted Sir Jim Rose proposed a revised curriculum which places a greater focus on ensuring that by age 7, children have a strong grasp on the literacy and numeracy skills they need in order to progress in their later education. He highlights that a firm basis of language is key to promoting the cognitive capabilities needed for successful learning.
Instead of trying to cover all angles at such an early age, we should be building firm foundations upon which children can develop their existing knowledge and abilities. It is my view that the current curriculum introduces compartmentalized and isolated teaching too quickly, and that this is negatively affecting the quality of education provided by primary schools.
I found this quote from Rose’s report particularly relevant:
“Continuing failure to protect primary schools from curriculum overload will lead to the superficial treatment of essential content, as they struggle to cope with ‘the next new thing’ rather than teach worthwhile knowledge, skills and understanding to sufficient depth and make sure that children value and enjoy their learning.”
Until we address this issue, children will continue to underachieve and fail to reach acceptable standards by the time they reach secondary school, disadvantaging them throughout their academic lives. The real tragedy is that this report was written in 2008, yet the problems raised are still prevalent and the key stage one curriculum still shows no sign of being changed.