Thank you for the invitation to attend the Children, Schools and Families Committee on Wednesday 4 June 2008. I found it very useful to engage in such an important conversation on the National Curriculum. As requested by the Committee, I am writing regarding some outstanding issues.
I agreed to clarify the position for GCSE science and the 'International' GCSE. Currently, this qualification does not meet the published subject criteria, based on the national curriculum, and therefore cannot be accredited as an 'International' GCSE. In recent weeks, Cambridge International have submitted some of the 'International' GCSE specifications for accreditation using the title Cambridge International Certificates (CIC).
The CIC are under consideration by Ofqual for accreditation at two levels - level 1 and level 2 certificates equating to the higher and lower tiers of GCSE. There are approximately 16 subjects under consideration. Decisions on which subjects are included in performance tables are taken by the Department for Children Schools and Families. It is unlikely that English, mathematics and science will count towards the performance tables as they do not follow the key stage 4 programme of study. QCA developed the national curriculum programme of study with a wide range of key partners, including Higher Education, Learned Societies and Subject Associations and also including teachers, head teachers, Local Authorities and learners. The programme of study forms the basis of knowledge, skills and understanding for all learners.
Currently, maintained schools would not receive funding for the CIC qualification. If accredited, funding will be decided by the Department for Children, Schools and Families under their Section 96 list.
The Government is doing much to encourage more young people to take the three separate science GCSEs of physics, chemistry and biology:
Ø encouraging all schools to make triple science available to all pupils who could benefit. The DCSF has contracted with the Learning and Skills Network to provide support and guidance to schools on providing triple science through the Triple Science Support Programme
Ø by September 2008 all pupils achieving at least level 6+ at key stage 3 will be entitled to study triple science GCSE, for example through collaborative arrangements with other schools, further education colleges and universities
Ø by September 2008 all specialist science schools will offer triple science at least to all pupils achieving level 6+ at the end of key stage 3.
Currently, 32% of maintained mainstream non-selective schools have pupils taking triple science at GCSE and around 10% of students take up the national entitlement.
The requirement of phonics in the national curriculum was also raised at the meeting and I thought it would be useful to outline the position. Phonemic awareness and phonic knowledge have always been requirements within the programme of study at key stage 1. The Rose Review led to a slight adjustment to clarify the position of phonics within the national curriculum. The requirements did not change but was regrouped under two headings, to emphasise the importance of 'word recognition and graphic knowledge' and 'understanding texts'. However, schools remain free to use - or devise - any high quality phonics programme that fits their needs and meets the core criteria.
On the day after the Select Committee session I attended a National Conference for Primary Children organised by the National College for School Leadership and the National Education Trust. I was presented with a 'Charter' which I agreed to give to your Committee. Given the conversation during our session about the engagement of young people in their learning, the Charter contains interesting insight into some children's awareness, outlooks and motives. At the least, it demonstrates their wish and willingness to be active in their learning futures.
I hope this information is useful to your inquiry in to the National Curriculum. Please contact me if I can provide any further assistance.