National Curriculum - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

6  Curriculum coherence

102. Alongside the extent of central control over the curriculum, our other main concern to emerge from our inquiry was the poor level of continuity and coherence in the current National Curriculum—and across the National Curriculum, Early Years Foundation Stage and 14-19 arrangements. In this section of our Report we put forward recommendations on how this might be addressed, whether through the way in which the reform of the National Curriculum and adjoining frameworks is managed or through the introduction of stronger overarching structures.

Transforming curriculum reform

Shaping the National Curriculum through the learner's perspective

103. Both the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) questioned the coherence of the National Curriculum and attributed its lack of coherence to the way in which it has been reviewed and reformed. As the NASUWT remarked:

In view of such an approach to curriculum review and reform it is not surprising that Ofsted continues to comment on the failure to improve pupils' transition from one Key Stage to the next, especially from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3.[86]

104. We suggest that this practice stems from a failure to address the National Curriculum from the learner's perspective. A prominent strand of recent education policy has been encouraging schools to listen to the views of their pupils on all aspects of school life, particularly on teaching and learning matters.[87] Despite the Department's emphasis on pupil voice in schools, nowhere in the evidence submitted to us did we get a sense that the Department particularly concerns itself with how the National Curriculum is experienced by children and young people. If it had, we suggest, it would have tackled the disjunction that children and young people face in their learning as they move from one phase of education to the next. While this matter forms a key strand of the ongoing Rose Review of the primary curriculum, we are not convinced that the Rose Review alone will be able to tackle this enduring problem with the National Curriculum.

105. We recommend that the Department's highest priority be to review the Early Years Foundation Stage, the National Curriculum and 14-19 arrangements as a whole in order to establish a coherent national framework that offers children and young people a seamless journey through their education from 0 to 19.

106. As we indicated earlier in our Report, the National Curriculum has been subject to a considerable number of ad hoc changes and additions. These have often stemmed from Ministerial priorities. While we support democratic control of the school curriculum, this should not facilitate such political interference, not least because, going on experience to date, such interference is more likely than not to further erode continuity and coherence in the curriculum. In order to reduce the number of ad hoc changes made to the National Curriculum we recommend that the Department put in place a cycle, of around five years, for curriculum review and reform and avoid initiating additional change outside that cycle. Reviews should scrutinise the Early Years Foundation Stage, National Curriculum and 14-19 arrangements as a continuum, not as discrete 'chunks'.


107. If the National Curriculum is to be managed more proactively and strategically it is essential that the agency with main responsibility for the development of the National Curriculum is truly independent from the Department and carries authority. Given the degree of consensus across the political parties on the need for a national curriculum, the purposes it should serve and what it might look like, we see no reason not to take this step.

108. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) began operations in 1997 with a regulatory and non-regulatory role in relation to the National Curriculum and qualifications.[88] In 2007 the Department announced the creation of a separate regulatory body with responsibility for regulating qualifications and tests—the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual). Once the relevant legislation is passed, Ofqual will be independent of Ministers and will report to Parliament.[89] In this context the QCA will become a development agency for the curriculum, assessment and qualifications. In its new form as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) the QCA's objective will be to "promote quality and coherence in education and training in England".[90] It main role will be to provide advice to the Department and to conduct or commission related research. It is to remain a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) accountable to Ministers. [91]

109. Concerns were raised in the evidence submitted to us about the potential weakening of the QCA's independence and authority once it becomes the QCDA.[92] The majority of comments on the future role of the QCA saw the possibility that the Department might take on an even stronger role in setting the direction for curriculum policy and, in doing so, increase the likelihood that reforms will follow political rather than educational imperatives. Professor Hargreaves, a former Chief Executive of the QCA, commented:

    […] when the QCA was set up, the Secretary of State could demand advice from it on any matter that he determined. However, within the Act was a power for the QCA to give advice to the Secretary of State, whether or not he wanted it. From time to time, while there, I drew on that empowerment and gave advice, although it was not always welcome. I hope that, under the new arrangements, the QCA will be given the responsibility and power to give advice whether called for or not. That is very helpful to the QCA and gives it a degree independence […].[93]

The draft Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Bill indicates that the QCDA will have the kind of remit that Professor Hargreaves describes, but we would like its power extending beyond this. We recommend that, as with the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency is made independent of Ministers and instead required to report to Parliament through the Select Committee.

110. Some public appointments, including that of the Chair of the QCDA, are subject to pre-appointment hearings with the relevant Select Committee.[94] The involvement of this Committee, albeit in an advisory role, in holding pre-appointment hearings with the nominee for the post of Chair of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency will play an important part in maintaining the independence of the Agency from the Government.

Establishing an overarching structure for learning 0-19

111. One recommendation of the Rose Review interim report is that the primary curriculum should follow the new secondary curriculum in terms of being underpinned by a statutory set of aims.[95] Furthermore, it suggests that the statement of aims for the secondary curriculum "holds good for the primary phase, and indeed for the [Early Years Foundation Stage]", and requests comments about the statement's suitability in this regard.[96] We believe that, as well as considering the appropriateness of the secondary curriculum statement of aims for the primary curriculum and the Early Years Foundation Stage, the Rose Review should consider the potential to apply the statement to 14-19 provision also. This is particularly apt in the context of the decision to extend the participation age to 18. Professor Ann Hodgson, Institute of Education, University of London, argued that there should be some form of aims-based curriculum entitlement for these learners:

    In my view, we ought to have some form of curriculum aims and purposes right up to the age of 19, not just to age 16. That is not to say that everyone should be studying exactly the same thing, but we as a country should have an idea of what we wish an educated 19-year-old to have experienced throughout their time in education. […] we have a duty to think about what kind of knowledge, skills, experience and aptitudes or capacities we want to develop in young people […][97]

112. We strongly recommend that an overarching statement of aims for the National Curriculum—encompassing the Early Years Foundation Stage, National Curriculum and 14-19 learners—be introduced, properly embedded in the content of the National Curriculum, in order to provide it with a stronger sense of purpose, continuity and coherence.

113. In addition, we recommend that a statement of provision for learners from 0 to 19 is introduced, setting out the fundamental knowledge and skills that young people should have acquired at the end of compulsory education.

114. We recommend that the Early Years Foundation Stage is brought within the National Curriculum—and run through the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority rather than, as at present, the Department.

115. Bringing 14-19 provision under a shared set of aims for the National Curriculum would have been easier under the Tomlinson proposals for the Diploma. Our predecessor Committee, the Education and Skills Committee, voiced its opinion on the Tomlinson proposals in its 2007 Report 14-19 Diplomas. We share the preference, outlined then, for an overarching diploma that replaced all other qualifications for learners aged 14 to 19.

116. We suggest that the review and reform of the Early Years Foundation Stage, National Curriculum and 14-19 provision as a continuum and the bringing together of these frameworks underneath an overarching statement of aims represent necessary first steps to improving the continuity and coherence of the learning opportunities presented to children and young people. These changes must be accompanied by improved communication and co-ordination between teachers and practitioners across the different phases of education.

85   Ev 63, paragraph 61 Back

86   Q 304. See also Ev 8, paragraph 3.5; Ev 68, paragraph 60; Qq 286, 337  Back

87   e.g. DCSF, Working Together: listening to the voices of children and young people, 2008 Back

88   Until it was disbanded in 2008, the National Assessment Agency, a subsidiary body of the QCA, had responsibility for the production and delivery of Key Stage tests. Back

89   DCSF/DIUS, Confidence in Standards: regulating and developing qualifications and assessment Cm 7281, December 2007, paragraph 3.  Back

90   Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill [Bill 55 (2008-09)], clause 167 Back

91   Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, clauses 172 and 166 Back

92   e.g. Ev 54, paragraph 34; Ev 284, paragraph 8  Back

93   Q 520 Back

94   Ev 322  Back

95   Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, interim report, December 2008, p23. Back

96   Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, interim report, December 2008, paragraph 1.34. Back

97   Q 412 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 2 April 2009