Ministers launch back-to-basics curriculum for primary schools

PRIMARY SCHOOL pupils will be expected to memorise their times tables and master fractions under proposed back-to-basics curriculum changes Ministers claim will make lessons more demanding.

The proposals outlined yesterday include a focus on times- tables, spelling, reading and science to boost standards and better prepare pupils for secondary school.

Pupils will be expected to memorise their times tables up to 12 by age nine, multiply and divide fractions by age 11 and begin to learn and recite poetry at five years old

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Ministers have also announced plans to make foreign languages compulsory from the age of seven, with schools potentially offering lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek as well as Spanish, German and French.

A spokesman for Education Secretary Michael Gove said children had been “let down on the basics” by the current curriculum, with the UK falling behind other nations as a result.

He said: “The new curriculum will raise standards for all and equip children better for secondary school.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned, however, that the changes could lead to an unexciting “uniform education” for children, with “next to no opportunity for teachers to excite children and adapt learning to suit their pupils in their local area”.

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Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the emphasis on English and maths at primary as these were the building blocks of secondary education. But he said it was “unfortunate” the primary programmes had been published before a final decision had been made about the secondary curriculum.

“There needs to be continuity between what happens at primary and secondary and, without joined up thinking, many of the issues with transition to secondary school will remain,” he added.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “There is no doubt these programmes are more demanding, particularly in maths and grammar. It is appropriate to express high expectations in a statement of curriculum aims, but schools will need time and support to develop their teaching to reach those aims.

“Let’s ensure that these programmes become a source of inspiration rather than a cause of desperation for schools.”

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The Department for Education (DfE) said the new plans, which are being published for informal consultation before a formal process later this year, were designed to “restore rigour in what primary school children are taught in maths and science”.

In maths, pupils will be expected to know all their times tables up to 12 times 12 by age nine, whereas under the current system they should know up to 10 times 10 by the end of primary school.

By the age of seven, children will be expected to have memorised all so-called “number bonds” – simple addition and subtraction sums such as 9+9=18 or 15-6=9 – up to 20. And by the time they finish primary school aged 11, children will be expected to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions and decimals.

Many of these topics are not currently covered, which means that pupils struggle when they get to secondary school and do not have the right grounding for more difficult concepts such as algebra, the DfE said.

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The new science curriculum calls for pupils to be taught topics such as static electricity, magnetism and the basic parts of a simple electrical circuit.

The solar system and galaxies, which are not in the current curriculum for primary schools, are also included, as well as life cycles, including reproduction, the human circulatory system and evolution.

Pupils will also be expected to learn about the lives of key scientific figures such as Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, the Wright Brothers and Sir David Attenborough. The new English curriculum contains for the first time a compulsory spelling list for children in years five and six, including words such as Europe, receipt, syrup, villain and wizard.