The 2014 national curriculum: what primary school parents need to know
In 2013 the government announced plans to overhaul the national curriculum in England.
For most children, these changes took effect from September 2014, but children in Years 2 and 6 followed the previous programmes of study until September 2015 in English, maths and science.
Why the big curriculum change?
The main aim was to raise standards, particularly as the UK is slipping down international student assessment league tables. Inspired by what is taught in the world’s most successful school systems, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Finland, as well as in the best UK schools, the 2014 curriculum was designed to produce productive, creative and well educated students.
Although the new curriculum was intended to be more challenging, the content was actually slimmer than the previous curriculum, focusing on essential core subject knowledge and skills such as essay writing and computer programming. It also followed on from similar curriculum revamps in Scotland and Wales, which were implemented in 2010 and 2008 respectively and have a similar focus on excellence and core skills. (Wales will be introducing a new curriculum from September 2022.)
Have all English primary schools followed the new curriculum since 2014?
No – academies and free schools are exempt. This is partly because these schools need more flexibility in what they teach (for example, in the case of faith schools that have a strong emphasis on religious education), but many critics think that the government is using the lure of not having to follow the national curriculum to encourage more schools to become academies. Academies and free schools do, however, still have to teach a balanced and broadly based curriculum that includes English, maths, science and RE.
What are the main changes?
The table below summarises the main changes in the core subjects covered by the National Curriculum.
What changed in the 2014 curriculum?
Design & technology
Did the 2014 primary curriculum involve any new tests?
The Department for Education overhauled the format and content of SATs taken in Year 2 and Year 6, to reflect the new curriculum. These were taken for the first time in May 2016. There is also a new grading system, replacing the previous national curriculum levels.
Could it all be too much for some children?
Some educationalists complained that the 2014 national curriculum fails to recognise the needs of children of different abilities. But the Department for Education (DfE) is standing by its plans. ‘We make no apologies for having high expectations for our children,’ says a DfE spokesperson. ‘We believe they can achieve more, and we will not stand by and allow pupils to lose ground with their peers in countries across the world.’