Planning with the New Primary English Curriculum

National Curriculum 2014So, the new primary curriculum is at last here. And apparently *whispers cautiously* this is the final version.  After nearly a term of working with teachers on the revised expectations, we are starting to ascertain how much it will change the way that teachers teach – or not…

Since the arrival of the original National Literacy Strategy in 1997 there have been some strong messages about how we structure our literacy lessons. Initially, these came in the form of timings for different components, such as 10-15 minutes for word level and sentence level. This would be planned for over a week, but with the arrival in 2006 of the renewed framework for literacy this evolved later to two, three and four weeks ‘units’ of work, although with a stronger emphasis on the different text types and genre. All of this gave us guidance with how to ‘flesh out’ the bare bones, which teachers used as a tool to identify how to match the outlined skills with activities that would support the children to achieve the required outcomes.

So what is the difference between that and the new expectations? Well now we have a curriculum which is less centred on the skills children are expected to use, but more explicit about the content they are expected to attain at each year. Many of the expectations do supersede what was in place previously and there is a real tightening of terminology (fronted adverbials anyone?) alongside the revision of expectations. What is particularly different is the statutory elements for grammar and spelling (see previous blogs!) and teachers are now needing to ensure their own subject knowledge and understanding of the relevant terms is in place, before starting to use them with children in class. To support teachers with this, we refer frequently to Appendix Two of the new curriculum, which has a handy glossary at the back giving us examples as well as a definition. Interestingly we have found that once teachers are au fait with the terms, they often tell us they have been teaching it, or calling it something else – eg. what a teacher may previously called an ‘embedded clause’ is now referred to as ‘relative clause’ and some connectives are now referred to as conjunctions, adverbs or prepositions. Which they always have been of course… In many ways, none of this is actually ‘new’ but there is a repurposing, so therefore we have an opportunity to look at our existing provision and identify if it is fit for purpose.

Writing for the New CurriculumThere is no real mention of writing genres within the new curriculum, which is of no surprise as it is not a framework or a strategy, so this gives schools some freedom with the ‘how’ they deliver the programme of study for writing. This is split into two sections: transcription (spelling and handwriting)and composition (articulating ideas and structuring them in speech and writing). Whilst the existing framework was useful in many ways for supporting schools to plan units of work where the children would be immersed within a genre for two or three weeks, there were sometimes tenuous choices of texts or extracts chosen to support a particular genre. This gives us the opportunity to pick a text which can really excite and engage a class and maybe use it to support the writing for one or two genres. Indeed the document itself states that ‘This is not intended to constrain or restrict teachers’ creativity, but simply to provide the structure on which they can construct exciting lessons’.

Within the reading programme of study there is a distinction made between word reading and comprehension (both listening and reading), and these requirements can be covered as schools did before within existing provision in schools for phonics and guided reading. Whole books are seen to be vitally important, ‘Ensure that they have opportunities to listen frequently to stories, poems and other writing, including whole books and not just extracts.’ Which supports the push on ‘Reading for pleasure’ which is also cited within the curriculum as being an area of great importance.

Whether or not in the future, there will be a new framework or strategy to instruct teachers on how to deliver on the curriculum, we cannot be sure, but at the moment we have the freedom to choose the ‘how’ to support our literacy lessons. With all these messages in mind, we can have a go this year at dipping our toes in the water and seeing whether the progression outlined can support our teachers to plan some exciting and engaging lessons that support children to build a love of literacy through literature. If this new curriculum gives us permission to do that, then we must embrace it and look forward.

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