December 2008
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Primary history and the Rose review

Interim report of the Rose review

Having waited eagerly for Sir Jim Rose’s review’s I was left slightly disappointed with his findings. Obviously this is just an interim paper and much hard work still needs to be done. Even Jim himself confessed that more work had been put into some areas than others and that the curriculum section certainly needs far more intensive work before it is in a fit state for the final report in the late spring,

Although the issues of languages and summer birthday etc are very interesting, I am going to look solely at what he has to say about curriculum. I am not concerned about history’s survival in its existing form. Given the remit for ‘root and branch’ change to the curriculum, that was never likely, or even desirable. What I wanted to see was scope to preserve the best of existing practice and a seamless transition into Key Stage 3. Despite the media hype (see below) I think Sir Jim has neither ruled things out or in. He still talks of valuing subject teaching, though it is not clear if this relates just to the core and for Y5/6. He talks about both subject teaching and cross-curricular studies. The question is, does history appear just in the latter? He refers to worthwhile knowledge and key subject-specific skills. But will these really be capable of being delivered with the same rigour through cross-curricular topics? My view is in the good schools it will: in those that give history a low priority, it won’t.

Some details from the Review

The Review is exploring a design for planning the primary curriculum

organised through six areas of learning as follows:

Understanding English, communication and languages;

Mathematical understanding;

Scientific and technological understanding;

Human, social and environmental understanding;

Understanding physical health and well-being;

Understanding the arts and design.

The QCA should work with relevant leading authorities,

This is not fixed, but a starting point for further work. QCA and subject associations have been asked to scrutinise the existing programme of study for their subject, segmenting the task under the headings of knowledge, skills, understanding and attitudes, and advise on what, if any, changes might be made to update the content;

Consider whether the content for the subject might be reduced or better sited

in another Key Stage;

Consider how to achieve the flexibility that primary schools say they need to

enhance the curriculum by making the best of their local circumstances; and

Achieve a balanced approach in how the subject is taught.

Key ideas

Sir Jim talks of subjects and areas of learning are shaped by the key ideas which are deemed essential to a child’s understanding. Progress towards the key ideas should build from the EYFS areas of learning and development, be well-matched to primary children’s intellectual development and enable them to move confidently to the secondary curriculum.

Thumbs down to skills teaching

When observed in practice by the Review, the approach which attempts to teach skills as entities disembodied from a coherent core of worthwhile knowledge has not been convincing in securing children’s understanding of important key ideas.p.27

Loss of status for history?

Under the following proposals, therefore, no key ideas currently brigaded in

subjects should be down-graded or lost. The intention is to embed and intensify

these ideas to better effect in cross-curricular studies and, where appropriate,

provide opportunities to teach them directly as unmissable knowledge and skills p.36

How will subject be organized?

There will be times when it is right to marshal worthwhile content into well planned, cross-curricular studies. This is not only because it helps children to better understand ideas about such important matters as: sustainable development, financial capability, and health and safety but also because it provides ample opportunity for them to use and apply what they have best learned from discrete teaching, for example, in mathematics, English and ICT.

Clearly there is much still to play for in the months ahead. The deadline for submissions of comments on the Interim Report is 28 February, 2009. via the Review website, by

writing directly to: Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, 2nd Floor

Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BTor by emailing primary.

How the media dealt wit the news of the Rose review (h2)

Heralded as the greatest shake up of the primary curriculum for 20 years, the Rose review’s interim findings scarcely grabbed the headlines. The Daily Telegraph offered just a short article on page 8.

The Daily Mail leads with: Computers are to be given as much importance in primary schools as the three Rs Children should be taught to use podcasts, make radio programmes, produce on-screen presentations, upload their artwork onto a computer and use spreadsheets

The Independent took a different tack focussing its short article on

the “ drive to improve reading skills which includes encouraging parents to read to children”.

It talks of removing clutter, reducing time for subjects like history and geography in favour of a more themed approach that links subjects

The article also draws attention to the fact that Ed Balls excluded the issue of assessment the elephant in the room), in his brief to Jim Rose. who wants to cut the time spent in the last two years of primary school teaching to the test.

The Guardian was much more forthright with a front page headline “Scrap history lessons” says study. Unfortunately that is NOT what it says!

Referring to a ‘bloated’ curriculum it outlines what is intended as a replacement for subjects. The current 13 subject areas would be replaced by six areas of understanding

1. Understanding English, communication and languages

2. Mathematical understanding

3. Science and technological understanding.

4. Human, social, and environmental understanding

5. Understanding physical education and wellbeing

6. Understanding the arts and design;

Only The Times leads with this story under the heading “Traditional subjects go in school shake-up” and also devotes a full double-page spread to the report.

Unfortuntely there is confusion in its approach. Although it start with “Traditional subjects such as history, geography and religious studies will be removed from the primary curriculum”, it then refers to a conversation with Rose in which he said that traditional subjects needed to be taught in a different way to make lessons more relevant to children.

“We are certainly not getting rid of subjects such as history and geography, he told the Times. “We are trying to give primary schools flexibility to do less, but to do it better. The history they will be doing will be more in-depth”.

The part of The Timescoverage I most identified with was the comment of Alan Smithers who is Director of the Centre for Education and Employment research at the University of Buckingham.

He accuses Rose, as I do, of ducking the fundamental questions about relative balance of time. He seems to suggest that traditional subjects would run alongside thematic studies. But how much time would there be for each? Smithers think s the learning areas is just an academic’s analytical tool and is worried that teachers might tick the human and social understanding box when they had done a topic on global warming that involved no history at all.So be good historians. Read the report not the misleading headlines and draw your own conclusions.

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