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UK Politics

Prime Minister praises 'rigorous, engaging and tough' national curriculum, following Michael Gove's education overhaul

But teachers are warning that the government could be creating chaos in classrooms next year

Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed Michael Gove's curriculum reforms as “rigorous, engaging and tough” and critical to Britain's future economic success.

Mr Cameron described the changes proposed by the Education Secretary as a “revolution in education”.

But school leaders warned the timeframe and lack of resources to prepare for the significant shake-up, at the same time as exams and assessment are being overhauled could create classroom “chaos”.

History as well as design and technology (D&T) are undergoing the biggest rewrites after experts and education leaders raised concerns about the draft syllabuses of these subjects.

Pupils will be asked to learn a complete chronological history of Britain, though primary pupils are expected only to have to learn about events up to 1066.

Changes to the D&T syllabus follow claims it focused more on “life skills” like cookery, bike maintenance and gardening than science-based subjects like engineering which are required by industry.

It has been reported that climate change is now set to feature explicitly in the geography curriculum, after a campaign raising concerns that it was not specifically referenced in the syllabus garnered widespread support.

Hailing the changes, Mr Cameron said: “We are determined to give all children in this country the very best education for their future and for our country's future.

“New national curriculum is a vital part of that.

“The curriculum marks a new chapter in British education. From advanced fractions to computer coding to some of the greatest works of literature in the English language, this is a curriculum that is rigorous engaging and tough.

“As a parent this is exactly the kind of thing I want my children to be learning and as Prime Minister I know this revolution in education is critical for British prosperity in the decades to come.

“This is a curriculum to inspire a generation-and it will educate the great British engineers, scientists, writers and thinkers of the future.”

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said he understood that ministers had listened to points raised by the union and others about these subjects, but warned that the curriculum reform involved huge changes within a very short amount of time. 

“Our biggest concern is with the timeframe and the lack of resources to prepare for such a major change,” he said.

“Pupils and teachers in 2014 are going to have to cope with new GCSEs, new A-levels, new vocational qualifications, new ways of tracking pupil progress once levels are abolished, on top of new curriculum content in all subjects. This is a massive change."

Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said there was a “complete disconnect” in Mr Gove's thinking, risking leaving education providers confused as to what they need to be planning for.

“He fails to understand that curriculum changes and exams need to be considered together as they are interlinked. Yet we still have no details of how the primary curriculum will be assessed and the Government is carrying out separate consultations on how young people should be assessed at ages 16 and 18," she said.

Mr Cameron was also a guest on ITV1’s This Morning programme, where he argued that such reforms this dramatic are necessary because British pupils are in “a global race” with other children across the world.

During the interview, he said: “We are in a global race. Our children are competing against children in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, and we need to make sure our national curriculum - the standards we set - are as rigorous, as tough, as those on the other side of the world.”

The Prime Minister said the previous curriculum had been “a bit woolly”.

“The criticism people are making of this new curriculum is 'You are asking too much, can you really get young children to do algorithms?' I think we have to make that change. If that's what they are doing in China and India and some of the countries with the best educational standards in the world, we have got to do that here."

The new subject structure for primary and secondary schools in England is due to be implemented in September 2014.

Additional reporting by PA