The National Curriculum Review: Changes that led to testing at 'key stages': Fran Abrams traces the history of the much-criticised national curriculum

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Keith Joseph

September 1981-May 1986

Thought about introducing a national curriculum and talked it over with other ministers, including Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but no formal proposal was published.

Kenneth Baker

May 1986-July 1989

October 1987, published the Great Education Reform Bill, known as the Gerbil. It proposed that maths, science, English, technology, history, geography, art, music and PE would be compulsory for all pupils from 5-16.

August 1988, Education Reform Act became law. It decreed that pupils' school lives would be divided into four 'key stages' and that they would be tested in each of the compulsory subjects at the end of each stage; at 7, 11, 14 and 16. Each pupil would progress up a 10-level scale, would have to meet a number of 'attainment targets' at each level.

John MacGregor

July 1989-November 1990

August 1989, he announced that all pupils would take GCSEs in all national curriculum subjects.

January 1990, he announced that art, music and PE would no longer be compulsory for 14- to 16-year-olds. Half-sized courses were to be drawn up for technology, history, geography and foreign languages.

Summer term 1990, seven-year- olds took pilot Standard Assessment Tasks (SATs) in maths and science. These had to be done separately with each child. Teachers claimed they took weeks to complete.

Kenneth Clarke

November 1990-April 1992

February 1991, Mr Clarke announced that 14- to 16-year-olds no longer had to take both history and geography. They could choose one of the two, or a combined single-subject course.

Summer term 1991, compulsory SATs in English, maths and science for seven-year- olds. These took weeks to complete despite having been slimmed down since the previous year.

May 1991, Philip Halsey, chairman of the School Examinations and Assessment Council, asked Mr Clarke to approve coursework-based English tests for 14-year-olds, lasting a term. The minister dismissed them as 'elaborate nonsense' and threw them out.

July 1991, Mr Halsey was replaced by Lord Griffiths. Paper and pencil tests in English proposed for 14-year-olds.

December 1991, the number of attainment targets which pupils had to meet in maths reduced from 14 to 5, and in science from 17 to 4.

John Patten

April 1992-

Summer term 1992, pencil and paper tests introduced for seven-year-olds, plus standardised reading tests from prescribed texts.

Winter 1992 to spring 1993, protests grew over the volume of teacher assessment. Teachers had to tick hundreds of boxes to say whether pupils had met each attainment target at each level in each subject. They were also angry that ministers decided to inject more grammar and spelling into the English curriculum, along with compulsory Shakespeare.

April 1993, Mr Patten appointed Sir Ron Dearing as chairman of the new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and asked him to carry out a review of the curriculum and testing.

May 1993, Mr Patten announced there would be no tests for 7-, 11- or 14-year-olds in 1994 except in English, maths and science.

August 1993, Sir Ron's interim report said that only English, maths and science should be tested at 7, 11 and 14 in 1994 and in 1995. The curriculum should be slimmed down, particularly for 14- to 16-year-olds, and the content of each subject should be cut.

January 1994, Sir Ron's final report recommended that the national curriculum should take up no more than 60 per cent of 14- to 16-year-olds' time, and 80 per cent for younger pupils. The 10-level scale should stop at age 14, and working groups were set up to cut the content of each subject.