Curriculum Theory

Curriculum is Politics (Revisited)

The National Curriculum of England, Wales and Ireland (EWI).

Curriculum has always been influenced by the politics of the day, and the need for standardization in education has been expressed historically and globally, examples include The Committee of Ten in late 19th century America, Franklin Bobbitt’s scientistic approach of 1918, or the Tyler Rationale of 1949 (Kliebard, 2004).

I’ve discussed this on this blog in the past…

It cannot hope to ever be anything else, since any curriculum is merely a product of its time and place.

Next, it isn’t difficult to see how a national curriculum and standardized assessment can be of benefit locally and nationally. Surely it’s a good thing to know that John Smith in London, will be leaving school with a qualification in mathematics, that is worth the same, and infers the same amount of knowledge as the qualification that Jane Smythe got the year before in Manchester.

On the face of it, yes, but it’s a little bit more complicated than that. In this post, I’m going to take a brief look at the United Kingdom’s National Curriculum, and where it stands in terms of curriculum theory.

I’ll give you a hint—it’s political.

The United Kingdom’s Education Reform Act of 1988 required all state schools in the U.K., (with the exception of Scotland), to teach a common Basic Curriculum (including English, Mathematics and Science), plus religious education.

Why? (1) To standardize content throughout EWI; (2) To enable common assessment at Key Stages of student learning (see table 1). Assessment has since been expanded to include the national primary curriculum tests, which will make the testing of primary aged students a routine part of the academic year; (3) To compile league tables of schools according to academic results—to encourage a free market of parental choice of schools for their children.


Age Year Key stage Assessment Average level of attainment
3–4 Nursery Early years
4–5 Reception Early years
5–6 Year 1 KS1 Phonics screening check
6–7 Year 2 KS1 Teacher assessments in English, maths and science 2
7–8 Year 3 KS2
8–9 Year 4 KS2
9–10 Year 5 KS2
10–11 Year 6 KS2 National tests and teacher assessments in English, maths and science 4
11–12 Year 7 KS3 Teacher assessments
12–13 Year 8 KS3 Teacher assessments
13–14 Year 9 KS3 Teacher assessments 5/6
14–15 Year 10 KS4 Some children take GCSEs
15–16 Year 11 KS4 Most children take GCSEs or other national qualifications


Source: The National Curriculum for England, Wales and Ireland: Overview. Retrieved from

Guardian ArticleWhy is it not a national curriculum? Because Academies and private schools (i.e., fee-paying), can set their own curricula. In addition, it is interesting to note the drive by the U.K., government to push state maintained schools into Academy Status, thereby removing them from the requirements of the national curriculum…

The connection of inspections by the Office for Standards in Education (OfStEd), with pressure applied to schools to move to academies and the accompanying funding packages, illustrates the overriding political concerns behind the EWI national curriculum.

Talking Point: How can such a strategy be viewed as anything other than politically driven? Opinions please?


Subjects required to be taught under the national curriculum were later detailed in the Education Act of 2002…


Subject KS 1 KS 2 KS 3 KS 4
English Y Y Y Y


Science Y Y Y Y
Computing Y Y Y Y
Physical Education Y Y Y Y
Geography Y Y Y
History Y Y Y
Music Y Y Y
Art & Design Y Y Y
Design & Technology Y Y Y
Foreign Languages Y Y
Citizenship Y Y
Work-related Learning Y
Welsh (Wales only) Y Y Y Y

Adapted from: The National Curriculum for England, Wales and Ireland: Key Stages 1–4. Retrieved from:

At the stage where students are required to make choices for career training or university, it is interesting to note the only compulsory topics.

Religious Education and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), which includes sex and relationship education, must be provided but parents may withdraw pupils at any time.

National Curriculum content is determined by law, but courses with attached funding entitlements are provided by private companies such as edexcel and the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA).

Talking Points—Concerns with the National Curriculum…

  • League tables were intended to inform parental choice, but instead have become a post code lottery.
  • Pupils become aware that their school has been identified as under-achieving, and may become disenfranchised with the system.
  • Schools apply many tactics to climb the league tables, including focussing on those students more likely to achieve the coveted 5 A*–C grades in their final exam’s, and offering courses which are judged to be easier than others.
  • Subjects requiring more academic discipline are often dropped, resulting in a shortage of qualifications in academic level mathematics, physics, chemistry and classics such as Latin.

I’m sure there are lots of other people out there with an opinion on the pros and cons of the national curriculum for EWI. Please share…

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