Not-very-national curriculum relaunched
Michael Gove's revised national curriculum has been unveiled in full – but his focus on fractions for five-year-olds is being overshadowed by concerns about its content, reach and implementation.
The education secretary faces accusations from Labour he has allowed his "personal prejudices" to influence the creation of a curriculum which critics say reads like a throwback to the 1950s.
Pupils will have to learn poetry by heart, study a chronological history of Britain and master their times tables earlier under the altered curriculum.
"These changes will reinforce our drive to raise standards in our schools," Gove said.
"They will ensure that the new national curriculum provides a rigorous basis for teaching, provides a benchmark for all schools to improve their performance, and gives children and parents a better guarantee that every student will acquire the knowledge to succeed in the modern world."
The changes will also see 21st century technologies embraced, with the introduction of 3D printers to schools and computer programming lessons teaching pupils how to design apps.
Climate change is expected to be made an explicit part of the geography curriculum after a row at consultation stage. Evolution will now be taught at primary school.
"It will be a memory test," the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' Mary Bousted told the Today programme.
"That is not what children and young people need for the 21st century when their lives and their work will require skills of knowledge acquisition, understanding and being able to implement the knowledge."
Teaching bodies have also voiced fears that the introduction of the curriculum, planned for September 2014, will be rushed and compromised as a result.
"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," the Association of School and College Leaders' Brian Lightman warned.
"This is a massive change."
Not all of the country's schools will be affected by the changes, leading to suggestions this could be the last national curriculum revision of its kind.
Only English primary and secondary schools are affected. But Gove has watered down its impact further by exempting academies – over half of secondary schools – from having to follow the curriculum.
"Apart from a bit of tinkering here and there, the national framework document published today fails to reflect any of the serious concerns that were raised across all subjects from employers, academics, parents' groups and teachers," the NASUWT teaching union's general secretary Chris Keates said.
"It remains far too narrow, and has none of the breadth and balance that experts were demanding.
"It is one of the clearest examples yet of a secretary of state who is unwilling or unable to listen to the voices of experts and ignore evidence to pursue his ideological campaign."
Gove has proved one of the most divisive of the coalition's Cabinet members. He is viewed as pushing through an ideologically motivated set of reforms which shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said had resulted in an attempt to "personally rewrite" the curriculum.
"Labour wants to ensure the national curriculum sets clear expectations for the knowledge and skills children and young people should reach by a certain age," he said.
"This curriculum looks like more of the same though. The Tories' divisive approach means curriculum freedom only applies to some schools.
"Labour would ensure a reformed curriculum allows teachers in all schools the freedom to innovate and prepares young people for the challenges of the modern economy."