10 things you might not have realised about the new Primary English curriculum

Other posts in this series:


Having yesterday posted a very brief comment on Twitter about connectives, I’ve finally got around to writing a post that’s been at the back of my mind for a while. Aimed really at secondary English teachers, it may well be of use to primary colleagues and others. Let me state from the off that I’m not trying to tell anybody how to do their job; I just think that the more we share knowledge and understanding between the two sectors, the less likely we are to fail the children who make the move between us.

So here we go: ten things that secondary colleagues might not be aware of.

1. English is back.

Strictly speaking, it never went away, but for over 15 years now, the label ‘Literacy’ seems to have stuck in primary schools. Some of us have been fighting this battle for a while, but slowly and surely the subject name is returning to its proper use. Happily, the even less likeable ‘Numeracy’ label seemed to die off much more quickly.

2. Speaking & Listening is … confused.

Most primary teachers will attest to the importance of speaking and listening. However, the new National Curriculum doesn’t offer much clarity on this. The statutory document offers 86 pages on the primary English Curriculum. Spoken language gets one page – and just 12 objectives across the whole of KS1 and KS2.

3. Grammar matters.

If grammar is not your thing, then it’s time to start brushing up: grammar is back in a big way in the new curriculum. I met many a Year 7 child who couldn’t confidently identify nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs; now that content should be taught to Year 2. By Year 6 children are expected to have learned about noun phrases, relative clauses and even the subjunctive form (although that’s likely to be limited to common phrases in many cases, I’m sure).

4. Connectives are out.

I’ve never quite understood why the label ‘connective’ so easily took hold. It seemed to be introduced by the Literacy Strategy, which itself contained a clear definition of the difference between conjunctions and other connectives, yet somehow we ended up with one ‘job lot’ label. The class of ‘conjunction’ is now to be taught in Year 3 (along with preposition, followed by pronouns and determiners in Year 4), so there is really no excuse for the vague labelling any longer.

5. Class Readers are back.

I’ve always loathed the Guided Reading carousel approach that was brought in by the Literacy strategy: twenty minutes is no time to do anything. Now the curriculum is quite explicit that children should have access to reading experiences including the reading aloud of whole books at a higher level of challenge than their own decoding ability.

6. Spelling may improve.

The expectations of spelling in the new curriculum are significantly higher than in the past. Many words that secondary English teachers will recognise from the Y7 Spelling Bank word lists (actually, business, caught, decide) now appear in the required lists for Year 3 and 4. Year 5/6 children are expected to be taught words such as mischievous and profession. Of course, things won’t change overnight – but hopefully things may improve in the coming years.

7. Authorial Intent is clearer.

One of the reasons I think primary schools have long struggled to get children anywhere near reaching Level 6 in reading (aside from the fact that it has always been too easy to get Level 5 in KS2) has been the lack of teaching of authorial intent. Most primary teaching has focussed on the old AFs 2 and 3 – retrieval and inference/deduction. Now the teaching of the craft of the author is much more explicit, particularly in upper Key Stage 2. (Beware: PEE will spread through primaries like a rash in the next year or two)

8. Text types are on the wane.

Another of the Literacy strategy’s legacies is the endless treadmill of text types being taught in primary. Schools crow-barred in umpteen different ‘genres’ or text types each term in an effort to complete the set. None of those are specified any longer, and schools now have the freedom (which personally I hope they’ll use) to focus on fewer types in more depth.

9. Poetry is popular.

In the past, much of primary poetry has been about simple forms (limericks, haiku) or dreadful things like shape poetry. Although these won’t go away, there is now a much clearer expectation (probably driven by Gove himself) that children should be introduced to more published poetry, and – from as young as age 5 – should be learning to recite some poems by heart.

10. It’ll all take a while to filter through.

If you thought picking up children from different feeder schools was tricky before, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The new curriculum has been rushed (much like the changes at secondary) and too little time has been given over to preparing teachers and schools. Those that were on the ball started making changes two years ago; others may only now really be waking up to the new demands. Expect to see some wide variation, particularly in newer aspects of the curriculum such as grammar and poetry. But who knows, maybe in a few years’ time you’ll be able to more reliably predict the knowledge your children will arrive with.  Maybe.


Secondary teachers may find it informative to take a glance through the expectations of the new primary curriculum. You can find it all set out by year group at www.primarycurriculum.me.uk

19 thoughts on “10 things you might not have realised about the new Primary English curriculum

  1. Martin Galway 7 August 2015 at 10:45 am Reply

    Good to see, given that the “slimmed down” curriculum is pretty girthy when Iit comes to primary English.
    Might add a few quick points:
    – Spoken language also embedded in many of the statements around reading comp.
    – The importance of verb forms (children expected to go beyond simple past, present and now need to not only use progressive (continuous) and perfect forms, but also recognise and use the terms by end of KS2). Confident, efficient use of verb forms was always a good indicator of exceptional performance in Primary – this justs ramps up knowledge around use.
    – If approaching the doc itself for the first time, its layout is not especially user-friendly. A redux like Mixhael’s is far more digestible.
    – Do not be thrown by “Consonant letter vowel” in appendix 2: there’s no such thing. It should read “consonant letter, vowel [as in vowel sound], vowel letter.” Thereby demonstrating the importance of using commas accurately to avoid unintended ambiguity (this is handily expected now in year 5). What does it mean if something that does not exist to be taught is listed as statutory learning in this final draft? Oopsie.

    • Martin Galway 7 August 2015 at 10:50 am Reply

      Apologies for the typos – especially in your name – phones are not my friends.

  2. cazzypot2013 7 August 2015 at 10:54 am Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  3. julietgreen 7 August 2015 at 2:29 pm Reply

    From my own experience in the primary school where I work, these things are now pretty old hat, although some misnomers persist tenaciously. In no way am I a staunch traditionalist, but I find little to disagree with and am struck by the fact that mainstream British education ever abandoned any of these basics in the first place.

    I’m glad we’re moving away from the ‘Reading Roundabout’! My co-teachers and myself quietly dispensed with the reading carousel a while back, for the very reasons you state; a class text has so many possibilities. The last time I was in year 6, we did ‘Animal Farm’ to fit with the theme on the 20th Century and Cold War paranoia. It was such a pleasure to read Orwell’s prose and it certainly inspired some high level written work. We were already hit by PEE a couple of years ago and I’ve now realised it’s just another formulaic approach which teachers are likely to latch on to through lack of confidence. There really is no replacement for knowing the subject.

  4. Alison McCaig 7 August 2015 at 4:00 pm Reply

    What are you meaning, when you write, “…it has always been too easy to get a Level 5 in KS2,” in reference to reading?

    • Michael Tidd 7 August 2015 at 4:03 pm Reply

      I mean that for all that secondary teachers state that KS2 tests are not reliable, I’d argue every case except for the reading results at Level 5. To little was expected in the L3-5 paper of higher level readers, hence the massive gap between those results and the level sixes in primary.

  5. Alison McCaig 7 August 2015 at 4:37 pm Reply

    My Level 5 results are better in both SPaG and Maths than they are in Reading, so I’m not sure.

    On reliability of KS2 tests and secondary school transition. Now, if a secondary child gets a grade B in their maths this summer – would they necessarily be able to get even a grade C if they took a similar test in September?

    I have Y5 and Y6 children in my class. I have Y5 children who got ‘Solid Level 5s’ in Maths (we did the old optional SATs and they got 5b) but I am nearly sure they wouldn’t even be Level 5c if they did a similar test in September.

  6. Mr Brown 7 August 2015 at 4:38 pm Reply

    Has anyone ever undertaken research into the huge disparity between the level 6 achievement in maths and reading at the end of KS2? I have never understood why there is parity in all other test scores, apart from these. If my school scores were so different I would have county breathing down my neck wanting to know what I was doing about it.

    • Alison McCaig 7 August 2015 at 4:46 pm Reply

      We had a monitoring visit both this year and last year following our high Level 6 results in Maths in 2013.

      In 2014, a day long visit from 8am on the Thursday of test week from the LA – watched Paper 2 level 3-5, then both Level 6 papers. Then this year exactly the same thing.

  7. Alison McCaig 7 August 2015 at 4:54 pm Reply

    https://www.shu.ac.uk/_assets/pdf/ceir-investigation-key-stage2-level6-tests.pdf

    This is the link of a research carried out by Hallam University in 2013, just after the re-introduction of Level 6.

  8. John 8 August 2015 at 1:11 am Reply

    Forgive my ignorance (I’m a PGCE student) what does the acronym PEE stand for?

  9. Ali You 8 August 2015 at 7:27 am Reply

    PEE…point, evidence, explanation. It’s the “ideal” essay paragraph . However children struggle to make the correct links and usually end up repeating or elaborating on the point again, rather than explaining what it shows/how it adds to the story. Some schools use PEEL (link to next point/paragraph) and then PEARL (point, evidence, analysis, response, link) It just depends what the teachers (secondary) are looking for…higher skills meaning better levels/results.

  10. The Quirky Teacher 10 August 2015 at 10:50 am Reply

    Could you elaborate on point 5 a bit more? I was of the understanding (limited experience, plus quite young) that guided reading carousel was practically enshrined in law!

    Personally, I have found that having a whole class book that we all read together has been extremely beneficial for the lower readers who have such limited vocabulary and it also saves so much time in terms of planning compared to the guided reading carousel! The class book has then provided so many opportunities for different teaching aspects (the impromptu “How do we pronounce this?” chat or the “Let’s discuss what we think will happen next”) and finally the children get to hear how a story ends. I feel guilty though because, technically, I am supposed to give the children a (differentiated) learning objective based on AFs every time I spend 15 minutes with them reading the class book. Also, I do run the risk that an observer might say, “Well, your lowers are struggling with this; you should really have provided them with a different book to be reading with the TA” etc etc.

    As for ‘official’ GR, to have 5 or 6 books on the go every week with each group doing different AFs at different levels, plus trying to behaviour manage the other groups all doing different activities whilst I am working with one group does my head in, but this approach seems to be mandatory. Also, setting up all the differentiated activities for a mere half hour every day seems to be so inefficient. By the time you’ve finished setting up, answering questions and giving out all the different resources, you’re left with a rushed 10 minutes in which to hear every child in your group read and make notes on their progress on both your planning and on the APP sheets.

  11. julietgreen 10 August 2015 at 12:21 pm Reply

    Quirky Teacher – you are being misled! Reading Roundabout activities are not required and neither is making copious notes on planning or otherwise. What is APP and what are AFs? OK, I jest – I know what they are, but APP has been massively discredited as a means of assessing all the pupils and the AFs are not relevant to the new curriculum (although don’t get me started on the 100s of silly objectives therein!). I’m very grateful that we seem to be moving towards an understanding that ongoing assessment for evidence and record keeping is wasting a lot of time. The key, which we all secretly know from years of successful education, is in useful and knowledgeable feedback as close to the time as possible.

    I completely agree with you about the use of a judicious text and the lower ability readers. Amazingly, my lower ability readers got on well with George Orwell. We have to model quality if we want to educate our pupils.

  12. […] a Teacher’. He also runs the website ‘Primary Curriculum 2014’. Two of his recent posts, ’10 things you might not have realised about the new primary English curriculum’ and ‘10 things you might not have realised about the new primary maths curriculum’ are […]

  13. KS2 Teacher 13 September 2015 at 2:27 pm Reply

    Yes Alison and Juliet, this all sounds pretty inflammatory towards us down in the lowly key stages. We know what PEE paragraphs are.

    • Michael Tidd 13 September 2015 at 2:29 pm Reply

      You make it sound like I’m talking from on high. I am a KS2 teacher.

  14. Noony 11 October 2016 at 10:26 am Reply

    Well pushing kids to this level so young is damaging the love of learning that all children should have, and it’s about time someone stood up to this ridiculous high brow system and introduced a more well rounded education to treat the whole child. In my experience you have a lot of very sad children who might seem ok at school but inside feel inadequate and sad, what a society. Written by a non-teacher and you can pick up on all the grammatical errors you like if that is what tickles your beautiful minds. Peace

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