I have been exploring the QCA website, further to the suggestion by the DCSF that parents would find easy to download curricula there. Actually, some of this stuff for primary pupils is not that bad and could probably be adapted fairly easily by parents, should they wish to do so. First, one must pass the portal of the National Curriculum site though, which begins with the exhortation;
The curriculum should be treasured. There should be real pride in our curriculum: the learning that the nation has decided to set before its young. Teachers, parents, employers, the media and the public should all see the curriculum as something to embrace, support and celebrate. Most of all, young people should relish the opportunity for discovery and achievement that the curriculum offers.
This is a bit creepy! Who are they to be instructing the media what they should embrace and celebrate? It puts me in mind of Star Wars and embracing the dark side. However, some of the actual content is OK. For instance in Key Stage 1 science, there is stuff like this;
1 Pupils should be taught:
a the differences between things that are living and things that have never
b that animals, including humans, move, feed, grow, use their senses and
c to relate life processes to animals and plants found in the local environment.
Humans and other animals
2 Pupils should be taught:
a to recognise and compare the main external parts of the bodies of humans
and other animals
b that humans and other animals need food and water to stay alive
c that taking exercise and eating the right types and amounts of food help
humans to keep healthy
d about the role of drugs as medicines
e how to treat animals with care and sensitivity
f that humans and other animals can produce offspring and that these
offspring grow into adults
g about the senses that enable humans and other animals to be aware
of the world around them.
This is the kind of thing that children should probably be knowing at that age and it is no bad idea to have a plan to work to, even if it is not rigidly adhered to. Anybody working with a young child could do a lot worse than to use this section of the National Curriculum as a rough guide. I am not so sure about religion; this is an entirely personal matter. Similarly music and PE. As long as a child is getting exercise and being exposed to different styles of music, I would think that enough. But to teach according to a general framework in science, history and mathematics seems to me a sound scheme.
Of course, the National Curriculum is not the only curriculum that parents could use, but the basic idea of having some notion of what the child will cover over the next year or so is a pretty sensible one. The only problem might come if this curriculum became a type of strait-jacket, preventing one from being spontaneous and going off in unexpected directions. This has of course nothing at all to do with examinations or testing. It is good for children to think about life and what it means to be alive, purely for the sake of it. A curriculum really acts as an aide-memoire, reminding one of what needs to be covered.
I cannot make out when I see people denouncing the National Curriculum, whether they are dissatisfied with this particular curriculum or if there is some deep seated objection to all curricula. If the former, then I can sympathise. The National Curriculum needs drastic pruning and revision. But if the objection is a more general one against any sort of curriculum or plan of study, then I confess myself puzzled. A curriculum is a bit like a map, which shows the broad territory one hopes to traverse. It should not tell you precisely which route you will take, only the area that you will be travelling. As such, it is quite invaluable for those teaching their own child. I hope that the DCSF will issue more detailed instructions regarding curricula, including some which are not connected with the National Curriculum.