For headteachers the new Children’s Plan poses yet more new challenges, with possible changes to the primary curriculum, flexible school start and greater involvement between school and family. Angela Youngman investigates

The new Children’s Plan sets in motion a complete review of the primary level curriculum, with the aim of easing the transition from early years learning into school. The aim is to create an even sharper focus on maths and English yet give teachers more flexibility within the school day. More time for reading, writing and mathematics is to be allotted along with greater flexibility for other subjects. The ‘Every Child a Writer’ programme will provide intensive one-to-one coaching in areas of writing children find hard to master. Time will also be provided for primary school children to learn a modern foreign language. Flexible entry for summer-born children is a possibility: the option of starting a year later may become available.

Children should be taught according to their stage of development rather than their age. This may involve expanding the ‘testing when ready’ assessment method. A form of national testing will remain, although it may mean the end of key stage tests. 

New targets
By 2020, the aim is that:

  • at least 90% of children will be developing well across all areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage profile by age five
  • at least 90% of children will be reaching at or above expected levels in English and maths by age 11
  • all children will have opportunities to get involved in high-quality cultural activities in and out of school
  • parents will be satisfied with the information and support they receive
  • all young people will be participating in positive activities to develop personal and social skills, promote wellbeing and reduce anti-social behaviour
  • child health will be improved, with the proportion of obese and overweight children reduced to 2000 levels.

Links between families and schools are to become stronger. The Children’s Plan is advocating major changes to help parents stay in touch with teachers throughout their school life, covering issues from progress in the classroom to behaviour, attendance and events in the school calendar. Personal tutors who know the child should act as the main contact for parents, while the setting up of parents’ councils will ensure that parents’ preferences are heard. All decisions about children should involve both parents. There will be parent-held progress records created so that parents can track their child’s progress in maths, English, languages, sport, music and other school activities. Such records will be based on the Red Book scheme for young children’s health. The complaints procedure for parents whose children experience bullying is to be strengthened.

Attention will also be focused on special educational needs. Ofsted will carry out a full review into the quality of special education needs provision beginning in 2009. A pilot scheme is to be set up, in which children with dyslexia will receive reading recovery support or one-to-one tuition from specialist dyslexia teachers.

Teacher training is to be further addressed. The aim over the next three years is to make teaching a Master’s-level profession, with all new teachers able to study for a Master’s-level qualification through a focus on continuing professional development. A new qualification will be introduced, building on agreed performance management measures. All new recruits will have to spend minimum time training within the one-year Graduate Teacher Programme. There will be a Transition to Teaching programme to attract more people with science, technology and engineering backgrounds into teaching; while the Future Leaders programme placing people with proven leadership credentials into urban schools is to be extended. Weak teachers, whose ‘competence falls to unacceptably low levels’ now face the possibility of losing their jobs and no longer being allowed to work as teachers.

It is proposed that links between schools, the NHS and other children’s services will become stronger with schools taking on a role as a central point within a community. The intention is that child health services, social care, advice, welfare services and police should, wherever possible, be located on the same sites. This will make services more integrated and convenient for children and families. It is anticipated that guidance will be published under Building Schools for the Future to ensure that schools are properly designed with this in mind. Furthermore, all new school buildings are to be zero carbon by 2016. A taskforce is being set up to advise on how to achieve zero carbon schools and how to reduce carbon emissions in the intervening period.

Overall, the government hopes that the plan will:

  • strengthen support for all families during the formative early years of their children’s lives
  • take the next steps in achieving world-class schools with a good education for every child
  • involve parents more closely in their children’s learning
  • encourage young people to undertake interesting activities out of school
  • provide places for children to play safely.

What does it mean for headteachers? 
Without doubt, it could potentially mean a lot of extra work. Attempting to stretch the available time within a school day is set to become even harder. There has been much talk recently about children having the right to extra hours of art, drama, music, PE and going out on school visits. No suggestion has been made as to how extra time can be allocated for numeracy and literacy within the school day – given that they already take up most of the morning in every school. All teaching staff will undoubtedly face more paperwork as a result of the creation of parent-held progress records.

As soon as the plan was announced, criticisms began. Other political parties attacked it saying that it was a hotch potch of policies and gimmicks, many of which had been recycled from other initiatives. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders commented that the plan placed ‘tremendous expectations on schools and their leaders.’ He felt that the government needed to be more realistic about how quickly programmes could be put into practice and that they must ‘acknowledge that school’s primary responsibility is still to educate children.’

One of the few changes that were welcomed was the idea of making teaching a Master’s degree profession. The National Union of Teachers said that it was ‘an idea whose time has come.’

David Tuck of the National Association of Head Teachers commented, ‘It seems to be lumping all initiatives into one plan and it is hard trying to make some sense of it all. The real issue is what came first – the plan or the initiatives? Who dreamed up some of those initiatives? How far has it been thought through or is it just an apologia?’

As he points out, the school day is not long enough to cater for more time on the three Rs as well as five hours a week for culture, PE provision and other subjects. ‘If the emphasis is to be on the three Rs then there will be an effect on other subjects. Children have the right to a broad curriculum. Even if the children come in at 8am and go at 6pm, this is not all teaching time. Part of it is childcare time – breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. It cannot be provided from existing staff and resources. Who is going to pay for it?’

He is equally critical of the suggestions to create individual parent guides on their child’s development as this will cause extra work for teaching staff. ‘It is difficult to work this. Parents are not going to be able to get instant gratification; to see that their children have moved up an extra per cent in their key stage. It is aspirational rather than practical.’

There are some good points he believes. The concept of creating children’s centres can be helpful when it comes to dealing with childcare issues and it will be much easier to get hold of a social worker. ‘But it is swings and roundabouts. There is more work for the headteacher with a children’s centre on site.’

Angela Youngman is a teacher and freelance writer