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National Curriculum Review 2013

Submitted 19th April 2013

The Geological Society (GSL) was first alerted to the ongoing review of the National Curriculum for England in August 2011. At that time, there had not yet been any public consultation regarding the review. It was expected that the new National Curriculum for England would be considerably smaller than the current curriculum, to allow schools and teachers more flexibility in what they choose to teach, and that it would focus on core content in traditional school subjects, rather than ‘context’. There was concern that there might be little or no Earth science in the new curriculum; and that any remaining Earth science would be included entirely within the Geography programme of study (as the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) proposed at that stage), rather than in the Science programme of study.

The Royal Society (RS) convened a meeting in September 2011 to discuss the place of Earth science in the National Curriculum, which was attended by representatives of the RS, GSL, RGS, Earth Science Teachers’ Association (ESTA), Geographical Association (GA), Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS), Royal Society of Chemistry, Institute of Physics, Society of Biology and other stakeholders. Those present agreed that Earth science is an important part of the school curriculum, and that it should continue to be split across the Geography and Science programmes of study, given that it does not sit comfortably within any one mainstream school subject. It was agreed that a brief document should be developed by the main stakeholder organisations, setting out the key ideas in Earth science which all students should encounter during their time at school.

Five organisations (GSL, RGS, ESTA, GA and RMetS) developed a grid setting out these key ideas, looking across Earth science in the broadest sense, including planetary and atmospheric science, for instance. It also identified which should be taught in the Geography and Science programmes of study, respectively, and the appropriate Key Stage (age group) for each idea.

The five organisations sent the agreed grid (attachment 1), with a covering letter signed by the president or director of each (attachment 2), to the Secretary of State in December 2011. The letter set out the case for all children having the opportunity to learn something about how their planet works, both to equip them as informed 21st century citizens, and to stimulate the interest of the next generation of trained Earth scientists. It stressed the importance of fieldwork in studying Earth science. The letter also pointed out that the grid had been developed on the assumption that Geography would become a mandatory subject, and therefore included in the National Curriculum, at Key Stage 4 (age 14-16) – a change which the RGS and GA were urging the government to implement. It recommended that if Geography continued to be an optional subject for this age group, the content in this cell of the grid should be included at other Key Stages or in the Science programme of study.

During 2012, GSL staff met several times with Department for Education (DfE) officials responsible for the review of the National Curriculum. They welcomed the grid and covering letter, and the fact that these had widespread support among the broad Earth science community. DfE and GSL representatives discussed the grid and letter in detail, and GSL representatives were asked to review evolving plans and drafts. The Society’s Education Committee was kept informed throughout, and their views were sought regarding non-confidential review documents. During this time, there were several changes to the timetable and detailed implementation plans for the review, for example in light of government’s policy changes and public consultation regarding reform of Key Stage 4 qualifications (GCSEs).

A draft of the new National Curriculum for England has recently been the subject of public consultation. Earth science topics are split across the Geography and Science programmes of study, though not exactly as proposed in the GSL/RGS/ESTA/GA/RMetS grid. Programmes of study are slimmed down in comparison to the current curriculum, but not as much as had been feared. It is not intended that Geography should be mandatory at Key Stage 4, and key content from this cell of the grid has accordingly been reallocated elsewhere in the draft curriculum.

DfE officials reported to GSL staff that they considered three main factors in allocating topics to programmes of study and Key Stages: the GSL/RGS/ESTA/GA/RMetS grid, comparisons with other countries, and pedagogic research. They noted that there is no clear international consensus, and that Geography as a main school subject (bringing together human and physical geography) is a particularly British formulation. The structure of different countries’ school curricula depend strongly on their history and educational culture. GSL staff explored with DfE officials whether there was any scope for Earth science to be included as a separate subject within the Science programme of study in the new curriculum, alongside Chemistry, Physics and Biology, and it was reported that ministers would not consider such a change.

GSL submitted a response to the consultation on the draft curriculum (attachment 3). This welcomes the DfE’s acceptance of the principle that Earth science should be split across the Science and Geography programmes of study, and the inclusion in the proposed curriculum of much of the detail set out in the grid developed with others by the Society. It also highlights significant deficiencies in some areas of the proposals. In particular, it identifies the need to set out more clearly and coherently key ideas at Key Stages 3 and 4, such as the rock cycle and plate tectonics. In developing the GSL response, feedback was sought from the Education Committee and others in the Earth science education community. Chris King (former Education Committee member and past Chair of ESTA) has prepared a document comparing the current curriculum, the proposals set out in the jointly prepared grid and the draft new curriculum, (attachment 4) and this was especially helpful in identifying shortcomings in the draft curriculum. The GSL response also highlights the challenges inherent in delivering the new curriculum, and the areas in which the Earth science community can help, for instance by providing support to non-geologist Geography and Science teachers.

Key Stage Grid:2011

National Curriculum review cover letter

April 2013 Consultation Response

Key Stage Comparison Grid