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The Curriculum and the White Paper – the Big Issues

The Curriculum

We want every child, wherever they live and whatever their background or needs, to receive a 21st century education that equips them with the knowledge and character necessary for success in modern Britain.

Within the White Paper, there is a clear focus on knowledge alongside the instillation of character traits and values. There is little overt mention of skills and this reflects the National Curriculum itself, which is fundamentally core knowledge driven.

There is also strong emphasis on British values and character building, with a commitment to build in character development approaches to teacher training programmes, working with networks like teaching schools to spread the most effective methods. There are also plans to work with the Behavioural Insights Team and What Works Centres to identify successful models which schools can adapt and use.

The National Citizen Service (NCS) will be extended so that by 2021 it will cover 60% of all 16 year olds. Programmes will be expanded to spread the opportunity for pupils to take part in adventure challenges and complete social action projects.

There will be a round of Character Awards for those schools and organisations that are most successful in supporting children to develop key character traits.

Additional-curricular activities are seen as important facets and extra funding is to be made available so that 25% of secondary schools can extend their school day and develop provision, “to include a wider range of activities, such as sport, arts and debating“. Bidding and allocation processes are not yet clear.

The National Curriculum programmes of study will be reviewed and a group comprising head teachers and practitioners will produce an action plan with recommendations for improving PSHE and a toolkit for schools to use in planning and developing their own PSHE curriculum.


There is great focus on knowledge, character traits and British Values. There remains a focus on prescriptive subject matter which does not encourage teachers to be innovative. The National Curriculum still values knowledge acquisition over the development of concepts, skills and attitudes which encourage learners’ active engagement in creating, thinking and questioning.

There is substantial mention of character traits such as perseverance and resilience but schools will have to be convinced that there will be meaningful funding to enable them to support all pupils with their wide diversity of need.

Whilst the White Paper does recognise that “schools can play an important role in promoting wellbeing as well as helping to prevent and identify mental health issues“, there is no doubt that many schools feel that funding changes have had significant impact upon their ability to support pupils and families with mental health issues, and the detrimental effect this has had upon learning. A recognition of the importance is laudable but there is little of substance that suggests this trend will be reversed.

Watch out for our next blog on the White Paper. This will cover pupils with additional needs (including the most able) and the alternative provision system.

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