Sunday, 7 April 2013

Proposed Changes to the National Curriculum

I have been through the key stage 3 proposed national curriculum this evening. I want to think about the transition for out current year 7 students from the QCA units that we are currently using to the new GCSE courses that they will encounter thanks to Michael Gove's change to the curriculum.

Although I accept that we didn't really get the chance to prepare students from year 7 for the changes we experienced in 2006 and 2011, I still want to be as ready as possible.

I also should add at this point that I subscribe to the "fight your battles" philosophy and I don't want to argue against the NC change - that would be a waste of energy. But we should try and get something we can work with and understand.

The main things that concerns me are 1) I don't understand what some of the statements expect and 2) that there seems to be more added in than taken out.

Out go microbes and disease, changes during adolescence and classification, in comes plant reproduction (including pollination and the importance of it), the importance of DNA in inheritance, the structure of the amoeba, mitochondria, bacteria in the digestive system and a greater emphasis on the skeleton.

Personally, I think it could be worse. See what you think by taking a look below.


Many will recognise the 1999 national curriculum. Although we had a new curriculum in 2008, this is the curriculum we are using in my school. The 1999 curriculum statements can be identified because they have orange titles and the 2015 proposed curriculum has blue subtitles.


I don't disagree that mitochondria should be added into the list of organelles described by students in key stage 3, the thinking through science books already mention mitochondria for example. However, it will mean that we have to consider how cells are taught as it will be useful for students to understand respiration so that they can link the function to the mitochondria, with confusing students with the misconception that respiration and breathing are the same thing.

I don't really see what the understanding of diffusion as a method of getting substances into cells brings and why that seems to replace specialised cells, but both are difficult concepts, and specialised cells is included in other aspects of the biology curriculum. Diffusion is something that can be added to the descriptions of how oxygen and "food" get into cells, so I can see where this would fit into the curriculum I teach.

The structure of the Amoeba and Euglena are additions I am not clear about. The two vacuoles in the amoeba will just add a layer of confusion that could lead to misconceptions about the plant cell that I don't think is necessary if this curriculum is about science for general knowledge. If the vacuole is to be ignored then are we really teaching the students to classify the different classification kingdoms?

I guess this is a curriculum point that has be taught last - after the students have covered DNA and chromosomes so that they can understand the idea about the differences in the genetic material?

*1d, Fertilisation is discussed later.


I actually like the idea of doing more about the skeleton, it does capture the imagination of the students. I asked other science teachers using twitter about "measurement of the force exerted by different muscles" the response made me think as I realise that this is a good topic to link into fitness and could be engaging for the students. See


The addition of the food tests to the curriculum doesn't add extra pressure onto science teachers as it is part of what the majority of us do. Actually I quite like that it is there because it shows that the government expect a level of practical science.

In the same way the statement "calculations of the energy requirements in a health daily diet" I don't mind as it implies that we have to include numeracy in how we teach science, which I agree with. I would interpret this as asking the students to use information I provide them with to work out what they could eat in a day and stay within the limits of what is required for a healthy teenager. I don't mind this, but I did it at primary school and I wonder that it will be a repeat of an activity students have done before?

I don't understand the "importance of bacteria in the digestive system",  as my knowledge doesn't exten beyond the Yalkult adverts!


In terms of what we cover already, only the mention of asthma seems to be new.


I am unsure what the statement "including the breakdown of organic molecules to enable all the other chemical processes necessary for life" entails. We used to teach that "chemical reactions occur in the cytoplasm - will this be enough now?

It concerns me that there is no mention of the bloodstream in the proposed 2015 national curriculum as I think it is important that students are aware of the circulatory system as this helps to pull respiration, cells, breathing and exercise together.


Interestingly disease is no longer part of key stage 3 science, although students will have to learn about bacteria as part of anaerobic respiration and the function of them in the digestive system. Checking the 2015 GCSE curriculum all of the disease related content from the QCA unit 8C now seems to be in GCSE biology. There was always a lot of overlap, but I don't see that as a bad thing. I think that it is important that students understand about vaccinations and immunisation.


Those involved in PHSE and sex education are very concerned by the absence of statement f from the 1999 national curriculum in the 2015 proposed version. I don't blame them. Young people are interested in what is going to happen to them.

The level of detail added to the reproduction of plants is going to require a lot more time in the teaching.  Although I like the link of the pollination of plant to human food production in light of the issues with the bee population.


Classification is missing from the 2015 proposed national curriculum. I am sad about that, but not too sad. Due to CASE I am lead to believe that classifying is a key skill to be developing with out students, however they often come from primary school able to classify the main animal groups and find the classification of the plants boring and it is difficult to engage them. Classification can still be taught via the periodic table and more subtly in biology.

The level of detail now needed for inheritance is pretty vast. I have taught this to year 9 as part of an early start to GCSE science and they struggled a little bit, but were engaged in it and interested.



I have to admit that the bottom two statements in the 2015 proposed national curriculum don't mean a great deal to me. I would hope that there would be some examples in the supporting notes of the new national curriculum when it is finally published. 


This exists in some of the other areas in the 2015 proposed curriculum, but the emphasis has certainly moved. However, we will probably end up covering all the aspects once statements like "niches and the role of variable in enabling closely-related living things to survive in the same ecosystem" are unpacked into teaching activities.


  1. Thanks Helen. I've looked through the physics, but not compared it with the previous curriculum. A good idea I think.

  2. Helen, this is a really useful summary. Thank you for sharing.

    I think there are a few very random inclusions here, such as bacteria in the digestive system, structure of amoeba and chemosynthesis. In areas I am surprised at the new level of detail required e.g. in the inheritance section. Although I assume the aim is to keep up with the times. There is so much in the media about recent genetic research then why not provide students with the knowledge required to understand it at a younger age. There of course is the argument that it may need to be so simplified for some students that it loses its relevance.

    As for some of the removed parts, I too am disappointed at the lack of a disease topic. This is also commonly mentioned in the media, and of huge interest to students. I believe that taking out the specialised cells section will make no difference to my personal teaching. In order the teach about 'hierarchical organisation of multicellular organisms', I will cover specialised cells first in order for students to understand the composition of tissues and then organs.
    This new curriculum really is pause for thought. I will find myself doing exactly as you said, not moaning about it, merely spending time trying to understand it and considering how best to prepare students for it.

  3. Thank you for such a useful summary. Fascinating to compare to 1999 curriculum, which I'm old enough to remember.
    I agree with picking your battles and I'm sure that we'll all keep teaching the puberty and sex education stuff we believe the kids want and need, regardless of the curriculum. I've not looked to see if there's much change at KS2 there, but a we are seeing more primary aged girls reaching puberty. So many more than when I started teaching, 14 years ago. Perhaps it's a topic some of our primary colleagues would dread. Even if it were covered well at KS2 by most primary schools I'd want to revisit the topic to ensure all my kids had time to ask important questions.
    Interesting change about plants too. I know some primary schools do some lovely seed dispersal practical work. Strange that it moves up to us when it's something the creative primary teachers can do well with few resources.

  4. Hi Helen,

    Thanks for these posts. As promised, my 2p.

    Digestion: Importance of bacteria in the gut - apart from vitamin synthesis (B and K mostly), they digest and thereby ferment unabsorbed carbs and we absorb the by products some of which are fatty acids (useful in cell membranes etc). Obviously a gut choc-full of "good" bacteria will provide an environment that will prevent the colonisation of "bad" bacteria. In reality it's not that simple as so many factors can affect the gut flora.

    Respiration: "including the breakdown of organic molecules to enable all the other chemical processes necessary for life" - I take that to mean that breakdown of glucose to form carbon dioxide and water (or lactic acid for anaerobes). If this was in the digestion section I would take more from it but placed here in the respiration section at a KS3 level (indeed a KS4 level) they need to know that this is the upshot of the respiration "equation".

    Health: Gutted that microbes don't appear but this is done in not much more detail at KS4.

    Interdependence: 1. how organisms affect and are affected by their environment - in its simplest form this is food webs and the consequences of over/under more complex arguments I would bring in how pollution/climate change can alter the species present
    2. niches and role of variation - variation in organisms leads to them being able to exploit all of the resources available in an environmental niche...I'd bring in how Galapagos were colonised and discuss how/why other species aren't there

    Hope this helps


  5. Hi Helen
    Take a look at KS1 and KS2 science POS, where there is a considerable input on classification, plant reproduction and adaptation. It will take some years to wash through the system, but in future pupils should arrive in Y7 with a good understanding of the basics in these areas.