What is a primary curriculum?

What do we mean when we talk about a primary curriculum? What does it involve? And is it the same as the National Curriculum?

In our latest blog, we explore what a primary curriculum is. We’ll look at what it includes and how we teach it in schools.

We will also detail the design of our primary curriculum and why we have developed it in this way.

What does the word curriculum mean?

With its origins in Latin, the word “curriculum” meant a fast chariot, race or course of a race. It stems from the verb currere, which means to run or proceed. Similarly, the modern-day French verb courir means to run and it has links to the English word courier.

The adjective curricular was associated with driving or carriages.

We can trace its educational roots back to 1582. Then, a French professor first used it to reference academic courses of study. Later, in 1633, the University of Glasgow was the first to use the word curriculum in English. In this instance, it referred to its course of study. 

What does primary curriculum mean today?

A primary curriculum is a framework that structures what a school sets out to teach its pupils. 

In this way, it covers the skills, knowledge, attitude and values, laying out the theory, product and practice. 

Therefore, we often refer to it as a set of learning goals. In this respect, a primary curriculum features lesson materials, teaching resources and methods of evaluation.

Is a primary curriculum the same as the National Curriculum?

No, there’s a difference between a primary curriculum, which can be unique to each school, and the English National Curriculum.

The National Curriculum covers programmes of study. These also form the learning outcomes for all subjects at all key stages. All local authority-maintained schools in England must teach the National Curriculum. This ensures that pupils across the country have the same overall learning experience.

Local authority-maintained schools in England must follow the National Curriculum. However, other types of school, like academies, independent schools, free schools and private schools, don’t have to follow it. In fact, they have curriculum autonomy. 

The National Curriculum is divided into Key Stages, as follows:

  • Key Stage 1 (KS1) – ages 5-6 (Year 1) and 6-7 (Year 2)
  • Key Stage 2 (KS2) – ages 7-8 (Year 3), 8-9 (Year 4), 9-10 (Year 5) and 10-11 (Year 6)
  • Key Stage 3 (KS3) – ages 11-12 (Year 7), 12-13 (Year 8) and 13-14 (Year 9)
  • Key Stage 4 (KS4) – ages 14-15 (Year 10) and 15-16 (Year 11)

The Early Years Key Stage – ages 3-4 (nursery/preschool) and 4-5 (reception) – follow their own standards for learning. These are linked to seven distinct areas.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own distinct National Curriculum models.

What’s the difference between the National Curriculum and a primary curriculum?

The National Curriculum is a set of requirements and targets for local authority-maintained schools in England to follow.

Other types of schools can refer to the National Curriculum if they wish to use it as a benchmark for quality educational requirements and targets. However, there is no obligation for them to do so. 

Every school is different, so a one-size-fits-all approach to the primary curriculum isn’t practical or realistic. Therefore, schools design or invest in a curriculum tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. 

The National Curriculum offers local authority schools a guide for what they need to teach. However, schools are free to inject their individuality into the curriculum.

Essentially, schools can use National Curriculum guidelines as a foundation. From this, they can build customised lesson plans and learning experiences.  

What are the primary curriculum core subjects?

In primary education, the core subjects are English, maths and science.

What are the foundation subjects in a primary curriculum?

The foundation subjects in a primary curriculum are geography, history, music, PE, art and design, computing, and design and technology. PSHE is also a school curriculum subject.

What makes an outstanding primary curriculum?

Since changes to the Ofsted framework in September 2019, curriculum has been a real focus for inspections. In fact, it is a critical factor in securing a “good” or “outstanding” rating.

When assessing a school’s curriculum, Ofsted is looking for:

  • Depth and breadth
  • Cohesive and progression across subjects
  • A broad range of subjects covered

Ofsted inspectors will decide whether a school’s curriculum warrants an outstanding rating by talking to teachers and senior leaders. Additionally, they will look at the curriculum’s substance, goals and sequencing.

What’s an example of an outstanding primary curriculum?

Dimensions’ global primary curriculum, ‘Learning Means The World’, is an example of an outstanding primary curriculum for schools. 

What’s more, it can be customised for each school and provides full National Curriculum coverage.

It’s designed to be taught effectively in a range of primary school settings. This includes local authority-maintained schools, free schools, academies and international schools. It focuses on important world issues to teach pupils 21st-century skills, attitudes and values.

Garvestone Community Primary School teaches our ‘Learning Means The World’ curriculum. A January 2020 Ofsted report said:

“Pupils experience the world beyond the school and the local community. They provide a curriculum which enables pupils to experience the world beyond the school and local community. Teachers have a secure knowledge of the subjects they teach. They organise the order in which pupils learn knowledge effectively. Staff make learning exciting, practical and link pupils’ learning to other subjects.”

Find out how our curriculum can transform learning and outcomes in your primary school. Book your bespoke discovery session now.

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