Educating Bradford

Educating Bradford

9. National Curriculum

“The goals of our education . . . are to equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive, place in society, and also to fit them to do a job of work.”

Prime Minister James Callaghan, 1976

It was only in the late-19th century that certain subjects had to be taught in schools and schoolchildren had to reach set education ‘standards’, such as reading aloud and writing neatly. In the 20th century, radical education reforms further standardised what is taught, how progress is assessed and how educational achievement is recognised and rewarded in all schools.

In the 19th century, working class children in religious and charity schools were taught religious studies (Scriptures) and the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic – to learn basic literacy and numeracy skills. Children who went to grammar schools were taught Latin and Greek. The 1840 Grammar School Act allowed these schools to expand their offer beyond classical languages and charge fees.

By 1871, the only compulsory subjects were the 3 R’s and for girls, needlework and cutting out. Some minor subjects, such as drawing, geography, history and science, were starting to be taught at some schools.

The 1880 Education Act required schoolchildren reach set ‘standards’, confirmed by certificates, before they could be employed. Higher ‘standards’ involved learning cookery skills (for girls), woodwork (for boys), swimming and music as well as the 3 R’s. ‘Standards’ was replaced by School Certificates in 1917 – awarded to school leavers aged 16 if several subjects, including English and maths, were passed.

The 1944 Education Act introduced a system of grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary ‘modern’ schools – this was later abolished in 1976. Children would sit an exam aged 10 or 11, the 11-Plus exam, to determine which type of school they would attend. Grammar schools taught a broad range of subjects, such as literature, the classics and complex maths. Secondary technical schools focused on technical subjects, like physics, advanced maths and chemistry. Secondary modern schools trained pupils in practical skills and the 3 R’s. School Certificates were replaced by the General Certificate of Education(GCE) O-Level in 1951 which awarded pupils with an O-Level for each subject passed.

In 1988 the Education Reform Act introduced radical changes. A National Curriculum outlined a programme of study that standardised the subjects and content taught in all schools. GCE O-Levels were replaced with a new qualification, a General Certificate of Secondary Education or GCSE.

Standard Assessment Tests or SATs were introduced in 1990 for all 7 year olds, and then later 11 year olds in 1994 and 14 year olds in 1997, to evaluate progress. SATs for 14 year olds were scrapped in 2009. Recent changes revised the National Curriculum and introduced a new qualification, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).