If you're off to your teacher training interview make sure you read this article to get a grasp of the latest education news

One of the things you're likely to be asked at your teacher training interview is your view on the key educational issues of the day. Of course the best way to stay up to date is to buy the TES every week but just in case you’ve missed a few issues here’s a guide to some of the education stories you really should know about.

We can’t give you all the answers, but the article links will give you jump off points to help you carry out further research.

For a general round-up of the education landscape for 2012 we recommend you start with the TES predictions for 2012 article

The review of the National Curriculum

Both the primary and secondary curricula are under review. The Government wants to slim them down, giving schools more freedom to adapt the curriculum to their own circumstances.

The plan is to introduce the new curriculum in September 2014, a blueprint for the curriculum has now been published by the DfE

Here are the main points of the review:

  • All existing national curriculum subjects should remain statutory, but schools should be left to decide how to teach citizenship, design and technology and ICT.
  • Knowledge should be set out by key stage, with the possible exception of primary maths, which should follow a year-by-year structure.
  • Oral language should be a strong feature of the curriculum.
  • KS2 should be divided in half with new lower and upper stages.
  • KS3 should be shrunk to the first two years of secondary and KS4 expanded to the final three years.
  • Current national curriculum ‘levels’ should be replaced with more precise attainment targets.
  • All pupils should understand key elements of a body of knowledge before the move on to the next (this is the ‘ready to progress’ model)..

Questions to think about

  • Is it really a National Curriculum when free schools and academies can opt out?
  • Is it right to downgrade ICT, D&T and Citizenship to become part of the basic curriculum where they won’t be tested?

More reading on the National Curriculum review

DfE primary curriculum review

DfE secondary curriculum review

Year by year system could mean axe for the key stages

Subjects could disappear in overhaul

Primaries fear endless league tables if key stage is split

Curriculum changes could spark teacher supply crisis

Former education minister David Blunkett on why we need a curriculum that is truly national

RSA warns that more training is needed for teachers to cope with the proposed curricular freedom

Teachers will have to go it alone with the new curriculum

Get the historic perspective on the curriculum by reading our feature covering the last 100 years of curriculum change

GCSE and A level reform

The exam system has been described as not ‘fit for purpose’ and that’s by a former senior examiner, Martin Collier. He spoke of grade inflation fuelled by competition between boards and a lack of coherence. So it will come as no surprise to learn that the Government is reforming both GCSE and A levels.

Modular GCSEs are being phased out. For two-year GCSE courses beginning in September 2012 all external exams will have to be taken at the end of the course. This will mean re-sits of individual modules will end. Students will still be able to retake full GCSEs.

Work on new GCSEs purpose-built for linear assessment will not start until at least 2013. Assessment experts have voiced concerns that moving January exams to an already congested summer timetable could lead to the boards making more mistakes.

Marks for accurate spelling, punctuation and use of grammar will also be restored to GCSE exams that have a sufficient written English element – eg English literature, geography, history and religious studies. The proposal is to introduce these marks for all external exams in these subjects taken from September 2012.

After these reforms, new GCSEs will be developed to reflect the outcome of the National Curriculum review.

Ministers plan to bolster A levels by giving elite universities (the Russell Group) the power to work with exam boards on the initial design and the ongoing development of A levels. There are concerns that this will lead to a two-tier system with subjects such as media studies, which elite universities are less interested in, being neglected.

Questions to think about

  • Should there be a single exam board or perhaps one exam board per subject?
  • Should Universities become an intrinsic part of monitoring standards?
  • Can competition between exam boards have unhealthy side effects?
  • Has examination overtaken teaching?
  • How should exams be reformed? Have they been dumbed down?

More reading on exam reform

For more info read the DfE’s page on changes to GCSEs  

DfE’s guide to changes to A levels

Why Eton head Anthony Little wants to scrap GCSEs in favour of a basic school leaving certificate

GCSE plan will ‘up risk of exam board errors’


Former senior examiner warns of low standards and grade inflation

Why government plans to give elite universities the power to set A levels could create a two–tier system

Exam board OCR wants to place universities at the heart of annual checks on all A levels

Courses offering insider information in exchange for cash are branded immoral

The exam system is in crisis, MPS are told

MPs ponder the virtues of a single exam board

A levels stand up to the best in the world

A levels aren’t the problem examiners are

State urged to ‘back out’ of A levels

Forget the myths. What’s the truth about A-levels?

Free schools and academies

Michael Gove has decreed that academies and free schools ‘should be the first choice’ of local authorities when they decide to open a new school. Both of these types of school are free from local authority control, they can set their own pay and conditions for staff, have more freedom around the delivery of the curriculum and have the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days.

Free schools can be set up by parents, charities, teachers or independent organisations on a range of sites - 24 free schools were opened in 2011.These schools have a large amount of independence while still being funded by the state.

Academies are publicly funded independent local schools. They are all ability schools set up by sponsors from business, faith or voluntary groups working with partners from the local community. As of April 2012 there were 1776 academies in England.

Questions to think about

  • What are the dangers of setting schools free from council control?
  • Do academies give schools more freedom?
  • Do free schools benefit middle class parents?

More reading on free schools and  academies

DfE on free schools

New Schools Network – charity set up to advise anybody who wants to set up a free school

DfE on academies

Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network, on why free schools are signalling a real revolution

Nick Gibb, minister of state for schools, argues that academy status gives primary schools freedom to innovate

Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, argues that academy sponsorship is the way to unite state and independent schools

Reform research director Dale Bassett believes that giving schools greater autonomy can boost pupils’ results

Financiers want to run 2,000 state schools with bonuses

Setting schools free from councils is ‘dangerous’ warns professor Mel Ainscow

Toby Young establishes a ‘guild’ of free schools to allow them to share best practice

Major LA pins hopes on free schools in face of rising primary population

Free school founders’ kids to be assured places

Cash conundrum at the heart of free schools

Adi Bloom speaks to teachers working in free schools

Primary assessment

The biggest change for primary in 2012 is the introduction of the national phonics screening check designed to evaluate a child’s phonics knowledge. The test consists of 40 words and non-words that children read aloud to their teacher, and should take pupils between four and nine minutes to complete.

There are worries among some in the education community that this could lead to teaching to the test and could mean less time for other aspects of reading – such as reading for pleasure.

Another bone of contention is the pass mark. If the pass mark remains as high as it was in the pilot, it’s likely that the parents of around 333,000 five and six year olds will be told their child has not reached the ‘expected standard’. The final pass mark will be sent to schools with the test materials at the beginning of June 2012.

The Government plans to publish the national and local results but not individual school scores. However, it said that headteachers must tell parents how their child had performed on the test compared with the set standard.

Questions to think about

  • Could the phonics test lead to teaching to the test?
  • Will the emphasis on phonics mean that less time is spent teaching other aspects of reading?

More reading on primary assessment

Phonics tests turns out to be not so monstrous after all

Key MPs demand change to national phonics test plan

Unions united in rejection of phonics test to screen year 1 readers

Heads read the riot act over new phonics test

Slip in status for primary science after Sats dropped

Gove champions MFL lessons from KS1

Early years assessment

The new early years curriculum comes into play September 2012, dubbed the ‘nappy curriculum’.  Early years goals have been cut from 69 to 17. There will be a new assessment for two year olds and a revised assessment for five year olds. The changes also aim to cut bureaucracy for early years practitioners.

Questions to think about

  • Is a cut-down version of the early years curriculum a backwards step
  • Has the curriculum been cut down too much?

More reading on early years assessment

Tickell review of the Early Year Foundation Stage

Primary years about to become less testing - the Nappy curriculum cuts early years’ goals from 69 to 17

Ministers’ early years changes meet with hostility

Special Educational Needs

Radical changes have been suggested by the Government to the support offered to children with SEN. The details are outlined in the SEN and Disability Green Paper

Proposed reforms include a single education, health and care plan and replacing SEN statements with a new system of assessment. Twenty local authorities are currently trialing the changes including the axing of statements and current SEN registers.

The pilots, which will run until March 2013, are designed to test these proposals to make sure that, as children's minister Sarah Teather put it, "we get them right".

Another pilot project started in February 2012 gives parents of children with special educational needs control over part of the budget allocated to their child. Families in 31 local authorities were given direct payments to spend on the educational support of their choice.

Questions to think about

  • Can families really manage the complex task of managing their child’s SEN provision?
  • How will the fall in SEN staff numbers impact on these proposed reforms

More reading on SEN reforms

DfE Special Educational Needs page

Reforms will let parents hold the SEN purse strings

SEN teachers are left to go it alone

SEN reform pioneers named

SEN staff numbers fall by 11%

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