What shouldn’t we teach in primary?

The Guardian have just published a list of things that teachers would like to be removed from the curriculum. They didn’t have any primary representation so they emailed me and ask for comment. Below is what I sent, which they decided not to use as it doesn’t really give a specific ‘unit’. But since I wrote it I thought I might as well share it here

Despite complaints of meddling from above, primary teachers in the UK still enjoy a considerable amount of freedom in what they teach and how they teach it.
The expected standards of primary children, however, rose dramatically under the Coalition’s term of office, and this ratcheting up looks set to continue under the current government. This means that the old idea of ‘in primary we teach children, not subjects’, is becoming increasingly untenable.

Despite moving to a more ‘mastery’ based approach to subjects, there is still far too much to cover in these early years of schooling. Specifically what primary teachers would like removed would largely be based on their own comfort zones. Polymaths aside, it’s not possible to be a fountain of knowledge in every subject. This leads to the uncomfortable feeling of knowing that you are have only a superficial understanding of the content that you are delivering. 

Personally, I’d remove modern foreign languages from the primary curriculum. There is a huge opportunity cost in devoting hundreds of hours to get children to a level that they would reach within the first few weeks of secondary school. And the expectation that all primary teachers become conversational speakers in a second language is entirely unreasonable. 

Ultimately, if we want to know what should be cut from primary, we should probably open better dialogue channels with secondary. This would help us understand what they think is a waste of time based on where the children need to end up by the time they leave compulsory education



  1. I like your idea about talking to secondaries, but in my experience primary school teachers couldn’t really care less what secondaries think. Where I live this is exemplified by maths – secondary schools would like kids to know their tables, but suggest to a primary teacher around here that kids should know their times tables gets a response like “we teach understanding about numbers” or some rubbish. Kids that don’t know their tables by year seven will be behind in maths *forever*.

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