One of the key tenets of Michael Gove's term as education secretary has been to reform the National Curriculum, and during the last year an in-depth review if the curriculum has been examining it and comparing it against high performing education systems in other countries.
Mr Gove recently published the results of the review, setting out what he sees as the challenges facing the national education system.
Based on the complex findings of the report, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced plans to postpone the implementation of National Curriculum reform.
The report's findings are now to be opened up to consultation, facilitating a discussion on what could be the biggest changes that the education system has seen in a generation.
Unveiling what he described as "far-reaching and complex" recommendations, the education secretary has announced that to enable "more radical" reforms of both the curriculum and the qualifications system, the introduction of the new National Curriculum will be put on hold to allow extensive consultations to take place
In a move that has been welcomed by teaching leaders, all new curricula are now timetabled to be implemented in 2014, with a major consultation now underway.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers, welcomed the decision to stall the wholesale changes, which she said could not be rushed into.
"The national curriculum is such an important part of our education system that it is wholly sensible to consider change carefully and fully involve the teaching profession in its redevelopment," she said.
"The extra year of the review must mean more thought is given to how to empower teachers and support their role in determining what works best for their pupils."
With English school children steadily falling behind their peers in other nations, Mr Gove claims that it is important to learn from other high-performing jurisdictions in order to regain a level of international competitiveness.
Looking at the performance of education systems in other countries, the review team made a series of suggestions for how England could learn from their example.
"The review team’s work has uncovered a consistent theme: these high-performing jurisdictions set materially higher expectations in terms of what they believe children can and should master at different ages," said Mr Gove.
A key recommendation of the review is that the National Curriculum should not remain compulsory for longer, meaning pupils would continue studying certain subjects until they are 16.
"The international evidence shows that all successful jurisdictions expect pupils to study a broad curriculum to 16, built around a core of academic subjects," Mr Gove said.
"The Expert Panel argue that England narrows its curriculum for the majority of pupils too early."
Subjects including modern languages, history and geography could all potentially become mandatory to GCSE level under the proposals, while approaches to the core subjects are also recommended for reform.
Highlighted by the review was what were considered to be relatively low levels of expectation placed upon pupils in England. Suggestions that pupils must learn their times tables and study more complex works of literature at a younger age were brought forward.
Currently under discussion is the idea of banning calculators from primary school classrooms to encourage the learning of times tables.
Recent allegations made by the Daily Telegraph questioning the validity of the GCSE examinations system have led to one exam being re-written, but a consistent concern is that exams steer a curriculum away from teaching for knowledge and towards teaching to pass an exam.
Discussing this issue, Mr Gove said: "Evidence shows that what is taught is determined as much if not more by examinations as by the National Curriculum.
"This means we need to consider GCSE reform alongside the development of the new curriculum."
While the DfE has recently announced an end to modular GCSE examinations as a first step to reforming the examinations system, the review panel also raised the issue and this is something which will be consulted on ahead of the widespread reforms in 2014.
A full timetable for the consultation is due to be published by the DfE in the New Year.
Posted by Theo Foulds