Home / Education / How Has the Curriculum Changed in the Last 20 Years?

In 1988, the Education Reform Act revolutionised the way that schools operate in England. The Act introduced the framework for the National Curriculum, which consisted (and still does today) of a number of compulsory core and foundation subjects for primary and secondary schools.

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum, education in England has continued to develop. Over the last 20 years there have been many changes, both popular and unpopular, to the curriculum of schools in England. Here’s how far the curriculum has come since 1999…

1999: A New Curriculum

1999 saw the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency (QCA) – since dissolved – undertake a complete overhaul of the National Curriculum. These were the most extensive changes to the curriculum since 1988. Amongst the changes was a reduction in the content of foundation subjects at primary level, freeing up teachers to focus on core subjects.
The National Curriculum Handbook for Secondary Teachers and The National Curriculum Handbook for Primary Teachers were both published in 1999, which expanded upon the aims and purpose of the National Curriculum. The changes to the curriculum came into force at the beginning of the school year in 2000.

Curriculum Changes Between 2000 and 2010

Between 2000 and 2002, the government made curriculum provisions for early years and younger child, with the introduction of the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage and the Birth to Three Matters documents.

A-level reforms introduced in 2000 split A-Levels in half for the first time, with students required to take AS-Levels before the main A-Level exams. In 2002, new laws altered GCSEs, with the implementation of Vocational GCSEs, forcing schools to provide pupils with access to a more comprehensive range of subjects at GCSE level. GCSE students could now choose a GCSE in each of the designated categories: humanities, the arts, modern foreign languages, and design and technology.
In 2007, the government introduced further major changes to the curriculum, targeting key stage 3 and 4 students. The changes reduced the curriculum by around a quarter. This gave more freedom to schools, removing some of the rigidity of the existing curriculum to allow teachers to cover a broader variety of subjects.
2000 to 2010 also saw the emergence and growth of academies, which don’t need to follow the National Curriculum but do have to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. The first academies opened in 2002, and by January 2011, the number had risen to 407.

2011 to the Present Day

In 2011, the government announced the next major curriculum overhaul. They published the first draft in 2013, and by 2014, schools had already started to implement the changes. The overhaul forms the up-to-date National Curriculum for schools in England.
The updated curriculum introduced changes across the board. The new guidelines covered changes to key stage 4 core subjects, and changes to foundation subjects like language teaching. With the new curriculum, schools have more power to teach different languages, computing has replaced ICT, and SATs have been revised.
Recent proposed changes to the curriculum in England include the expected implementation of compulsory sex and relationships education, which the government proposed in 2017. In late 2017, the government also proposed plans to improve assessments in primary schools, which they aim to introduce in 2020.

In the last 20 years, the curriculum in English schools has become more flexible in theory. Today, schools are supposed to have significantly more freedom to teach a wider range of subjects, from vocational GCSEs to any foreign language, modern or ancient.
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