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New order
Animated, Autumn 2000. Veronica Jobbins provides an update on the new National Curriculum

Any debate about dance education returns to the content of the school curriculum. The British National Curriculum has been through a number of revisions since it was first proposed in 1988 and the latest version will be taught from September 2000. The stated purpose of the recent review undertaken by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), was to promote stability, whilst ensuring a more manageable curriculum through increasing flexibility and reducing prescription. In addition they were concerned to maintain standards and clarity of progression through each key stage and establish a coherent provision for citizenship and personal, social and health education.

The new orders were sent to schools at the beginning of the year to allow time for teachers and curriculum planners to prepare for the changes. Each subject has differed as to the extent that the programmes of study have been amended. Dance has remained within the Physical Education (PE) orders as one of six activity areas alongside games, gymnastics, swimming, athletics and outdoor adventurous activities. However, there is a radical new look to the organisation of the PE document as four strands are given as the key elements for teaching across the so called activity areas in PE, replacing the concepts of planning, performing and evaluating which were central in the previous orders. They are still mentioned in the rationale for PE in the 2000 document but the skills, knowledge and understanding required for all key stages and activity areas in PE are organised under the following headings:

  • Acquiring and developing skills

  • Selecting and applying skills, tactics and compositional ideas

  • Evaluating and improving performance

  • Knowledge and understanding of fitness and health

The new skills based structure has problems for dance conceptually, but can be made to work for dance by aligning the first three statements with the dance strands of performing, composing and appreciating which are commonly used within dance education. This approach has been fully developed in a QCA publication Terminology in physical education, which gives a useful glossary of terms as well as relating the new structure to teaching dance. However, it is a concern that the term evaluating used in the new orders is much narrower than the broader notion of appreciation common to all the arts. The term appreciate is defined in Terminology in physical education as: "the ability to observe, describe, analyse, interpret and evaluate dance works with understanding of social and cultural context..."

That is helpful, but will all those teaching dance in school understand that the strand evaluating and improving performance should include appreciative aspects such as the cultural and social context. This is unlikely, especially as the various bullet points that outline the dance content for each Key Stage make no specific reference to appreciation, but focus on the development of performance and compositional skills.

The fourth strand Knowledge and understanding of fitness and health is a topical inclusion, as concern spreads as to the health of children and young people. It is to be commended that it has been placed as a strong underlying theme but not overemphasised within the main programmes of study.

Overall the detailed content under each Key Stage includes some improvements from the previous programmes of study in that there is more reference to the creative aspects of dance. At Key Stage 1 the expression "use movement imaginatively" has been included and the four bullet points given outline appropriate content. However, Key Stage 2 is very brief with only two bullet points given. These are very general providing inadequate guidance to teachers in structuring progression between the two Key Stages. The content for dance at Key Stage 3 is far more appropriate than the previous PE orders, as the structure of the curriculum has been simplified so that the half units have been removed. The dance section also has better balance between performing and composing At Key Stage 4 games as a compulsory activity has been removed, to the relief of many, and this should encourage schools to offer a range of activities that motivate young people, especially girls, to participate.

It should be noted that the implementation of the National Curriculum for Year 10 will not be until 2001 as there is the need to match the GCSE syllabuses against the new orders.

The PE National Curriculum 2000 was revised following a wide consultation exercise involving schools, teachers, subject associations and the many organisations, which are concerned with the curriculum. A number of dance agencies including the National Dance Teachers Association, actively contributed to the review process being concerned to ensure that the artistic and creative aspects of dance would be given sufficient emphasis within the new physical education framework.

It is pointless here to reiterate arguments as to the position of dance as just another activity area under PE. However, it is clear that the new PE National Curriculum emphasises the physical nature of the subject by proposing a model whereby physical skills are applied within a range of activities, including the creative. The detail of the programmes of study outline a largely sensible content but the overall ethos is inevitably on the development of skills and the physical 'doing' of the subject. Even the quotation from Darcey Bussell (dancer, The Royal Ballet) given in section The importance of PE highlights this physical aspect: "Exercise activates your brain and gives you energy for everything else, the energy to be enthusiastic about your work. So all your school work will gain from physical education."

This has to be to the detriment of an essential aspect of arts education, the development of critical and appreciative understanding as well as imagination and creativity.

However there is much of interest for the dance teacher in the sections surrounding the programmes of study and it is important to read the PE National Curriculum document from cover to cover. For instance, the PE document includes details of the ways in which PE contributes to spiritual, moral and cultural development. These sections can relate to dance and support the teaching of the arts as a vital part of the whole school curriculum.

All subjects have also included General teaching requirements in the documents offering guidance in relation to inclusion, use of language, information and computer technology (ICT) and health and safety. It is interesting to note that PE is the only subject where the use of ICT to support learning is not a requirement at Key Stage 1 and 2.

At the very end of the PE guidance document is the attainment target for physical education outlining eight levels. Each level includes quite general descriptors as is necessary given the range of activities included under physical education and may not be particularly helpful for dance.

Finally, it is interesting to look at the beginning of the document where the structure of the national curriculum is explained. It states: "The government believes that two hours of physical activity a week, including the National Curriculum for physical education and extra-curricular activities, should be an aspiration for all schools. This applies throughout all Key Stages."

Dance educators must join with the physical education world in supporting this 'aspiration'. Unfortunately recent research has shown how few schools achieve that aim with the emphasis on other core subjects still predominating at the expense of the arts and physical education.

National Curriculum Schemes of Work
For the first time, QCA has prepared supporting documents in each subject to help teachers understand and teach the new National Curriculum orders. They take the form of a folder containing a Teacher's Guide and optional exemplar schemes of work for each year, which illustrate how long and medium term plans can be devised. There are two folders for each subject, one containing materials for Key Stage 1 and 2 and the other Key Stage 3 and 4. These have been sent free to all schools in England.

The schemes of work for PE include dance units of work for each year and follow the format used for all the PE activity areas, which in turn fits in with the style and lay-out for all subjects be it mathematics or music. Thus although containing helpful ideas, they are limited in specific detail. This may be a 'good thing' as although the Teacher's Guide emphasises that the schemes of work are optional, it is inevitable that less experienced teachers, especially in primary schools, will latch on to the ideas presented and not devise their own units of work. Community dance workers involved in supporting schools will need to take account of the new schemes of work and help teachers develop lessons that relate to their own teaching situation and individual classes. The QCA schemes may be a useful starting point, but hopefully they will not result in too much uniformity or formula led teaching, where the essence of dance as a creative subject is lost.

Veronica Jobbins, chairperson National Dance Teachers Association and head of professional studies, Laban Centre London.

Further information
The National Curriculum documents for Physical Education can be obtained from HMSO, St Clements House, 2-16 Colegate, Norwich NR3 I 1BQ. Contact +44 (0) 1603 621000.

Terminology in physical education, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 1999,

ISBN 1 85838374 9

The Physical Education Schemes of work are available on the web The Physical Education Schemes or the QCA website QCA

This article has been based an a precious article published in Dance Matters, Number 27, Spring 2000

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001