For seven year olds there are specific requirements not only in the old "three R's", covered by English and maths, but also in science, technology, history and geography, which are all graded into levels and tested by Standard Assessment Tasks, as they are called. Art, music and physical education are also covered by specific activities and expectations at all ages, but are not tested in the same way.
There is still a lot of discussion, especially about the way in which seven year olds are tested, and no doubt changes will be made over time. The National Curriculum has not yet "settled down", and therefore has the possibility of being a disturbance as well as offering the advantages of setting general standards.
School reports for parents will have to cover all their child's levels in all the subjects, as well as those of the class in general, and such reports are likely to be quite complicated.
For most parents of seven year olds the easiest, and most important, yardstick of learning will remain their child's progress in reading. If that is not going well they know that all other subjects will be held up. The need to be able to read is so great that failure here is the greatest worry about school work that most parents have.
William's mother was convinced that he was dyslexic and she became involved in a battle about this at school. She insisted that William needed special help. The teacher argued that William did not have the usual indications of dyslexia and that there were other children in the class who were much more in need of extra help than her son. Caught between the two William quietly kept his head down.
The head teacher became aware of the situation and intervened to suggest that an independent assessment should be made by the educational psychologist who worked with the school. This was done and amongst her findings were some which threw light on the origins of the debate. Mother's anxiety could be better understood when it was realised that William's father had had considerable difficulty with learning to read as a child, and felt strongly that this had been neglected until it was almost too late. Although he could now read quite well he still got help from his wife with spelling. His wife was certain that he had been an unrecognised dyslexic.
The teacher, who was still quite new to his job, felt angry with a mother who claimed to know more about reading difficulties than he, the expert, did. Neither parent nor teacher was able to take a cool look at the real situation. William himself meanwhile was learning to evade work, rather than learning to read.
Reading is one of the first great tests of learning ability. Important though intelligence may be, learning involves a great deal more. To understand more of how learning takes place it is worth looking at the feelings involved. These include accepting that there are things that you do not already know, putting up with feelings of uncertainty, bearing frustration and disappointment when the learning is difficult and, finally, keeping alive the wish to learn in spite of failure.
The experience of failure may lead to other feelings, depending on the personality and the previous experiences of an individual child. Some children may respond with anxiety and evasion, as William did, others may give up through despair. Children who set off with high hopes may now feel that they are stupid, all of them are likely to be undermined by constant or harsh criticism or derision.
The National Curriculum is not only concerned with children acquiring facts and figures, good spelling and neat handwriting, there is a recognition also that learning requires habits of listening, observing, finding out and interpreting.
Teachers use many methods to make their lessons interesting, so that the facts will be understood and all these good habits acquired, but they also have to help their pupils remain motivated and survive failure, and that means managing some strong feelings at times.
If this is successfully done during this first year of formal schooling then a good start to all future learning has been made. No wonder the relationship to the teacher is regarded as important by the parents. Learning will never be an absolutely straight line of success, but it's route can and should be a rewarding one.