The Thought Weavers at the BETT show.
Curriculum change is a hot topic in education at the moment and we had the privilege of taking part in a panel discussion at the ‘Educational Leaders’ conference as part of the BETT show. The topic for discussion was curriculum change. Prior to the discussion we were also lucky enough to hear the views of Tim Oates, the chair of the expert panel on curriculum review. This post represents our reflection on the curriculum review based on our prior understanding and our thoughts following the BETT show.
Before we offer our thoughts we have tried to make the following assumptions in an attempt to make our views as sensible and ‘objective’ as possible.
- The review panel have the best interests of children when considering the new curriculum.
- The new curriculum will be an attempt to give more freedom to schools (This is stated in the DfE website and in the interim report)
Prior to the show we both read the expert panel review report. We were heartened that it does mention extra freedom, learning to learn approaches and having a ‘school curriculum’ that is not prescribed by the new curriculum.
However, when we got into the ‘nitty gritty’ of the report, such as curriculum design, subjects and the organisation of key stages it soon became clear that this curriculum would have much more prescription than the current document. The irony of a 70 page report to inform us that we will have extra freedom was also not lost on us.
When we heard Tim Oates speak, this reaffirmed our worries. He quite openly told us the new curriculum will be thicker with more detailed learning outcomes. He also reaffirmed that assessment would be tightly linked to the curriculum to assessment, whilst this seems to make common sense, we think it reinforces the ‘teaching to the test approache’. He also mentioned that pupils should not be able to move on until one ‘block of content’ was secure; does this mean children will be held back as in the USA?
From the report and hearing Tim Oates speak we came to the following conclusions:
- There is an assumption that pupils learn in a linear way, with one block of content being learned so that they can move onto the next block of content. Just how does that really work? For some pupils fractions are much easier than timetables, for other it’s the opposite, for some children using commas is much more developed than using full stops. How will they decide the order for these ‘blocks of content?’ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children learned in systematic way? – But they don’t!
- Another assumption is that other countries systems of curriculum design are better than ours. To begin with this assumption is based on narrow tests (e.g PISA) to evaluate maths, literacy and science; so where the does the ‘broad and balanced’ argument fit in? We feel they are just ‘cherry picking’ parts of other countries curriculum to support their own arguments. Tim Oates also stated that whilst we should look at other countries curriculum design we should not try to copy them. This is confusing.
- Our other concern is the manner in which Tim Oates delivered his speech. In education, when children have one chance, passion is vital. We didn’t get a sense of passion from him, most questions were answered using reference to academic research. We have the feeling that the expert review panel are themselves frustrated under the intense pressure from government to produce a curriculum based on the ideals of Michael Gove.
When we took to the stage to sit with our panel, Tim Oates took his place in the audience. We discussed curriculum change and took questions from the floor. With regret Tim Oates was not able to stay for the whole panel discussion.
The key points raised by ourselves and the panel were:
- With a narrow assessment system, no matter how schools are encouraged to have more freedom over the curriculum, children’s learning will always be channelled to towards getting the grades.
- Ofsted’s remit is too wide. They seem to have the power to do what they like. Most of the panel agreed that it is Ofsted that set school policy, not the government.
- Children’s learning should not be standardised
- The curriculum review seems to have little direction.
- The new curriculum will be more prescriptive than the current one.
- A perhaps cynical point of view was that the curriculum review was an attempt to push schools into academy status.
The expert panel into curriculum change have been given a very difficult job. There remit is to design a core and foundation curriculum that will suit every student in England. The very idea of this, in our view is impossible.
With around 20,000 schools in England and many wonderful, creative and focussed professions, the following questions popped into our heads…
Why do we need a curriculum written for us?
Can’t we be tasked with creating our own curriculum, our own success criteria, our own pedagogical approach based on the needs of children we know very well within a community of which we are part?
Does the head of science need to be told what essential knowledge should be taught?
Would a new curriculum create a whole new wave of commercial products to support it?
Who really are the experts in education?
Can we really have personalised learning with a standardised curriculum?
To finish on a positive – no matter what the outcome of the curriculum review, nothing is more powerful that teachers doing what they do best; helping children to learn. The online collaboration through twitter and facebook etc will always be a more powerful force than any formal written document. When teachers collaborate and debate, children will always benefit.
Lee and David.