Question 1: Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document?
A curriculum that seeks to call itself world-class should begin with aims. The first and most important question a curriculum review should begin with is ‘What are we trying to achieve?’
There has been no public debate about the overall purpose of the curriculum. Why not?
Unless there is clarity, and some democratic consensus, about what a curriculum is seeking to achieve it is impossible to properly consider how a curriculum should be organised. The way learning is designed (its form) should reflect what it is trying to achieve (its function).
The Geographical Association wrote wonderfully about this in a former review when they said “Let us finish with the traditional school curriculum in which subjects are served up as ends in themselves. Let us dig deeper and use subjects as the vast and inspiring resources they are for serving the educational goals we value.”
In previous reviews undertaken by educational experts there has been such a debate. For example, you might examine the ‘Futures Challenge’ undertaken by the former QCA as part of the preparation for the last Secondary review. (Now quietly hidden away in the National Archive see http://tinyurl.com/bt4pxs6 ). You might also look at the work on aims undertaken by the Cambridge Primary Review or by the Rose Review.
In these reviews there was widespread public debate. For example a whole series of booklets produced by QCA captured the views of employers, parents, teachers, pupils and subject associations. One booklet, titled ‘1000 Words to Shape the Future’ received contributions from more than 56 different organisations including submissions from organisations as diverse as the Institute of Directors, Youth Justice Board, Amnesty International and the Girls’ School Association.
The current review has enjoyed no such public debate and does not seem to have looked to nurture any sort of democratic consensus. In fact, questions are still being asked about the authorship of a number of the programmes of study.
This current review asks us to learn lessons from high performing jurisdictions. Take a look at the aims and vision from countries, such as Singapore, Finland and New Zealand. It is possible to see how the organisation of subject content and guidance on learning reflect the wider aims.
In addition to setting out essential subject knowledge these curricula indicate how, in order to achieve the aims, children are also entitled to learning that nurtures skills and positive attitudes. They also indicate that this is sometimes achieved, dare we say it, through interdisciplinary and thematic work as well as subject specialist teaching.
If you have time take a look at:
Finland: Integration and cross-curricular themes at http://www.oph.fi/download/47675_POPS_net_new_2.pdf
Or Singapore’s Desired Outcomes for Education at http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/desired-outcomes/
You may notice that the Singapore outcomes are remarkably similar to the aims proposed by Sir Jim Rose. Ah! but that was a curriculum framework (as opposed to a detailed syllabus) that was built on the evidence from a national debate, widespread participation and was developed by and with teachers… and, of course, took place under a different political party.
I hope you will all participate in the National Consultation that closes on April 16th 2013.