National Curriculum Consultation Question 2: Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?

This question serves to highlight just how poorly the proposed National Curriculum has been conceptualised. Asking this question also illustrates the absence of any ethical framework underpinning these reforms.

Let’s look at both points.

The authors of the proposed curriculum model, and it is generous to call it a model, have put the cart before the horse. Subjects, with all their ‘vast and inspiring resources’, are there for two reasons. They offer one way to engage in valuable disciplined thinking but they are also there to serve the overall aims of the curriculum.

We make the case, for example, for scientific and historical enquiry by showing how these wonderful subjects help to nurture open-minded citizens who can make informed judgments about what the see, hear and read. We want history to help nurture a sense of belonging and identity not only to the nation but to the wider ‘family of man’. Both these subjects help to show the best and worst of what humans can do and help us realise that we all share one planet and we need to find ways to live together peaceably and fairly.

Having a bigger picture in mind shapes the way in which teachers and learners engage purposefully with the ‘facts and figures’ of the content. Aims reflect the purposes of education and should reflect the deep values and purposes that matter to us a nation and to wider humanity.

Secondly, asking if teachers should be free to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content of the programme of study is problematic for a number of reasons. In the absence of clearly articulated values, aims and purposes, the ‘content in programmes of study’ does not provide any meaningful ethical framework.

Is it OK, for example, for an individual teacher to be free to promote eugenics on the basis of content in science or history? Is it appropriate to use the content that involves the naming of parts of plants or the anatomy of the eye to endorse intelligent design? Is it OK for a teacher, in a curriculum that requires infant children to study the ‘concept of monarchy’, to promote the divine right of kings or the idea that only certain pedigrees should be considered eligible for power?

Teachers should have many freedoms, including elements of content and pedagogies, but these freedoms need to be exercised within a clear ethical framework. It was heartening that previous curriculum models talked about aims, values and purposes in a thoughtful and coherent way. Sentences that

reaffirmed education’s ‘commitment to the virtues of truth, justice, honesty and a sense of duty’ for individuals and society are motivating to educators and offered a form of Hippocratic oath.

The current curriculum framework, and the abandonment of the concept of an entitlement for all children, fails to provide this structure. The lack of overall conceptual integrity and coherence means we will have a fatally flawed curriculum.

A curriculum that allows primary children to learn Mandarin at KS2 but only encounter China in Geography at KS3 simply illustrates that nobody has looked at the curriculum through the eyes of a learner. When taken as a whole, there is little evidence that this curriculum has benefitted from very much intelligent design.

Perhaps if an experienced curriculum designer and educationalist had been put in charge of this review,  we may have had a much more coherent set of proposals.

Curriculum completists may wish to read HMI’s document ‘The Curriculum from 5 -16’. It was written in 1985, is still brilliant and has been completely ignored by this and previous administrations.


Please take part in the current consultation that closes on April 16th 2013.  You can find it on the DFE site or click here:



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3 responses to “National Curriculum Consultation Question 2: Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?

  1. I think Programmes of Study need to be devised by educators rather than politicians. I also believe that subject levels shouldn’t be constrained by Key Stages, or that there should be a ‘national standard exam’ at 16.

  2. Dave Peck

    I absolutely agree that:
    a) we could do with a non-political body responsible for the curriculum to ensure that it’s focus is on the real needs of the nation rather than the contrasting priorities of successive governments.
    b) the national exam at 16 does indeed need rethinking in light of the fact that education continues until 18.
    c) levels shouldn’t be constrained by Key Stages but as levels are to be abandoned this looks set to become a redundant issue. There is much concern about how progress will be gauged when there are no levels with criteria against which to judge.

    • I’m not an advocate of compulsory education ’til 18 – the money might better be used at pre-school age. (I’ve known students who haven’t found much benefit from post KS3 education – perhaps they should be given tokens to come back for more when they’re ready…)

      What I was outlining really was that we perhaps compartmentalise students too much, which has the effect of holding them back. For numerous reasons, there are students capable of sitting a GCSE far sooner than at the age of 16, and yet we view this as some sort of oddity – dubbing it ‘accelerated learning’. Similarly, we put fences around age groups, when brains develop at different rates. The reason, of course, is to facilitate the collection of (what I maintain is fairly meaningless) data – the data we should be looking for is the amount of progress each student has made.

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