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The National Curriculum Framework: What are we going to do now?

The revised National Curriculum document has now been published. The consultation will take place over the summer and the expectation is that little will change as a result. So what should schools be doing to be ready for Implementation in September 2014?


Regrettably, the overall aims in the new National Curriculum Framework document remain unchanged from the original proposals (see previous post: http://wp.me/p2wig8-8o).


Bizarrely, unlike those high achieving jurisdictions so often referenced by Mr Gove when presenting the rationale behind the new curriculum, we do not appear to be concerned with engaging or inspiring young people nor in developing the skills and attitudes to make them effective lifelong learners.


Instead, according to Aim 3.1, from 2014 the NC will:

  • provide pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens
  • introduce pupils to the best that has been thought and said
  • help engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement


The only other aim (3.2) which is not really an aim at all, goes on to explain that it is up to teachers to develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills.


In contrast to these weak, input-focused ‘aims’, Messrs Cameron and Gove express complete confidence that the new curriculum will deliver outcomes. Mr Cameron says that this revolution in education is vital for the country’s prosperity. Mr Gove wants his own children ‘to have the sort of curriculum that children in other countries have, which are doing better than our own.’


So where is the substance behind this confidence?

Will a more rigorously knowledge-based curriculum really make our young people more competitive in the global economy?

Is the ‘skills gap’ highlighted by business, industry and universities really going to be bridged by the headline changes such as learning fractions earlier, chronological history, computer programming and a greater focus on Shakespeare?

With a large and growing proportion of schools (the Academies and Free Schools) exempted from the requirement to follow it, will the National Curriculum really deliver system-wide?

Will a greater emphasis on knowledge really improve our position in the PISA league tables, when OECD’s Andreas Schleicher himself says that PISA tests students’ ability to apply their learning, to think critically, to solve problems and to make judgements?

Is it really possible that, by any stretch of the imagination, the answer to all of these questions can be ‘yes’.


Ultimately, of course, the effectiveness of the curriculum will depend upon what happens in the nation’s classrooms. The focus of the curriculum document is clearly upon knowledge rather than the balance of knowledge along with skills, attitudes and competences found in 21st century curricula around the world. Hence it will be up to schools and teachers to ensure they do the right thing by their students from 2014.


The curriculum design challenge facing schools in the coming year will clearly be considerable. Mr Gove has continued to demonstrate his muddled thinking (and his belief that his role extends into classroom practice) with claims such as:

  • students should learn the basics and only then be allowed to focus on creativity (Has he never seen young children learning through creative play?)
  • only ‘desiccated’ rote learning is boring (Presumably he believes there is an alternative ‘moist’ form of rote learning)

Schools owe it to their young charges to see through the fog and design a curriculum which is both challenging and balanced. This is a complex task and one year is a very short time in which to achieve it ready for implementation in 2014. Mr Gove’s recognition of the quality of the teaching profession and of their hard work is good to hear but his confidence that this deadline can be met is yet another indicator of his naivety and inexperience.


The headline on the gov.uk website reads ‘Education reform: a world-class curriculum to drive up standards and fuel aspiration’. It is absolutely clear that schools will not have a curriculum which deserves this rating (see the Curriculum Foundation’s World Class Curriculum principles) simply by implementing the new framework. We all know that the curriculum is so much more than a jigsaw of subjects and schools will have to bring to bear considerable expertise if they are to meet both the deadline and appropriate quality standards.


For schools, a good starting point for the curriculum design process is with a vision and clear set of curriculum aims. With the tight timescale, a good time to make a start is now.


The Curriculum Foundation offers help with curriculum design to schools, school networks / chains and governments and can be contacted via admin@curriculumfoundation.org


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