Yesterday the government published the new National Curriculum that will be statutory from September 2014 in state maintained primary schools.
There is certain to be much debate about the content of this new National Curriculum. I would encourage the public, but teachers also, to look and make up their own minds. The national press is already buzzing with ‘what is in’ and ‘what is out’. These are comments that colour this curriculum as extremely political. However, I think what we have here is more of what the National Curriculum was intended to be. What I see as ‘in’ is a bare bones curriculum that should provide a framework for schools to devise their own contextually relevant curriculum for their own children. What I see as ‘out’ is the guidance on how to teach. What we are left with is a national minimum entitlement and it is with this approach that I believe schools will be able to move forward most positively.
There are criticisms. We are told that this curriculum comes on the back of an intensive world tour studying the most effective jurisdictions. I don’t believe this as the curriculum we have does not reflect that of the most effective jurisdictions. Indeed, there is some debate as to whether it is the curriculum that drives the success or whether there are other cultural effects at play. Even last year, Chinese students in the UK outperformed other students in the UK by a statistically significant amount.
So, regardless of curriculum studied pupil success is in part due to ethnic background which strongly supports the suggestion of a cultural effect. Also, there is the ongoing debate as to the credibility of some measures used to compare educational systems internationally. One of the most comprehensive studies, that carried out by Pearson, ranks the UK as sixth in the world.
Back to the new curriculum. Publicly disputing the worth of the curriculum is certain to have a negative effect on the attainment of pupils. If teachers can’t present the curriculum positively then why should pupils commit to studying the curriculum? It is equivalent to the teacher that stands in front of the class and begins with “You’re not going to like today’s lesson but I have to teach it anyway!” We must be careful that teachers don’t deliver this message on a national scale as to do so will dampen the natural enthusiasm children have for learning.
At the school level we need to study this curriculum and use it as the framework for our own more detailed units of work. This isn’t about knowledge or skills. When the curriculum was heavily skills based the most effective schools still layered on interesting and relevant content for their pupils. Now the curriculum doesn’t directly reference pupil skills schools must begin from the given content and layer on the skills that makes this content relevant in a modern society. The same is true of teaching strategies. If the curriculum is being less prescriptive then schools should be active in encouraging the strategies that are most effective in their own context.
Thank you to Mr. Gove and his team for their important first steps with this new National Curriculum, but now the real work will begin in schools as the teachers develop this curriculum into a vibrant and engaging school experience for the children they teach each day.