National Curriculum Part Two
It’s rather disconcerting to see that the previous post about the National Curriculum only dealt with one subsection (2.1). It’s so important that we get this National Curriculum right. We all made mistakes in the past. Teachers knew that the National Curriculum was unworkable. We also knew that it would lead to league tables that would consequently lead to poor pedagogy and yet we did nothing to resist the pressure from politicians to have their way.
The National Curriculum was too prescriptive and Gove is right to challenge this. However, he’s not right to dictate the content of the curriculum in the manner in which he is doing. This paves the way for future Secretaries of State for Education to pick and choose what they and their so-called experts want in a curriculum. This is madness!
We say this loud and clear. By all means make a statement about what must be taught in terms of curriculum areas and every child’s entitlement, but let schools decide precisely what is taught. By all means give them a guidance document of suggestions. By all means reiterate the skills required, e.g. documents that supports the learning of literacy – but don’t tell us how we ought be teaching children to read, and don’t tell us what texts to read. We can work both of those out for ourselves – with the successful outcome of literate children who have an interest in reading and writing.
So let’s return to the National Curriculum document to look at another area that’s important to us.
The next statement (2.2) says that “maintained schools in England are legally required to follow the National Curriculum”. Furthermore, the way a school organises its curriculum must be published online, and this is a requirement that was brought in at the beginning of this academic year.
Notice the subtle yet important difference between “maintained” schools and “state-funded” schools. This essentially allows academies and free-schools to choose NOT to use the National Curriculum. If Gove is truly interested in equality then why is he allowing this differentiation? If he believes in his curriculum so much why isn’t it essential for his beloved academies and free schools, or is he admitting to the fact that schools do better when a curriculum is more pertinent to the individuals within a school, and therefore schools should be left to their own devices to develop a curriculum for themselves? The level of hypocrisy is dazzling.
(Just as a slight aside, Gove has also said that much of the CPD support for schools should come from the new teaching schools rather than local authorities. Many of these teaching schools are now academies – that don’t have to teach the National Curriculum. So we could have a situation where advisers are supporting schools in the development and implementation of a curriculum that they haven’t implemented or aren’t required to implement themselves!)
Our next concern is about the next statement regarding Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education (2.3)
It says that “all schools should make provision for PSHE education, drawing on good practice.”
Well, we are certainly fascinated as to where they are going to find these marvellous examples of “good practice”. The entire subject of PSHE education has been so marginalised over the last few decades that good practice in this area is very, very hard to find.
There are two issues that we have with this.
Firstly, the word “should”. If we really want to provide a curriculum that is broad and balanced, that explores the ways that individuals respond to one another, that looks at the values of society, that encourages creativity, imagination and reflection, then there has to be some allocated time within the curriculum for discussion, debate, role-play, active learning. There’s no “should” about it!
Secondly, we don’t think that we can have a broad and balanced curriculum without these things. Furthermore, we think that these should be an integral part of every lesson, and not just confined to a weekly slot of Circle Time or a quick knowledge-based PSHE lesson.
We would wholeheartedly agree that PSHE education should change from a “should” to a “must” but this doesn’t necessarily mean that there has to be a compulsory PSHE lesson. Just as the teaching and learning of literacy should be an integral part of every lesson in school, then so too should the personal and social development of the child. Every child, whether they attend a maintained school, a faith school, a free school, an academy or indeed an independent school should be – must be – entitled to a broad and balanced curriculum that equips them for living in the 21st century as a child, as an adolescent and as an adult. They should be equipped with the values associated with and the skills for living communally, in relationships as siblings, as carers, as children, as grandchildren, as foster children – whatever the relationship. They should be enabled to be communicative in a range of situations. They should be encouraged to be innovative, expressive, enthused in their learning.
Of course, many good schools do this, but without a programme of study for PSHE education that is compulsory for all children and young people, there’s the grave danger that some children simply won’t have access to these important areas of work.
We therefore will be saying in our National Curriculum response that we want to see PSHE education as a statutory entitlement for all children and young people. Since schools already have a “duty to promote the wellbeing of their pupils”, this really shouldn’t be a problem. In a recent talk Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said that one of the best pieces of legislation that the previous Labour government had introduced was “Every Child Matters” (ECM). We had to remind him that on paper, this was an excellent, holistic view of what children needed – and incidentally children and young people were involved in the development of this. However, it wasn’t implemented fully due to the emphasis on “standards” in education, rather than what this section of ECM should have been about – enjoying and achieving.
Let’s now review this legislation and look very carefully at its content and its full implementation. Whilst some might argue that this is backward looking, we feel it’s the exact opposite. As we have said before, there were many positive educational papers that were actually commissioned by the previous government – The Rose Review for Primary Education, The Tomlinson Report, the MacDonald review of PSHE to name but a few. There are some very valid and still purposeful elements in all of these that we can take forward as a starting point for considering what we actually want in education.