The National Curriculum Review

When is a National Curriculum not a National Curriculum? In Michael Gove’s distorted universe , it would seem. By 2014 we are due to have a revised curriculum in place but none of Gove’s favoured schools will be required to pay any attention to it at all! Or so they might think. But just look at the DfE’s line on how it will work: “The National Curriculum will continue to be a statutory requirement for maintained schools but will also retain its importance as a national benchmark of excellence for all schools”. So, academies, if you thought you really had freedom, be very careful.

Inevitably Gove’s starting point is that everything that has been done before is rubbish . So in his statement on the review, he cherry picks some instances where some other countries do things earlier or differently.  He ignores examples where the English curriculum is as or more challenging than other countries.

The Review Panel is very clear that the curriculum is only one factor in determining what standards are achieved. It cites cultural issues (especially as comparisons are often with south east Asian systems), demographic factors (such as first  language), levels of inequality, structure of the school system and assessment methods as factors that need to be explored if we are to properly understand what is happening in our system.

Overall, the Review maintains the current structure of subjects up to 14. It then calls for a broad curriculum including modern languages, both history and geography, the arts, design and information technology and citizenship to be compulsory up to 16. The consequences for GCSE are huge as it would be quite impossible to follow a current GCSE programme in all the required subjects.

This approach to Key Stage 4 is based on international research showing that a broad and predominantly academic curriculum is common. It does put the drive for new technical colleges in a strange place. David Cameron has asserted that “- “The next great poverty-busting structural change we need – the expansion of University Technical Schools – offering first-class technical skills to those turned off by purely academic study “. If the new National Curriculum is indeed “the benchmark of excellence,” what are schools that don’t follow it providing?

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the review is its challenge to our current approach to progression and differentiation. Especially in primary schools, it wants to reduce the spread of attainment and to shift the focus to making sure virtually all pupils achieve the expected standard. This would have profound implications for teaching approaches and for assessment and could turn our attention away from pushing a minority of able pupils through the system ever more quickly.

The review report is a serious and challenging document that deserves to be properly engaged with. Sadly it is likely to be used by Gove as a political football. But he is also likely to find that the review has laid a good many unexploded mines under some of his cherished policies.