Labour’s Curriculum Review

A key part of Labour’s education policy review was launched at a meeting at the House of Commons on Wednesday. A wide range of educationalists came together to explore the fundamental principles that should underpin future thinking on the school curriculum. They included leading academics, headteachers, subject specialists and representatives of a wide range of organisations with an interest in the school curriculum. It was chaired by Kevin Brennan, Shadow Schools Minister.

There was a broad consensus that all pupils have an entitlement to the essential elements of the curriculum. It was recognised that the National Curriculum was introduced to ensure a level of consistency and rigour across the country and that this remains an essential guarantee for all pupils. Several speakers made the point that if this is so, it is relevant to pupils in every kind of school.

The debate about what the curriculum should try to define revolved round the need to define:

  • essential knowledge
  • the standards expected of pupils
  • what pupils should be able to do as well as know.

 and that all of these are necessaryfeatures of the curriculum.

There was real concern that the curriculum is being driven by assessment and accountability regimes. It was recognised by many that this has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, especially in schools that feel under pressure from floor target expectations or from Ofsted.

There was also concern that the curriculum can become like a Christmas Tree – something you can hang everything on. Having said that, there was a strong feeling that the downgrading of citizenship and design and technology by the government’s review panel was to be regretted.

It was argued – and this view gathered significant support – that curriculum design needs to begin from a definition of the aims of the curriculum rather than from a list of traditional subjects. This had been missing entirely from the original National Curriculum and has only very tentatively been developed since.

Different points of view were put forward about how much of the curriculum should be prescribed and what that prescription should look like. There were advocated for a smallish core curriculum with substantial flexibility beyond that, but others argued for prescribing a wider range of content. Different key stages may of course be different.

In response, Stephen Twigg reiterated his commitment to evidence based policy making and to the centrality of teacher education and development. It was pointed out that we need to take account of a wide range of evidence – in particular we are in danger of treating PISA as the only evidence that matters. The point was also made that the government has removed much of the capacity for supporting teachers and that introducing substantial changes to the curriculum will be that much more difficult.

This meeting marked only the beginning of the review process. Further meetings will be arranged on particular areas that emerged from this initial discussion. Meanwhile, Kevin Brennan invited comments and suggestions from anyone with an interest in this project. They can be sent to him at

3 Comments on “Labour’s Curriculum Review”

  1. trevor fisher says:

    I am starting to get a sense of a ship that is sinking but no one realises this. The academies and free schools programme is aimed to destroy the national curriculum, and if gove gets all the schools he wants either as academies or free schools, then there is no national curriculum.

    how come this is not being realised? The whole NC debate is marginal. It is odd to read Chris Skidmore, in a debate being run in BBC history next month (I am the other participant) arguing for compulsory history in the NC. I am arguing against, but both of us started from the view that the NC review was relevant. I no longer believe this. (Skidmore is chair of the MP History committee and a Tory. How come no reference to Gove?)

    Gove is shadow boxing and I gather none of the existing NC working party members are being reappointed apart from the chair. So I think he is seeking to maintain a machine he can control for the moment. But if Labour is not able to see that it cannot support academies/free schools and a National Curriculum, it will drift into the margins.

    I am starting to think we need to talk of BG and AG.Before Gove and After Gove. The world before Gove is seductive, and contained a national curriculum. The world AG will not. Unless we stop him. And the academy – free school programm.

    Interesting to see if he has renewed the contracts of the NC working party, but the bigger issue is whether teh NC will survive AG.

    trevor fisher

  2. Paul says:

    I think it is important to recognise that the great unwashed (e.g. me) have a view on “what they are supposed to learn in school”. Parents, particularly those who have to uproot themselves in KS1/KS2, need to know how continuity is maintained between schools. The grumpy old taxpayers also want to know what it is we are supposed to pay for (uncomplainingly). In some sense this needs to answer the question “will this mean the country can earn enough to keep us in our old age?”.
    These may not be very popular viewpoints amongst professionals, but politicians have to take account of them – because both parents and grumpies vote!

  3. trevor fisher says:

    tell it to Mr Gove Paul, it is him who is abolishing the national curriculum. WHich is what academies and free schools do.

    Labour does not understand that the Nat Curr is being retired quietly. What is Gove doing on the NC front? Does he care? What are his current moves?

    Labour is not the only body which does not understand the Man Who Counts has given the last rites to the NC, the next BBC history magazine has a piece by Chris SKidmore (arguing with me) saying history must become compulsory. Bizarelly, skidmore assumes there will be a national curriculum in which everyone does 1066 and all that.

    The world is not BG and AG, Before Gove there was a National Curriiculum. After Gove there won’t be. Unless Labour reverses the drive to academies and free schools.

    That is the Kafkaesque reality. ANyone for compulsory latin?