Labour’s Curriculum ReviewPosted: March 1, 2012
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.