Labour Curriculum Review – have your say

The Labour Party curriculum review is now well under way and SEA and the party are keen to gather views as widely as possible.

Following the initial consultation meetings, some key questions about the future of the school curriculum have been identified.  Please think about letting us have your views on as many of the questions as you wish.

To comment, either make a response on this blog or e mail socialisteducation@virginmedia.com.

The next stage in the review will be to publish a draft review document in early June. Details will be on this blog as soon as they are available.

The key questions on which the party is seeking views are: 

  1. Do we still need a National Curriculum?
  2. If we do, should it apply to all state funded schools?
  3. How do you react to the proposals from the government’s review ?
  4. What is the proper place for political decision making, professional decision making at a national level and decision making at school level about the curriculum?
  5. Do we need to look again at the transition from early years to Key Stage 1?
  6. Should all curriculum areas (however defined) by compulsory up to 14? If so, how much flexibility should there be for schools and how can a National Curriculum be designed which ensures that there is space for innovation by schools?
  7. How can a National Curriculum support the development of things like personal qualities and attitudes and dispositions – which are often highly valued by employers? Or should the curriculum restrict itself to knowledge and skills?
  8. How detailed should a National Curriculum be – should some areas be more detailed than others?
  9. What should be the compulsory elements of the curriculum at Key Stage 4?
  10. What kinds of vocational courses and qualifications are appropriate at Key Stage 4?
  11. Is there a case for radical change of assessment at 16+? If so what might an alternative look like?
  12. Given that parents and the wider public now expect to have a lot of information about schools, how can we measure what schools are achieving for their pupils without narrowing the curriculum through “teaching to the test”?
  13. Do you agree with the Secretary of State and HMCI that expectations for age 11 should be higher than at present?
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2 Comments on “Labour Curriculum Review – have your say”

  1. Tim Taylor says:

    1. Do we still need a National Curriculum?
    – Yes, I believe although there have been problems (particularly with the politicisation and the narrowing caused by SATS) the NC has been a good thing.

    2. If we do, should it apply to all state funded schools?
    – Yes, definitely
    3. How do you react to the proposals from the government’s review ?
    – With tired resignation
    4. What is the proper place for political decision making, professional decision making at a national level and decision making at school level about the curriculum?
    – Politicians should only be involved at a cursory level. Doctors don’t consult MPs over treatment in hospitals, teachers shouldn’t have to consult (let alone take instruction) from MPs over pedagogy. The content of any future curriculum should be left to professionals – school leaders, educationalists, researchers and teachers.
    5. Do we need to look again at the transition from early years to Key Stage 1?
    – not really. I work in an infant school and the transition is very good. The problem (again) is with the expectations at the end of KS1 which squeezes out good practice in favour of reading and writing skills, which some children are not ready for and so learn very little, very slowly. We should take a much closer look at other European countries who protect children from politicians who want to score points in the Daily Mail by using phonics tests and ‘driving up standards’ by forcing teachers to teach children skills before they are ready to learn them. I refer you to my previous answer – doctors/medicine, teachers/pedagogy.
    6. Should all curriculum areas (however defined) by compulsory up to 14? If so, how much flexibility should there be for schools and how can a National Curriculum be designed which ensures that there is space for innovation by schools?
    – Yes it should be compulsory and schools should be free to offer curriculum activities that best suit their students – all their students, not just those academically inclined. We do our young people a very great disservice if we limit their options by concentrating only on academic accomplishment rather than providing a wide range of experiences at school including sport, trades, arts, drama, music and outdoor activities. Learning something useful at school – like driving, electrics, vehicle maintenance – or sharing formative experiences – being part of a team, playing in band, climbing a mountain – could for many young people be the thing they remember most and find most useful after school. It could be the thing that helps them find learning something they do rather than something done to them. In my experience students who are happy, have some agency over what happens to them and some say in the shape and direction of the curriculum, learn best and learn quicker. And more importantly want to learn. I find it sad that we put so much pressure on children to read and write that by the time they can they no longer want to.
    7. How can a National Curriculum support the development of things like personal qualities and attitudes and dispositions – which are often highly valued by employers? Or should the curriculum restrict itself to knowledge and skills?
    – The answer is to follow an inquiry led curriculum where the learners shape the direction of their learning, working together in a community of learners, sharing common experiences. Learning happens best in context, with purposeful and meaningful outcomes. The great mis-understanding of SEAL was that qualities, values and dispositions could be taught in isolation as stand alone lessons. This is fundamentally flawed pedagogy and a huge misunderstanding. The whole SEAL project was a perfect example of what happens if you don’t think through the pedagogy as well as the curriculum. There is no reason why there should be a dichotomy between learning skills/dispositions and learning content (knowledge) as long as the learning happens in context. I have found an imaginative-inquiry approach the most effective like mantle of the expert – http://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/
    8. How detailed should a National Curriculum be – should some areas be more detailed than others?
    – That should be decided by specialist committees with the task of deciding based on research and professional experience – the committees should (but never do) include practicing teachers or at least teachers with recent and relevant classroom experience
    9. What should be the compulsory elements of the curriculum at Key Stage 4?
    – I’m not qualified to answer
    10. What kinds of vocational courses and qualifications are appropriate at Key Stage 4? – ditto
    11. Is there a case for radical change of assessment at 16+? If so what might an alternative look like?
    -ditto
    12. Given that parents and the wider public now expect to have a lot of information about schools, how can we measure what schools are achieving for their pupils without narrowing the curriculum through “teaching to the test”?
    – the ‘million dollar question’. To begin with there needs to be a much more intelligent debate about the value of empirical evidence in measuring the success of schools. The value of SATS is now completely discredited. Having been a teacher who over the last twenty years has taught both year 6 and year 2 I can testify to the damage SATS do to: the breadth of the curriculum, the depth of children’s learning, the narrowness and injustice of the inspection process, the cost (in unnecessary stress on children and families) and the perception of the community of the job done by schools outside the very narrow band of academic skills tested by SATS. However, the problem is even wider than this. Target setting, base lines, and valued added scores based on spurious data that bears very little correlation across time forces school leaders and teachers to adopt teaching strategies that are corrupt and unethical, serving the needs of politicians more than children. The answer to this problem (like the one on dispositions v knowledge) has been around for years. 1. Take the whole debate outside politics; 2. Use formative assessment methods in schools not high stake tests; 3. Return to school inspections based on school effectiveness not test results; 4. Get rid of league tables – both stupid and misleading; 5. Be honest with parents and students – not every child is academic, many children and adults find success in other ways, we should celebrate this and support it, not denigrate young people if they find academic study difficult. By forcing young people to reach a mile stone in reading, writing and maths by a certain age – when they might not be ready – we are abusing our role as adults. It is not in their interests, only in ours. and it is, quite simply a form of child abuse.
    13. Do you agree with the Secretary of State and HMCI that expectations for age 11 should be higher than at present?
    – yes, but not in the way he means it.

    If you would like more detail on the things I have said, please let me know.

  2. Ralph Leighton says:

    1. Do we still need a National Curriculum?
    – Yes. One which applies to all schools and is centred on what young people need, not on what employers think they want.
    2. If we do, should it apply to all state funded schools?
    – Absolutely
    3. How do you react to the proposals from the government’s review ?
    – Anger
    4. What is the proper place for political decision making, professional decision making at a national level and decision making at school level about the curriculum?
    Political decision making regarding education should be made by local authorities with local accountability. There is no place for vested financial interest nor the machinations and whims of central government of any party. The content of the curriculum should be left to professionals – teachers, teaching assistants, educationalists, and researchers – with input from pupils and other learners.
    5. Do we need to look again at the transition from early years to Key Stage 1?
    Only as far as the removal of the unquestioning advocacy of systematic synthetic phonics. There is overwhelming evidence that one approach to learning anything excludes the majority of learners.
    6. Should all curriculum areas (however defined) by compulsory up to 14? If so, how much flexibility should there be for schools and how can a National Curriculum be designed which ensures that there is space for innovation by schools?
    If the compulsory curriculum applies to, for example, 80% of teaching time, the balance can be developed by schools and LEAs with an understanding of specific local requirements and opportunities. The Scottinsh strategy of an advisory curriculum is worth considering.
    7. How can a National Curriculum support the development of things like personal qualities and attitudes and dispositions – which are often highly valued by employers? Or should the curriculum restrict itself to knowledge and skills?
    – Why should we make a fetish of employers’ requirements? An inquiry-led curriculum would allow learners to collaborate and learn together, developing skills and understanding beyond those predetermined by teachers and policy makers.
    8. How detailed should a National Curriculum be – should some areas be more detailed than others?
    – The ‘soft touch’ Citizenship curriculum (2002) which arose from the Crick Report (1998) is an excellent template for other subjects.
    9. What should be the compulsory elements of the curriculum at Key Stage 4?
    – If the requirement is for a balanced and rounded curriculum:- a creative subject (Art, DT, Music), a humanity (geography, history, RE), a language other than English, a science (or combined sciences), Citizenship, English, ICT, Mathematics, PE.
    – If the requirement is to enable learners to develop their strengths while having access to an essential core:- Citizenship, English, Mathematics.
    What matters more is the content and pedagogy rather than the subject title.
    10. What kinds of vocational courses and qualifications are appropriate at Key Stage 4? – Beyond my expertise.
    11. Is there a case for radical change of assessment at 16+? If so what might an alternative look like?
    – Not really. As a former chief examiner I found the combination of examination and course work was highly effective in stratifying pupil achievement, if that is what education is for. I believe it is for a great deal more than that.
    12. Given that parents and the wider public now expect to have a lot of information about schools, how can we measure what schools are achieving for their pupils without narrowing the curriculum through “teaching to the test”?
    – Why ‘measure’? A great deal of effective learning is intangible, or at least not quantifiable. the ‘million dollar question’. Target setting and summative assessment limit creativity and statistics relating to these are easily manipulated. Scrap SATS and offer progress data.
    13. Do you agree with the Secretary of State and HMCI that expectations for age 11 should be higher than at present?
    – Expectations should be totally different; ‘higher’ should have no meaning here.