What is the ‘London’ in a London Curriculum?
Yesterday’s consultation event on a London Curriculum (which is one of the strands being undertaken by the Mayor’s Inquiry into London Education) has thrown a number of conundrums in my path – despite having been living and breathing area based curriculum ideas for a number of years now!
The excellent discussion, expertly hosted by A New Direction, reminded me a great deal of our own early thinking about the Manchester Curriculum and the Peterborough Curriculum work. The overwhelming sense was that despite the exceptional progress made by London schools in recent years – particularly for disadvantaged pupils – we are “missing a trick” in ensuring that London’s children were given access to the richness the city has to offer. There was general agreement that “schools should do more to use the local area”, that it is a crime that “so many young people do not make better use of the opportunities on their doorstep”, and that “something must be done to ensure teachers are supported to get out more”. There was in the room – and this has been borne out in conversations I have had with people from all over the country – an almost visceral excitement about schools engaging more fully with the locality. People just seem to really like the idea. But why?
Well I think it’s a range of different things – and I expect that there are as many ideas about what a London Curriculum might entail as there were people in the room. Here are just a few conceptions of the value of ‘London’ in education that I picked up on, and I’m sure there are many more:
- London as an infinite resource of high status opportunities in creativity and the arts that is woefully underutilised by London’s schools – this assumption was somewhat called into question by many of the cultural and heritage organisations admitting that they are already at capacity, although this may not be representative
- London as an entitlement for London’s young people – the above problem of capacity throws into question whether it is feasible to have an entitlement of engagement with such institutions for all children in London
- London as a source of pedagogical opportunity for new ways of curriculum delivery – this is something that came out of our own work on the Manchester Curriculum as well, and out of the practice of Opening Minds schools
- London as a rich source of cultural and linguistic diversity to be drawn upon – Dr Charmian Kenner has done fascinating work linking complementary schools with mainstream education in order to make better use of the resource available in families and communities and made this point powerfully yesterday
- London as a source of identity for young people to become aware of and be able to use confidently – this is something that Tony Little, the lead panel member for this strand of work, was very keen on. If it is to work, however, then serious attention will need to be paid to the existing sources of identity and attachment to place among young people, as simply showing them some museums and telling them how wonderful ‘London’ is is unlikely to have much effect, in part because…
- London as a place where young people face ‘post-code’ barriers to physical mobility around the city or even within boroughs – this is something brought up by the young people from the GLA peer consultation group who gave a powerful presentation on what a London Curriculum might be able to do for young people in the city. Again, simply bussing children into central London is unlikely to challenge the serious and real barriers to young people taking ownership of London and its future, and careful thought will be required if this is something that the London Curriculum aspires to achieve
- London as a repository of some of the best science and culture in the world, and so valued as that rather than as a a place in itself – deputy mayor Munira Mirza posited the idea that a standard ‘area based curriculum’ approach was perhaps not relevant in London because in London you get access to the whole world, rather than just to one place like in Peterborough or Manchester. This begs the question of whether students in the capital should necessary get preferential access to opportunities above children from other places in the country, but also reveals the challenges people have in recognising the undervaluing of other localities in terms of learning which our own Area Based Curriculum work has tried to challenge. Leaving to one side the inevitable disagreements on this point, however, this comment begs the main question for me, which is:
In this piece of work, is London simply to be a resource for schools to use to pursue existing educational aims, or itself an object of enquiry? Or both?
And if London is to be treated as an object of enquiry, are those leading this open to allowing this to mean more than teaching children about what is already known and valued, and allowing them to research, enquire, reflect, explore and critique and reinvent ‘London’ for themselves?
The reasons why one might link schools with localities are complex and multiple – and not all of them are mutually reinforcing. For this reason it’s really important that we’re clear about the underpinning ideas and assumptions in any such endeavour – otherwise we might end up undermining our own goals.
The size and scope of any GLA-backed idea of a ‘London Curriculum’ is beyond what I can think about at this time of the week. But I do think that the London Curriculum will have missed a trick if it doesn’t go beyond questions of London as a box of resources, and pre-determined knowledge. It’s an idea with enormous potential, and wide backing. Let’s be ambitious!