Another day, another divisive education headline. Whilst there is much to question within current education policy, there are also potentially new areas of opportunity opening up. The policy context of greater school autonomy, and emerging clarity about the future of the National Curriculum from 2014 (and the space to develop a ‘whole curriculum’ outside the National Curriculum), could be a key moment of opportunity for teachers and localities to reclaim the curriculum agenda.
As highlighted in the recent research of RSA Education colleague, Louise Thomas, the role of teachers is already changing to incorporate greater responsibility for curriculum development. However, as Louise outlines, there are significant challenges in ensuring that teachers are provided with enough support in overall curriculum development, in addition to the current focus on teachers’ subject knowledge.
The paper also proposes a particular focus on promoting the skills required to develop competency-based curricula in schools – especially where it relates to the needs of the local community – addressing the need for students to acquire, not just knowledge, but also the skills to apply it within the framework of their wider learning, future employment, and life.
In the context of these developments and challenges, the RSA Education Team is exploring ideas for creating a national professional development programme, which will aim to foster a new generation of curriculum designers, ready to make the most of the emerging opportunities. As such, it will add to the professional capacity of the teaching workforce as a whole and the capacity of schools to operate as autonomous, collaborative organisations. The programme will blend the learning and principles from two RSA programmes (RSA Opening Minds and the Area-Based Curriculum), as well as from curriculum design programmes globally, to create a high quality professional development offer that improves educational opportunities and outcomes for pupils.
That’s the idea but what do you think? Are there models out there that you think we should incorporate? What is the key to successful CPD? What are likely to be the key concerns for teachers and schools? Over to you…
With all the focus on the election there has been little media attention to the abandonment of the Rose reforms as part of the rushed progress of the Children, Schools and Families Bill in the haste to dissolve parliament. Yet, this potentially represents a catastrophe for primary schools, the vast majority of staff at which were relishing the return to a more flexible and less prescriptive curriculum; and many of whom had already invested time and energy to curriculum planning and development to incorporate the changes (which had been presented to schools as ‘in the bag’).
Time might be spent on the whys and wherefores, given that the wastage involved in production, distribution and digestion of a primary curriculum that is now not to be implemented is scandalous – especially in the current economic circumstances. However, questions as to why the Conservatives and Lib Dems blocked these popular measures, and why the Labour government did not anticipate the timing issues, pale in comparison to the questions for educationalists as to ‘what now?’ for the primary curriculum.
Both the Cambridge and Rose reviews presented the urgency – expressed for years by practitioners – for a broader, more holistic curriculum, incorporating more flexible approaches to teaching and learning, that facilitated pupil and practitioner creativity and cross-disciplinary connections. While the two reports differed slightly in their recommendations concerning curriculum subject areas, they shared a pared-down model, with Rose reducing the current thirteen subjects to six areas of learning, and a devolution of responsibility to schools for shaping delivery.
The shelving of these official plans is disappointing and frustrating. Rose’s recommendations may or may not re-emerge intact, depending on outcomes of the General Election. Nevertheless, momentum has begun towards the embrace of a more flexible and devolved curriculum, in policy but more importantly ‘on the ground’ in schools and local communities, which will now be hard to stem. In spite of the policy fate of the Rose review, our task must be to resist deflection; to embrace the moment and determinedly pursue our agendas towards a more appropriate primary curriculum. As Andrew Pollard notes in his discussion of the Cambridge Primary Review in the current issue of the British Educational Research Journal, the model of “state directed education and its systematic infrastructure of prescription, training, targets, assessment, competition and funding” is increasingly showing cracks. And many schools are already engaging innovative practice and interventions that disrupt the narrow boundaries of the National Curriculum, and re-inspire teachers to be creative in their practice. Among these I would like to include the RSA’s Opening Minds approaches to curriculum, as well as our Area Based Curriculum interventions. ‘Whole Education’, a multi-organisation programme currently ‘incubated’ at the RSA, is working to promote these kinds of approaches with support from an impressive range of educational, business and charitable organisations.
With documents like the hugely well-evidenced Cambridge Primary Review to support us, our task as committed professionals must be to continue to push the boundaries of the existing curriculum and to creatively apply the more holistic and connected disciplinary approaches so clearly required. With such momentum building, it will be difficult for politicians to stem the tide.
It’s the sort of question that, by virtue of being big, broad and endlessly contestible, is always enjoyable to explore and but impossible to fully answer.
Michael’s focus was on knowledge and the curriculum. In particular he made a distinction between everyday experience, and curriculum knowledge. He argued the latter is powerful knowledge – it relies much less on context to be of use, and importantly takes students beyond their own experience. It’s the kind of knowledge that helps people interpret, understand and ultimately change the world around them, and their lives.
But these are also the difficult, disciplined, coherent bodies of knowledge and their role is being challenged by recent educational innovations, changes to the Key Stage 3 curriculum, and Diplomas.
Ultimately Michael’s warning was that by changing curricula to emphasise the experience of the learner we could actually deny young people the chance to acquire powerful knowledge. We would leave them stuck in same situation they were in before they engaged in learning.
The debate in the hall afterwards, to my mind, misinterpreted him – often inferring (wrongly, I think) that a conservative idea about the process of teaching was also being advocated. One audience member went as far as describing him as a dinosaur!
I think there is an important implication for social justice here, which those concered with innovation in the curriculum would do well to consider carefully, and must balance with the challenges of relevance and enagement.