The consultation over the new national curriculum came to an end this week, although I suspect the debate will continue to rage on.
Many of the new, shorter and fact-led programmes of study have caused controversy within education circles. One just needs to read the article written for SecEd this week by Dr Matthew Wilkinson, who leads the Curriculum for Cohesion group of academics and humanities experts. He has labelled the new history proposals ”narrow” and says their “nationalistic” thrust could have “far-reaching consequences” for our country.
Meanwhile, the Sex Education Forum is astounded that primary pupils are not to be taught about “puberty” in the science curriculum – despite the fact that the average child starts puberty at 11 (sometimes it’s as young as 8). As Dr Hilary Emery explains in her Moral Support column for SecEd, the key stage 3 science curriculum is also perplexing in its failure to include sexual health and disease, contraception, adolescence or hormones.
Before Easter, SecEd reported on controversy in the new computing curriculum, where the Department for Education (DfE) made more than 50 changes to the programme of study that had been drafted by the expert steering panels, causing much frustration within the sector (Whose ICT curriculum is it anyway? SecEd 343, March 7 2013: http://bit.ly/WuR5rM).
Citizenship has also proved controversial, as campaigners were left frustrated at the programme of study’s focus on volunteering and its complete failure to mention human rights (Citizenship is not just volunteering, SecEd 344, March 14, 2013: http://bit.ly/YWo7yi).
Over Easter, teachers attacked the new curriculum’s obsession with facts during the trade union conferences, saying it would lead to rote-learning and fail to promote critical-thinking and problem-solving. The NUT said the academic focus will lead to a narrowing of subjects and will reduce the status of vocational education (this issue is included in our union conferences round-up article).
Elsewhere, a letter written last week by a state secondary teacher arguing against the curriculum reforms has garnered well over 2,500 signatories and counting (see our news article by clicking here, or go to the petition online at http://bit.ly/12OhY8L). It was penned after a letter in the Independent signed by 100 academics challenging the wisdom behind the reforms received a dismissive response from education secretary Michael Gove, who labelled them “bad academia”.
This week, SecEd carries, for the sake of balance, an article from education minister Liz Truss arguing the case for the new curriculum. In it, she says the point of the consultation is to hear all of these debates.
But is a 10-week consultation enough to consider the implications of changing our entire national curriculum? The timescale seems more aimed at suiting our education secretary’s lust for rapid reform, than to allow for considered and in-depth debate. First teaching of the new curriculum in September 2014 will also come alongside changes to GCSEs and A levels – this will be incredibly challenging.
Indeed, heads have called for the DfE to extend its consultation until July. The Association of School and College Leaders says that the proposals could “create chaos” if implemented in their current form and to the intended timescale. General secretary Brian Lightman warns: “Teachers have valid, well-justified concerns about the programmes of study in some of the subjects. If their views are not taken on board, there is a real danger that implementation will be rushed ... and could result in a drop in standards.”
The big question is whether the DfE will listen. I doubt it. And with the consultation closed, will the DfE at least take on board the experts’ concerns that have been voiced thus far? Time will tell, but I’m certainly not convinced.
Given the education secretary’s unambiguous views on what should be taught and seeing his response to the 100 academics, it’s hard to see that many changes will be effected, if any. It will mean that the most crucial of reforms will go ahead with expert educational and professional opinion once again being sidelined.