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A Broken System Change Needed

ATL report: national curriculum needs fundamental change

A detailed and important critique of the National Curriculum which seeks to understand not only where we should be going but where we’ve come from in education, and how we got here

In 2007 the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ALT, now joined with the NUT to become the National Education Union) published a book Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum.

Why are we radical? Because we believe that things are so broken that they cannot be mixed by half measures.

ATL General Secretary Dr Mary Bousted

“That is why we advocate a skills based curriculum. One that is focused on communication, physical, interpersonal skills and thinking and learning skills. All essential components of the educated person able to think and act effectively in the twenty first century.”

The book looks in depth at how our national curriculum has come about, the different influences that have shaped it and the criticisms of it. It is important to understand the history in order to understand that it isn’t immutable. “A young teacher starting work in 2007 would never have known a time when the school curriculum was not a tightly regulated, centrally imposed ‘given’. Their experience, from their own schooldays to their very first foray into the classroom as a fledgling professional, would have been in the context of a nationally determined and prescriptive curriculum.”

“The content of the proposed national curriculum owed more to the past than to the future. It was almost entirely concerned with subject content. The ten subjects, eleven in Wales, were decided upon by the Secretary of State, Kenneth Baker, based on principles to which none were privy”

“We want to create opportunities for success, not the certainty of failure. This is the moral purpose of schools and the social purpose which is vital to the future of our society. And this is currently subverted by a narrow-minded concentration on learning facts, testing them and forgetting them. In this book, we have given a number of examples of the many schools in England that are heroically trying to subvert the system and to provide learning opportunities which suit their pupils.”

“Research from ATL demonstrates that the most effective teachers are those who are able to create a classroom dynamic in which pupils develop a sense of ownership. This is very difficult to achieve, however, when the knowledge content to be covered is so tightly prescribed. This work also confirms how much the present regime is resented by pupils.”

“To this day, Ofsted is at the hub of a machine whose business is to churn out orthodoxy and compliance, whilst pretending that it is an independent body interested only in quality, washing its hands of its own effects on school practice.”
The National Education Union puts forward a new vision for the National Curriculum, based (as many have called for) on skills not knowledge.

“The major difference from previous curriculum models is that it should consider the needs of the whole person without assuming that the academic or intellectual aspects should have a higher status than the others. The first truly comprehensive curriculum should rebalance the academic, situated in the mind, against those parts of humanity situated in the body, the heart and the soul. Curricula may well be designed by people for whom the mind predominates, but those designers should see that the twenty-first century requires a population with higher levels of social, emotional and moral performance, and a regenerated capacity for doing and making.”

“Under the proposals there would be less uniformity in terms of the knowledge acquired by pupils. This would be a good thing: not only would pupils be likely to remember more because of the more active pedagogy and their increased ownership of learning, but the total national stock of knowledge would increase. The entitlement for all pupils would be to the skills they need.”

The proposal outlined is not one for which there is unanimous support amongst members of the union, but they ask that members be involved in the discussion. The one thing that is certain, they say, is that there must be change.

“Let’s have proper scrutiny, not the swapping of commonplace insults. Let’s agree the future for our young people needs that proper debate. But let’s all agree on one thing: the present curriculum must be subject to change.”

Read it in full: Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum.

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