Tomorrow the redoubtable Geoff Dean is coming to talk to headteachers in MK about the way our curriculum should reflect, the past, the future and the type of schools we are.

In the meantime, 100 academics, including Professor Michael Bassey from Nottingham Trent University, interviewed this morning on Radio 4, have launched a full frontal assault, in a letter to the Independent, on Gove’s new curriculum proposals, pointing out all the obvious stuff, but more cogently, pulling together a lot of wider concerns and giving them the backing of serious people who have looked at a serious subject seriously. Here is a snippet from the letter, which I suspect is put in populist language so that other Tories will be able to grasp it:

Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.

The new curriculum is extremely narrow. The mountains of detail for English, maths and science leave little space for other learning. Speaking and listening, drama and modern media have almost disappeared from English.

This curriculum betrays a serious distrust of teachers, in its amount of detailed instructions, and the Education Secretary has repeatedly ignored expert advice. Whatever the intention, the proposed curriculum for England will result in a “dumbing down” of teaching and learning.

It goes on to say, more pertinently,

Mr Gove has clearly misunderstood England’s decline in Pisa international tests. Schools in high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning.

This last point is a critical issue. The new curriculum ignores pretty much everything that neuroscience, brain-based learning, studies in cognitive psychology and new approaches to pedagogy have taught us.

The DfE, of course, know better and have their own experts, 400 of them, that they consulted. How they managed to avoid 100 people saying almost the opposite demonstrates their skill at consultation. This is the unnamed spokesperson’s reply (not using populist language, note):

This distinction made by the signatories between knowledge and skills is a false dichotomy. The new curriculum is based on careful analysis of the world’s most successful school system. We are giving schools more freedom over the curriculum and teaching, not less. We are reforming the exam system to test deeper cognitive skills such as mathematical problem-solving and extended writing, which are neglected now, but these skills… depend on solid foundations.

A couple of questions for this unnamed woman:

  1. Where has she been working for the last 15 years that she has not seen the emphasis on extended writing and mathematical problem-solving that schools have been doing as a direct result of the National Numeracy and Literacy Strategies?
  2. How does the desire for freedom in the school curriculum tally with the tenor and language of her tart reply and the language used in the curriculum itself?

For a more detailed attack on one subject, history, it is worth following this link to Grant Bage’s more sideways-on assault of the proposals. I got this sent on from Robin Alexander last Friday – very much worth a read, especially if you’re a historian.

16 April is the deadline for the DfE consultation on the new proposals to be sent in. Only 5763 people responded to the first review last year. Interestingly, the NUT and NASUWT, in announcing their plans for more industrial action over the summer and stretching into the autumn, do not mention this curriculum at all in their list of grievances. Is it that teachers now really do not care what they teach????? Are their own terms and conditions actually more important than what they are doing and giving to children’s minds? If so, then sorry, they are quite possibly in the wrong job. There may be a spokesperson’s post at the DfE available if you can master long words like dichotomy. You will not be required to understand the word curriculum.




About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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