What do you think about the new National Curriculum?

The DfE published a draft proposed new National Curriculum for England recently, covering all statutory subjects for all state schools (except Academies and Free Schools). It could be a fantastic opportunity to influence widespread positive change. Or...

The DfE published a draft proposed new National Curriculum for England recently, covering all statutory subjects for all state schools (except Academies and Free Schools). It could be a fantastic opportunity to influence widespread positive change. Or...

I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions and consultations over the past few months about the proposed English National Curriculum, with much excitement about the potential there was to influence positive change through this document, intermingled with disbelief at the extent to which education ministers get to take their personal opinions and turn them into the childhoods of millions.

So I was sometimes disappointed and sometimes unsurprised by the draft proposed NC which came out earlier this month. I think my over-riding observations would be:

  • Generally, it’s about teachers teaching knowledge and pupils soaking it up, just like the Victorians did (although we’ve learnt a bit about education since then and the world has changed somewhat), rather than teachers facilitating learning of knowledge, skills and behaviours.
  • It doesn’t talk to schools about the importance of collaboration, creativity, entrepreneurship, realising individual potential, independent learning, facilitating learning, sustainable development etc. or any of those kinds of things that enlightened global thinking suggests might be worth considering.
  • Specifically for music, we’re back to the old Victorian, Western-centric view of music education where it’s all about composing pieces, having a bit of instrument technique, and appreciating the greats. These are important, but so too are musical creativity across music-making, collaborative music making and music leadership, creating new genres and art forms into the future, and embedding music across the school curriculum. (But at least music hasn’t got it as bad as History and it’s good that Music’s there at all.)

In short, it’s underwhelming, disappointing, out-of-date, unaspiring, mediocre, and seemingly ignorant of the developments in education that have been made in the last [large number] of years. It seems there’s a growing number of people now who are wondering if the DfE are trying to make the National Curriculum as unattractive as possible so that all schools move into the Academies and Free Schools programme. But the reality will be that the strong schools can turn round a fantastic education; the weak ones will take this curriculum literally and churn out a generation of unfulfilled and frustrated potential.

I don’t think this is good enough. Given the complicated and often revolutionary changes at play across the globe, I don’t think we should be satisfied with a national curriculum that’s anything less than exceptional. Defenders will say that the Government is aiming for minimal prescription so that schools can carve out their own cultures and environments, building their own pedagogies and processes – which is laudable, of course. But in that case, the national curriculum that acts as the bedrock to schools’ independence needs to be relevant, excellent, aspirational and exciting. It has some way to go. I urge you to take part in the consultation!

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