Even the government’s advisers have severe doubts about whether the new National Curriculum will work for a simple reason; Gove is trying to force through the changes far too quickly. It’s interesting that the government released the Framework for the National Curriculum just before Christmas when no one was looking. Reading it, I can see why. There seems to be quite a bit of advice in it that appears to contradict much of what Michael Gove has been saying. For example, there’s a call for arts subjects to be made compulsory at Key Stage 4, an overall aim to make assessment more “formative” rather than “summative”, and a hesitancy to “rip up” the existing Key Stage structure but rather “develop” it. While there’s an emphasis on providing more “content” in the curriculum, there’s not the Gradgrind desire – expressed by Gove and his cronies – for more decontextualised “facts” to be taught; there’s certainly no desire for the sort of “general knowledge tests” that many free schools are trying to institute. Even more interestingly, there’s a passionate plea for more “meaningful, purposeful talk” in schools; there’s even a whole chapter devoted to it. In Chapter 9: Oral Language and its Development within the National Curriculum, pg 51, the report says: “We are strongly of the view that the development of oral language should be a strong feature of any new National Curriculum.” Blimey! Does this mean they feel group work discussion needs to be a core component of lessons? This sounds very dangerously child-centred. It is, of course, what all serious educationalists have been saying for years, but it’s very much counter to what the government has been saying with their insistence that children should sitting down in silence, copying out facts from the board. Maybe the new National Curriculum will be even more progressive and child-centred than the last one?
Buried at the bottom of the consultation document which outlines the expert panel’s views on what should and should not change in the document is an interesting section entitled “Risks” (Chapter 10, pg 55).
It’s worth quoting these worries in full because it suggests that the expert panel have some very severe doubts about the approach taken by the politicians who’ve commissioned them.
“As explained in the introduction, we believe it is right that there should be a period of engagement/consultation on the key decisions that have the potential to radically change the National Curriculum, beyond changes to the content. This is important given the pace of the review. In Hong Kong, a review process extended over a decade.133
The major risks of moving at the speed intended in England are as follows:
It may be hard to achieve public and professional acceptance of overall purposes and eventual proposals without extensive and authentic provision for public discussion. This is not just concerned with simple consensus-building but with effecting genuine change in school provision, to match the underlying aims of the National Curriculum review.”
Let’s stop there for a moment. The panel are clearly very worried that Gove is not taking the profession or the public with him in the “fly-by-night” way he’s doing the consultation. They seem to have a genuine worry that these changes to the curriculum just won’t happen on the ground.
The next paragraph is even more troubling:
“Technical aspects of the new National Curriculum may be difficult to perfect because of the time needed to integrate knowledge and expertise on subjects, teaching, learning, assessment, etc and to produce appropriate Programmes of Study and Attainment Targets. Further, it should not be assumed that the development of refined and condensed Programmes of Study for non-core subjects will require less time than for core subjects. Indeed, they may require more time due to the need to ensure that only the essence of the subject is incorporated.”
Decode this into English and you realise that they’re worried about two things 1) there won’t be time for teachers to absorb all the changes 2) some of the timings will mean there won’t be room for the new curriculum. In other words, it’s going to be a “bigger” curriculum than the one we’ve got, not the “slimmed-down” one we’ve been promised!
The next bit is even better:
“Achieving appropriate alignment of ‘control factors’ may be more difficult with many key decisions being made in parallel. Qualifications, assessment, teacher quality and supply, inspection and resourcing should all be aligned with curriculum objectives. The process of multiple, simultaneous and semi-autonomous reviews makes this challenging.”
In other words, there could be utter chaos! All these changes — happening simultaneously could make it “challenging” (possibly a euphemism for impossible) to “align” to the new curriculum.
Gove has delayed implementation for another year, with the changes coming in in 2014, but is this enough time? Furthermore, you get the sense that the panel is very worried about the way Gove has alienated so many teachers; after all, they’re the ones that are going to implement it. There’s mutiny in the ranks already — even Tory teachers I know are annoyed — will a wholesale revision of the curriculum be “bought” by the profession? There’s definitely a worry here that it won’t.
Reading the document, I felt that there isn’t much difference between the current curriculum and the proposed new one, other than a bit more content being made statutory and more emphasis upon the importance of “talk”, but there will be huge administrative upheaval. We just had a National Curriculum overhaul in 2008, why do we need a new one again except to flatter Gove’s ego? If his own adviser’s are expressing severe doubts, wouldn’t it be better to bed down the current curriculum and perhaps make some amendments to the exam system?