The more the new National Curriculum Review is scrutinised by teachers, the more it looks like common “progressive” sense. It is certainly not the step back to the 1950s that Michael Gove clearly wanted, but is actually a very sensible document which is full of ideas to make the curriculum much more “child-centred” and “teacher-friendly”. Ironically, one of the reasons why it is so enlightened is because it’s looked very carefully at the highest performing countries in PISA — (Programme for International Student Assessment) which is an international study which began in the year 2000. It aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in participating countries/economies. Since the year 2000 over 70 countries and economies have participated in PISA.
Michael Gove has consistently used PISA as a stick to beat the teaching profession with, saying we are slipping down the “international league” tables. However, it appears that the top performing jurisdictions are ones that have a very “child-centred” approach to education; where the onus is not on the teacher being a strict disciplinarian, leaping around in front of a black board, but where children are expected to discover knowledge for themselves within carefully structured and managed environments of learning. The new National Curriculum Review recognises this, putting “oral development” at the centre of the curriculum. It is very different in tone to many of the curricula that are being promoted on many new free school websites and, indeed, many academies where there is a heavy emphasis on “chalk and (teacher) talk”, rote-learning, and punitive discipline systems.
Furthermore, it is very sceptical of obsessively measuring children’s learning. In Chapter 8, the report says: “constant assessment to levels is itself over-burdensome, obscures the genuine strengths and weaknesses in a pupil’s attainment, obscures parental understanding of the areas in which they might best support their child’s learning, and likewise, weakens teachers’ clear understanding and identification of pupils’ specific weaknesses or misunderstandings.” Does this mean that National Curriculum levels will be scrapped? I think many teachers would be happy about this; a system which wasn’t so obsessed with league tables, exams and always measuring children’s achievements in a somewhat nonsensical numeric form would certainly be a better and fairer one. I attended a conference this Saturday given by the London Association of English Teachers (LATE) on speaking and listening, where some researchers from the University of East London spoke rather brilliantly of their research which shows that when teachers take a step back and encourage conversation rather than hijack and dominate it, then real learning takes place. They were recommending that teachers should video tape their interactions with groups of children and then watch the videos carefully, looking at the ways in which they were asking questions and fostering a debate. The conference conclusively showed that an overly prescriptive approach can shut down debate and thus inhibit learning.
At the end of the conference, the General Secretary of LATE, John Wilks spoke eloquently about the new National Curriculum, pointing out its progressive suggestions and wondering whether Michael Gove would actually adopt them. Many other teachers there were wondering this too. The teaching profession is holding its breath…What will Gove do? Will he decide to listen to the ignoramuses who blog for the right-wing press or pay attention to his panel of experts who actually know what they are talking about?