This Curriculum still isn’t ambitious enough

9th July, 2013 11:00 am

Michael Gove has become rather adept at u-turns. It’s the same old story – he embarks on his latest wheeze, gets the details wrong and then is forced to change course.

If he listened to the experts in the first place, he would not have to correct his own work. The latest version of the national curriculum published yesterday addresses some shortfalls but it still doesn’t meet the scale of the challenges we face.

The National Curriculum should be a vehicle for raising standards, promoting innovation and strengthening great teaching.

Labour supported a number of campaigns by teachers, parents and pupils for changes to the curriculum. We can be proud of the difference we made.

We backed calls to include climate change in the Geography curriculum. Over a year ago, I called for speaking skills to be included as part of the English curriculum – and I’m relieved there has been some movement toward this.

In December 2011 we called for an overhaul of ICT to include coding and advanced computing skills. Labour supported business leaders like the Chairman of BAE who warned that the Design & Technology curriculum didn’t include a focus on computer design and electronics.

It’s welcome that there is finally an acknowledgement of the importance of studying the history of other nations like China and India as well as British history. And following extensive campaigning by a number of communities, not least the Jewish community, the Education Secretary has abandoned his limit on the number of Foreign Languages that could be taught in primary schools

A number of problems remain, however.

The curriculum lacks ambition, as the CBI pointed out in their response. They support our proposal to ensure all children study maths until age 18, as many other leading education systems do. We would also ensure all students study English to age 18.

It’s doubtful the new curriculum will raise standards. Thousands of teachers, parents and young people responded to the Government’s consultation on the National Curriculum. Out of more than 3,000 responses, 63% of those thought it did not embody an expectation of higher standards while only 17% thought it did.

The ‘national’ curriculum will apply to fewer than half of all secondary schools. Michael Gove believes only Academies and Free Schools can be trusted with the freedom to innovate in what they teach, other state schools must follow his highly prescriptive curriculum. Labour would end this divided system and extend these freedoms over the curriculum to all schools. All qualified teachers should be trusted to get on with the job and all schools should have the same freedoms to raise standards and innovate.

The Department for Education’s own impact assessment warns about the risks for lower attainers and pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. I want to ensure that all pupils from all backgrounds are adequately challenge and supported to achieve their potential.

These changes are being implemented in a year’s time. We need well qualified teachers to teach the new curriculum, but Michael Gove is letting unqualified teachers into our classrooms. It is also unclear what support there will be for teacher’s professional development and training ahead of the introduction of the new curriculum.

The curriculum matters – but what matters more is that we have a teaching profession with high quality, high status and high morale. But teacher morale is at an all time nadir. Staff feel their professional judgment is undermined, as Michael Gove insults them as “whingers” and “the enemies of promise”

His divisive approach means curriculum freedom only applies to some schools. Instead, Labour would develop a reformed National Curriculum which allows teachers in all schools the freedom to innovate and prepares young people for the challenges of the modern economy.

Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary

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  • DaveAboard

    “The curriculum lacks ambition, as the CBI pointed out in their response. They support our proposal to ensure all children study maths until age 18, as many other leading education systems do. We would also ensure all students study English to age 18.”

    Oh, dear, Mr Twigg. You, more than anyone, should know that the National Curriculum only applies to students up to the age of 14, though Maths is already compulsory up to GCSE.

    However, this is not even your own idea, you simply seem to be jumping on a bandwagon being driven by a number of eminent scientists who theorize that their chosen profession is more important than others and who simply offer yet another “we know best” rhetoric as to how education should be delivered. You could, in fact, advance the same argument for any subject you care to name.

    Your job should be to ensure that all schools have, as a priority, world-leading facilities and most importantly, equitable per-child funding instead of the lottery currently being offered by the unco-ordinated mish-mash of our current schools. My nephew’s school has become an Academy in order to sell a huge chunk of it’s land to Sainsbury’s to pay for urgent structural building repairs which the LEA cannot fund, though no doubt much of the cash will quietly disappear into an offshore bank account.

    Your priority should be re-motivating a profession that is on the receiving end of a Ministerial and Ofsted kicking on a weekly basis. You should be examining why, at a time when you advocate more Academies, those very same institutions are cutting back on staff and facilities to the detriment of our young people.

    Just one little example. My partner has been told she must teach BTEC Music Tech alongside A-Level Music Tech next year which, co-incidentally, involves ongoing development of both Mathematical and IT skills. However, the school principal (who now seems accountable to no one other than some invisible Academy company) has timetabled the two subjects side by side….but there is only only suite of equipment and, it seems, no cash to buy any more. Instead, two separate classes following two separate syllabuses are expected to share the same room and facilities at the same time. This is the kind of nonsense the free-for-all you were advocating last week results in. Her school receives £10,500 per pupil per year less than Toby Young’s “free school”, yet I hear absolutely nothing in your words which seeks to address this glaring inequity between our educational establishments.

    Still, you seem to think that the way to win votes is to out-Gove Gove and thus you target your entire policy at a handful of middle-England swing-voters. Let me tell you, sir, that education in this country is now poised on a precipice where it will almost inevitably fall headlong into the hands of the profiteers and those who suffer will be our young people. You seem to have chosen yourself as the one to give it that final nudge.

    Much rhetoric, as usual, but once again nothing which addresses the basic issues. Instead, it has everything to do with the vague hope of attracting a few votes at the expense of a decent universal education.

  • DaveAboard

    My comment has disappeared!

  • JGibbon

    If teachers are to be trusted to get on with the job, then why can’t we abolish the SATs exams, league tables and OFSTED?
    I’m young enough to remember that when OFSTED were visiting that the teaching methods were completely different. We very rarely learned anything in inspection week, because teachers were too busy having to jump through the hoops required by OFSTED.

    Similarly huge amount of time were wasted preparing, revising and sitting mock exams for both SATs and GCSEs.
    Surely we want schools to be collaborative not competitive, in which case why do we need league tables, which encourage teachers to focus on certain groups of pupils who get the largest added value scores to boost their place in the league table.

    Seeing as students affected by this new curriculum will be required to stay in education until 18, how about we propose something radical and abolish the GCSE?
    They serve no purpose if every student will be receiving higher level qualifications two years later, even if they are in full-time employment.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    “In December 2011 we called for an overhaul of ICT to include coding and advanced computing skills.”

    A decade late at best, but nice to see you’re on the right track.

    Does this mean we can finally remove the “Communication” from ICT? Teaching a kid how to send an email and then saying they know about IT is like showing them how to use library and claiming you’ve taught them English literature.

  • Alexwilliamz

    Curriculum bah humbug. Once you have identified the handful of core skills and bits of knowledge, you know reading, writing, bit of adding up and probably a grasp of how stuff wirks the rest really does not matter all that much. Basically the really important thing is that students are taught well and developvthe ability to acquire knowledge, think for themselves and construct critical thinking skills. After that the medium in which that takes place in is not that important. Obviously to develop most of those skills will inevitably involve some pretty cool content and numerous facts and bits of info. The truth is that people if given the right tools will access the bits they need or are passionate about themselves. Here is a simple test, think back to your own schooling, now how much can you remember aside from the bits you were interested in or use in work or play now? That is how important the actual make up of the curriculum is. Obsessing about this bit of knowledge or this skill being contained in the curriculum shows a) a limited understanding of how education really works b) a limited understanding of how people work and c) possible some neurotic control issues akin to the newspeak of 1984.

    In case some thinks i am advocating a contentless curiculum or think skills can ve taught without knowledge or

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas


      I am genuinely unsure if you are being very slightly the tongue in cheek, or if you are slightly hampered by typing onto a mobile device (I hate my wife’s iPhone – it is not compatible with my finger size). You are / were a professional educator.

      The first point is that it is of little use Labour criticising such detail now, after 13 years in office and doing nothing apart from “titting about” at the edges of inclusivity, and not relentlessly increasing specialist and deep knowledge in things that actually matter. Core skills in subjects such as mathematics do not suddenly gain importance from June 2010 when it is all the ghastly tories’ fault, having been unimportant since June 1997 and so not gaining traction in Labour’s glorious new world. They were always important, just largely ignored by Labour.

      Secondly, and within my own domain of knowledge and expertise, you should be completely horrified at the very real lack of hard knowledge of mathematics, basic biology, and chemistry that modern medical students have. There has been in the last decade a total collapse in the standards on initial admittance to medical colleges, so much so that there is serious debate within the profession as to whether to extend the course qualification length by a further, and some say two further years, before professional qualification. That has all sorts of knock-on effects: who wants to study for nine years as opposed to seven before being allowed to practice? And yet, the general public don’t want doctors who are less capable in basic terms than a decade ago. Actually, it is not such a problem for recruitment: the NHS just advertises for proper doctors from countries such as Canada, Ireland, Israel, and Poland, where standards remain extremely high. It is not such good news for British medical student aspirants, but, it is the reality.

      Our secondary education system is beginning to completely fail the demands of modern life, at least in some sectors, and the interesting observations is to whether this trend is increasing, and broadening to ever greater career paths.

      I am not interested in simple tests for people who wish to become qualified at a tertiary level for complex and vital roles. I am interested in seriously difficult tests, and hope and expect that a substantial proportion will fail in order to ensure an overall quality delivery. If that does not fit with the ethos of secondary education, you have to acknowledge that sector is substantially failing our country’s needs.

      • Alexwilliamz

        Hi jaime, very difficult to edit on this device so apologies for the dodgy typing. I am a little confused about your issues with science and maths since much of the content has not changed massively in challenge over the last fifteen years. I think the point is that people coming out of uni now have experienced the full force of a politicised education system; ofsted, league tables and the national curriculum, schools are overall far more effective in delivering the ‘desired outcomes’ that this system has created. However as the responsibility for learning has moved from student to teacher what has happened is we have created students who have experienced a very narrow ‘academised’ classroom education. They are excellent at playing this game of education and many teachers have lost or never knew the point of education outside the institutionalised setting. This is probably what you are finding. Those kids could probably handle any number of tasks provided they were presented in the correct way, however they have been denied the opportunity to have to work stuff out for themselves, to have to interpret questions which have not been presented in a certain way

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          I think that what you are saying is that students are now quite specialised in answering the questions that they have been taught to expect, and that is all that they are measured upon. I am not interested in that. I am interested in how they try to answer questions that they have not been taught to expect. Because that is the real life.

          To take a very simple equation which most people face every day: the Distance / Speed / Time equation. Distance = Speed / time. Speed = Distance x Time. Time = Speed / Distance. Give anyone two of the three variables, and the product is simple arithmetic. Yet ask an 18 year old prospective medical student to perform it in their head, and they mostly stutter, particularly if you give it to them in a mixture of metric and imperial units. Change it round, and they stutter even more. Change the outputs from distance, speed and time to limb extremity blood pressure, time and a given rate of change over time, and they are grasping, and yet it is the same equation. Ask them to calculate in their heads a rate of change over time (normally a metric measurement, which needs to be converted to base 60 to obtain a rate in seconds) and you have lost most of them. Ask them to take two measurements over a minute period – which needs to be converted to Base 10 and then forecast for a predicted rate in 15 minutes and back into Base 60 and there is scarcely one in ten who has anything like a correct answer, and these are students who are taking maths A level. And yet this is very basic stuff, the sort of stuff a 14 year old should know. They can work it out on a piece of paper in half an hour, but by then the patient might be dead.

          The Good Lord, please don’t start me on memories of chemical degradation pathways, of which by graduation they should be able to compute 17,703 for 2,114 common compounds in the BNF. Not memorise, but compute by knowledge of known decompositions. But, it was once told to me, and I think not in jest, of less complexity than the taxi drivers taking “the knowledge”.

          Basically, we allow our late teenagers to pass simple exams by teaching them simple answers to simple and predictable questions, and then they hit the brick wall of professional reality when they first go to university.

  • Pingback: Accountability, Assessment and the New National Curriculum (A Work in Progress) | Gifted Phoenix's Blog()

  • Pingback: Accountability, Assessment and the New National Curriculum: Part One | Gifted Phoenix's Blog()

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