This week the Schools Minister for Great Britain rolled out a new curriculum for the nation’s secondary students with a great deal of fanfare.
He did it at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. With that setting, how else could it be done except with great fanfare?
But it’s not really the curriculum that’s changed (at least as I understand the definition) since it “will still contain the essentials: grammar, Shakespeare, the British Empire and algebra”.
From the way the BBC education writer describes it, the major alteration is in the way the material is presented.
The essential point about the new curriculum is that it gives teachers much more flexibility about how to organise learning.
They do not have to be trammelled by subject labels. They do not have to plod methodically through programmes of study.
Instead, they can pursue learning through cross-curricular themes. They can adapt the pace and content of learning to the needs of individual pupils.
In short, the new curriculum is designed to permit something the government has espoused – without really defining – “personalised learning”.
As one curriculum expert put it, this whole vast exercise of revising the curriculum has really been about one thing – giving teachers permission to use their own professional judgement.
“Professional judgement”? For teachers? Wow, can we bring that concept across the pond?
However, the writer has some doubts about the effect this plan will have since the same standardized tests remain in place, along with the pressure on teachers to continually improve scores.
So, I fear, schools will feel themselves caught between two contradictory pressures: from the QCA to push ahead with personalised learning and from the government to keep delivering better results in the maths and English tests.
And while he also has the feeling that they’ve seen all this kind of reform presented before, he remains hopeful.
Once more in education it seems that things have gone full circle.
Let us hope though that, rather than a circle, this is an upwards spiral and that some of the essential rigour of the national curriculum has been retained whilst allowing some much-needed flexibility for teachers and learners to go at the pace, and with the content, that suits them.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could at least talk about working some of that kind of “flexibility” into what is rapidly becoming a “national curriculum” here in the US?