What curriculum do young people need?



For the last 30 years, the school curriculum in England has been imposed on teachers top-down. Teachers were not regarded as knowledgeable and were simply expected to “deliver” what politicians decided.

The current version, launched by Michael Gove in 2013, is easily the worst. Gove set up a panel of just four chosen experts then three of them fell out with him. The current national curriculum consists of a collection of content decided by Gove himself and the schools minister Nick Gibb, who is still in charge.

It became notorious even while still in formation, when the open letter signed by 100 education experts in universities made front page news.

“The lists of spellings, facts and rules will not develop children’s ability to think or encourage critical understanding and creativity. It takes no account of children’s age and will place pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation.”

The history curriculum was denounced by historian Simon Sharma as nationalistic and imperialist.

In 1918, Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the NEU, argued against its backwardness, narrow view of skills, and reactionary nationalism.

Gove’s curriculum tries to silence students. By age 11, they have to write to a set pattern with the approved surface features (semi colons, frontal adverbials etc.). Children’s experiences and ideas, and their creativity in expressing them, count for nothing. This continues to age 16, when they are discouraged from expressing themselves through Design and Technology, dance, drama, art or music.

Gove finger

Gove’s national curriculum was a clear usurpation of power. At last there are signs of teachers actively reasserting themselves. Three teachers from the Celebrating Education project, all active members of the National Education Union, have launched an initiative to collect the ideas of teachers.

Their questionnaire asks

  • what should be the broad aims of the curriculum, and what should be its main features at different stages
  • how school learning should relate to their community needs and experiences
  • what knowledge and skills young people need to engage critically and meaningfully with the world.

It asks teachers how their thinking about curriculum has been affected by events of the last few months, particularly Covid19 and Black Lives Matter.

The questionnaire can be found here and is open to teachers of any age group, as well as other education staff, parents, governors, students and others.

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