For the love of the curriculum, think of the kids!


By Tom Wallace

So... if you aren’t aware, curriculum is big right now, like REALLY big…

But what annoys me so much about the sentence above, is IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN BIG! Well done Ofsted for bringing curriculum to the forefront for Joe Public, but it’s worrying that it takes a change in the regulators framework for schools to place such importance on a fundamental pillar of education. Now I hear what you are saying, it was because of Ofsted’s obsession with outcomes (in the form of statistics) that we have found ourselves in this mess. And yes, whilst I agree, I do believe that there are other ‘dark arts’ involved in this web of blame, which are still deeply rooted in our schools – regardless of the coming change!

More on the dark arts in future blogs... For now, why such a big push from Ofsted?

For those of you on Twitter, you will be fully aware of the growing polarised viewpoints of knowledge, or as @GuyClaxton calls it, ‘the Punch and Judy show of education’. Some argue that Knowledge is the key to children’s development. Others argue… well, the same as far as I can see, and always have. From my perspective, the tension is a result of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of knowledge. For me, curriculum is about knowledge ‘plus’…

Ofsted have cited ‘leaders adopt or construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life’

Now I can get on-board with this. (Not so much the idea of adoption, but more on that in future blogs.) My concern for future inspections would be as @darynsimon recently echoed, what knowledge is important? What if your inspector disagrees with your choice of knowledge-based curriculum, based on their ideological stance? This could be dangerous… I suppose the proof of this will be in the pudding come September. For me it’s the ‘plus’/’cultural capital’ element that we should be focusing on. 

The ‘plus’ could come in the form of many aspects but crucially, in my opinion, it has to depend on your why. Why are we teaching children certain aspects of, say… History? How will this help them in the future? How will this build upon what they’ve acquired in the past? How does this help expand their curiosity of the world and civilisation? How will this have an impact on their lives today? What about their community? I could go on and on! Hopefully, by asking such questions (and I’m sure you do) we will begin to find our why – or I think a better description would be our purpose.

This isn’t something that can happen overnight. This is something that takes time and I’m sure at some point will get messy – filled with ideas and dead-ends! But it’s something that we should give our full attention to as this is the ‘stuff’ we will fill our future generation’s heads with. We have to try to get this right. With the big ‘O’ placing equal weighting on all areas of the curriculum, it will hopefully stop schools narrowing the curriculum to play the data game. Hopefully.

Just imagine, placing such importance on your Spanish or Dance that they now become an opportunity for a child to shine and grow in confidence, when previously they may not have been given that chance. Similarly, taking the time to think about which mathematical concepts are needed, ensuring there is a clear progression through the years, could help children who have previously struggled with this to flourish.

This is bigger than just giving more time to the Arts. This is bigger than getting the right kind of knowledge in Reading. This is bigger than building on certain concepts in Maths. This is about allowing our children to experience a truly amazing world through a beautiful kaleidoscope of colour called the curriculum. This is about tapping into unseen passions, skills and obsessions. This is getting the children to give a damn. Give a damn about themselves, their community and the world. This is about giving them the best possible chance in life, becoming strong, collaborative and compassionate humans.

Now go and place that in your intent policy.

No, don’t really. Please. No intent policies!

But Tom, what about assessment I hear you cry? Well maybe not cry but respectfully enquire. Those of you who attend my Balance Hubs across the country, or may have seen me speak publicly will know I could rant about this for days on end. So again, I’ll save this for my next blog and give it the time and space it deserves. But, put simply for now, curriculum and assessment should be viewed as the happily married couple, finally divorced from data and statistics. I fear in today’s climate, they’re seen as being loosely in the same family - but very, VERY distant relations at best.

However, we have cunning plan…

Till the next blog.