National Curriculum - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

2  Standpoints on the National Curriculum

43. The evidence that we received revealed a consensus that the nature and particularly the management of the National Curriculum is in urgent need of significant reform.

44. As the previous section illustrated, despite repeated reforms intended to reduce the level of prescription contained in the National Curriculum it remains substantial. While the new secondary Programmes of Study may be much shorter in length than their predecessors, the secondary curriculum is arguably as complex as it ever was, if not more so, because greater emphasis is put on its other components—the lengthy set of statutory aims and the non-statutory life skills and cross-curriculum themes. The ongoing reform of the primary curriculum must find room for, among other things, additional time for literacy and numeracy, modern foreign languages as a new statutory subject at Key Stage 2 and a set of life skills that all pupils should cover. The Department and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) no longer just concern themselves with setting and supporting the Programmes of Study; through the 'Big Picture' they have also taken an interest in how schools link the National Curriculum that is delivered in lessons to all other aspects of school life. Mick Waters, Director of Curriculum at the QCA explained:

    We have tried to develop a conversation that encourages schools to think about how the Curriculum is the entire planned learning experience for children, bringing together lessons, subjects, events that children take part in, routines, out-of-school life, and the work that children do beyond and outside school.[16]

45. To the National Curriculum the Department has felt the need to add a raft of additional centrally-produced frameworks and guidance. Despite the Department's claims that steps have been taken to streamline the National Strategies guidance,[17] the amount of that guidance remains considerable—all of it, according to the Department, crucial to empowering teachers and raising standards.[18]

46. Other witnesses were dismayed at the degree of control over the curriculum and its delivery that the Department has pursued, particularly over the last decade. As one submission remarked:

    Initially there was a promise to provide guidelines only on what children were entitled to be taught, and there was to be no question of eroding the teacher's responsibility for the how or the particularity of teaching. There can still be no quarrel with that. However, that promise was quickly broken and we now have a totally prescriptive, centrally worked out set of curriculum packages designed for "delivery" by teachers […].[19]

Another witness commented:

    I think we are living in a dangerous dream world if we accept the official view that the National Curriculum is a light regulatory framework within which teachers can develop their skills. That is not what we are hearing from teachers. Teachers are very oppressed. […] I am afraid I do not accept the view that it is only the poor teachers who say, "Oh, we can't do this because of the National Curriculum." It is a genuine excuse: they feel they are so rigidly controlled that they cannot do what they trained to do as teachers.[20]

47. We received related calls for a much greater emphasis on local determination of the curriculum and responsiveness to parents and pupils:

    Missing […] is the sense of a pull from the consumer or beneficiary. Teachers are well aware of the collective view of the parents but they have not been encouraged or enabled to use that as their driving force. The role of teachers in meeting the needs of parents has effectively been reversed to one of meeting the requirements of the State.[21]

    […] under the aegis of the National Curriculum, there can be no way in for the notion of education as cultural conversation led by a cultured profession free to express itself in essentially local, small scale environments. In short, politicians have to be persuaded to […] return [the curriculum] to the care of a revitalized and independent profession working in partnership with a resurrected, well-funded network of local authorities. […] Along with these reforms there must be a fresh remit for the [Qualifications and Curriculum Authority] reflecting the needs of children, families and schools—rather than the latest whims of its political masters.[22]

48. As we now go on to discuss, even very strong supporters of the principle of a national curriculum were clear that the current National Curriculum and its management are damaging both to pupils' learning and to teacher professionalism.

16   Q 6 Back

17   Q 567 Back

18   e.g. Q 615 Back

19   Ev 250, paragraph 2 [Malcolm Ross] Back

20   Q 91 [Robert Whelan, Civitas] Back

21   Ev 256, paragraph 9 [Jolly Learning Ltd] Back

22   Ev 250, paragraph 6 [Malcolm Ross] Back

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