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Primary Curriculum is in critical condition, says ex-HMI

Ex-HMI, Colin Richards, has followed up his plea in TES to save the primary curriculum with another impassioned article. He warns that the proposed curriculum is prescriptive, content-heavy and may even break the conditions of the Education Reform Act 1988. This legislation forbids ministers from laying down particular teaching methods by claiming that these methods are part of curricula content rather than methodology. He gives as examples the inclusion of synthetic phonics and long multiplication as subject matter.

Colin argues that this is a critical time for English primary education. And it is also a time, he writes, to be critical.


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  1. Roger Titcombe says:

    Janet, Colin Richards and the comment to his TES piece are all spot on. This is indeed a dire threat not just to primary education but to all education in England. If Gove gets away with this in primary schools, more secondary reforms in a similar vein will follow.

    However not all 19th century elementary education was narrow and constrained. Gove could learn a lot from Richard Dawes, the schoolmaster at King’s Somborne in Hampshire. This is taken from

    “Dawes took his pupils to the Roman road from Old Sarum to Winchester. He gave special attention to the way people lived at different periods – what sort of houses they had, what they ate and how they were clothed.

    He taught nature through the direct observation of local plants and trees, and through the study of birds and their migration. Under the supervision of the assistant master, the pupils kept records of barometric pressure and temperature. They kept a journal in which they recorded events such as the arrival of the first swallow, the coming of the cuckoo, the earliest pear and apple blossom and the first ears of wheat or barley. . .

    In mathematics the older boys learnt algebra and the subject matter of the first three books of Euclid. Again they used actual objects known to them – surveying the land around them and measuring in a carpenter’s shop. Dawes proudly wrote: ‘Writing in my study, I heard a noise of joyous voices, which I found proceeded from half-a-dozen boys, who after school hours, had come to measure my garden-roller.’ They wanted to practise calculating the weight of a cylinder using measurements of the size and knowledge of the specific gravity of the material from which it was made.”

    His school made such a national impression, Dawes was invited to write the texts for teacher training, and he was appointed dean of Hereford Cathedral. This was not exactly a gift, as the cathedral was dilapidated. Over the next decade Dawes pulled together its finances, had it restored, and reopened it while remaining actively involved in schools in Hereford. George Eliot described his face as “so intelligent and benignant that children might grow good by looking at it” (Oxford DNB).

    To be a teacher was not and is not an easy task. Dawes was a quiet hero, always approachable, always steadfast, always wanting the best for children.”

    Dawes’ approach was called the ‘Movement for the teaching of Common Things’ and it inspired me as a science teacher. However Dawes clearly had a natural advantage with his face.

    “so intelligent and benignant that children might grow good by looking at it”

    Note that density and specific gravity were recently dropped from the GCSE science curriculum because they are considered too difficult. Breadth and balance does not mean shallow and undemanding.

  2. The should just dump it and use the one they junked which was about to be implemented in 2010.

    It was properly consulted and it made sense.

  3. Agree with this Rebecca. Not hopeful this will happen though. At best I reckon it could be delayed.

  4. It is not enough to support Colin Richards through these columns. It is time to look at how decisions about the curriculum and the future of education are made in our democracy. Rebecca’s comment about the next election should alert us to the fact that, at that election, the power, and therefore the responsibility, for where our ‘train’ will ride may rest with others with very different views to the present government. The faces may change but the issue will remain. Is it any longer appropriate that education is governed through the system of political re-cycling?

    I believe it is not and explain why at Maybe it is time for the kind of radical change that all parties claim to espouse.

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