Hunt says he will not tear up the new curriculum. But as it doesn’t apply to academies, he should propose dumping it for all schools.

Janet Downs's picture
“Labour will not tear up the new curriculum”, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt told TES in June. Schools had had enough of change, stability was needed.

He’s right that the education system in England has been severely battered by Gove’s GERM-inspired*policies. But there are things Hunt can do without turning everything upside down.

First: dump the prescribed national curriculum. It doesn’t apply to academies and free schools. If it is such a desirable freedom, then extend the freedom to all schools. The only stipulation should be that schools must offer a broad, balanced curriculum. Chief HMI, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has recommended that the Government clarifies what should be taught in a broad, balanced curriculum and that this should apply to all schools including academies and free schools.

Second: stop national assessment in primary schools. Judging schools on their raw results is unreliable – it says more about a school’s intake than the quality of education offered by a school. That doesn’t mean assessment should not be carried out. But it should be formative and used to decide what is taught, when and how. It shouldn’t be used for ranking schools.

Third: introduce fair banding based on Cognitive Ability Tests (CAT) to ensure that secondary schools have a balanced intake. I accept this won’t be possible in areas where grammar schools still exist but CAT tests could still be used in these areas in place of the 11+. CAT tests would be fairer than the selection tests set by grammar schools because it’s difficult to coach children for them.

Fourth: commit to phasing out high-stakes exams at 16. This doesn’t necessarily mean ditching all tests – there could still be something like GCSEs externally set. But they should be few in number (no more than five) and restricted to core subjects. These assessments could be used alongside coursework, pupil preference and aptitude, and teacher recommendation to decide post-16 progression. They should not be used to rank schools.

Fifth: move towards graduation at age 18 via multiple routes: a combination of academic A levels; vocational exams; coursework; extended projects; extra-curricular activities such as Duke of Edinburgh Award, Young Enterprise, Scouting; community work; work experience.

Sixth: revamp Ofsted. Split the inspectorate in two: children’s services and education. Introduce inspections whereby properly-accredited HMI inspectors spend a longer time in schools and produce a report covering all subjects. Introduce two categories of judgement: Provides value for money or Needs support. Local authorities should work with schools, including academies and free schools, their governors /trustees to ensure schools judged as needing support get it.

Seventh: ensure all teachers are properly-qualified or are working towards qualified teacher status. Teaching is an academic discipline and needs high-quality, on-going teacher education.

These policies would have several advantages:

1They would shift the excessive emphasis on test results to providing every child with a good education.

2They would reduce stress on pupils, parents and teachers caused by tests.

3They would reduce the cost to the taxpayer of administering a large number of external examinations.

4They would promote a broad, balanced curriculum which doesn’t devalue creative or non-academic subjects.

5They would be a better preparation for life after school by reducing the need for schools to teach to the test.

By placing education rather than examinations and school structure first, Labour would show its commitment to a good, quality education for every child.

*See GERM: the virus that is killing our schools here. #fightGERM
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Helen Saunders's picture
Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:25

Janet - your reason for "dumping the national curriculum" is that it doesn't apply to academies and free schools. You agree the government should clarify what should be taught in a "broad and balanced curriculum".
Have you seen what passes for a curriculum at Steiner free schools and academies for example? It is a document full of pseudoscience and a rejection of much mainstream science. Your proposal would do nothing for children in these schools - why not extend the national curriculum to all state funded schools?
Surely a national curriculum does clarify what is a broad and balanced curriculum?
I agree about insisting on qualified teachers, but on "working towards QTS" how do you ensure an uneducated teacher (there are some) becomes qualified from scratch whilst teaching?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 07:49

Helen - I was referring to the immensely detailed National Curriculum as written by Gove. That doesn't mean I'm anti-national curriculum (sorry if I gave that impression). I think there should be a core curriculum giving a broad outline of what ALL schools should teach (including the Steiner ones). This appear to be what Wilshaw is suggesting.

Helen Saunders's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 09:01

Janet - the recent successful campaign by the British Humanist Association on the teaching of evolution demonstrates the need for a detailed national curriculum.
There are schools run by groups with their own agenda, not to mention the religious LEA schools, and a detailed national curriculum protects children from the vagaries of teachers employed by these organisations.
Innovative and inspirational teachers will still be able to use their talents in the classroom, but within a framework that ensures important topics such as evolution are covered.
I favour the French approach where there is strictly no religion taught in state schools at all, and teachers are forbidden from discussing their religious views with pupils.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 09:30

I've no problem with an outline national curriculum as in Finland. Within that framework, however, schools should be warned that spreading false information (eg something at odds with science) would be professional misconduct which could result in dismissal. Similarly, teachers spreading their political or religious views as opposed to facts about political parties or religious beliefs and practices.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:38

Janet, I think that I agree with every one of your proposals.

I would add:
* Bring all Academies and Free Schools under LEAs, but put LEAs under the supervision of regional monitoring to ensure that they are maintaining high standards.
* Scrap all the academy chains.
* Restore the teachers' pay scale progress.
* Do not think that you can run thousands of schools from a desk in Whitehall.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 09/09/2014 - 17:05

Janet - I too agree with everything in your post. However I also agree with Helen. The arguments about a National Curriculum depend on the nature of it and how it is used. I certainly agree with Helen that schools should not be allowed to teach things that are not true in maths and science. As I have argued previously I also believe that all schools should teach about all major religions and subdivisions and sects. This must be factual stuff - what people believe and how their beliefs affect their lives.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 07:51

Roger - as I said to Helen, I didn't mean to imply there should be no National Curriculum. Wilshaw appears to be suggesting there should be a broad, balanced curriculum taught in all schools. I favour the Finnish approach - core curriculum with sufficient leeway to allow teachers to innovate, match curricula to their pupils and local areas etc.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 08:15

I am sure the vast majority of those involved in education agree with you on this and your other points. As Will Green suggests there is more and more consensus emerging about the changes that need to be made. That includes on this site. Where have all the free market trolls with the funny names gone? I too sense that a tipping point is approaching - no time to give up and stop making the arguments. It would be nice if Tristram Hunt and Ed Miliband got the message.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 09:23

Unfortunately, Hunt appears more concerned with spreading alarm about classes of 70 (the named schools allegedly with classes of 70 didn't do so) or using the misleading 'rate of improvement' data to show Labour sponsored academies are better than converter academies. Not good enough,

Andy V's picture
Sat, 13/09/2014 - 17:25

"spreading false information (eg something at odds with science) would be professional misconduct which could result in dismissal."

I am quietly confident that you did not intend this statement to be taken literally. If it were then let us all kneel and pay (or even pray) homage to the great god, Science or might that better be the great totalitarian dictator, Science.

It may just be that the spirit and intention of what you wrote was that those religious/faith groups that hold opposing views should use those views to suppress or be used with any reference to scientific position held by the majority.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 13/09/2014 - 18:45

Oh dear Andy - Here we go again. First, we are talking about Normal Science - ie Newton's mechanics and dynamics, Einstein's relativity, Darwin's evolution, etc. We are not talking about leading edge science/conjecture - dark matter, multiverses, wormholes, string theory etc.

Those whose faith is contrary to Normal Science are entitled to their views and beliefs but they must not express them with the authority of a teacher to children.

Science has nothing to do with gods, God or worship. It is simply the only way of testing whether a experimentally verifiable proposition is true or not - on the basis of experimental evidence and in particular the failure of experimental refutation.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 14/09/2014 - 10:55

Andy - I'm not suggesting suppressing discussion of beliefs. However, these beliefs should not be presented as literal truth when they clash with evidence. One of the things I agreed with Gove about was that Creationism should not be taught as fact.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 14/09/2014 - 11:21

It is as I adduced then. What you typed was not what you actually intended. In which case you and are as one on this. I must own up to an error in my post in that I omitted a crucial word, not. That is to say, "religious/faith groups that hold opposing views should NOT [capitalised for emphasis] use those views to suppress ..." This as toy may well recall from other discussion on LSN is wholly consistent with my view that Gove acted quickly and rightly when Creationist groups wanted to open Free Schools that supplanted Science and taught only creationism, by (a) rejecting their applications and (b) taking statutory action to make the teaching of mainstream scientific positions compulsory.

You and I have always been able to engage positively and constructively, which I welcome. It is sad then that others resort to hectoring and high handedness.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 14/09/2014 - 08:07

Is there a problem on the site? The comment I made in response to one from Janet and the subsequent response from Mr Titcombe don't appear here. I know Mr T commented because I have the email notification.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.