The vogue for Poland could quickly fade. Which country will be the next education fashion?

Janet Downs's picture
Poland is the new black, I reported on Friday. The country had improved its PISA* results, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said, because ‘all their pupils studied core academic subjects...’

Morgan’s enthusiasm for Poland’s core curriculum might be short-lived. It isn’t, as she claimed, just ‘core academic subjects’. According to the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) Poland gave schools freedom ‘to create their own curricula within a pre-determined general framework’.

Our National Curriculum is not just a framework – it’s prescriptive and highly detailed.

The Education Secretary’s enthusiasm for Poland’s core curriculum may fall further when she discovers the framework is designed to balance ‘the three goals of education’: ‘imparting knowledge, developing skills and shaping attitudes.’

But the National Curriculum is knowledge heavy – skills don’t have equal status. In the words of School Reform Minister Nick Gibb there’s been ‘an obsession with so-called transferable skills’. But Poland rates these skills on a par with knowledge.

Poland’s reforms were designed to encourage innovation. Our Government pays lip service to originality but league tables ensure teachers play safe. Worse, from the Government’s point of view, is that Poland’s reforms expected teachers to work out their own teaching styles and not ‘passively’ follow centrally mandated diktats.

The School Reform Minister, like Morgan, roams the world for education trends but his ability to spot them is shaky:

1Sweden’s free schools improved grades, he said. But the higher grades attributed to Sweden’s free schools are extremely modest.

2American charter schools have influenced the academies programme, Gibb admitted. But US charter schools show unexceptional improvement after 20 years of investment and controversy.

3Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools in the USA produce excellent results, he claimed. But not in New York where both charters and KIPP schools did particularly badly in the first Common Core tests.

4He praised Florida’s results – but Florida lowered the pass grade when its test results fell.

5Shanghai tops PISA tables – but we know 25% of Shanghai’s cohort was missing from the 2012 PISA tests. This takes the shine of Shanghai's results.

The trends highlighted by Gibb have already waned. And Poland is likely to be sidelined when ministers realise its reforms don’t quite chime with ministerial views.


But which country will be next on the education cat walk? I hear Australia is warm at this time of year.

*Programme for International Student Assessment taken every three years.
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Arthur Harada's picture
Wed, 28/01/2015 - 18:09

As the text mentions minsters and advisers roam the world and, of course, they have to justify their jollies. Some members of the Plowden Report took themselves for a grand and hugely expensive tour of the US of A where they encountered middle school. To excuse the money they spent Plowden argued for the creation of middle schools though, as we all know, there was no agreement as to the age range these establishments should provide. Thus we had a mix of 9-13, 9-12. and 10-13 depending on the physical capacity of a particular building. Middle schools still exist in England.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Wed, 28/01/2015 - 19:32

Middle schools still exist very widely in England, in the private sector, where they are usually called "Prep Schools." Experience in the private sector indicates that transfer to senior school at 13 is to be preferred.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 28/01/2015 - 22:08

To add to the confusion, in Leicestershire they were/are(?) 11-14 and were called 'High Schools'. They were KS3 schools followed by 14-18 'Upper School and Community Colleges'

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 07:34

So, just to check, because the Polish curriculum aims include skills and attitudes as well as knowledge then Nick Gibb shouldn't have criticised our old curriculum whose aims consisted only of skills and attitudes?

Even for Janet, the queen of the selective quotation, this is thin stuff.

Brian's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 08:02

' ... our old curriculum whose aims consisted only of skills and attitudes?'

Except it didn't.

Below is an extract from the aims of the 'old' curriculum as established in 1999. Note the magic 'k' word and it's the first element in development.

' ... National Curriculum secures for all pupils, irrespective of social background, culture, race, gender, differences in ability and disabilities, an entitlement to a number of areas of learning and to develop knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes necessary for their self-fulfilment and development as active and responsible citizens.'

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 08:14

The old curriculum had its aims rewritten in 2007. You can read them here:

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 08:20

Thanks, Brian. That sentence 'The National Curriculum secures for all pupils, irrespective of social background, culture, race, gender, differences in ability and disabilities, an entitlement to a number of areas of learning and to develop knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes necessary for their self-fulfilment and development as active and responsible citizens' was still in the NC in 2010 as this archived snapshot (9/2/2010) shows.

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 08:36

It says: "This content relates to the 1999 programmes of study and attainment targets."

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 09:04

Thanks, Andrew. I hadn't spotted that footnote. I'm finding it quite difficult to find details about the 2007 changes which relate to the whole curriculum (I've just found some subject specific stuff but not the broad framework).

That said, my own view is that both knowledge and skills are needed. As you said on this thread, they are inseparable. I'd agree with that.

I'm also against mandatory, detailed curricula of whatever sort. A framework setting out a core, yes. But detailed programmes of study decided centrally, no.

agov's picture
Thu, 29/01/2015 - 13:37

Does this help? -

in particular -

To give schools greater flexibility to tailor learning to their learners’ needs, there is less prescribed subject content in the new programmes of study. Pupils will still be taught essential subject knowledge. However, the new curriculum balances subject knowledge with the key concepts and processes that underlie the discipline of each subject.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 30/01/2015 - 16:31

Thanks, agov. My search only unearthed the archived snapshot dated 9/2/2010 which I thought was the last manifestation of the NC not an earlier one.

It appears, then, that although the 2008 NC had a 'new focus on aims and skills', it also expected pupils to be 'taught essential subject knowledge'. My reading of that would be that skills and knowledge were, in fact, inseparable, as Andrew said on an earlier thread.
This appears to be the principle behind Poland's core curriculum. Not sure this would really gain ministerial approval given their promotion of knowledge above skills instead of realising they're very closely associated.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 30/01/2015 - 16:44

So just to check, you are taking a quotation that says students will still be taught *essential* knowledge to be evidence of a balanced approach to knowledge?

Like I said, even for you, this is thin stuff.

Presumably, it would only be in the case that our old curriculum had said "students will *not* be taught essential knowledge" that you would acknowledge that ministers had a point in criticising it, or that it wasn't actually as knowledge-based as the Polish curriculum?

agov's picture
Sat, 31/01/2015 - 13:02

So just to check, you've given up on "our old curriculum whose aims consisted only of skills and attitudes"?

[I attempted to post this by clicking on 'Reply' next to a post but then the Submit button wouldn't work, just like my last post. Last time it worked when I used the 'Reply' at the bottom of the page. That's why I'm trying that again this time. I guess the Captcha problems have not been resolved.]

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