We have ways to make schools conform to a centrally-imposed curriculum. That’s the message from Policy Exchange (PX) in its report, ‘Completing the Revolution’.
The government should ‘be cautious’ in how far it enforces particular curricula, PX says. English schools are supposed to have increased autonomy.
But there are ways to persuade schools to conform. These ‘levers’, which PX claims are ‘beyond government fiat’, include funding and inspection.
But education funding is influenced by ministerial priorities. And we’ve seen in recent years how money’s been directed towards favoured policies.
Ofsted is supposedly independent but includes in its criteria such government-imposed strategies as ‘British Values’, engagement with Prevent and synthetic phonics.
Despite saying the government should exercise caution, PX advocates centrally-imposed diktats:
‘All schools judged to be “coasting”…or “requires improvement…should be compelled to utilise externally-provided coherent curriculum programmes’
‘…the majority of teaching by NQTs should be based on material created by others.’
Where would these ‘coherent curriculum programmes’ (CCPs) come from? PX rightly says high-quality materials can be produced by, say, museums, learned societies and established educational publishers. And, yes, these do ‘underpin’ what teachers do in the classroom. They already do. It’s wrong to suggest, as PX does, that teachers make most of their teaching materials from scratch and that this contributes to teacher overload.
But, and PX acknowledges this, no CCP is a substitute for the relationship between teacher and pupil. And that’s where teacher professionalism comes in.
Teacher professionalism matches curriculum and resources to pupil need. And that means employing a range of them not just relying on one oven-ready curriculum and adapting that to suit (what PX calls the ‘final foot’).
In order to ‘utilise’ externally-provided CCPs, schools would have to acquire them. This most likely means ‘purchase’. PX takes a dim view of free internet resources – these are often poor quality, it says. But many are not – and it would be a slipshod teacher who chose a poor quality resource whether free or bought.
The PX report promotes sources developed by Harris, Ark and Inspiration Trust. Two of these: Harris and Inspiration, are linked with PX. Schools minister Lord Agnew, former PX trustee, is a trustee of Inspiration. All three are connected via Parents and Teachers for Excellence whose advisory council includes Harris, Inspiration and former Harris employee John Blake, author of Completing the Revolution.
PTE advocates a ‘knowledge rich’ curriculum. The PX report makes it clear high-quality CCPs would be ones which promote this particularly when applied to EBacc subjects. But knowledge alone, though important, isn’t enough. Pupils need skills and understanding to apply this knowledge. Without these, knowledge becomes little more than Gradgrind facts. And EBacc is already sidelining creative and vocational subjects.
Persuading (or forcing) schools to purchase off-the-shelf curricula doesn’t guarantee a high-quality education. No curriculum, however much it’s promoted as being the best, can exceed the quality of teaching. And curriculum planning isn’t, as PX implies, the main cause of teacher overload. It’s an essential part of teaching.
Teacher overload isn’t caused by planning. And overload is worsened when teacher professionalism is undermined by simplistic suggestions (buy oven-ready materials) instead of tackling the real reasons for teacher overwork: too much class contact time, too many reforms, too much structural change and teachers distracted by paperwork.