Amanda Spielman, Chief Ofsted inspector, told the ASCL annual conference yesterday that she wants a ‘frank discussion’ about teacher workload.
As she saw it, there are five ‘major drivers of workload’:
Planning appears in fifth place. But it’s not planning alone which is criticised but policies for planning, assessment and marking.
The chief inspector made it clear that what matters is good teaching and a coherent curriculum. Ofsted had initiated a survey to discover what a ‘good curriculum looks like’.
Unfortunately, Spielman appears to have already decided what a good curriculum. Using the jargon of the moment, it is ‘knowledge-rich’.
Let’s be clear: knowledge is essential. Being without knowledge is to stew in ignorance. But the term ‘knowledge-rich’ has been hijacked by those, schools minister Nick Gibb included, who deride the skills that are needed to analyse and apply knowledge. If this weren’t bad enough, their derision is compounded by sneering at ‘child-centred education’.
But none has ever explained who or what is the centre of education if not the child.
These knowledge-rich advocates claim to know the contents of a knowledge-rich curriculum. For example, Core Knowledge UK is used in high-profile schools such as West London Free School and Cuckoo Hall (recently judged Inadequate). It’s a UK (some might say English) version of a curriculum devised in the USA in the early 1990s inspired by E D Hirsch and based on the notion of ‘cultural literacy’.
Nick Gibb is a huge fan of Hirsch. Policy Exchange hosted a lecture by Hirsch in 2015. It was accompanied by supportive essays including one by Gibb.
Core Knowledge UK is available as an ‘oven-ready’ resource of the kind advocated by Policy Exchange in its recent report. If schools use an off-the-shelf curriculum and just tweak it a bit to suit their pupils then teacher overload would be much reduced, Policy Exchange claimed.
But curriculum design is not, and the Chief HMI agrees, a major driver of teacher overload. Curriculum design is essential. Devising and delivering a curriculum is one of the most exciting aspects of teaching.
Schools should be encouraged to design their own bespoke curriculum. This could be based on what’s already available but shouldn’t be swallowed whole. And there should be a degree of scepticism applied to any curriculum zealously promoted by a schools minister whether it comes from the Right (as now) or the Left (maybe, in the future). Such interference is dangerous.