Subjects or competencies - a false dichotomy?


  • Curriculum

I’m slightly nervous ahead of a date to appear on Teachers’ TV this evening to talk about the curriculum and, in particular, discrete subjects versus cross curricular teaching. Two of the other panellists – Professor Alan Smithers and Mick Waters of the QCA are national experts on the curriculum, while a third, Phil O’Hear, is an Academy head teacher and a man of outspoken, if not always consistent, opinions. Fortunately the presence of Saira Khan, a runner up from the Apprentice, means I’m not the only enthusiastic amateur.

Opening Minds at the RSA

So what are some of the arguments I will be hoping to make?

Whatever system is in place the quality of teaching is key; good teachers make dull content sing, bad teachers drain the life out of the most fascinating material;

Cross curricular competencies and the acquisition of subject knowledge can and do go together, but competency and project based learning can situate knowledge in ways which make it more relevant and powerful for learners. This approach also makes it possible for learners to understand and shape the ways they learn, something which research shows helps motivation;

The world is not divided up into neat subjects. To take one example I gave last week in my blog - to develop a model of human decision making we need knowledge from science and social science, and we could do worse then consider the insights of philosophy and literature. If children are to be engaged by real world problems and issues this is likely to mean crossing subject boundaries;

Some subjects, arguably, for example geography, have as much value as sub-disciplines of other subjects as pure disciplines in themselves.

These are tough times for moderately good teachers. When I was young I was more deferential and more used to having information provided in the limited ways the providers offered (I watched the boring bits of Blue Peter to get to the interesting bits). Recently OFSTED remarked that far too many lessons are simply boring. Today’s young people are more demanding, live more complex lives and are used to getting the information they want when they want it. Project based learning allows teachers to work in teams so that each can use his or her particular strengths – whether that is leading the group, lesson planning, or small group working – to create a powerful learning environment.

Increasingly in the labour market the kind of skills we need are those taught in competency based curricula like the RSA’s Opening Minds; problem solving, research, communication, team working

I’ll report back tomorrow on how I do.

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