Like a student who deliberately does badly in her 'mock' exams to make her final performance seem a more impressive result of meticulous revision, today's final announcement of the new national curriculum in England appears to have brought more relief than criticism. It is far better than the draft, especially in History and Design Technology.
However, as I have blogged before, and the ACSL's Brian Lightman blogged yesterday, the whole review still feels like a case study in bad policymaking. The outcome is far from disastrous, with many positive changes.
However, the process was troubling - a missed opportunity to achieve what the CBI suggested around creating a long lasting consensus about the purpose of education. Many Primary schools can only now do what was proposed over four years ago by the Rose Review, especially around modern foreign languages. I also hope that, when primary schools begin the task of redesigning the curriculum they turn to the Rose Review's work on the arts, which could help give status and coherence to an increasingly vulnerable part of the primary curriculum.
Most importantly, schools now need to have the confidence to fertilise and grow the space which schools are now supposed to have outside the national curriculum, to teach the additional knowledge and skills that they value. The RSA's new CPD programme Grand Curriculum Designs, which launches next week in partnership with the Institute of Education, can hopefully play a supportive, inspiring role with hundreds of schools during the next few years.
It's also worth going back to Michael Gove's recent speech attacking various teaching tactics, most notably the use of the Mr Men to study Hitler, or Nemo to learn about the Middle Ages. As a historian, I worry too about these examples, although we have no evidence of whether these represent a dominant culture of history teaching, or irritating exceptions. However, nothing in the new history curriculum can prevent these types of practices. As the secretary of State pointed out, these examples are not caused by the content of the national curriculum, but by what Joe Kirkby called "the enacted school curriculum: what actually gets taught in classrooms.”
So in a strange way, the new national curriculum may be irrelevant to this coalition government's educational aims,which might explain their relaxation about whether Academies will follow the National Curriculum (and explain why so few Academies currently use their curricular freedoms). As Gove said in the same speech:
"We must also ensure we align all the influences on what is actually taught - the enacted curriculum - to reinforce this culture of greater ambition. That means ensuring Ofsted inspections and GCSE examinations reinforce a drive for higher standards."
In other words, to stop the curriculum from being 'enacted' in the ways the Secretary of State so despises, he will need to explore, and get leverage over, all of what Tim Oates described as the 'control factors' which makes a curriculum 'coherent'. Oates listed the following control factors that:
1 curriculum content (nc specifications, support materials, etc)
2 assessment and qualifications
3 national framework for qualifications
6 professional development
7 institutional development
8 institutional forms and structures (eg size of schools, education phases)
9 allied social measures (linking social care, health care and education)
11 governance (autonomy versus direct control)
12 accountability arrangements
13 labour market/professional licensing
14 allied market regulation (eg health and safety legislation; insurance
My guess is that, frustrated by the pace of change and the limits to a change model based on a dogmatic theory of school autonomy, we will see 'control creep' from the DfE through a number of these factors during the next few years. If we need to do some 'control-spotting' in the future, it might be worth reflecting on this bizarre part of Gove and Ed Vaizey's introduction to the DfE/DCMS Cultural Education document, released without any fare, let alone fanfare, last Friday:
"But while government should not direct it can celebrate, encourage and facilitate ... not mandate like some Stalinist dream of a bureau of socialist realist production but encourage and liberate as the best teachers do."
Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg