Category: Curriculum policy

Important NUT research on the secondary curriculum

The NUT has just released King’s College research on the effects of government policies on the secondary curriculum. Based on a sample of 1800 secondary members and in depth school case studies, key findings show   amongst other things:

  • 74% of teachers consider the Ebacc requirements are dramatically narrowing the curriculum.
  • 84% worry that the excessive pressure of exams is taking its toll on young people’s well- being and mental health.
  • Three quarters of teachers believe that the new ‘one size fits all’ GCSEs will be less suitable for low attaining students and have made the curriculum uninspiring and anachronistic.
  • A general lack of confidence in ‘Progress 8’ – Government’s latest attempt to measure students’ progress and hold schools accountable for it, with widespread opposition to using unreliable KS2 SATs data as the basis for measuring progress at  GCSE.
  • 92% reporting their workload has increased as a result of the changes
  • Increased concern about job insecurity as the non-Ebacc subjects are scaled down or become no longer available as a learning option, particularly as a result of funding cuts.

Download  full report   here                                 thji9s7ysr

Academic education for some. Vocational courses for the others. Wilshaw’s answer to ‘One size fits all’

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In a widely reported speech to  the think-tank Centre Forum,  Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw has slammed the  ‘One-size-fits-all’ emphasis on traditional academic subjects by secondary schools, declaring that this ‘will never deliver the range of success that their youngsters need’ https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/ambitions-for-education-sir-michael-wilshaw   Wilshaw is not promoting a more student friendly type of learning though, far from it –he despises the ‘misguided ideologies’ of ‘miserable decades of the 1970s, 80s and 90s’ which, he maintains allowed children to ‘pick out their worksheet and learn at their own speed’.  Instead, he argues that  the current secondary curriculum offer prevents ‘less academic’ students from getting the high quality vocational education to get them ready for the workplace, citing other countries with well-developed vocational pathways.  

Barely a year ago, Wilshaw  told a CBI conference that pupils should transfer to different schools at 14 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11238974/Ofsted-chief-stream-pupils-by-ability-at-the-age-of-14.html.  Dissident Tory Kenneth Baker continues to argue this, gaining cross party support for his University Technical Colleges (UTCs). Now, Wilshaw, careful to avoid controversy about restoring grammar schools, says that vocational specialisation should take place within a ‘truly comprehensive’ system with schools working together in clusters and federations, rather than through the LEA, which would include a UTC, allowing students to ‘transfer across institutions’(!)

Many supporters of comprehensive education would consider the creation of vocational streams and certainly separate schools as a return to the ideas of the 1944 Act, yet Wishaw does appear to be right in his assertion that Germany and Switzerland, countries with established vocational pathways have much lower rates of youth unemployment. Yet this is mainly because these countries, particularly Germany, have a much more regulated youth labour market where vocational education is linked to an apprenticeship system which requires part-time attendance at specialist colleges, but more importantly, largely guarantees future employment for those who complete their training. 

In Germany, this is part of a wider ‘social partnership’, which despite its limitations and the Neo-liberal outlook of most of its leaders’ stands in sharp contrast to the UK (and US) ‘market sate’ approach.  Wilshaw, like others, point to the low quality of many vocational courses, but the real problem is that UK employers have never had the same commitment to vocational education, preferring to recruit candidates with higher status academic qualifications instead. This is the reason why young people, despite fees, sign up for university in droves. Compared to those in Germany and Switzerland, UK apprenticeships are short-term, low-level and dead-end with employers as likely to convert existing staff to apprenticeship status to access government funding as they are to offer young people real employment opportunities

Rather than spend money on lengthy apprenticeship training, UK employers also know they can recruit from a bulging graduate labour force, many of whom are being pushed down into the ‘middling’ jobs that vocational, technical and apprenticeship training has traditionally been associated with. But it’s also the case that many of these middling jobs have continued to disappear anyway as a result of developments in technology. This process being much further advanced in the UK (and the US), compared with Germany for example, which has been able to maintain a stronger manufacturing base and slow down the process of de-industrialisation.

In these circumstances and without other major economic and political changes,  it’s unlikely that hiving off students into vocational courses will improve their employment chances or that young people will be persuaded to sign up for this sort of pathway. Baker’s UTCs continue to open but several are finding it difficult to recruit a full cohort. What’s needed is a good general education for everybody, but this also requires major reform of academic learning –something that most curriculum reformers have not been prepared to address.   Wilshaw like Baker and for that matter, the CBI leaders who complain about schools becoming ‘exam factories’, is not critical of the E-Bacc itself, he wants to preserve ‘high-level academic study’ as a form of learning for the few. For these guys, vocational alternatives are always for other people’s children –never their own.

Curriculum campaigns must go on.

_47977617_goveclassroom226Martin Allen

Michael Gove’s new National Curriculum requirements might have been finalised, but the debate about what young people should learn and how; must continue. If there is an area where Gove is both weak and wobbly, then it continues to be on the curriculum, where he has made a series of retreats, if not U-turns – starting with the fiasco around the English Baccalaureate Certificates, but continuing with the concessions on History and to a lesser extent English. On all occasions, Gove has faced campaigns of opposition.

Gove frames many of his arguments in the context of what he considers to be the UK’s declining international performance and portrays himself as a ‘moderniser’, looking to the education practices of high performing countries for inspiration.  In other words, his concern about ‘standards’ is justifiable and necessary for the longer term ability of the UK economy to ‘compete’.

‘…the emphasis on effort is particularly marked in the Confucian-heritage countries such as China, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. The assumption here is that deep engagement with subject matter, including through memorisation where appropriate, leads to deeper understanding.’ (8.6) and ‘Hong Kong… as with South Korea and Singapore also operates with a curriculum model focusing on “fewer things in greater depth”.’ (2010 White Paper 8.10)

This allegation has continued unabated throughout Gove’s offensive. Launching the new National Curriculum that requires 5 year olds to calculate fractions and write computer programmes, 9 year olds to recite 12 times tables and 11 year olds to memorise poetry, Gove told ITV’s Daybreak (08/07/13), ‘I want my children, who are in primary school at the moment, to have the sort of curriculum that children in other countries have, which are doing better than our own.’

Despite Gove’s claims that officials in the Department for Education have spent years examining and analysing the curricula used in the world’s supposedly most successful school systems, this type of comparative justification has always been highly selective and compares very different traditions of education, including those requiring pictographic characters as opposed to phonic literacy! Commenting on this week’s announcement, Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union said:

‘Several successful international systems are quoted as the inspiration for the new curriculum but only one of these (Massachusetts) has the same school starting age as England. The rest start at 6 or 7, undermining the argument that more demanding content should be presented to children earlier. In fact, the opposite should be the case. The Secretary of State also quotes Finland at a time when Finland is taking a different direction for its curriculum by emphasising critical thinking over factual content, boosting cross-curricular themes and reducing content to give more time to learning.’

(http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/18815)

Even Sir Michael Barber, architect of many ‘school improvement’ reforms during the last two decades, warned about the dangers of copying policy on the hoof (Guardian 22/8/12).  Barber also pointed out that, as policy makers in the Asian Tiger economies recognise that their economic systems need to become ‘more innovative’ and their schools ‘more creative’, some of the countries held up by Gove are looking to European education systems for inspiration.

Finally, as the Guardian’s Peter Wilby (08/12/2012) has pointed out, the specific OECD international tests on which Gove based much of his evidence have since been declared invalid with officials reprimanded. For example, less than three months after Gove had published his proposals for exam reform, new ‘global league tables’ published by the multi-national education supplier Pearson and compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the UK sixth best in the world – although Finland and South Korea remained first and second.  Oxford University researchers have also argued that international test data as a whole cannot be taken at face value and are extremely limited ways of measuring a country’s educational standards. (www.oucea.education.ox.ac.uk/research/recent-research-projects/research-evidence-relating-to-proposals-for-reform-of-the-gcse/)

Gove has claimed ‘unprecedented interest’ in his curriculum proposals. There has been, yet much of it continues to be critical. Now that the NUT and NASUWT have commenced joint strike action against Gove’s  Draconian policies for teachers’ pay, it is crucial that the campaign integrates  the concerns of teachers, some of whom will be bounced into teaching parts the new NC  from this September as the current model has been ‘disapplied’.  With poll after poll continuing to show that parents see teachers as the people who know most about the curriculum and learning, not government ministers, opportunities to involve parents in a general campaign on both teaching and learning, can only grow.

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                                                                                http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reversal-Education-Employment-Declining-Economy/dp/0957553803

The Curriculum Great Reversal

Kingston University Seminar (01.05.13)

Martin Allen

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edition 2Michael Gove’s National Curriculum proposals have been out for consultation and have  received a fair share of attention.  While there has been particular controversy over proposals for history and English, this short paper provides an ‘overview’ –a more general critique of the underlying principles behind the Gove curriculum.

To begin with, somewhat ironically, Gove sets himself up as a ‘moderniser’ claiming to be bringing learning in line with practices in countries at the cutting edge of the global economy –particularly those on the Pacific Rim, like Singapore and South Korea.  At best, this approach is inconsistent  (Morris 2012) and based on inaccurate data  (Wilby, Guardian 08/12/2012). It has also been  politically selective – though referred to in the 2010 Importance of Teaching White Paper for example, Finland, with high performing schools; but low-key approaches to testing and performance date has increasingly been dropped from the list from which examples are drawn. It is evident also that these ‘successful’ systems are also looking to learn from Britain and other countries (Allen and Ainley 2013).

More significant are the arguments about the need to return to a more ‘knowledge based’ rather than the ‘skills’ or ‘process’ led curriculum. This was something emphasised in the 2011 Experts Report commissioned by Gove,  however  the need to ‘bring knowledge back in’ has also been endorsed by one time curriculum radicals like Michael Young (Young 2008),  associated with the ‘social constructionist ’curriculum in the 1970s (Young 1971) and   by no means a supporter of the Coalition. Gove himself has been influenced particularly by ED Hirsch, an 85 year old US English Literature professor. Hirsch argues that an  enquiry based and student centred curriculum denies poorer children the ‘core knowledge’ necessary to get on in society (an inversion of Bourdieu’s ‘cultural capital’ argument?). Attacking New Labour’s ‘dumbed down’ curriculum, Gove argues that by reinstalling the importance of ‘hard facts’, social mobility will be restarted and opportunities increased.

These arguments are being used to narrow and to emphasize particular approaches to learning however. For example, phonics and reading tests for young children in primary schools and requirements that children concentrate on memorising tables or particular types of mathematical calculations at the expense of other numeracy skills.  There is also a return to a ‘cultural restorationist’ emphasis (Jones 1989) a ‘Kings and Queens’ history curriculum and an  obsession with particular literary texts rather than others.  Rather than encouraging the ‘diversity and responsible citizenship’ emphasized in the Experts Report, Gove wants to restore traditional curriculum hierarchies at the expense of newer subjects, effectively returning to a grammar school curriculum for secondary students (Allen 2012).

In our book, The Great Reversal, Patrick Ainley and myself argue that rather than being something that promotes and improves individual aspiration and social mobility Gove’s curriculum  proposals are part of a wider programme of reversing progressive reform in education and a way of re-establishing education as a form of social control.  It was the expanding economy of the post-war period that allowed working class children to move up, not the grammar schools or having access to ‘core knowledge’. In the book we argue that on the contrary, in a ‘declining economy’ social mobility has gone into reverse. It can’t simply be restarted by making changes to education.

We use Gove’s proposals for the Ebacc  as an example of this. Even if the proposed new  EBCs have been rescinded,  we argue the proposals set out a new approach to learning and assessment and that this has been continued in the new style GCSEs Gove will  introduce instead. Rather than needing to restore ‘rigour’ to these examinations, Gove’s real problem is that too many students are passing. He wants to create a new ‘correspondence’ between education and an economy with decreasing labour market opportunities.

The National Curriculum debate however has been given another twist by statements from Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss that the Coalition plans to allow all schools to ‘disapply’ the National Curriculum for a year (18/03/12 speech on DfE website)  though Academies  and Free Schools are not legally bound by it anyway.   In many respects, a centrally imposed curriculum does not fit well with Tory arguments about reducing the role of the state.  Tensions between traditional ‘cultural restorations’ and free market libertarians were visible in the 1980s when the NC was first introduced by Kenneth (now Lord) Baker (Jones, 1989 ). The ten subject Baker curriculum was also quickly trimmed at key stage 4 when the Dearing Review recommended the introduction of vocational pathways for ‘non-academic students’.

These tensions should not be over emphasised though and it is unlikely that disapplication will happen this way. The TES (29/6/12) argued that Gove wants to end central government power over what is taught in secondaries.  This is in many ways a caricature, because the new league table requirements for KS4 will effectively determine school curriculum provision. Though officially discarding the EBC; future league tables will include school performance in three of the Ebacc subjects in addition to English and maths.

Opposition to the Gove curriculum intensifies.

As argued, the Gove proposals represent a step back in time. They will not allow teachers the freedom promised in the 2010 White Paper, while the themes and organising principles are not educationally sound and do not  provide children and young people with the skills they need to cope with the challenges, but also the problems of the 21st century.  There is  growing opposition from teachers who have started campaigns, signed petitions and made their feelings known in surveys and opinion polls – ACSL General Secretary Brian Lightman has called for a second ‘Great Debate’ about education while ex QCA Boss Mick Walters looks forward to an ‘education spring’ (Guardian 23/04/13). Meanwhile the announcement of a ‘new’ Tech-bacc at post-16 shows a Secretary of State desperately running out of ideas? Critiquing Gove’s curriculum is one thing however. Developing real alternatives is quite another. This paper concludes by addressing some of the more general issues that need to be considered.

The curriculum and its social context

To begin with, because of the social significance of education as a whole, the curriculum cannot be reformed in isolation.   It goes without saying that reforming the curriculum depends on reforming assessment and the ‘accountability’ structures that have been imposed on schools –in  other words, curriculum reform will be extremely problematic  while ‘high stakes’ testing continues to exist. It is also the case that if particular subjects and qualifications are seen as having high labour market currency then they will be studied as much for instrumental reasons as for their educational merits. Anybody who has had experience of teaching or organising citizenship or other personal and social education programmes will be familiar with the problems of motivating students.  Attempts to reform the curriculum are also likely to counterproductive if a ‘free market’ model of education continues to dominate and programmes  to reduce inequalities between different types of learning will continue to fail unless they are made mandatory and subject combinations  constrained.

How do we bring teachers back in?

Teachers and the organisations that represent them, have rightly been concerned at the way in which they have been excluded from decisions about the content and the organisation of the curriculum. Opinion polls also show that teachers, rather than Michael Gove, continue to enjoy the respect of parents (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/17949) . An alternative curriculum must have teachers as educational professionals at its fore, but this does not mean it is desirable to return to the ‘secret garden’ of the post-war years. The curriculum must be the product of discussions between a wide range of groups in society, in which teacher’s skills and expertise must be valued but not exclusively. Rather than the post-war model of professional autonomy, there has to be a more general democratic process through which curriculum issues are decided.

Does the curriculum have to consider the needs of employers and the economy?

Of course; but we do have to remember that employers have always criticised education and young people and often appear to be inconsistent in some of the things they say that they want. As argued above, Michael Gove’s attempt to justify importing certain ideas about learning from Asian Pacific countries is not a genuine one. Also, there’s now more concern  about whether the global economy is creating the highly skilled and highly paid jobs it is supposed to have been, or whether more young people are becoming ‘overqualified and unemployed’ (Allen and Ainley, 2013). There is a need for good basic and transferable skills, but it’s always been true that people continue to learn many occupational skills ‘on the job’.

While it is clearly the case that information technology has changed the nature of work and that more and more people are expected to be ICT literate, Gove’s reforms of the ICT curriculum and the inclusion of Computer Science as an Ebacc subject are not convincing. There’s also a  huge debate to be had about the role of ICT in learning and how, rather than ‘teacherless learning’ (Ainley and Allen, 2010 ) more collaborative practices can be developed between teachers and taught.

Towards a social justice curriculum.               

We have to use the space created by the Gove curriculum reforms to put forward some positive alternatives and welcome Lightman’s call for a ‘Great Debate’ We also have to return to a debate about what types of aims and values’ should guide the curriculum. The National Union of Teachers 2013 Conference called for an ‘alternative curriculum framework with social justice at its heart’. While the ability of education to create real social mobility in the labour market  can be questioned (Allen and Ainley, 2013) it will always be the case that education has the potential to broaden young people’s social awareness and encourage them to fully participate in society, rather than becoming a marginalised  or ‘lost generation’.

References

Allen, M. Ainley, P.  (2013)  The Great Reversal. Young People, Education and Employment in a Declining Economy.  London: Radicaled.

Ainley, P. Allen, M.  (2010)  Lost Generation?  New Strategies for Youth and Education London, Continuum.

Allen, M. (2012)   ‘Back to the Grammar School’  Education for Liberation  Issue 5, April 12

Department for Education (2011)  The Framework for the National Curriculum. A report by the Expert Panel

Department for Education (2010) White Paper  The Importance of Teaching

Jones, K. (1989)  Right Turn, London: Hutchinson.

Morris (2012)  Pick ‘n’ mix, select and project; policy borrowing and the quest for ‘world class’ schooling: an analysis of the 2010 schools White Paper  Journal of Education Policy  Vol 27.1

Young, MFD Ed (1971) Knowledge and Control. New Directions for the Sociology of Education, London: Collier Macmillan.

Young, M. (2008) Bringing Knowledge Back In, From social constructivism to social realism in the sociology of education, London: Routledge

National Curriculum: principles and practices

Martin Allen217354

National Curriculum proposals in various subjects are now out for consultation.  While it is important that teachers, trade unions and subject associations respond to these, it’s also important to develop a more general critique of the underlying principles behind them.

The new National Curriculum represents a reactionary step back –part of a more general programme of reversing progressive reform in education.  Gove’s curriculum does not allow teachers the freedom promised in the 2010 White Paper The Importance of Teaching. On the contrary, its themes and organising principles are not considered to be educationally sound by the majority of practitioners and do not provide children and young people with the skills they need to cope with the challenge, but also the problems of the 21st century In particular:

  • claims that the proposals are based on educational practices in high performing countries are misguided, selective and based on  inaccurate data
  • arguments about the need to return to a more ‘knowledge based’ curriculum are being used to narrow learning and to introduce emphasise particular interpretations  of culture, traditions and values in subjects like history and English, rather than encouraging the ‘cultural diversity and responsible citizenship’ emphasised in the Experts Report
  • ‘core’ subjects will be oversubscribed while others left largely to schools to interpret –reducing their status in the eyes of students and their parents
  •  rather than a ‘broad curriculum’, Gove restores traditional  curriculum hierarchies, including the primacy of ‘academic’ learning over the practical and vocational,  ‘hard facts’ rather than enquiry and  critical thinking  while there is little room for developing skills that promote personal and emotional development or encourage collaboration and oral self-confidence
  • creativity and enjoyment at school will be reduced further
  • Gove’s curriculum will be driven by assessment systems designed to divide students and lower aspirations. Attempts to ration exam success being considered appropriate for an economy where employment opportunities for young people are at their worst ever and a society where social mobility has gone into reverse

There are clear inequities that can serve as the basis for an immediate campaign. For example, phonics and reading tests for young children in primary schools.   Requirements that children concentrate on learning tables or particular types of mathematical calculations at the expense of other numeracy skills.   The introduction of new GCSE and A-level examinations that fewer will pass. A narrow ‘Kings and Queens’ history curriculum and the obsession with particular literary texts rather than others.  Teaching and learning will continue to be dictated by external assessment requirements rather than learning needs.

With Labour promising little in the way of alternatives, there is an urgent need to reclaim the debate about the aims and principles behind the curriculum from Michael Gove and the Coalition.  Producing an alternative curriculum framework that is based on principles of social justice and equality and that encourages young people to become self –confident, reflective but also critical citizens, must be central to any new national campaign to  defend and promote state education.  

In this respect discussion about the curriculum must also be a discussion about what education is for and in the context of continued economic decline, the marginalisation of young people from employment and the likelihood that more will see education as something that has failed them; what we can expect it to achieve.

Gove, Lord Baker and vocational learning

Since becoming education minister, Gove has largely concentrated on  reforming  the academic curriculum, introducing an English Baccalaureate made up of five traditional curriculum areas, arguing that  A-levels have  to be made harder,  trying to reintroduce O-levels and so on. Though claiming  changes have to be made to bring the British education system more in line with those in high performing economies (DfE White Paper 2010) Gove’s  secondary school proposals  are as much a ‘restorationist’  as a ‘modernising’ project –  supposedly  returning us  to a  ‘golden age’  represented by  the grammar schools  (https://radicaled.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/back-to-the-grammar-school)

Despite his preoccupation with academic learning however, Gove did commission Alison Wolf to carry out a ‘review’ of vocational learning. Wolf is condemnatory of current provision, particularly the specialised vocational pathways for 14-16 year olds, introduced as a result of Sir Ron Dearing’s reviews of Kenneth (now Lord) Baker’s then ‘ten subject’ National Curriculum in the early 1990s and developed further under New Labour governments.  She considers the BTEC style qualifications ‘valueless’ in a collapsing youth labour market,  arguing a generation has been ‘short changed’(Wolf, TES,04/03/11)  when apprenticeships should have been created instead.

Acting on Wolf’s advice Gove is removing the BTECs from school league tables. Wolf also wants greater emphasis on ‘real’ English and maths – stressing not enough young people pass GCSEs in both of these.

Gove’s (and Wolf’s) proposals have not pleased those Tories who continue to adhere to Dearing principles; most notably Baker himself who told Radio 4’s Today Programme (03/03/11) that Wolf ‘doesn’t  go far enough’.  Baker is champion of University Technical Colleges – schools providing specialisms for 14-19 students with the backing of universities and local employers, the first three open this September.

UTC’s would seem to fit uneasily with the new Gove curriculum and Wolf’s proposals for vocational learning, but it’s clear they represent the latest attempt to create a ‘middle’ or technical stream – as much as the ‘two tier’ system campaigners fear.  It’s uncertain  whether  all  UTC’s will offer the 5 E-bac GCSE’s as a core and they obviously won’t be able to comply with Wolf’s recommendation that vocational learning should be restricted to 20% of the key stage 4 curriculum.

Attempts to establish a technical stream in the English education have been a dismal failure however. In reality, 1944 tripartism became a grammar and secondary modern divide –with the ‘middle way’ technical schools thin on the ground, suffering from lack of resources but also according to Baker from  ‘English snobbery’  about ‘getting your hands dirty’ www.utcolleges.org/newsfolder/at-last,-schools-for-getting-your-hands-dirty.  When education minister, Baker tried to establish City Technology Colleges, but most technical /vocational education continued to be provided by Further Education colleges often on part-time ‘day release ’basis supplementing‘ on the job learning where those employers who still needed them continued to run apprenticeships.

More recently, rather than creating distinct schools, the emphasis has been placed on developing  the vocational pathways referred to above within  comprehensives. However, even if the more student-centred learning the vocational approach encourages has been popular with many teachers, most would agree with Wolf that vocational qualifications have little real status.  Apart from  BTECs, the most successful initiative has probably been the GNVQs created in the 1990s, but these suffered from ‘academic drift’ after they were re launched as  ‘applied’  versions of GCSE and A-levels, the very academic qualifications they have sought to provide an alternative to. As a result, many  schools and colleges returned to BTECs.  GNVQs were also followed by the ill-fated specialist diplomas www.radicaled.wordpress.com/pamphlet-a-new-14

Whatever may have been the case in the past  (Baker points to the German ‘dual system’ of academic and technical learning as being a reason for the country’s economic success) with the decline of skilled manual employment, it’s questionable whether this sort of ‘middle’ stream  now corresponds with new economic realities and labour market requirements.

The UTC initiative is also comparatively small – even with another 30 at the planning stage, less than 20,000 students will be enrolled.  Of those opening in September 2012, the £15 million Aston UTC is the most distinct, housed in new premises next to its university sponsor  and with a strong engineering profile – even if after the closure  of MG Rover at Longbridge  engineering employment in Birmingham has fallen dramatically, it may at least encourage some locally living students to apply to Aston.

In sharp contrast, Hackney UTC, which is sponsored by a local NHS Trust and part of Hackney Community College, will specialise in ‘health and digital technology’ but will offer GCSEs in language and humanities. While Central Bedfordshire UTC in Luton – also housed in an existing FE college – will offer ‘product design, engineering and manufacturing’ – presumably using the resources this college already has.

But if Dearing style vocational pathways   for 14 year olds will no longer be available in most schools, will the only alternative for young people be the statutory academic subjects of the English Baccalaureate? The ‘Experts Report’ on National Curriculum reform provides some hints:

‘We are not proposing that all students follow full GCSE courses in the full range of subjects and topics that we envisage being statutory at Key Stage 4. We recommend that evidence should be collected on whether non-certificated provision (with fewer hours’ timetable allocation per week)… would be motivating or demotivating’ (4.20)

This would not only open the door for the creation of new divides, but would mean a sort of watered down secondary modern curriculum for non E-bac students, allowing the additional emphasis on literacy and numeracy Wolf wants. This type of  differentiation also  fits the polarised  or ‘pear shaped’ occupational structures of the 21st century where – rather than the highly skilled, specialist employment  opportunities promised by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown,  large numbers will only need ‘basic skills’ for  jobs that are either non-specialist or largely routine.  Reformers must campaign for a broad general curriculum for everyone, but first of all they need to seriously challenge Gove’s vision.

English questions

Valerie Coultas  examines another aspect of Gove’s curriculum offensive

Education Minister, Michael Gove, believes that educational policy has been in thrall to progressives and who believe that ‘children should be left to discover at their own pace to follow their own hearts’. Gove has a rigid rather than a rigorous approach and that he is opposed to interdisciplinary collaboration and to areas that he conceives of as ‘soft’ knowledge, such as Media Studies.

Gove’s policies for learning are clearly visible in his approach to the teaching of English where he believes that:

‘Our literature is the best in the world… It is every child’s birth right and we should be proud to teach it in every school’ (Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 2010) The New Standards for Qualified Teacher Status, have one clear statement on spoken English and this is the necessity for all teachers to ‘take responsibility for promoting  ..the correct use of standard English whatever the teacher’s specialist subject’. This is the government’s response to language across the curriculum,  all teachers must promote the ‘correct’ use of standard English!

The new programmes of study for English have no separate strand for oracy and the main focus is on reading, writing and spelling and grammar. But the value of formal spoken English  is reinforced and ‘there will be an expectation that pupils master formal English through recitation, debate and presentation’.  The ‘elocution model’ is therefore reinforced and the talk for learning model set aside.

Many teachers and writers , on the other hand, suggest that Standard English is one form of dialect that pupils should be familiar with but that it is not intrinsically superior to other forms of dialect. Pupils should have opportunities to use standard English where it is the appropriate spoken register when in role as a lawyer, TV presenter for example but it does not have to be imposed in more informal discussions.

Though there are some nuances, the links to the authors of the Black Papers, influential on Thatcherite education policy in the 1980s and who were strong defenders of the English Literary heritage and standard English as a superior dialect are therefore clear                                                                                                       

                                   Download the full article   English questions