The curriculum in most schools is an arbitrary collection

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In order to discuss a statement such as this it is important to define three elements of the statement, primarily the 'curriculum', secondarily 'academic' and lastly the use of the word 'arbitrary'. The organisation of education and schooling has long been associated with the idea of a curriculum, meaning a set of courses or a programme of study and their content offered at a school [1] . A school curriculum is regulatory and is founded on a more general syllabus which specifies what subjects should be learned and to what standard. John Kerr states that learning is planned and guided, and that we have to specify in advance what we are seeking to achieve and how we are to go about it. He refers to the curriculum as a 'body of knowledge' to be transmitted, and as the curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students, a 'product' [2] . The use of the adjective 'arbitrary' will form the basis of my discussion, arbitrary meaning random, chance, uninformed or illogical [3] . It seems rather hard to believe that a curriculum that has been reformed, refined and that has evolved could be described as chance. Furthermore how does one define an 'academic subject'? If one was to refer to core subjects, that could be justified, however the slightly demeaning use of an 'academic' subject is arguable.

The curriculum in schools has evolved through the years, the concept hasn't changed; the idea that there should be a course or a structure to education and teaching, in order to achieve results and be able to assess students. Nevertheless, the subjects taught and the emphasis on each has developed. In the early years the stress was most definitely on academia, and the 'academic subjects', such as English, Maths and Classics. However, pupils and students have changed within society, mainstream education is open to all and the purpose of education has altered. The principle of free education is to educate children to a point where they are prepared for life, in and out the work place, to teach them literacy and numeracy, as well as schooling them in arguably more useful subjects. The balance in the curriculum has shifted and now the curriculum fits the child rather than the child fits the curriculum.

The school curriculum comprises all learning and other experiences that each school plans for its pupils. The National Curriculum is an important element as its values and purposes underpin the school curriculum. Education influences and reflects the values of society, and the kind of society we want to be, it is therefore important to recognise a broad set of common values. Foremost is a belief in education, at home and at school, as a route to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural, physical and mental development, and thus wellbeing, of the individual. There are two key aims for a school curriculum.

The school curriculum should aim to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn and achieve.

This aim sums up the principle that the curriculum should develop learning, including the enjoyment and commitment to learning, as a way to encourage the best possible progress, development and highest attainment for all pupils. In addition to this it should build upon pupil's strengths, interests and experiences to better their capacity to learn. It should equip them with the essential learning skills of literacy, numeracy, and information and communication technology, and promote an enquiring mind and capacity to think rationally.

The school curriculum should aim to promote pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and prepare all pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life. [4] 

In brief the curriculum should prepare children for the next steps in their education, training and employment and equip them to make informed choices at school and throughout their lives, enabling them to appreciate the relevance of their achievements to life and society outside school.

A requirement of a curriculum is that it is responsive to changes in society and the economy, and changes to the nature of schooling itself. Teachers, individually and collectively should reappraise their teaching in response to the changing needs of their pupils. ' Education only flourishes if it successfully adapts to the demands and needs of the time' [5] , which is exactly why the curriculum has evolved to include more of the arguably less academic subjects. The curriculum now spans a wider range of subjects comprising of Art and Design, Citizenship, Design and Technology, English, Geography, History, ICT, Maths, Music, Physical Education, Science, Religious Studies and Personal, Social and Health Education. This range questionably leads to a more balanced and rounded education. There is no doubt that an emphasis should be on the core subjects of English, Maths and Science and this is reflected in the timetable, however fortunately these are balanced with the 'technologies' and more creative subjects, a fact which can undoubtedly contribute to a pupil's enjoyment of the school day.

Thus it brings me to the debate of an 'arbitrary collection' of subjects, as discussed earlier 'arbitrary' meaning chance, random, or illogical. One could in fact argue the complete opposite that the curriculum is in effect a very logical and developed collection of subjects, assembled to educate every child, and to give them the best possible start for the best possible future, to give a whole and rounded education, which encompasses 21st century information technology as well as the 'old school' subjects.

There are concerns about the curriculum, in particularly the National Curriculum which if I reiterate what I mentioned earlier, underpins the individual school curriculum. Firstly that although designed with children in mind, it is not the children, nor the teachers who design it, but rather some government officials, and once it is decided how is it then taught? The curriculum is so content-based yet who decides the content? In addition the amount that has to be covered often has detrimental effects on the children whom as Margaret Donaldson noted that children in early years seem eager, happy and lively whereas by the time they leave school some years later 'with the bitter taste of defeat in them, not having mastered even moderately well those basic skills which society demands, much less having become people who rejoice in the exercise of creative intelligence.' [6] 

Another concern is that with the brightest of pupils that if the curriculum has been covered and that's all a child needs to know then that will be all they are taught. Of course it is not being suggested that the government should have no say in the content of education. We do our children no favours if we don't teach them to read, write and add up and these days to be computer literate. But there is the necessary balance between the imposed content and the needs and interests of the child. One view is that the National Curriculum makes getting that right much more difficult for today's teachers. 'Don't forget that the child is a living thing, with thoughts and beliefs, hopes and choices, feelings and wishes; helping him with these must be what education is about, for there is nothing else to educate' [7] .

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted spoke of her criticisms for the curriculum in 2006 when she argued that the National Curriculum should be fundamentally reformed with more focus on skills rather than specific subjects and that broad skills such as creativity and physical co-ordination were more important than specific knowledge. She went on to say the that the current system was not fit for purpose, arguing that skills were needed rather than knowledge on its own, and that it's important to understand the world we are moving towards , where what people need to know changes often. She went as far as saying that the national curriculum was not engaging pupils adding that even if pupils don't physically truant they are mentally absenting themselves. Her reform called for a more skills based curriculum, one that's more culturally and thematically based, incorporating skills such as Communication, Information Management, Learning and Thinking skills, Interpersonal skills, Citizenship and Creativity [8] .

Another argument that the curriculum was outdated and required reform is that mainstream schooling in Britain was designed to create a compliant, obedient workforce for the factories. It is overly dependent on strict subject delineation and is now over-crowded with subjects. This form of schooling has been edited out over the years as the Industrial Revolution gave way to the Technical Revolution. No longer do we teach sums in a 'parrot-fashion', discipline has transformed from corporal punishment, to much more lenient yet effective punishments, and the system allows for an all-round, effective education in many subjects [9] .

Lastly the argument that the teachers should have the freedom to be allowed to teach what they wish and to 'release children from the stranglehold of the national curriculum'. Keith Bartley, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council (GTC) warned that the current primary school curriculum presented children with lessons which were 'too formal, too early' and that by relaxing the strict regimes, testing and targets one can motivate and inspire children. He strongly argued the idea that children say they enjoy the lesson the most when they are taught by teachers who are passionate about their subjects and bring fun to the lesson (based upon the findings of the Good Childhood Inquiry set up by the Children's Society Charity). Parents also backed this saying that "teachers should be allowed flexibility to decide how and what they teach, to inspire themselves and the children" [10] .

The school curriculum goes to the heart of our conception as a civilised society, yet the National Curriculum is 'locked into a subject -based mould, not fit for 21st century and leads to disengagement with learning for many our young people. This situation needs addressing and we need to develop a curriculum that will engage the interests and aspirations of current and future generations. Again we see the need for a skills based curriculum, with content designed by teachers, with their pupils and their abilities in mind. This idea would result in higher educational standards, as pupils would be more highly motivated and engaged. In addition it would re-professionalise teachers giving them back authority and responsibility to develop curricula [11] .

So how can we describe 'the curriculum in most schools', well in the independent sector the school has the ability, good fortune albeit large responsibility of tailoring their own individual curriculum. Nevertheless the subjects remain a common theme, and the majority will teach a variety of 'academic subjects' designed to educate the pupils to the best of they can offer. Children today benefit from a full timetable including creative lessons such as Drama, Art and Design Technology, taught on the same level as Physical Education which balances out with the Humanities, Modern Foreign Languages, Sciences, Maths and English, yet as I argued earlier the core subjects are weighted more heavily however the logicality of this is ultimately to provide an all-round schooling. In addition how anybody can argue that the choice of subjects is arbitrary is incredible when you look at the balance. Ideally the curriculum could cover more skills based subjects; however one may forget the time constraints of teaching and the working world. Curriculum planning is vital in that there are so many more subjects available now then there ever were before. All teachers regard their subject as being the most important and fight their corner, there needs to be an overview. We could teach as much as we like but there is simply not enough time and somebody has to make that call. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said "Teachers need time in the school day to teach subjects such as financial capability and cooking." [12] 

The history of the national curriculum reflects the needs of a modern day education, when the national curriculum was introduced in 1988 as part of Conservative Education Secretary Kenneth Baker's Education Reform Act, it consisted of ten compulsory subjects and ten levels of attainment to be reached by the time the pupils leave school or go on to A-Levels aged 16. In 1992 we saw the first attempt to slim down the curriculum, when Lord Dearing was appointed to hold an inquiry as it was too unwieldy, he recommended that it should take up 80% of the time. Furthermore in 2002 Ministers took the controversial decision to stop compulsory lessons in modern foreign languages from the age of 14 in a further attempt to free up time. Non-academically inclined pupils who dropped the subject could spend two days a week doing work experience instead. However it led to a major reduction in the number of children who took French and German, which forced another government inquiry into how to offset the decline. The year 2007 saw Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, unveil the new secondary school curriculum for the 21st century with more emphasis on topics and issues relevant to the modern world.

Ken Boston argued that teachers would be given greater freedom to break free from the traditional subject-based curriculum, facilitating the introduction of topics which help prepare pupils for adult life. The lessons would range from Britain's position in the global economy to individual economic well-being, which could include how to avoid debt and buy a home, respect for other cultures or even cookery, to help instil healthy eating habits into tomorrow's adults. Dr Boston argued these changes were necessary because the rise in education standards in the western world were slowing down. His argument was that the traditional syllabus had been exhausted, it had delivered all it can and it would work no more. The idea was that children should be able to learn at their own speed, with some members of the class being given more taxing books to read such as Thomas Hardy whilst their peers read others. The alternative he disputed was to carry on with a system where learning was not differentiated according to the readiness of the individual to learn, this is turn caused pupils to become disaffected because the task was beyond their reach, whilst others became bored by work that was too easy. The classroom revolution that Dr Boston fought for did mix the new topic based approach with the more traditional subject based approach. In particular in history where the new curriculum includes studying the development of power in Britain since the Middle Ages to the present day, to overcome the gaps in children's knowledge and to give them more of an understanding about Britain's cultural identity. There was consternation that Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler's names had been omitted from the list of historical figures to be studied, however the QCA and government pointed out the study of the First and Second World Wars was compulsory and it would be impossible to teach these without the inclusion of Churchill and Hitler. Lord Adonis gave the new curriculum his backing at its launch stating 'There is a reduction in prescription from the centre and a modernisation of the curriculum to make it more relevant to the needs of young people in this world in the future.' He argued that teachers could use the new time at their disposal to ensure extra catch-up lessons in the "three R's" for pupils who were struggling in English and maths - and also lessons to stretch the more able pupils." [13] 

The central theory [of curriculum] is simple.  Human life, however varied, consists in the performance of specific activities.  Education that prepares for life is one that prepares definitely and adequately for these specific activities. 

Step 1: Diagnosis of need

Step 2: Formulation of objectives

Step 3: Selection of content

Step 4: Organization of content

Step 5: Selection of learning experiences

Step 6: Organization of learning experiences

Step 7: Determination of what to evaluate and of the ways and means of doing it. (Taba 1962)

more recent definition of curriculum as: 'A programme of activities (by teachers and pupils) designed so that pupils will attain so far as possible certain educational and other schooling ends or objectives (Grundy 1987: 11).

This form of words echoes those of Lawrence Stenhouse (1975) who produced one of the best-known explorations of a process model of curriculum theory and practice. He defined curriculum tentatively: 'A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice'. He suggests that a curriculum is rather like a recipe in cookery.

It can be criticized on nutritional or gastronomic grounds - does it nourish the students and does it taste good? - and it can be criticized on the grounds of practicality - we can't get hold of six dozen larks' tongues and the grocer can't find any ground unicorn horn!  A curriculum, like the recipe for a dish, is first imagined as a possibility, then the subject of experiment.  The recipe offered publicly is in a sense a report on the experiment.  Similarly, a curriculum should be grounded in practice.  It is an attempt to describe the work observed in classrooms that it is adequately communicated to teachers and others.  Finally, within limits, a recipe can varied according to taste.  So can a curriculum.  (Stenhouse 1975: 4-5)

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