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Schools, like the world around them, have undergone many changes in the past decade. In these turbulent times of recession and economic upheaval, the education of the children of the United Kingdom is more important than ever. As a trainee teacher, I have had much opportunity to observe the curriculum in action, but what will the education program of 2021 look like? In this paper, I will examine the possibilities for the curriculum of the future. However before investigating this curriculum of tomorrow, I will take a moment to consider what exactly a syllabus is. Schubert (1987) describes a curriculum as "the contents of a subject, concepts and tasks to be acquired, planned activities, the desired learning outcomes and experiences, product of culture and an agenda to reform society." This infers that, as well as being a collection of subjects and activities, the school syllabus must have a symbiotic relationship with the world around it. It is through the youth of today that we shape the map of the future. Goodlad and Su (1992) further this thinking by describing the curriculum as "a plan that consists of learning opportunities for a specific time frame and place, a tool that aims to bring about behaviour changes in students as a result of planned activities and includes all learning experiences received by students with the guidance of the school." In order to reflect fully on the impact of recent curriculum changes, I must also understand where the National Curriculum has come from and why it was introduced. I will then explore the key changes which have shaped our current curriculum. Finally I will explore possible developments in the curriculum in the future.
The National Curriculum came into fruition after the Education Reform Act of 1988. It was introduced in schools throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Independent schools continued to set their own curriculum, but it all state run schools were to follow new national curriculum guidelines. The (1988) Act explains that the National Curriculum was developed to standardise content taught across schools. This in turn enabled assessment, which lead to the compilation of league tables detailing assessment statistics for each school. League tables together with the provision to parents of some degree of choice in where their child went to school, were intended to encourage a 'free market' by allowing parents to choose schools based on their measured ability to teach the National Curriculum. The Act was presented as giving power to the schools. The introduction of the curriculum turned public service into a competitive market. Whilst only certain subjects were included at first, in subsequent years the curriculum grew to fill the entire timetable of most state schools.
The 1988 Act provided for a 'basic curriculum' to be taught in all maintained schools, consisting of a course of study in ten subjects common to all primary and secondary state schools. Subjects were divided into three core units: English, Maths, and Science and seven foundation sections: Geography, History, Technology, a foreign language, Art, Music, and Physical Education . It outlined Key Stage 1 as ages 5-7, Key Stage 2: ages 8-11, Key Stage 3: 12-14, and Key Stage 4: 15-16 The National Curriculum (Section 2.2). The Curriculum would set out 'attainment targets' which consisted of the knowledge, skills and understanding which children would be expected to have by the end of each key stage; the 'programmes of study' to be taught at each key stage; and the arrangements for assessing pupils at the end of each key stage. National Curriculum: values aims and purposes (2004)
The decade that followed saw a host of developments regarding the curriculum. Some of the more major changes are discussed below. A report by the director of education in 2000 laid out aims for schools including maintaining stability for schools, supporting the drive to raise standards for all pupils, ensuring a full and rounded entitlement to learning, encouraging the development of best practice.
"It is important that we balance the need to modernise the curriculum with that of enabling schools to build good practice over time and to focus on the key task of raising standards." David Blunkett
In both my placement schools all staff were encouraged to develop their best practice. This was done in a variety of ways, including faculty development days and in house training days. On these days staff discussed and developed strategies to improve teaching and learning and to continue raising standards. I attended both of these days on placement, one as part of my evidencing of Q standards 32 and 33. On placement two I am scheduled to attend a faculty day next term.
In September 2001 the white paper was published: schools achieving success proposed 'advanced specialist schools' to train teachers and lead curriculum innovation; developing a more diverse 14-19 curriculum with more early entries for GCSE and much greater choice of vocational and work-based courses. In both my placement schools practice is based on these recommendations. My second placement school is a specialist Technology College, which intends to introduce two vocational courses in the next two years.
The National Curriculum for England at key stages 3 and 4 was first published by QCA in 2007, and implementation in schools started in September 2008. It was developed to enable schools to raise standards and help all their learners meet the challenges of life in our fast-changing world. National Curriculum website (2011) The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) published new plans for Key Stage 3 (11 to 14 year olds). The proposals were designed to give schools greater flexibility in deciding what to teach and make it easier to allow children of different abilities to progress at their own speeds. There would be a greater focus on 'life skills' (The Guardian 5, 6 February 2007). In April 2007 the QCA began consulting on a new secondary curriculum scheduled for introduction in September 2008. The move was part of a major overhaul of teaching at Key Stages 3 and 4. QCA chief executive Dr Ken Boston said the aim was to ensure that all pupils were 'actively and imaginatively engaged in their learning' (The Guardian 3 April 2007). In my second placement school, one hour skills lessons were introduced in the technology faculty to encourage the teaching of core life skills. As part of evidencing Q3 b I have used a newly introduced lesson plan Performa which has recently been introduced at my second placement school, it includes an area for "real life application," which encourages teachers to consider the skills being taught in their lessons in terms of everyday life.
The National Curriculum (2007) has three aims. It should enable all young people to become successful students who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve high standards. They should be confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives. Our schools should form responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society. I have been lucky enough to be placed in two high achieving schools, where the national curriculum and national attainment levels are paramount. However, on my second placement in particular, I feel that there is such a great emphasis placed on levels and achievement that students can become blinded by the pressure to meet particular targets. It is possible that they do not meet their full potential of valuable real life knowledge. Both my placement schools had comprehensive systems in place for measuring achievement and attainment. In fact a large portion of every lesson was dedicated to the explanation of the level marking criteria. In my second placement school in particular, because there is such a strong emphasis on levels and achievement it can often create a rift between higher and lower ability students.
The Curriculum (2007) states that there should be establishment and entitlement for all children and also the promotion of high standards. It strives to establish an entitlement for all children, regardless of social background, culture, race, gender, differences in ability and disabilities, to develop and apply the knowledge, skills and understanding that will help them become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens. My first placement school was a Catholic school and although the curriculum strives to give each child a fair entitlement to education, the fact that only 10% of pupils were required to come from other religious backgrounds, meant that school places were limited, so classes were smaller. Compared with my second school, which is much bigger with much larger class groups, the learning environment is very different. As part of my QTS standards I have completed my skills test in ICT and literacy enabling me to promote high standards, particularly in literacy, numeracy and ICT Q16 and Q17.
I will now consider where the future of curriculum development might lead. With the advent of the general election in 2010, Conservative minister Michael Gove announced that he intended to combat the 'decline in exam standards' by offering an English baccalaureate qualification to students who passed GCSE in English, Maths, one Science, one foreign language and one humanity (The Guardian 6 September 2010). It has been said that the Prime Minister Cameron had invited TV presenter Carol Vorderman to head a task force to review the teaching of Maths. In November, Gove announced that he had appointed another TV presenter - Simon Schama - to help rewrite the History syllabus. James Vernon, professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, commented : 'It is symptomatic of how dominant market models of education have become that the minister has chosen Schama as his adviser. Neither Schama, nor Niall Ferguson, also apparently considered by Gove, has any experience of teaching in schools, indeed, like me, both are fugitives from British higher education. Nor are they even scholarly experts in the British History Gove holds so dear ... It is the popularity of their TV shows that has commended them to Gove. Expertise is now a matter of television ratings. (Vernon 2010) My second placement school have been looking into the introduction of the new Jamie Oliver cookery diploma, with the rise of celebrity endorsed education, could this be where the curriculum is headed?
But perhaps we should not be surprised that the school curriculum is now going to be written by TV presenters. After all, this is a government which is inviting McDonald's and PepsiCo to help develop public health policy (The Observer 14 November 2010).
The government's education white paper, 'The Importance of Teaching', was published on the 24th November. It declared that: what is needed most of all is decisive action to free our teachers from constraint and improve their professional status and authority, raise the standards set by our curriculum and qualifications to match the best in the world and, having freed schools from external control, hold them effectively to account for the results they achieve. (DfE 2010:8) I do agree that a huge part of my teaching career thus far has been dedicated to monitoring assessment, my first school did offer me the opportunity to produce my own resources and implement my own teaching strategies however my second school placement does not offer such freedom. There is such pressure on the faculty staff they would prefer I deliver their pre developed resources, this is a direct result of the pressure on them from middle management to meet increasingly high prescriptive standards.
The white paper is a wide-ranging document containing sections on teaching and leadership, behaviour, curriculum, assessment and qualifications, the new school system, accountability, school improvement and school funding. It argues that the National Curriculum had been too prescriptive and had specified teaching methods, which teachers should be free to decide. It recommends that the new curriculum should be 'slim, clear and authoritative', and while academies and free schools would keep the freedom to set aside parts of the curriculum, they would be required to teach a 'broad and balanced' curriculum (DfE 2010:42). All schools, including special schools and pupil referral units, would be allowed to become academies. To address unfair variations in funding between schools, the long-term goal was a 'national funding formula' under which money would go directly from Whitehall to schools, rather than through the local authorities (DfE 2010:82). Pupils would be prevented from taking large numbers of A Level resits, and the focus of the GCSE would be on the final exam. An English baccalaureate would 'encourage schools to offer a broad set of academic subjects to age 16' (DfE 2010:44) Neither did it explain how it would 'free our teachers from constraint' and our 'schools from external control', while at the same time forcing them to use a particular method to teach reading. Peter Mortimore, former director of the University of London Institute of Education, was disturbed by the white paper's tacit acceptance of privatisation: The concept of privatisation is not discussed in the
white paper, but can be detected in its subtext - with frequent references to 'new providers', 'private sector organisations' and 'a new market of school improvement services'. Yet where is the evidence that a market-led system, run by hedge-fund managers and their ilk, will create an education system to equal Finland's? (Mortimore 2010)
And Simon Jenkins was not convinced that the white paper would result in serious reconsideration of the school curriculum: The truth is that the entire curriculum is juju. Nobody knows its purpose. It is a miasma of archaism, bogus assumption, bland assertion and inertia. Nobody assesses what is a sensible way of spending a day, week or term. Nobody thrashes out the appropriate balance of vocational and educational, preferring to leave politicians to decide on the basis of 'what was good enough for me'. Almost everything taught to children is forgotten. The waste of money, time and talent must be stupendous. Yet we sail happily on, gazing over the stern and marvelling at the wake trailing behind Jenkins (2010)
In December 2006 the report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group was published. Chaired by Christine Gilbert 2020 Vision set out the Review Group's recommendations for schooling in the future. The report argued that pupils should have more choice in what they studied, should mark their own work and grade their teachers' performance. Traditional grades should be replaced by feedback, and pupils should be entered for exams as soon as they were ready, rather than waiting until they reached a certain age. Teachers gave the report a guarded welcome (The Guardian 4 January 2007). In both schools where I have been placed student panels are used to interview potential teachers. Also in both my placement schools students who perform exceptionally in certain subjects complete GCSE exams early and may take the same exam twice or three times to gain the result they desire.
Prof Wolf said: "I think there are very few people now who do not feel that the result has been to trivialise the way many subjects are taught, to make lessons far too oriented to the passing of tests, and preparation for the precise questions that will be asked, and to suck not only the joy but also much of the point out of the increasingly long period our children spend in formal schooling."
"If you create something as large, complex and interconnected as we did with the National Curriculum, it becomes extremely difficult to modify it in any significant way, and that is exactly what has happened," she said.
"The result been endless pressure to pile up qualifications, which has had the inevitable result of degrading and devaluing them."