Opinion: Changes for the Better – LibDem wins on the new National Curriculum

schoolsign“I still have serious reservations about it, but it’s a whole lot better than when Gove originally launched the consultation” – a headteacher friend summing up his feelings about the newly announced National Curriculum for schools. We know, behind the scenes, just how the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition have influenced some of the most significant changes. It’s time to let your teacher and parent friends know the difference the LibDems have made.

One big win is that this new curriculum is so much shorter than Labour’s (468 to 224 pages). The history curriculum has been rewritten to include local and world history, and to recognise diversity. Speaking and Listening are back in the English curriculum. Creativity is stressed in Art, Music and Drama, and Design has been rewritten to include a broader range of industrial applications.

Primary schools can now choose the foreign language they wish to teach – or even look at several languages. Climate change has been returned to the Geography curriculum. Biodiversity and seasonality of food and produce are added to the curriculum for the first time.

Human rights and financial education have been added to the Citizenship curriculum, which should delight all Liberal Democrats. Perhaps Theresa May and George Osborne could do night school?

I believe the Liberal Democrats have made huge progress. Of course there are many other things we would have changed had we more political power. Nick Clegg had to intervene personally on some of these things. We have been told that the Liberal Democrat Education Association’s Report on Curriculum and Assessment (download here) was ‘enormously helpful’ as it pointed to priorities in our team’s negotiations with Michael Gove.

The challenge now is, of course, to move to get implementation right. The timescale is very tight. I hope the work we are currently doing on Continuous Professional Development may help to improve opportunities for teachers to get together to develop best practice. Many of our other comments in the LDEA Report related to implementation rather than content and David Laws will now be looking to see how these can be used.

All the ‘enlightened’ people of the Left who write to The Guardian protesting against the failure of the Liberal Democrats to secure this and that might just remind themselves that had more of them voted for us, they might have got what they wanted. More seats mean more influence. That lesson needs banging home at the next General Election.

* Denys Robinson is a past Chair of the Liberal Democrat Education Association, and is currently a member of Lord Storey’s working group on Continuous Professional Development for teachers.

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  • Eddie Sammon 16th Jul '13 - 3:02pm

    I just think it is very sad to play politics with the national curriculum.

  • Paul Edgeworth 16th Jul '13 - 5:32pm

    Denys’s point about the ‘enlighted people of the Left’ is quite right , and even more important now that Labour are saying they won’t have a national curriculum at all, whilst the Conservatives stick with a curriculum that doesn’t apply to academies and free schools.

    Only the Liberal Democrats are fighting for a minimum curriculum entitlement for all young people, no matter what type of school they go to.

  • “More seats mean more influence. That lesson needs banging home at the next General Election.”

    This is not really true. Each party has to compromise but if it wasn’t in the coalition agreement then either party can veto it. Nick Clegg has used the veto. The question becomes did we get enough of what we wanted to allow those things we don’t like to be done. The failure of the leadership is in not getting this right for the membership and the public.

  • Peter Watson 17th Jul '13 - 12:40am

    @Denys Robinson
    Thanks for writing this interesting piece. My involvement with the education system is as a parent who is concerned by the turmoil that Gove, aided and abetted by his coalition partners, is inflicting upon the education system through which my children are progressing. The links to the Lib Dem Education Association lead to some very reassuring documents.

    However, I am not convinced by your claim that “We know, behind the scenes, just how the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition have influenced some of the most significant changes.”. How do we know that? If the Lib Dems had any influence then it would have been before Gove’s pronouncements, not changes to them afterwards.

    I welcome the LDEA statement in the linked document, “There is strong evidence internationally that continuing to maintain breadth in the curriculum is beneficial both to individual students and to society at large.” However, Gove’s changes to the GCSE examination system seem to be forcing more specialisation and less breadth: abandoning the modular structure and coursework while requiring terminal exams in year 11 means that my younger children will not have the space to study the number or range of GCSEs that their older brother did. Lib Dems in government have supported these changes, and referred to a system that was “dumbed down” rather than one which encouraged younger students to expand their horizons by studying a broad range of subjects.

    Consequently I have mixed feelings. What I see on the Lib Dem Education Association website reassures me and reminds me of the Lib Dem party that I voted for. But then, by acting as cheerleaders for Gove, Laws and Clegg disappointingly remind me of the Lib Dem party I have ended up with.

  • Peter Watson 17th Jul '13 - 1:04am

    @Denys Robinson “We have been told that the Liberal Democrat Education Association’s Report on Curriculum and Assessment (download here) was ‘enormously helpful’ as it pointed to priorities in our team’s negotiations with Michael Gove.”
    Very reassuring. That document says, “intrusive external testing with published league tables is seen as damaging both to schools and pupils. Public examinations are typically left until quite late in a pupil’s education.” But then I read on the Guardian site tonight, “Children as young as five could face formal classroom tests under proposals unveiled on Wednesday by Nick Clegg.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/jul/17/five-year-olds-tests-clegg). Very disappointing. That document seems to have been as “enormously helpful” as conference votes on various issues that the leadership have ignored over the last few years.

  • Simon McGrath 17th Jul '13 - 12:02pm

    Its extraordianry that the LD Education Association is continuing it obsession that parent should not know how schools are performing by external assessment. There is overwhelming evidence that this damages children education. Happily ,Party policy was changed last year by Conference so we are no longer against external assesment
    The study of what happened in Wales could not be more compelling:
    This is what the Bristol University study said:
    “We find systematic, significant and robust evidence that abolishing school league tables markedly reduced school effectiveness in Wales.
    “The impact is sizeable: a fall of 1.92 GCSE grades per student per year”.


  • Peter Watson 17th Jul '13 - 3:19pm

    @Simon McGrath
    It always struck me as unsatisfactory that the Bristol University study did not seem to consider the effect of increased welsh medium teaching in Wales over the same period; living near to North Wales, I’ve often wondered if that has an impact on academic performance there. It should also be noted that the study did show that GCSE performance in Wales increased over the period studied but at a lesser rate than in England (welsh became compulsory at Key Stage 4 in 1999), and that the lack of league tables did not affect the best schools (welsh language teaching is less widespread in independent schools).

  • Simon Banks 17th Jul '13 - 9:18pm

    I am bewildered by Eddie’s comment. Has the National Curriculum become an aspect of the monarchy? Why isn’t it in the realm of politics? Labour introduced it, against Liberal objections, and it reflected their priorities for education along with other things various people persuaded them to include. Michael Gove, the most party political of Education Secretaries since, well, Ed Balls, clearly has his own materialistic and nationalistic ideas about what should and shouldn’t be in the curriculum. Why shouldn’t we make the best of our influence and say so?

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Jul '13 - 9:43pm

    I’ll give you that one Simon, made me laugh too, no the national curriculum hasn’t become part of the monarchy! I was just expressing my displeasure at the author proclaiming what I see as dogmatic liberal victories, such as trying to re-write history to pretend society was more diverse than it was and placing a greater emphasis on what I see as “soft” subjects, such as drama.

    I’m not saying we should have a conservative curriculum, but if some on the left got their way we would have no exams and children and history would be about the continuous and unavoidable rise of liberalism, feminism and equality! This aspect of the left instills genuine fear in people and we need to deal with it, not fuel the fire.

  • “Labour introduced it, against Liberal objections”

    I think you’ll find , as with most education reforms*, it was the Tories that introduced the national curriculum (in 1988).

    *massive increase in proportion of students going on to HE actually happened in 1989-1993, not under Labour (and without any tuition fees), introduction of GCSEs, scrapping grammar schools, introduction of league tables, etc.

  • What a very interesting article. I’d like to think that the school that I attended, Carmel College, did include local and world history, and to recognise diversity within the world. Although some of the teachers weren’t perfect by far I did learn a fair amount from others. Mind you, it was not a state school!! Anyway, maybe things are slightly different nowadays and teacher training has moved on. Sadly one of my main memories of school was receiving the slipper for any minor indiscretion although the main purpose seemed to be the self gratification of that particular teacher. Hopefully with the CRB process undesirable teachers like that will be filtered out of our education system.

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