Opinion: New school curriculum

schoolsignI have recently written a couple of articles on Liberal Democrat Voice around changes to schools (here and here).  Please read them, as they go with this one. To follow on from them I believe we also need Lib Dems to get behind changes to the curriculum in secondary schools.

The National Curriculum in England gives standards for each subject, but not which subjects (beyond the core subjects of Maths, English and Science) must be taught. If a mainstream school offers History they must follow the History national curriculum standards, but if they don’t have a History teacher then they don’t have to offer it, that needs to change. We need a balanced curriculum for all students, irrespective of which school or local authority are students attend.

The changes we should bring are that all secondary schools (including academies or free schools) to offer the following GCSE options (options being subjects that are not core subjects):

  1. One humanities subject from:
    • History
    • Geography
    • Religious Education
    • English literature
  2. One creative subject from:
    • Art (whichever form of Art, at school’s discretion)
    • Product Design (CDT for those of us over 30!)
    • Food Technology
  3. One language subject from:
    • French
    • German
    • Spanish
    • Other languages as staff skills allow
  4. One social science subject from:
    • Law
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Politics
  5. Other optional subjects as per LEA (local education authority) need and teaching staff skills allow.
  6. Core (and therefore mandatory) subjects to be updated to be:
    • English Language
    • Mathematics
    • Science (Chemistry, Physics, Biology)
    • IT / ICT
    • PSHE (Personal, Social, Health & Economic education) to be made a new compulsory core subject and subject to the school inspectorates judgement system and a ‘life skills’ GCSE course centred around skills of home, work, citizenship, health to be learnt & tested.

This means all children would take nine GCSEs in total.

In addition to the curriculum changes above, all exam boards to be re-organised such that each subject is only managed by one exam board, removing the competition between multiple boards and the race to the bottom over grade boundaries. This will also restore public and employer confidence in the examinations.

Likewise, ‘Teaching to the test’ be ended and all children to be given a rounded education in all subjects.

Such changes would enable us to truly offer a comprehensive education to our young people, enabling them to get the best life chances possible.

* Barry Holliday Barry Holliday is Lib Dem PPC for Nottingham South, Nottingham City Lib Dems vice-chair & campaigns officer. He is a secondary school teacher of History & PSHCE and Notts County FC fan

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16 Comments

  • Yes and no. I’d put them in the 5th group~ others as per skills allow

    Its a shame 40 years on we still don’t have a true comprehensive education

  • I’m a teacher.

    How do you propose to end teaching to the test? Abolishing the spec? In which case how do you ensure all schools are teaching the same?

    One of those fluff phrases that mean absolutely nothing.

  • Rebecca Hanson 1st Jul '14 - 12:56pm

    There’s vastly more to the curriculum changes than you’ve described Barry.

    I’m stunned you’ve concluded

    “‘Teaching to the test’ be ended and all children to be given a rounded education in all subjects.”

    Why do you think that will happen?

  • Paul Griffiths 1st Jul '14 - 1:34pm

    This list seems over-prescriptive to me. Politicians should not be involved in drafting the Minimum Curiculum Entitlement. It should instead be drawn up by representatives from all sectors, and require unanimous agreement.

  • Peter Watson 1st Jul '14 - 1:39pm

    “Likewise, ‘Teaching to the test’ be ended and all children to be given a rounded education in all subjects.”
    If there is a test then people will “learn to it” and be “taught to it”. This is not new: it worked for me when I did my O-levels, A-levels and degree in the 80s.

  • Martin Land 1st Jul '14 - 2:47pm

    Stop tinkering, Barry. the system is not fit for purpose.

    Why? Because nobody can agree what the purpose is, that’s why.

    Is our educational system designed to meet the needs of the individual? The requirements of the universities? The wishes of employers? A mixture of two or more of these? Until someone fully and properly addresses this question and provides a reasonable answer, we are always going to fail to provide the best education possible.

  • Rebecca Hanson 1st Jul '14 - 4:04pm

    Barry have you actually read any part of the new curriculum, compared it with what was there before and discussed your analysis with somebody who understands the issues?

  • I compared the list of subjects with those offered at the school I attended back in the 1970’s and am a little concerned at how low you are proposing to set the barrier!

    I went to what was then regarded as a ‘large’ school with 150 pupils per year which was able to offer the majority of the subjects listed at O-level/GCSE, plus some others not listed!

    My understanding is the majority of new schools have year groups significantly larger the 150, I therefore suggest there is no reason why schools shouldn’t be required to offer the full list of subjects…

  • Peter Watson 1st Jul '14 - 7:53pm

    @Barry
    I notice that in your list, Science is a single subject. Many children study dual science (2 GCSEs) or separate sciences (3 GCSEs).

  • I think this is a terrible idea and it is illiberal because it doesn’t offer real choice.
    Why would you force someone to do a humanities subject when they hate all the subjects and always do terribly in them? You are ensuring that some pupils will fail.

    Are you really saying to a child who is great at science we will not let you take, Chemistry and Physics and Biology?

    What are you trying to achieve?

    Are there enough Spanish teachers, because the last thing you need is an unqualified person trying to teacher a foreign language which isn’t their own?

    Is IT Computer Studies including programming? Computer Studies including programming should be an option somewhere.
    What extra benefit is ICT GCSE once you have studied the subject for three years?

    I am glad I didn’t have to take 10 subjects when doing my CSE’s/O levels. What is the norm these days and if less why increase it? Isn’t PE a compulsory subject even if the children don’t take the subject to GCSE level?

    If you don’t mainly teach to the test then you are just ensuring that children get a worse grade. Who benefits from that?

    To give a rounded education you would need to abolish the curriculum and exams.

    Wouldn’t a liberal approach be to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to study a humanities subject, a science subject (any one of the three), a creative subject (as Mary Reid says plus Music and Drama), a language subject (I thought we were encouraging the learning of Chinese), a social science subject (including Economic or Commerce) as well as English and Maths? (I am not familiar with a subject called “Science” or why it is studied rather than the three core subjects. Is it for those who are not really interested in or don’t like the science subjects? I know I would have hated having to study any aspect of biology to “O level” standard I had a hard enough time doing it in my first three years at secondary school.)

    Then as part of this approach each child should be able to choose more than one subject from these groupings. This would offer the child greater choice and the opportunity to take subjects they are interested in, rather than studying lots of subjects they have little interest in and/or no aptitude for.

  • Steve Griffiths 2nd Jul '14 - 8:34am

    @Barry Holliday

    ” I’d put them in the 5th group”

    No, they should be in the second group, where they are already are in many schools – in the creative arts departments. I recall the percussionist Evelyn Glennie saying that she believed children had a right to a musical education as well as the other subjects in the curriculum – and she was right. Sadly in many state schools the subject has largely disappeared and instrumental teaching reduced to a bit of guitar teaching from students wanting to earn a bit of cash. No wonder of the BBC Young Musician of the Year contestants are almost exclusively from private schools. It wasn’t always so.

  • Peter Chivall 2nd Jul '14 - 9:34am

    I don’t understand. Why are we spending so much intellectual effort on the irrelevancy of an set of exams at 16.? 16 WAS the end date for compulsory education, but the Education Participation age is soon to be 18.
    We need two sets of national assessments: one at 14 to establish a young person’s competency in basic skills, mostly English and Maths, but also Scientific Concepts and Principles, Moral and Religious Principles, Problem Solving and Design and Creative Skills etc. Supported by competent Advice and Guidance, the young person could then choose to remain in a ‘conventional’ academic education, culminating in University admission at 18+, or undertake a more practically-based ‘vocational’ educational programme which would involve Work Experience and an Apprenticeship-style education from 16+, or a hybrid ‘mix and match’ of both elements, leading to Advanced Apprenticeships and vocational degrees at technically-oriented Universities, possibly while continuing in employment.
    At 18-plus, all students could opt to take a true Baccalaureate-style Diploma with a compulsory minimum of both Sciences and Humanities, or a Technical Diploma, of equal standing, for those actively involved in aspects of their Technical and Vocational Education.
    Much of this was recommended by Tomlinson 10 years ago. The Blair Government, in typically cowardly fashion, ignored it and tried ‘baby steps’ reform which the Govites easily dismantled with their ‘back to the ’50s’ programmes.
    Fortunately, Tomlinson has not given up and is proposing a ‘Modern Baccalaureate’ which has been taken up by our own LDEA.
    This should form the basis of our Party’s Manifesto. Far more useful than wasting our time and effort tinkering with the remnants of an irrelelvant 1970s 16plus examination.

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