A consensus on the aim and content of the curriculum that has been hidden for too long re-emerged at the Whole Education annual conference in snow-covered London on 28 February and again at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) annual conference in Birmingham a week later.
The narrow knowledge-based curriculum, promoted by the government since 2010, was firmly rejected by a range of speakers who, from their different perspectives, argued for the breadth and balance in the curriculum that remains in English law the statutory obligation of schools.
Speaking to the theme of the Whole Education conference, “Attainment is not enough”, CBI education chief Neil Carberry said: “There’s a lot of support for the aims of Whole Education in the business community”, arguing for skills development in parallel with knowledge. Business leaders do not accept that schools should have to choose between knowledge and skills in their curriculum planning. Both have to be taught, he said, if young people are to be prepared well for both work and life.
Japan, Singapore and Finland were all quoted as countries that have reduced the size of their knowledge curriculum in order to make space for schools to develop skills and personal attributes. Portugal, according to Valerie Hannon of the Innovation Unit, who has studied the country’s education policy, has had a national debate on what kind of students people want schools to produce – a debate that has never taken place in England, where political dogma so often trumps the views of educationists and the wider public. Singapore, most Canadian states and Australia have also had constructive debates about the purpose and desired endpoint of schooling.
That future may be very different from the present and from what is generally predicted by current orthodoxy. As CBI education chief, Neil Carberry said: “More jobs will be created in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) than will be lost by these forms of automation.” Employers need people with the skills to make the most of these opportunities and a curriculum solely based on the knowledge that government ministers acquired at school 30 years ago certainly won’t do that.
But will they listen? Fingers crossed. Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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