What are consultations for?
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 20 September 2013
A national curriculum is in part a representation of what a society wants for the education of its citizens. This is why many people feel that wide consultation on its content and ethos is necessary.
The proposals for England’s 2014 national curriculum, finalised and published a few days ago, were subject to a national public consultation that ran from February to April 2013. The consultation attracted more than 17,000 responses from a mixture of organisations and individuals. The table below shows my analysis of the DFE’s report on the consultation outcomes, and the Government’s response to it. In particular, for each question in the consultation I have identified the majority response to the consultation questions.
It is worthwhile for Ministers to consider the value of carrying the educational community with them on a matter of such national significance. Yet, as can be seen, the majority of those who expressed a view gave negative responses to eight out of nine questions. In my view it is reasonable to conclude that in the light of this strikingly negative response the national curriculum is not fit for purpose and should be rewritten. This view is given added force by last year’s decision by most members of the national curriculum expert group to raise strong objections to many of the proposals.
Some cynically take the view that one should not expect public consultations to result in major change to proposals, and that such consultations are emblematic rather than pragmatic. But if this is the case it invalidates what should be the main purpose: to consult the widest possible range of people, address their response, and act even-handedly on this response.
As far as the specific problems with the national curriculum proposals are concerned, many people predicted these in their responses to the consultation. Indeed my own department, the Early Years and Primary Education department at the IOE convened a team to respond fully to the consultation. For example, we argued that a national debate on aims should precede the crafting of the content and urged that the process of learning be given more prominence. We also highlighted discontinuities between the primary curriculum and the stages that precede and follow it.
Analysis of government response to consultation on the national curriculum
If public consultation on national curricula and assessment is to be genuinely meaningful then the following need to be in place:
• Analysis of consultation responses should be carried out by an organisation independent of government and the civil service, for example a research organisation.
• A transparent methodology for analysis is needed, for example to account fairly (including through statistical weighting) for the views of organisations versus individual respondents; to clearly explain the approach to analysis of qualitative answers; and more generally to be an account that would satisfy researchers of the rigor of the analysis.
• Consultation should include a question on the overall desirability of proposed changes in addition to any questions about the fine detail of proposals.
• Clear majority views should be acted on in line with the opinion expressed. A principled way to deal with less clear-cut answers should be established.
• Responses, analyses, and government actions should be available online in order to ensure public trust, and to demonstrate democracy at work.
I hope that these principles will inform the consultation on assessment that is currently in progress, because the decisions made on assessment are likely to have a profound impact on the curriculum, pedagogy and children’s lives in school.