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A Baccalaureate Curriculum

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 1 February 2024

Secondary school students in a drama class. Phil Meech for UCL.

Secondary school students in a drama class. Phil Meech for UCL.

David Scott

This blog post is not just an opinion piece but also, I hope, a reasoned argument about the curriculum, and for the introduction of a ‘true’ Baccalaureate into the English Education System – with all the implications this has, not just for the 16-19 phase, but for the system as a whole. A more detailed account of this argument is available in my edited book, On Learning: volume 2, Philosophy, Concepts and Practices, which is free to download at UCL Press.

The call for England to adopt a broader curriculum for the 16-19 phase is one that has surfaced intermittently. It is echoed in the government’s plans to introduce an ‘Advanced British Standard’, incorporating ‘Maths to 18’ and the combining of academic and vocational elements. I will take as my starting point, however, the recent Times Commission on Education, which produced its final report in June 2022, making forty-five recommendations for reforming the English Education System in its entirety. I do so because it neatly illustrates the place for more considered reflection on the underpinning principles for a ‘British Baccalaureate’ (or an ‘Advanced British Standard’) and the surrounding phases.

The Commission’s recommendations ranged from the banal – ‘Every primary school should have a library’ (perhaps this should be every primary classroom should have a library, which the vast majority do anyway) – to the interesting but undeveloped – ‘A British Baccalaureate at 18’ is recommended, this would be ‘an equally rigorous but broader qualification than ‘A’ levels with academic and vocational options under the same umbrella’. What is missing from this Report and its recommendations, though, are: a coherent theory of learning; an in-depth understanding of educative processes (as opposed to training processes); a theory of curriculum that is based on a real understanding of how we learn (children and adults); and a sense of coherence and consistency. On the latter, for example, recommendation 16 referring to the need for a British Baccalaureate, which has some holistic elements, is in conflict with recommendation 17, which suggests that ‘at sixteen pupils should take a slimmed-down set of exams in five core subjects …’, which seems to be in denial of some fundamental Baccalaureate principles, such as holism, breadth, Bildung, coherence, solidarity, comprehensiveness and liberality (as in a liberal education).

Here are some suggestions from which a ‘British Baccalaureate’ could and arguably should be derived. Rather than a training model, which tends to be the preferred model, I argue for a Bildungstheorie, a theory of learning. A Bildung (the core of a Bildungstheorie) is a German word expressing relations of maturation, progression, narration, possibility, projection, praxis, edification, justification and teleology. Such an approach is future oriented, semantically-conceived, fundamentally values- and virtues-based, ethically-and compassionately-driven (at curriculum, pedagogic and learning levels) and life-long. It also fulfils Martha Nussbaum’s (1997) requirement for a philosophy of equal esteem for all human beings – the equality principle.

How might we construct a Baccalaureate from these principles? As set out in my book, I suggest there are twelve areas of life relevant to thinking about the curriculum. These are: epistemics (knowing), modalities (communicating), temporalities (genealogising), spatialities (positioning), physicalist sciences (cognizing), hermeneutics (understanding), technologies (enhancing), meditations (philosophising), ethics (being), corporalities (embodying), valorizations (valuing), and creativities (being creative). The easy part of making or constructing a curriculum is to describe or give a credible account of knowledge production and curriculum formation with regards to the concept and practice of learning, for this involves cognitions and understandings. The difficult part is making a judgement about what those forms of knowledge might be and what they cannot be, for this involves valorizations and evaluations. This can be expressed in the form of a question: What are those dispositions (for example, being intelligent, being courageous, being liberal, being patient, being friendly, being truthful, and so on) that we think are appropriate for inclusion in a curriculum? Similarly, what are the cognitions (for example, having and being able to use stores of propositional knowledge developed by other people in the important areas of life, such as astronomy, biochemistry, biophysics, biology, chemistry, genetics, geology, zoology, history, geography, sociology, psychology and so on), processes and procedures (for example, making a table out of wood, making an inferential judgement, word-processing and much more) and embodiments (for example, sexuality or sexual preference, physicality and motility) that we think are appropriate for inclusion in a curriculum?

What I have set out here is not a directory of pedagogic knowledge, because the objects to be learnt have logical and other types of inferential connections and relations with the way they can be learnt and thus their pedagogy is derived from the constitution of the learning object, their learning modus operandi, and the characteristics of the learning environment. It also involves a series of rational choices and consequently the giving of reasons for those choices.

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