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Ofsted has turned our attention back to what makes a good curriculum. We now need better answers

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 January 2019

 John White.
Ofsted has begun consulting on a revised draft inspection framework.
The inspectorate wants to move away from an over-reliance on results and to focus on how these have been achieved – ‘whether they are the result of broad and rich learning, or gaming and cramming. ’The aim is to ‘‘rebalance inspection to make sure that young people are being taught the best of what has been thought and said’.
Ofsted’s focus on whether a school has a good curriculum is welcome. If taken seriously, it should lead us into deep and complex issues about what education should be about. But, bound as it is by current legislation, Ofsted has a very specific interpretation of this. Its references to knowledge and skills and nod to Matthew Arnold’s well-known dictum show its reliance on the current National Curriculum aims, introduced by then Education Secretary (more…)

Michael Young: fighting for working class students’ access to knowledge

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 October 2018

John Morgan. 
The Guardian Education section last week published a profile of Michael Young, Professor of the Sociology of Education at UCL. Its author, Peter Wilby, charts what he saw as Young’s dramatic shift from countercultural figure on the educational left to alleged supporter of Michael Gove’s narrow view of the National Curriculum.
Wilby reverts to what has been described as the default settings of educational discourse in England, whereby to be in favour of the dissolution of subject boundaries is to be “progressive”, whilst to be in favour of strong subject boundaries is seen to be at best “traditional”, and at worst, “Conservative”. This could not be further from the truth. As Wilby acknowledges, Michael Young has always sought to advance the socialistcause in education.
The fact that he (more…)

Talking their language: how London's university-school partnerships are helping to tackle the MFL crisis

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 January 2017

Caroline Conlon
In the ‘Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review’ published last November by the Teaching Schools Council for the Department for Education, Review chair Ian Baukham paints a bleak picture of language learning in England’s secondary schools. He says, ‘… currently fewer than half of pupils take a GCSE in a language’ and ‘beyond GCSE, modern languages are in crisis.’ He adds, ‘Without concerted action, languages in our schools are at risk, and may become confined to certain types of school and certain sections of the pupil population.’
On top of that, the Guardian reports that Brexit is threatening the supply of teachers who have come to the UK from Europe because Theresa May has refused to give EU nationals  any assurances that they will continue to be welcome. This is of particular concern for MFL teaching.
But as we demonstrate in our new book, Success Stories from Secondary Foreign Languages Classrooms – Models from London school partnerships with universities, all is not doom and (more…)

Yes Ministry: writing project gives creativity a boost

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 March 2016

Dominic Wyse
If you agree that the Primary National Curriculum for English is too complex and over-loaded with detail, try a little experiment. See what happens when you take the 2014 Music Curriculum and adapt it appropriately.
My team and I have been researching the development of children’s creativity, and I think this could represent a new vision for English in the curriculum of the future:

 Purposes

One of the highest forms of creativity

Increase [pupils’] self-confidence, creativity and sense of achievement

Aims

To create and compose writing on their own and with others

To understand and explore how writing is created

KS1 programme of study (more…)

Subject to change: here we go EBacc again

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 November 2015

Chris Husbands.
The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has begun to flesh out plans to make the English Baccalaureate – English, Mathematics, Science, History or Geography and languages – all but compulsory for 14-16 year olds in England.
The idea that all pupils should study a common curriculum throughout compulsory schooling is hardly new. The concept of a ‘comprehensive curriculum for the comprehensive school’ underpinned David Hargreaves’s widely read and influential 1985 book The Challenge for the Comprehensive School – it was subtitled ‘culture, curriculum and community’. In 1988, Kenneth Baker’s National Curriculum embedded a national curriculum from ages five through 16 in statute. I was a secondary school history teacher at the time and remember turning out to earnest conferences of history and geography teachers who were – in most cases – relieved that government had achieved what our would-be eloquent arguments had not: to convince deputy heads responsible for option systems to make our subjects (more…)

Twenty-seven years on from the national curriculum

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 June 2015

Chris Husbands.

Will the 2015 drive for curriculum entitlement succeed where 1988 and the national curriculum did not?

We’ve been here before. A government re-elected; impatient to press on with education reform; concerned about the way schools respond to change; determined to implement radical curriculum and assessment change.

This time it is the proposal that the EBacc become a requirement for all 16-year-olds. In 1988 it was the then novel national curriculum. It was to be a requirement for all pupils from 5 through to 16, embedding academic subjects as the building blocks for curriculum planning. (more…)

Why we must take the National Curriculum out of ministers’ clutches

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 March 2015

John White
Nicky Morgan has just rejected ASCL’s call for ‘a broad nationally defined core curriculum framework’ to be set by a curriculum commission at arm’s length from politicians.
This will review the framework every five years and include representatives from school leaders, teachers, parents, industry, and politicians. Schools are encouraged to build a culture of curriculum design and development including but going beyond this core. (more…)

A caricature of character education? Morgan needs a broader vision

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 January 2015

John White
The Department for Education has just invited schools and other bodies to bid for money to support projects in character education. Since her appointment last July, Nicky Morgan has shown an especial interest in this area. In a recent talk at Birmingham University, she spoke of “ensuring that young people not only grow academically, but also build character, resilience and grit”.
She went on: “We want to ensure that young people leave school with the perseverance to strive to win…. We want pupils to revel in the achievement of victory, but honour the principles of fair play, to win with grace and to learn the lessons of defeat with acceptance and humility.” These values are reflected in the bidding invitation. Pride of place is given to perseverance, resilience, grit, confidence, (more…)

Nicky Morgan’s new loom: weaving values into the curriculum

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 October 2014

John White
In her recent appearance before the Select Committee on Education, Nicky Morgan said that “we must not be shy about talking about fundamental British values.” She added that schools should promote values like mutual respect and equality between girls and boys; and that ideals such as democracy and tolerance must be “woven” into the curriculum.
If these are British values, I’m a Dutchman. The ones she mentions are those of liberal democracy. They are prized as much in Helsinki or Washington as they are in London. It is excellent that the new Secretary of State is backing them in our schools and that she is not giving them lip service, but suggesting how this should happen. She is right that weaving them into the curriculum is the way forward.
A lot turns, of course, on where she’s taking this. There are two possibilities. One is that she follows her predecessor in (more…)

When the national curriculum is not compulsory we need to keep presenting the case for Holocaust education

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 July 2014

Andy Pearce
As First World War centenary commemorations become entangled with 70th anniversaries of the Second, it is worth reflecting on the words of Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti: “Forgetfulness is full of memory”. And the idea that the converse may be true has a particular salience given current trends in contemporary Britain.
We know how the ‘present pasts’ we surround ourselves with are expressions of our politics and preoccupations, and that education systems act as essential conduits in the formation of our collective memory. This is not news to most, and if one needed any reminding, the second round of the ‘battle for the big prize’ which broke out over the recently revised National Curriculum for History was instructive. It was out of the wrangling of 1989-1991 that the Holocaust became a mandatory requirement in England and Wales.
This was a major landmark in the history of our national Holocaust consciousness, laying a foundation for the institutionalisation of cultural memory of the genocide of European Jewry. Since then, the Holocaust has been one of the only constants in the history curriculum and this has undoubtedly been one of the reasons behind its pervasive presence in early 21st Century British culture.
But this development has not followed a progressive, upward trajectory. The incorporation of the Holocaust into the History curriculum has long been undermined by a lack of clarity of purpose and rationale – by both policymakers and teachers. This shortcoming has left teaching and learning open to politicisation and susceptible to cultural fads. In some ways this has tracked what has happened in society more widely, where since the turn of the millennium the Holocaust has been increasingly abstracted and decontextualized: a talisman to which all manner of meanings are affixed by all and sundry.
Fourteen years have passed since the process of institutionalising Holocaust memory was completed by the opening of the Imperial War Museum’s permanent exhibition and the creation of Holocaust Memorial Day. Yet the shapes and hues of our Holocaust consciousness remain contradictory and paradoxical. The incoming Programme of Study for Key Stage 3 History provides an excellent example of this. After an initial framing of the Holocaust as a ‘unique evil’ was rightly dropped, the genocide is now the only compulsory event named under the rubric of “challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to the present day”. Incredibly, given the suffusion of our culture by war commemoration, the First and Second World Wars appear simply as non-statutory content.
However welcome the retention of the Holocaust in the curriculum may be, its positioning raises the real prospect of perpetuating its cultural abstraction. Context, as any historian and history teacher knows, is key and the potential for the Holocaust to be taught without it carries severe implications. It is even more pernicious that because the National Curriculum is not compulsory for academies and free schools, there is no guarantee that students will even encounter the Holocaust within formal education.
Classrooms are not the only places where knowledge and understanding of the past are formulated, of course. But schools are settings where misconceptions can be corrected and inquisitive and critical mind-sets nurtured. Bearing in mind how diffuse the Holocaust is in our society, and the proclivity towards its misrepresentation, it would seem imperative that it feature in all school curricula.
To say that the Holocaust should be taught is not enough: there still needs to be clarity of aim and sound pedagogical purpose. Over the past 20 years an orthodoxy has emerged, with the presumption that education will give students ‘the facts’ to combat Holocaust denial and develop a life-long commitment to ‘never forget’.
These are laudable and worthy intentions, but they are not without complications. As Paulo Friere observed, the constructed nature of knowledge presses against the idea that knowledge is an inert entity that is simply transmitted from teacher to student. In the case of history, substantive knowledge requires conceptual, disciplinary frameworks. Remembering – that is, remembrance tuned in the key of memorialisation – is not something which sits easily with the nature of historical enquiry and independent thinking. Nor, returning to Benedetti, does it prevent forgetting.
Despite the terms of the new National Curriculum and the creation of a Holocaust Commission charged with ‘keeping the memory alive’, the academisation of our education system has created a marketplace where a sophisticated and informed case for teaching and learning about the Holocaust must be made. The Holocaust should be a fixture in our students’ education for a host of reasons, not least because of its capacity to open up those most perennial of questions: just what is education, and what do we want education to do?
Holocaust Consciousness in Contemporary Britain by Andy Pearce has just been published by Routledge. All are welcome to attend the book launch today (July 3) at the IOE.