As the Curriculum Review nears its conclusion, teachers and schools across the nation are being prepared for a critical shift in the formula behind the national curriculum.
The context for the new orders couldn’t be much different from the prescriptive environment when the formula was last written.
A Headteacher said to me a few weeks ago ‘The National Curriculum is an irrelevance to us now’. This wasn’t an opted-out Academy: it was a ‘super-head’ from an Outstanding state comprehensive who recognised that Ofsted had stopped inspecting in relation to the National Curriculum, and so had shifted his priorities accordingly. He still recognised the value of teaching to the inspection, but not to the curriculum.
This indicates that both the formulation and the context of the new curriculum – in a country heading towards a deregulated school environment – will not be the same as the previous prescription. It is expected to look more like a Menu of options with some core elements; the EBacc staples, nestling within a broader dietary mix.
Such ‘staples’ would be the equivalent of the five-a-day fruit and veg that is promoted to ensure a nutritional diet. Once a school has delivered the staples, it chooses the right elements from the menu to satisfy the bias and priorities of its customers: tailoring it to a mix of the parental palate and the child’s nutritional needs.
Deregulation means that each school will be left to create the menu, to market it to parents and validate its nutritional content to Ofsted who will then award its Michelin Guide star rating.
If you’re responding to this metaphor, you’re probably one of the wealthy few who can afford to consider the value of the Michelin stars. Meanwhile – those with less ‘educated palettes’ are looking longingly into the windows of McDonalds… which of course is a massively popular ‘restaurant’, particularly in poorer areas.
McDonalds may be a triumph of marketing formula over substantive merit, but it satisfies a certain section of the population that enjoys the pacifying nature of food more than the nuanced flavours of haute cuisine.
An educated palette usually coincides with a life where basic needs have been without question, leaving one to relish its subtleties and higher sensibilities.
But here the metaphor of educational content as ‘menu’ starts to be more revealing. It suggests that we are somehow educated for appreciation: and such an education may not be through teaching, but the satiation of other needs leaving space for development.
Put another way, the social and emotional prepares the context for savouring the finer elements of life.
This, for me raises the spectre of the ‘doughnut school’, where students can’t access the elements at the core but are satiated on the fat and sugar of the outer ring!
In the same way that the menu at McDonalds contains the five-a-day (if you look hard enough) it has, on the other side of the nutritional balance, more fat and sugar than is good for you. But that does keep the customer satisfied… and coming back… and in the system.
So perhaps there needs to be a shift in the metaphor? The curriculum doesn’t need a new menu but a new recipe. Something that keeps ‘broad and balanced’ within the staples and not as a result of the menu choice?
Unlike a Menu, a recipe is a set of ingredients that play off each other in order to create the most satisfying final result. In that sense – we propose that citizenship education is not just another subject – but the subject that brings sense to the rest. It engages the social and emotional into the rest of learning in that it contextualises and generates a substantive assessment of many other subjects.
It also gives you the critical facts and understanding of your own context that could otherwise leave core subjects feeling abstract, particularly if other aspects of survival are absent or overwhelm you.
It’s therefore not an optional part of the menu, but an equivalent to the yeast in the dough: the thing that makes the rest rise.
Alternatively – you could say – its dose of reality is the grit in the Oyster: but that’s a whole other biological and culinary metaphor…