Response to the draft primary curriculum

Welcome to the ‘new’ heavily prescriptive curriculum, primarily focused on the acquisition of knowledge!

However, before deciding to run off to Spain, headteachers and teachers need to hold their nerve. We’ve been here before!

At first glance the government’s draft curriculum for primary schools could appear daunting.

But, on reflection, we might acknowledge that all primary schools promote the learning of number bonds, tables and spellings (I always expected my year 5s and 6s to know their twelve times table and commit useful spellings to memory), and engage children not only by demonstrating but, where possible, facilitating hands-on science experiments.

As for poetry, children with a love of words don’t need to be chivvied into memorising and reciting Roger McGough or Michael Rosen; and I would guess that most primary schools have at least dabbled in teaching modern foreign languages, if only at club level.

Neither can we argue with Michael Gove’s ambition to raise standards. Isn’t that what all schools aspire to do?

So let’s not be unduly intimidated by the draft documents. Michael Gove may be telling us what he wants our children to know, but it is in the hands of teachers to determine the how.

Where I take particular issue with him is with the idea that teachers in each primary year must ensure that the necessary knowledge has been mastered before moving on to more stretching content and wider curricular choices.

My hope is that schools will continue to plan for broad, contextualised learning.

From our knowledge of the brain, we know that the limbic system favours information with a strong emotional connection, and this is what passes into our long term memory. The rest gets filtered out.

We know that children learn best when their imaginations are stimulated, when the learning is meaningful and relevant to their lives, when they are active participants in the process, and are required to engage in critical thinking, problem-solving, and to use their initiative.

The notion of children as passive recipients of unconnected knowledge is a myth. All teachers know that.

For example, there is absolutely no point in children learning spellings like automatons if they don’t understand their meaning – the words will never be used.

Yet primary age children are capable of assimilating and utilising an exciting and sophisticated range of vocabulary where it helps them gain a deeper understanding and express their ideas more clearly.

If we fail to deliver a broad curriculum, we risk a widespread sense of failure in the many children with strengths other than literacy and numeracy (including the dyslexic). It could leave us with a limited and warped view of children’s learning potential.

We cannot afford to neglect chlldren’s other intelligences (eg the inter-personal and visual/spatial and naturalist), that are also important if children are to experience success in the work place, and lead a fulfilling life.

One teacher recently told me of an innovative project that her school planned to implement to support their less able learners after their OfSTED inspection, an earlier start being considered too perilous. Yet surely, an important function of OfSTED should be the reporting and sharing of effective pioneer methodology – not stifling innovation as appears to be the case?

We are told that schools will be allowed more freedom and choice. I hope we can take Michael Gove at his word. Successful learners are risk takers.

Our schools should be endorsed to embark on a continuous quest to improve teaching and learning that will, of necessity, involve stepping outside their comfort zone.

Let’s find ways of imparting the best of our heritage, as Michael Gove suggests – but with an eye to the future.

The preparation of children for informed social membership in a complex and fast changing world should be central to our educational aims (interesting that Gove has not worked these out yet).

Therefore I advocate programmes such as Go-Givers.

Go-Givers

Go-Givers (www.gogivers.org) is fundamentally a programme to teach PSHE and Citizenship education.

The lessons are fun, informative and inspiring for children. They tackle issues of concern to them, and extend their knowledge into new territories.

They provide teachers with a range of ideas and stimulating activities, adaptable to different cohorts, to develop the children’s thinking and learning.

Go-Givers has the advantage of being cross-curricular, with the capacity to develop other areas of learning; art, geography, history etc; but most particularly English, through opportunities to learn new vocabulary, and for debate and presentation, as advocated in the draft curriculum.

The Go-Givers Make a Difference Challenge provides a structure to support democratic, child-led learning and the opportunity for our youngest citizens to take action to make their world a better place.

It constitutes a rich and memorable experience that demonstrates to children the significance of their education.

Furthermore, it teaches them about leadership, the value of co-operation and how to work as a team – important skills for life and work.

The knowledge that they have the wherewithal to make a positive difference to their communities increases children’s self-confidence, and this has a ripple effect on other aspects of their learning.

I hope educationalists can demonstrate to Mr Gove that his view of education is in serious need of adjustment.

It should not be the narrow, linear process, separated from the here and now, and unrelated to the children’s future, that he envisages.

For our part, we must have the courage of our conviction as practitioners.

We must hold fast to our professional judgment, and to the means of delivering education that make for a joyful, relevant and meaningful learning experience for all.

Marguerite Heath is Programme Director of Go-Givers, and was formerly a teacher and Headteacher in London and Kent.

Gardner, Howard (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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