The curriculum for schools in England is being revised again. According to the Prime Minister this new one is going to be ‘rigorous, engaging and tough’. The education secretary promises a curriculum that will get basic skills right. (BBC)
But can curriculum – especially one that is so prescriptive – ever do that by its nature? Or do our children and young people need completely different experiences of education and learning in order to keep them engaged? As ever since the National Curriculum came in they’ve been increasingly disengaged.
What is curriculum anyway?
It is generally perceived to be the content of a course of study which, in our schools, is constantly tested.
Unfortunately this means that the process of education – the delivery of that syllabus – has become more about results making it narrow and prescriptive, making much of it irrelevant to our kids and of little use in building skills for living independent lives.
Even sadder, it is switching them off to the delight that education should be. Dull, dry curriculum, presented in ways to make it measurable, confined by ages and stages and timetables, can soon destroy any interest in learning at all.
For example, fractions for five year olds and the twelve times tables at nine as is proposed will make the majority of pupils feel useless at maths. And rigorous study of the elements of grammar will put kids off English for life.
Is this what we need from a curriculum?
Surely, what we need is an experience of learning that will inspire our children to engage with education. We want them to be involved and motivated to learn so the content of what they’re learning needs to be relevant and stimulating. And their experience of education should be flexible enough to accommodate the differing rates at which children develop and their learning needs.
Can a rigid curriculum do this?
Not if it restricts the learning process to a mere delivery of content for the purpose of measurement, rather than for the purpose of educating our differing and idiosyncratic children to lead real lives.
The interesting thing is that many home educating families have a different approach to their use of curriculum.
Some families use the National Curriculum for reference but engage their children with learning through different approaches. For example, learning about fractions may be on the prescribed curriculum but there is a multitude of ways in which fractions can be learned – sharing a cake for one. Sorting out the Lego. Dividing up the day. Cutting the pizza – and it’s these activities that make a subject relevant to a five year old.
Another approach home schoolers use is to start with the child and the stage they are at and make the curriculum subjects fit in with that. For example a child fluent in reading at an early age can use all sorts of reading and writing activities to develop their use of language. A child fascinated by history can select random periods to study rather than be restricted to The Romans or The War as per a curriculum. And it can be studied on site or through museums rather than through academic exercises.
And some families don’t even use a curriculum at all. They allow the interests and preferences of the child as a guide, introducing skills and knowledge as and when it’s relevant.
This keeps children engaged, motivated, and keen to learn. It helps them understand that education is something inspiring that you can keep at forever, rather than something that needs to be endured and got over as quickly as possible. And although it may seem incredibly random and haphazard to those only familiar with the rigidity of curriculum processes in schools, it actually produces intelligent, skilled and well rounded young people who go forward successfully into higher education or work. Thousands of happy home educating children are proof of that. Proof also that it is broad, stimulating experiences that keeps kids engaged and motivated to learn rather than curriculum content.
So it begs the question, do we really need more disruption to our children, teachers and schools as the curriculum is made ‘more rigorous’? Or is this just another word for ‘rigid’?
Rigidity is not good in education and cannot possibly cater for the wonderfully diverse characters that our children are and their differing educational needs. It will just create even more disengaged young people than we already have, who have never discovered the delight that education surely is.