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Curriculum is branded ‘over-loaded and vague’

Issue 247 • April 29 2010 Price £1.00

Curriculum for Excellence: Are you ready?

The implementation of the new Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland from August is still causing some fierce debates. We report on renewed calls for a further delay to the new curriculum, and our main feature looks in-depth at where we are with this major reform

Pages 3, 8 and 9

by Chris Parr

The national curriculum has become over-loaded and vague because it panders to the interests of too many lobby groups, an education expert has claimed. Tim Oates, group director of

assessment research and develop- ment at Cambridge Assessment, says that the changes made to the curriculum in recent years have been based on trying to keep every- one happy, not on the best available research. Mr Oates, who was formerly

director of research at the then Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), told SecEd: “The national curriculum has been over- loaded, and our analysis makes it clear that it needs to be slimmed down. “The international evidence is

VLE innovations

We visit Thomas Alleyne’s, which is using its learning platform to engage and enthuse students and parents, including its popular ‘debate of the week’

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that we need a national curriculum, and this evidence suggests that it should be sparsely stated, based on key concepts. It is then for teach- ers to use their highly professional approaches to bring these principles to the learner.

“It has been slimmed down

recently, but in completely the wrong way. We think the QCA was engaged too much in keeping competing lobby groups happy, not on ensuring a minimum core enti- tlement for all pupils, or develop- ing a hierarchical age-appropriate system.” According to Mr Oates, changes

to the curriculum have meant that key concepts have been left out – particularly in science. He also claims that many people involved in developing the curriculum were ill at ease with the decisions being made. “Because the QCA tried to keep

SecEd’s election coverage continues this week with reports on the deepening row over the Tories’ ‘free schools’ policy, and a call for schools everywhere to shun the BNP

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absolutely everybody happy, there are some statements in biology or other sciences that are so vague as to offer nothing at all. For example, ‘there are patterns in the reactions between chemicals’. But where in the biology curriculum is photo- synthesis? “I was head of research at the

Concerns: Tim Oates wants a slimmed down curriculum

QCA, and there was fundamental disquiet about the direction being taken in developing the curriculum.

The changes being made were not based on the highest standards of research.” The QCA has now been dis-

banded, with its curriculum devel- opment functions passing on to the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA). John Fairhurst, vice-president

of the Association of School and College Leaders, headteacher of Shenfield High in Essex, and board member at the QCDA disagreed with Mr Oates. He told us: “We feel the second-

ary curriculum review was very pro- ductive, and that the new freedoms it has granted are very welcome. I think the national curriculum, as it stands now, is as helpful as it has ever been “A lot of the mistakes that have

been made with the curriculum were made because those develop- ing it did not always listen to the views of the practitioners. It’s easy to say we should all put good policy into practice, but I think it is better to make sure that we put good prac- tice into policy.”

Mr Oates has also claimed that

the current process of curriculum consultation does not engage suf- ficiently with the profession. He continued: “These days,

consultations consist of sticking something up on the web. They are not currently in a form that allows those participating to affect the pol- icy being discussed. Consultations have become debased in recent years, and are little more than cur- sory at best. “You can get a tremendous

amount of responses, but there is no substitute for well structured discussion with professionals, pro- fessional bodies, and the affected communities.” Speaking on Tuesday (April 27),

a spokesperson for the QCDA told SecEd: “The QCDA does engage widely with subject experts, schools and employers when developing the curriculum. “The aim is to produce a cur-

riculum which is fit-for-purpose and meets the needs of children and young people and prepares them for future education and employment.

“It is less prescriptive because

experienced teachers tell us they want flexibility to use their expertise. At the same time, QCDA produces a range of guidance which offers extra sup- port and examples of best practice.” National curriculum reform is

one of the hot topics in the General Election, with the two opposition parties proposing change. The Liberal Democrat election

manifesto claims that the current system is “restrictive, and is not working”. The party is pledging to “axe the rigid national curriculum”, and replace it with what it calls a “slimmed down minimum curricu- lum entitlement”. The Conservative manifesto

promises a reformed curriculum that is “more challenging and based on evidence about what knowledge can be mastered by children at dif- ferent ages”. Speaking to school leaders in

March, Ed Balls, Labour’s educa- tion spokesman, was critical of what he called the other parties’ plans to “scrap the national curriculum”, add- ing it would be a “massive setback”.

UK news n SecEd: On your side n Teach it like Torno! n Psycho babble n Managing ICT n Union address n At the chalkface

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