At a committee meeting a fortnight ago, we were treated to an explanation by one of the senior teachers of the preliminary planning he has been doing, regarding the way he would like the school curriculum to go in the future. It was fascinating, daunting and quite exciting (if you’re the sort of person who gets excited by school curriculums. Or curricula. It seems that I am). He also told us about other educational changes likely to be in the pipeline; since the school is just coming through an entire reorganisation of its staffing structure – superbly planned and executed, I will say, it’s working well – and S*ff*lk is likely to be going from a 3-tier system to a 2-tier one (changing schools at 11 rather than 9 and 13), I was, ultimately, more daunted than enthused, although it was quite a close contest.
But since then, I have become enthused again. However, HOWEVER, this all depends on how the government decides to play it.
You may have seen this in the papers last week. Skip through all the bumph about Mandarin, I have no idea where that is coming from so suddenly – the Times has given a ‘teach yourself Mandarin CD’ and is blathering on about it constantly. The last time they got this sort of bee in their bonnet, they pretended all their readers were writing in begging them to make the newspaper sodding tabloid so that they could make it an annoyingly titchy paper and lied IN THEIR TEETH saying that it was responding to reader pressure when it had never been mentioned before, so maybe it will be printed in Mandarin any day now and I will have to read another paper instead. Um, don’t worry, I may digress but I never lose the thread, even if my listeners (or readers) are old and grey by the time I’ve finished – the key words (back to this article I’ve linked to) are ‘give teachers more flexibility’ and ‘interest and enthuse their pupils’.
The preliminary plans he showed us were his own interpretation of a curriculum that would, ideally, cater for each pupil, whatever his or her aptitude or ability. His view is – and it is certainly one I share – that many pupils are completely turned off school in their teens, if not before. And I’ve said this for years – I don’t blame the poor little buggers – if you are destined not to be one of life’s academic achievers, you will spend many years at school feeling not good enough. Destined to fail. In your vulnerable teens, to be put in the bottom set of everything. Knowing that, however hard you tried, you would still be in the bottom set – how surprising is it that many of them play the fool or worse? How much better would it be to offer a curriculum that teaches you what you really need, whether it’s understanding how interest rates can rip you off or working out the best get-out score in darts (and how many “underachievers” can do that? – lots of them) and prepares them for working life, with basic 3Rs and general knowledge, plus useful vocational training.
On the other side of the same coin, too many bright students in middle-ranking schools have little chance of reaching their full academic potential. I know about that, I went to a nice traditional girls’ school where we were taught nice traditional girls’ subjects and no chance of much science or languages. I went to the just-turned-comprehensive former Grammar School to take Latin and French A levels; I’d already taken English and History but that was about all they could do, except Art which I couldn’t and Biology, where I’d have been the only one in the class. I was stunned by the education I could have had, and which has now almost vanished from state schools.
The plans outlined could put this right. Cater for the aptitude of each child. It could be so good. However, it is also vastly complex – it’s all very well, talking about focusing on obscure subjects for a term at a time, or having 15 minute lessons, but where are the teachers? How do you timetable? Move a thousand children to a different room for 15 minutes? It all needs to be thought through.
There are a few things to watch out for. One is not to make it ‘topic based’. They tried that in primary schools a few years ago. The idea was that you linked history, geography, maths, literacy, all in one lesson – yes there was some merit in the theory, but the result was that nothing was taught properly.
Another is to offer it to the schools and let them run with it. Don’t dictate. If a school does not want to go that way, don’t make them. Of course, there are still the areas of the core curriculum and these probably will still go in the league tables (because we have a government that thinks you make a pig put on weight by weighing it) but trust them to know their strengths and get it right.
Nothing this government has yet done gives me a great deal of hope about that, but some pretty imaginative people have managed to get the plans to the drawing board, at any rate. My school is looking to press on, to a greater or lesser degree, with its plans. I don’t know what the result will be, but I still need to decide whether to become really engaged in it, or to get out while I haven’t had to do any work.