I wrote my first thoughts on the evening Mr. Gove announced his draft changes to the school curriculum. Now I will have another reflection at them……..
The bottom line is that on second thoughts we don’t really need to worry that much. The document clearly says that it is NOT a directive on how to teach, but rather on the content that needs to be covered. In my small area of expertise (mainly Geography and partly History) I can see that this is not a slimmed down list as was promised. What we are being given is a collection of what some rich old white men with broadly traditional, conservative views of their world think pupils should be learning and more importantly what these children should KNOW.
But why should I be concerned about this?
Firstly, like many I now teach in an academy and officially don’t have to follow all these lists.
Secondly, who would actually ever find out if I didn’t teach Glaciation? After all, in 2o years and 5 inspections I have never had a Geography expert either inspect my department of observe one of my lessons.
But most of all the biggest influence on pupils’ Geographical learning is not what the DfE decides up in Westminster, but in how we in our departments choose and plan lesson and activities, in how we individually deliver and adapt these lessons to our own styles and our own classes needs and interests. for example, sustainability is no longer a ‘must cover’ any more in geography; it doesn’t even get a mention in the draft document, whereas previously it was all over NC levels 5, 6, 7, 8 and exceptional performance. Now, as tricky an idea as it often is to my less able pupils, I will continue teaching it because I think it is important to have an idea of how to plan carefully and compassionately for the future.
Additionally, I have just finished reading “Dancing with Architecture” by Phil Beadle. If this book said one thing to me, it is that the how of our teaching is more important than the what. So if I tell pupils at the outset that “all will be able to describe” Russia or the geological time line or whatever, “most will be able to describe in detail and partly explain” and “some will be able to explain fully, compare and analyse” then sure enough that is what they will happen. We will all go home satisfied, unsurprised and within the fortnight, have forgotten the whole drab and boring hour we spent together in room 47. Mr Gove will be pleased and I will be a day closer to retirement.
However if the department trusts in our own professional “fascination and curiosity” and we encourage our pupils to do the same, then the learning will memorable, relevant and of a high quality, even if OFSTED couldn’t find a way of measuring it. As Phil Beadle also says “Who cares what OFSTED thinks?….a generally outstanding teacher will be sufficiently confident in their own abilities to not bother engaging in any real way with the centralised attempt to define what it is they should be doing.”