What do we want? More rigour! How do we want it? We don't know! Leaky cauldrons, draughty doors and the English Curriculum

'I want them doing bare Homer an' Ovid an' that.'
There's a draft English curriculum floating around, in advance of actual proposals in the next few months. How do these things escape from the laboratory? They should frisk everyone leaving Sanctuary House. Or just stop telling people, which ever's easier. If there's a draft, shut the door.

As usual with such things, a bunfight has emerged. Dame Gove has been castigated by Stephen 'Equaliser' Twigg for, among other things, an apparent lack of rigour. It is, La Twigg claims:
'..preparing to introduce a narrow and out of date curriculum that will take us backwards.'
What definition of narrow he's using, I'm not sure; the curriculum is, if anything, becoming more fluid and open to interpretation and personalisation. It's becoming less prescribed. If that's narrow, then I wouldn't like to see him reverse a Transit Van backwards into a parking space. And 'out of date'? Please, God, don't let this be another allusion to the apparently essential 21st century skills that so many have unwittingly adopted as dogma. Alas, it probably is, as the cult of the 21st century (or now, as I like to call it) appears to count the Labour spokeman as a celebrity member, like Scientology, but without the evidence base.
'Incredibly there is no mention of the importance of spelling...'
That takes balls, I tell you. Marks for spelling, as a government source mentions (check his pockets, by the way, there's draft documents just walking out here) were removed by the previous opposition's predecessors. So that's a funny thing to get all cocky about.
'There's no mention of creativity and being able to think critically or understanding opposing points of view in any of these sources.'
Now that's odd: to criticise something for being too narrow (and previously, too prescriptive, too didactic) but then to try to finger it for being lacking in substance, is a tricky piece of legerdemain, and I salute the attempt. But it doesn't make sense. The proposed curriculum (and of course, it might look nothing like the finished article) looks set to be far less set in stone, and far more open to teacher and school customisation. It's Gradgrind in reverse.

The complaint continues: the draft 'makes no mention of the importance of taking part in structured group discussion or listening skills to judge and interpret what a speaker has said.'

That might be because the teacher should decide how best to teach their own students, and not be subject to the donkey-headed assumption that group work is the only or best way to learn anything. It's a strategy, nothing more, and not always a particularly effective one. It seems to me that the only ones talking from the hip today are the opposition benches, and carelessly at that. And the only ones who seem to be suggesting that the government issue Mosaic tablets of what kids should and shouldn't learn, and how, are Labour. 

Every ministry, everywhere wrestles with this demon: do we allow individuals to have power, or do we centralise? The temptation to inhale all autonomy into the centre is understandable- why go into politics if you intend to give power away?- but history teaches us that this is the struggle between tyranny and the barbarism of the state of nature. Teachers have trudged like yoked cape buffalo for decades in a curriculum that seeks to obtain almost daily direction, in a witless attempt to generate precise, mathematically calculated results. The recent moves to loosen these chains has the potential to transform teachers from galley slaves to, at the very least, the bloke with the tom-toms and the broom handle, if not actual captains.

That's something to be desired, not feared. Of course, for many of us, it will be an uneasy transition. We're so used to be being told exactly what to teach that having the cage door opened will terrify. I saw an experiment once; monkeys, bred in captivity are offered an open door for the first time. As you might expect, it takes a while for any to dare to poke their noses outside, even when tempted by bananas. Some of the stalwarts who do so pad around nervously in their brave new world before....going back into the cage. And then closing the door behind them.

If the door is being opened for us, even a crack, we need to be bold enough to cry freedom and tear through, pushing it hard with out shoulders to allow others to follow. I mean, have you seen the bananas out there?

Quotes from article here


  1. From the sounds of it, Twigg's major complaint is that the new curriculum isn't the old one.

    "No mention of the importance of spelling" - currently students get points for SPAG in some essays and exam questions. I'd prefer it to be an expectation of correct spelling, rather than the current "pick up some bonus points" approach.
    "no mention of the importance of taking part in structured group discussion" - that's one of the three assessable components in Unit 2 of the English Language GCSE there. I like the group discussion assessment, I think that's important. I'd be quite happy for Role Play to take a long walk off a short cliff.

    New thing isn't same as old thing shocker. And Twigg actually gets paid for this? I'm in the wrong career...

  2. Next time you make a comment in any way resembling 'like Scientology, but without the evidence base', I'd appreciate it if you could place a warning about three sentences beforehand: a red triangle, perhaps, or "Caution: simile coming up which will cause you to ruin your keyboard by spluttering coffee all over it."

    Many thanks.


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