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The Curriculum: If It Ain't Broke...

The limits of the status quo

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is a common enough phrase.

If it were true in all cases I would now be pedalling around the country to visit schools and speak at conferences on my Raleigh Grifter.

It was given to me as a birthday present when I was eight or nine years old.

As a mode of transport, it more than met my needs at the time.

Three (yes three!) gears and a chunky frame, so I could just about do a stunt that involved getting up plenty of speed and then standing up on the frame in front of the saddle and, before momentum drained and I needed to pedal again to maintain balance, splaying my legs and dropping hard back down onto the seat.

As a boy, definitely a manoeuvre best done before puberty to be honest.

And that Grifter never broke.

But of course, I moved on, and so did my modes of transport.

A cool (ahem) racing bike went with me to university until it was stolen from outside the library. A sad day, but at least I have evidence from police records that I once went to a library during my student days.

And then cars. The gold Mark IV Escort with the vinyl roof I drove when I was still young and, for some unfathomable reason, still single.

The people carrier we had when the children were babies and necessitated the accompanying baggage train and all-terrain prams and buggies.

The pick-up truck we bought when we had a smallholding and were transporting piglets, lambs and toddlers around, often together and often happily sharing foodstuffs if you turned your back for a second.

And now I have a saloon car for pounding up and down the motorways and providing a taxi service for our teenagers at weekends. And who knows what they’ll be driving when they reach my age.

So, we do fix things, change things and move on. Even if things ‘ain’t broke’.

Because circumstances change and we realise the limits of the status quo. Which isn’t the cue for another nostalgia trip by the way.

Around the time I was busy impressing no-one with the stunts on my Grifter, Thomas Bertram Lance was a member of Jimmy Carter’s 1977 administration in the USA.

He was quoted in the newsletter of the Chamber of Commerce in May 1977 saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But he continued: “That’s the trouble with government: Fixing things that aren’t broken and not fixing things that are broken.”

Right now, you might be reflecting on this in terms of education in this country and breaking into a wry smile. But let’s move on.

Reflecting on the national curriculum in primary schools

What I am suggesting is that it might be a good time to reflect on the curriculum in primary schools.

It’s time to consider whether or not anything needs fixing or improving. It’s time to celebrate what works well and improve what needs improving.

After all, we’ve had the ‘new’ national curriculum for a couple of years now; long enough for all year groups to have had a go at everything.

Even where schools are running a two-year rolling programme in some or all subjects, Year 2 and Year 6 will have had at least a full year of all subjects after they had to catch up with everyone else in English and maths.

I am not proposing change for the sake of change, but we need to ensure that what we teach is fit for purpose.

The national curriculum is the vehicle for children’s learning. So, just as we change our real vehicles depending on our needs and our changing lives, so we need to ensure that our curriculum is more than adequate for our children’s learning journey.

National curriculum and the school’s context

The curriculum should reflect the school’s context and build on the experiences the child brings with them.

I’ve encountered a few children in some schools suffering from what I call ‘Chembakolli Syndrome’.

This is when children learn about somewhere thousands of miles away, even though the children know nothing about the wider locality in which they actually live and are growing up.

Of course, we should teach children about other places and cultures, but we should do it sequentially after ensuring they know all about what’s just down the road.

Around the end of the school year, it could be worthwhile asking subject leaders and phase leaders to reflect on the effectiveness of the curriculum as it stands at the moment.

It shouldn’t take them too long, but the outcomes will be really beneficial.

They could consider several questions about their curriculum:

  • What has worked well in a subject and why?
  • How does our curriculum reflect our context and starting points for the children?
  • Which units of work resulted in rapid progress and enjoyment for the children?
  • Did any units or themes not have the desired effect? Should and could they be changed?
  • Are resources fit for purpose and are there any gaps in resourcing, especially for aspects of the curriculum that were new from 2014?
  • And are we still meeting statutory requirements or has anything inadvertently ‘dropped off’ the timetable?

I realise that academies and free schools can make their own decisions about the curriculum. However, they could now check to ensure any changes from the National Curriculum are deliberate rather than accidental.

This will also check curriculum enrichment activities for all subjects.

Consider the impact of the curriculum in your primary school

Ultimately, schools need to consider the impact of their curriculum: Does it meet the needs of their learners? Does it reflect the context of the school? Does it have relevance to the children’s lives? And does it help prepare them for the next stages of their education? Or are we still using bicycles to prepare our children to drive hydro-electric cars?

Curriculum resources

Focus Education’s curriculum range is available to view along with our other publications and downloads.

Middle leaders and the curriculum

My Middle Leaders Toolkit, which provides support for middle leaders regarding the is now available to order here.

Continue the Conversation

For more information on middle leaders or the curriculum, keep an eye on the Focus Education blog, find me on twitter @Focustn or get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818.

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