Dylan Wiliam: ‘Immoral’ to teach ‘too full’ curriculum

Top academic says curriculum developers ‘cannot bear the thought that children might have spare time on their hands’
28th April 2020, 5:03am


Dylan Wiliam: ‘Immoral’ to teach ‘too full’ curriculum

'there's Too Much Stuff In Our Curriculum,' Says Respected Academic Dylan Wiliam

A renowned educationalist has described teaching a content-heavy curriculum as “immoral” because it leaves the majority of pupils behind.

Dylan Wiliam, emeritus professor at the UCL Institute of Education in London, made the remarks during an online lecture for ResearchED. 

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Professor Wiliam was a key adviser to the government during the development of England’s latest version of the national curriculum - which some argue crammed too much content in.

But he also criticised the process. In 2012, Professor Wiliam said that he could not see how research on the “world’s best” education systems had contributed to the draft programmes of study. He said there was a danger that without an underlying set of principles they just became a list of ministers’ preferences and “their hunches about what will work”.

Dylan Wiliam: ‘Far too much stuff in our curriculum’

Speaking to ResearchED this week, he said: “There is no doubt that there’s far too much stuff in our curriculum - I’ve wondered about why this is, and my conclusion is that curriculum developers cannot bear the thought that any children might have spare time on their hands.

“So they actually make sure there’s enough stuff in the curriculum for the fastest-learning students to be occupied all year. And so there’s far too much for most students, and so teachers have to make sure of this, and some teachers just teach the curriculum, they meter it out and they go from beginning to end, and 20 per cent of the kids get it and the rest don’t - I think that’s logically consistent but immoral.

“When the curriculum’s too full, you have to make a professional decision about what stuff you’re going to leave out, and the important point here is that not all content is equally important.”

Professor Wiliam also cautioned that a content-heavy curriculum left less time for teachers to give their pupils feedback. 

“For me, formative assessment requires creating slack. There’s no point in doing formative assessment if you have no slack, because you’re wasting time testing when you could be teaching,” he said.

He also said that educators needed to stop searching for the “next big thing” in educational research and focus on improving the practice of existing teachers and providing pupils with a knowledge-rich curriculum. 


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