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Balancing acts on the revised curriculum

A young secondary teacher I knew would occasionally become very emotional (for some reason, this usually happened on licensed premises). When this happened, he would close his eyes and shout, loudly and ecstatically: "Geography!"

There, you might say, was a young man wholly committed to the subject in which he had graduated, and which he was now engaged in passing on to the young. Bear him in mind as you read this from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's secondary curriculum review web pages: "A curriculum that has maximum impact for learners will use coherent themes to link learners' experiences across the school."

That doesn't necessarily mean that once the revised secondary curriculum is in place you should drop individual subjects and teach cross-curricular "themes" although some schools are planning to do that, at least at the start of key stage 3. But it does reinforce one of the main messages of the review that schools need to be thinking of generic learning skills that cross subject boundaries. So, even where individual subjects remain on the timetable, there will be a requirement for the identification of shared learning objectives and a demolition of the great walls that now divide subjects.

Most seem ready to welcome that. But what strikes me is that school leaders at all levels would do well not to underestimate what it means for teachers' work and responsibilities. Whether we like it or not, subject-centredness has been a defining feature of UK secondaries to date. In effect, they are federations of semi-autonomous departments competing for resources and a share of the budget. If that is going to change and surely it's time it did so that each department is going to co-operate fully with the others, then there are huge implications for professional development and the responsibility of middle leaders.

More importantly, there will have to be quite radical changes of mindset. School leaders will have to look at my geography-obsessed friend and find a way to keep his subject-centred passion alive while making him aware of his place within pupils' whole learning experience. Oh, it'll all work out not least because everyone wants it to but there's a lot to be done and it'll take time.

Gerald Haigh

is a former headteacher

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