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Call for probe to enhance 'curriculum coherence'

The national curriculum should be subject to a "sophisticated analysis" that compares to other systems around the world in a bid to increase its "coherence", according to a working paper from Cambridge Assessment.

Tim Oates, director of research at the exam body, argues that there are significant structural problems with the current national curriculum and that the 2007 review, which gave secondaries more leeway for cross-curricular work, was a "step backwards".

His paper says that while there is a danger of 'policy borrowing' from other countries, a sophisticated analysis would help determine when certain knowledge and skills can be taught.

Mr Oates also argues that trans-national analysis has shown the importance of 'curriculum coherence', saying: "Curriculum coherence is vital and is associated with high-performing systems.

"This is not just a trivial, common-language use of the word 'coherence'. A system is regarded as 'coherent' when the national curriculum content, textbooks, teaching content, pedagogy assessment and drivers are all aligned and reinforce one another."

To achieve coherence, there does need to be a degree of control - but this does not need to be 'top-down' control.

In Singapore, for example, the national curriculum seems less prescriptive than in England, but a way of controlling curriculum in Singapore is through approved textbooks and teaching materials.

Similarly, in Finland schools have a high degree of autonomy, but Mr Oates points out that teachers are trained to masters level.

He said a change to content was necessary, but not sufficient, to improve the education system, and added that any change to content should avoid the 'lapse into a drive towards consensus' that previous revisions have adopted.

He concludes: 'A well-defined and enhanced national curriculum - based on concepts, principles, fundamental operations and key knowledge - can lead to learning processes which are more focused on deep learning (fewer topics pursued to greater depth) and to assessment processes of greater validity and which have a beneficial wash back into learning."

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