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Colin Richards: The new national curriculum is “verging on illegal” and “must be vigorously subverted”

Colin Richards, a former HMI and a primary sector specialist adviser to Ofsted, writes:

The deadline for the consultation on the re-re-revised national curriculum is tomorrow but don’t hold your breath about the outcome.

In the words of one union official, the most recently revised proposals (which of course reflect the final end-product) can be seen very clearly as “a bit of window dressing around the most publicised subject content areas of disagreement, but all of the fundamental theoretical, practical and structural concerns remain”.

It is true that, compared with its immediate predecessor, some relatively minor changes have been made. The programmes of study for design and technology have been given a Dyson-style “clean up”. History is somewhat less wedded to chronology – the “little Englander” view – and does not require quite such a scamper through the ages at key stage 2.
As a token (but unrealistic?) gesture schools will have a “free” choice of second language study in KS2. Most importantly the primary English programmes of study include a new section on spoken language skills, but this is dwarfed in length (and presumed importance?) by the massively detailed sections devoted to reading and writing.
The relatively minor changes are to be welcomed as long as that welcome is not a substitute for reasoned, fundamental criticism of the curriculum package as a whole.
It remains a very peculiar “national” curriculum – not national; not worthwhile enough to be mandatory throughout the state sector; very largely a set of hastily contrived syllabuses, some enormously detailed; verging on the illegal in terms of prescribing teaching methodology; and artificially separating out curriculum from assessment.
The government’s whole approach to curriculum reform feels very amateurish and ad hoc – more a “notional” rather than a “national” curriculum. It needs to be vigorously contested and if that is unsuccessful equally vigorously subverted from 2014 onwards.

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