‘Every child needs a fully rounded education – it shouldn’t just be the preserve of top independent schools’

Why is the government pressing ahead with a mid-20th-century curriculum, asks one leading educationalist

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“In the next era for schools, partnership will override autonomy,” said Sir Tim Brighouse in his introductory remarks to the sixth annual Whole Education conference on 12-13 November. This was supported by Sir David Carter, the regional schools commissioner for the South West, who encouraged schools in the Whole Education network to “put the wagons in a circle” and support other schools.

The theme of like-minded, value-driven school leaders working in partnership towards the development of bottom-up models of a “whole education” set the tone for the conference.

“Schooling now needs to be much more about ways of thinking, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making.” The words of Andreas Schleicher, the knowledgeable and wise head of education at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, writing in TES 16 November 2012, struck a chord not only with educators but with parents and employers across the world.

That is why Singapore and other leading education jurisdictions have reshaped their curricula to include the development of skills and attributes that they regard as essential for the health of their economy and the future of their citizens.

Meanwhile, in England, the government presses on with a mid-20th-century knowledge-based curriculum that fails to recognise many of the needs of young people growing up in the 21st century, although the secretary of state, Nicky Morgan, commendably talks about the importance of “character education” in terms that reflect much of the Whole Education aspiration.

It is therefore imperative that schools ask themselves this question: "What curriculum do young people need in the 21st century?" And, in particular, "What curriculum does most for the disadvantaged?"

The answer to those questions – and particularly the second one – is a combination of knowledge and skills and the planned development of personal qualities that prepare young people for a fast-changing world. It is not either/or; this is a both/and curriculum.

Parents who pay many thousands of pounds to send their children to private schools – such as Eton and Wellington College, where Tony Little and Anthony Seldon respectively have led the way in developing a modern curriculum that develops the whole child – take it for granted that their children will have a wide range of opportunities to develop their personal qualities, alongside getting excellent exam results and entry to good universities.

If it’s good enough for learners whose parents pay for their education, it is essential for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t get as much opportunity as their more fortunate peers to develop personal qualities and skills outside school.

The network of schools that forms a partnership under the Whole Education banner believes passionately in the need for a fully rounded education and is working – in a multitude of different ways – towards the fulfilment of that ideal.

The importance of this issue to educators, as much as to parents and employers, is why the Whole Education conference has been a full house for each of the six years of its existence.

A “whole education” should be an entitlement for every young person throughout their schooling.

John Dunford is chair of Whole Education and was national pupil premium champion

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