Exclusive: Exam reforms narrowing the curriculum, DfE official admits

Department for Education's director general for standards says curriculum has narrowed because of teacher recruitment challenge and exam reforms

Will Hazell


A senior Department for Education civil servant has admitted that there has been "narrowing of curriculum" in England.

Paul Kett, the DfE's director general for education standards, told an event in London that the curriculum had narrowed because of "challenges" around teacher recruitment and the government's qualification reforms. 

Mr Kett was speaking at a debate on artificial intelligence (AI) and education organised by Nesta.

Earlier in the debate, Professor Rose Luckin, an expert on AI at the UCL Institute of Education, said that the rise of machine-learning called for an "intelligence-based" curriculum, which developed “emotional", “contextual" and “subjective" intelligence, rather than a knowledge-based curriculum. 

A member of the audience later asked how this shift would be achieved "when the curriculum has not significantly changed in many decades".

Replying to this question, Mr Kett said that schools had "considerable freedom" in terms of how they implemented the curriculum.

But he then added: "One of the biggest challenges is actually the breadth of curriculum.

"There is some evidence that there’s been a narrowing of curriculum.

"Part of its related to the challenges around things like teacher recruitment and so on, part of it’s around the fact that we’re still in a period of transition in terms of introducing new qualifications and the updated GCSEs and A levels. It’s a system still in transition," he said at the event last month.

Mr Kett went on: "I think there has been a little bit of a narrowing. I think one of the challenges is how do we ensure there is a broad curriculum taught and we don’t see that curriculum narrowing.

"That’s not how the curriculum is sort of set up, but I think that has been some of the impact given the amount of change in the system."

He added that the government had committed to "stability" in the curriculum "because of the impact that those changes have had and the ask that has been made of teachers to adapt to that new curriculum".

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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