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Find the courage to step outside the curriculum, teachers urged

Teachers should have the courage to step outside the curriculum to give students a deeper understanding of their subject, according to a chief examiner.

And despite the straitjacket of outcomes, data and accountability, there is still scope for teaching that goes beyond the confines of the exam syllabus, a conference will hear next week.

John Taylor, director of critical skills at Rugby School and chief examiner for the extended project qualification at exam board Edexcel, said that although in principle there was room for teachers to take a reflective approach, the pressure to get results meant that in practice this was rarely the case.

“The more philosophical dimension to education tends to get squeezed out,” he said.

“I would encourage teachers to have the confidence and the courage to teach in more rich ways and avoid the pressure to go down the spoon-feeding route.”

He said this could include occasional discussions of the philosophy behind different concepts and a cross-curricular approach that looked at links between different subjects.

“In one way it takes you away from the syllabus but it also creates this excitement, and in my experience students remember things like that years later,” he said.

“I think of this approach as a catalyst: you don’t need a tank full, you just need a little droplet to get things started.”

Dr Taylor, who is also head of philosophy at Rugby, is one of the speakers at a symposium on the future of liberal arts, taking place at King’s College London.

The conference will consider the place of a liberal arts education in the modern curriculum. Other speakers include sociologist Professor Frank Furedi and Conservative MP Jesse Norman.

Martin Robinson, co-organiser of the symposium and a former teacher, said many schools shied away from adopting a liberal arts approach, but if students were encouraged to not only engage with arts and literature but to argue with them, results would take care of themselves.

“They’re scared of doing the wrong thing. The bottom line is delivering exam results and the data that Ofsted like, but we can do so much more,” added Mr Robinson, author of Trivium 21st Century, which looks at the role of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric in education.

The symposium takes place at King’s College London on Tuesday 14 October.

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