'A knowledge-rich curriculum produces fully rounded pupils'

One educationist responds to John Dunford's article on the need for a new curriculum, arguing that that he shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the idea of a knowledge-rich curriculum as 'narrowing'

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I read this article by former Association of School and College Leaders general secretary John Dunford with surprise. The knowledge-rich curriculum is not narrow. I think this is being confused with the government’s English Baccalaureate, which is, in fact, not a curriculum but rather a performance measure.

I too was at ASCL’s conference last weekend. I heard a lot of talk over the two days about the curriculum. I became increasingly concerned that the concept of, and principles behind, a knowledge-rich curriculum are not well understood. I am preparing a lengthier defence of the knowledge-rich curriculum, but here I want to address each of John’s points.

A knowledge-rich curriculum is not the antonym of a fully rounded curriculum. The Greeks believed that people should be “well-rounded”, meaning that we should develop every aspect of our personality. They believed the educated person should be knowledgeable – or proficient in a wide range of fields.

The knowledge-rich curriculum offers just this – proficiency in a range of fields, a well-rounded person. A person who is able to converse knowledgeably on a wide range of topics. A person who is not bound by their experience or the accident of their birth, but can look beyond their own circumstances, can speak with knowledge and authority in a range of ways.

Surely this is what we want for our own children? Surely this is the young person we want to emerge at the end of compulsory schooling? A confident, knowledgeable, well-rounded person.

'A knowledge-rich curriculum doesn't exclude the arts'

Why do we think a knowledge-rich curriculum would exclude the arts? The well-rounded person of Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier was proficient and knowledgeable in poetry, history, languages, music and the visual arts.

I don’t understand the argument that proposes that a knowledge-rich curriculum compromises breadth and balance. I do not want to get into the debate about the EBacc, but the knowledge-rich curriculum should not be conflated with the EBacc.

The very essence of what the Greeks believed about a knowledgeable person was one who was proficient in a wide range of subjects.

In addition to breadth and balance, the knowledge-rich curriculum gives us depth: deep knowledge and secure understanding so that our young people have the domain-specific knowledge to be able to enter specialist knowledge communities.

I imagine that the next generation whom we are educating now will not see digitisation and automation as a threat, but rather as an opportunity. They will create the world afresh.

It is specialist knowledge that the next generation of young people will use to solve the problems created by our generation – the problems that we improperly understand now.

So, why the attack on knowledge?

Leora Cruddas is the chief executive officer at Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association (FASNA).

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