'Our 1980s' curriculum grows less relevant every day'

We need a curriculum that recognises pupils as individuals, says Colin Harris – and meets the needs of society in 2020

Colin Harris

The national curriculum grows less relevant every day, says Colin Harris

I am, sadly, of a certain age. You may call it old, but I might say I am blessed to have known a time before the national curriculum.

In fact, I taught for a full 10 years before the national curriculum arrived on our doorsteps. 

I was there to hear all of the promises attached to it. This curriculum was truly going to transform the lives of both our pupils and teachers. Or at least that was what we were told.

That was 1988, would you believe? Thirty-two years on, have we ever had the incredible curriculum we were promised?

Failure of the national curriculum

The answer is easy: no. And we still have a cumbersome vehicle unable to unshackle itself from the imposing ideology of the few politicians who have shaped its progress. 

What happened to the vibrant, ever-changing curriculum, which would meet the needs of pupils in an ever-developing world?

Today's society has so many issues to deal with daily. We need to equip our pupils to be able to face and tackle these challenges.

And yet we still have a national curriculum that judges students' success in terms of their ability to tackle externally assessed tests.

The loss of creativity

Its mantra is still product over process. And its competitive core looks at the individual, rather than any collaborative element – something so far away from our present societal needs. 

Plus we have a national curriculum now that has had almost of all its creativity ground out of it, and in which personalisation plays little or no part. 

Pupils are now just numbers who jump through the assessment hoops, either becoming winners or losers in the system. If you are a winner, great. But if you are a loser…

Yes, it may be deemed important to have a vehicle to pass on what society needs. The skills, attitudes and values that we hold are important. 

But, of course, society hasn’t chosen what is to be taught in the national curriculum – politicians have. 

A curriculum to meet individual needs

Life is changing at a speed that would have been inconceivable 32 years ago. And yet we continue to potter along with a curriculum that grows more and more dated with every passing day.

Society in 2020 is changing at an unbelievable rate, and our curriculum needs to change to match it. Schools need the autonomy to meet the needs of their community. The national curriculum is probably the least relevant it has been at any point over the past 32 years. 

There has never been a time when we needed more to recognise pupils as individuals, rather than cogs in a machine. Personalising the curriculum to meet the needs of our pupils – not exam results – should be at the core of all a school does well.

Allowing individuals to be individual – to recognise their strengths and build on them, and to build in the resilience and attitudes needed today – is as essential as scrapping the present curriculum.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

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