Nicky Morgan: Control of national curriculum content must stay in hands of elected politicians

21st March 2015 at 12:26

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has rejected calls for an independent commission of teachers and education experts to set the core curriculum.

Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders’ annual conference in London today, Ms Morgan said it was right for politicians to decide what was taught in the classroom because they were democratically accountable.

“That isn’t because I think I understand algebra any better than you do, or that Nick Gibb understands phonics any better than the teachers that teach it,” she said.

“Parents should be able to hold us to account for the decisions we make about what their children are learning and what they’re not and the surest way to make sure they can do that is at the ballot box.”    

She insisted that politicians did not “fly blind” when taking decisions about the curriculum, and had “involved experts at every step of the way".

Ms Morgan was responding to calls from the ASCL for an independent commission, made up of teachers, parents, employers, academics and politicians, to set the national core curriculum. The commission would only make changes to the curriculum once every five years.

Her approach appeared to differ from that of Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws, who told the same conference yesterday that politicians created “obvious dangers” when they “start selecting the precise works of literature and periods of history which should be taught”. 

The union's general secretary, Brian Lightman, said after Mrs Morgan's speech that he would continue to raise his proposal with ministers.

“Our proposal doesn't leave politicians out of it; it involves other people with a stake in education,” he said. “The profession needs to have a clear input into it.”

During her speech Ms Morgan also told school leaders that if the Conservatives won the general election in May, the next Parliament would not involve “five years of constant upheaval or constant change”, adding that the changes introduced during the current Parliament needed “time to bed in and take root.”

Ms Morgan also used her speech to back the ASCL’s calls for a national fair funding formula. She said she felt “passionately” about the need for a fairer formula. “We want to get on with this,” she said. “[But] what I don’t want to do is create any more instability or uncertainty. We still live in very difficult economic times.”

The education secretary told delegates that the Conservative party’s spending plans, under which schools’ per-pupil funding will be protected in cash terms, would see £590m more being spent on education over the next Parliament than Labour’s plans. Labour has pledged to increase the overall schools budget in line with inflation.

But Mr Lightman said he was not convinced about the spending plans. “She said they would fund schools sufficiently, but the published figures don't show that,” he said.

“None of the political parties have pledged enough funding to prevent schools from falling off the financial cliff, which means they will have to make decisions which will have a detrimental effect on the quality of education they are providing.”

Chris Woollett, a religious studies teacher and head of Year 11 at Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Kent, said he appreciated the “approachable” tone of Ms Morgan’s speech and agreed with her stance on the curriculum.

“I think it’s right that the core curriculum should be set by people who are democratically accountable,” he said.

However, he added that recent curriculum changes had been made “at great pace, and the teaching profession was not involved".

A former headteacher, who did not want to be named, told TES: “I’m disappointed to hear she won’t delegate responsibility for the curriculum.

“You don’t see the government telling doctors how to do their jobs, but they do for teachers,” he said, adding that the profession felt “disempowered” because of its lack of involvement in recent changes.

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