ACfE: a Curriculum for England

14th September 2007 at 01:00
With A Curriculum for Excellence and Assessment is for Learning featuring prominently at this week's Scottish Learning Festival, keynote speakers from England and Ontario talk to Elizabeth Buie about their contrasting approaches

SCOTTISH TEACHERS may be calling out for more flesh to cover the bare bones of A Curriculum for Excellence, but over the border, their English colleagues are already studying the documents for their new curriculum, to be implemented in 2008.

Mick Waters, director of curriculum with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, will tell Scottish teachers next week that there is much in common north and south of the border when it comes to curricular redesign, though the language diverges. In Scotland, there are schools signed up to a register of interest; in England, a few thousand primary and secondary schools have been chosen to carry out "disciplined innovation".

A key difference is that Mr Waters, a former chief education officer for the City of Manchester, talks much more explicitly about the curriculum's role in preparing children for employment, starting with primary.

"We are trying to excite the child about the world in which it's growing up," he says. "For example, giving him or her an understanding of economic activity, in terms of personal finance and how the world of work operates. Young people from early on need to understand aspects of employment. And we need to carry that through into secondary."

Next week, in a keynote speech at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow, he will outline key features of English curric- ular innovation:

* offering schools greater flexibility to provide a curriculum that meets their local needs, but in the context of national parameters;

* a real emphasis on curriculum design, rather than just considering the content;

* an emphasis on making it worthwhile, so that pupils engage fully;

* asking schools to rethink how they make the essence of a subject come through in different areas.

He shies away from the term "cross-curricular", concerned it will cause consternation among those who are keen to preserve the principle of subject specialism. "This is not the end of subject teaching. We have a problem in England that those on the more strident extremes say 'they are trying to get rid of our subject'. Subjects are still important to the new curriculum, but it emphasises the way that a subject can make a difference to the individual and society as a whole."

Similarities between the approaches of Learning and Teaching Scotland and the QCA, as they lead curricular development, include a commitment to building enthusiasm within the system for it.

"In England, my phrase is 'professional contagion'. I believe it is a vital tool in making things happen, but it has got to be in the context of disciplined innovation," he says.

In the past, the curriculum in England has "always tried to stretch the child to fit the curriculum, regardless of what the child's personal needs are". He says: "Now we are trying to say that you wrap the curriculum round the child, so that those who don't feel comfortable want to learn more."

As in Scotland, the English curriculum is trying to engage the bottom 20 per cent. "There is a false belief that if you moan at children, they will eventually learn. If that was the case, the number of youngsters disengaging would not be growing across the Western world."

To that end, the QCA wants to encourage schools to develop in pupils an understanding of how education works, in England and across the world. So it is putting together units on the background to education.

"We are teaching children about most things in schools, but not about schools themselves how much we invest in them; why society has them; what we want out of them; what schools can offer from the point of view of assistance; what they are like in different parts of the world; why African children walk 10 miles a day to a school with no computers or resources for a massive class, but in Britain there are children who can't be bothered to go round the corner to go to school; and to explain how schools came about," says Mr Waters.

For the first time, England will have a curriculum with underpinning aims: that children should be confident as individuals, successful as learners, and responsible as citizens. They are virtually the same as the capacities of ACfE only the "effective contributors" are missing.

"In the past," he says , "we always looked at making children successful as learners in isolation from the rest. If we are talking about the bottom 20 per cent, one of the things they lack is confidence. So we have to work out how to get all three into synch."


Making Learning Irresistible: The Challenge in England Mick Waters will give a presentation on September 20, 11.30am

For a full range of sessions on A Curriculum for Excellence, go to

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