Curriculum - Curriculum lacks 21st-century skills, teachers warn

12th July 2013 at 01:00
They say the latest draft for England is still too prescriptive

The latest version of England's new national curriculum, which aims to introduce a more "rigorous" programme of study, has attempted to tackle complaints that some subjects were "dumbed down" or too narrowly focused.

But although the rewrite may have reassured some, its publication also revealed widespread concern from teachers that it will not prove challenging enough.

Just over one in five respondents to the government's consultation on its previous draft said that it was ambitious enough - but nearly twice as many said that it would not adequately prepare children for 21st-century challenges. Even some of those who answered that the curriculum was challenging said that it was too focused on content, instead of wider understanding and gaining skills, according to the consultation.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the changes announced this week had failed to address those concerns. "We want a curriculum that's rigorous and challenging in each subject, but we're not at all sure that this will achieve that. It's very thin on skills and understanding."

But England's education secretary Michael Gove told the House of Commons that all 17,000 consultation responses - from individual teachers, schools and campaign groups - had been considered.

"It is my hope that these changes will reinforce our drive to raise standards in all our schools," he said. "I hope they will ensure that the new national curriculum provides a rigorous basis for teaching.

"I hope it will also provide a benchmark for all schools to improve their performance and I know it gives children and parents a better guarantee that every student will acquire the knowledge to succeed in the modern world."

The latest draft rewrites the curricula for design and technology subjects, which had been criticised for being too focused on subjects such as horticulture and cookery, rather than on preparing the next generation of engineers.

The history curriculum has also been rewritten. It drew the largest number of complaints of any subject, with respondents saying that it was too prescriptive and insular in its focus on a sequential narrative of British history. Now the curriculum has jettisoned the requirement for a chronological narrative and offers teachers a choice of topics within a series of specified historical periods. It also introduces more world history.

"We are glad that (Gove has) taken some advice," said Paula Kitching, spokeswoman for the Historical Association. "This is a lot more sensible." But by taking some content out of the primary curriculum, she said that secondary students are at risk of being overloaded, studying everything from the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to the present day in just three years.

The Design and Technology Association (DATA) had warned that the earlier draft of the curriculum would make England a "laughing stock" by focusing on flower-arranging and darning socks instead of 3D modelling and computer-aided manufacturing.

A campaign involving everyone from inventor Sir James Dyson to the CBI ensured a U-turn towards a more engineering-based curriculum. "I think the fact that the criticism came from a wide range of individuals and institutions, from industry and business as well as education, made the government listen," said Richard Green, chief executive of DATA.

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