Exterminate the dogma
Ted Wragg welcomes a collection of essays that offers a doughty defence of balance and breadth at key stage 2
As more Daleks try to take over education, it is a pleasure to read books that help repel them. The 12 chapters in The curriculum for 7-11 year olds offer a healthy antidote to the Dalek style of teaching. Each of the authors is an authority on his or her field, and between them they cover all the familiar subjects plus information and communication technology and thinking.
In the past decade, junior school teachers have become adept at coping with enormous syllabuses that embrace aeons of history, describing all the invaders and settlers from the beginning of time to the last busload of American tourists. The process of constructing and deciding how to teach a curriculum, once the hallmark of the fully-fledged professional, has been hijacked by superordinate bodies, some of which specify exactly how many minutes may be spent on what activity.
Roger Beard's important points in his chapter on English teaching, about the value of extended writing, should be borne in mind by anyone teaching the literacy hour. Writing is best learned and improved in context, and all the subjects in the primary curriculum offer opportunities for it which are not always seized. The literacy hour has underplayed writing, so I welcome its endorsement here.
The authors vary in their approach to the task of describing their subjects. John Cook offers an assiduous trawl through 15 years of inspection reports o primary school geography teaching, showing how much it has improved, while Lynne Broadbent focuses on religious education projects, such as a study of Passover and a scrutiny of rules and laws in schools and world religions.
The recent heavy emphasis on literacy and numeracy hours has put other school subjects under threat of being marginalised and Pauline Adams, Richard Bailey and Roy Prentice offer a doughty defence of music, physical education and art. It is often forgotten that the schools that do best in inspections usually have a broad and balanced curriculum, for without it what on earth can children hang their literacy and numeracy skills on?
Schools that internimably bash the basics do not necessarily shine and are often dreary places, so it was a pleasure to read Jeni Riley's chapter on thinking. She canters through such household names as Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky, before moving on to metacognition (thinking about your own thinking and learning) and how children can develop various forms of intelligence through the wide study of a range of subjects.
It is a pity that the curriculum became a contentious area in the 1980s and 1990s, but with such massive stores of knowledge being amassed around the globe and many views about what to pass on to the next generation and how to do it, the degree of controversy is not surprising. This collection of interesting and authoritative articles offers useful summary information and a particular focus in each field, thereby suggesting that there is much for primary teachers to think about. Fortunately it is not yet a criminal offence to think.