It's up to you to put meat on the bones

6th July 2012 at 01:00

The curriculum that matters is yours. It is the one you choose to teach in the classroom that counts.

To most teachers this is obvious, but that point has been lost in the fuss about what is "in or out" of the new national curriculum: whether memorising poetry will get more weight than exploring climate change, how many dates of how many kings and queens children should learn, and whether there must be compulsory teaching about Genghis Khan, Elvis or whoever else.

Politicians promised a slimmed-down curriculum that would give teachers greater freedom and autonomy. It might not look slimmed down right now. It might look downright prescriptive. But why not take advantage of the situation, take ministers at their word, and do what you want with it? The national curriculum is, at most, just a bag of bones. Actually, it is not even that, because you aren't a Victorian palaeontologist trying to figure out how an iguanodon fitted together. You could throw the bones into whatever shaped creature you wanted, add whatever flesh, feathers and colours you desired. Or you could use the bones as part of the scaffolding for a building or links in a necklace. It is your classroom, and it is your course.

Counter to that, you may have a head of department with specific schemes of work they want you to follow; indeed, you may operate in a school that expects you to stick to those to the letter. So what then?

The advice from former teacher Hywel Roberts is to keep pushing to make the curriculum your own (pages 4-7). His new book Oops! is an entertaining guide to helping children learn accidentally. It is not, he stresses, about chucking your curriculum out altogether, ignoring the pressures of accountability, or making it up as you go along. But it is a paean to the benefits of improvisation, of knowing when to bin the worksheets and follow your pupils' lines of inquiry in unexpected directions, and of creating learning that does not feel like learning.

There will be plenty of moaning about the new national curriculum in the months to come. Some of the complaints may be justified. But it is just the bones: the most exciting stuff you teach will remain up to you.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro, @mrmichaelshaw.

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