Teachers condemn the `joyless' new curriculum

17th July 2015 at 01:00
Only a quarter think it's `fit for purpose' a year after its introduction

One year on from the introduction of the new national curriculum, England's teachers have given the controversial reform a resounding thumbs down.

An exclusive YouGov poll for TES finds that only a quarter of the profession believe the curriculum is "fit for purpose".

Many teachers condemned the revised rules on what they must teach as "ideological" or "political", saying they failed to take account of the modern world.

Ministers wanted the new curriculum, introduced to classrooms in September 2014, to be restricted to essential subject content. It was designed to be such a definitive statement of what pupils needed to know that major reform would never again be required.

But the TES poll suggests that the majority of teachers are unhappy with the result. Some respondents described it as a "pub quiz curriculum" and many said it was "too prescriptive".

"It has clearly been written by people who don't teach or can't teach," a primary teacher from the East of England said. "The key stage 2 requirements are frankly ridiculous and cannot be [fitted] into the school day. All joy has been sucked out of the curriculum."

`Staggeringly dull'

A secondary supply teacher described the new maths curriculum as "quite staggeringly dull", adding: "The same could be said about history, geography, English and others.

"There is no capacity to engage enthusiasm or allow pupils' individual interests to be followed if they diverge from the requirements," he said. "It is a straitjacket that is squeezing all forms of enjoyment out of pupils' education."

The survey of a representative sample of 678 teachers in England finds that a majority - 56 per cent - do not think the new curriculum is fit for purpose. A further 19 per cent are undecided.

Headteachers are the most sceptical, with 70 per cent certain that the national curriculum is not fulfilling its role.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The key issue that this survey reflects is that teachers do not feel a sense of ownership of the national curriculum.It was something that was produced by government, by expert groups appointed by government, and effectively imposed on the profession.

"We have argued that the curriculum should be determined by independent commission. We don't want a madly prescriptive curriculum - we want a slim framework - but we want one that is developed with the profession."

Some of the surveyed teachers are concerned that the curriculum is aimed at academic students, without enough attention paid to the arts or to vocational routes. There is also a belief that it is out of touch with England's multicultural society, particularly in history and English literature.

"It creates an environment in which too many young people come to see learning as a frustrating and irrelevant burden, rather than a genuinely valuable and enjoyable thing which allows them to succeed as individuals," a secondary teacher in the East of England said.

Facts v concepts

But there was some support for the knowledge-based curriculum. "It focuses on teaching facts, rather than airy-fairy `concepts'," a primary deputy headteacher told YouGov. "Children are equipped with knowledge, rather than some sort of vague way of absorption of knowledge, which does not work."

A previous rewrite of the primary national curriculum, released for consultation by the Labour government in 2009, won the support of 75 per cent of respondents but was later abandoned by the coalition. By contrast, just 25 per cent of primary teachers in the YouGov survey approve of the latest version. Secondary teachers are even less impressed, with only 22 per cent describing the curriculum as "fit for purpose".

When education secretary Nicky Morgan asked teachers to voice concerns about their most burdensome tasks in the Workload Challenge survey last year, one in five said curriculum change was a problem.

Academies, which do not have to teach the national curriculum, make up an increasingly large proportion of state-funded schools - 55 per cent of secondaries and 12 per cent of primaries, according to the latest government statistics. But even when academies do introduce changes, they often use the national curriculum as the starting point.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: "Our reformed, world-class curriculum has put teachers back in control and given the profession the freedom to develop lessons that will excite and inspire their pupils.

"It is far less prescriptive and is about half the size of its predecessor, allowing teachers to concentrate on what they do best - teach - rather than being burdened by endlessly referring back to the document."

A bumpy road to implementation

Introducing the new national curriculum has required a lot of thought and effort, according to Karen Mills (pictured), head of Ravenswood Community Primary School in Ipswich.

"We talked through the curriculum at length in the year prior to it starting and spent a lot of time unpicking it to see how to support children when it came in," she says. "Without doing that, it would have been very difficult."

Ms Mills thinks it is too early to assess what impact the new curriculum will have on pupils. "If [the aim of the curriculum] is to raise understanding that supports lifelong learning, then a year is not long enough to say with certainty that it will do that."

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