Where grass is greener

David Budge

Given that Sir Ron Dearing is a keen gardener, he must be happy to see his curriculum patch looking tidier than anyone could have imagined two years ago.

He has grasped the tick-list nettles and ripped out almost all of the curriculum's chickweed. Now he must wait to see whether the seedbeds he has planted will flourish.

In the meantime, he will find plenty to occupy him because, as he admits in our page 5 interview, clear pathways now need to be laid through the dense 16-19 and assessment thickets.

This Update does not attempt to tell Sir Ron how he should set about that task. Nor do we dig up and examine semi-buried controversies such as whether it is right to foist such hybrids as English phonicus or history Nelsonii on schools. Instead, we offer another snapshot of the evolving curriculum plot and discuss the work that is still going on in some of its less ruly corners, such as key stage 4 (Diane Hofkins, page 4). We also provide pages of examples of good practice in the hope that subject specialists and teachers of able and special needs pupils will benefit from the pollination process.

It is instructive, however, to have our Scots neighbour, Willis Pickard, lean on his spade and tell us what the English and Welsh educational landscape looks like from his side of Hadrian's Wall (page 6). The Scots may have a largely unproductive, peaty soil that suits only heather and sheep but, in educational terms, it is clearly richer than ours.

They have a different national curriculum and though they have testing, too, there are no compulsory tests for children at 7 and 11, and no league tables. Furthermore, teachers, advisers and college lecturers have been closely involved in planning the curriculum and its related assessment, unlike their less fortunate colleagues in England and Wales.

No wonder Richard Pietrasik, one of the few Englishmen to become the head of a Scottish secondary school (page 6), does not envisage returning South.

Sir Ron has worked a small miracle, but the hoped-for educational growth may not occur until there is a thaw in the often frosty, anti-teacher climate that has prevailed since the late 1970s. Global political warming cannot come too soon for schools.

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