A response to Michael Gove’s National Curriculum  March 2013

The following analysis was developed at the 2013 spring conference of NAPE (National Association for Primary Education), following presentations by Andrew Pollard and representatives of the curriculum associations for English, Maths and Science. (see detailed notes)

The official consultation ends on 16 April, so responses to the Department for Education, through the press and internet, are urgent. 
Key concerns
It consists of extremely detailed lists of ‘content’ (spellings, grammar rules, mathematic algorithms, historical facts and famous people, names of rivers) but is weak on aims, concepts, skills; a lack of coherence, progression, connection with the world etc.

Narrowness: little beyond En, Ma, Sc; in En speech only appears in the context of literacy, etc. very patchy treatment of other subjects (except History which is nationalistic, insular, and not age-appropriate); no sense of literacy and numeracy in the meaningful contexts offered by other subjects or the real world. 

The learner is absent – no sense of what is appropriate to age and potential interests of child, or of the need for engagement or relevance.

Pitching demands too high (i.e. too young) will lead to failure, not high standards.  [NB match Y2 to grade 1 of formal schooling in Finland and elsewhere, so that ages align) 

Abstract view of learning as terminology, rules, abstract symbols without regard to sensory experience and experimental and creative activity.

An assembly kit (IKEA) view of learning: the whole by assembling the parts, e.g. know rules of grammar, spelling etc., pick up your Allen key, and you will know how to write well.

Claims to avoid telling teachers how to teach, but there is often an implied (narrow) pedagogy – though explicit in its dogmatic ‘synthetic phonics’ approach to reading which marginalises all the other aspects of the reading process.

Implied distrust of teachers, inflexible, makes it difficult to exercise professional judgement and match children’s experience and understanding.

Inflexible to variations in children.

In summary:
These factors (content, narrowness, abstraction, exaggerated demands), exacerbated by inspection, high-stakes testing etc., will lead towards rote learning and memorisation rather than understanding. They will sidestep learning for understanding and cognitive development, lowering standards (in PISA terms) rather than raising them.

Misunderstanding of ‘high performing countries’ – in attempting to emulate these countries (regardless of their different social circumstances) it substitutes lists of ‘content’ for thinking, concepts, understanding, cognitive development; fails to understand their broader view of the educational process; collects together all their content but links key objectives to younger children than elsewhere. 

The curriculum will produce failure: for pupils (leading to demoralisation), for teachers (to justify pay cuts) and for schools (to justify closure and privatisation as academies).

(For analysis of EBacc and earlier responses to National Curriculum drafts, see Curriculum 2012 )