Curriculum and low expectations

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

In England, no matter how secular you are of mindset, you always know when Easter's approaching because the teacher unions and professional associations hold their annual conferences to which the educational great 'n' good are invited.  Here's the line-up for the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) which was held last week.

The Secretary of State [ Nicki Morgan ] used her address to attack the soft bigotry of low expectations; that is supposed cultural determinism: youngsters from deprived homes will not succeed, so there's no point in expecting or helping them to; theirin lies only disappointment and frustration, the argument goes.  This is a phrase that the previous Secretary of State has also used.  Ms Morgan wondered aloud why some children from deprived backgrounds succeed in some areas of the country, but not in others, even when they are close by.  It's a good point.

Inevitably, there were questions to her about school funding (also unevenly distributed, not only between the 4 bits of the UK, but within them).  More interestingly (from this blog's perspective), there was a question about curriculum – or at least, about influence on, and control of, it.

The Independent reported that Ms Morgan ...

"rejected demands from head teachers for ministers to give up their control of the curriculum, arguing that only democratically elected representatives should decide what children should be taught in schools."

It seems that the head teachers had called for an independent commission of teachers, parents, employers and politicians which would review the curriculum every five years.  Interesting, if dangerous. stuff.

I wrote this a while back:

"Curriculum is concerned with how we think about the social purposes of education.   If we think one way, we will have a certain kind of curriculum; if we think differently, the curriculum itself will be markedly different.  ...

Curriculum is always a selection from culture, and by its very nature involves a compromise between competing social goals (eg, cultural transmission (or rejection) / social change (or not) / employment and employability / personal fulfilment and well-being).  Wise societies choose carefully and re-think their choices from time to time, especially when faced with social or economic challenges.  The need for sustainable development is thought by many to be such a point of choice – though not, I suspect by current ministers."

I thought it was an odd response from the minister as schools have already significant control over the school curriculum (though not of the  – notionally slimmed down – national curriculum).  The ASCL clearly wants that control extended which is fair enough, and given to what sounds like an unaccountable quango, which surely isn't – unless they are proposing the body be elected, which they are surely not.

Yet Morgan is right, in a representative democracy, to stake a claim for the government as a representative of the country as a whole.  The situation at the moment is a partnership of sorts between the centre (a national curriculum framework and legally-established, over-aching goals, and the periphery (individual schools with freedom to interpret and extend).  This question of 'who selects?' is an old one, and is probably unresolvable as, although inter-stakeholder tensions persist, they also shift from time to time.

I briefly wondered whether this putative commission would be likely to better at encouraging a serious focus on environmental and sustainability issues in the curriculum, but saw no compelling reason to think it should.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • In a comment on your 2011 blog quoted above Jonathan Ward advocated inserting "Place-Based Education (PBE) and Problem-Based Learning (PBL) into Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)". This suggestion is in line with the "Community Action for Spaceship Earth" website ( - a resource platform and blog for educators that you own blog and advice have helped to inspire. What might be added to your and his foci for curriculum development is another PBL = Planetary-based Learning, given the severity & scale of human impacts on 'Spaceship Earth'and the urgency of dealing with . If the Titanic of economic growth is indeed still full speed ahead do we continue to arrange the deckchairs, i.e. resolving inter-stakeholder tensions? Whether (place-based) community action can address planetary (problem-based) issues is a work in progress for educators requiring all the effort that even retirees such as us we can muster.