Unsuccessful Futures in Wales

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I see that the hapless Welsh government is having another go at curriculum reform – finally embarrassed by its PISA scores, perhaps.  This is called “Successful Futures”.  Inexplicably I note that it has hired the guru who designed Scotland’s woeful Curriculum for Excellence [ CufEx – or for excrement as many now say in North Britain ].
The idea of CufEx was to be progressive and child-led, reducing the focus on subjects and related knowledge – there was emphasis on cross-curricular themes and on 21st century knowledge – whatever that is.  Child-led might not be much of a problem if you’re from a literate middle class home that can fill in the gaps, but it’s a disaster if you’re not, as evaluation studies show.  For example, I read recently that Scotland’s largest private employer of apprenticeships has noted a steady decline in numeracy levels since CfEx was introduced 10 years ago.  More PISA troubles ahead, then.  The last Labour government tried this in England before rapidly backing off.  This attempt was dismissive of subjects and the formal conceptual knowledge they embody, and based too strongly on learner experience and knowledge which was seen as important as any other.
Michael Young has argued that the idea of the school subject is importance from the point of view of equality.  The point is that, although in a society such as ours, any curriculum is likely to be inequitable because of the nature of society, a curriculum based on concepts (ie, subjects), can be seen as a carrier of equality as such a curriculum can make a good fist of treating everyone equally irrespective of background and the available cultural capital at home.  In Young’s view subjects are the only basis we have as a curriculum for all.
Young has stressed that a curriculum has to be about concepts that allow students to abstract from their own experience and personal knowledge and understandings, and that a curriculum that only emphasises experience and relevance lets down those who lack access to other knowledge at home; after all, he said, no one goes to schools to learn what they already know.  Young has said that, whilst all knowledge is socially constructed, its truth is not dependent on its origins, and his view is that knowledge is best experienced through disciplines with boundary crossings (good teachers know how to do this).  Whilst the curriculum is not a given, and is open to change, an effective curriculum protects schools from passing and powerful social forces.  After all, the subject-based curriculum was an enlightenment project
You can read about, and comment on, Unsuccessful Futures here.  And this offers a quick summary.  Sadly I cannot provide a link to a venn diagram I saw recently which summed up the incoherence of the proposed approach.  Grab Bag is a polite term.  A key question for many will be what's the role of ESD(GC) in the new curriculum.  My searches suggest it has been abandoned – and just when OECD PISA is valorising it.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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