I met a DfE minister last week to talk about Teach the Future and it’s 6 asks. I said the government should take these admirable young people, their justifiable concerns, and their measured proposals seriously. The minister said that the DfE was listening to what they were saying. I said they wanted more than that.
We talked about the standard DfE arguments that the national curriculum does cover climate, ecology, etc. I said that this wasn’t the case when it comes to thinking about what might happen in the future and what the UK would be doing. This is a key student point and they are right to make it.
We talked about Teach the Future’s call for an inquiry. I said that the PR costs to DfE of not having one would exceed any financial costs of doing so. The minister wondered whether having an inquiry on this would mean that they’d find it hard to resist other demands.
I’m sure that’s a real concern for DfE as they must have six such requests a day, for example on dog training, road safety, financial literacy, mental health, resilience, etc. Batting these away with smooth words must form 90% of someone’s job description. But what we are talking about is not about such everyday matters. It’s about something much more existential and it’s coming from young people themselves.
There is a deep-seated, firmly embedded reluctance amongst senior DfE civil servants to changing the curriculum. It’s in the Department’s DNA and you can understand why as you cannot just keep doing it because, for one thing, schools need clarity. So it’s going to be fascinating to see how DfE manages all this when more smooth words will just not do.
The realist in me thinks that they’ll want to continue to say no. But the tired cynical part of me wonders if they might agree to set something limited up (maybe an internal review) and seek to control both process and outcomes. This has the key merit of both doing, and not doing, something. It also procrastinates which is a key civil service skill.
Doing this would put Teach the Future in a bit of a bind as it’s not everything they want, but it is something.
We shall see!