Last Friday, I gave a brief input to the launch of Teach the Future's review of the English National Curriculum for key stages 3 and 4. This covers subjects ranging from History to Art and Design, and uses a tracked changes methodology which suggests where and how the national curriculum can be amended to include sustainability and respond to the climate and ecological crisis. The report was facilitated by a team of leading academics, with input from teachers, educators, and education experts.
I was asked to explain why Teach the Future and its Adult Advisory Board commissioned this report. This is what I said:
I’ve been asked to say a few words to explain why we set up this project. But first I’d like to thank all those who’ve been involved. Elsa Lee and Paul Vare, obviously, as co-ordinators, but everyone else as well – over 40 people. Thank you for doing such a splendid job in a short time and at a difficult period. NAEE was happy to support this work and we’re pleased with the outcome.
So why did Teach the Future do this? Well, if you’ve ever written to the DfE asking for greater coverage of climate change and the ecological crisis we face – as many young people have – you’ll have good insights into why. In response, you get a polite letter – most often from the minister of state for school standards. This points out that, as the national curriculum already covers climate and ecological issues, your request is simply misguided. Examples of the national curriculum coverage are usually then provided.
And all such responses have the merit of being truthful – as far as they go. But this is the point, although there is national curriculum coverage, it just doesn’t go far enough in either depth or breadth, in age-appropriate contents or in providing opportunities to explore issues. It’s essentially a backward glance to a different time and simply looks out of date.
Most of the DfE responses I’ve seen just focus on what science and geography offer without mentioning the possibility that other subjects have important contributions to make. They also deny that students might learn more if links between subjects were made. They say, in effect, that although climate and environmental issues are multi-dimensional in real life, their study in schools cannot be.
Young people say that they want to be educated in order to be involved in creating solutions to these great issues of our time. DfE says that of course you can do this – but only after you’ve been educated and have left school.
This is an odd message to send about the role of schools and it sits awkwardly with what’s happening in further and higher education and how employers have changed their thinking. Not only does all this deny young people the experiences they’re calling for, but also sends a message to school leaders, governors, and teachers. It says: going beyond what we say isn’t really important: you can do this if you want to, but you really don’t need to. And this just serves to put schools off and undermines what committed teachers are already doing. This is clearly a problem as Teach the Future’s research shows that 75% of teachers feel they haven’t received adequate preparation to educate students about these issues.
Over the last few years, DfE has turned down numerous opportunities to change what the national curriculum says. So Teach the Future and its adult advisory board thought that it would be helpful to explore for itself what such change might usefully look like. That’s to say, to ask experts to do this. And this is what has happened. And it’s what Elsa, Paul and Alex will now be telling us about.
Whether DfE will take any notice of their outcomes is a moot point; but in one sense, it’s not important. What this report does is useful in its own right. But it also lays down a marker for others to build on. I can only hope they do.