Yes Minister and DfE Curriculum Jousting

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Almost everyone I know is expecting a change of government at the next general election, and expecting it to be decisive; that is to say no hung parliaments, minority regimes, or small majorities.  Landslides are in the offing, I'm promised.  Well, I'm not so sure about landslides, but that's for another day.

In the next breath my colleagues say that this will mean that the next government will reform the school curriculum to give environmental matters a much stronger focus.  Well, maybe.  Youth organisations have certainly been laying siege to the official opposition's policy forums and strategy processes in order to ensure that the ground is well prepared through promises such as:

Give young people the knowledge and skills to thrive in the transition to a net zero society

Integrate learning about climate change and sustainability throughout the curriculum in schools and on vocational courses

Provide training and support for teachers.

Embed skills and knowledge to assist in the transition to a net zero society across courses, etc

Pretty standard stuff you'd think, and nothing to really frighten the horses.  And much groundwork is being laid through such developments as the NAEE Manifesto and particularly TTF's Track Change programme.

The more interesting question is what DfE does when the new ministerial team pitches up on Day 1 to hand all this over.  If Yes Minister still has any relevance, they will of course, welcome it all; indeed, civil servants will have been preparing for such a venture and will have their strategy to deal with this all worked out.  This will not necessarily be a strategy to implement the policy in full, however, but to implement it on DfE terms which might well mean not implementing bits of it (or any of it) at all.

The reaction of the DfE's curriculum team – a closeted group of legendary effectiveness – will be key.  There is a view that new ministers tell such bodies what they want to happen and then it happens.  I think this is an optimistic view of matters (Yes Minister again).

If you think that Yes Minister is passé, think again.  Below is an extract from Rory Stewart's new book in which he recounts what he was faced with on his first day as Secretary of State at DfID when a senior official suggested that, rather than focus on his novel policy ideas, he use the Department for his own ego trip:

"I stared at her. She stared back. I did not trust myself to speak… But at the same time I was grateful for her response, for it had revealed more about how a senior civil servant viewed a minister than I might have picked up in a year."

I'm not expecting the national curriculum to be changed.  And, given how everyone has been so helpful to the DfE in suggesting what schools might do on their own, I reckon that DfE will keep saying that what campaigners want to happen in terms of learning opportunities is all quite possible without the sort of curriculum change campaigners suggest is needed.  This will be a solid win for the curriculum team with the bonus that they need not do anything at all.

We shall (probably) see ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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