Curriculum: A Warning, Part 4: Thou shalt not panic

Like me, you may have noticed a trend on Twitter since the welcome emphasis on curriculum. Lots of school leaders have been talking about curriculum, or what they think is curriculum but, as I’ve said before, what is one person’s curriculum convo is another person’s option block diktat. Words are nuanced and easily misinterpreted. So ‘curriculum’ has recently brought forth a fluttering of well-intentioned deep dive sheets and documents and enough paths/journeys/snaking yellow brick roadmaps to shake a stick at. A curriculum roadmap is this season’s knowledge organiser, if you will. I think this could be problematic. Let me explain why.

Decisions in schools are driven by school leaders and some things that are wrong across the system are because of school leaders. For those of us who are school leaders this is an awkward but important truth and calls for soul-searching and reflection. Many of these problems with leadership can be attributed to what I have written about before: poor, tub-thumping, personality-led leadership in the past fifteen years or so where rhetoric and force of personality were valued over knowledge. This was the dogma for a long time and meant that many schools wobbled on a bed of flimsy leadership knowledge. I’m heartened that organisations like Ambition are now actively moving away from this nonsense and crafting courses for school leaders that value and develop domain-specific leadership knowledge. A consequence of this leadership guff of the noughties and 10s is that a lot of stuff was said but not much done, or indeed a lot of stuff was said and a lot of rubbish stuff done at the expense of pupils’ and teachers’ futures. This has been really problematic, and its hot air faecal leadership lingers. Scratch the service and there’s not much there. Many of us will have seen this: easily hoicked up soundbites, trotted out phrases and a whiff of faux sagacity all blown about like cheap leadership confetti.

Further, school leaders often look for a magic bullet. And, to a point, I understand the pressures of why this has been the case. In the past it’s been the search for a cure-all and salve to transform outcomes into a GCSE Lazarus. Now it’s a frantic scramble for the Curriculum Holy Grail.  This isn’t necessary.

It’s important that we consider the above because in some schools this curricular frenzy is being perpetuated, and boy are things getting distorted. I have warned about this before: here, here and here. This is another short blog post. Again, I’m going to tell you – secondary school leaders in the main – a few things from my point of view about what not to do if you do really want to be a school that prioritises curriculum. And so, to start, an important reminder: the first commandment is thou shalt not pay lip service. The second commandment is: thou shalt not panic. Here are a few more reminders about what I mean:

1. Don’t get complacent about behaviour.  In the panic to ‘do curriculum’, don’t trot out the odd lip-serviced ‘behaviour CPD’ once a term or assume that things are OK if you haven’t spoken properly to your teachers about what behaviour is like across school. Walk the school all the time. Get complacent about behaviour at your peril, school leaders. I love curriculum and I’m a massive curriculum enthusiast, but if you don’t have the foundations for a curriculum to take root and grow and flourish, where teachers can teach and pupils can learn without interruption, it doesn’t matter how many beautiful curricula are designed.  It doesn’t matter one jot.

2. Don’t move to a three-year Key Stage 3 because you think it’s what Ofsted want. This really gets my goat and I see it all over the place in a fog of leadership panic. If this is the reason you are giving your staff about why you’re moving to a three-year Key Stage 3, then please understand that the message to your staff is one of startlingly hurtful clarity: I still don’t see the worth of your subjects. Please, school leaders, think carefully about the why of a three-year Key Stage 3. If you really believe in the importance of curriculum, if you really want to prioritise curriculum as a school, if you really value subject disciplines and the importance of foundational knowledge, then your reason will not be “because Ofsted.” 

3. Don’t rush to design curriculum pathways/learning roadmaps. OK, so I’m worried that curriculum roadmaps are the new knowledge organisers and have become a curricular tool before a curriculum. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that curricular conversations are happening in schools up and down the land. I think that’s great. But I see a proliferation of these curriculum pathways/learning journeys/curriculum roadmaps. School leaders, please don’t think that these are a prerequisite to a great curriculum, or that they mean a curriculum is ‘done’. They’re a tool, but not a necessary tool. A simple table is really fine. If these lovely maps help you think through your curriculum – great, and I’m sure they do help many – but please ensure your middle leaders don’t feel they need to spend an inordinate amount of time designing them. It’s not necessary. I’ve even read where school leaders have said that ‘Ofsted want these curriculum roadmaps’. They don’t. You just need to know your curriculum. I really don’t mind what format a curriculum is presented in as long as colleagues can articulate the curriculum narrative and why it’s sequenced in the way it is. Better that the time is spent in departments having the curricular conversations, and then investing that time in subject knowledge development and thinking through how to teach specific topics, rather than spending too long designing a beautiful map. If you use them – grand. If they help you – fab. But don’t spend any more time than is necessary. If you don’t have them, please don’t worry. Just have your curriculum.

4. Do not map GCSE Assessment Objectives back to Key Stage 3.  Many of you won’t think this still happens. But it does. It does all over the place. Repeat after me: a good curriculum does not mean GCSE questions at Key Stage 3. Do so and you warp and bastardise the curriculum; in fact, this is not a curriculum at all but joyless chunks of hollowed learning structured around the surface features of the test. It fails to empower the child with knowledge. It heaves a disproportionate emphasis onto Year 11 and stultifies us in myopic inertia of the most crippling kind. School leaders, encourage your middle leaders to do this and you are freezing them in the cold, numbing grip of poor curriculum leadership. Not only does this practice fail to empower children with knowledge, it fails to empower teachers, too.

5. Don’t ‘do’ Deep Dives.  I knew this would happen. School leaders are splashing around in deep dives/small waves/exploratory puddles all over the place. I don’t think this is helpful. Firstly, it makes Ofsted the driver. I understand why school leaders could feel that this might be the case. But I think declaring the importance of deep dives in the name of Ofsted is unhelpful and woefully undermines your message if you’re a school that says it prioritises curriculum (see point 2). And there have been so many ham-fisted attempts to ‘do’ what some school leaders think are deep dives that they’re actually causing damage and encouraging poor practice in some parts, including the death by a thousand paper cuts of unnecessary deep dive documentation that hasn’t come from Ofsted, but from school and MAT leaders. Enough already. I’m not sure the abundance of well-intentioned deep dive question sharing is helpful either if it leads to practising ‘for Ofsted’. From what I’ve seen, some of the questions shared are really helpful and useful and interesting. But those conversations about curriculum should be at the beating heart of a school, not only at the frantically pounding heart when Ofsted come knocking. So, school leaders, this needs thinking through really carefully. Knee-jerkingly knocking up reams of ‘deep dive documentation’ for middle leaders is adding to workload. Don’t do it. 

6. Don’t worry if you don’t think your curriculum is as knowledge-rich as the curriculum of the school down the road.  OK, so I really love a curriculum steeped in rich, lustrous knowledge. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t. I’ve firmly pinned my colours to the knowledge-rich mast. But it’s really OK if you don’t teach The Odyssey in Year 7. Don’t worry about it. Somehow, teaching Homer has become a by-word for ‘wowsers so knowledge-richy’. I jest. And I think it’s awesome that some schools do teach The Odyssey, but if you don’t and don’t have the resources or subject knowledge within your department to teach it at the moment, or have made the decision not to teach it, don’t worry! There are loads of other ace things to teach. And there are things that simply have to be in place first, irrespective of whether you’re teaching The Odyssey or not. I’ve mentioned about exemplary behaviour. That’s vital. As is a good understanding of how to teach well, and how to teach well with the nuances and specificities of that subject. Because if you’re teaching The Odyssey with word search starters and brain gym and little explanation from the teacher, then I don’t care if it’s on your curriculum; that’s rubbish and the kids are getting a rubbish deal. I read a tweet the other day that said children were studying Animal Farm in Year 7 and had been asked to write a Facebook profile for George Orwell. The irony is hideous. I amo amas amat the idea of introducing Latin, but it’s a pretty rubbish idea if you haven’t got anyone who could design a Latin curriculum well, or if your school can’t afford to buy a really good Latin curriculum with texts and resources and invest in CPD. Let’s be sensible. ‘Knowledge-rich’ doesn’t mean you have to do what someone else does because ooooh, Homer. And I write that with my tongue only half in my cheek.  But, still. 

So don’t panic, friends.  This is a brave new curricular world, and it’s all going to be OK. 

The Romantics and death relics

This blog post is based on a talk I gave at the Inspiration Trust’s English Symposium last June, although it is edited somewhat for this post. My thanks again to Summer Turner and the Inspiration Trust for inviting me to speak.

I hope this might be of some interest to English teachers if they’re teaching Romantic or Victorian literature, or just because it’s interesting! Following this post there will be another post in a few weeks about Aestheticism and the Decadent Movement, a fascinating contrast to the Romantics’ relationship with the body and death. Aestheticism and the Decadent Movement is also an area of literature that I’ve not seen much of in English literature curricula in schools, other than at A level, so I thought I’d explore it and share some ideas. But that’s to come. For now, I’d like to explore the Romantics’ relationship with death. I’m going to attempt to explore the convergence between the body and the page (and the canvas) in Romantic poetry and explore the ways in which the body becomes an object suffused with emotion and information. I will also reference some Pre-Raphaelite art and a lied by Schubert.

I think this could be very interesting to explore at Key Stage 3, and I also hope that this post might stimulate further thought for English teachers and their pupils about the representation of the body and death in the Romantic and Victorian poetry in the GCSE AQA Power and Conflict Anthology. There could be links that might be valuable to explore between what I refer to and ‘Ozymandias’, ‘The Prelude’ and ‘My Last Duchess’. I have also provided a short list of suggested further reading at the end of this post.

Let’s make no bones about it: the Romantics were rock stars. What with their unbridled emotion, flamboyant clothes and garret-preoccupation (not to mention the drugs) they were pretty full-on. Maybe that’s why I like them. Having said that, had I known Shelley, Keats and the gang in real life I reckon I probably would have found them quite irritating (all that sighing and that BLOODY URN). It’s only the thankful distance of about 200 years that means I can read them and their writing as objects of interest. And I do find them particularly interesting. What I also find fascinating is their preoccupation with the body and death. Body parts formed a ghoulish tapestry for the Romantics (and the Victorians), woven with poems and stories and art and music and all sewn together with a huge narrative spool of death. And this cadaverous narrative tells us much about the Romantics’ and Victorians’ complex relationship with the afterlife.

There is a hazy period in the nineteenth century when Romanticism moved into the Victorian period. Victorian death culture, in particular, formed a narrative around the body. As Lutz argues, the dead body was seen as a sacred object by the Victorians, which moved away slightly from the individualism and emotionalism of the Romantics. Lutz explores how bodies leave traces of themselves and vestiges of memories on things that had been touched by the deceased: leavings of the self. She argues that, therefore, the cadaver became an artefact or relic to the Romantics and Victorians, and that these “corporeal tokens” stood in for the person as they were, whether literal (the remains of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s cremated heart that Mary Shelley carted about with her, wrapped in the leaves of his writing), or the literary (the decapitated head in Keats’ ‘Isabella’ (1820) or the body parts depicted in Goethe’s 1808 poem ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’), but all suffused with meaning; the past made manifest, the dead resurrected. So I’d like to explore these text relics: the bodies and body parts that are so prevalent in the poetry of the Romantics. Death lingers in these text relics and presents itself again and again, like the frantic cyclical movement of Gretchen’s spinning wheel that we see in the words of Goethe and in the music of Schubert. Death becomes un-deathed, caught forever in the artistic mausoleum of the poem, to die and come to life perpetually.

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Victorian jewellery with a dead loved one’s hair and photograph

Therefore, death in art in Romanticism became a collector’s item. And the Romantics (as well as some of the Victorians) fantasised about becoming a collector’s items themselves – almost saintly relics that travelled through time and space. Obsessed with the self (the Victorians seem to focus more on death of the other more than death of the self) and the “centrality of the individual” (hello massive egos!), this, argues Lutz, “led them to fix their eyes on posthumous fame, spurring them to carry the theme into their writing.” (p.25 – Lutz). Just look at the scattered fragments of Chatterton’s writing in Wallis’ The Death of Chatterton (1856) and the speaker in Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ (1819); after death his precious words scattered leading to an even greater, miraculous spark amid mankind, “And, by the incantation of this verse,/Scatter, as from an extinguished hearth/Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!”. Keats even had his own death mask; his body became a revered, sacred, miraculous object. Part of the preoccupation with the artist as a collector’s item, and death itself as a collector’s item, was because many of the Romantics were hugely self-obsessed (I recognise I’m making sweeping statements here, but many were!) and also because along with the other socio and cultural changes after the Enlightenment there was a desire to bring order to chaos: structure, classification, certainty. Collecting and classification became a hobby. Often very personal items were included – hair, ribbons, teeth – ‘death memories’ ordered and classified. Death objects gave a continuity of memory that seemed to overcome death itself. And sitting slightly awkwardly alongside this need for classification and order was the idea of a beautiful death and a gothic attraction to fragments, ruin and decay, captured forever in the eternal moment.

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Victorian collections and classification

This is exemplified beautifully in Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. The nightingale becomes a captured death object within the poem itself. Although the nightingale is an “immortal Bird”, it makes us feel the longing of being alive and the pull of a beautiful death. Keats relentlessly makes us experience the fragility of life – forcing us to teeter on the edge of a symphony or a requiem; we’re “half in love with easeful death” and therefore half in love with life. Keats forces us to feel. He death-collects the senses in the poem with painfully exquisite attention to the body itself, and then the body in decay. His poetry both celebrates and mourns the ephemerality and fragility of life. Again, we are reminded of Wallis’ depiction of Chatterton, “Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies” – “easeful death” is aestheticised. In Romantic poetry and art, there’s often a longing for the capturing of the exact moment of death, so death becomes something permanent and the poem or the frame of the painting becomes the tomb. (Ref Lutz and “the formaldehyde of poetic language”, p.42). The poem, painting, or song becomes a travelling relic that travels through time and is brought to life again by the next reader, observer or listener.

Chatterton

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis, 1856

Goethe’s poem ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ (Gretchen at the spinning wheel) was written in 1808 and the words taken from Part 1 of Goethe’s Faust. It was set to music by Schubert in 1814 when Schubert was 17 years old. The lied depicts Gretchen (Margaret) at her spinning wheel, longing after Faust and all he has promised. The accompaniment represents the ever-constant spinning wheel – perhaps trying to root Gretchen in reality – or perhaps representing the cyclical, never-ending nature of her longing and lust for Faust. It’s an interesting poem to consider alongside other Romantic poems about death and the body because here Goethe and Schubert seem to capture the never-ending death of unrequited love through linguistic glimpses of body parts. In this poem we see initially the materiality of life itself (which Gretchen compares to a grave): the window and the house – it’s almost like Gretchen wants to contain Faust within the house so the memory of the body becomes entombed within her memory and the song (and poem) itself. The materiality of the concrete nouns (“das Grab”, “zum Fenster” “aus dem Haus”) stand in for the absent body of Faust.

In Goethe’s poem there is a longing, an ache – similar to Keats’ “half in love with easeful Death” – and alongside this, the body, both Gretchen’s and the memory of Faust’s body – become fractured, fragmented, separated. Faust’s body becomes a sacred relic. Goethe presents us with a series of nouns that are body parts, moving from Gretchen’s to Faust’s:

Herz
Kopf
Sinn
Gang
Gestalt
Mundes
Augen
Rede
Zauberfluss
Händedruck
Kuss
Busen

Margaret

Margaret (Alone at her Spinning Wheel) by Frank Cadogan Cowper, 1907

And after Gretchen’s memory of his kiss, she moves to verbs that almost try to stop the cruelty of loss and preserve the memory of Faust through the “formaldehyde of poetic language”: “fassen” “halten” “kussen” – enabling Gretchen to be able to forget, to suspend time and to die in the memory. The aching and the longing becomes art – and Schubert cradles and magnifies this with his music. The cyclical piano line (the spinning wheel itself) represents Gretchen’s yearning that never ends.

Franz Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, sung by Kiri Te Kanawa

This has only been a brief exploration of death in Romantic poetry. It’s such a fascinating period and the Romantic attraction to sacred remnants of the self and sacred secular objects opened the door to Victorian death culture, where the materiality of death and death objects (lockets of hair in necklaces; dead loved one’s ribbons as bookmarks; portraits; poems; photographs) meant that, somehow, the dead were still part of this world.

Gretchen am Spinnrade
By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Meine Ruh’ ist hin,
Mein Herz ist schwer,
Ich finde sie nimmer
Und nimmermehr.
Wo ich ihn nicht hab’
Ist mir das Grab,
Die ganze Welt
Ist mir vergällt.
Mein armer Kopf
Ist mir verrückt
Mein armer Sinn
Ist mir zerstückt.
Nach ihm nur schau’ ich
Zum Fenster hinaus,
Nach ihm nur geh’ ich
Aus dem Haus.
Sein hoher Gang,
Sein’ edle Gestalt,
Seines Mundes Lächeln,
Seiner Augen Gewalt.
Und seiner Rede
Zauberfluss.
Sein Händedruck,
Und ach, sein Kuss!
Mein Busen drängt sich
Nach ihm hin.
Ach dürft’ ich fassen
Und halten ihn.
Und küssen ihn
So wie ich wollt’
An seinen Küssen
Vergehen sollt’!
Gretchen at the spinning-wheel
English Translation © Richard Stokes

My peace is gone
My heart is heavy;
I shall never
Ever find peace again.
When he’s not with me,
Life’s like the grave;
The whole world
Is turned to gall.
My poor head
Is crazed,
My poor mind
Shattered.
My peace is gone
My heart is heavy;
I shall never
Ever find peace again.
It’s only for him
I gaze from the window,
It’s only for him
I leave the house.
His proud bearing
His noble form,
The smile on his lips,
The power of his eyes,
And the magic flow
Of his words,
The touch of his hand,
And ah, his kiss!
My peace is gone
My heart is heavy;
I shall never
Ever find peace again.
My bosom
Yearns for him.
Ah! if I could clasp
And hold him,
And kiss him
To my heart’s content,
And in his kisses
Perish!

Further reading:
Literary Remains: Representations of Death and Burial in Victorian England by Mary Elizabeth Hotz (State University of New York Press, 2009)
Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture by Deborah Lutz (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
Second Sight: The Visionary Imagination in Late Victorian Literature by Catherine Maxwell (Manchester University Press, 2009)

The Nation’s Teachers’ Favourite Classical Pieces of the Autumn Term

It’s the Autumn term and for every teacher it’s a slogathon. Mornings are dark, break times are drizzly and drives home are weary, so it’s high time the nation’s teachers’ favourite classical pieces of the Autumn term are shared to cheer us all up a bit, fortissimo style. And a huge hat tip to the ultimate blogger in this oeuvre, James Theobald. Click here for James’ art history blogs. They’re awesome.

Click on the video and listen while you’re reading each section. It’s worth it 🙂

The Ride of the Valkyries from Wagner’s Die Walküre (1870): October break times

Let’s start with a rollicking allegro piece and one that wakes up all teachers on a Friday break time. Things are beginning to get yampy on the playground and some proactive intervention is called for. Now if you have a leadership team who really are a Gesamtkunstwerk then this is a joy to watch: deputies and assistant heads appear from nowhere, galloping through the puddles, careering over the skiddling Pringles tins and cantering through clouds of mizzle. Listen to The Ride of the Valkyries and picture the triumphant scene where crowds are dispersed and football resumes. Wagner has carefully crafted the main theme played on the brass instruments after observing many an October break time: you’ll hear the call and response where one instrument plays a short phrase followed by another short phrase performed on another instrument, often in a contrasting rhythm. Here Wagner captures the seamless artistry between the members of senior team on their radios, usually in the form of “I’m going to move this one to stay with you for the rest of break – that OK?” “No problem, send them to me.” “And this one as well – we’ll remove their social time tomorrow too.” “No problem, send them to me.” This melodic phrasing builds up in sequence, moving up in pitch and building suspense: will the sanction be imposed? Of course it is.

Die Irae from Verdi’s Requiem (1874): Where’s my mug gone?

It’s a November non-uniform day and nerves are decidedly fraught. What was slightly irksome at the start of term is now a timpani-shattering crime against all teachers. Pretty much everyone has their favourite mug, right? Here Verdi expertly captures the Day of Wrath when someone’s favourite mug goes missing from the staff room and there’s nothing left to drink from but bowls with welded on remnants of mouldy cereal and microwaved soup. Verdi’s meticulous observations of teachers abound: the iconic almighty thwack on the bass drum symbolising our Everyteacher’s thunderous fist of frustration on the sticky top in the staffroom as he realises his plight. The sopranos soar above – a metaphor for the screamingly rising need for caffeine, with the tenors and basses creating an ominous undertone beneath as there’s only a thimbleful of milk left too. Verdi’s incorporation of low rumbling tremolos from the strings suggest that more wrath is to come (our Everyteacher hasn’t yet seen that Mocksted email). Thankfully the bell goes soon afterwards on this ultimate Dies Irae.

Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah (1741): Snow day

Ah, rejoice! Handel knows all too well us teachers have been slogging away for weeks in the far-flung and barbarous key of B flat minor, so here, in the jaunty and joyful Hallelujah chorus, he crafts the burst of unbridled elation from teachers across the land when a snow day is announced, quite a rare thing in Autumn term so all the more delicious when it happens. Handel builds from a deceptively light orchestral opening, perhaps representing the teachers’ uncertainty (How actually does the snow spider work?) through to a short, unison cantus firmus passage on the words “For the Lord Snow God omnipotent reigneth”; affirmation that the Lord Snow God is indeed the bringer of all snowy joys. And the glorious trumpets join in at “And He shall reign for ever and ever”, well, at least until February when maybe we’ll get another one.

Panis Angelicus by Franck (1872): Someone brings in donuts

Here, in quiet and careful observation, Franck brings us to the staffroom towards the end of a period 2 in late November. It’s chilly, the coffee’s almost run out and the microwave’s on the blink. It’s starting to rain, which means the kids will be tricky in period 3. But, lo!, Franck paints the musical picture of that kind, kind soul stealing unobtrusively into the staffroom just before the bell goes for break, setting down a box of sugary panis angelicus Krispy Kreme goodness. The dynamics in the piece call for a triumphant final statement of the words “pauper, servus et humilis”. And to that poor and humble servant bearing sugary gifts, we give thanks.
NB – the box is savaged within seconds and everyone goes to period 3 with hundreds and thousands in their hair.

The William Tell Overture by Rossini (1829): We’ve had The Call

Oh goodness. In stark contrast to Franck’s quiet, contemplative piece, here we have Rossini’s overture that captures the intense spark and fervour the afternoon before Ofsted arrive. The head’s just had a 90 minute new framework conversation, and when the phone’s put down things really kick in in earnest. Note how the composer crafts a fast-paced, high-intensity gallop to the photocopier. Rossini’s energy in the piece can be misconstrued as joyfully boisterous; if you listen carefully, he’s actually depicting the caffeine-fuelled WHAT DO WE MEAN BY OUR INTENT?? frantic convos and hurtlingly rehearsed curriculum sequencing lines committed to long term memory (just about). But there’s a rousing tutti finish with all staff pulling together, and the noble trombones really giving it some (we all thank you noble trombones – you know who you are).

Knowledge, as being of itself a treasure

“Knowledge, as being of itself a treasure…”
St John Henry Newman

St John Henry Newman was canonised earlier this month on 13th October. This is a pretty big deal. I’m a Catholic, but I haven’t been to Mass for years. In fact, in between the last time I went to Mass and now, I – a Brummie Catholic of English, New Zealand and German descent – married a non-practising Presbyterian of Northern Irish and Scottish descent, so it really has been a while! I’m not a Newman scholar or any sort of expert, but I would like to write about why Newman’s thinking is important to me. Fast forward a few years from when Newman was part of my daily life as a pupil to today, and I don’t go to church any more, but as I’m told by many practising Catholics, you’re always part of the club and will be welcomed with open arms if you want to return. Thank you to my friends Clive Wright and Rachel Thompson of St Martin’s Catholic Academy, Stoke Golding who regularly remind me! 🙂

As a child, I prayed a great deal for St John Henry’s canonisation as I was baptised and confirmed in the church that he founded: the Oratory Church of the Immaculate Conception, Edgbaston. I also attended one of the schools he founded: the Oratory School, Birmingham, just down the road from the church. So, although not a practising Catholic any more, I’m pretty chuffed he’s now a saint. Cardinal Newman, as he was referred to then, was a familiar and revered name in our house and in my primary and secondary schools. Dad was Catholic too but never went to Mass, so every Sunday Mum, my sister and I used to hop on the number 8 bus on Gerard Street and make the 20 minute journey to Edgbaston and the Edwardian Italian baroque majesty of the Oratory, built in 1907 after Newman’s death in 1890. So we weren’t local to the Oratory, but the church sort of found us. My Mum hadn’t been to Mass for years until she found the Oratory. She returned to the church in her 40s after my older sister had been very ill and in the Birmingham Children’s Hospital for a while. While my sister was in hospital my Mum met the hospital chaplain, a priest at the Oratory, and it all went from there: we were baptised at four years old (me) and eight years old (my sister) under the incensed, tunnel-vaulted, star-spangled roof of Newman’s Oratory.

Oratory 2

The nave of the Oratory Church of the Immaculate Conception, Birmingham

The Oratory, with its cool marbled columns that I danced around after Mass, elaborately columned pulpit that I sat under playing with my dinosaurs, and its huge sky-blue dome that I gazed up at during the Apostles’ Creed, circumferenced with elegant angels and rosy-cheeked cherubs and flanked by scroll-bearing prophets, was a huge part of my childhood.

Oratory 1

The high altar of the Oratory Church of the Immaculate Conception, Birmingham

birmingham-oratory

The interior of the dome of the Oratory Church of the Immaculate Conception, Birmingham

I am eternally grateful for the support our church and schools gave us as a family. I wrote a little about that here. But this post is more about Newman and me.

It was serendipitous that I came across some of Newman’s writings over the past year, the year in which I feel I have really worked out my values as a school leader and what I unequivocally believe in and stand for. Many of us hear talk of values in schools: abstract nouns trying to harness the concrete, trying to encapsulate what we think and feel and do, what we say we subscribe to, what we and our pupils are supposed to believe. A proliferation of those values began to inexorably roll out of photocopiers and laminators and appear magically on school hall walls overnight about ten years or so ago: this was the time when the head teacher cult of personality was most rampant (and still is in some parts). That’s a whole different blog, and something I have tentatively explored here, and will continue to explore. I suppose my point in mentioning it in this blog post is that I have truly pinned my knowledge colours to the values mast, but there hasn’t been a single Damascene event that led to this. My beliefs of knowledge as freedom and knowledge as equality of opportunity that I hold so dear have, I think, always been there, but the seductive siren call of tinselly ‘pedagogical’ frippery lured me off course for a while to a Hades fire pit of PLTS and ‘engagement’. Colleagues I have met on Twitter and through organisations like researchED, Parents and Teachers for Excellence and the Midlands Knowledge Hub have helped me return to what I’ve always believed in. Now I’m clear and have stripped away that which is extraneous and detracts, I’d like to write about something that is a personal possession, part of which stemmed from my link with the Oratory and therefore Newman: knowledge.

Earlier this year I stumbled across Newman’s lectures on the aims of education, delivered in Dublin in the newly-founded Catholic University of Ireland, and published in 1852. Newman was dedicated to education. He founded two schools for boys (one of which is my primary school – it became mixed gender later in the twentieth century and moved to new buildings in the 1970s); he also founded the Catholic University of Ireland. The lectures I came across were later titled The Idea of a University and are a statement of the value of “the disciplined intellect” that Newman argues can be developed by a liberal education. Newman’s view of a liberal education can be read largely independent of his Catholicism (and independent of his conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism – all Oratorians are converts), but I’m sure one could argue that his religion did affect his views on education. But that’s not really what I’m interested in in this blog post. Newman clearly admired “intellectual enlargement”. He was a graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, and the son of a banker. He was a fearsome intellectual and an orator and writer of great skill and “devastatingly effective in disposing of opponents.” (Catherine Robson, The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age, p.63), including Thomas Hardy. I’m interested in how Newman’s thinking has affected me and my view of education. I’m the daughter of parents who had massively high expectations of me, but we were a family in poverty. I did not attend Oxbridge. I am not the daughter of a banker. We lived in an area of Birmingham not too far away from the Oratory (20 minutes on the number 8), but hundreds of miles away in terms of high intellectual expectations of children in the 1980s and 1990s. I love the areas in which I grew up – Hockley, Lozells and Handsworth – they helped form me – but they were socially isolated places in the 1980s and 1990s. There were high levels of crime and violence. I remember the riots in the 80s and hanging out of our bathroom window, watching the looters rattle down our street clutching TVs and video recorders. So people who didn’t live there had little reason to visit and strong incentives to stay away. Conditions like these are bad for everyone, but particularly difficult for children, trapped in cycles of poverty. Knowledge – other than knowledge of how to get by in those conditions – wasn’t an expectation of some of us kids from Hockley back then. And yet, still, Newman resonates. I’d like to explore why this is and take some of Newman’s ideas and apply them to my own considerations and values about knowledge and equality. I am very mindful that this is my own interpretation of Newman’s writings. I think this is fine. This is a blog post about what I believe and what resonates with me.

All quotes are from The Idea of a University by St John Henry Newman

“Knowledge, indeed, when thus exalted into a scientific form, is also power; not only is it excellent in itself, but whatever such excellence may be, it is something more, it has a result beyond itself.”

As a scholar of language and of literature I’m fascinated by Newman’s use of the verb “exalted”. It also somewhat contradicts my assertion earlier in this post: that Newman’s view can be read independent of his faith. “Exalted” is a verb loaded with Catholicism, fizzing with joyful connotations from the Magnificat (“Et exultavit, spiritus meus”/ “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my saviour”). In his lectures, Newman seems to equivocate a little over both science and theology. On the one hand, he did support in theory the traditional view that the medieval liberal arts were the staple of a liberal education. On the other hand, his practice seemed to be more flexible. In this extract, though, knowledge is “exalted” into a scientific form. And not only that, it has power, and has “something more”. Knowledge of our subjects is powerful, and we elevate and illuminate and exalt it by talking about it and discussing it within our subject communities; by debating its structure and origin. Newman’s assertion has great resonance and value. Knowledge is something more. Yes, I loved English at school. Yes, it was very likely that I was always going to choose to study English at university. But my knowledge of Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth? I didn’t study that as part of my GCSE in history or as part of my A level in history. It was part of my KS3 study, and I found Richard to be a fascinating king. So fascinating that I’ve visited Bosworth Battlefield many, many times. So fascinating that my good luck mascot is a small, plastic white boar (he was next to me on my desk for every GCSE exam, every A level exam, every undergraduate and postgraduate degree exam). My knowledge of Richard III, his reign and his death is knowledge that has a result beyond itself. It wasn’t for an exam. It was because it was interesting. And that knowledge is part of my heritage, our heritage. We all own it. It has a result beyond itself. It has a result beyond the hardship and difficulty of my childhood and teenage years. Far beyond that.

Boar

My lucky mascot of a white boar, the emblem of Richard III

“When I speak of Knowledge, I mean something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it sees; which invests it with an idea.”

Knowledge, to Newman, is liberty. It frees us to perceive, to take a view, to see beyond, to reason, to have an opinion. To deny knowledge is to deny liberty. We are experts. We have degrees. We are knowledgeable. We, therefore, have the capacity to think as experts. Why, then, of course it must be our duty as teachers to share this knowledge. I have written before about how, although there was sometimes scant food on the table when I was a child, I was blessed in other ways: the table creaked under the immense weight of the joy of Keats and the pull of Toni Morrison and the bleak misery of the trenches and the beauty of Schubert and the angles of Brutalism. Without this fascinating knowledge – as an end in itself – I wouldn’t know what I thought about lots of things, simply because I hadn’t come across them. This wasn’t knowledge I had fortuitously bumped in to because I was somehow ‘knowledge lucky’. It was carefully discussed and planned and thought through by the teachers at my school. Some of that knowledge was taught by my family. My mother – a huge Burne-Jones fan – is responsible for my love of the Pre-Raphaelites. My grandfather – a child of Edwardian England and the pull of progress – was a huge fan of modern architecture, hence my love of Modernist and Brutalist buildings. He was also a gardener. So when I look at trees in a park, I don’t just see a great green mass of treesiness (thank you to Clare Sealy for this wonderful neologism!): I see sycamores and horse chestnuts and oaks and can smell hawthorn blossom before I see it. All this wasn’t knowledge to pass an exam. And it’s living, breathing knowledge; knowledge that still walks with me. I don’t gaze in awe at Burne-Jones’ paintings and stained glass because of a GCSE I’m going to take in Burne-Jones. Of course not. I gaze at it and love it and appreciate it and question it because it is knowledge as an end in itself. I might have been meticulously taught about the Pre-Raphaelites and thought they were rubbish. That is fine, because I’d studied and understood and was free in my knowledge to make that decision. But how does one perceive and understand, or reason, or have an opinion, if one doesn’t know something in the first place?

“Knowledge…it is an acquired illumination, it is a habit, it is a personal possession…”

God I love this from Newman. Knowledge illuminates. It helps one to see, judge, understand, evaluate. And I definitely don’t just mean the substantive knowledge – the ‘stuff’ of our subjects. The subtlety and nuance and power of the disciplinary dimension of our subjects is vital and shines a light on the subject itself enabling pupils to think, evaluate, challenge, create. And to do that effectively, one must keep doing it. Teach our kids our subjects’ traditions. Induct our kids into them. Create the conditions for graft, perseverance, practice. And grafting so the application of knowledge becomes a habit, moving manual to automatic. Freeing up our children’s thinking so that there’s automaticity of knowledge so that the impact on working memory is reduced, and the knowledge habit enables them to think. This liberty of thought is at the heart of Newman’s philosophy of education.

And, finally, knowledge as a “personal possession”. What knowledge gifts we have to pass on to the generations rolling ahead of us. And what weighty responsibility we have. This knowledge, this powerful knowledge, this entitlement – it belongs to us all. Our own personal possession. Ours to carry around with us forever. Ours to cherish. Ours to illuminate the world around us. Ours to access all that is beautiful about humanity. Knowledge as a leveller: ours to make sure that a child from Hockley can sit at a table with a child from Harrow and confidently talk, understand and engage in conversation and debate.

I’m going to end this post with my favourite of Newman’s lines from his lectures: “Knowledge, which is desirable, though nothing come of it, as being of itself a treasure, and a sufficient remuneration of years of labour.” And so, school leaders, I urge you to think beyond the frameworks and the specs and the option blocks. This is far more. Knowledge as being of itself a treasure. Knowledge of its own end, and precious.

Mediocrity

I read a quote the other day in a tweet from Cristina Milos (@surreallyno) that seemed to articulate what I’ve been thinking for a while. It is Bogusky and Winsor (Baked In, 2009): “Why are so many people afraid of so many things, but they’re never afraid of mediocrity?” This holiday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and writing about leadership, and I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting friends and colleagues to talk about different aspects of senior leadership and their experiences. So this blog post is the product of some of these conversations, and my thinking afterwards, where I’ve been wrestling with the concept of mediocrity and its seductive and comfortable OK-ness. Well, it doesn’t sit comfortably with me. It doesn’t sit comfortably at all. Mediocrity risks futures. Mediocrity dulls. It saps colour.

 

Mediocrity in the education system is pernicious. It quietly, unobtrusively seeps into the halls and walls and corridors of schools, and weeps out of them in sighs and unfulfilled futures. And, sometimes, mediocrity is an easy, easy option. It can be the path of least resistance; of fluffy, danced around conversations; of circuitous meetings that end in vagueries; of a seemingly beautiful policy written but not enacted well; a pen decisively dropped on a table, and a self-congratulatory biscuit. But under that suffocating quilt of mediocrity masquerading as a super-hero cloak of leadership is the hollow ring of that’ll do-ness, of document process-ness but not thinking of people, of churning out what we think Ofsted wants-ness. I do not accept this is morally justifiable.

 

Being a school leader is hard. Wrong decisions can be made. We’re human. Sometimes high stakes myopia sets in and leaders set off on paths where angels fear to tread. Sometimes knee-jerk actions abound. But mediocrity is a complacency, an inertia. This is not OK. It gambles with kids’ futures.

 

Mediocrity gnaws purpose and is a pestle and mortar to ambition. It clings tightly to the excuse of “Well, our kids! What do you expect?” and patronisingly eye-rolls the communities schools serve. And at its worst, mediocrity luxuriates on a chaise longue of low expectations, fanning away the irritation of moral imperative and languorously tossing aside the annoyance of improving things, because we’re actually doing OK.

 

Mediocrity conjures the illusion of Do you know what? We’re pretty good! when kids are getting an inconsistent deal. Mediocrity is a potent alchemy where teachers and leaders chase their tails in its cloying smoke, growing wearier and wearier as the year goes on, trudging towards the end of term, knees buckling. Mediocrity blames. Mediocrity toxifies. Mediocrity is an excuse-finder. Mediocrity blames teachers for outcomes that aren’t good enough when, given the right conditions, those same teachers could be flourishing and growing and loving their jobs. But mediocrity never looks at itself. The mirror is left untouched.

 

The tragedy is that mediocrity becomes the new normal, and boy does it take root. Lives of pupils and staff are not as good as they could be. Smiles half-hearted; eyes dulled. And bright futures much harder to reach for those kids who don’t quite get to where they should have done.

 

So, what to consider? School leaders, this is about equality of opportunity. It is about a high-quality education for all being an absolute right. We can’t risk children’s futures on a “That’ll do” maxim. Ask yourself: would I be happy to send my own son/daughter/niece/nephew/brother/sister/cousin or any other young person I love to my school? ‘Cos if the answer is no, then have a word with yourself. Do something about it. Because if it’s not good enough for them, then how on earth is it good enough for any other child? That’ll do, just simply won’t do.

To cease upon the midnight with no pain: Dad

This year, I have periodically returned to a pretty depressing topic to write about: grief and death. I know that this isn’t the most cheerful of things to trot out in a blog post and that there are many other more lifetastic topics that I could luxuriate in or canter through. I’ll do that soon, but I don’t want to at the minute. Last week, my husband lost a close family member. I’m not going to write about that; it’s still grief-blindingly raw and dizzying for his parents, and for him. It’s not my grief; I’m on the periphery, so it’s not mine to write about, but the after-death routine we’re currently going through has an apprehensive familiarity. Perhaps it’s this that makes me feel I ought to write. Perhaps I feel compelled to write about death because I’m more aware of death’s encroaching shadow as someone who has, so unfairly, lost both parents in the last few years. Or perhaps it’s because friends and colleagues have lost loved ones this year. Perhaps it was the unexpected death of one of my school friends a few months ago. Anyway, I want to explore my experience of death through my writing. I’m very aware that this sounds incredibly self-indulgent. I don’t mean it to be, and I do hope that this post helps someone, somewhere. So I am going to tentatively explore my own experience, and I’m going to metaphorically cough, spit and bleed death all over this laptop. I’m going to try to write about it as unflinchingly as I can; hard, true, bell-like.

 

Let’s face it: death is horrible, no matter how much we hope it is quiet and serene and all white sheets and a hummed In Paradisum. Even if loved ones are there at the moment of death, even if they died ‘peacefully’, even if “they didn’t suffer” (are we sure?), even if “they passed away quickly; it’s what they would have wanted” (are we really, really sure?), death rends and claws away people we love, leaving their outline etched in the sobbing air. A death that’s quick can be grief-windingly quick, where death wrenches away a loved one so fast that their breath is still, just, part of this world; their body still deceptively warm as those of us left behind gasp for our own breath, punch-drunk, after life’s lightning-fast concrete slab of an uppercut. I’ve only experienced that once, a few months ago, after I’d found out about the completely unexpected death of a school friend from sepsis. I wasn’t even really friends with her any more; it was an occasional, sunny, Facebooky friendship from years back. I felt pinballed. I didn’t know what to do with those feelings.

 

The deaths of my parents weren’t quick. They were anything but. The inexorable journey towards dusty death, for both of them, started quite a few years before they actually took their last, painful breaths. Dad was diagnosed with liver cancer two years before he died, and he cursed and swore his way towards death, literally kicking and screaming. He was having none of it. Mum had an incredibly unlucky neuro-combo of Parkinson’s disease, MS and epilepsy, with the added complication of Parkinson’s-associated dementia, and in her own gentle way patiently and stoically lived a death many times before it finally came. And when death did come for Mum, it was nearly nine months after her last hammer-blow of a fall that smashed her skull like an egg, and smashed her mind too: dementia was the final victor. The deaths of them both were life-changing for my sister and me. I didn’t realise it at the time. It was horrific, of course, and I missed them dreadfully, and still do. But it’s only now (Dad died in 2012; Mum died in 2015) that I can write about their deaths, precisely because I’ve lived through their deaths. And I’ve lived, and am still living, the aftermath: surges of grief were overwhelming. Sometimes, and thankfully more often now, it’s a gentle nudge of grief. But I feel like I’m still, and always will be, navigating a grief map. And it’s a bloody pointless map, too, cos it doesn’t take you anywhere other than along a circuitous route of sadness and upset, with the occasional respite of a happy memory. Nothing will bring them back, and that gnawing futile fury at the unfairness of losing our parents too young is something my sister and I cart around with us, daily. I know there are people that love us. I know I have a mother-in-law and a father-in-law who are wonderful. But we don’t have our parents. And to any of you reading this who still have your parents: I’m jealous. I want mine back.

 

My parents lived death a long time before death eventually came. And although my sister and I did all we could to make things as comfortable for them as we possible, it was terrible. And I’m not using hyperbole here: it was terrible, and sometimes unbearable, for a long time. In this post, I’m going to write about death and my father. My mother’s death was different to Dad’s, but still useful, I think, to explore at a later date.

 

Dad’s satsuma-tumour (the oncologist said it was as big as a satsuma) was nestled in his liver. It was too big to operate on, and Dad had emphysema that had ravaged his lungs, so even if they had been able to operate he wouldn’t have survived the operation because his lungs were so weak. Dad’s liver tumour meant he could have qualified for traditional chemotherapy, but again, the state of his lungs – like two limp, hole-riddled birthday balloons – meant that it would have caused more pain and risked his life. My sister managed to get Dad on an oral chemotherapy trial; the oncologists were reluctantly happy to give it a go. We knew, although didn’t really want to admit, that this was just scrambling Dad a few more months if he was lucky, rather than saving his life.

 

Dad was a proud, proud man. And he was a smart, stylish man. He was a man with a head of silver hair, and with a very precise parting that was pretty much in the same place as it had been 70+ years earlier when he had won the Christchurch Bonny Baby competition, 1939. Dad liked to dress elegantly. He ironed his clothes with precision and polished his shoes – always on newspaper, always with very specific polishing accoutrements – to perfection. Dad even did this when emphysema made its home in his lungs; when even just picking up a pencil from the floor made him out of breath. Amazingly, Dad had lived with emphysema since 1992, when he finally conquered his 70+ a day cigarette habit, to the huge surprise of us all. By 2010, the emphysema had progressed, as we knew it would, and his breathing had become rapid and shallow and frightening. And when Dad was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in that year, and was cruelly shoved by the Fates onto the death travellator, it meant that, eventually, he couldn’t leave his bed. It meant that his hair, his wonderful head of hair, wasn’t how it should have been. We did what we could, and Dad’s carers did what they could, but it wasn’t ‘just so’, as Dad liked it. Encroaching death didn’t care that Dad was a proud man; it flayed him of dignity. Again, we did what we could to alleviate the upset, and to try and make him feel as smart as he could, but when you have to tell your daughters that your bed is urine-soaked because you couldn’t wait for the carer to come with a bed pan, that’s hard. When you simply cannot control the constant, rib-snapping coughing, and, spluttering through breaths, regularly hoik up sticky green phlegm into a tin bowl next to your bed, that’s hard. When you want to hug your wife but have to vomit acidic stomach juices into the same phlegm bowl because the chemo is making you feel so wretched, that’s hard. Dad became a tiny, concentrated version of himself. A membraned skeleton, spectre-thin, coughing and vomiting, but still Dad. Dad won a final stand-off with pneumonia before he died, but there was very little of him left. He returned home from hospital, I could see, to die. Dad could manage short conversations, but was very tired. One of the last things he said to me on the evening before he died, in his flat-vowelled New Zealand accent, was “When is that bloody head teacher going to make you deputy?”. I loved Dad for this – but there was no point, then, explaining to him that I was nowhere near ready to be a DHT. Instead, I said I’d ask my head teacher. I didn’t, of course, but it made Dad feel better. I’m glad I did that.

 

And then Dad died. It was an angry, defiant death. I wrote about it here. Dad did not go gently. I love – I hate – that he did not go gently. Irrespective of how I feel about it, it was entirely in keeping with my Dad’s furious, flaming, recalcitrant, wonderful self.

 

I’m not sure where I’ve gone with this post. It was an attempt to look at death more closely. But grief is so personal that I can only explain how I feel and have felt, and I can only describe the death of my father through my own experience. Mum’s death was no less upsetting. I will write about that another time, and I’ve written about my grief for Mum here. What I’ll also write about is how, even in terminal illness and in death, things can be funny. They can. My sister and I take solace sometimes in what our parents laughed at about their illnesses. Our Mum and Dad were an exceptionally funny pair.

 

My parents were wonderful human beings. I’m glad I miss them as much as I do; their loss remains, imprinted on my sister and me in a good way, etched into the world. Etched into us.

Curriculum: A Warning, Part 3: Thou shalt not pay lip service

In May, in exam season build-up haze and in new Framework fervour, I wrote that curriculum is in the ascendant. Now that I’ve had a chance to stop, to talk to friends and colleagues, and to think really, really deeply with them, I’m not sure it is. I thought this would leave me a bit flat. It hasn’t: it’s re-energised me. There’s much work to do, and I want to get cracking.

 

Lots of school leaders are talking about curriculum, or what they think is curriculum, but what is one person’s curriculum convo is another person’s option block diktat. This is problematic.

 

And, I guess, there’s the rub: there are, and always have been, many different interpretations and definitions of well-worn educational words. Take ‘pedagogy’. You might think Rosenshine; the school down the road might think pipe cleaners and plasticine. You might think pedagogy is driven by the subject discipline; someone else might think it’s post-it notes a go-go. Words are slippery and nuanced and easily misinterpreted. So what’s a school leader to do?

 

This is a short blog post. And in it, I’m going to tell you – secondary school leaders in the main – a few things from my point of view about what not to do if you really want to be a school that prioritises curriculum. And so the first commandment is: thou shalt not pay lip service.

 

This is what I mean.

 
1. Don’t blag on behaviour. Don’t make noises about good behaviour and pay it lip service by a 5 minute slot on an INSET day in September and mentioning it in a staff meeting a couple of times over the course of the year. Don’t sit in your office all day, or slope off to the staffroom to nab a Hobnob when you can hear a class kicking off down the corridor. Just don’t; staff will see through you like a Windowlened pane. Be highly visible, be present, support your colleagues. Create the conditions – the time and the space, as one friend said – for colleagues to think their curricula deeply, to plan, and discuss, and teach. Consistently apply sensible policies. And practise the application of those policies. Intentionally design the culture you want to see, and make the routines habitual, so a habit simply becomes what we do here*. Because without good behaviour, nothing – and I mean nothing – will stick.

 
2. Don’t pay lip service to curriculum by shoehorning in an inflexible, generic T&L approach. So you might be super-keen on your new teaching and learning strategy, but if you myopically juggernaut it through and don’t recognise that it will look different in mathematics, in French, in design, and if you don’t respect the subject discipline and listen to your experts in that subject, then you’re hubristically treading a path fraught with difficulty. Respect the subject.

 
3. Do not pay lip service to curriculum by ‘doing’ knowledge organisers and booklets immediately. God knows we’ve seen photocopiers churning out knowledge organisers and knowledge booklets at the rate of knots. If you want to do this – fine – but do not do this until your subject experts have carefully designed their curricula. Otherwise they’ll probably have to re-do those curricular tools. And this bastardises the curriculum before it’s been properly considered; they become artefacts in a process rather than outcomes of careful thought and curriculum design. Do not pay lip service by doing this.

 
4. And so do not pay lip service to curriculum by saying it’s ‘knowledge-rich’ simply because you have pulled together knowledge organisers and knowledge booklets: these are poor proxies. Knowledge organisers and knowledge booklets on their own do not a knowledge-rich curriculum make. They really don’t.

 
5. You are paying lip service to the importance of curriculum if you do not prioritise expertise in subjects. We should be rejoicing in subject experts and actively seeking out the most knowledgeable subject colossi to craft our curricula.

 
6. Do not pay lip service to curriculum by thinking that when curricula are completed, that they’re ‘done’. They’re not. Our curricula are evolving, moving, undulating. They’re never fully ‘done’. We need to be comfortable with that.

 

And so, to end, a reminder of my cri-de-coeur: an era where curricular thought enables our children to participate in the great conversation of life; where there is plurality of discourse; where we all inherit and own knowledge passed on to us: batons of truth and beauty in our hands. Lip serviced, supposedly curricular actions do not do this. They strangle and restrict; they sully subject disciplines, their truths unclear in a murky world of process and documentation. This cannot happen.

 

So there’s work to do. Let’s get cracking.

 

*With thanks to Tom Bennett. Please see his 2017 report where much of this is outlined in detail.