Curriculum: A Warning, Part 2

I wrote my first warning back in May. It was a gentle nudge and prod of a reminder. Because for those of us that believe in curriculum being at the centre of a school, being both the enabler and the anchor, this is a time of great opportunity. Notable shifts in thinking over the past year or so are an extended clarion call for returning to the beauty of our subjects rather than the frippery of past pedagogies. Pedagogies that hacked at and shoehorned subject disciplines into gruesome genericism. It’s a time for careful thought about curriculum narrative and content; for conversations in faculties about the what alongside the how. Good.

 

And so, yes, sound the curricular trumpet. Sound it across the land. And it has been, and continues to be; its notes echoing through staffrooms and classrooms and school halls. Hurrah. And yet in parts, the embouchure’s not quite right; the notes are off; the placement skewed. Curriculum is a little flat, or a little sharp. The clarity of note is clouded.

 

This clouded curriculum note made me worried in May. And I’m still worried, and probably even more worried as the academic year draws to a close. Because as we wink and nudge and chuckle knowingly at past errors – at Bloom’s hook-a-ducks and Bullseye plenaries and plasticine and pipe cleaner poetry starters – we run the risk of doing the same with curricular thinking: of ‘doing curriculum’. Some of this is because some school leaders and MATs are in desperate search of magic bullets and cure-alls that will transform outcomes into a GCSE Lazarus. Often seeking another salve – whether that be the foul ‘engagement’ of the errors listed above, or, now, the curriculum cure-all, the curriculum miracle. Curriculum is the answer! Let’s curriculum it, everyone! Genuflect at the curriculum altar!

 

And goodness knows I’m a curriculum apostle. Like Ruth Walker, curriculum is my king and country. But if we really believe in the power of curriculum to transform our pupils’ lives, we need to be in it for the long game. So let’s stop for a minute. Just stop. Stop and think before we do anything. Turn off those photocopiers churning out knowledge organisers we think we ought to have in place. Beware the ‘curriculum kit’ companies want to sell. Resist the lure of consultants who obvs know exactly how to address intent, implementation, impact in our schools. Stop. And MATs, stop panicking. Nationally, the proliferation of very senior cross-MAT curriculum roles in the past six months or so are dizzying. And sometimes those in these vertiginous positions haven’t prioritised curriculum in the past. U-turns and lip-service abound. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m fine with people changing their minds. God knows I did. But don’t try and blag that you’ve always been a curriculum champion when you haven’t. In some parts the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intent, implementation, impact intensity. Curriculum notes are off; their placement distorted; the embouchure wrong. The clarion call a distortion. Where this happens, there is no clarity, no real truth. I see you.

 

And when this happens, the falcon cannot hear the falconer. The curriculum gyre keeps turning. I want this to be an educational epoch of subject disciplines, not genericism, of curriculum narrative rather than easily packaged lessons that don’t reference what’s come before or where the journey is headed. A time where we return to the rhythm, ebb and flow of our subjects that reveal our true values as schools: as Tom Sherrington says, “This is what we are. This is what we do. And we’re proud of it.” This is my cri-de-coeur: an era where curricular thought and action 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.

 

We have such an opportunity to embrace. And yet I can’t help but worry as I listen and watch. And so I urge you: question. Question for all it’s worth. Because, if we’re not careful, what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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