Recently, I spotted a year 11 pupil (I dislike the word student unless used for 6th form or university) with a copy of “Anna Karenina” in her bag. Having studied some Russian, I asked her if she was enjoying it. She was. The book wasn’t on an exam syllabus and the pupil concerned had no Russian background or indeed any connection to Russia at all. She had just heard about the story.
A year 8 pupil I know is able to recite all the English monarchs from William the Conqueror. Just the sort of stuff which would get certain educationalists throwing up their hands in horror about mindless rote learning, facts without understanding etc. Yet this pupil was happy that they got far more out of a visit to the Tower of London as a result.
A year 9 pupil had a copy of a Roald Dahl book in German that he was reading and finding difficult. I said that one of the issues would be the use imperfect, or simple past tense. He nodded, said he had heard about it and asked when we would look at this tense. In Year 10, I said. “Couldn’t we do it this year”, he asked? He was probably right. In MFL, KS3 textbooks simply don’t introduce tenses early enough. When I was teaching in Germany, the English perfect tenses were introduced in Chapter 3 of book 1 in the textbook I had. His comment gave me food for thought for planning my scheme of work, but I am limited in the curriculum time allocated to me.
I became extremely irritated when I read the following from John Dunford:
What I dislike most about it is the conviction that a knowledge based curriculum is solely about passing exams. I suppose, to some head teachers looking at progress charts and spreadsheets, it is. Therefore it must be tempting to assume that a knowledge based curriculum is simply about poring over the exam spec and nothing else. I guess the advocates of child centred learning have a vested interest in promoting this viewpoint. Once you have convinced enough people that this is what a knowledge based curriculum is all about, you are half way to persuading them to adopt a non subject based approach, topic work, projects and learning how to learn, with the mantra that “this teaches the skills they will need for the future.”
I looked at the Whole Education website. I see nothing wrong with some of what it seems to advocate eg. networking, collaboration between schools. Yet I disagree with the approaches to the curriculum which seem to be promoted, judging by the examples on the website. I almost found myself shouting at my tablet, “NONE OF THIS STUFF IS NEW”. Back in the 1970s, my local comprehensive was engaged with this. They had merged subjects together to create something called TRENDS, which stood for Talking, Reading, Enquiring, Noting, Discovering Self and Society. Did it last? No. Yet it was just the sort of thing Dunford would approve of, judging by the article. More recently, in Knowsley, the secondary schools were rebuilt to provide a learning environment supposedly fit for the future, with curricula to match. Did the “personalised” approach improve behaviour? No. Did it improve knowledge and skills? No. Are they still doing it? No.
“Tomorrow’s adults will be faced with problems about the nature of which we can have no conception. They will have to cope with the jobs not yet invented. They need a curriculum….that they can see as an organic whole, related to their present and future needs”
This was said by the headteacher of Nightingale County Secondary School in 1966. Over 50 years ago. I know we often look back with nostalgia to our youth, but please let’s not pretend that this sort of thinking is innovative. It isn’t!