Just the facts: England’s new national curriculum

On my way to work last Thursday, I listened to Radio 4’s Today show interview Secretary of State Michael Gove about the creation of England’s new national curriculum.image It was one of those mornings where I arrived to work before the story was finished, so I sat in my car in the Microsoft car park for another few minutes, listening to what Mr. Gove had to say. (A BBC article about the interview, as well as a link to the interview can be found HERE.)

The interviewer asked a couple key questions that came into my mind as I was listening to the Secretary of State. (In my own words, below)

  • If we are hiring great teachers and trusting them to do their jobs, why do we need to be more prescriptive on what they teach (especially since the Secretary says he wants to reduce prescription)?
  • If this curriculum is meant to be implemented by the nation’s comprehensive schools, among others, why is there no one from a comprehensive school on the panel leading the curriculum development?

Mr. Gove stressed that he was looking at how our education measures up against other countries around the world, which is a natural reaction to the recent release of the PISA results. However, if we also look at the new McKinsey report on “How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top,” we see that the most successful systems focus their energies on the quality of teachers, rather than what they teach. Specifically, the report says:

The experiences of these top school systems suggests that three things matter most: 1. getting the right people to become teachers, 2. developing them into effective instructors and, 3. ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.

(As an aside, this report is based on research conducted in 2006-7. It places England on a list of countries on a high-trajectory for improvement, based on the reforms that the government was introducing at the time, which were seen to be raising student outcomes. I wonder if England would still be on that list today?)

As teachers, what do you think? Do you need more prescription on what you should be teaching? Do you think a renewed focus on teaching the facts is needed? What do you think will improve your students’ learning – and improve the education system as a whole?

Let us know by posting a comment…

Comments (4)

  1. Ewan McIntosh says:

    There's a shed load of research showing that improving teacher quality at the start (hence Scotland's latest document on initial teacher education: http://www.reviewofteachereducationinscotland.org.uk/…/index.asp) and then through continuous professional development is key. It's not class sizes, it's not even spending more money (although to attract the best teachers we have to pay them the requisite amount).

    Yet repeatedly we see this oxymoron of what we know is right and what some 'feel' is right.

    I also love the idea emanating from those places at the top of the list, namely Shanghai, that they would be disappointed if they didn't see their PISA results suffer in the next few years: if they remain where they are it just means, they say, that they're continuing to teach by rote, leading to more uninspired, uncreative workers:


    Continuing professional development is an absolute top priority, not fiddling with curriculum or assessment, yet we see the least amount of money spent on it in school budgets.

  2. Sue Atkins says:

    Teachers need to be passionate about their subject, knowledgeable and able to communicate that expertise in a way that inspires kids to have a love of learning.

    Teachers need to feel valued, heard, and respected but they also need to be well trained, self motivated and able to hold high expectations and aspirations for themselves, their school and their pupils.

    I would also be asking, “What are the qualities that define a great teacher?” and “How do we as a country inspire the best people to enter the profession?”

    Paperwork, bureaucracy, poor management and stress overwhelms most teachers so I wonder how other more successful countries manage that?

    Sue Atkins

    Author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies

  3. KristenW says:

    Sue – thanks for this – your questions are great ones for a new blog post!


  4. Alessio Bernardelli says:

    I believe teachers need more freedom in the choice of curriculum that best suits their students, not more presecriptive curricula!

    Students need to learn through activities that inspire and interest them. For example, someone asked once "Why don't they do the electric guitar in Physics specifications?" What they meant was that you still have all the elements of the old specificatio, but done in a really cool and interesting way!