Nick Gibb adds confusion to uncertainty

Poor Jim Rose.

After months of consultations on a new curriculum for primary schools, the writing of a lengthy report and the adoption of his proposals by the last Government, his plan to enliven and simplify the curriculum have been scrapped. Not revised or amended: scrapped.

It’s not surprising in the least and he must have known it was coming. The ‘Rose Review’ was derided by the Conservatives and the legislation to enact his Review was blocked in the final few days of pre-election ‘wash-up’.

His main idea was to bring together different strands of learning and to group the content of the curriculum into six key areas (his report addressed other pertinent issues, such as improving the transition from primary to secondary; making greater use of ICT; giving dialogue a more central role in the curriculum; and possible changes to school start-times for summer-born babies).

For many teachers, his ideas were an extension of what many schools were beginning to do: moving away from the excessive prescription of some elements of the National Curriculum (and the various strategies which followed it) and towards more creative, flexible teaching.

This meant, for example, the at-times artificial barriers of ‘history’ and ‘geography’ or ‘art’ could be softened (not always, of course, but Rose’s curriculum made allowances for this to happen if it aided learning) – children could then immerse themselves in a different theme or topic; teaching could focus on deeper understanding, rather than having to rush from one subject to the next.

Just to be absolutely clear: Rose did not mean (and this is where the Conservatives had got themselves a bit worked up) that history or geography would not be taught. Instead, these subjects would (or could) be taught as part of a bigger theme. An example of this might be a term-long focus on the Egyptians which, at different times, would cover art, numeracy, literacy as well as history and geography. When done well, it works brilliantly. Learning becomes memorable to children in the way a plain-old history lesson struggles to.

While suspecting that Rose would be for the chop, schools have been waiting to see what Gove and Gibb would say about the curriculum. There’s been radio silence for almost a month. Even allowing for the negotiations and compromises a coalition inevitably involves, this is a long time to leave schools in the dark. Given what was finally announced by Nick Gibb, it’s a mystery what took them so long. Here’s the section on the primary curriculum:

“A move away from teaching traditional subjects like history and geography could have led to an unacceptable erosion of standards in our primary schools. Instead, teachers need a curriculum which helps them ensure that every child has a firm grasp of the basics and a good grounding in general knowledge, free from unnecessary prescription and bureaucracy. It is vital that we return our curriculum to its intended purpose – a minimum national entitlement organised around subject disciplines.”

That’s it – much of this is down-right meaningless. So, ‘subjects’ are back in vogue – I get that bit. But what does ‘a firm grasp of the basics’ mean? Is that literacy and numeracy? In the 21st century, surely this must include ICT? What about a foreign language? Is science a ‘basic’? Without any explanation such a statement is useless – it would be rude to a man in a pub to say a man in a pub could have come up with about the same.

The plot thickens though: what does ‘a good grounding in general knowledge mean?’ Unless his aim is to help the man in the pub with his quiz scores, this is pretty vacuous.

But what is genuinely confusing is his stated aim that schools should have ‘freedom from prescription’. Presumably that still allows schools to develop their curriculum along the lines Rose envisages? Or does it? Who knows…

Don’t watch this space though: if it took a whole month to devise this announcement, I dread to think how long it will be before the emergence of any kind of meaningful message on the primary curriculum.

As I said: poor Jim Rose.



Filed under Cameron, Conservatives, Curriculum, Policy, Schools

5 responses to “Nick Gibb adds confusion to uncertainty

  1. graduatecalling

    As someone who is about to start a PGCE in September, I’m starting to get a bit confused as to:

    a) what exactly I will be expected to teach in the next few years (as now there is an element of uncertainty),

    b) why they bothered to change it at all, as surely many schools will lose money in having to change their teaching back (I know many teachers were very excited about the new curriculum),

    c) why the government appears to be going against some modern educationalist thought about the importance of linking subject matter, and instead going for a ‘well-it-never-did-me-any-harm-and-why-change-what-ain’t-broken?’ mentality?

    Interesting that the government is encouraging the state sector to go for igcses and IBs, when many private schools have dropped them as the results have fallen, and some have not actually got into University?

    • Hi graduate calling,

      Thanks for your comment. To be honest what you’d be teaching in the next few years was always going to be uncertain – the Rose review would have meant change anyway, and a new Government has their own ideas (even if they are pretty unclear at the moment). I also think you’ll find that most schools will continue down their own routes (which is towards more flexibility in what is taught when) until forced to do otherwise.

      On your final point – I agree it’s a shame that lots of educational policy is disconnected from evidence or research (this was true in many ways under the last Government, and the one before, and the one before…). This isn’t completely wrong – Government’s have to take decisions while research doesn’t have to take account of, say, the cost of an innovation – but in my view the gap is too great.

      Of course, the biggest single thing any Government can do to improve the state of schooling isn’t related to the curriculum or to a school’s governance structure, it’s much more simple: good teachers = good schools, great teachers = great schools. Invest in teachers .

      Good luck with the PGCE!

  2. It’s another classic dilemma for them. The mantra is very much about localism, letting teachers teach, giving headteachers more powers, decentralisation etc etc but – as with synthetic phonics – if you do something they don’t like, they might end up telling you what to do anyway.

  3. jonathan barnes

    the answer to what to do about the curriculum seems to lie in some of the less educational and wildly-open to-interpretation words used frequently by Gibb and Gove: Flexibility, creative, best practice, improved curriculum , pioneer, proven, tried and tested, global evidence, independence….it is for teachers – the professionals – to tell Gove and Gibb what these words mean in the real;ity of the lives of the kind of childfren they never get to meet. Tecahers have the experience and professionalism, they know what works, politicians only really know what worked for them.

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