Tag Archives: #jim rose

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

Gove does a deal with Ferguson (Niall, not Sarah)

Michael Gove’s first foray into the school curriculum has certainly raised a few eyebrows. His plans to ask historian Niall Ferguson (sorry, I mean, controversial historian, Niall Ferguson) to help re-design the history curriculum was an interesting start, if only for the apoplectic reaction amongst those who see Ferguson as a right-wing imperialist who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the tender brains of ten year-olds. You can see where they’re coming from.

Primary schools are currently in limbo in terms of their curriculum planning. Just before the election, the Labour Government was planning to introduce a new curriculum in primary schools based on Jim Rose’s review (although he wasn’t allowed to include testing and assessment – i.e. SATs – in his horizon-scanning, so it wasn’t a complete picture by any means). Aside from being forced to ignore the SATs-shaped elephant in the room, his review and his curriculum plans were widely supported: it certainly gave schools an idea of where to head but also allowed for as much local flexibility as teachers could reasonably want.

Slight problem: the Tories knocked the new curriculum on the head, so schools are currently waiting and watching to see which way Gove turns. His hints so far have been about complete freedom for schools (which is surely going too far – there must be some collective sense of what we want or need children to learn) or a strangulated half-free, half-prescribed curriculum which comes out something like ‘teach what you want, but you must say that Winston Churchill was a demi-God’.

So Ferguson’s involvement suggests there will, after all, be a central curriculum of some sort and, furthermore, the history element will be re-engineered to focus, according to Ferguson, on a “grand narrative” which can be summarised as “the rise of the West”. A leap to the right if ever there was one.

Ferguson’s pugnacious approach is of academic and popular interest, but I simply don’t buy the idea of history as ‘grand narrative’, let alone one that can be reduced to ‘the rise of the West’.

Yes, there are certain facts and events of history that can and should be taught. It may even be possible to devise some kind of narrative But that inevitably involves a narrowing-down. If the aim is an understanding of what has gone before, then facts and events and a ‘single narrative’ will only get you so far. Particularly one that is so obviously contentious as Ferguson’s.

What’s really enlightening – and what makes history so powerful – is that there are different ‘histories’ rather than one unifying ‘history’ or narrative. It is the rub between these different viewpoints that makes history interesting and an active, ‘live’ subject.

Whenever I’ve taught history the repetition of dates and events has one affect: it deadens brains and dulls eyes. What really captures children’s imagination is when they can pick apart an event and look at this from different points of view; they argue, present a case, use artefacts, discuss, change their minds and agree to disagree. Above all, they are thinking about history, not being given a script to learn.

History should not be about the simple transmission of one man’s interesting, yet highly partial views, but an awakening of interest in the sheer complexity of the past: an understanding that there is not one ‘grand narrative’, but many – and that is what makes the subject fascinating. Gove may have begun a flirtation with Ferguson, but he shouldn’t commit himself too soon: there’s plenty more historical fish in the sea.


Filed under Conservatives, Curriculum, Policy, Schools