Mr Gove’s Splendid New Irrational Curriculum

I wish to make a complaint…

That nice Mr Gove delivered his Christmas presents early this year. Not too early of course, otherwise teachers might still have been at work and managed to find the time to unwrap them before the end of term. In case he missed your chimney, here’s a link to a downloadable copy of the Report of the Irrational Curriculum Review.

So far I’ve not had the time, or to be honest the inclination, to read it in detail, so it’s quite possible I may have missed something significant in the small print. However, the item I was mainly interested was about the future status of D&T. And, as anticipated, the news is that D&T has passed on. This subject is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil. D&T is an extinct subject.

Well, demoted to a so-called ‘basic’ subject anyway, which means, along with ICT, it has been deemed to be of no academic relevance. Which it never was in the first place. Which is why I think that this is actually good news, in that it will free up the good D&T teachers to extend and develop the subject further, beyond the constraints of its Attainment Targets levels and Programmes of Study. And enable all those woodworkers and metal- bashers to get back to what they do best. I’d much rather children were taught good basic craft skills than bad D&T. Meanwhile it’s also good news that Art&Design has deservedly retained its place as a Foundation subject through to the end of Key Stage 3.

But what makes the Irrational Curriculum Review truly irrational is the focus on old-fashioned academic subjects at a time when other ‘white heat of technology’ countries are busy forging ahead with the development of skills for the 21st Century, about which I shall have more to say next year. To now delay UK curriculum reform further until 2014 just gives our competitors another year to move even further ahead.

Defining what knowledge should be taught from 2014 onwards is quite irrational, given that the amount and nature of knowledge changes by the day. What’s really needed is some form of flexible, responsive approach that enables what you didn’t know today would need to be taught tomorrow to be easily introduced.

If D&T has any sense, which sadly it rarely does, it will hastily re-position itself in the market as a purveyor of 21st century skills, delivered in a ‘basic’ cross-curricular learning space, along with IT, Business Education and Citizenship.

But finally, this Christmas, let’s spare a thought for those less fortunate than ourselves, deemed to search amongst the scraps for a stale curriculum morsel of Food Technology, which currently appears to be completely off the menu. For it was the wise Food Technologists who probably delivered the best that D&T ever provided, achieving a successful mix of traditional cookery skills combined with industrial understanding and practice. They will be sadly missed.

Meanwhile, a Merry Irrational Curriculum to one and all!

16 comments on “Mr Gove’s Splendid New Irrational Curriculum

  1. Personally I don’t think that disagreeing with you is, in itself, evidence of irrationality.

    Now if there really were skills that could be shown:to be:

    a) independent of traditional academic subjects
    b) teachable
    c) not based largely on knowledge

    then you might have a point.

    However, psychology, common sense, and history have given us good reason to doubt this. In fact, as a claim it is something that has proven so disastrous in education for the last 100 years, that it seems likely that the use of the adjective “21st Century” to describe the skills which have been at the centre of education fashion since the 1920s is little more than an attempt to hide that history.

    • If I could take you back to the department I used to teach in I could indeed show you learning taking place that was independent of traditional academic subjects, teachable and not based largely on knowledge. You are correct that much of the thinking behind 21st Century skills has been around for a long time, but very rarely appropriately applied.

      • An appeal to subjective experience and a denial that ideas that have been tried again, and again, and again have never been “appropriately applied” seems like remarkably weak grounds for dismissing anything as irrational.

    • One of the definitions of irrational from dictionary dot com:

      “without or deprived of normal mental clarity or sound judgment”

      I think one could argue that on the basis of removing all core subjects traditionally associated with the ‘right’ side of the brain in favour of subjects from the ‘left’, one could rationally question the normal mental clarity or sound judgement of the new national curriculum.

      And maybe it’s worth pointing out that I just ‘googled’ that, but seeing as ICT has just been removed as well, this skill is clearly not important. So I’m sure as time goes on the new national curriculum will create the soulless, brainless drones who excel at banking, and the legal system and Britain will once again be plunged into obscurity as it was in the Middle Ages.

  2. And where does Food Technology fit? Highly popular, delivered outstandingly well in my school with lesson observations to prove it, brilliant results and actually quite a useful life skill. Retrain in Latin perhaps?

  3. Teaching Battleground – are you really saying that there are no teachable skills that are ‘independent of traditional academic subjects’, ‘teachable’ and ‘not based largely on knowledge’. How then does anyone get on in the ‘real world’ where such skills are frequently picked up as and when. Perhaps things are different in the US. But then I believe it has a successful ‘IT’ industry which was none of these things when it first erupted into being. However I am not sure learning Latin in secondary school has stood me in better stead, than some enterprising tuition in a new and developing subject area.

    • Last time I looked the skills in IT involved such things as mathematics, logic, art and literacy and there was a substantial component of technical knowledge. The assumption that IT involves generic skills that require no knowledge and without a basis in traditional disciplines seems highly unlikely indeed. And that’s without the high profile case of at least one internet billionaire with a background in classics.

      • Correction.
        One internet Billionaire, who started studying the classics, but who dropped out after the first year, because he realized it provided no value, and he could make a lot of money just on his own initiative. For an academic you should really get your facts straight.
        When exactly was the the last time you looked into IT skills? Maybe when Babbage created his analytics engine? I think things have changed a little since then…

  4. I haven’t read ‘The Framework for the National Curriculum’ and never shall, but I do wonder what ‘practical’ use there is in a purely ‘academic’ based education for the nation? We can’t all go around academically pontificating about the wonders of all civilisations while the basis of the current one crumbles within the memory of some of those that physically built it.

    This once great industrial and creative nation was founded on the blood, sweat and tears of the hard-working humble person, their friends and their families. For what reward?. Generations ago, the great thinkers, inventors and creators discovered the ideas and opportunities that then enabled the rich landowners and capitalists to get even richer on the backs of the worker’s grief by exploiting them; those that actually did all the hard work. Plus ça change.

    So what to do about the new NC? Practically speaking, it ain’t academic, it’s unfortunately irrationally real! – I guess teachers and state schools will have to abide by the rules (not that I know what they are), but I suggest, as I think someone else suggested, pack all that NC nonsense in to as small a time as possible, say a couple of hours in the mornings, then get on with real free-flow fun stuff the rest of the time. Make it so fun that the kids and teachers will want to carry on after the bell has gone for school end. Mix the age groups, mix the subjects, build a fun environment and evolve what’s needed as we move into the unknown because quite frankly, the term “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a bit past its sell by date in terms of where the education system is these days.

    For sure, the kids of today probably need a kick up the backside or a clip round the ear from time to time, but making them study Latin, theorise on worldwide agricultural policies, or examine historical political attitudes of the rise and fall of the British Empire up to the early 21st century in post Blair/Brown Britain, isn’t going to make us great again. The dweeb who’s currently in educational power, that’s got an intellectual snobbery haggis stuffed so far up his nostrils, is painful to watch as he regurgitates what he thinks is intellectual and clever. His ideal seems based on a 1950’s British prep school rather than a forward thinking, practical and evolving system for the new digital, sustainable, eco-friendly, peace-keeping world force we want or need to be.

    Surely we need a society that enjoys and respects the people that apply practical applications of skills rather than manage and theorise. At the moment we often seem to import our skilled manual labour rather than do it ourselves. There needs to be respect and suitable reward for people working in the day to day jobs that need doing. There is nothing wrong with a happy, productive and useful life that has never been academically challenged. It’s time that this society understood we can’t all expect to be rich and on X-Factor. The rewards of a life in work should be to advance and improve the lives of those around us by whatever means and this is what should be taught in schools. We need nurses, plumbers, builders, repairers, assistants, recyclers, cleaners, makers, writers, creators, artists, designers, cooks, farmers, producers, etc…, and most important of all, people happy to do an honest day’s work for an honest but meaningful wage. Unfortunately this government, big business and society looks down on the humble worker and doesn’t reward them enough for what they actually do, which in most cases is most of the work and at the front-end of where things actually happen to create the wealth of others.

  5. It’s unfortunate that enthusiasts for teaching 21st century skills (skillz, surely?) rarely seem to be able to define what these skills should be, and when they do, their suggestions are risible. A recent rather pompous edublog suggested that children should be taught Javascript, which made me laugh (C21 equivalent LOL). Javascript or Latin? Which will be more of a dead language by 2025?

    I spent most of my working life in software development. Most young people starting their careers in that sector are much less well prepared today than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Their computer science degrees are worthless, and their inability to analyse problems logically costs their employers a fortune. Yet I know of one young man with a classics degree (that Gove, dontcha hate him, eh?) whose career is flourishing in the design and development of cutting edge artificial intelligence software.

  6. “One internet Billionaire, who started studying the classics, but who dropped out after the first year, because he realized it provided no value, and he could make a lot of money just on his own initiative.”

    Which part of “at least one” did you not understand?

    The point is that learning Latin does not seem to do irreparable harm even to those who are judged by whether they make billions in IT. We can wave our arms around and insist that new technology must make old knowledge outdated and replace it with new skills but it is hard to make any kind of sensible case for it. Even the most traditional of traditional knowledge seems to do no harm, and the modern context seems to have done plenty to increase the value of a lot of tough academic disciplines like maths and languages. If there was a pay-off to anti-intellectualism we should have felt it decades ago.

    There’s a fuller discussion of why knowledge is still relevant in the internet era here:

    • Non intellexi quod dixisti, quia esset frustra.

      For those of you who don’t speak Latin, there’s a rather useful website called google translate.

      To be honest, I don’t really care about Latin. Learning any language other than your own is beneficial.

      The point is, if someone needs to learn Latin, because it’s relevant to what they do then fine – however this is a very small minority of people.
      I’m responsible for hiring some of the best and brightest programmers around the world, for me seeing Latin on a CV means less than nothing. Seeing LISP for example would be much better, and I can assure you there are more jobs for people knowing LISP than there are for people knowing Latin, but it would be plain idiotic of me to state that everyone has to learn LISP.

      Languages are like people, they are born, grow old and die, clinging on to them with some fantasy of a golden standard is tantamount to intellectual suicide.

      And as for knowledge I think Dee Hock said it best :

      “Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.”

  7. “Actually I was referring to the modern idea of left brain, right brain theory as espoused by Iain McGilchrist, which runs along the lines that although the whole brain is used for subjects, you can broadly define the left brain as being responsible toward narrow focused high attention subjects and the right brain for broad attention, high awareness subjects. I am a more visually orientated person so rather than include text links I will include a video, to appeal to a broader audience
    RSA Animate – The Divided Brain”

    Nice try, but there is absolutely nothing in there about school subjects. In fact your summary of what he says about subjects seems closer to what he says about animals than humans. Your claim about school subjects only makes sense if it refers to the discredited idea that one half of the brain carries out creative and artistic tasks and the other for reasoning, an idea he rejects at the start of that video.

    Oh, and don’t get me started on the idea that we have visual/auditory/kinesthetic orientations.

  8. I think the time has come to draw a seasonal cease-fire over this interesting on-going exchange! I hope both sides have learnt something from the other, and that as a result have a greater understanding of their different approaches and points-of-view.

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