UK Debate over Relevance of Curriculum

The UK Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is proposing that there be no national curriculum for students under 16, instead opting for a locally negotiated course of studies based on competences rather than specific subjects.

“We need to give teachers the freedom to inspire youngsters so they want to learn, not just pass tests. We also need pupils to have the space to develop as rounded people, and that includes physically, emotionally, creatively, socially and ethically.”

So reports the Education Guardian, but also quotes opponents to this proposition:

But Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, said yesterday of the ATL’s proposals: “This is disturbing nonsense. The point about testing is that we discovered quite shocking things about how few of our children could handle words and numbers properly at the age of 11. Without that testing we would have assumed that everything was ok.”

I can understand the opposition to this recommendation, in that students may “slip through the cracks”, but Smithers’ remarks are based on a supposition that teachers and the education system know what’s best for students. Here I strongly disagree. The current industrial educational model is inadequate from most perspectives:

  • Schools do not prepare students for jobs, because we don’t even know what jobs will exist in 5 to 10 years.
  • Many universities complain that students are ill-prepared for their first year.
  • About one third of Canadian school dropouts are A & B students, indicating that motivation is a key issue.

The needs of struggling students as well as gifted students are equally ignored by national curricula. Local control means that parents can get involved in discussions about what would work best. As it stands, teachers have no control over the curriculum, and are as helpless as parents and students.

Experts like Smithers do not know what is best for everyone and I question their authority as experts on every learner in their respective countries (see Dave’s post on experts). One cannot possibly set a national curriculum that addresses all the learning needs of every student. I’ve already mentioned how the death of curriculum could mean the rebirth of learning, and perhaps this move by the ATL will open up the debate on the constraints of curriculum.

Further resources on Public Education.

7 Responses to “UK Debate over Relevance of Curriculum”

  1. dave cormier


    What ‘experts’ like Smithers never mention is that the students are not succeeding in the system that people like Smithers support. They have created the system where teachers teach students so they can pass tests. And, in that system, lets call it the ‘Smithers System’, students have not even become successful test takers, and have certainly not all become prepared for anything. Some have prepared themselves, some are served by the system as its constructed, but, for the most part the Smithers System isn’t working.

    Smithers solution to the non-working Smithers System. More Smithers.

    seems odd doesn’t it.

  2. Efe Peters

    The child should not be left to just grow knowing well that they would prefer the easy way out. the today child changes as the day roles by,due to adolescence effects. Lets not assume they can take care of them selves least we have our selves top blame

  3. Ramraj

    Please send me articles/reports about what is the relevance of curriculum development


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