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20 June, 2012

New primary curriculum could fail many children

Last week, Michael Gove announced his proposals for a new primary curriculum. Citizenship teaching is absent. Is the curriculum becoming too narrow?

The Secretary of State has the laudable aim of raising standards in education. His approach, though, is to put more emphasis on specific subjects - such as English and mathematics - and to shift emphasis away from subjects such as citizenship.

More specifically, he prescribes certain knowledge that children must learn and when they must learn it. In other words, such knowledge must be learned and it must be learned in a given order.

By narrowing the curriculum like this, does Mr Gove risk depriving children of an important body of learning; and, worse, of reducing their chances in life?

Marguerite Heath thinks he does.

Marguerite is director of our Go-Givers programme for primary schools, and has a solid teaching background as both a primary teacher and a headteacher.

In a heart-felt response to the proposals, Marguerite worries that, by forcing all children down the same path, many will get stuck and be unable to progress.

She fears that, without a broad curriculum, there will be no other progression opportunities open to them.

'If we fail to deliver a broad curriculum, we risk a widespread sense of failure in the many children with strengths other than literacy and numeracy (including the dyslexic). It could leave us with a limited and warped view of children's learning potential.'

She goes on to argue that a citizenship programme such as Go-Givers enriches the curriculum, and gives children a sense of place and purpose within their wider world.

'It constitutes a rich and memorable experience that demonstrates to children the significance of their education.

'Furthermore, it teaches them about leadership, the value of co-operation and how to work as a team - important skills for life and work.

'The knowledge that they have the wherewithal to make a positive difference to their communities increases children's self-confidence, and this has a ripple effect on other aspects of their learning.'

Any new curriculum should promote understanding of our democratic society. Indeed, citizenship education features in the highest performing countries and in every European nation (Department for Education, 2011).

Citizenship is currently in our primary curriculum. It's optional, which means it does not provide a secure foundation for citizenship learning later on (such as in the government's National Citizen Service).

This curriculum review, therefore, is an excellent opportunity to clarify the importance of citizenship education and its place in the National Curriculum.

Unfortunately, says Marguerite, Mr Gove currently proposes a curriculum that is 'narrow', 'linear' and 'separated from the here and now'.

It is, she says, 'unrelated to the children's future'.

Further information

Marguerite's response to the draft primary curriculum.

The government's National Curriculum Review update.

Details of the proposed secondary curriculum are expected soon.

Reference: Department for Education (2012), The Framework for the National Curriculum: A report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum Review London: DfE.


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