Reducing the Burden of the English School Curriculum

This week’s top education news was the reaction to a report published by the Social Market Foundation on ‘Reducing the burden of the English school curriculum’. Testing patience: Reducing the burden of the English school curriculum – Social Market Foundation. (smf.co.uk)

This was designed of course to coincide with the day on which the nation’s Y11 students all sat their English GCSE, heralding the onset of the public exam season. Key findings of the report are that “a large amount of time is spent preparing for exams rather than learning new concepts and gaining a deep understanding of subjects”, and that “the importance of GCSEs for schools leads them to maximise exam results rather than meaningfully developing student’s comprehension”.

These are well-aired and well-rehearsed opinions within the education space, but anything which excites a wider national debate seems to me to be a very good thing. Certainly, one of the report’s recommendations that there should be less assessment would go down well with any pupils in Y7, just joining MVS, and looking along the five-year learning journey to Y11 and a summer season of exams that will be fewer, shorter and online.

The most interesting recommendation though for me was the proposed formation of a “citizens’ assembly”, which sounds excitingly Jacobin, “which tries to find consensus on contentious political questions like what history young people need to know”. Now that’s an assembly I want to join. The prospect of arguing across the floor that the Battle of Plassey (1757) had more serious long term implications than the Battle of Bosworth (1485) , and then taking a vote, and then moving on to the next item for discussion on whether a good knowledge of Henrician Reformation is more important than understanding the Annexation of the Sudetenland, is quite thrilling.

The next step would of course be a ‘citizens’ assembly’ that decides what literature we must study in schools, and then what animals we should dissect biology, whether understanding Paracelsus’ contribution to chemistry is more important than Mendeleev’s. It would be like a Netflix series with an infinite number of episodes, as I could never imagine agreement or consensus ever being established, and if it was a paid position to sit in the assembly then it could become a job for life just arguing about history. It would be like sitting in the House of Lords.

Returning to assessment, at our regular teaching and learning CPD meeting of staff on Monday afternoon we will be watching at least the first half of Most Likely to Succeed – Apple TV (UK), a programme that shows the innovative curriculum and assessment methodology of  High Tech High in San Diego (High Tech High – Connect the Classroom to the World). San Diego, CA and Saltram Crescent, W9 may seem thousands of miles apart (because they are), but the planning for innovative project-based collaborative learning that we are doing now for September is what connects MVS with one of the most educationally progressive schools in the world.

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