No news is bad news

Still no word on the Secondary National Curriculum. The screams of anguish emanating from the Department for Education are probably those of the expert advisers who are once again, no doubt, being told, “Fetch me a better answer” – even though they’ve been sent to the Oracle of best educational practice and come back with divinely inspired words telling of what happens in the finest jurisdictions.

So, in the absence of any hard facts, here are some predictions of what the new National Curriculum will contain.

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Yes, that’s right – nothing.

I’m willing to bet that the national curriculum, as a concept, will be scrapped. At present, Academies don’t have to follow it anyway, and since the plan is to convert just about every school into an academy, why bother with handed down programmes of study? It would make much more sense to abandon any sort of central control and fall back to the well known position that Headteachers know their schools best and can decide for themselves what curriculum their pupils will follow. No doubt some sort of measurement will remain – probably the Ebacc to make sure that academic standards are kept up in “better” schools (and we don’t have to worry about pupils who aren’t academic, do we? They’re not the movers and shakers of the future and there’ll probably be some sort of vocational course that they can occupy their time with until they reach the statutory leaving age).

Today’s carefully placed leaks, paving the way for a return to a two-tier exam system and a single exam board to run the only acceptable academic qualifications, is one more step on the road to a “sheep and goats” (or “wheat and chaff”, if you prefer) education system. Of course, this is the re-introduction of grammar schools by other means and will set back the educational clock by 40 years, but not to worry: at least there’ll be rigour in the system.

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75% against

75% is a pretty thumping majority. In a democracy, a win of that size is simply a landslide, and the winning side gets to do pretty much whatever they want.

Unless we’re dealing with the Department for Education.

The Blessed Michael appointed an expert panel of 4 august educationalists to draw up draft proposals for the new Primary curriculum. They were tasked with scouring the finest educational systems the world has to offer, extracting and refining the best of the best, and emerging with an educational system for 5 – 11 year olds that would be the nonpareil of the civilised world. Which is what they did. Only Michael didn’t like it. Unfortunately, the approach they came up with wasn’t at all what he expected, nor indeed what he wanted, and he made it clear that he required a different answer. Whereupon 3 of the 4 left, claiming that it was impossible to work for a minister who put ideology and prejudice before the best interests of children. One of them, Andrew Pollard, even wrote a blog about it.

Unperturbed, our Michael ploughed on regardless. He tasked Tim Oates, chair of the (now very depleted) panel to produce something much more like the ideas he’d had all along. What he really wanted was something akin to the musings of the American educationalist Ed Hirsch who seems to have made a profound impression on both St Michael and his henchman the Minister for Schools Nick Gibb. No matter that 3 out of 4 voted with their feet, as long as the remaining 25% could deliver the goods. Which Tim Oates duly did – although it must have been a lonely experience.

So it’s goodbye “when the child is ready” and hello prescribed year by year content. There are spellings that every child must know (although they only need to know them when they reach the right age, not before), and punctuation that every child must use correctly (by age 11 it’s the semi colon). Biennial tests will ensure that everyone is rigorously assessed with alarming regularity. As yet, we don’t know the penalty for failure, but expect the word “fail” to feature strongly henceforth.

There’s to be consultation, of course. It would be very undemocratic if Joe Public could not express a view. At the moment the tally seems to be 75% against, 25% in favour. So what if, when all the responses are in, 99% or so think the new National Curriculum is, to quote Andrew Pollard, “fatally flawed”? Will it be ditched? Rewritten to fall in line with majority opinion? Stripped of the ideological underpinnings that make it so prescriptive? Alas, no. We must always remember that St Michael is a member of a democratically elected government. He is doing his sovereign duty by serving the people who elected him to do what he thinks best.

Besides which, his friends’ children will go to private schools, where they wouldn’t touch the National Curriculum with a barge pole.