Who defines our curriculum?

Education is a profession that is always changing, and will continue to change as the world develops. With that in mind, our curriculum is always changing. In fact over the next couple of years Michael Gove’s plans will kick in, with the new primary curriculum introduced next year, and the following 2 years will see the scrapping of SATs, and reforms to GCSEs and A levels.

But who really defines our curriculum?

The first party involved that springs to mind is government. Throughout the last century alone we have seen the Education Act of 1944, also known as the Butler Act, which brought about a tripartite secondary school structure and streaming into primary schools, Jim Callaghan’s Great Educational Debate, which lead to the 1988 Education Act, which brought us the first incarnation of the National Curriculum, which in it’s many incarnations throughout successive governments we still have today. We’ve also seen the introduction of the Academies Act 2010, which allows schools to become academies, which gives greater autonomy on setting wages and the possibility of deviating from the National Curriculum, although schools are still assessed against it by Ofsted. To me this defies the logic of having a National Curriculum. As Nick Clegg said in an interview: ‘What’s the point in having a National Curriculum if only a few schools adhere to it?’ It is clear that the government and politics make the rules, so yes, they define our curriculum, whether we like that idea or not.

But it’s not just them. We also need people who dedicate their lives to deliver this ever-changing curriculum. This role is played by the teachers. It is the role of teachers to impart knowledge to and develop the skills of their children in order to maximise their potential for the economy, but also to achieve self-actualisation (the highest point of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). How teachers achieve this depends on the needs of the children. Teachers also have the freedom to teach how they feel appropriate if they work for an Academy or a Free School, which gives them a greater role in defining the curriculum.

Parents need to be factored into this as well. Parents by law have a duty to ensure that their school-age children are receiving efficient full time education that is suitable to their age, ability and any special needs they may have. This doesn’t, however, have to be in a school setting. Homeschooling, a method originally from the US, has found it’s way into our education system as well. As many as 1% of UK children are being homeschooled. This equates to around 60,000 children, which is enough to fill the population of my hometown 7 times over. Homeschooling does come with mixed emotions though. While there is research out there that support homeschooling, such as Ray’s (2009) study which found that homeschooled children scored around 37 percentile points higher than those who attended public school, Reich (2004) suggests that homeschooled children may not develop the social skills to interact with peers and the community. What homeschooling does definitely do though is give parents the power to define the curriculum which caters for their individual child/children’s needs.

For me however, the party that defines our curriculum the most is who the curriculum is for in the first place: our children. It is their needs, their aspirations, and their talents that we aim to nurture and develop to aim to maximise their potential. It is also our role as educators to allow them to access the world around them. Children need to learn the knowledge and the skills to achieve in life.

In summary, there are multiple parties involved in defining our curriculum. The government sets the curriculum and targets, even if a journalist is the Secretary of State for Education, the teachers and in some cases the parents deliver the curriculum, and the children are the ones who access the curriculum and learn from it. We all play a part in keeping the future alive for generations to come.

I’ll leave you with an adaptation of the Chinese proverb: ‘Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’

‘If you give a child an answer to a problem, they remember that one answer. If you teach a child how to solve a problem, they can solve any problem.’


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