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The Ofsted Curriculum Reviews are well wide of the mark

This was an opportunity to update the curriculum on issues including climate change and social justice, to seize the moment and address the burning issues of the day — and it was missed, writes IAN DUCKETT

THE Ofsted Curriculum Research programme is a series of reviews by Ofsted looking at the research evidence currently available about different curriculum subjects.

They are, however, considered by many educators to be far too narrow in their focus.

Something called the history Curriculum Research Review should surely be considering core curriculum concerns and connectivity across the curriculum (or at least covering major social movements like Black Lives Matter and climate change), especially at a time when the pandemic has kicked learning in the teeth and learners in the stomach and a broader and more meaningful curriculum is more important than ever.

The curriculum, “what pupils learn,” says Ofsted, is the very core of education. The curriculum in schools in England is built around subjects.

Ofsted’s inspection methodology is, as a consequence, based to a large extent on subject “deep dives.” These provide evidence of curriculum quality, which informs our “quality of education” judgement.

The inspections started in September 2019 and continued into 2020, providing Ofsted inspectors with “interesting insights into the curriculum in schools. Publication of the documents began in April 2021 and continued throughout last year.

The aim of the reviews was, at least as stated by Ofsted, to support and inform those leading the thinking on subject education in our schools.

Professionals from the education sector will also be able to see the research that is informing our conception of high-quality education in a variety of subjects. If that was the aim it has, as far as many professionals are concerned, fallen well wide and far short of their target.

The research reviews were planned before the Covid-19 pandemic, but their publication is timely.

As schools face the challenge of catching up, they will need to think carefully about what content to prioritise, what to limit and what to omit.

By setting out the most helpful ways of securing progression in each subject, the research reviews can provide a set of guiding principles for subject leaders.

This gives the failure of their reviews in terms of addressing the real situation in education an even sharper focus.

Real world curriculum

The reviews represent a genuine chance at engaging young people with a curriculum that is real and meaningful. But, whether it is history, geography, languages, maths, music or science there are certain fundamental concerns and issues that are central to the post-Covid world that need to be talked about.

The failure to seize the moment and address not only core learning skills and much needed enrichment, let alone tackle the burning issues of the day: climate change, decolonisation and social and economic justice — is inhumane, unforgivable and criminal in its negligence.

Now, more than ever, we need active citizens to solve real-life and real world problems — and what better way of fostering this could there be than active citizenship forming a core part of the curriculum.

There are massive gaps and loud silences in the review and as ever, what is not reviewed says as much about Ofsted as what is.

No English review. Why? Because Gove and his footsoldiers have already crawled all over it and sucked out its progressive lifeblood.

Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education?  Re-branded in 2019, but somewhere the potential for an emergency and “building back better curriculum” could really have made an impact.

Re-visioning and rewriting of curriculums at this time could, especially with a new paradigm in PSHE, have been genuinely transformational.

Instead, the Ofsted Review represents the latest in a long line of missed opportunities to address the lack of breadth and its woeful irrelevance to young people in modern society.

The lack of planning for a genuine entitlement curriculum with space for the development of transferable and “soft skills” like action planning, problem-solving, teamwork, communication and generic learning skills alongside building resilience and enrichment activities.

These all represent big holes in the curriculum. Key — as ever — is engagement and the removal of barriers to learning.

Engagement and barriers to learning

Barriers to learning might include environmental factors such as poverty or hunger, mental or physical health; they could equally be emotional ones stemming from poor prior learning experience, peer pressure, fear of failure or low self-esteem.

Again, they might be motivational, arising from lack of goals or low expectations. Engagement or re-engagement is a prerequisite for overcoming the barriers of social disadvantage, deprivation or disaffection.

Engaging learners might best be fostered through the development of new skills, participation in any activity, knowledge and general education and enrichment, fortified by entitlement as its strong backbone. A customised, learner-centred model that is genuinely personalised and should be at the heart of the learning.

Principles of curriculum design and the Socialist Educational Association’s working group

As it happens the Socialist Educational Association (SEA) has recently conducted its own curriculum review. In that review clear principles were set out, something notably absent from the Ofsted reviews. SEA wants to see young adults who have the skills, knowledge and personal qualities to:

Ensure personal wellbeing — this would include physical and mental health, social and emotional wellbeing including friendships and relationships, personal autonomy and creativity and the practical aspects of life including managing money, entering employment and living independently;

Make a positive contribution to society — this would include contributing in their roles as a citizen and a member of civic society and through a contribution to the economic wellbeing of the country;

Appreciate and respect the contributions of a range of cultures to human experience, understand the perspective of those who have experienced oppression and colonisation and know that the particular knowledge and cultural experiences they bring to education will be  respected;

Are willing to contribute to solutions to global problems such as tackling racism and decolonisation, climate change and poverty;

Are aware that the economy and society are open to change and that there are alternative ways of organising them;

Are able to choose areas of study to focus on in more depth depending on their interests in the upper secondary phase;

Achieve their full potential in both their personal life and in their contribution to society.

The Tory flagship T-levels and the ever narrowing curriculum

In an ever narrowing curriculum, spearheaded limply by the flimsy flagship T-levels, served up as vocational education, where is space for enrichment? How can we make the room to develop the much needed soft skills? Where to we nurture engagement?

How do we start to remove the barriers to learning? Post-Covid, we need a new, bigger, broader, braver and more meaningful curriculum that embraces the things that matter like social and economic justice, decolonisation and climate change with an injection of the skills for learning to glue it all together for life and work.

We are though, less than ever, likely to get this with the thinnest of gruel on offer from the Tories or even from a new, new Labour government of the potentially distant future.

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