Monday 11 June 2012

Draft or Daft English Curriculum?

Here's the Draft National Curriculum for English Key Stages 1 and 2

First observation: the document is anonymous - just as the National Literacy Strategy was! This is outrageous. What an example of non-democracy at work! Those of us who teach in universities, spend hours helping and reminding our students how to 'reference' everything. This is part of the language of academically reputable writing. It enables the reader to check and re-check the 'provenance' (ie where the quote or book or 'text' came from). It enables the reader to check the author - how does that particular author know this stuff, how does he or she derive it, what is the context for the quote I am reading.

This is an important part of scholarship. It's an important principle of a democratic society because it puts us all on an equal footing. If, however,  you want to be authoritarian (ironic that that word includes the word 'author'!), if you want to be non-answerable, then leave  your name off the bottom of a piece of writing.

Second: we are once again into micro-management of teachers and children. All the airy statements about a minimal curriculum have gone out the window. When push comes to shove, Ministers of Education cannot resist the desire to tell teachers to teach, say, commas, when to teach commas, what a comma is, how it must be used etc etc.

Calling this 'anal' would be unfair on backsides. This is obsessive, authoritarian and ultimately shows a complete disrespect for teachers and professional organisations like NATE, UKLA, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education and indeed for a famous past government initiative, the LINC project (Language in the National Curriculum).

So when Nick Gibb said:

" At the heart of this programme is a move away from a top-down, prescriptive model of education – with lever arch files full of guidance and painstakingly specific schemes of work – to a system that enhances and increases the independence of teachers."

this was a joke? A fib? A con? Or what?

So, contained but invisible within this whole document is an assumption: that the best way to run education is by diktat to professionals, who, it is implied, should dictate to children. It undermines and disregards how professionals can and should learn their own theory and practice. It suggests that teachers aren't reflective, intelligent people who can discuss and plan and shape classrooms. It further suggests that children aren't reflective, thoughtful people who can reflect on knowledge and indeed on how they are being taught.

This makes me cautious about being drawn into arguments about whether this or that is the right thing to be in the draft. It's the very notion that anonymous priests should be dictating what should be going on in relation to this or that digraph or how sentences must be described.

My third observation is about reciting poetry. If you look closely at the directives on what kinds of text Year 1 children should be given, you'll see that they are only decodable texts ie ones that are 'regular' according to the 'ideal' rules of letter and sound. This has been and will be interpreted by some schools as meaning that children should not be asked to read texts full of non-decodable words. However, they will be asked to recite poetry.

This means that the only route the teachers will have to teach these poems will be orally.

Perhaps that needs spelling out:


(That was a joke, by the way.)

ps when I have time later, I will comb the document for what it says about 'reading for enjoyment/pleasure'. On first reading, I didn't see it saying anywhere that it would follow up the Ofsted suggestion that schools should develop policies on reading for pleasure. Oh no, government mustn't dictate what schools should do, eh? Oh no, governments hate dictating. Not.

pps it says this:

" All pupils must be encouraged to read widely across both fiction and nonfiction to develop their knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live, and to establish an appreciation and love of
reading. Reading widely and often increases pupils’ understanding and vocabulary because they encounter words they would rarely hear or use in everyday speech. It also opens up a treasure-house of wonder and joy for curious young minds.  "

To this I would say that this is really badly theorised - that's to say, reading for pleasure is not just about 'understanding', 'vocabulary', or 'wonder' or 'joy'...It's about the bringing together of feelings and ideas. This enables us to speculate about who we are, how we think and feel, where we come from and where we might go - however that 'we' is interpreted. By thinking about what other people (or beings of any kind) behave, we are able to think about ourselves in a more general way. We will be led towards being able to generalise about things that we thought were private. A good deal of writing (possibly all, according to some theory) gives credit to the reader to 'interpret' ie to reflect, debate internally or with others on possible meanings and significances.

However, as I've written before, one much overlooked feature that wide reading gives is the power of scanning, browsing, comparing, and categorising. Any child faced with large numbers of texts of any kind will shuffle and 'set' them. By doing so, they create and denote abstract categories for texts. Education spends an enormous amount of effort trying to teach this sort of thing but a seven year old shuffling comics into the categories he or she chooses to is doing it for themselves.

So, because this document said that 'All pupils must...' I find it hard to welcome it. Just as these diktat-style documents end up saying 'must', it offers school managements a model for ordering staff and then pupils to appreciate and love reading! You must enjoy it.

Shouldn't enjoyment be about consent?!