Saturday 5 November 2016

Some questions about the 'knowledge-based curriculum'.

I was educated in a system that was ‘knowledge-based’ (I began informal schooling in 1949 (nurseries) formal schooling in 1951 and finished secondary school in 1964.) It was also a system that streamed us in 1956-1957, selected 25% of us to go to a ‘knowledge-based’ school, where we were setted from the age of 13 for Maths and French, and at 14/15, about a third of us left. At 16 over half our year left school. In fact, the knowledge-based curriculum was a means by which a lot of this selection was enabled. The tests and exams tested the knowledge.

People who were not included in the selection, starting with the streaming in year 6 (‘4th year juniors’) the setting, the early school leaving, the non-progression to the sixth form – all got much less or hardly any knowledge-based learning. That was the point. They had showed themselves, it was said, at each of these stages to be less able to cope with it.

This was a long time ago.

Can you say why and how the system is different? There are – and by all accounts there will be more – forms of selection, grading and failing, starting from an early age. Since 2000, my children have been setted in their primary schools from the age of 5. SATs at 7 and 11 – and predictions on how well they will or won’t do, have also been means by which the children are given different curricula. This has followed on into their secondary schools. They’ve all been (and are still) at comprehensives. As we know, many kinds of overt and covert selection is going on. The recent report on headteacher-types that came out of Harvard suggested that the ‘surgeon-type’ heads were able to dump (ie drop from the roll) as much as 25% of their cohort before they took their GCSEs. No one has denied this.

So, how does the knowledge-based curriculum fit on to this ‘substrate’ ie into this system? Where is the empowerment to the disadvantaged? Is the knowledge-based curriculum being used in order to engineer the selection? What happens to those not selected as they progress through the system?