Today Tristram Hunt addressed the question: “Who Should Have The Power To Create The School Curriculum?” His answer was, as I remember it, that it should be teachers working together in schools, clusters and chains. He reiterated his stated policy that all schools, regardless of what type of school they are, will have freedom to innovate and create their own curricula and will not be beholden to the national curriculum. The current National Curriculum will remain in place and will act as a guide, schools might take it as a starting point rather than see it as top down prescription.
I agree with this, I’d prefer teachers and schools to have autonomy, institutions should have a responsibility over what they do. By going through the process of developing its values through its curriculum a school will enable profound staff development and I think schools, teachers and pupils will flourish as a result. If the primary school nearest to me decides that in order to best meets the needs of its children they should design a curriculum with a heavy focus on literacy and numeracy because it feels its children arrive at the school needing a lot of support in these areas then that is all well and good. If I feel that my child is already pretty strong in literacy and numeracy and I want her to go to a school where the arts, competitive sport, foreign languages, are to the fore I could look for a school that, with its freedom to innovate, provides a curriculum in which children can study these subjects in more depth whilst still studying English and Mathematics but not as much, then I would send her to that school.
Only I won’t because in our far from ideal world I don’t have a real choice.
A system of choice is only really fair if there is massive over capacity in the system allowing parents to a) have a choice and b) get their first choice. With the current system this is likely to occur less and less as we are not building enough new schools. It is also only realistic in urban areas where schools tend to be closer together, in rural areas the choice is far more likely to be based on which is the closest. The choice that parents have if they don’t like the school allocated to them is this: if they are rich enough, they might choose to privately educate their child or even, if able, to home educate. They might try to get on the governing board to ‘change the school’, though I don’t think every parent will be able to do this. They might move house to an area in order to get their child into a school of which they approve (which can be costly). They might resign themselves to the school they get and hope for the best… maybe get tutors, pay for extra curricular classes (again financial considerations)?
If we are to only have enough schools with one place for one child then, if the system is to be equitable, we really need to send our children to schools that all teach in exactly the same way. The world of medicine is frequently compared to schools and a postcode lottery in health provision indeed occurs but, generally, you don’t get homeopathic care instead of major surgery because a GP has the freedom to be creative. Most of us would prefer a GP to know what they were doing and all do the right thing in pretty much the same way. In an uncreative school system it would be easy to ensure that all teachers taught from the same text book and that if a child moves schools they can pick up where they left off. The other advantage of this system would be that instead of asking teachers to be creative, which is all right if you have a creative teacher but a downright disaster if your teacher lacks the required skills to innovate, you can expect teachers to be proper public servants and do as they are told by teaching the lesson plan provided by central government or as near as dammit to the national curriculum provided.
This then is the problem: creative curricula designed by creative teams of teachers will only work fairly if parents have a choice. If they can’t have a choice then it is fairer to have less innovation and demand that all schools stick to the national curriculum, including academies and free schools. It seems to me that the schools policy of both the Government and the Opposition lacks the nerve to pump in the necessary money to do the former and the will power to do the latter. Innovative schools are great if they innovate the way you want them too, if they innovate in a way that you think is no good for your child, what then?