Curriculum Development


by Mark Edwards  

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I think it was someone from the Cambridge Institute of Education who first introduced me to the three part mantra of curriculum development. It goes like this:

  1. Think big.

  2. Start small.

  3.  Do not call in an expert.

Over the past decade, the Government has done the reverse. By using a restrictive  ‘target and test’ approach to measure educational progress they have  ‘thought small.’ But they have ‘started big’ by introducing the numeracy and literacy hours into every primary school in the country. How have they achieved this? By appointing banks of ‘expert’ consultants who have told teachers what to do and how to do it, bombarding schools with a plethora of policy documents in the process.

So it is not surprising that teachers are over-stressed, and feel over-burdened. And that there is increasing evidence that suggests that standards have not actually risen in the way the Government would have us believe. However, I could put up with this if it was not for the fact that what I consider to be truly innovative approaches to education are now being subjected to the same process. I am referring to  ‘accelerated learning’ and ‘emotional literacy.’ 

A teacher on the Times Educational Supplement website forum says that she ‘has to do emotional literacy’ with her class for 15 minutes every morning. This involves going round the class and asking each child how they are feeling. She says that most children just reply ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ and that the rest of the class don’t listen. Further investigation has revealed that the school had a visit from an ‘expert’ in emotional literacy and as a result the Head has decreed that this is what they will do. With no additional training, no additional resources and no additional support.

I’m still a part-time teacher and I’ve witnessed the same thing first hand. The other week we had an afternoon’s INSET on accelerated learning. (I am well-qualified in Neuro-Linguistic Programming so I do know quite a lot about it, but I kept quiet.) The LEA consultant was competent but uninspiring and so the majority of the staff were uninspired. We thought that would be the end of it, but a few days later an edict came round, telling us that the course leaders would be returning in a few weeks to observe how we were putting accelerated learning into practice in our classrooms. You can imagine what that has done to our stress levels; if Ofsted doesn’t get you the consultant will.

I used to work as an advisory teacher in the heady days before the  Education Reform Act. We were told back then to ‘beware the role of the expert’ and that it was important to teach ‘demonstration lessons’ with real children to show how problem-solving and investigation activities could be organised in a busy classroom. It did actually work, and one of the reasons it worked was that it inspired the teacher (usually) and gave them necessary practical support while they introduced the new practices

It is very sad to witness what is happening now. On the one hand it is encouraging that despite the Government’s attempts to restrict and prescribe, innovative ideas are still surfacing.  I maintain that emotional literacy in particular is essential for the reclamation of education as a vehicle for personal and cognitive development.  But there is a very real danger that the Government’s current approach is going to snuff this particular candle out. So I implore ministers - would you please listen to the mantra:

  1. Think big : at least one teacher trained in emotional literacy in every school together with a physical space where emotional support and development is a priority.

  2. Think big : at least one teacher trained in emotional literacy in every school together with a physical space where emotional support and development is a priority.

  3.  Do not call in an expert : well, all right, if you must. It probably is necessary, but don’t expect them to tell people what to do. Emotional literacy consultants should show teachers, and involve them.

Oh, and whatever you do, don’t ask the DofE to produce a policy document on the subject.