UK curriculum back to basics
24th June 2012

On the Punch, after a visit to London, I argue that the proposed UK primary school curriculum is the way to go!

The education model implemented by the UK’s Conservative government, illustrated by Free Schools and the new primary school curriculum, provides a striking alternative to what is being forced on schools by the Julia Gillard led Commonwealth Government and Australia’s left-of-centre education establishment.

Chinese, English, doesn't matter. As long as they're learning SOME language properly. Pic: Rohan Kelly

Under Kevin Rudd, and now Prime Minister Gillard, schools are being forced to adopt a centralised, bureaucratic approach to education, best illustrated by the Building the Education Revolution fiasco.

Copying many of the initiatives introduced during the UK Tony Blair years, the ALP government is committed to a top down approach, exemplified by a national curriculum, national teacher registration and certification and tying implementation to funding.

It’s no secret, under ALP governments state and Commonwealth, that schools have also been forced to adopt a politically correct, dumbed-down curriculum that ignores the basics and that preaches a politically correct view of subjects like English and history.

Traditional approaches to learning to read, involving phonics and phonemic awareness, asking students to memorise poems, do mental arithmetic and learn times tables by rote have long since been abandoned as a result of failed fads like whole language and personalised learning.

As a result, thousands of children leave primary school unable to read and write and incapable of subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers. Universities have long since introduced remedial classes in essay writing and mathematics, and lecturers complain that many undergraduates are incapable of undertaking academic studies.

In their quest to raise standards, especially amongst disadvantaged students, the British Conservatives, led by the Education Secretary Michael Gove and Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, are implementing a very different approach.

The new draft primary school curriculum, released last week, involves nine year old children learning their 12 times tables and having to calculate using decimal places and fractions without calculators.

In English, there will be compulsory spelling lists and children will be expected to memorise and recite poetry, learn how to read based on a synthetic phonics approach, one where children learn the relationship between letters and sounds in a structured and formal way, and to write according to the rules of correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Both Michael Gove and Nick Gibb have also publicly agued that any new curriculum should require schools to adopt a traditional approach to history.

Children will be expected to learn significant dates, events and the names of important historical figures. Instead of forcing cultural relativism on schools, as occurs in Australia, teachers will also be expected to introduce children to the grand narrative that distinguishes the UK from other countries and cultures.

Institutions like Westminster Parliament, the rule of law and the importance of Western civilisation and the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage are emphasised as is the need to instil civic responsibility and to teach values like reciprocity and a commitment to the common good.

Australia’s recently released teaching standards involve hundreds of often vague and generalised descriptors and pages of edubabble that force teachers to become bean counters.

The UK government’s Teaching Standards May 2012, in comparison, is a three page document that succinctly details the standards expected of teachers throughout their career, both as trainee teachers and those with years in the classroom.

Statements like a teacher must “set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils”, “promote good progress and outcomes by pupils”, “demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge” and “manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment” simply and directly detail the qualities associated with effective teaching.

While the Julia Gillard led ALP government embraces the rhetoric of school autonomy, the reality is that schools are micromanaged and all roads lead to Canberra.

The introduction of Free Schools by Michael Gove and Nick Gibb, heralded by a 2010 White Paper, represents a very different approach. Under the UK model, schools are free to manage themselves in areas like staffing and budgets and to adopt a curriculum focus that best suits the needs and aspirations of their communities.

Instead of being managed by head office Free Schools are established and managed at the local level and can involve partnerships between philanthropic groups, businesses and academic institutions.

That the Julia Gillard government has adopted the Blair approach to education should not surprise. Many of Australia’s influential educrats with the ear of the ALP government, such as Tom Bentley, Ken Boston and Tony Mackay, have worked in Britain during the Blair years.

Bentley was a Director of Tony Blair’s favourite think-tank, Demos, and is now a senior advisor to the Prime Minister, Mackay was involved with a number of British education bodies and is now Deputy Head of Australia’s curriculum body, ACARA, and Boston, after heading up the UK’s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is now a committee member of the Gonski review of school funding.

Kevin Donnelly was recently in London and met with Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools.


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24th June 2012

On the Punch, after a visit to London, I argue that the proposed UK primary school curriculum is the way to go!The education model implemented by the UK’s Conservative government, illustrated by F...
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