Hidden in plain sight – the 21st Century Curriculum

This is a joint post- much of the thinking was done between @Oliverquinlan and I during the most productive time of the day, when everyone else has left the office and we can debate ideas loudly.

It is my suggestion that the National Curriculum has failed and the disciplines need to be sold better to the profession. It was Oliver’s suggestion that the National Curriculum was a perfectly sensible articulation of the disciplines. So we bickered a while and then OQ reached into his mind (a macbook pro 13″ pimped with a solid state hard drive) and pulled out the National Curriculum document. And damn me, he’s right. But as luck would have it so was I.
Allow me to explain: Quinlan is always right. I forgive him for this every day and have come to accept it.
Here’s why I am right:
Let me summarise the National Curriculum document for you – all 192 pages of it.
  1. Page 1 – 40 blah blah blah
  2. Page 40 -43 Picture & English blah blah
  3. Page 44 – 59 – What I need to do in English, but only the key stage relevant to me
  4. Page 59 – 61 – Pictures & Maths blah blah
  5. Page 62 – 75 – What I need to do in Maths, but only the key stage relevant to me.
  6. etc
And so it goes on – and herein lies the problem. The National Curriculum 2000 is an appallingly designed document. Its size encourages a reductionist attitude…..”where is the bit i need to know”
There is a beautiful and clear articulation of each of the disciplines in the National Curriculum, but it is hidden in plain sight.
These little dense paragraphs are the WHY its whats missing from a curriculum of WHAT.
Here is my summary of the WHY of each subject, the summary of the discipline, the reason for studying and mastering the discipline.
Being a Wordsmith (English)

Wordsmiths use English way of communicating in public life and internationally. Wordsmiths are influenced by Literature, reflecting the experience of people from many countries and times. Wordsmiths are skilled in speaking, listening, reading and writing. They express themselves creatively and imaginatively and communicate with others effectively. Wordsmiths understand how language works by looking at its patterns, structures and origins. Using this knowledge wordsmiths choose and adapt what they say and write in different situations.

Being a Mathematician

Mathematicians have a uniquely powerful set of tools to understand and change the world. These tools include logical reasoning, problem-solving skills, and the ability to think in abstract ways. Mathematicians are needed in science and technology, medicine, the economy, the environment and development, and in public decision-making. Different cultures have contributed to the development and application of mathematics. Today, mathematicians transcend cultural boundaries. Mathematicians are creative they achieve moments of pleasure and wonder when they solve a problem for the first time, discover a more elegant solution to that problem, or suddenly see hidden connections.

Being a Scientist
Scientists have insatiable curiosity about phenomena and events in the world around them. A scientist’s discipline is about developing and evaluating explanations through experimental evidence and modelling. This is a spur to critical and creative thought. Major scientific ideas contribute to technological change – impacting on industry, business and medicine and improving quality of life.
Being a Designer
Designers are create and develop rapidly changing technologies. They learn to think and intervene creatively to improve quality of life. Designers are autonomous and creative problem solvers, as individuals and members of a team. They look for needs, wants and opportunities and respond to them by developing a range of ideas and making products and systems. They combine practical skills with an understanding of aesthetics, social and environmental issues, function and industrial practices.
Being a Information Technologist
Technologists participate in a rapidly changing world. Technologists find, explore, analyse, exchange and present information responsibly, creatively and with discrimination. They enable rapid access to ideas and experiences from a wide range of people, communities and cultures. Technologists have initiative and independence, they self teach and are able to make informed judgements about what tool is best and are strategic enough to think through the future consequences of their products.

Being an Historian

Historians seek to understand how the past influences the present, what past societies were like, how these societies organised their politics, and what beliefs and cultures influenced people’s actions. Historians see the diversity of human experience, and understand more about themselves as individuals and members of society. They find evidence, weigh it up and reach their own conclusions through research, sifting through evidence, and arguing for their point of view.
Being a Geographer
Geographers find answers to questions about the natural and human worlds, using different scales of enquiry to view them from different perspectives. They have knowledge of places and environments throughout the world, an understanding of maps, and a range of investigative and problem-solving skills. Geographers seek to understand and resolve issues about the environment and sustainable development. They explore how nations rely on each other.

Being an Artist

Artists work with visual, tactile and sensory experiences to express their unique way of understanding and responding to the world.
They use colour, form, texture, pattern and different materials and processes to communicate what they see, feel and think. They make aesthetic and practical decisions ad are actively involved in shaping environments. They understand and value the ideas and meanings in the work of artists, craftspeople and designers. They are masters of their craft.
Being a Musician
Music is a powerful, unique form of communication that can change the way pupils feel, think and act. It brings together intellect and feeling and enables personal expression, reflection and emotional development. As an integral part of culture, past and present, it helps pupils understand themselves and relate to others, forging important links between the home, school and the wider world. The teaching of music develops pupils’ ability to listen and appreciate a wide variety of music and to make judgements about musical quality. It encourages active involvement in different forms of amateur music making, both individual and communal, developing a sense of group identity and togetherness. It also increases self-discipline and creativity, aesthetic sensitivity and fulfilment.

Being an Athlete

Athletes have physical competence and confidence, they are physically skillful and a have a deep knowledge of their body in action. Athletes are competitive and to face up to different challenges as individuals and in groups and teams. They have a healthy lifestyle. Athletes plan, perform and evaluate actions, ideas and performances to improve their quality and effectiveness. Athletes are perfectionists.
Being a citizen
Citizens contribute fully to the life of their communities. They recognise their own worth, work well with others and are responsible for themselves. Citizens know about the political and social institutions that affect their lives and about their responsibilities, rights and duties as individuals and members of communities. They understand and respect our common humanity, diversity and differences and form the effective, fulfilling relationships that are an essential part of life.

Having a Foreign Language

Having a Foreign Language develops linguistic competence, extends knowledge of how language works and explores differences and similarities between the foreign language and English. Learning another language raises awareness of the multi- lingual and multi-cultural world and introduces an international dimension to pupils’ learning, giving them an insight into their own culture and those of others.

This is the hidden curriculum:

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11 thoughts on “Hidden in plain sight – the 21st Century Curriculum

  1. I have always felt the curriculum should be driven by the why rather than the what. Many years ago now, I wrote a document for my school on designing profound learning experiences, which always focused learning from the perspective of the skills of that subject- the skills of the linguist/designer/athlete etc. it is how I have always taught my own subject so reading this many years later is a great reminder of what could or should be the focus of our curriculum.

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  3. An inspirational view upon the evolution of the NC and the ‘real’ education of future ‘goalpost movers’!
    I would like, however, to develop discussion in regards to my area of particular interest – physical education.
    Is physical education about “being an Athlete”? Is Athlete the appropriate term? Or does this conjure images of competitive sport, Olympic glory and elitism? Whilst this view does tie in with the ideas released in the initial draft of the physical education primary National Curriculum, I feel that physical education must be more than producing athletes and Olympians. Is it possible to consider competitive sport as emerging from high quality physical education?
    My opinion is that physical education MUST be inclusive and orbit around the concept of physical literacy and whilst you rightly acknowledge competence and confidence, it appears at a level that may deter all but the most gifted and talented performers and competitors – does this provide motivation for all? Physical education must be of a greater benefit if it looks far beyond being an athlete or competitor (are these developmental by-products?) and involves development of the ‘whole child’, in a monistic manner whereby the mind and body are as one and we learn in and via the physical domain.
    It is via this concept that inclusion is developed and each individual’s unique physical literacy journey begins, irrespective of ability and endowment.
    The aim, therefore, is to maximise potential and to plant a seed of lifelong learning via, and involvement in, physical activity FOR ALL. Something I fear, as I look at the empty playing field in front of my house, and society in general, is in decline!
    Great reading Pete and congratulations on enthusing my first blog post!

    Tom Slater (Yr 3 – BEd)

    • Hi Tom, thanks for your reply. Are you saying that not everyone can be an athlete? That’s rather an elitist view. I saw plenty of athletes of all abilities at the London Marathon, Olympics and at Rugby Club today. I think it’s cool to aspire to be an athlete. What does physical literacy mean. If you can’t explain it in 1 tweet, there’s no point.

  4. Just my personal take on this….

    Being physically literate is having the knowledge, competence and motivation to pursue participation in a range of physical activity throughout life, at a level appropriate to each individual. (Taken from Whitehead’s definition)
    So the Olympic athlete or marathon runner is no more physically literate than the elderly man that walks round the block everyday to keep himself fit.

    Ultimately this agrees with a lot of your post, ‘physical competence and confidence’, ‘knowledge of their body’ ‘plan, perform and evaluate’ etc. but for me the real issue is the mental image the term ‘athlete’ creates for many adults and children. It is one of having to be the best and competition. For children who struggle physically this can cause demotivation and dislike towards physical activity.

    In my opinion, the physical education curriculum should create individuals who are motivated to be physically active and literate throughout life, not create a class of 30 who believe physical education is about competing and being the best.

    • Hi Jess, thaks for the reply.

      I think we should claim the term ‘athlete’ back. I think there’s a bigger problem with the concept of PE as a subject at school, which in my son’s experience, involves lots of sitting and listening and not an awful lot of doing. An athlete could be defined as one competing against themselves to be better than they were before. I like competition, I like excellence. I think learning to recognize that I am not excellent at some stuff was one of the most important lessons of my life. Here’s a blog about the true meaning of being an athlete: http://www.functionalpathtrainingblog.com/2012/03/being-an-athlete.html

      • Thanks for the blog, its an interesting view point, one that actually I agree with a lot of, not all, but a lot of.

        I like the idea of children being the best they can be, and competing against themselves, but to a child of 5, if you place them in a competition situation, 9 times out of 10, they’re comparing themselves against the other children. This can be explained, taught, changed but requires time and yes, a child to listen.
        Physical education should have children moving and active but at the same time it needs to educate them about their bodies and self.
        As with all subjects in the curriculum, its a balancing act, that I think a lot of teachers, possibly due to lack of knowledge and training, do not get right.

        For myself definitely, this discussion has definitely got me thinking about what I consider to be the outcome of physical education.

  5. Hi – Just another personal response here, again from a physical education specialist point of view! Is it really appropriate to have to define the importance of physical literacy in as little as 140 characters on Twitter? Having been taught by some of the best, physical literacy lies at the core of every session we teach. Being able to help children progress with as little as standing on one leg to performing the perfect cartwheel are all aspects of helping one along their individual physical journeys… So although aspiring to be an athlete is a wonderful notion for the G&T within the primary school, what about the children who take part in physical education purely for health/SEN reasons? To say it is ‘cool’ for every child to aspire to be an athlete is a wonderful idealistic thought, but does it set a reasonable, individual and achievable learning goals for each and every child across the board?
    Just a thought!
    Holly Ford (Yr3 BEd).

    • Hi, thanks for the reply.

      It is entirely appropriate within the context of this piece to suggest that each discipline should develop its own ‘elevator pitch’. Your response is either compassionate or predetermining the outcomes for children, who are, in someone’s opinion, not good enough to be considered athletes. I would argue that “Reasonable, individual and achievable” is the language of mediocrity not excellence. I’m surprised at the antithesis to the term athelete, which i think defines the mindset required for true ipsative assessment: http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/fair-measures.html

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