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Should it stay or should it go?

Right at the top of my list of really important things to do this half term, alongside ‘Tidy Drawers’ and ‘Reply to emails’, is the task ‘Update Curriculum’. Of all the really important things to do, curriculum design sits at the top. Making decisions on what our children need to know and be able to do in order to be successful in the future, is probably the most important thing to get right.

Fortunately, our starting point for this piece of work is a strong and well-established curriculum already in place, however our curriculum was designed ten years ago when the world was a different place. As we know, very few things in life stay the same, so to stay relevant, our curriculum needs to adapt and evolve to reflect changes in society, prevailing attitudes, new technology, changing beliefs and shifting values.

So, what has changed? Over time, different subjects come in and out of favour – and recently the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering) have worked their way to the top of the national agenda. The importance of a multi-faith approach to RE is even more relevant today than at any time in the past. The acquisition of knowledge probably has a higher weighting than it did ten years ago with the phrase ‘cultural capital’ currently the sound bite of choice within the Department for Education. Understanding the science of climate change is of course higher on our list of priorities; developing children’s speaking and listening skills is up there with reading and writing; and with children’s wellbeing such an important priority, personal, social and health education (PSHE) has taken on even greater significance. There are a lot of things to consider.

Knowing what needs to be added to the curriculum is the easy bit, but with the length of the school day largely unchanged, the equation demands that for everything that needs to be added, something needs to be taken away.

This term our Year 4 children have virtually become Tudors. They’ve re-enacted the Battle of Bosworth Field, performed an assembly on the wives of King Henry VIII and considered the differences between rich and poor. Yesterday they went to Hampton Court Palace. All these experiences have contributed to their knowledge of the period and prepared them to be able to put together a balanced argument that addresses the question ‘How terrible were the Tudors?’. Unfortunately, the National Curriculum has assigned Henry VIII to the secondary school curriculum, so it may be that due to curriculum pressure our topic ‘Terrible Tudors’ is confined to the realm of er… history?

One of the criticisms of the National Curriculum is that it can be prescriptive and limiting. My experience of curriculum planning is that primary schools have a very high degree of autonomy when it comes to curriculum design, with limitless permutations with regard to what is taught, when it’s taught and how it’s taught. But with so much invested in our curriculum, taking the decisions on what to take out is proving to be the hardest job of all.