No fate but what we make…

In recent months there has been a lot of concern and ambiguity over the current educational context, particularly in England. The introduction of free schools, academies and abolishment of BECTA have caused debate within the educational sector. We no longer have a new primary curriculum and the Primary National Strategies are practically no longer acknowledged. We are currently in a state of flux in education, of which I have had moments of concern and apprehension.

From a different perspective the current situation could be seen as a stage of excitement and innovation. While there are many inspiring teachers across the globe really pushing the boundaries on how they organise learning in (and out) of their classrooms it is now easier than ever for every teacher to do so. We are no longer tied to the national strategies and are being told to follow the guidance in the National Curriculum. While the statutory curriculum does have many flaws, the objectives can be interpreted in a very liberal way and allow for the development of many cross-curricular and projects that promote creative learning, collaboration and innovation. Set units of work are no more and the freedom to develop open-ended cross-curricular learning opportunities are now easier (and justifiable) as ever. That is, if we choose to. Over recent years I have felt that I have had to justify such projects and their educational worth – although this is always evident throughout the projects. Hopefully, this will no longer be the case.

Of course, researchers such as Crawford (2004) have highlighed that some teachers can become highly reliant on packaged curricular and that the technical control encoded within such curricula can de-skill teachers and result in changes in the way they interpret, plan and ‘deliver’ lessons. I hope that as educators, we embrace the current educational context with a renewed focus on classroom innovation. After all, it’s the choices that we make in the classroom which affects the futures of the children that we teach. There are no longer suggested pre-defined ways that requires us to teach in a certain way or indeed interpret curricula. We cannot change the past, but we can make a difference for the future with the decisions and choices that we make today. Hence, there is no fate, but what we make.

A developing storm…

I have always criticised the current government for the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy in Primary Schools and it’s narrow conception of literacy in society. I have always felt (and I’m not alone) that it reflected a certain ‘tradition’ of literacy and failed to adapt towards changing times. In 2006 I was pleased that the framework was renewed with a greater emphasis on speaking, listening and multimodality. Even aspects of film began to creep in – it was a step in the right direction.

The National Literacy Strategy was designed in the 1990s and subsequently renewed and adapted. Considerations were made and consultations led to a more appropriate framework to take into account the complexity and diversity of literacy in society. In contrast, the statutory National Curriculum which primary schools use, is now nearly twenty years out of date. It fails to reflect the global communication environment that we live in and has not been radically changed. I was therefore exceptionally pleased that the current Labour government were listening [again] and decided to review the entire primary curriculum led by Sir Jim Rose.

Sir Jim Rose actually did a good job of reviewing the curriculum and listened to a range of bodies, professionals and experts. I also worked with UKLA to write an evidence response for the primary review which highlighted the importance of digital technologies and new literacies in the curriculum which was considered and evident in the final report. The published areas for learning were appropriate and the guidance reflected a curriculum for the modern world. It was a big step in the right direction.

However, now that a general election has been called I have just discovered a rather alarming piece of information on the DCSF website regarding amendments that have been make to a recent bill of parliament. The following part of the bill has been blocked by opposition parties:

Reform of the primary curriculum – the reforms to the primary curriculum, following Sir Jim Rose’s extensive expert review, provide greater flexibility for schools to tailor teaching to the needs and interests of their children while also focusing on the basics of literacy, numeracy and ICT. [Source]

This therefore means that the new primary curriculum, a curriculum that reflects the changing communicative landscape of our society, has now been put on hold. After further investigation, mainly through outraged educationalists on Twitter, I have discovered that it is actually the Conservative party who have blocked the bill. They feel that their actions have blocked more bureaucracy for teachers. Could this be the same party who recently went on record to say:

“Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, modern foreign languages. That’s the best training of the mind and that’s how children will be able to compete” [Michael Grove, Shadow Children's Secretary - Source]

Sitting in rows immediately screams out ‘individuality’ and lack of collaboration – something which was a huge problem with the first National Literacy Strategy. The same party also want to ‘tell’ teachers what to teach via so-called experts who have never been in a classroom and have no idea about how children learn. They also stated:

“Academies which are not bound by the national curriculum and have freedom from bureaucratic intervention in running their schools have raised standards in some of the most deprived areas in the country” [Source]

This is all terribly contradictory and highlights how distanced politicians can be from the classroom. One the one hand the party are saying that they want to ask experts to decide on what teachers should teach and how they should do it. On the other hand they suggest that a more effective model would be to not use the national curriculum at all.

I am actually more concerned about the ‘traditionalist’ method of schooling the Conservatives want to introduce with children sitting in rows to ‘learn’ (probably by rote) poems and facts [Source]. Myself and other colleagues from the organisations such as the United Kingdom Literacy Association have worked tirelessly to promote the need to take account of new literacy practices in the classroom. We maintain that traditional aspects of literacy are still relevant and, indeed, important but by no means sufficient to provide children with the skills they need to participate in today’s society.

I have always looked at the changing horizons of literacy education in a positive light but this news suggests that a devastating storm is brewing.