Recently, I emerged from the depths of becoming a father for the second time and was alarmed to read Dame Sally Coates’ opinion that “teachers across the country should teach exactly the same lessons at exactly the same time”. Through my sleep-deprived haze and given my new ‘baby-routine’, dictated to me by our new daughter, I was intrigued as routine and schedule seem to be my life at the moment. Apparently this idea, adopted by the French, would free teachers and school leaders from the pressures of curriculum planning to focus “on perfecting delivery in the classroom” and enable learners, aged four to fourteen, to learn exactly the same content at exactly the same time. Coates’ argument can be see here and here.
Imagine the scene; a nation of robotic children all with the same programming, understanding the world in exactly the same way, being controlled by the ‘Thought Police’, to borrow a term from Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Challenging behaviour, such as having an opinion about what was being learned, would be called ‘thoughtcrime’ and funding would no longer take the form of pupil premium to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds but rather to identify and re-programme the ‘thought-criminals’.
Who would catch these pesky thought-criminals? Well, you could argue that as teachers are ‘free’ to focus on the delivery of lessons, it will soon be written into their contracts, performance-related-pay conditions and/ or the teaching standards. No longer would teaching standard seven link to learning behaviour; rather it would focus on upholding the values of both the inner and outer party, or at least not undermining them! All this, of course, would take place in Room 101!
It is claimed that a prescriptive curriculum would “improve social mobility in schools and alleviate teachers’ workload”. Whilst I see how such a move might help to alleviate teachers’ workload I am not clear about how knowing the same things would improve social mobility. I am sure that there are other ideas that would have a much deeper impact on teachers’ workload. Here’s a thought-crime; if schools had more money to employ more teachers this would potentially mean that class sizes would be smaller, thus learning and teaching would be of a higher quality. Here’s another; perhaps if the Government (the inner party) sought to liberate and trust teachers in the teaching profession instead of meddling with education, teachers would work smarter not harder, and thus there would be no need to alleviate workload.
Later Coates adds that this move “would allow schools to focus on teaching rather than what they should teach”. How boring! (Oops… apologies for having an opinion, must do better!) It seems that teachers would also become mere robots, delivering the same ‘educational diet’ to their clients with no thought about how they enable their learners to question, challenge, consider, feel and/ or imagine the world in which they live. No longer would learners need to know why they are learning; they just would be and that is final.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
“Uniformity unleashes creativity,” she goes on and one can imagine this becoming the mantra for the UK brand of education. A slight digression but stick with me. Once I had the exact same McDonalds meal in New York and Birmingham. What did I learn about food in those cities from those experiences? Only that they serve the same meals in those fast-food outlets. I learned nothing about the culture of those places or the influence of years and years of migration on the cuisine of their populations. Nothing about the stories of how different people created different dishes, such as the infamous ‘Balti’ curry invented in Sparkhill’s mystical ‘Balti Triangle’. How creative would a McDonalds approach to education be? Why would the young people of Birmingham need to learn the exact same thing as someone from the suburbs of Cheshire? Who would be qualified enough to create this curriculum for everyone? How much will they charge?- A job for the ‘Ministry of Truth’ perhaps?
The idea of a prescriptive curriculum married with a teacher’s delivery of such a curriculum would lead to the stripping away and removal of the rich and diverse possibilities for content-filled learning as teachers would be forced to focus on performing elements of teaching, to deliver the ‘curriculum’. The performance of teaching, using all the ‘tricks in the box’, would lead to a barren and formulaic learning experience as the content and context of the learning would be absent. What this means is that potentially teachers focus upon, for example, the method of delivery rather than the relevance of what is being delivered.
Is this doublespeak really about controlling what we know? You could imagine the official rationale for education in the UK becoming “Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
I need some sleep…
Orwell, G. (1948) Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Penguin Classics