10 curriculum changes
1. Maths – scrap complex algebra
Millions of children are subjected to the convoluted pain of advanced algebra, at the expense of being capable of understanding statistics, interest rates, mortgages or their own, simple, personal finances. The vast majority of people will sail through successful lives without ever having to use the subject, yet algebra is probably the main reason for switching people off maths and numeracy. Scrap algebra at GCSE and relevant results would soar.
2. IT – teaching the past
A fact that is often ignored in baby boomer complaints about dumbed-down standards is the fact that most students leave school with an unacknowledged A-level in useful IT, which they learn, not in school, but in spite of school. Curiously we don’t teach keyboard skills, troubleshooting, research on the web, how to search on Google and many other practical and useful skills. Instead they get outdated content and tools they are unlikely to use. For a subject of the future, the IT curriculum is hopelessly mired in the past.
3. English – irregular and difficult
I know the Shakespeare debate rumbles on, but taking students through to an exam, with specific questions on a Shakespeare play, without them actually seeing the drama is frankly stupid. Yes folks this happens all the time in our schools. Shakespeare did not write to be read, he wrote plays to be seen. Then there’s the irregularity of English spelling and punctuation. What is less well known is the drag effect it has in education. There are about 800 words that are very difficult to spell without hours of drill and practice, as they are loaded with unnecessary and silent letters. Compared to other European languages, English has a heavy burden to bear in spelling being phonetically weak (eight, height, dreamt, through etc). Other countries have changed and simplified their spelling (
4. Music –violence of the violin
Desperate efforts are made by the educational system to get parents to buy violins for very young children. They are then subjected to the tedious task of learning an instrument that is particularly difficult for children to even hold, never mind finger (no frets). It’s a fiendishly difficult instrument to learn. Then there’s the noise. This is tantamount to child abuse! In terms of productivity, the attrition rate is horrendous. There’s a glut of half-size, second-hand violins on the market. Rather than promote instruments that are actually used by the vast majority of adults later in life we adopt an outdated ‘classical’ view of music and aesthetics, which more likely to kill than encourage a child’s interest.
5. Art – unstructured mess
At no point have my kids been taught to draw. Call me old-fashioned but this seems to be a basic skill in art. The teaching, in general, seems to be an unstructured mess, no more than a series of ‘try it and see’ creative experiments. Neither have they ever been taken to a major gallery, despite free entrance, and being less than an hour from
6. Languages – English the lingua franca of the world
Hundreds of thousands of students are put through years of classroom teaching in a foreign language only to emerge with little or no ability to speak or understand that language. Why? You don’t learn a language in the classroom without supplementing it with lots of other forms of practice. Language learning needs exposure, immersion and lots of one-to-one practice. An intensive few weeks in an immersive course would achieve more than a 4 or 5 year school GCSE course. We have other disadvantages. Everyone else is trying to learn English, and succeeding, making it difficult (and arguably less necessary) to learn a foreign language. If English is the lingua franca of the world, why bother?
7. Latin – resurrecting the dead
Where in educational theory does it say that learning a language that has been dead for centuries, is a sensible educational goal? Nowhere. This old fossil of a subject is perhaps the most wasteful, but also the most vociferously defended, subjects in the school curriculum. The old-chestnut of an excuse, that ‘it helps one learn other languages’ is simply false. If this were true, it could only be true of romance languages. You’re far better off just learning those languages. Learning Latin just reduces the amount of time you can devote to that task. Latin is a middle-class affectation.
8. Religious education – stay secular
We live in a largely secular country, so why so much compulsion around sheep-dipping in and out of the world’s major religions? Why not remain firmly secular in schools? Ethics I could understand, but seeing everything through the cloudy lens of multiple religions is a restrictive, pluralistic jumble.
9. Cut wasted corridor time
Imagine if every company and organization in the land got their employees to stand and march off to another department every hour. That’s what schools do. Getting students to shift every hour wastes huge amounts of their productive time. The time taken to pack up, file out of the classroom, walk the corridors, file into the next classroom, unpack and settle down is hugely wasteful. The there’s the rounding up of stragglers. Go for three 100 minute lessons per day; two in the morning, one in the afternoon. Our school does this and it works.
10. Learning at home – where did it go?
Why have so many state schools abandoned the idea of students doing their own learning at home? Our secondary school has all but abandoned homework in the first three years. Weeks go by without any significant learning at home. This has put many parents in the position of having to set homework for their own kids. Many simply hire tutors (this is massive in many state schools). I know of one parent who has simply lifted their child out of the school on this one criterion alone. Well structured learning at home (what schools foolishly call home’work’), is the foundation of autonomous learning. It reinforces and extends what’s taught in the classroom and allows parents to get involved.
The English curriculum looks as though it has been designed by a committee of pensioners from Tunbridge Wells. It’s old-fashioned, overloaded with unnecessary baggage and at times stops rather than encourages learning. On top of this we have several curricula, by several examination bodies, confusing the matter even further. What keeps all of this waste alive? Simple inertia, the fact that we’ve always done it this way.