Self-interest and curriculum change

Fungus on TreeWhen irritated by an error or calumny in the media, because you know better, think about all the other mistakes and insults that occur daily without it being realised. Often it’s a failure of simplification or sheer hyperbole, the fundamentals of pundit-reporting.

You will have, I am sure, your own subjects of expertise where breadth and depth is rarely evident in newspaper articles or television coverage. Some may even coincide with mine.

In recent posts, and in a workshop, I have addressed the responses to how sustainability and, specifically, climate change have fared in national curriculum 2014 – and my views may be regarded as contrary to expectation. To be clear, I have my own priorities and preferences for what should be ‘in’ the national curriculum (or the school curriculum).

Yet, I have learned to resist those tendencies as I believe curriculum making should not be a battle of claim  and bigger-claim. Interestingly the voices for more tend to be louder than the expressions for removing content. Rarely do you hear a conditional comment such as ‘take away the requirement for x to make room for y’. For example, ‘scrap RE and schools would have time for cycling proficiency’.

In his fine book, Thinking Allowed on Schooling, Mick Waters writes…

What do our children need?

We don’t have to listen to Radio 4’s Today programme for many weeks ro get a picture of what children should be learning. Personal finance, healthy eating, drug awareness, crime prevention, bereavement, sexuality, alcohol abuse, internet grooming, pensions, dementia, culture, parenting, voting responsibly, swimming and design all featured within a two-month period in 2012, with all the advocates asserting something like, ‘Of course, it all starts in the school.’

It’s always good to have your own concern expressed so fully by a person of such standing.

This week in TES Dylan Wiliam is quoted as saying

It was important to move away from devising a curriculum based on people saying “I want my bit”, he said, noting that lobbying had led to climate change being included.

“If you have just got a curriculum based on who shouts loudest, that is not a real basis for moving forward,” Professor Wiliam said. “So what we tried to do on the expert panel was to come up with a series of principles by which you should design a curriculum.

“So when people said, ‘Why is that in the curriculum?’, then there is a clear real reason for it to be there, rather than somebody’s opinion. I don’t think that’s clear from the current version.”

The same can be said for the school curriculum as being not just a statement of ‘what’ is in it but an articulation of ‘why’.

I read a newsletter from one school-subject organisation in which they were encouraging responses to the final consultation before the national curriculum is ‘set in stone’. I wonder where they have been to even think any national curriculum has been that fixed for evermore?

From Information and Communications Technology to Computing

There is a sorry tale to told here in terms of curriculum-shaping and the concern I have expressed about powerful external influences. ICT as a subject and ICT in subjects has been through so many national curriculum changes – and, indeed, technological changes. The teachers involved must feel battered and bruised as they have been built-up and knocked down again. I have seen part of this story unfold in my, admittedly limited, twitter-feed.

In the case of ICT the gloves were off. In brief, ICT was a condemned for having become about the use of software. Vested interests want programming skills or computing. In other words, coding software rather than using it.

A one-sided ‘history written by the victorious’ Academy of Computing of the “BCS  – the Chartered Institute for IT” appears here

Computing in Schools – an update
http://academy.bcs.org/blogs/computing-schools-update

I can see how some ICT teachers will read that as arrogant and unnecessarilyhurtful.

Naace, the ICT association, appears to have taken a pragmatic stance. http://www.naace.co.uk

This 8 July 2013 news item is likely to have a limited web-life:

The publication of the National Curriculum by the government today brings an end to the recent period of instability and provides a point from which we can move forward.  Naace are already working with CAS (Computing at Schools) to prepare joint guidance that will support teachers interpreting and implementing the new programme of study for Computing.

The Computing at School site is here http://www.computingatschool.org.uk  (‘Vendor neutral’ – sponsored by Microsoft, Google…)  Check out the talking-head video on the front page for self-interest: demands Computing to be like physics or mathematics!

The CAS ‘about‘ page reads

The Computing at School (CAS) Working Group aims to promote the teaching of computer science at school. CAS was born out of our excitement with our discipline, combined with a serious concern that many students are being turned off computing by a combination of factors that have conspired to make the subject seem dull and pedestrian. Our goal is to put the excitement back into Computing at school.

There is an industry-focused counter-argument in Computing which emphasises the user-skills side of coin. The comments below the article say otherwise. The BBC site has a January 2012 story headed ‘School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme‘ with over a thousand comments. The Guardian has the story from a Head of ICT in February 2013 as ‘There is room for both computing and ICT in schools.’

The curriculum is highly contentious, of course, and I am not discounting or advocating for any particular stakeholder group. I am cautious about powerful forces but I am not arguing for inertia. We just need to be clear about how these changes are engineered. If you want to have influence it helps to understand those who have it in abundance.

I hope to find a detached and critical overview of how this ICT/Computing debate panned out and any lessons for future modifications of the national curriculum (and some might add, if there is one). My main interest is not in ICT versus computing but in the broader scenario of self-interest and curriculum change.

Does anyone have a good reference for the story of who decides and why?


Added 11 Feb 2014
It didn’t take long for the concern over computing, or coding, to emerge. Read this great post by @adrianshort.

“So it’s the Year of Code. Schools will start teaching children to program computers in September because programming (or “coding” as it’s now called) is an essential skill for the future economy.

But the Year of Code’s director Lottie Dexter can’t program and hasn’t started to learn. Cue one car crash interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.”

Source: http://adrianshort.org/2014/02/09/lottie-dexter-quit-year-of-code/

Another post on Year of Code: http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/year-code-one-week
And another called Why coding is not the new black

BTW I taught coding in a secondary school in the early 1980s.

References
Stewart, William (2013) ‘Curriculum – ‘I find it difficult to see the connection”, TES, 19 July 2103
http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6343924
Waters, Mick (2013) Thinking Allowed on Schooling, Carmarthen: Independent Thinking Press