Curriculum the Mighty

“Young people get one opportunity to learn in school; and we owe it to them make sure they all get an education that is broad, rich and deep”

This weekend I attended a lecture by Howard Stevenson from the University Nottingham on “What’s worth fighting for in education”. His central argument, based on Danny Dorling and Bourdieu, was that the real cause of inequality is out with education and that thinking the poverty question can be solved by education causes many more problems than it solves. Schools no matter what their demographics all allow inequality to exist and also spread, through opportunities that are inherently exploited by the privileged through economic, cultural and social capital means. The element that got me thinking the most was that during the lecture Stevenson also said “curriculum design leads to stratification and re-enforcement of social barriers”.

One take away was that it’s a challenging reality to face that the education system that many of us come in to change ends up being the barrier that stops social mobility from occurring. A point I was left unconvinced by. But on another level it has underlined the power of curriculum in challenging inequality. Curriculum (and with it assessment) is after all what the whole of the school runs on. The word itself originates from the Latin ‘to race’ or the ‘course of the race’. Great leadership, great teaching and learning, great culture and ethos running round shaky course isn’t in a position to shake off the decades of practice that have allowed the gap to widen between the demographics. The foundations of our schools have been rotting away, buckling under the pressure of quick fixes and cutting race corners to appease higher powers.

However the time to fix the foundations may be arriving. As Sam Freedman has pointed out in his recent TES article, the current parliament presents an opportunity for education policy to remain stable for the first time in a long time. This in addition to Amanda Spielman’s recent announcement on the importance of curriculum marks a change from one of the organisations that have perhaps forced one or two quick fixes. These opportunities perhaps presents education with the time and required push to go into the basement, turn on the lights and have a look. For our students cannot afford anymore time stuck in the wrong race.

Its a very exciting time for curriculum.

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