Dear Future Education Ministers,
Here’s an idea. Why not set up a committee called “The Curriculum Review Panel” [I know it sounds familiar but bear with me]. It would re-write sections of the curriculum each year, or in rolling blocks. For example, for 2 years they could do the curriculum for 9-11 year olds. Then 2 years on one for 12-14 year olds. Once we get to 16 then you can start again at the beginning.
This would mean the curriculum is constantly open to new ideas but each year groups’ curriculum is only updated once every 10 years or so. That might seem a long time but it allows teachers to become experienced in the knowledge they are expected to impart and it’s also the length of time Hong Kong uses to consider its curriculum. HK is a country that you refer to a lot as a “high performing education system” so I’m sure it will be okay.
This Panel would have 5 members – including a Chair. When a new Government is appointed they are allowed to select ‘3 new members’ (and boot off 3) but must retain 2 members appointed by the previous Government. If you win another Parliament then you can change 3 members again – meaning you would then have a board fully selected by you (after all, you’re clearly doing an okay job). It would mean that for the first Parliament at least you still had people who remembered what has happened previously and can provide context. Sure, it might be difficult for everyone to work together but avoiding the damage of curriculum shock in schools is a good idea and there are tricks below to help prevent things getting too nasty.
When curriculum are published (draft or otherwise) they would be collectively presented but each ‘panel expert’ is allowed to publish their own narrative about the findings, how it was decided and whether they think it is justifiable. These documents should be rigorously academic, part of the experts published corpus of work and form part of the public consultation on the curriculum. This will help the public know what the opinions are of each expert and judge how in line it is with their own beliefs, their party, etc. However, in terms of curriculum content a ‘majority rule’ is sufficient for a decision in the curriculum – i.e. if 3/5 feel a certain approach is best, this is the one included. Though some experts may be unhappy about what is included, they must accept that their view was the minority and must be satisfied that they have been able to put their concerns into the public arena through their published narrative but that democratic sway was not in their favour on this occasion.
A tricky question now: What would stop the current Government making things so unbearable that the experts from the previous administration decide to leave the panel? And if they do, who will replace them? It’s surely not a good idea that in the first administration all 5 are selected by the current government. I therefore wonder if it might be possible to have a ‘List system’ whereby the previous administration publishes a ‘list’ of preferred candidates such that if an expert decides to leave then they will be replaced by the next person on the list. In fact, the ‘list system’ could be something that all parties – in advance of a General Election – declare for scrutiny. That is, each party would have to name, say, 20 individuals in rank-order preference that would be asked to the Panel if a space was available. These 20 could also be the ‘ad-hoc’ list and could be called on for advice on various matters – maybe subject specialisms, etc – and this advice would also be publishable. In doing so this would help people know before voting in the General Election who is likely to be on the curriculum board and what values they hold.
You also might ask: What is to stop a Government putting any old random on their Expert list? Nothing. But they can do that now. Anyone can advise on National Curriculum. However, if the list system were to go ahead people would know in advance who they were getting and if people felt it important for certain people to be on the list (perhaps teachers) or certain people to be off the list (perhaps people with a commercial interest) then noise could be made to that effect which might encourage political parties to carefully consider their list choices.
As a politician this change would, of course, make me jumpy. What if they say something I don’t like and I have to go with it? Well, dear politician – YOU get to pick them. If YOU pick the experts then I suggest that YOU should trust their outcome. Aha, thinks the politician, so if I just pick people who I know are sympathetic to my view then I can get the answers I want? Perhaps. But remember, each person will need to make their own statement justifying their professional opinion about the curriculum. Their professional (possibly academic) reputation is on the line. It may be more tricky to ‘guide’ them than you think – and this is a very good thing. After all, you are selecting them to be your ‘expert’ not your lacky.
The benefit in schools is that it would mean a more gradual change of curriculum rather than the current half-a-decade “all out” which is not only confusing for teachers and pupils, but is also *expensive* and so far has meant only incremental improvements. And sure, there would be in-fighting. Yes, it would still get tumultuous and political. That’s the nature of being involved in education. But perhaps these curriculum decisions might also be transparent, considered and done on the basis of rigorous argument – none of which would hurt anyone.
Please feel free to take this idea and run with it,
Laura (Miss) Mc
Dear Future Education Ministers,