Subjects

by therealityofschool

Too much of the debate about education is about structures: are Academies a good thing or not? What about free schools? How schools must help prevent Islamic fundamentalism. AS levels and A-levels…coupled or decoupled? Are the accountability measures fair? What about the Ofsted inspection regime?

These are the things which can pre-occupy government ministers and the media.

Less is said about the actual content of lessons – what is taught and what we want inside the brains of 11 year olds, 14 year olds and 18 year olds.

But I am interested in what pupils actually know. I am interested in the fact that so many of my A-level geographers thought Africa was a country, that my RS GCSE pupils did not seem to know what was meant by the crucifixion – what it was, what its significance was to Christians, despite the fact that the crucifixion was a principle component of most art in Europe up to the seventeenth century and was indeed at the centre of most European’s lives before 1945.

In some respects children in this country know less than they used to and that is not an accident…. it is the result of decisions taken by people who should know better.

What are schools for? They are there to help students make a living after they have left. But they also teach pupils those things which make life worth living, like literature, art, music, drama and sport. For most these subjects will not lead to a job but they are just as important as those subjects which do.
Most heads think it’s a good idea to teach subjects because that’s the way mankind has classified knowledge and has done so for a reason. Most teachers have taken a degree in a specific subject. It is just a pity that teacher training in England has given so little emphasis to subject knowledge. If you compare teacher training with the training of doctors or lawyers you can immediately see the contrast: with doctors and lawyers there is a huge emphasis on subject knowledge. It should be like that for teachers too.

If you believe in subjects that leaves two further questions:

1 You can’t teach all subjects so which are you going to leave out? For children up the age of 16 the government and universities have more or less defined the list of subjects which should be taught and that leaves little room for anything else.

Beyond 16 there is plenty of subject choice within A-levels, Pre-Us, the International Baccalaureate and vocational qualifications like BTECs (agriculture, health and social care, business, construction, engineering and many others). This diversity of choice post-16 help motivate students.

2 How much time are you going to spend on each subject? The danger with so many subjects is that you spend too little time on each. Schools who try to satisfy everyone by teaching a long list of subjects like art, music, dance, drama, PE, design technology and computing for just one hour a week may be doing no-one a favour. It is hard to have a sense of momentum on less than two periods a week on two different days.

Good secondary schools devote much more time than usual to maths and English. They rightly regard these as fundamental academic subjects which have to mastered before most (not all) other subjects can be handled properly. The reward for their approach is that all their pupils are good at maths and English by the age of 14. The price they pay for spending so much time on maths and English is that other subjects cannot be taught until Key Stage 4.

Crying wolf
In 2010 there was concern that schools were encouraging pupils to take subjects which were of little value to universities or employees. The 2011 Wolf Report, written by Professor Alison Wolf from King’s College London, found that thousands of vocational qualifications taken by young people were a ‘negative qualification’ – in other words they actually harmed a pupil’s prospects of going to university or gaining a job! In response to her findings the Government removed funding from these courses and removed the other incentives which had encouraged schools to offer vocational alternatives to GCSEs. In government league tables there had been a raft of generous ‘equivalences’ where, for example, a vocational ICT course was worth the equivalent of four GCSEs. These equivalences were often far easier than the GCSEs they were supposed to be the equivalent of. These equivalences were reined back after the Wolf Report.

Ebacchanalia
The Russell Group of 24 leading universities produce a useful guide for schools in which they state that some A-level subjects were more useful than others if you want to keep your options open in terms of admission to Russell Group universities. These facilitating subjects are Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, modern and ancient languages, English Literature, Geography, History, Philosophy and Ethics.
The Government was concerned that increasing numbers of pupils were studying non-facilitating subjects and this was especially true of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. In order to influence this they created a new performance table measure called the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) which gives the proportion of a school’s students passing GCSEs in English, maths, sciences including computer science, history or geography and an ancient or foreign language.
A further measure called Progress 8 was introduced for schools in 2016 based on students’ progress measured across eight subjects: English; mathematics; three other EBacc subjects (chosen from sciences, computer science, geography, history and languages); and three further subjects, which can be from the range of EBacc subjects or can be any other approved qualification.

In 2010, just 22 per cent of pupils were entered for the EBacc, and only 15 per cent achieved it. GCSE results in 2015 showed those proportions had risen to 39 per cent and 24 per cent respectively. So this was a remarkable example of a performance table tweak having a huge effect on what was being taught in English state schools.

The EBacc was given extra punch in 2016 when the floor standard (the standard a school had to reach if it was to avoid intervention by the Department of Education) was based on schools’ results on the Progress 8 measure. The EBacc performance measure was a nudge. The EBacc element of Progress 8 is really compulsion.

A national curriculum
The 2010-15 and 2015-2020 Governments both declared their determination to encourage school-age pupils to study certain subjects rather than others. The 2011 National Curriculum Review stated:
The National Curriculum should embody rigour and high standards and create coherence in what is taught in schools, ensuring that all children have the opportunity to acquire a core of knowledge in the key subject disciplines.
For maintained schools the 2014 National Curriculum subject requirements are as follows:

Key Stage 1 age 5-7
English, maths, sciences, history, geography, religious studies, art, music, computing, design and technology, physical education

Key Stage 2 age 7-11
The same but add foreign language (ancient or modern)

Key Stage 3 age 11-14
Add citizenship, sex education. Languages must now be modern.

Key Stage 4 age 14-16
English, maths, sciences, computing, citizenship, religious studies, sex and relationships, physical education

So the 2010-15 and 2015-2020 governments saw a hierarchy of subjects up to the age of 16 as follows:

Vital: English and Maths – double weighting in Progress 8
Very important: Physics, chemistry, biology, computer science
Quite important: history, geography, languages ancient or modern
Less important: art, music, design technology, pe, re, dance, media, sociology, business etc.

Why did they believe this?

In the case of English and Maths they are subjects a knowledge of which is helpful for the study of other subjects and for most jobs. Employers like the CBI have consistently bemoaned the lack of basic literacy and numeracy of school leavers and graduates.

Mathematics has had particular emphasis. This is because the PISA tests show that British schools are well behind schools in East Asia in numeracy. Not only has the content of the compulsory maths GCSE been increased but extra maths has been added the syllabus of other subjects such as the sciences, design and technology and geography. Ministers in the DfE have been keen to see students continue with maths in the sixth form. A new course called Core Maths, the equivalent to an AS level, has been introduced for those who are competent at maths but not good enough to take the full A level.

In the case of the ‘very important’ and ‘quite important’ subjects, these are those which, according to the Russell Group of good universities, keep most options open in terms of university degree choice. The Government has been concerned that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take these subjects and this reinforces their disadvantage. They are also subjects which are perceived as being more demanding than some of the alternatives.
The Government also places a particular emphasis on the contribution some subjects can make to the national economy. This is why the sciences are in the ‘very important’ group.

Modern languages

Overall numbers taking modern languages have been falling for some years. Spanish numbers have grown but not as much as French and German declined. We know that this was partly the result of the decision taken in 2004 to make mfl optional at GCSE. It is partly because mfl is perceived to be a harder subject than some of its competitors (even though standards have fallen further in mfl than in other subjects since the 1980s. A-level French is about the same level as the O-level was then).

There has also been problems with the teaching methods used in schools. Teachers adopted methods used when teaching English as a foreign language, where the focus is on speed of acquisition and spoken language. Teaching in the target language has been a mistake because it frightens off many pupils and doesn’t make use of their knowledge of English. There has been too much focus on ‘speaking in a café’, too little formal grammar, almost no translation English to French, far too much rote learning of phrases giving a false impression of competence.

A-level syllabuses have been boring, with little or no study of literature. Much was intellectually poor and dull. The ALCAB (A-level Content Advisory Board) report spells it out:

The panel identified weaknesses in the current AS and A level:

(a) The regulatory requirements are of such a general nature that they do not require awarding organisations to prescribe topics which require students’ direct engagement with material relating to the society of the countries where the language of study is spoken.

(b) The study of cultural topics is only an A2 option and general topics predominate, some of which are studied and restudied at GCSE, AS and A level. Despite examples of good practice by awarding organisations and inspiring teaching, this can make the current syllabus rather dull and uninspiring, particularly at AS level.

Notwithstanding examples of good practice by awarding organisations in this area and of inspired and inspiring teaching, such arrangements have contributed for some students to a repetitive and hence rather dull and uninspiring learning experience, less stimulating than is provided by other related subjects at GCE, such as English, history and classics.

The result of this diminution of content has been an impoverishment of students’ curiosity-driven learning. Cognitive stimulus is largely restricted to practical language learning, together with what teachers may bring to the subject over and above the requirements of the qualification. Hence, the cognitive challenge at GCE in modern languages is met only inconsistently. That challenge is to communicate increasingly complex messages, necessitating the use of more complex structures to connect ideas about increasingly complex material. The panel believes that this weakness makes the qualification less rewarding and less engaging for high-achieving students. That, together with perceptions of severe grading, can discourage students from selecting a modern language A level.

(c) The language of study tends to be conceived principally in terms of its immediate practical use and in isolation from the student’s competence in other languages. There is therefore no encouragement to develop a more searching understanding of linguistic systems.

Dull, dull, dull. The revised GCSE and A-level syllabuses aim to turn this round but it may be too late. The decoupling of the AS from the A-level is likely to hit mfl more than other subjects because the gap between GCSE and A-level is greater: the AS was a useful stepping stone. Furthermore, the decoupling is encouraging schools to offer just three A-levels in year 12 rather than four AS-levels. Mfl was often the fourth choice for pupils so this change might result in further decline.
Finally, almost everyone who teaches mfl finds the grading is harsh and unpredictable. At A-level many able candidates who gain A* in their other subjects fail to do so in their language option.

Computer Science

Computer Science is the fastest growing GCSE subject and is backed by the Government through the Progress 8 measure because of concern about the lack of skills in the digital economy.

The 2014 reform to the national curriculum incorporated coding into the syllabus for the first time. The aims of the revised national curriculum are spelt out:

The national curriculum for computing aims to ensure that all pupils:
• can understand and apply the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, logic, algorithms and data representation
• can analyse problems in computational terms, and have repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems
• can evaluate and apply information technology, including new or unfamiliar technologies, analytically to solve problems
• are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology
The previous ICT curriculum was withdrawn and replaced by ‘the more rigorous’ computer science curriculum.
The Key Stage 3 computing syllabus is as follows:
Pupils should be taught to:
• design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems
• understand several key algorithms that reflect computational thinking [for example, ones for sorting and searching]; use logical reasoning to compare the utility of alternative algorithms for the same problem
• use 2 or more programming languages, at least one of which is textual, to solve a variety of computational problems; make appropriate use of data structures [for example, lists, tables or arrays]; design and develop modular programs that use procedures or functions
• understand simple Boolean logic [for example, AND, OR and NOT] and some of its uses in circuits and programming; understand how numbers can be represented in binary, and be able to carry out simple operations on binary numbers [for example, binary addition, and conversion between binary and decimal]
• understand the hardware and software components that make up computer systems, and how they communicate with one another and with other systems
• understand how instructions are stored and executed within a computer system; understand how data of various types (including text, sounds and pictures) can be represented and manipulated digitally, in the form of binary digits
• undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple applications, preferably across a range of devices, to achieve challenging goals, including collecting and analysing data and meeting the needs of known users
• create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital artefacts for a given audience, with attention to trustworthiness, design and usability
• understand a range of ways to use technology safely, respectfully, responsibly and securely, including protecting their online identity and privacy; recognise inappropriate content, contact and conduct, and know how to report concerns
With the strong push given to computer science by its inclusion in the EBacc, the upward swing of computer science is set to continue. It is just a pity that so few girls opt for it at GCSE or A-level.

Design and technology

In terms of status in the school curriculum design and technology has come and gone over the past 30 years. In July 2016 87 MPs wrote a letter to the Prime Minister:

The UK face a number of challenges:
An annual shortage of 69,000 trained engineers
Only 6% of the UK’s engineering workforce is female
We believe that the answer lies in the recently improved, scientific and academic Design Technology GCSE.

As you will be aware, the content for the new Design and Technology GCSE has recently been finalised, ready for September 2017. The new curriculum is a vast improvement on the previous qualification; having been designed over years in partnership with businesses; it is a robust, science based, academic, valuable option for GCSE.

Secondary schools are judged on pupil’s GCSE grades in EBacc subjects. Its exclusion from this important qualification is reducing the incentive for Design and Technology teaching.

As a result of schools being judged on their EBacc results, many of them are pushing their students – particularly ‘academic’ students – to do as many Ebacc subjects as possible; more than the minimum five. The result is that D&T is being squeezed into a single or double option box, to compete with subjects like Photography and Dance for a single place among student options. This is a problem in any case but would be tragic for the new D&T GCSE – which is academically rigorous and sits comfortably alongside the EBacc subjects.

They were quite right to mention Photography and Dance because in the end it is all about space in the timetable. DT is a great subject, but it is being crowded out.

The EPQ: an original piece of work

The Extended Project Qualification is growing quite fast in English sixth forms. It is, of course, based on the International Baccalaureate dissertation – the idea that students will choose a topic of their own, receive instruction from a teacher into research methods and how to present a report, and will research their chosen topic independently. The report may be in words (5000) or in the form of film or other artefacts.

The EPQ is worth half an A-level in terms of UCAS points but its value goes well beyond that. The EPQ is an opportunity to do some original work, a chance to show a university that you are capable of independent research, and it is a way of demonstrating enthusiasm for and knowledge of a degree subject that is not taught at school, like medicine or astronomy.

Having completed the EPQ the student is required to present their research to others, so ensuring that oral skills are connected to knowledge.

Post-16 professional and technical courses

The size of the English intermediate technical education sector is extremely small by international standards. Partly because of this our workforce is under skilled and productivity is up to 36% below that of France and Germany.

There are 20,000 vocational qualifications available post-16 at the moment. This is confusing and many of them are of limited value.

The 2016 Sainsbury Review of post-16 vocational education established that the 20,000 will be replaced by just 15 courses devised and managed by an employer-led Institute for Apprenticeship.

The 15 are:

agriculture, environmental and animal care
business and administrative
catering and hospitality
childcare and education
construction
creative and design
digital
engineering and manufacturing
hair and beauty
health and science
legal, finance and accounting
protective services
sales, marketing and procurement
social care
transport and logistics

All courses will include elements of English, maths and digital skills.

If this can be funded and if teachers can be found to teach it will be the most important educational reform of the 2015-2020 government.

Teaching skills in the academic curriculum

The National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 and maintained schools were required by law to deliver it. There was, over time, a gradual reduction in the subject content and its replacement by skills and experiences. For example, the 2007 KS3 history curriculum prescribed less knowledge than a list of skills:

Pupils should be able to:

A identify and investigate, individually and as part of a team, specific historical questions or issues, making and testing hypotheses
B reflect critically on historical questions or issues.
C identify, select and use a range of historical sources, including textual, visual and oral sources, artefacts and the historic environment
D evaluate the sources in order to reach reasoned conclusions

The document this comes from was written by Mike Waters, Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 2005-2009, who stated that

The aim is to develop a coherent 11-19 curriculum that builds on young people’s experiences in the primary phase and that helps all young people to become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

In 2012 Waters gave an interview to the ATL in which he said that education ‘doesn’t have to be about this endless transmission of information. The point is to encourage activities and learning experiences that involved less the transmission of knowledge but focused on conceptual understanding.’

The Royal Society of Arts has developed a new secondary curriculum for the 21st century called Opening Minds which concluded that there were five essential skills which should be the basis of the school curriculum:
Citizenship
Learning
Managing information
Relating to people
Managing situations
These competences are broad areas of capability, developed in classrooms through a mixture of instruction and practical experience: children plan their work, organise their own time and explore their own ways of learning.
Subject boundaries are less defined than in traditional curriculum teaching, with schools often integrating the teaching of several subjects together into modules or topics, where competences can be developed through the exploration of common themes. (RSA website)

In the schools which have adopted this approach, the focus of the curriculum is projects, not subjects. Take the UCL Academy in Camden. In 2013 went on a trip to visit this hugely expensive new school, run by one of the UK’s top universities. The online prospectus stated:
The first year in the Academy is a year in which students adapt to the unique learning environment which the Academy offers, and prepare themselves to take on the responsibilities for developing their own programme of study in the years ahead. Students develop a wide variety of skills essential for effective learning.
Students study the International Middle Years Curriculum at the Academy as a model of learning which encourages cross-curricular learning through Big Ideas, an international focus and book ended by Entry and Exit Points, where Big Ideas and concepts are introduced and reviewed.
The school had its first Ofsted in 2014 and was found to be ‘Requires Improvement’.

I taught an A-level called critical thinking. I did it because I thought that critical thinking sounded like a good skill that all educated people ought to have. But I soon realised that this subject was in fact completely bogus. There were a set of rules which one learnt and then applied to the information provided in the exam questions. These were not rules that could be generally applied outside this specific exam.
What this told me was that it was very hard to teach thinking skills outside the context of a subject. If we teach pupils to think critically about, for example, the causes of the Second World War, this does not mean they can think critically about climate change or alternative energy options. Critical thinking processes are tied to background knowledge.
Adults with good thinking skills have developed them by knowing a lot…..not by learning thinking skills. That the most reliable basis for 21st century skills is possession of wide-ranging knowledge across many subjects.
Time spent on teaching thinking skills or competencies rather than subjects carries a high opportunity cost – the pupils are not doing something completely useless, but nor are they using the time as well as they could. Time spent on activities supposed to promote transferrable skills is time not spent learning knowledge that would really build transferrable skills.

Teaching soft skills in the co-curriculum

Soft skills like good manners, how to speak well, determination, initiative, leadership, team-work, kindness, optimism and self-motivation are all crucially important to a person’s prospects in work. These should be taught through the academic curriculum and the co-curricular programme. There is no need to have a separate curriculum just for them.
The co-curricular programme is essential. Because pupils need a broad, holistic education, at Harrow I developed a diploma which developed into a qualification accredited by Edexcel. It was a way of making a point and nudging the pupils to get involved.

HARROW DIPLOMA
AWARDED TO BOYS IN YEAR 13 WHO HAVE SHOWN PARTICULAR COMMITMENT TO AN ALL-ROUND EDUCATION

Minimum requirement

1 Academic results: achieve both:
9 GCSEs A*-C
4 AS-levels A-C

2 Cultural activity: one of
GCSE Art or Music or AS Photography
Grade 5 on an instrument or singing
Speaking part in a play or significant
non-speaking contribution to a play
Sing in a choir or played in an orchestra for a term at least

3 Physical activity: two of
School team for 5 terms (can be more than one sport)
Duke of Edinburgh Silver completed
Drill Competition competitor
Endurance Event Competition competitor
Long Ducker: 10 miles, 200 lengths
swimming or 10,000 metres rowing

4 Communication: two of
Pass Lower Sixth literacy course
Debating team
House Public Speaking team
Article or creative writing in School magazine
Read lesson in Chapel
Helped do a House Chapel Service
or Thought for the Day
Helped to write House website
A finalist in a school lecture competition 

5 Service to others: two of
Community Service : one term minimum
Conservation : one term
House Monitor
Raised £100 for charity
In charge of a society or activity for at least one term
Hold Bishop’s licence to administer Communion
Another type of service recognised by House Master
Tour Guide for prospective parents

6 Developing a skill: two of
Young Enterprise team member
AS Critical Thinking
Worked on school farm for a year
Contributed to an art exhibition
First Aid course
Life Saving course
Cookery course
Canoeing course
Duke of Edinburgh Silver
Engineering Education Scheme
Extended Project
Cadet Force for two years
Pass Driving test or a2om certificate of driving awareness

7 Work experience for at least 5 days

Every year I had hundreds of applications to Harrow from bright boys coming from some of the highest achieving schools in China and Hong Kong. These were boys who would go to top universities in the world without my help. So why did they apply to a British boarding school? Because of the soft skills. We taught them to challenge teachers with questions, something they would never do at home. We taught them to perform musically and on the games field. We taught them to operate in teams. And we gave them leadership opportunities.

This is what British boarding schools do.

Finally, I must acknowledge that for many pupils the co-curriculum turns out to be rather more important than the exam-driven academic curriculum. All those hundreds of boys I taught who went into the army on the basis of a successful experience in the cadet force. Those, like Benedict Cumberbatch and Mike Lesslie, who went into acting or script-writing on the back of school plays. Those who became professional musicians, classical or rock (an average of two a year from Harrow). Those who spent much of their adult lives singing in a choir or playing the church organ. The boys who became vets because they enjoyed the school farm (just a few cows really). Professional sportsmen like Matthew Pinsent, Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, Gary Balance and Nick Compton. Professional artists and photographers inspired, not by exams, but by the spirit of the Art Schools.

Lucky the boarding schools that can offer these things in such quantity.

Private Business: learning for learning’s sake

At Eton it is called Private Business, at Winchester it is called ‘Div’….. a time when students meet in small groups with one teacher for a tutorial and discussion.

This is what the Winchester website says about Div:

Every boy meets in his Division for one period every day. His Div Don therefore sees more of him than any other of his teachers, and it is the Div Don who takes him through courses which are designed to foster in him a love and respect for learning for its own sake. Thus for the first three years Div follows a chronological structure which encompasses History and English Literature (which are not offered for GCSE), Ancient History, History of Art, History of Science and Religious Studies.
In Sixth Book (the sixth form), Div can lead almost anywhere, according to the interests of the boys in the group and the Div Don himself, covering an extremely wide range of history and literature, from Ancient Egypt to the Gulf War, from Plato to Shakespeare, from the history of Cricket or Mathematics or Science to the fugues of Bach or the plays of Tom Stoppard. Opportunities to deepen aspects of the broad knowledge he acquires through Div are afforded through the Task Time, when under the supervision of his Div Don, he will write regular essays based on private interest and research. He will often be asked to offer a presentation to his Div.

Div is the hallmark of a Winchester education.

So these tutorials are an opportunity to teach without the burden of exams. Their success depends on the ability of the tutor to capture the interest and imagination of the tutees and this is often possible because the tutor will select topics they are themselves interested in. It is not a million miles from General Studies, which many schools had before AS-levels intervened, but the differences are the small group size and the fact that the tutor is personally responsible for the general progress of his or her tutor group – the tutor and tutees have a closer relationship than that of a normal teacher and his class.

Cultural capital

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds may miss out because their parents are less likely to take them to museums, theatres and art galleries, less likely to have books in the home. The schools described in this text all make an effort to fill the gap. The best teach the pupils what they are going to see before they go and expect them to write about what they have learnt afterwards.
Leaders of Tomorrow is an enrichment mentoring program designed to raise the academic achievement of children and young people, particularly those of African and Caribbean heritage, in south London. Lindsay Johns, a volunteer, describes it as follows:
Our mission is to help young people achieve their academic and social potential, to broaden their cultural horizons beyond the limiting confines of SE15 and to try and help them develop a fully-functioning moral compass.
With a weekly vocab slot, a focus on reading aloud and the importance of good communication, inspirational guest speakers from all walks of life, regular trips to the National Theatre, the Young Vic theatre, the British Museum, the Tate, the Globe theatre and other cultural arenas, along with visits to Oxford and Cambridge and to empowering leadership conferences in America, we aim to get our young people out of the debilitating spiral of the poverty of aspiration which can afflict so many in inner-city environments.

Lindsay believes that efforts to make education more “relevant” to black people can be both patronising and harmful. The western literary canon should be taught to everyone. Several of the good schools we visited make a point of requiring all pupils to take part regularly in a Shakespeare play.

Gender and subject choice

It is remarkable, given that almost all children are taught in mixed-sex schools, that gender stereotypes still influence subject choice in the way they do.
For example, looking at UK A-level entri es in 2015:
Male          Female
Physics 28500         7787
Computing 4927      456
Economics 18651     8924
French 3176              7152
English 25173          64326
Psychology 13758   43256
Sociology 7569        24689

Only Geography and Chemistry seem to avoid the gender bias.

Source: JCQ
For a range of subjects there is a very clear sense that they are ‘female’ or ‘male’. The absence of girls from Physics and Engineering must, one assumes, mean that both girls and the career of Engineering are missing out in the same way that the teaching profession needs more men.

Conclusion: what should Key Stage 3 pupils be taught?

1 I like the idea that people have knowledge in their heads rather than in a computer. Deep learning and creative thinking come from the firm assimilation of existing knowledge. You cannot think about things if you don’t have information in your brain to think about.

Is it not better to have a poem in your head rather than on a screen?

2 Skills should be taught through existing disciplines. Team work is best taught through playing sport or debating. If you want to teach students to think analytically, why not do that through teaching history?

3 Teach Maths and English to a higher level at the top end than we have been achieving in recent years. Have a focus on these two important subjects. All should be taught the basics of functional Maths and English – useful Maths and good standards of writing ability. Key Stage 3 and 4 pupils must be forced to read one decent novel a fortnight and to learn ten poems a year.

4 Pupils must be taught how to speak well.

I raised this point in a governors meeting at an inner London state school. The parent governor – an Afro-Caribbean mother – agreed – she said that her son spoke in text-speak and she couldn’t understand a word of it. But the staff were not so easily convinced because they were worried about appearing racist and felt that promoting received pronunciation was discriminatory.
5 Teach physics, chemistry, biology, British history and world geography as defined by the new National Curriculum.

6 Teach Big History as explained in David Christian’s book and website – how the universe evolved, how planets developed, how life evolved on Earth, how agriculture and then cities and civilisations evolved.

7 Pupils need a good grasp of Christianity – Bible stories including the parables, the essential vocabulary of church buildings and worship – as well as other religions.

8 And a good knowledge of a few European composers and their work.

9 Pupils should be taught either French or Spanish to a higher level than we are reaching now.

10 Pupils should be taught how to draw and paint…from life. Abstract painting can be banned because it is too easy or too difficult for a teenager depending on your point of view.

As Winston Churchill said:

Art done properly is a tough discipline which teaches concentration …. When I get to heaven I intend to spend a considerable portion of the first million years in painting and so get to the bottom of the subject.

11 Design and Technology is important including how to use tools like a saw, a hammer, a screwdriver, as well as computer-aided design.

12 How to use a computer, touch type and code.

13 Physical fitness, how to swim, the enjoyment of sport and the skills of team sports such as cricket and netball.

14 PSHE as defined by the National Curriculum.

It is hard to fit much else in. Of course pupils should be taught life skills, such as being organised, good time keeping, resilience, an understanding of the fact that hard work usually produces results, being nice to others, moral values – but with good teachers in good schools these will come as a by-product of good classroom teaching and extra-curricular activity.

Above all, know that the curriculum is already full. If people want to add something to the timetable, like citizenship, then point out that if that is taught the children will have less time something else, like history or English or maths. If you add something, something has to be taken away.

We only have so many hours in the day. Teach established subjects. Teach them well and teach them to a more advanced level than we have been.

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