Yesterday, I worked with a large group of Head Teachers from Bradford. I shared the Barry Schwartz Ted Talk on ‘Practical Wisdom’, and we spent some time on the dilemma faced between ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘doing the required thing’. Educators on both sides of the Atlantic seem to face these choices daily. In the US, there have been many states who have chosen not to take part in the ‘Race To The Top’ because, however powerful the lure of significant additional funding, there were just to many of the ‘required’ things that they couldn’t stomach. Many, however, decided to swallow their pride and suffer the sticks, perhaps because they simply couldn’t afford not to go for the carrot.
In the UK, the swift and bungled introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBac) has divided opinions on the lines of class divisions which we haven’t seen for a while. The linking of a highly prescribed, and narrow, set of subjects to a national league table, shone a bright light on independent and selective schools, whilst schools who had worked hard under the old criteria to achieve good results, suddenly found themselves plummeted down the league.
We briefly discussed this in Bradford, (Bradford would fare particularly badly under an EBac-based table) and I urged senior
leaders to look at the example of the Sentanu Academy, in Hull, who have not only vehemently opposed the introduction of the EBac, but have even created their own alternative suite of baccalaureates.
I couldn’t say that I sensed much appetite for resistance, however.
This morning, Mick Waters, probably the most widely-respected former representative of any education quango, weighed into the debate. Under the previous government, Mick did more than most to bring about curriculum changes which gave teachers some of the freedoms they’d been begging for. (Curiously, the recently announced National Curriculum Review, purports to be pursuing the self-same freedoms, though by an unnecessary and divisive process).
Writing about the reduction of success criteria to just five selected subjects, Mick pulls no punches:
“Forty years ago, just 15 per cent of 16-year-olds were entered for an ordinary level qualification. This move returns us to a position where 15 per cent are seen as successful. There seems little attempt to determine whether this counts as success, even by comparison with the so called best in the world. There is a moral duty on the part of governors, heads and teachers to expose the wrong that is being wrought on learners. The trouble is that many will work to ensure that their pupils are not disadvantaged and involuntarily comply with arrogance.”
There was evidence of this compliance last week when a straw poll was taken on school’s response to the provision of music as an examination option. More than half of those schools polled said they were already making plans to phase out music options in the curriculum. No doubt other arts subjects are facing the same threats, along with humanities subjects like Religious Education and languages like Mandarin, which ‘don’t count’ for the purposes of this wrap-around of GCSEs, masquerading as a qualification.
I don’t believe that the largely silent majority of school governors, leaders ,teachers and parents are happy with these changes. I also agree with Mick, that we all have a ‘moral duty’ to make clear the damage this will do to a generation of learners.
Simply doing the required thing ‘de-moral-ises’ everyone that complies – in both senses of the word. We need to do the right now, and demonstrate an organised, and highly vocal, resistance to the corruption of our curriculum which has been set in motion.