The curriculum debate- again!

The Geographical Association’s website is currently bustling with responses to two ‘proposals’ for a restructured national curriculum for Geography in English schools.  This has been prompted by the coalition government’s concern to return the school curriculum to ‘traditional’ subjects and to stress the importance of ‘core knowledge’ (that which all students should be expected to know). There is an ongoing curriculum review, and the Geographical Association has set out to consult geography teachers. Its consultation document sets out a ‘typology’ of geographical knowledge. These are ‘core knowledge’ which refers to that knowledge ‘gleaned and created from the information communicated in globes and atlases’, ‘content knowledge’ which refers to concepts and generalisations, and which is the key to developing understanding of human and physical processes, and ‘procedural knowledge’ which refers to the methods of ‘thinking geographically’. The document seeks to set out a rationale and explanation for geography’s place in the curriculum.

In addition to this document, the GA website carries a proposal written by Alex Standish which was ‘compiled at the request of the Department for Education as a contribution to the national curriculum review’. Readers are invited to read and compare for themselves the two documents, but I think its fair to say they offer rather different answers to the key curriculum question – what knowledge is most worthwhile to teach in schools?  

This debate is important, but I think its important to recognise that its terms of reference and frames have been effectively set by a government that is unwilling or unable to widen the terms of the curriculum debate. Much of what has happened in educational policy in the ‘long decade’ of New Labour rule was geared to ‘raising Standards’ defined as getting more and more students through more and more exams, with the result that the fundamental question of what is to be taught, to whom, was effectively sidelined. The result is that school reform might better be termed school deform in that it skews the purposes of education, which is surely to create more knowledgeable people able to understand the natural and social world.

The debate is to be welcomed, as long as it is part of a sustained reflection on the educational purposes of the curriculum.

 

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