It is 27 years since the National Curriculum was enacted by Kenneth Baker.
It was, rightly or wrongly, a bold move to codify the content that should be placed before learners within the statutory age of education. It also introduced a single examination tier of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) to replace the two-track General Certificate of Education (GCE) and Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE).
The discussion around what content should populate all the required subjects promoted widespread consultation, which in general was a good thing, but the need to weave those threads of submissions into a coherent tapestry proved to demanding, particularly in my major teaching subject of History. Encompassing a broad canvas that spanned the English Dry Stone Walling Association and historical re-enactment societies meant that the subject veered from the analytical to the narrative. The headlong rush through the narrative of English History, the Kings and Queens and the order of wives of Henry the Eighth, tended to dominate issues of content and heralded the issue of curriculum pace if the students were to arrive at the onset of World War two within the requisite timescale.
It really was a case of ‘Never mind the quality, feel the breadth’ as the analytical components of History, evidence reliability and evaluation, primary and secondary sources, the forensics of the subject from which the ability to analyse an argument coherently were marginalised in what I used to consider the content equivalent of preparing students for the average pub quiz. There was, in short, too much what and not enough why, too much England and not enough world, too much content and not enough analysis and evaluation.
Even Lord Baker, has had cause to criticise the direction the new curriculum took with his successors.
In political circumstances not unlike those in 1988, a Conservative government is again trying to codify learning content by the end of the statutory education age. This time by the simple expedient of adding the term ‘Baccalaureate’ to the ensemble in a vain attempt to create an English Baccalaureate, as if an assemblage of subjects, of itself, defines a Baccalaureate!
The range of subjects to be studied has a very utilitarian feel to it – ostensibly they reflect those subjects most associated with high performance economies. The science subjects, a reflection of the need to find hundreds of thousands of scientific and technician grade individuals for the future economy, are heavily represented at the expense of the Arts, which have been marginalised. This is too simplistic a solution to curriculum pressure!
The Institute of Education analysis expands on my fevered ramblings: 27 Years on from the National Curriculum