There’s a fair bit of media interest in the report into the national curriculum produced by the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, largely because they make a case for slimming down the curriculum and are critical of what they see as an overly controlling centre in the form of the DCSF.
The report says:
We take the view that the main purpose of a national curriculum is to set out clearly and simply a minimum entitlement for every child. In its current form the National Curriculum essentially accounts for all the available teaching time. We would like to see this changed and a cap placed on the proportion of the curriculum that is prescribed centrally.
They argue that if Academies are only required to follow the National Curriculum for the subjects of English, mathematics, science and ICT that should be the case for all schools.
While there’s barely a mention of drug education or PSHE more broadly in the report, when we turn to the evidence the committee heard it’s clear that PSHE as a subject and the decision to make PSHE statutory was on the MPs minds.
Here’s Andy Slaughter, a Labour member of the committee, asking questions of DCSF Minister Jim Knight:
PSHE appears to have grown, a bit like a monster, from what it originally started out as, and some of the things that we have heard are part of it are health and safety, sex and relationships, drugs and alcohol, economic awareness, financial capability, careers and citizenship.
Jim Knight: Citizenship is separate.
Mr Slaughter: Exactly, but it is all the same sort of thing, is it not? It is things that would not have been thought of as part of the mainstream curriculum 20 years ago and that may well be very good things for children to know about, but that increasingly impinge on those parts of the curriculum that were previously reserved for what one might call rather more established learning.
Also of interest is Sir Jim Rose’s evidence given that he’s about to make proposals for a new primary curriculum. Graham Stuart, the Conservative MP asks would he agree with the view that the curriculum shouldn’t be asked to solve “every social and political problem”, Sir Jim says:
Yes. We have some problems in terms of what we expect of primary schools these days. The area of personal development has now become almost statutory—in fact it probably is. If I ran down the list of those who have come to see us about personal development, in a sense it would almost be like listening to single issue groups. They all want their slice of the pie and that has been a problem with the national curriculum from the start. As soon as you go national and say that something has to be core and something has to be foundation, you get what you ask for. So, under personal development, we have now got health and safety, sex and relationships, drugs and alcohol, economic awareness and enterprise, financial capability, careers and, partly, citizenship. I suspect if we stretched it a bit, we would find things in religious education. We already have an arrangement called social and emotional aspects of learning in relation to that territory. It is almost an impossible task to try to reconcile all that. Why have we got all that? Because we are terribly concerned about the ills that beset society at the moment—all of those things one way or another. We press them into primary schools at an ever earlier stage. We have got to be very cautious about some of that. We must say to ourselves, “Yes, of course, these are extremely important issues and throughout a child’s education, they do have to be dealt with.” It is a question of degree: where and when should this be placed? That is a question for the rest of the curriculum as well. It is not so much that we have prescription; it is the degree of prescription and testing that is at issue. That is what we are really struggling with and that is why this review is quite important. One thing I am determined to do—I shall probably fail in the attempt—is to make it much more manageable. It is a very big ask of primary teachers to deal with the whole of that hand, as it were, in a class teacher system.
Ministers haven’t given a formal response to the report yet, but I see that Sarah McCartney Fry is quoted on the BBC’s website saying:
“We agree with teachers that the curriculum should be slimmed down and more coherent so children don’t fall back when they change schools – that’s why we are have already overhauled the secondary curriculum and launched the biggest review of the primary curriculum for more than a decade.”
But they reject the idea that Whitehall is being too prescriptive in what schools can teach.