Discussions from the magazine, blog, website and social media


Who should write the curriculum?

A debate at the recent ASE annual conference asked ‘should the curriculum be informed by an independent expert panel?’ Kristy Turner was in the audience and found herself in the ‘no’ camp. She wrote a blogpost to explain her reasons.

Kristy suggests the best option may be for a national body to consult with experts and stakeholders to produce a coherent curriculum, ‘much like the government currently does’. Responding to this, Al Chemy said:

The problem is that politicians don’t agree on what education actually is, so the consequence of the interference is a model that swings between a knowledge-based curriculum and a skills-based curriculum as the politics of the ruling party changes. What’s needed is an education minister who recognises they have no skills in the design of an education system and therefore steps away from the process.

What we need is stability and time to rework the curriculum in stages from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 5, sequentially and methodically, maybe over 10 years. It won’t happen because our politicians see no further than the next election and being seen to make changes is more important than making effective changes.

On the TES forums, JaquesJaquesLiverot suggested how universities could be involved:

Surely the curriculum should be written by academics with expertise in learning or the subject involved in order for it to be structured properly and contain content that is generally useful and not only related to a specific job. Universities would seem to be the ideal candidates. I think some educational input from someone who’s recently met a child would be important so that the level can be pitched correctly.

One teacher, les25paul, gave an insight from their background in industry:

A common belief in industry is that those leaving education (from all levels) do not have the skills and knowledge needed by employers. I therefore think a major contribution towards the curriculum should be made by those who will need the skills of today’s students in the future, ie industry and business experts and the appropriate professional bodies. For example the Royal Society of Chemistry must have a major say in an A-level chemistry course. Higher and further education bodies should also have an input so that future students can access further courses. These groups are the customers of the product that schools provide.

chelsea2 disagreed:

Education should be more than providing a ‘product’ for industry. Education should provide pupils with a range of life skills to enable communication (spoken and written), some understanding of the world, experience of a range of creative and cultural expressions, an enjoyment of physical activity and the ability to live in a cosmopolitan society.

Maybe industry should be more prepared to provide the kind of training specific to their needs (decent apprenticeships?), rather than expecting schools to focus on industry’s needs.

irs1054 shared their story from the frontline of the National Curriculum:

I was involved in writing science syllabuses for the National Curriculum (NC) when it first came in. The original NC (for science anyway) was a collaboration between teachers and subject groups such as the Institute of Physics. I met with some of the teachers involved who complained bitterly about the timescale.

The original NC had 17 Attainment Targets (ATs) and the programme of study was just a long list with no connection between them. Our first job was to link the programme of study to the ATs so we could make sense of the whole thing enough to write an exam paper.

Just as the first syllabuses were ready to be submitted the whole thing changed to become 4 ATs, thus wiping out all the work we had done. The change, I was told, was made by HMIs [Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools].

Whole new syllabuses had to be written and several big names fell by the wayside. The schedule was mad. I sometimes still wince at the fact that the reason why around 70,000 candidates studied a particular bit of physics was because it was 11pm and I just couldn’t think of anything else to write. The deadline was the following morning.

On Reddit, JohnnyCwtb wanted to ensure teachers can use their professional discretion:

I think it’s a fine idea to have an independent curriculum so long as it’s made clear that it’s a guide for the teacher, not a script. Teachers are often overworked, and being able to adapt someone else’s solid curriculum/lessons and tweak it to their personal needs is a lot easier than developing one from scratch. And while I know there are some teachers who are very intelligent, very creative and very experienced, there are hundreds of thousands of inexperienced teachers who would significantly benefit from having access to an expert guide.

Three improvements any lecturer can make

Michael Seery knows that, unlike himself, most chemistry lecturers don’t have the time to read education research literature. So, with this in mind, he told us what he would recommend to a busy lecturer who wants to improve their teaching. The three improvements Michael suggested were to formalise out-of-lecture learning, rethink tutorial work, and request a peer-observation.

Others joined in with their ideas. professor_dave added:

Engage your students. Make them think and participate in your lecture. Surprise them. Make them vote. Show them practical examples. Set them quizzes to go away and do in their own time. Generate a buzz around your course. 

Tell a story. Take the students on a journey in your lecture. Have a beginning, middle and end. Make your story connect to real life – ideally an application of the science, but even if it is only to the lives of the key scientists who originally did the work, it can help to engage students.

Be human. Students sit through a lot of lectures. Your personality will make yours unique. Accentuate the aspects of your personality that are different or engaging. Be prepared to be a real person in front of your students, not just a dispassionate scientist.

And there was one suggestion from Keith A Ross:

Most lecturers give little time for students to make sense of what they are saying. They may ask a question and get a single response from a student who is brave enough to put their hand up. My technique is to ask students to ‘tell each other’. Ask them to talk very briefly to their neighbour for quiz questions (eliciting their prior ideas), to explain what they have to do (essay, practical work etc) or to reformulate what you have explained, so they can internalise it in their own words.

Tom Worthington took a wider view:

These are useful tips, but I suggest someone aspiring to be an educator needs to undertake formal training in how to teach. We don’t let someone without formal qualifications teach in schools, so why should we let them teach at university?