Should the national curriculum be taken out of the hands of the government and constant political tinkering?

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Should independent experts write the curriculum? It’s an attractive idea: an impartial body to define a curriculum free from ideological whim and constant political tinkering. Just what teachers want, right?

At a recent debate at the ASE annual conference the response from the floor was a resounding 'yes'. Although, given the time constraint, not much of a debate actually took place. 

Thinking about this afterwards, I found myself always coming back to that term – independent – and its lack of definition. This one loose thread has led me to the 'no' camp.

Is there such a thing as an independent expert?

Let’s start with teachers. Experienced teachers hold a wealth of knowledge about the various curriculums they have taught. I firmly believe teachers should have a huge stake in determining what is taught – after all, we are the ones who have to teach it. We want the curriculum to be interesting to teach and for the students to learn, challenging but also able to produce success for those who deserve it. 

But we aren't independent. The numbers of bums on seats is directly related to the security of jobs in a particular teaching subject. That’s a pretty huge vested interest.

How about universities, are they suitably impartial? Certainly not. They have a stake in the curriculum immediately preceding university entry. They want students with a depth of knowledge in their subject, but, if we’re being cynical about putting bums on seats, they also want tuition fees. 

But universities’ influence on chemistry could be even more complicated. A significant number of our students aspire to use chemistry as a passport to subjects like medicine and dentistry. Should those subjects have a say in the content of secondary school chemistry education?

So, if those in education are too involved to be independent, how about industry and professional associations? They might be slightly more removed from the process, but any group of people with commercial interests are not independent. And professional associations like the ASE and the Royal Society of Chemistry are comprised of members who fit all the other categories – academics, teachers and professionals.

Where to go

So if  we can’t find an independent expert, where does that leave us? Perhaps the best option would be for a national body to consult widely with all experts and stakeholders to produce a well-rounded and coherent curriculum. Much like the government currently does.

From my point of view, much of the call for the greater involvement of independent experts in curriculum design is a knee-jerk response to the involvement of government in what are quite turbulent times for teachers. 

The problem is really that it isn't clear to any stakeholder who it is who is designing the curriculum that affects our pupils, our potential undergraduates or our children. We know the government consults extensively on the objectives of its qualifications, but what we need is greater transparency about who is involved in curriculum design. Not so we can blame them for their perceived wrongs, but so we can be confident that changes have been properly informed and thoroughly thought through.

Kristy is a teacher and teacher fellow, splitting her time between Bolton School Boys’ Division and the University of Manchester

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