Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education warns that subjects are being abandoned as the mush of the "Personalised Alternative Curriculum Experience" is embraced.
Local government’s influence over schools has been weakened in recent years. But does that mean councillors should practically ignore this important area of policy and leave everything to Whitehall or their ‘progressive’ officials? Richmond upon Thames is not a local authority where anyone would normally look for ‘progressive’ ideology. But it is there.
Christ’s Church of England School in Richmond has almost abolished subjects for at least one year group. On the surface, the school seems to be a moderately successful 11-16 comprehensive. Last year, 70% of 16-year-olds achieved 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs, though that drops to 53% when English and maths are included. This is above the national average but certainly not impressive.
Where the school does stand out is that it has introduced an integrated, theme driven curriculum that emphasises skills, not subjects. Instead of teaching subjects, each of which has a structure and a recognised body of knowledge, the school teaches a Personalised Alternative Curriculum Experience (PACE).
Pupils’ weekly timetables include 11 periods of Performing Arts
(apparently a misprint as even the staff didn’t know what PACE stood
for!) and only 3 of maths and 2 of science. No identifiable geography,
history or religious education at all.
By all accounts, the PACE reform is based on the ‘Opening Minds’
curriculum produced by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). This is now
being tested in more than 200 schools around the country.
Meanwhile, the RSA, which is headed by Matthew Taylor, the former head
of Blair’s No 10 Policy Unit, has opened a new academy in Tipton, West
Midlands. The RSA Academy will not only follow the Opening Minds
curriculum, it will also train teachers from other schools to do the
As yet, no-one seems to have published any objective evidence to prove
that PACE or Open Minds raise standards. It is claimed that pupils
enjoy the lessons and they have the approval of Ofsted – but didn’t
Haringey social services get a clean bill of health from Ofsted too?
And as topic-based curricula creep into secondary schools, the latest
shake-up of the primary curriculum by Sir Jim Rose also moves away from
a focus on subjects and towards teaching skills and issues, such as
climate change and healthy lifestyles.
Writing about such changes to the national curriculum in The Sunday
Times (2 November 2008), former chief inspector of schools Chris
Woodhead wrote: "Academic standards? What a quaint, anachronistic
ideal. This is a curriculum alive with real world topicality.
‘Cross-curricular dimensions’ such as cultural diversity and
sustainable development are deemed to be more important than
traditional subjects such as history or science. Indeed in this
curriculum subjects have become vehicles for politically correct
values…The idea seems to be that learning how to learn is more
important than learning anything specific. Our children are going to
leave school knowing less, even, than they do now."
Given the choice, how many parents would welcome these changes?
Schools may need to pay lip-service to such nonsense. They don’t have
to embrace it. So why aren’t local councillors winning public support
by exposing to media scrutiny any school in their area that puts
Labour’s political ideology above the education of children?