Wanted: a new cur­ricu­lum that is ac­tu­ally use­ful

The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION - BY MICHAEL COHEN

I RE­CENTLY par­tic­i­pated in a sym­po­sium on ed­u­ca­tion where the fol­low­ing ques­tion was asked. “What im­pact, if any, does school­ing have on life in the real world?” There was no short­age of an­swers, par­tic­u­larly from the many sec­ondary school pupils present. How­ever, two words dom­i­nated their re­sponses: “bor­ing” and “ir­rel­e­vant”.

I was some­what taken aback by this. What a scathing con­dem­na­tion of a sys­tem cost­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds each year and which is sup­pos­edly the be­drock on which our so­ci­ety op­er­ates.

I be­gan to ask my­self whether the na­tional cur­ricu­lum, the “holy cow” of our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem, is re­ally fit for pur­pose to­day. Is it re­ally meet­ing the needs of pupils in our schools?

Time and again the fin­ger of blame for the ills in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is pointed at teach­ers, which is un­fair. Teach­ers can only work with the re­sources, stu­dents and phys­i­cal con­di­tions they are given. It would be like a su­per­mar­ket blam­ing its sales staff for a down­turn in prof­its. The onus for pro­vid­ing the right ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing the cur­ricu­lum, is surely on the gov­ern­ment and its agen­cies.

While suc­ces­sive ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­taries have tam­pered with the cur­ricu­lum, pupil be­hav­iour has de­te­ri­o­rated and pro­fes­sional dis­il­lu­sion­ment among teach­ers has never been higher. Surely the real chal­lenge is to of­fer a cur­ricu­lum that is of in­ter­est to the young­sters of to­day, a pro­gramme that will spark their cu­rios­ity, grab their at­ten­tion and be an at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive to the street.

What is re­quired is a pro­gramme which res­onates with the chal­lenges pupils will en­counter as adults in mod­ern so­ci­ety. Here is my blue­print for a dif­fer­ent kind of na­tional cur­ricu­lum.


Lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy must be at the heart of any cur­ricu­lum. Without th­ese skills, a child will be hand­i­capped and be­come an in­creas­ing li­a­bil­ity to so­ci­ety. How­ever, the English cur­ricu­lum should fo­cus ex­clu­sively on lit­er­acy skills. Our young­sters do not see the rel­e­vance of study­ing the lit­er­ary mas­ters such as Shake­speare. Sim­i­larly in maths, the em­pha­sis should be on ac­quir­ing ba­sic com­pu­ta­tion skills, leav­ing more com­plex ar­eas as a choice for those who wish to fur­ther their knowl­edge in it.


The tech­no­log­i­cal age in which we live would make it ap­pear essen­tial for ev­ery child to be­come com­puter lit­er­ate. As the PC is to­day’s ma­jor chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion through­out the world, school leavers are ex­pected to be able to ac­cess it and mas­ter its in­tri­ca­cies. The Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has al­ready recog­nised this and a re­sult ICT has be­come a key study area in most Bri­tish schools.


Road deaths are now the num­ber one killer of young peo­ple in the world be­tween the ages of 10 and 24. In spite of this an­nual car­nage, it is sur­pris­ing schools do not in­clude in their cur­ricu­lum a com­pul­sory study of road safety, driv­ing skills and ve­hi­cle main­te­nance. I would like to see se­nior sec­ondary pupils study all of th­ese as a manda­tory sub­ject, in­clud­ing learn­ing to drive in spe­cially de­signed driv­ing cen­tres.


I would guess al­most every­one is faced at some point in life with a sit­u­a­tion in­volv­ing an ac­ci­dent or in­jury,

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