Designing a curriculum that is good for learners

Alison Willmott - education consultant, writer and teacher

Watching  chicks hatch from eggs in an incubator, a tour of the Emirates Stadium in Spanish, and a red carpet event to demonstrate and celebrate film making - three recent memorable learning experiences, planned by enthusiastic, talented teachers to bring learning to life for their pupils.

In a period when schools are re-examining their curriculum and planning for the introduction of a heavily knowledge-based National Curriculum dominated by English, maths and science, we need to remember that it is experiences of this kind, that our young people will remember and treasure when they look back on their school days. Children learn best when there is real purpose, active involvement and emotional engagement in their learning. In the words of WB Yeats, “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire” and these sorts of experiences provided by schools may be the vital sparks that can develop lifelong interests, passions and careers.

The new National Curriculum Framework Document clearly states that, “the national curriculum is just one element of the education of every child and schools are free to choose how they organise the school day.” Schools need to build on these statements and design a flexible school curriculum that covers statutory requirements but also inspires and challenges all their learners. Perhaps including a curriculum guarantee that ensures a number of essential experiences that every child will enjoy.

Although there is only one short paragraph about the teaching of drama and scant reference to modern media within the 88 pages of the new English Programme of Study; teachers in primary and secondary schools know and value the importance that drama and new technologies can have in developing high quality communication skills, and enhancing collaboration, creativity and self esteem. These are essential qualities if our youngsters are going to thrive in the twenty first century. These elements must therefore be an integral part of every school curriculum that ensures skills and competencies continue to be developed alongside knowledge and understanding.

In a speech to teachers and head teachers at the National College last year, Michael Gove stated: “I predict that in the months and years to come the best curriculums will be developed - and refined - in schools across the country by teachers for teachers.”

For once I tend to agree.