This week UEA senior lecturer and researcher on the primary curriculum, Susan Cox, together with retired university lecturer, Eric Hadley handed a petition with 2000 signatures to the education secretary calling for Michael Gove’s proposed National Curriculum to be withdrawn. The Department for Education describes that the new National Curriculum that will apply from 2014: “will set out only the essential knowledge that all children should acquire, and give schools and teachers more freedom to decide how to teach this most effectively and to design a wider school curriculum that best meets the needs of their pupils.”
The petition has the endorsement of the National Association of Primary Education & the Association for the Study of Primary Education. The petition has been delivered in the wake of a letter by professors from universities including Nottingham Trent, Leeds Metropolitan, Oxford and Bristol written to Gove which criticised his planned changes to the curriculum.
It is unsurprising with such a depth of opposition to Gove’s plans ranging from universities to nursery schools that the petition recognizes the lack of respect for experience and expertise in the proposals put forward. The petition itself has been signed by a wide coalition of individuals. OFSTED inspectors, parents, teachers and professors are among those who make up the 2023 signatures on the petition. Cox comments that: “the signatories of this petition demand change and believe that the proposed new National Curriculum for primary schools is not fit for children, teachers or for education in the 21st Century.”
The petition’s signatories acknowledge that the current proposals fail to adequately account for what is known about children or sufficiently appreciate for individual diversity. At the forefront of Cox’s grievances against Gove’s latest reform is that a “narrow and instrumental approach will fail children, who are actively developing their thinking and understanding.” Cox, in a comment that echoes other condemnations of the planned changes to the curriculum, laments that a curriculum cannot be reduced to a syllabus because of how children of that age learn.
Gove’s plans have been called a return to a more rigid and rote learning approach that will ignore the needs of pupils. With an apparent over concentration on factual knowledge, the petition feels that the overtly detailed and prescriptive content in the core subjects such as maths and science will seriously constrain the capacity for a primary curriculum that has breadth and balance. Concerns stemming from expectations that children will perform in response to very specific demands is feared to lead to failure and increased disadvantage for many children. According to Cox, children need to engage in deep learning that meets their individual needs and challenges their thinking.
Despite the close of the remarkably brief two month consultation period in April, the relevance of the petition acts to inform the government that the strong opposition to its plans will not fade. John Coe, the chair of the National Associate of Primary Education is amongst those who have called for the proposal’s withdrawal. Coe desires the re-opening of negotiation, preferably with The Cambridge Primary Review that commands the respect of practitioners.
This latest show of dissatisfaction with the education secretary has underlined the gulf between the government and the practice of education. Pressing reform upon a demoralised and unconvinced educational body will undoubtedly blunt the effectiveness of a National Curriculum.