#MWReform: Comment Piece by Jack Welch.

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#MWReform: Comment Piece by Jack Welch.

Reform in the Classroom

Over the past four years, there has been a tremendous shift in the curriculum for pupils and students across the UK, which in itself has probably not been seen since the days of the decline of grammar schools in the early part of the 1970s. Whether young people, teachers or parents love or loathe him, former Education Secretary Michael Gove has become the poster boy for a sweeping array of changes to how we’re taught in the classrooms. Whether that may be the new grading system of GCSEs, the emphasis of the English Baccalaureate, for the ideal subjects to take in line with guidelines from HE institutions or employers or the rapid expansion of free schools across local communities in the country. It seems that despite the hostile reception to many of these policies, many of Gove’s reforms will prove exceptionally difficult to immediately repeal, if that were to be the case, no matter the outcome of the next general election. Some might even dare say that it is broken beyond any kind of repair. Since 2013, reforms in the syllabuses of our most familiar subjects will kick in from 1015, with both GCSEs and A Levels both impacted by the restructures of how they will be taught. Those ‘core’ and respected subjects such as English Language and Literature, History, Biology and Physics are already in line from September 2015 to see new measures and enhance the rigour of its teaching.

However, it will not just be the obvious suspects which will be in line to face the tide of reconstruction currently taking place. In September, a consultation was held at the Department for Education which students across the country were invited to take part in providing their views for what they want to see their current or past lessons look like in the years ahead. Those that were discussed included:

•           GCSE Art and Design

•           GCSE Computer Science

•           GCSE Dance

•           GCSE Music

•           GCSE Physical Education (PE)

•           AS/A-Level Dance

•           AS/A-Level Music

•           AS/A-Level Physical Education (PE)

•           AS/A-Level Modern Foreign Languages

•           AS/A-Level Ancient Languages

•           AS/A-Level Mathematics

•           AS/A-Level Further Mathematics

•           AS/A-Level Geography

Before the reshuffle earlier this year, Gove was keen to see that by September 2016, subjects like Dance or Music would have more “rigorous and demanding” practices in its line of teaching, rather than maintain the standard that is provided at the moment.

Teaching vs Teachers

As a facilitator for the day, and sadly not having taken these subjects myself during my lifetime in education, it was left to me to note down the strong and insightful views of participants throughout our discussions. At the start of the day, we were able to kick off with a standard Model Westminster debate in which those that were in favour of the reforms would be fighting against the teachers/headteachers who would be opposed to any such changes. Sitting for the most part with those defending the changes, it was interesting to note the desire among many of the students for a more practical and balanced curriculum in which classes would aim to prepare students for the wider world, which as it currently stands, is failing to do. However, those who argued against the proposals suggested that the new curriculum will ultimately not help to bring any of those outcomes and is controlling schools from a top-down agenda.

Following that, roundtables took place in two parts which allowed students to scrutinise the proposals on the table and to give their feedback on what works and what needs further consideration, as well as their own ideas based upon their own personal experiences. From those groups which I facilitated it was important to note the need in which students wanted to feel ‘inspired’ from what they were being taught and would have liked to have seen a greater depth to what was being offered to them. What seems to be worrying is that subjects, where students indicated they were not taken seriously or those which had poor uptake in selection anyway, still need to show development of the wider context about what they are learning, rather than having a narrow focus. Having read a number of the briefs about individual changes to subjects, it is to least hopeful to see that some good in cultural development and more holistic practices may become apparent.

Our Voice

One of the most creative and exciting sessions of the event involved students discussing our young people can design inventive solutions as to how they can collaborate with government in overseeing policy changes. Some of the most striking ideas involved how pop-up consultations across different parts of the country, besides London, can have a more diverse method of informing policy development and ensure that consultations, like those hosted by Model Westminster, can have more impact outside of London alone. A more obvious, if not currently implemented measure, would be to ensure that any individuals appointed into a role that has responsibility of children and young people i.e. the Children’s Commissioner, will have a proven track record of experience before seeking any position. Further to that, the groups also looked into how the reforms may discriminate upon a series of known characteristics, such as disability, pregnancy, faith or gender reassignment. Although it was a challenge to speculate the impact the reforms may have, the course to have greater academic rigour may be a step to consider when some students may have to learn at a slower pace and face being held back due to a fault that is not likely to be of their own.

Conclusions

After listening to the diverse opinions throughout the event, and perhaps number of disagreements that existed, it was clear that students were keen to see a more realistic curriculum that would be in touch with the realities of being prepared for adult life later on. Undoubtedly, we still want to be challenging, but not with a stigma that ‘creative’ subjects are not inferior to the ones that count most. Only time will tell if the DfE’s work on restructuring and adapting to the post-2015 environment will have any sign of success upon the young people who will need all the support they can receive in a more competitive jobs market.

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