Michael Gove launches a review of the national curriculum

January 20th, 2011

The Conservatives’ 2010 Manifesto, “Invitation to Join the Government of Britain” promised to “restore rigour to the curriculum”, as part of a commitment to raising standards in schools. Following the General Election, the Coalition Agreement then recorded the Coalition’s commitment to giving schools greater freedom over the curriculum.

More details have emerged today as to how the potentially competing aims of increasing both rigour and flexibility are to be met, as Education Secretary Michael Gove launched an expert panel tasked with reviewing the national curriculum.

Reducing the number of compulsory subjects appears to be one possible means of giving schools more flexibility on curriculum matters. The panel will consider which subjects ought to be compulsory for pupils of different ages, with only English, maths, science and PE guaranteed to remain so for those of all ages (though religious education will also remain a statutory requirement). Mr Gove has also indicated that the new curriculum will be less prescriptive in relation to teaching methods, another way in which flexibility may be increased.

However, whilst the number of compulsory subjects may be cut, the new curriculum looks set to contain more detail as to the specific facts which are to be taught in schools. Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, Mr Gove criticises, for example, the absence of historical figures and country names from the current history and geography curricula. With the new curriculum set to address this issue, it appears that whilst teachers may be given more flexibility about how they teach, they may face greater regulation in relation to what they teach.

Mr Gove announced that the new curriculam for English, science, maths and PE is to be introduced from September 2013. Other subjects’ new curricula will be introduced the following year. Precisely how the balance between rigour and freedom is eventually struck remains to be seen.

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