Shiver-Me-Timbers, Time to Cast Off Centralised Curriculum Models. By Julian Barrell.

A Meaningful Learning Revolution Is On The Horizon…

In the UK, the National Curriculum has driven the evolution of learning towards something that can best be described as a one dimensional plank of wood. Learners follow a narrow path of subjects until a definitive end point is reached, often qualified by a form of standardised testing.

Some children tread the plank with skill and confidence, leaving the end point effortlessly, ready to extend their journey further. Others will teeter and totter along, possibly stumbling off the plank altogether, knowing that somewhere in the distance there might be a path that fits perfectly.

The dubiously elected Pirate Captain has the final say. Everyone on board the ship must be masters of plank walking, in order to ensure pirating skills are maintained at the highest standard.

Continual debates arise between crew mates, arguing to either broaden or narrow the plank, or make it longer still… But only those with the closest links to the Captain will have any sway.

Radio 5 hosted a debate [in 2018] about how every child should learn farming skills whilst at school. A while ago it was considered essential that 5 year olds should learn about personal finances and mindfulness.

There is no end of energy and motivation from various organisations and individuals that want to influence what and how others should learn. Ultimately, the few well intentioned, independent, initiatives that find their way into the classroom, often become unsustainable and relatively short lived. In the long run, support and sponsorship are hard to sustain within the ever changing world of education. It is almost impossible to achieve a secure footing within the already over crowded curriculum, especially when appointed experts fail to see an impact on statutory test results.

In recent times, educational discourse has become ever more one dimensional and destructive. Polarised, hostile camps brand each other as nothing more than snake oil peddling ‘snowflakes’ or ‘grammar nazis’. Even political allegiance is now being linked to how traditional or progressive an individual teacher might be. All this is far removed from those striving to meet the genuine needs of children within their classes, while curriculum requirements swing evermore wildly between extremes.

Meanwhile, drifting over the ship by balloon, the Captain orders more and more plank walking. Judging every crew member on splash size as proficiency increases. Everyone knows supper will depend upon a whole cohort successfully making enough of a splash.

Some traditional crew members, much to the delight of the Captain, sharpen their cutlasses and shout with authority from the front of the boat. Others take a more progressive approach, whispering encouragement, allowing time to really appreciate and understand being on the plank, at times walking more of the plank themselves.

Quietly, a group of crew members successfully develop their own mixed strategies by sharing ideas and seeing what works best, whilst the captain continually changes the plank design at a whim, with the aim to achieve a bigger final splash.

At the back of the boat, a steady stream of crew mates, with no prospect of supper any time soon, decide to jump ship and risk it with the sharks. Alongside them are an alarming number of those unable, or unwilling to walk the plank and make a big enough splash.

Although I may have taken the plank analogy slightly too far, centralised curriculum models are far too narrow and constrained, to allow education to evolve further and meet future education needs.

What’s more, anyone who stops to look outside the ship will see, that, over the horizon there is a whole world of infinite learning possibilities…

About the Author

Julian Barrell is a teacher who likes to do things differently. He is keen to change the way all learning experiences are valued. Julian says, “I want to be accountable for the learning experiences I provide for all I teach, not just the results achieved through prescriptive methods of testing.”

You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter, where he reflects on creative approaches to inform innovation and change in education:

This article was an unintended prelude to Julian’s article, ‘A Universal Blueprint for Infinite Learning’.

Illustration created by