The International Language of Edu-Platitudes

June 23, 2014

Here’s something to take you back. Here are the aims of the 2007 National Curriculum:

The curriculum should enable all young people to become:
• successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
• confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives
• responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown (not that I suggest you read it all):

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 19.59.00 - Edited

Somebody on Twitter recently pointed out to me that this is not dissimilar to the aims of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (written in 2004 but officially implemented in 2010). Its purposes were as follows:

Our aspiration for all children and for every young person is that they should be successful learnersconfident individualsresponsible citizens and effective contributors to society and at work.

And in more detail:



And just, in case you thought this sort of thing was only found in the British Isles, here is the Australian version, from the Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals, made by all Australian education ministers in 2008.

These goals are:
Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes  equity and excellence
Goal 2: All young Australians become:

  • successful learners
  • confident and creative individuals
  • active and informed citizens

And in more detail:

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.13.05 - Edited

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.14.53 - Edited

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.16.27 - Edited

I have commented on the English version before (here and here) but I will summarise the problems here.

  1. There are far too many aims, particularly if you break them down. As a result nobody could ever use it to make decisions. Almost any option would be covered by something. Inevitably, no school could directly implement these principles as written, and it is left open to a multitude of “experts” to interpret them.
  2. Most of the aims fail to reflect that the primary purpose of education is academic. They are about attitudes, opinions and feelings not about learning.
  3. The one academic category, i.e. “successful learners” contains more items about how students should learn and their attitude to learning than about what is learnt.
  4. A lot of this is vacuous or circular jargon. For instance, being “successful” isn’t an aim, you can only succeed if you already have an aim.

None of these problems seem to have stopped the cut and paste merchants. None of it seems to have offended the politicians. None of it seems to have been seen as contentious by the educational establishment. In the Scottish case I read here that:

…CfE (in respect of those core principles) retains all-party support in parliament. Furthermore, our research, and my recent professional interactions with teachers suggest that the teaching profession remains largely in support of those same core principles.

It’s a shame if that’s how people feel in any education system. It’s a loss of confidence in the ability to identify and directly teach what is worth knowing. But, of course, these are all from the progressive tradition in education. There is an alternative. Here, by way of contrast, are the aims of our new National Curriculum (yes, this is the entire section):

3.1 The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human
creativity and achievement.

3.2 The national curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications. The national curriculum provides an outline of
core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum.

Not perfect, but a direct endorsement of the academic purpose of education. In my view, it is official permission to teach.


  1. ‘The national curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications.’

    Can we have this bit tattooed on the eyeballs and foreheads of everyone who claims that Gove is a) being prescriptive; b) stopping teachers from making decisions about what they teach; and c) a nasty book-burner who is narrowing choice, especially in the English GCSE?

  2. Eyeballs and foreheads? That’s quite extreme. Mind you, so is burning books.

    I think that, in science, schools probably need to all be teaching the same core content and I’m pretty happy with the content of the new KS3/4 Science NC, it’s just that there is too much of it. This is not because there needs to be scope to “range beyond the…specifications” (although for strong GCSE students the odd interesting project might be good for future motivation) but because of what we are all discovering about how really effective learning can be promoted.

    The old Science KS3 NC spec was under 400 words and the new one is over 2000. This is partly because the old one didn’t actually say anything, but the new one contains about 140 knowledge-based items e.g. “the seasons and the Earth’s tilt, day length at different times of year, in different hemispheres”. It also contains a set of subject-specific skills that are required e.g. “present observations and data using appropriate methods, including tables and graphs”. This is all excellent science cultural capital but it’s no use if it’s all learned superficially and then quickly forgotten. You don’t need masses of breadth to cope with the transition to A-Level in the sciences; what you do need is deep understanding of the most fundamental stuff.

    How is deep understanding achieved? By taking knowledge and nailing it into long-term memory through repeated recall until it is secure enough to add the next layer of understanding. Just covering the whole of this new KS3 NC for Science will be tough; it will be even harder to find time for sufficient spaced retrieval practice and sufficient application practice to achieve deep understanding. This isn’t a new problem, and it’s not particularly Gove’s fault (I don’t think even he would have the chutzpah to write the Science NC himself) but just when teachers might have used some space in the curriculum to go for more depth (as our understanding of learning develops), what we’ve got is more breadth instead. It will be the kids with less support outside school, and less prior learning – the PP kids to generalise massively – who would benefit the most from better learning of a slimmer content.

  3. This probably isn’t the right place, but I was wondering if you could point me to any debate or discussion of the merits or otherwise of ‘Accelerated Reader’, a scheme to improve reading. We currently use it and it’s widely regarded as tortuous and counterproductive. This also seems to be the consensus in other participating schools. Evidence for its efficacy all seems drawn from testing and reporting methods intrinsic to the scheme-in other words ‘success’ consists in a set of predefined criteria designed by those with a vested interest in casting the scheme as successful.
    It may well be that we are simply not doing it properly or effectively, but forcing children to read in silence then triumphantly declaring that you’ve increased ‘engaged reading time’ seems a little ingenuous. Nor can I imagine that, however the scheme is implemented, it is ever going to inculcate a love of reading or appreciation of literature. Complex themes, character development and elaborate narrative structures are all sacrificed in favour of the ‘short book’: get it read, take the test, boost the stats and move on.
    Perhaps I’m wrong. Does anybody know of a school where it’s considered useful? Possibly primaries? Also, have OFSTED pronounced on the scheme?
    Again, sorry if this post is ‘off-topic’?

  4. Surely every proffesion has its argot. This is just the same as mangement bollocks in managent theory and no doubt many others.

  5. […] it will look remarkably familiar if you have read a post of mine from June last year, which I will present again, in full, […]

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