Yesterday I watched a replay of Michael Gove making his second appearance before the Education Select Committee (Tuesday 24 April). Top of the agenda were questions from the Chair, Graham Stuart MP and his committee, about accountability, academies and the National Curriculum review.
During questions Mr Gove said the role of the National Curriculum is ‘evolving’, but as most primary schools are not academies, they will be bound by its requirements. In secondary education, he pointed to the fact that many academies and fee-paying schools use the National Curriculum to inform their provision even though they do not have to.
Mr Gove recognised the interrelationship between the National Curriculum, assessment and qualifications, particularly GCSE. He said exam bodies have a huge influence over what is taught in schools, perhaps more so than the National Curriculum, and seemed concerned about how these bodies can be more accountable.
Following questions about the extension of the number of subjects at key stage 4 as proposed by the Expert Panel, Gove was careful in what he said. He pointed to the fact that the Ebacc has been successful in increasing the number of students studying geography and history which he sees as a good thing, and that there maybe pitfalls in adding further subjects to the key stage 4 curriculum. He said the Ebacc is a way of ensuring students also study things outside of the National Curriculum and teachers have told him there is enough time to do the Ebacc, other subjects including vocational ones and those subjects that they have to do because they are required, namely RE, PE and citizenship.
Mr Gove said he is keen to move away from level descriptions and wants to see regular ‘testing’, with schools avoiding too long a gap between statutory assessments as this may allow pupils to ‘drift’. He sees tests as a way of ensuring pupils understand, recall and use knowledge. He also recognises the dangers of assessment being the ‘sole driver’ of what is studied.
Regarding the current curriculum review, Mr Gove said he was pleased that the debate following the Expert Panel report had been ‘cool, calm and collected’ but expected it may ‘hot up’ once the government announces its proposals for which subjects are to be included at each key stage. He thought the way in which the curriculum is communicated is now very much influenced by technology, rather than schools receiving it in printed volumes. At this point he cited an example of citizenship, with schools as far apart as the Scilly Isles and Newcastle using Harvard Professor Michael Sandel’s lectures with students to explore concepts of justice.
Perhaps the most enlightening comment during the session was his view on the National Curriculum as a whole. It is, he said, ‘a benchmark laid down by government’. This is a very different take to the idea of the National Curriculum belonging to us all and being an expression of what we as a nation believe is so important that every child must be taught it.