What colour is the curriculum?

In his ongoing quest to diminish the influence of educational experts on education, Michael Gove proposed a new curriculum for key stages 1,2 and 3, which was out to consultation during March and April.  The proposals were roundly criticised for a number of reasons, by people well-placed to do so. The proposals for history caught the attention of people, like myself, who have an interest in education but are not experts, perhaps because they seem to value teaching ‘what/when‘ over ‘why’. What has received less coverage is that Mr Gove appears to be using these proposals to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change, pandering to the sceptics in his party.

In the proposed curriculum, children are required to learn about weather, biodiversity, habitats and electricity – all in themselves necessary. However, reading the proposed programmes of study one could be forgiven for assuming that we live in a static world – where resources are stable and infinite and where there is no challenge to our daily way of life.  But this isn’t the case, and it’s most certainly not the case for the children whose learning will be based on this new curriculum: they are the generation who will need to adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of, climate change and peak oil. In the current curriculum there are requirements to study the interactions between populations and the environment (e.g. KS3 geography) and sustainable practices (e.g. KS3 citizenship) but in the new proposals there is little other than a reference to the ‘efficacy of recycling’ (in KS3 chemistry).

The vital discussion about how we adapt to live in – not off – our environment can’t just be left to the few teachers with the interest, timetable freedoms and resources  to do so, especially when there is so little freedom and flexibility for individual teachers.

Our Transition group (Transition Nayland) submitted a response to the Department of Education as part of the consultation on these curriculum proposals.  You might be forgiven for wondering why we bothered, given the extraordinary intransigence of the DfE, which appears never to engage in dialogue even during ‘consultation’. But here’s why: we can’t afford not to.  Our children need to learn how to adapt, and they in turn will need to teach successive generations to do the same.

Our principal objection is that the proposed curriculum does not meet the essential overarching criterion, as set out in legislation (Education Act 2002), which ‘prepares pupils at school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life’.  This is because they will not leave school equipped as outlined in the science and geography curricula: to understand ‘the uses and implications of science, today and for the future’ or ‘how…humans interact with the physical world and how this changes over time’. Crucially, they will not have been required to consider the rights and responsibilities of being a global citizen in today’s world.  I fear that the efforts of organisations like Transition groups will seem lost for a generation if there is no central narrative, no underpinning principles learnt from school and carried forward for life.

Perhaps Mr Gove is out of touch on this issue – and even out of touch with several in his own party.  Last Thursday, the Green Party fielded more candidates than ever before in the county elections, and 22 of them got elected. Some will say that the Greens are just a party of protest for those on the Left, or somewhere else for disaffected LibDems to go, and there may be some truth in both points.  But fundamentally the Greens propose ways of adapting how we live in our changing world – a message which, given the scale of the challenge, can’t be ignored by any political party (except UKIP, of course, who to date have succeeded in just ignoring it).  Getting the curriculum right will build public understanding, and create a generation of scientists equipped to find and implement solutions that will create a more sustainable future.

So far Transition Nayland has had just the standard ‘Thank you for your response – we’re very busy’ from the DfE. We’ll report any proper response (or even better, any changes that result) on our Transition Nayland website.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by dougla nadler on 1 November 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Hi Emma,
    I read your article in Transition Free Press this spring and I thought you and Transition Nayland may be interested in participating in a walk this July in Britain that was inspired by our group’s walk in Presteigne, Wales on 21 September as part of the People’s Climate March. Your ideas on how we can make this walk successful would be appreciated as well.

    For the Earth Community,

    Douglas Nadler

    The Converging Climate Walk across Britain in July 2015

    Britain started the Industrial Revolution, and now it must lead the world towards the Low-Carbon Revolution

    The impact of the Industrial Revolution on humans and the natural world is now being acutely felt. It is time for Britain to lead a new Low-Carbon Revolution, which is now essential for world stability. Since Britain was the world’s driving force in the technological and societal changes that brought about the global Industrial Revolution, it can be easily argued that there is an ethical duty for Britain to be the leading inspiration to stop rapid climate change.

    The September 2014 People’s Climate March has shown us that many governments, companies, faith groups and people in general are keen to enact a renewable energy commitment, as well as initiate actions for the entire Earth Community that can place Britain as a leader once more.

    Our vision is that by mid-July 2015 extensive partnerships will be in place for groups of people to set out from all corners of Britain on a walk to demonstrate their commitment to a low-carbon economy/culture. Travelling in relays and converging from all directions, the groups will initiate a Great Circle of Britain to firmly establish an unshakeable resolve to transition rapidly away from the fossil-fuel economy/culture in Britain and embrace climate/Eco-friendly solutions.
    We envisage that the event will draw support from a wide variety of groups and individuals of all ages, including Transition Towns, businesses, schools and colleges, faith groups and walking groups, writers, musicians, dancers, storytellers, painters, sculptors, actors, industrialists, economists, scientists, agriculturists, low -carbon transportation supporters, renewable energy enthusiasts, naturalists, historians, health professionals, advocates for social and climate justice, social media networkers, and representatives of political parties from town council to national government.
    Some groups might follow long-distance footpaths or cycle. Some might acknowledge key places, events and people that shaped the Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt’s birthplace in Greenock, or Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, but also to pay homage to those places and voices along the way that celebrates the low-carbon pathway for our world. On each leg of the journey there will be possibilities to create a range of bold climate-change responses to fit each local area’s values and aspirations.
    Grassroots efforts including everyone are essential. A symbolic green torch of flowers carried by the participants in each section of the walk will be handed over to the next group. Each section of the walk will close with a gathering including a Dance of Unity celebrating the Earth Community, with the next group joining in to begin their part of the walk the following day. The impetus can then be carried on in that community, with plans to implement local solutions to mitigate climate change. Tree saplings can be planted at the end of each local walk as a sign of commitment. People wishing to walk beyond their own geographical area to the Great Circle will intensify and expand the conversation and ultimately the regional solutions.
    The ‘Great’ in Great Britain can then be restored. A Great/Green Britain is what we all wish!

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind…..
    John Donne


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