Wednesday, April 12, 2006

NUT By Name, Nuts By Nature

A teaching union's conference has, as usual, come up with some ideas that I hope are never taken seriously. This time, however, they are more pernicious than merely hair-brained. They call for a "skills-based curriculum" that would pretty much destroy the current syllabus as we know it. Out of the window would go history and geography, to be replaced with buzzword topics like "information management" and "learning and thinking skills" (what education, exactly, is not geared towards learning skills?).

The simple fact that they miss is that it is only a lack of imagination that prevents the development of an interdisciplinary approach in humanities subjects. History departments, for example, should work closely with English departments to make sure that students reading literature understand the historical value of learning contemporary thought. Reading Tom Brown's Schooldays, for example, will tell you a lot about Victorian society in a way that would be difficult to get across in a more direct manner.

Additionally, just about any subject that I can think of worth its salt incorporates a number of different skills that the proposed reform would place at the heart of the curriculum. Trying to divide a curriculum into different skill sets simply wouldn't work - academic study cannot be compartmentalised so easily, and the subtleties of each skill need to be drawn out in a 'traditional' subject by comparison with others.

I will write more in defence of the study of history in schools soon, but I think it is important that there is strong opposition to the proposed scheme. A school's overall teaching policy should be directed towards helping on each of these skills. But there is nothing in the existing structure of separate subjects that prevents an interdisciplinary approach, or the effective learning of any skills. And to try and suggest otherwise is nonsense. Teaching has to inspire kids - and trying to twist the curriculum to fit the current buzzwords of educational consultants is not the way to do it.