On my way to work last Thursday, I listened to Radio 4’s Today show interview Secretary of State Michael Gove about the creation of England’s new national curriculum.image It was one of those mornings where I arrived to work before the story was finished, so I sat in my car in the Microsoft car park for another few minutes, listening to what Mr. Gove had to say. (A BBC article about the interview, as well as a link to the interview can be found HERE.)

The interviewer asked a couple key questions that came into my mind as I was listening to the Secretary of State. (In my own words, below)

  • If we are hiring great teachers and trusting them to do their jobs, why do we need to be more prescriptive on what they teach (especially since the Secretary says he wants to reduce prescription)?
  • If this curriculum is meant to be implemented by the nation’s comprehensive schools, among others, why is there no one from a comprehensive school on the panel leading the curriculum development?

Mr. Gove stressed that he was looking at how our education measures up against other countries around the world, which is a natural reaction to the recent release of the PISA results. However, if we also look at the new McKinsey report on “How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top,” we see that the most successful systems focus their energies on the quality of teachers, rather than what they teach. Specifically, the report says:

The experiences of these top school systems suggests that three things matter most: 1. getting the right people to become teachers, 2. developing them into effective instructors and, 3. ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.

(As an aside, this report is based on research conducted in 2006-7. It places England on a list of countries on a high-trajectory for improvement, based on the reforms that the government was introducing at the time, which were seen to be raising student outcomes. I wonder if England would still be on that list today?)

As teachers, what do you think? Do you need more prescription on what you should be teaching? Do you think a renewed focus on teaching the facts is needed? What do you think will improve your students’ learning – and improve the education system as a whole?

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