I have enjoyed a number of visits recently to meet fellow Heads. It is always fascinating visiting other schools, and to discuss educational approaches. I am pleased to say that I always return to Heywood feeling enormously proud of the broad and ambitious curriculum offer here, and how special our approach is.
Education is not a simple process of transfer of knowledge, a simple journey from A to B, but a meandering path that takes the traveller through interesting and unexpected lands. A journey in which the child decides which pathway they take, that encourages curiosity, experimentation and reflection. More than that, it must be a journey that leaves them hungry for more adventure, knowledge, experience so that they become lifelong learners. As schools it is necessary for us to prepare young people for jobs that don’t exist yet – long gone is the time for teachers to impart knowledge in a rote-learning fashion.
There is a responsibility on the leaders in education today to develop an ambitious and dynamic curriculum for the children in our schools – their lives and futures are in our hands. Having a strong vision for the curriculum is essential, as is being certain that the curriculum will benefit each and every child, no matter their strengths or their weaknesses, their interests or their starting points.
But how do you create a one-size-fits-all curriculum when we know pupils all have such different needs? In short, you don’t. You don’t set a curriculum that tells children what they need to know or how they should present the knowledge that they acquire. We must facilitate their thinking, curiosity, creativity, and scaffold them in making connections between different areas of their own knowledge. Breaking down the rigid barriers between traditional school subjects opens up a world in which children’s knowledge and creativity don’t need to be compartmentalised, doesn’t need to be ‘switched’ between different subject lessons – it is one continuum, as in the world of work after education. Devising a curriculum that has space for reflection, questioning, practical application, space for failure, for success, for listening and connecting with others, is key.
Opening the doors to a curriculum that embraces modern technology, that looks to the world of business and science, to the arts and to the social sciences to develop skills in children that will be useful to them in their careers, that will set them apart from others, is a brave move. But it doesn’t need to be radical or risky. In many cases, there will already be more links between curriculum areas than expected, and often more willingness than anticipated among staff to revert to a theme-based style of learning of yesteryear. The availability of specialist staff is, although not a prerequisite, certainly an advantage, particularly if they have a background in science, engineering or technology. Introducing enquiry and independent investigation, harnessing children’s natural curiosity and existing knowledge, requires leaders to give their staff confidence and support to be creative and dynamic in their classrooms. Teachers should be sign-posters, waypoints along the journey. They are facilitators, encouragers, motivators, questioners and providers of a curriculum that allows children to develop independent study skills.
We mustn’t teach children how to think. Our role is to harness their own unique skills to interpret and analyse the world, to be curious and to be changemakers. The children we are teaching today are unlikely have off-the-peg careers, therefore it’s vital they don’t have an off-the-peg curriculum. I believe we prepare our children very well for their future, whatever that may hold.
Mrs Rebecca Mitchell