The Rose Review of the National Curriculum

Update note in 2011: It’s interesting to go through the process of deciding whether old posts have any current validity, or whether the fact that they are so out of date gives them a certain interest value. This one is interesting because, although the Rose Review was accepted by the last Government and the changes to the Primary Curriculum were about to be implemented in Autumn 2010, it was rejected by the current Government. We are now awaiting the results of Gove’s more comprehensive review of the English National Curriculum, which will be very different from the recommendations of Rose.

I originally posted this in December 2008:

Jim Rose’s interim report of the Review of the Primary Curriculum has been published. Comments are invited by the end of February to inform the final review. Before reading it, I read the Guardian piece which announced an end to history (though not in the Francis Fukuyama sense). This said that Rose proposed replacing subjects with broad areas of learning. I thought that sounded a little unlikely.

I also heard a crack-of-dawn Radio 4 story, in which Stephen Heppell was interviewed about the Rose Review. The interviewer asked Heppell something like ‘So surely primary-aged children can’t cope with research. They need to be taught subjects and given some facts first, don’t they?’ Heppell replied by describing some wonderful creative enquiry-based learning which showed how valid such an approach is. Children (and adults) learn so much more effectively by projects that are focused on solving a problem, working collaboratively, using a range of tools and skills, and crossing into different knowledge fields, as appropriate to the problem. I was heartened. If this is what Rose was promoting then, hallelulah!

In fact, the report doesn’t mention methods of organising learning, simply saying that pedagogy is up to teachers. It doesn’t refer at all to enquiry-based learning. It says that there are four main approaches to delivering the curriculum: By subject; by broad area of learning; by skills; and by themes. Whereas most countries tend to focus on one approach, most often choosing ‘areas of learning’, the report favours mixing them based on Rose’s observation of successful schools. It doesn’t advocate doing away with discrete subject teaching, as The Guardian reported, but combining this with cross-disciplinary teaching. Of course, that’s what happens in many schools. This is really about disseminating the practice seen in successful schools, where they don’t exhaust themselves trying to teach every subject separately and to the letter. As such it is a restatement of the 2004 DfES Excellence and Enjoyment report.

That said, the final report is likely to see a stronger presentation of a new curriculum structure. It suggests that more work is needed now to describe a new framework in which subject teaching would underpin the following six broad areas of learning: Understanding English, communication and languages; Mathematical understanding; Scientific and technological understanding; Human, social and environmental understanding; Understanding physical health and well-being; Understanding the arts and design. This structure would replace the current separation between Core subjects (English, Maths & Science) and the Foundation subjects, which makes sense, and means that in fact there could potentially be more history and geography, as Science would not be a Core subject and there would be less repetition of science learning at KS2 & KS3. One thing that may raise questions is the inclusion of ‘environmental’ in the Human & Social area of learning. Either ‘environmental’ is implicit in Scientific and Technological area of learning, or it is a separation, implying that science and technology is knowledge that overcomes and exploits the environment. Let’s hope that ecological thinking has a place across all the areas of learning, in the sense of understanding complex systems.

The new structure would place ‘core’ emphasis on Literacy, with Speaking & Listening acknowledged as crucial, a more multimodal approach to literacy and also ICT enhanced and integrated more into other learning. I find this is a really sensible approach. But, it needs to go further now.

To influence the next phase I would like to see an injection of some of Futurelab’s and Stephen Heppell’s thinking, evident in their Beyond Current Horizons research for DCSF. This is due out in Spring 2009 and will argue for an improved comprehension of ‘systems thinking’. The best way to achieve this, I believe, would be to ensure that a new curriculum structure is supported by investment in CPD and pedagogical action research which transforms learning into creative enquiry.


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