The General Teaching Council for Scotland

The future is bright

Rather than narrowing the curriculum, let’s embrace wider perspectives, opportunities and possibilities

There has been recent discussion about a narrowing of the curriculum, with a greater instrumental focus on literacy and numeracy. This narrowing may, in part, be engendered by “datafication” in specific domains. Is this instrumental focus priming aspects of our professional practice to standardise as opposed to personalise?

Is this the same truth for child and teacher alike? Are we trading away the potentialities of the future by our current, obsessive need for quantification and qualification of data?

We need to reimagine and repurpose our ways of working. We should become more attuned to the future. The drivers of the OECD Education 2030 framework – “anticipation, reflection and action” – have yet to become conversation pieces in our planning discussions. When we look to the future are we trying to collage with thumbnail prints of instrumentalism instead of a wider complement of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values?

The thematic discussion of curriculum narrowing reminded me of the phenomenon of “egg crate professionalism”. Egg crate professionalism describes a narrowing of professionalism and retreating into a silo; a “leave me alone, I know what I am doing” attitude.

Basil Bernstein identified the message systems of pedagogy, curriculum and evaluation/ impact. As a school we have worked relentlessly to integrate this procedural knowledge and translate it to inform our professional practice. Every time our professionals meet they discuss pedagogy, curriculum and impact.

Professionals will discuss one or the other but rarely all three in one planning discussion. The message system encourages professionals to look beyond their own classrooms: “How will the curriculum I am providing in my class impact on the class down the corridor?” This then encourages a greater collaborative focus and enquiry across pedagogy, curriculum and impact. The final message is focused on the impact your pedagogy and curriculum will have upon the school as a whole and the community. You may even choose to extend this idea to the aspiration of the impact your pedagogy and curriculum may have upon the world, the future. A simple conceptual adaptation to a research-informed way of working to embrace wider perspectives, opportunities and possibilities.

Our adaptive approach encourages us to look up and beyond. There are other ways – most notably the OECD 2030 framework. We have begun working to engage our instructional systems to prepare for the future by developing ways of working which empower us to consider knowledge, skills, attitudes and values all underpinned by agency. The challenge within the framework is to co-construct instructional systems. How much agency do our learners have over their own contexts? What do I need to learn now? How am I going to learn it? How will I show you I have learned it? The 2030 OECD framework introduces us all to the concept of co-agency and an integrated way of working founded on mutually supportive relationships. The framework has an explicit focus on literacy and numeracy although reasonably balanced by a narrative espousing the refinement of learner qualities. Perhaps this is the way forward to address curriculum narrowing? Perhaps we need to spend as much time focusing on developing powerful pedagogies and instructional systems which enable learners to lead learning and become curriculum architects? There are four types of knowledge within the framework which are highlighted: disciplinary, interdisciplinary, procedural and epistemic.

We should consider the complex interplay between each strand of knowledge. If we take epistemic knowledge as an example: “How to think like a Mathematician, Scientist, Politician, YouTube Streamer, Tattoo Artist…”

In our school we created a visual baseline of children who participated in a “gallery of aspiration”. This gallery consisted of a photo of each child’s face with a statement of “I want to be a…” This was followed by a reflection on the skills they would need to fulfil this ambition and succeed in the profession. After several inputs a further statement was attached to the first like a flip chart, so that children could see how their perspectives on the world of work were changing and the skills they had been learning were either transferable or bespoke.

Sir Ken Robinson talked about a narrowing of the curriculum and his TED talk on creativity has been seen by 350 million people. He has been swimming against the tide of curriculum narrowing since 2006. What if we were to focus on what a learner is? Instead of talking about it, we could actually apply it to the models and paradigms we have within our schools. What if we were to collaborate around the ways we navigate the different fields of knowledge in instructional systems which blend discipline, interdisciplinary, procedural and epistemic knowledge. What if this collaboration is founded upon prioritising values in action, skills-based learning and learners leading the learning?

The future is bright but only if we can position ourselves to consider excellence and equity from a wider perspective and take in all the view has to offer. This may require us to position ourselves on the rooftops of seventeenth-century Paris or in the particle laboratories of CERN. It most certainly requires us to prioritise the learning. Only then will we find ways of working which celebrate children as learners first and instrumentalists as a single note within the symphony.

About the author

Nicky Murray is headteacher of Burnside Primary School in Carnoustie. Nicky is a participant on the Excellence in Headship programme. He also participates on the Care Review work stream and is a Scottish Trauma Informed Leader.