Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms will result in ‘total chaos’, teachers claim


Fresh fears have been raised about the pace of the Government's curriculum reforms as school leaders warned that pupils should not be treated like “guinea pigs in an educational laboratory”.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is risking "total chaos" this September with schools unclear what they should be planning for amid major changes to the curriculum, exams and assessment, according to teaching unions.

The warnings come days before the Government is expected to publish the revised content of the new national curriculum for primary and secondary schools in England, which is due to be introduced in September 2014.

It will see primary pupils taught British history from the Stone Age to the eve of the Norman Conquest and then the chronology of our "island story" from 1066 onwards once they get to secondary school, The Daily Telegraph reported.

It followed suggestions that requiring primary pupils to learn events right up to the Act of Union in 1707 was too much for young minds.

Draft details of the new national curriculum were published in February.

The history syllabus proved most controversial, and opinion on it quickly split.

Those against the proposed syllabus argued that the plans are too narrow, prescriptive and would leave pupils without a decent understanding of the subject, while those for the new curriculum - which will teach historical topics in a chronological order - say it is long overdue and will give pupils an overall understanding of the subject.

Speaking at a conference in May, Mr Gove said the history curriculum was set to face "a more extensive rewrite than any other".

He said that they want to keep the stress on chronology and narrative.

But he added that the break between primary and secondary history was "probably in the wrong place" and that "there should be room for a greater degree of depth of study".

It is also likely that the Government will seek to address concerns that the draft history syllabus focuses too heavily on British historical events by introducing more world history.

History as well as design and technology (D&T) are expected to undergo the biggest rewrites after experts and education leaders raised concerns about the draft syllabuses of these subjects.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said he understood that ministers had listened to points raised by the union and others about these subjects, and that he hoped to see revised programmes that are "more relevant to the skills and knowledge needed in the 21st century."

"Our biggest concern is with the timeframe and the lack of resources to prepare for such a major change," he said.

"Pupils and teachers in 2014 are going to have to cope with new GCSEs, new A-levels, new vocational qualifications, new ways of tracking pupil progress once levels are abolished, on top of new curriculum content in all subjects. This is a massive change.

"So that the reforms don't disadvantage pupils, we need the Government to publish a fully developed implementation plan of how it is going to support schools to achieve all of this in 12 months. Our young people shouldn't be treated as guinea pigs in an educational laboratory."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said there was a "complete disconnect" in Mr Gove's thinking.

"He fails to understand that curriculum changes and exams need to be considered together as they are interlinked. Yet we still have no details of how the primary curriculum will be assessed and the Government is carrying out separate consultations on how young people should be assessed at ages 16 and 18.

"Michael Gove is risking total chaos in September, with schools unclear about what they need to be planning for."

There are also expected to be changes to the D&T syllabus following claims it focused more on "life skills" like cookery, bike maintenance and gardening than science-based subjects like engineering which are required by industry.

In an article earlier this year, inventor Sir James Dyson suggested that schoolchildren should get practical lessons in cutting-edge technology and engineering rather than learn "how to grill a tomato and what to do if your bike chain falls off."

He praises Education Secretary Michael Gove for making progress in education, suggesting that "academic excellence is back in fashion", but suggested that D&T had been overlooked.

Business leaders expressed reservations about the proposed D&T curriculum arguing that the plans "lack academic or technical rigour" and are "out of step with the needs of a modern economy".

The CBI also warned that the "sheer scale of prescription" in the new science curriculum would leave pupils little time to do practical experiments, which may turn them off the subject.

It has been reported that climate change is now set to feature explicitly in the geography curriculum, after a campaign raising concerns that it was not specifically referenced in the syllabus garnered widespread support.

A section called "earth science" was included in the draft chemistry syllabus which said 11 to 14-year-olds should learn about "the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate" as well as "the efficacy of recycling".

The Department for Education has always insisted that climate change has not been removed from the national curriculum.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "This is now Michael Gove's third attempt to rewrite the curriculum.

"He should listen to the experts and not try to write it himself based on his personal prejudices. We need a broad and balanced curriculum that prepares young people for the modern world and gives teachers in all schools the freedom to innovate."