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Curriculum - 'I find it difficult to see the connection'

news | Published in TES magazine on 19 July, 2013 | By: William Stewart

New curriculum does not resemble best world systems, adviser says

England's new national curriculum has been billed as combining "the best elements of what is taught in the world's most successful school systems, including Hong Kong, Massachusetts, Singapore and Finland".

But this week, doubt has been cast on that claim by one of the academic experts drafted in by ministers to advise on the reform.

Dylan Wiliam, from the University of London's Institute of Education, said that the idea of benchmarking the curriculum to those in "high-performing jurisdictions" is a good one. But he cannot not see evidence that it has been achieved in the new national curriculum published last week.

"I find it quite difficult to see the connection," said Professor Wiliam, one of a four-strong panel who advised the curriculum review. For example, "none of the other countries specify word lists with such specificity (as those included for spelling in the new English curriculum). So I don't understand why the curriculum has ended up like it is."

It was important to move away from devising a curriculum based on people saying "I want my bit", he said, noting that lobbying had led to climate change being included.

"If you have just got a curriculum based on who shouts loudest, that is not a real basis for moving forward," Professor Wiliam said. "So what we tried to do on the expert panel was to come up with a series of principles by which you should design a curriculum.

"So when people said, 'Why is that in the curriculum?', then there is a clear real reason for it to be there, rather than somebody's opinion. I don't think that's clear from the current version."

But a Department for Education spokeswoman said that the curriculum was "based on a careful analysis of the world's most successful schools systems".

"We have published an in-depth study into how these high-performing nations teach English, maths and science and how we can learn from them," she added. "This, along with the advice of academics and what is being taught in the very best English schools, has been used to design a curriculum that will ensure England has the most creative and best-educated young people of any nation."


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