Kate Oliver is an education consultant at The English and Media Centre
Amongst my (girl) friends at primary school it was very important to have hair long enough to sit on, which mine was if I tipped my head back far enough to give myself a crick in the neck. However, when secondary school loomed I decided I wanted a new, more grown up look and had it all chopped short. On the one hand my head felt wonderfully light. On the other hand my neck and shoulders felt terribly bare.
The KS3 National Curriculum has had a similarly drastic haircut. What used to take up a ring binder now takes three pages and you may find yourself wondering if that really is it. Ignoring for today’s blog the lengthy spelling, punctuation and grammar appendix to the KS2 curriculum (which KS3 teachers are expected to build on) yes, that really is it. Wonderfully light? Or terribly bare?
Alongside many other organisations we have already commented on the glaring omissions and the criteria that don’t make sense during the consultation process and most of these objections still stand. However, as promised, the one thing the new curriculum does do is to leave some breathing spaces rather than controlling every detail, particularly when it comes to the reading requirements
Gone is the idea of prescribed authors, even for pre-1914 texts. Pupils are also now required to study ‘seminal world literature’, which really opens up some interesting possibilities. Meanwhile, within the category ‘contemporary English’, teachers can choose texts to reflect the multicultural nature of modern Britain rather than categorizing certain writers as belonging to ‘different’ or ‘other’ cultures. This label always implied that the main, or even only, interest in reading these writers is for what they have to say about their own ethnic background, and that pupils are all from one culture and these writers from an ‘other’. I believe that the vast majority of teachers these days don’t need a specific legal requirement to ensure that the literature they choose to teach reflects the society they and their pupils live in, not just in terms of a range of cultural perspectives, but in all sorts of other ways too. I hope I’m right.
For all its faults, this is a curriculum that creates some new opportunities, particularly in the reading strand. It would be an immense shame if the tightness of departmental budgets or lack of teacher planning time meant that ‘seminal word literature’ translated into ‘move Of Mice and Men down to year 9’. As for pre-1914, much as I love ‘The Signalman’ and ‘The Withered Arm’, change can be good.
The team at EMC have already started work on two publications that will help departments address some of the trickier new requirements in creative ways, one based on texts and responses to texts, the other on developing pupils’ use of language.
We also have a course on ‘How to Tackle the New National Curriculum at KS3’ on 2nd December, which will help teachers to exploit the spaces in the new requirements, making the most of their own expertise and knowledge of their pupils. We’ll be sharing some of the draft material from the publications with course participants.
Click here for full details of the course on 2nd December and to book a place.
Look out for more information on both courses and publications for KS3 in forthcoming emails, tweets and blogs.