Year 4 report: Innovative approaches to curriculum reform

October 2009

About this report

This report synthesises some of the main research findings emerging from the Enquiring Minds project with a series of case studies from schools that have been involved in attempts to change their curriculum. Throughout, the report focuses on what it might mean to change the curriculum selection criteria, and explains the consequences of doing so in case study schools.

The full version is available to download (open pdf version of Year 4 report - 45 pages, 418 kb), while on this page you'll find the report's summary.

Summary

The Enquiring Minds project described in this report aims to explore how schools can change their approach to the curriculum by including the views of teachers and learners. With the National Curriculum at both primary and secondary schools currently in transition, the findings from the Enquiring Minds programme of curriculum development and research show how schools have begun to adapt to their changing role as sites of local innovation in curriculum organisation. In this report, we draw on evidence of curriculum development in 25 schools collected during 2008 and 2009.

When the programme of work with schools started in 2005, there was little to indicate that a new secondary National Curriculum would arrive in 2008 and that the primary curriculum would be under review too. The project has coincided with a range of initiatives, reviews, inquiries and renewed debates about the purposes and practicalities of the curriculum. These activities demonstrate the importance of the National Curriculum for schools, and the desire by interested parties to ensure that it best meets the needs of all young people.

Education is, though, a complex and politically sensitive arena. Some people would rather see the back of the National Curriculum altogether, and instead develop a range of diverse curricula. Others would prefer to centralise it even more, and to have the whole thing managed by government, measured according to tightened standards, and delivered through traditional, tried-and-tested methods. And for others, government has spent so much time meddling in the National Curriculum recently that its original qualities have been thoroughly corrupted.

The Enquiring Minds project has shown that there is no simple prescription for fixing the curriculum. A traditional approach works in some contexts, and not others; locally distinct curriculum approaches can accomplish some educational objectives, but not all of them. The project supports the view that a National Curriculum is necessary, and that schools need to be equipped with strategies to manage and organise it to best meet the needs of their students. The approach endorsed by the programme has been enquiry based, with teachers and learners collaboratively negotiating the content and purposes of the curriculum to be investigated.

This report, then, does not provide a straightforward narrative of curriculum reform; nor does it supply a manual for curriculum redesign. It includes discussions of the main curriculum tensions felt in schools today, and case studies from a number of schools which have sought to begin the process of curriculum redesign for themselves. This work remains ongoing; it is still unfinished. We hope that the research we describe in this report can help contribute to these attempts to work out what a curriculum can do for the benefit of all young people.

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