The National Curriculum and the role of the primary teacher in curriculum development

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The National Curriculum and the role of the primary teacher in curriculum development

As the Plowden Report noted, teachers had had an increasing measure of control over the curriculum since the ending of the payment-by-results system in 1898 and the abandonment of the Elementary Code in 1926. This is not to suggest, however, that teachers made use of this new freedom. 'The force of tradition and the inherent conservatism of all teaching professions made for a slow rate of change.' (Plowden Report 1967) However, it is clear that teachers did have greater control over what was taught and how it was taught in the middle years of the twentieth century. Indeed, it came to be generally recognised that this was rightly their concern, so that the curriculum became known as 'the secret garden' (the term was first used by Lord Eccles, Minister of Education, in 1960) into which others - even those directly concerned with educational provision - were not expected to stray.

There are four main reasons why this situation was generally approved of.

Firstly, education was increasingly seen as being concerned with the needs and interests of the individual child, and it is clearly only the teacher who is in a position to understand the needs of the individual. 'A curriculum consists of experiences developed from learners' needs and characteristics (as opposed to the needs of society), and a large measure of freedom for both teacher and learner is a necessary condition for education of this kind.' (Kelly 1982)

Secondly, teachers have the classroom experience necessary for appropriate curriculum development. 'Curriculum research and development ought to belong to the teacher.' (Stenhouse 1975)

Thirdly, schools must take their full share of responsibility for curriculum development if they are to be lively educational institutions. 'We cannot expect a school to be a vital centre of education if it is denied a role of self-determination and self-direction.' (Skilbeck 1984)

And fourthly, schools have been shown to be the most stable institutions to undertake this important work. Many other bodies which over the years have been involved in curriculum initiatives no longer exist or have lost their independence: the Schools Council in the UK, regional laboratories and university research and development centres in the USA and the Australian Curriculum Development Centre are examples.

None of this is to suggest, however, that it was only teachers who had a say in curriculum development. There are many constraints and influences on schools - Skilbeck cites 'the views and preferences of parents, students, the employment market, the state's interest in responsible citizenship and those in higher and further education.' (Skilbeck 1984) To which could be added the examination system, Local Education Authorities (through resourcing and in-service training provision) and, increasingly now, school governing bodies. So teachers do not - should not - have total control of the curriculum: it would be quite unreasonable to expect either an individual teacher or a single school's staff to have the necessary breadth of expertise and experience to do so effectively.

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Some writers have suggested that the teacher's control was never as powerful as has been widely believed. Lawton, for example, asserts that 'one of the myths about secondary education in England is that there is a long tradition of teacher control over the curriculum.' (Lawton 1980) However, from the mid-forties to the mid-seventies, teachers collectively and individually had an increasingly powerful say in the curriculum and its development - especially in primary schools, where the abolition of the eleven-plus exam gave staff enormous freedom and encouragement to experiment and innovate. Much of the Plowden Committee's Report seemed to legitimate this ...

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