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Transforming the secondary curriculum

Feyisa Demie, School of Education, Durham University

The questions of how to design and implement secondary curricula are critical and current ones in education. Of major concern is the narrowing of the curriculum and the lack of an inclusive curriculum in education.

The evidence from research suggests that the British school curriculum focuses on British culture and history and ignores ethnic minorities, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and disadvantaged and excluded pupils in the curriculum (Demie, 2019; Harris, 2020). In particular, students from minority backgrounds continue to face challenges in the schooling system with regards to adequate representation and their experiences are rarely reflected in the curriculum, while those from dominant sociocultural groups are often centralised and normalised in the school curriculum in England.

The concern is that, despite various iterations of the national curriculum for history, little has changed. British history that examines Britain’s imperial and colonial past, and the contribution of ethnic minorities to the making of modern Britain, is not taught as part of the national curriculum (see Stamou, Popov, & Soytemel, 2020; Bridge, 2020; Mansfield, 2020).

I would argue that in a multicultural society there is a need to develop and use an inclusive curriculum that recognises that students in schools come from a range of different backgrounds and differ by age, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, faith and SEND. An inclusive curriculum understands that this diversity is a key strength which provides learning opportunities for all our students and staff.

‘An inclusive curriculum understands that this diversity is a key strength which provides learning opportunities for all our students and staff.’

In addressing these issues, Wood (2020) argues that the current national curriculum is knowledge rich, but does not include the human skills of critical and conceptual thinking. This has also disadvantaged and marginalised students’ learning.

Of particular interest to me is evidence on an inclusive curriculum to reduce school exclusions and support disadvantaged and pupils from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. It is important any curriculum design must re-engage disaffected students and those with learning difficulties and address diversity in English education systems. In this regard, we need research-based evidence that clearly sets out the need for inclusive learning and teaching that recognises all students’ entitlement to a learning experience that respects diversity, removes barriers and considers a variety of learning needs. It should draw where possible on case studies that provide examples of how teachers can help and equip SEND, excluded pupils, BAME and disadvantaged pupils with necessary skills and knowledge through clearly differentiated strategies.

Much is written about the school curriculum, but little has been done about the need for greater flexibility in the secondary curriculum for students to learn the relevant knowledge and key skills for a world of employment. These issues are addressed in Meena Kumari Wood and Nick Haddon’s recent book, Secondary Curriculum Transformed: Enabling All to Achieve, which provides evidence for school leaders and academic researchers to support the redesign or changes to the curriculum structure, shape and content. What makes this publication even more interesting, however, is the fact it was released at the time when making the curriculum inclusive attracted global debate in response to the Black Lives Matter movement (see Riaz, Moncrieffe, & Ayling, 2020; Stamou et al., 2020). These issues are at the heart of current debates about schooling, pedagogy, learning and diversity.

In particular, Wood and Haddon’s (2020) interesting and useful research-based evidence clearly captures the current curriculum debate and ‘provides curriculum models which schools can adopt to their own context, for example with excellent values-led curriculum Ubuntu case studies’. It also provides good practice that schools can share to transform their curriculum and improve teaching and learning in secondary schools.

Finally, I would argue that many relevant questions and challenges have been posed across the UK on curriculum issues including: what is the British history being taught in schools?, and what is meant by decolonising the curriculum? A number of people involved in education now recognise the need for the decolonisation of the current Eurocentric curriculum, employing a more diverse workforce in schools, and making diversity and racial equality part of the curriculum. Perhaps we need more research in these areas to address these issues?


References

Bridge, O. (2020, October 12). How the UK education system is set up to fail in its ambition to eradicate racism [BERA Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/how-the-uk-education-system-is-set-up-to-fail-in-its-ambition-to-eradicate-racism

Demie, F. (2019). Educational inequality: Closing the gap. London: Trentham Books.

Harris, R. (2020). Decolonising the history curriculum: Transnational perspectives. Research Intelligence, 142. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/spring-2020

Hudson, A. (2020, October 15). Beyond Britishness: Learning to become agents of change [BERA Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/beyond-britishness-learning-to-become-agents-of-change

Mansfield, A. (2020, September 9). Inverting empire: The use of global history to challenge exclusion in the English history curriculum [BERA Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/inverting-empire-the-use-of-global-history-to-challenge-exclusion-in-the-english-history-curriculum

Riaz, N., Moncrieffe, M., & Ayling, P. (2020, October 15). Editorial: Education, #BlackLivesMatter and racial justice in the UK and beyond [BERA Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/editorial-education-blacklivesmatter-and-racial-justice-in-the-uk-and-beyond

Stamou, E., Popov, A., & Soytemel, E. (2020, July 6). Decolonisation of the curriculum from the sidelines? Responsibility transfer and neo-nationalism [BERA Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/decolonisation-of-the-curriculum-from-the-sidelines-responsibility-transfer-and-neo-nationalism

Wood, M. (2020, August 26). Myth busting our curriculum enabling all to achieve [BERA Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/myth-busting-our-curriculum-enabling-all-to-achieve

Wood, M., & Haddon, N. (2020). Secondary curriculum transformed: Enabling all to achieve. London: Routledge.

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