At face value it has been an encouraging two months in policy terms for those of us interested in a rich and rounded curriculum. Much ‘good news’.
The OFSTED ‘leak’ in last week’s Sunday Times (for leak read ‘testing the ground’) suggesting that OFSTED are moving towards ‘quality of education’ rather than just exam outcomes sounds like a step in the right direction (leaving aside their usual lazy platitude on exam access arrangements being some kind of ‘fix’.)
Department for Education and DEFRA are launching a new programme to support 500 schools to better support their pupils to connect to nature and engage in the outdoors and the recently launched DCMS Civil Society Strategy recognises the important role that schools play in engaging in civil society.
“Schools also play an important role. The government believes that social action, volunteering, and active citizenship opportunities are most effective when they are reinforced by knowledge of the rationale for being a good citizen. Citizenship teaching in schools, both as a discrete curriculum subject and as part of a whole-school approach, has been shown to enhance and reinforce participation individually and at school level. Citizenship, for example, is a mandatory part of the national curriculum in maintained secondary schools. At Key Stage 3 pupils are taught about the roles played by public institutions and voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities, including opportunities to participate in school-based activities. At Key Stage 4 pupils are taught about the different ways in which a citizen can contribute to the improvement of their community, to include the opportunity to participate actively in community volunteering, as well as other forms of responsible activity”. DCMS Civil Society Strategy August 2018
From both the perspective of Every Child Should and from 30 years of working with charities it is pleasing to see many of things that we have supported and fought for reflected in government policy.
Also, we value the recognition that the engagement of charities as partners to schools is a core part of this – charities working with children and young people bring over £2billion of funding to the table (much of it independent of government) and – developed with schools – this provides an opportunity for the creation of both rich and rounded provision and support for children and young people. And it does look like the DCMS paper is adding some resource to this both in new programmes and through support for work such as #iwill, National Citizen Service and a renewed focus on addressing the decimation of youth work at local authority level.
“Establishing an independent organisation that will distribute £90 million from dormant bank accounts to get disadvantaged young people into employment. This new organisation will harness the experience of grassroots youth workers, businesses, and other local services, to help young people achieve their full potential.” DCMS Civil Society Strategy August 2018
But maybe not all good news…
There are though some serious caveats here.
Do we want more for-profits as part of civil society, education and work with children and young people
The definition of civil society in the DCMS paper increasingly draws in private companies into the social benefit space. This is a challenge – particularly in education where the private/public sector line is increasingly blurred. Is the Department for Education structure up to managing more corporate engagement in education given its striking failure in managing such bodies to date?
What are the actual accountability measures for schools?
The ‘blame’ on schools for narrowing the curriculum is disenguous. OFSTED has been at the core of this. Moreover OFSTED is just one of the accountability levers and drivers for schools – league tables and the desperate scrabble for policy linked school funding pots both play their part. Unless all these change to show a focus on rich and rounded then the OFSTED framework doesn’t help – it just strecchtes schools across another set of metrics/measures/hoops to jump though. Indeed Department for Education already seems to have hit back.
Show us the money
School funding remains an issue. Many of those activities that OFSTED and DfE refer to have equipment and specialist costs. Charity collaboration is one route to addressing – as are the opportunity areas – but this is not a universal solution – inevitably some schools end up superserved by charities while others get limited support. Moreover, a reliance on voluntary funding is creating a series of what Dr Ali Body calls ‘breakaway schools’ – those that are able to generate more funds from their communities than their peers. If rich and rounded, broad and balanced is what government want (and it is what parents want) then it is going to have to be properly funded.
Risks to inclusion
We have written in praise of the extra-curricular. The out of school time provision. Its value is clear. But we have also written on the risks of pushing ‘the extra’ out of school – evidence tells us that those who could benefit the most will benefit the least. Amanda Spielman has talked before about moving music, sport etc. to beyond the school day. If the extra curricular provision of a school is to be mentioned in OFSTED reports – and taken into account in any grading awarded – then equality of access must be a consideration.
The role of school
And lastly – what is the role of the school? Not education but the school itself. School is – for many children and young people – the last point of universal entitlement. With the death of Surestart, the end of Health Visitors as a universal service, youth work as a drop in for all, child benefit as a universal payment, a GP who knows your family etc. schools are for many the only point of contact with the state and for many the key route of access to civil society.
School is of course a place of learning. But is that it? DCMS talk of school as a part of the community. Department for Education seems to suggest that schools have a core role in tackling mental health. And, at face value, in praising the broad and balanced OFSTED imply more than just ‘learning of knowledge’. But contradictions abound. OFSTED’s July Report on Obesity was heavily criticised by focusing purely on the role of knowledge in tackling obestity – missing a significant chance to talk about the considerable evidence of both a whole school approach and the wider role of schools in modelling behaviours and engaging with parents.
So – there is still a way to go until every child accesses a rich and rounded curriculum and until every school is seen as, and resourced to be, a core player in civil society and a part of a wider community offer.
But for now – lets take the wins and build on the many schools that are delivering rich and rounded despite the odds. And wait with bated breath for the next leak………………