Monday, 13 October 2014

Curriculum Envy

I posted a link on my personal Facebook page a couple of weeks ago to a news story about the re-emergence of the Manx language, and how there is now a Manx primary school, which contained what I thought to be a very pertinent point. The writer said that all the professionals they had spoken to put the success down to one thing - children were not forced to learn the language, and as a result they were approaching it with enthusiasm and interest, because they *wanted* to learn it.

This got some interesting replies, especially as we live in Wales, where Welsh language is compulsory throughout education. People who had been through the system themselves said they had hated it, people whose children had been through it said if they could do it all again they wouldn't, and others said they felt it was a real gift, but not appreciated at the time.  I can't really give further comment on Welsh as I was brought up in England, and I was good at languages at school so I may well have got on with it OK, we'll never know I guess.

It did get me to thinking though. Do politically motivated curriculums (ok, curricula if you want to be correct about it) do children any favours at all, or are they merely pandering to the preferences of adults?  While I didn't go to school in Wales, I did go to a church school, and as a result, I was forced to study RE throughout school. At GCSE level we had the choice of the GCSE class, or a non-GCSE class, no option for "actually I'm not that interested". This meant that out of the 9 subjects we could take, we had one less option, one less chance to study something that interested us, or that would prove useful in employment and later life. I can tell you plenty about the Synoptic Gospels, but do you want to know it? I didn't, and I'm still not sure I want to now.  Schools in Wales are much the same, by making Welsh compulsory, they are taking away the chance for children to study the things they are good at, and are interested in.  If that's Welsh, great, if not, give them a choice.

I remember watching with envy my friends in other schools, who had the opportunity to choose to study psychology, sociology, media studies, things that interested me and would have proved far more helpful in my university days and later in my career.  Instead I took RE and History which bored me senseless (I still managed to pass, despite my best attempts otherwise).  No teen really knows what they're going to do with the rest of their lives at the age of 13 or 14 choosing their options, but I knew for certain I wasn't going to be a religious historian.

I'm not taking away from schools being particularly good at teaching one subject, or group of subjects, as long as there is choice involved. I'm not in England now, I can't comment on the Academy concept which came along long after I left school, and I know that some schools have always been known for the quality of their X department. I remember one boy in my year was especially good at drama, and his parents moved home to enable him to attend a different secondary school with a great drama department (he went on to a few bit parts in Casualty), but again drama, as with art, music, languages, these subjects are a choice not compulsory, even in these specialist schools.

What do you think? Did your school, or your children's school have compulsory subjects outside of the English, Maths & Science that we all expect? How did you approach it?

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