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Defence of subjects

Do those who wish to ‘bring knowledge back’ have the intellectual and social capital required to be successful or are we about to witness another passing edufad?

The coalition government has made clear its commitment to both disciplinary knowledge and traditional subject-based education. To push this approach forward it has established an Expert Panel, charged with rewriting the curriculum inherited by New Labour. Its first report argues that the new school curriculum should ‘focus on clear and well-evidenced “maps” of the key elements of subjects’ and give ‘all pupils access to “powerful knowledge”’. The Expert Panel has recently published subject proposals for primary maths, science and English, which aim to ‘restore rigour’ and it suggests that by 11 pupils should be able to divide a fraction, use the subjunctive and discuss evolution. Simultaneously the coalition has introduced a new way of measuring school performance at secondary level – the English Baccalaureate – which rewards those schools in which students achieve A*-C grades in six traditional GCSEs (English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences, and an ancient or modern foreign language are allowed).

These initiatives have prompted a mixed response from parents, teachers and academics. Some have suggested that they are prescriptive, nostalgic and elitist. The Coalition’s reforms, it has been argued, represent little more than a ‘curriculum of the dead’. One parent phoned into a BBC radio show featuring education secretary Michael Gove, claiming he was seething over the Baccalaureate idea, as ‘I don’t understand where you got your arbitrary list of subjects’. Children’s writer Michael Rosen wrote a highly sceptical blog in response to suggestions that all primary children from the age of five should be made to learn poetry by heart. And Expert Panel member Andrew Pollard has attacked his own group’s findings, suggesting that its approach to curriculum design was ‘fatally flawed’.

Others, however, have welcomed the return to subjects. They have suggested that for too long knowledge has been marginalised. They argue that a traditional subject-based curriculum liberates pupils by giving them access to powerful ideas. This maybe ‘culturally conservative’, they add, but it is radical in its social and political implications. So should the return to a subject-based education be applauded? Does it represent backward-looking nostalgia or an attempt to democratise access to powerful knowledge? Do those who wish to ‘bring knowledge back’ have the intellectual and social capital required to be successful or are we about to witness another passing edufad?


Daisy Christodoulou | talks
Martin Johnson | talks
Tim Oates | talks
Alka Sehgal Cuthbert | talks
Toby Marshall | talks | www


Date and Time:

11 October 2012 at 7:00 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



Hamilton House
Mabledon Place

http:// http://www.hamilton-house.org.uk/contacts.htm
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Organised by:

Institute of Ideas
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£7.50 (£5.00)

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