Schools must look beyond ‘dead white men’ to make the curriculum more diverse

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Telegraph

Schools must look beyond “dead white men” to make the curriculum more diverse, a teacher union chief has said.

The Telegraph reports that Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), criticised the national curriculum for failing to include enough black and female writers.

“As an English teacher, I have no problem with Shakespeare, with Pope, with Dryden, with Shelley,” she told delegates at the Bryanston Education Summit.

“But I knew in a school where there are 38 first languages taught other than English that I had to have Afro-Caribbean writers in that curriculum, I had to have Indian writers, I had to have Chinese writers to enable pupils to foreshadow their lives in the curriculum.”

Ms Bousted said that canon tends to exclude black writers and women writers, Times Education Supplement (TES) magazine reported.

She added that the move towards a knowledge-based curriculum – where there is an emphasis on traditional subjects and pupils are expected to learn huge amounts of material off by heart –  is outdated, and fails to equip children for life in the modern world.

“If a powerful knowledge curriculum means recreating the best that has been thought by dead, white men – then I’m not very interested in it,” Ms Bousted said.

She said that in order to thrive, children need to be able to see people like themselves reflected in the curriculum.

The national curriculum was reformed in 2014 as part of a raft of changes introduced by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove aimed at making school syllabi more challenging and rigorous.

State maintained schools are required to follow the national curriculum, but private schools, along with academies and free schools are not.

The 2014 GCSE reforms which were undertaken alongside this saw a move away from American novels such as Of Mice and Men, towards more British literature.

Pupils must now study at least one play by Shakespeare, a 19th-century novel, a selection of poetry since 1789 and fiction of drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards.

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Ms Bousted told delegates at the summit: “It is important for students to know some of ‘the best that has been thought and said’ but it is also important for them to know that it was a choice that was made and a choice made by the powerful.

“So you can have an uncomplicated reading of Shakespeare which is ‘it’s just about society’. Actually, Shakespeare was an intensely conservative writer who wrote a lot of time to bolster the divine right of kings – so you need different voices in that.”

She said that the rise of the knowledge curriculum in England is “not fit for the world in 2018”, adding that many other high-performing countries are introducing a more skills-based approach to their education system.

Countries such as Singapore have introduced changes to ensure schools put a greater emphasis on problem-solving, building character, resilience and communication skills, she said. Teachers must foster skills such as resilience among their pupils, rather than hope they were “magically caught” by children.

Ms Bousted warned that England is becoming an “outlier” when it comes to curriculum and assessment, adding:  “We are hurtling forward to a rosy past where academic success in subjects is all that matters.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know how important it is that every young person receives an excellent education and are equipped with the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.

“That is why we have not only reformed GCSEs to make them a gold standard academic qualification, but we are also fundamentally reforming technical education in this country to rival the world’s best performing systems and deliver the skills that are truly valued by employers.”

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