Principles for curriculum revision

In considering the two traditional alternative strategies for curricular planning within primary schools - by focusing on separate subjects or by planning forms of integration between subjects - a good place to start is with the Plowden report (Reading 9.4).

A consideration of Plowden leads inevitably to thinking about appropriate aims, values and views of knowledge that might pertain to the curriculum. Bernstein provides a seminal analysis of curriculum structure, knowledge and power. Taylor points to some international concurrence on these issues, though Proctor notes that they are always the product of an enormous complexity of debate, interest and political activity both within and outside the teaching profession.

 Taylor, P. (1990) ‘The Aims of Primary Education in World Perspective’ in N. Proctor (ed) The Aims of Primary Education and the National Curriculum, London: Falmer.

For incisive reviews of the relationship between aims, values and structures in the National Curriculum for England, see Bramall & White; and (again) White.

And for a detailed consideration of the key question, 'whose values?', that underlies the process of curriculum construction, see Cairns, Gardner & Lawton.

It is clear that curricula are informed by different cultural imperatives. For example, in Scotland the 5-14 curriculum is presented as non-statutory guidance and this seems to have an effect on the extent to which aims are elucidated and underlying values are stated (Reading 9.2). And whilst Ross points out the 'pattern of international conformity' in national curricula, Galton et al. point out the problems of transfer of educational policies from one country to another.

Davies, Gregory & McGuin take a different perspective, focusing on the purpose of education, education policy and the contribution of education to society.

Underpinning the aims of any national curricula are a set of understandings about the nature of knowledge. If we look at views of knowledge, we find that there are four basic positions. First, there are those who argue from a `rationalist' perspective - see Blenkin & Kelly for an analysis, and Wilson (Reading 9.3) for an example.

Second, there are those who are sometimes termed 'empiricists', such as Dewey and Piaget.

Third, a more sociological view is termed 'interactionist', a view taken by Light & Littleton and that has some resonance with the work on learning of Bruner and Vygotsky (a useful guide to Vygotsky is written by Daniels).

Finally, knowledge can be seen as being influenced by powerful social groups who define certain types of knowledge as being important or of high status. We will call this view of school knowledge 'elitist' - see Young and Bernstein.

Views of knowledge have a direct influence on views as to the efficacy of subject-based and integrated curriculum approaches. Bernstein uses the term 'collection curriculum' to refer to a separate subject curriculum, which has a philosophical rationale outlined by Barrow and Woods.

In terms of the primary curriculum as it is manifested in schools, a 'two curriculum syndrome' has, historically, been a consistent feature of practice.

The place of the arts in the modern primary school curriculum is considered by Robinson, whilst Craft considers the whole notion of creativity across the curriculum:

The development of national curricula in the UK has many antecedents. For a range of political perspectives, it is interesting to read the DES document 'Better Schools'; Lawlor; Hatcher, Jones, Regan and Fichards; Ashcroft & Palacio; Docking; Fielding; and party political documentation.

A range of perspectives on changes to the English education system appear in Richards, whilst Elliot critiques the currently fashionable school effectiveness and improvement movements in providing a framework for curriculum policy making and development. Goldstein et al., meanwhile, examine the educational standards debate that is an integral part of any discussion about national curricula.

Further work on similar themes is provided by Matheson, whose book includes a brief history of state intervention in British schooling; Tomlinson, who provides a concise and critical overview of education policy that notes the changes that have occurred in the move to a society increasingly dominated by private enterprise and competition; and Coffey, who undertakes a systematic sociological analysis of contemporary educational change.