Society’s educational goals

What vision of "education" is the provision designed to achieve?

Education connects our past to the future – but exactly what happens is worked out through debate and action in the present.

Children and young people are our most precious asset. They come to embody our culture and their values and capabilities will determine the ways in which our economy and society will evolve over the 21st century. Education both reflects society and contributes to it. Issues such as whether education reproduces social differences or provides new opportunities thus become very important. What vision of education should we adopt?

The Education Reform Act 1988 specified official educational aims for England and Wales. Children are to be offered a 'balanced and broadly based curriculum' which:

  • promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils; and
  • prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.

The law thus formally enshrines a rounded conception of education. However, pressure for short-term performance tends to narrow such goals – and here we have major issue of the last decade. The curriculum frameworks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland promote similarly broad overall aims.

Curriculum

Breadth: does the curriculum represent society’s educational aspirations for its citizens?

There are many views about the areas of learning and experience which should be provided by schools. Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence proposes eight areas, as does Northern Ireland’s new curriculum. These encompass fields such as: arts and creativity; language and literacy; environment and society; modern languages; mathematics; science and technology; health and physical education; religious and moral education.

In England, very particular emphasis has been given to core subject areas of Literacy and Numeracy. Maintaining breadth in pupils’ actual classroom experiences is a big challenge for teachers in any event, and is made even more difficult in such circumstances. Recent curriculum reviews (eg: Rose, 2009) may mitigate this, but curriculum and assessment need to be fully aligned to reinforce breadth of provision.

Pedagogy

Principle: is the pedagogy consistent with established principles for effective teaching and learning?

There are many views about the areas of learning and experience which should be provided by schools. Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence proposes eight areas, as does Northern Ireland’s new curriculum. These encompass fields such as: arts and creativity; language and literacy; environment and society; modern languages; mathematics; science and technology; health and physical education; religious and moral education.

In England, very particular emphasis has been given to core subject areas of Literacy and Numeracy. Maintaining breadth in pupils’ actual classroom experiences is a big challenge for teachers in any event, and is made even more difficult in such circumstances. Recent curriculum reviews (eg: Rose, 2009) may mitigate this, but curriculum and assessment need to be fully aligned to reinforce breadth of provision.

Assessment

Congruence: are forms of assessment fit for purpose in terms of overall educational objectives?

TLRP’s project on learning environments (Entwistle, 2009) studied ways in which assessment activity is aligned with learning objectives, appropriate for student backgrounds and fully supported institutionally. Assessment was thus seen as being much more than a narrow technical process, but woven into educational organisations, subjects and their practices. Such congruence supports learning because the learner can more easily understand and engage if their experiences are consistent. This work built on the concept of ‘constructive alignment’ (Biggs, 2007).

In recent years, England’s focus on English and Mathematics though National Strategies, high-stakes assessment and school inspection made it difficult to provide a broad curriculum experience for pupils – the alignment between espoused educational goals and actual provision was weak. Indeed, the existence of national testing in England at Key Stage 2 remains controversial for this reason. But can such powerful influences be used more positively? TLRP’s assessment Commentary is full of suggestions (Mansell et al, 2009).

Notes

Rose, J. (2009) Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum: Final Report. London, DCSF.

Entwistle, N. (2009) Teaching for Understanding at University.

Biggs, J. B. (2007). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (3rd ed.). Buckingham, Open University Press and SRHE.

Mansell, W., James, M. and the Assessment Reform Group (2009) Assessment in Schools. Fit for Purpose? A TLRP Commentary. London, TLRP.