by Mick Waters
Curriculum director, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
One of the aims of the QCA is to "develop a modern, world class curriculum that will inspire and challenge all learners and prepare them for the future."
The key phrase is "all learners": the gifted, the disabled, the asylum seeker, the child with special needs, the looked after child; a list that extends to include any diversity.
That diversity can be multi-layered and present yet more complications.
A pupil can be at once gifted and talented and looked after, disabled and talented in some subjects while having special need in others.
We seek a curriculum that caters for all; if nothing else it needs to be flexible.
We live in a changing society with greater expectations for our young, so the role and organisation of schooling will need to change too.
At the heart of that process is the curriculum.
The skills young people will need in the unfolding world are very different from those that were seen as essential when mass schooling began in the late 1800s or even when a curriculum for the nation was established in the late 1980s.
Qualities such as social and cultural flexibility, self reliance, a strong positive sense of self and an ability to tolerate difference, the capacity to cope with change, a feeling for justice and fairness are all put forward as essential for young adults of the future.
Couple this list with necessary skills, including literacy and numeracy which will more than ever be at the core, and the need to move on from the current curriculum becomes apparent.
Or does it? For many, there is a tension between the development of skills and the pursuit of academic excellence.
Many believe in maintaining a system for their children that a generation ago served themselves well
Firstly, is the achievement of high academic standards in English and mathematics the logical extension of functional literacy and numeracy, or are different sets of skills and understandings involved?
Secondly, are the sort of lessons and learning experiences necessary to develop academic excellence also capable of promoting the underlying skills? Does one have to be sacrificed in order to achieve the other?
We have to teach our young something and well-taught subject disciplines can be the vehicle for all of the skills and qualities that they need. Our biggest curriculum challenge is to sustain a desire to learn whilst providing the skills and qualities necessary for young people to influence their own lives.
In the next 20 years of adulthood, the learning outlook will be a vital quality for successful lives and a strong economy.
In all this the curriculum needs to evolve.
This does not mean dismantling the whole structure but creating a climate where responsive revision is a natural approach in a fast changing world.
Subject disciplines should stay, but they should be the resource with which we open up learning opportunities and create a sense of purpose for learning.
If these are the possibilities, why is change so hesitant? There are several reasons.
Many believe in maintaining a system for their children that a generation ago served themselves well, but through this there is a danger that genuine reform is at risk of seeming "soft" rather than rigorous.
The learner should enjoy the challenge of the difficult problem and the exhilaration of success. Pupils need more understanding and clarity about the purpose and value of education and learning.
This needs to be coupled with a shared emphasis on "doing better", raising standards in literacy, numeracy and ICT as well as in areas such as personal development.
The curriculum subjects need to emphasise the possible routes through schooling and the application of specific learning in the world beyond.
It is the construction of the curriculum into a coherent whole that will excite the thirst for learning in all the pupils
The curriculum should better emphasise and make explicit study and learning in terms of diversity, choice, need and specialism.
This means upholding standards through stringent analysis of need within assessments, ensuring challenge and depth, requiring learners to demonstrate application, synthesis, understanding and originality.
It means rejuvenating content within the curriculum to use subject disciplines to develop skills and personal qualities in context, and demonstrate links between the traditional and emerging subjects.
Wider school curriculum
This will help the nation to sustain an economy by making apparent, as a natural part of the subjects, the mathematics of engineering, the physics of construction and the chemistry of health.
At QCA, we want to help schools to design a coherent curriculum experience for their own pupils, within clear parameters.
It is the construction of the curriculum into a coherent whole that will excite the thirst for learning in all the pupils - a universal element to which schools would add uniqueness appropriate to their own circumstances.
The outcomes for children would be central, and the learning experience for the pupil would be strong both at the time and in their future life.
We might hope that the proposals that we are publishing today will make us all proud of our modern, world-class curriculum.
I would encourage teachers, parents, pupils and anyone with an interest in education to let us know their views and help us to shape the future of learning.