In our plans for 2013 and beyond, I make it quite clear that Claires Court will maintain a broad and diverse curriculum which, whilst acknowledging the primacy of English, Maths and the Sciences, will permit our pupils to gain skills up to mastery levels in the Arts, Humanities, Languages, Technologies, Physical Education and major games.
This may sound a curious statement, particularly now that the United Kingdom’s education is seen to be delivering the best of all the great western world economies* – what’s to worry about?
In a letter about the Government’s proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates to the Prime Minister on 22 November, twenty-two professors of Education express their grave concern over the adverse effect this rushed development is likely to have on both the life chances of many children and on the future national economy.
The professors are right to be concerned, because the narrowing of the curriculum is well under way, even here in the Thames Valley, across a broad range of selective grammar schools and comprehensive academies at secondary level. Perhaps the most obvious signs are the squeezing of the KS3 curriculum into 2 years, with GCSE choices forced on children at 12/13 years of age and the removal of sciences and other non-core subjects from the diet of those in the last year at primary school. At a time when all educationalists agree breadth and diversity are key attributes for developing a creative and entrepreneurial learning culture, Michael Gove and the DfE press relentlessly onwards with the whole scale sacking of this landscape.
Saturday 1 December saw Claires Court’s artistic community embrace Maidenhead’s Art on the Street, with our Year 8 artists leading workshops indoors in the Nicholson’s centre, whilst our Musicians performed an extensive 3 hour set on stage outdoors at the top of the High street. 30+ younger drama students ‘flash-mobbed ‘Gangnam’ style, and year10 created their ‘statues’ throughout the market. Back at school on the same day, some of our leading year 11 boys pushed their comfort zone pursuing Google Certified individual status in a day’s training. If it hadn’t been so frosty, 100+ would have been playing rugby; but the flooded river didn’t prevent the boat club from training through the morning, nor prevent 30+ new Duke of Edinburgh candidates from commencing their closed season expedition skills acquisition.
Let’s not imagine these two stories are not linked. This week Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw published Ofsted’s annual report. In it he made it clear that the differences in school provision was leading to “serious inequalities” for millions of children.
Ofsted places our borough near the top of a new league table ranking local authorities according to inspectors’ ratings of schools. Yet already, the teaching of fine art and music at primary level has become a minority provision, and the Olympic legacy ideals are disappearing in the rear view mirror for most young people in such schools.
Obviously, I am immensely proud that our hockey players have won 4 major county and national trophies this term, and that our young rugby players have retained the county rugby title at under 12, and the under 9s made it through to the Telegraph’s national final next term. The coalition government makes much of the rhetoric available to politicians in requsting of Independent schools such as ours that we should lead the way and share best practice. The reality is that Claires Court chooses to recognise that children, not league tables, are the purpose and focus of our educational provision.
I do hope the calls of 22 professors rattle David Cameron into action. Edward de Bono’s quote that leads this post encourages even the best that a change of thinking is possible. With the noise of Leveson and a failing economy occupying his attention currently, I worry that Mr Cameron is otherwise engaged.
The benefits of a modern Liberal arts and sciences provision seem destined to remain solely in those institutions such as ours, whose true independence makes the difference that inspires children to become confident learners and considerate of others.
Sir Michael said this week “The inequalities for local children are stark.” Yes, looking at our school ‘at play’ on Saturday, that’s really very true.