Curricular conundrums

When thinking about the curriculum, it is good to be reminded of the inspiration felt when first seeing one of those early John Badley timetables – with Head Work and Hand Work marked with a Victorian’s certainty (as morning and early afternoon activities respectively): the clarity of vision of educators like Badley is an apt reminder to all of us of the influence of what is taught and learnt in schools. Whilst we cannot ignore what governments think we should have, we need to be reminded that our role, especially in independent schools, is to align our curricula with the school’s fundamental beliefs – its aims.

I gave an assembly at Bedales last night on this. As ever, the process of trying to condense belief and provide some context  – 1988 Education Act, Curriculum 2000 (AS changes) and 2015 A Level reforms – is healthy. In particular at this assembly I was responding to students’ interest, generated partly by the current Harvard research project into active learning and the Student Teaching and Learning Group that is at the centre of that work, in the changes we are planning for next year’s Block 3 curriculum: students  are interested and want to know what we are going to do. In order to answer this question I had to go a bit further back and to outline why we did what we did in 2006 with the Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) – in particular our desire to align as much of the Middle Years (14-16) curriculum with the school’s (then recently minted) primary academic aim to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought.

The Block 3 curriculum takes its inspiration partly from the BAC experience and partly from the imaginative approach that is taken at Dunhurst to making learning as active and cross-curricular as possible. So, the Block 3 curriculum from September will set out yet more single-mindedly with inspiration and inquisitiveness at its heart; it will increase the opportunities for making and doing, again mirroring a school aim; it will have have a strong emphasis on cross-curricular and experiential learning and will therefore use Outdoor Work‘s resources to help achieve this. Finally, it will combine a desire to have students reflect on their learning with some extended pieces of work – individual and group projects that have something of the 6.1 Extended Project about them.

As for the 2015 A Level reforms, I want to engage the students in the debate about how we respond: in short, we need to ensure our candidates’ access to the most demanding universities remains strong, whilst keeping as much breadth as possible in the 6th form.  This will be achievable but in spite of the 2015 reforms rather than because of them. It is not only Ed Miliband who feels that Mr Gove should remain on the naughty step.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.