Home / Education / The National Curriculum – Thanks For Nothing!

The National Curriculum – Thanks For Nothing!

Phil Sharrock

By Phil Sharrock,

Dad, Foster Carer, Successful Headteacher and Motorbike rider


I did a little post on LinkedIn last week and 20,000 views later and with well over 100 comments I seem to have touched a nerve with people.

It went like this…

“My wife came back from teaching today and it made me wonder why we need teachers anymore. EVERYTHING she did was a scheme to be delivered. The phonics, the literacy and the maths were ALL pre written by someone who has, frankly, made a lot of money exploiting schools looking for “quick fixes”. Where’s the individuality? The focus on the child? The appropriateness for children? Terrible leadership, weak and frightened not doing their job FOR CHILDREN. And it’s EVERYWHERE in the school system! Sigh…our poor kids”


Who came up with it all?

It got me thinking, why do we put up with this rigorously structured and “standardised” curriculum? Who came up with it all? Why is it in place in every school in the country?

The National Curriculum is one of two things you have to do by law every day (the other is take the register) it was introduced by Kenneth Baker in 1988. The Programmes of Study were drafted and published in 1988 and 1989, with the first teaching of some elements of the new curriculum beginning in September 1989. Its aim was to explain what children should be taught, ensuring each pupil was given the same standard of education. It allows each school to be on a level playing field, with each student receiving education in the same areas including core subjects such as English, mathematics, science and physical education.

Now there have been tweaks and changes as time has passed most noticeably in 2014 but let’s rewind a little. Since 1988 schools have been told by politicians “What” children should learn, I have a problem with that; how can an inner city child in the middle of London need to learn EXACTLY the same as a child from rural Devon? How can a child from a 100% EAL school in central Birmingham need to learn the exact same thing as a child from Eton? Is it so that there is a “level playing field?” I think if you ask the communities in those diverse areas there is NOTHING level about them from the moment those children are born. I also think that Politicians have no right to tell a profession “What to do” every day.


Therein lies the heart of the issue – TRUST

Therein lies the heart of the issue – TRUST. There is no trust in schools, teachers, Head teachers, the profession. There are so many Unions giving differing opinions to Government that it’s not surprising successive Governments can get away with forever changing the targets and setting their own standards every year.

This country WAS at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, we innovated, we created, we imagined, we were not afraid to “have a go” and learn from our mistakes. We are now in a 19th Century system, with 20th Century teaching methods with 21st Century technologies. It’s not going to work really is it?


Endless Wretched Tests!

When you pause and think about it this all comes back to control and accountability… test them (the children) when they start school at 4 years old, then test them the next year at the end of Year 1 so we know how many have passed the Phonics test, test them in Year 2 for SATs results (fortunately they are going – but I bet lots of schools keep doing them). Test them again at the end of Primary school in SATs again so we know how many are at the “Expected level” and we can measure their progress. Never mind the internal testing that happens on at least a termly basis so progress can be charted. They go to Secondary school and are tested so they can stream the children (generalised statement there) and tested again throughout until GCSEs in Year 11. Our children are now recognised as the most tested in the world. They have become data. Data to be manipulated by Government every year. We may as well write off so much of the schools year so we can pass our tests and keep the wolves from our door!

When I left secondary school in 1985 standards in schools rose for the following 28 years! My generation must have been completely stupid! But were we? I didn’t have a National Curriculum to be subjected to, but I learned. Why? Because I had great teachers who allowed me to thrive and took my individual needs into account.


40% of Teachers are Walking Away!

Today’s teachers do remarkable work under the most excruciating circumstances, 40% are walking away after less than 5 years in the job, no surprises there then, children have become pieces of data and all taught the same thing so we produce young people who are robotic, cannot think, cannot solve problems and are not ready for the world when it needs them. CBI and OECD say the same thing every year. But who cares as long as standards improve and we move up the PISA International League Tables?

The National Curriculum I thank you.

There is a glimmer of hope…The Office for Standards In Education are from this September now going to look at the “Quality of Education” (genius). I hope they look past the exam factories, I hope they look at the talented artists, musicians, engineers, carpenters, inventors and support them, I hope they robustly challenge robotic, one size fit all teaching, I hope they look at more than just Maths and English. I hope.


“Shift Happens” as the fantastic YouTube video suggests, these are exponential times…we need to move with it, and fast or we are going to find ourselves falling further and further behind (or have we already?)



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  1. Catherine

    Bravo … routine testing for not only apptitude but mental capabilities and social development would position our children to be much more successful in the future ..
    Thank you for the article !

  2. Peter Brodie

    Thanks Phil, for this. Your commentary is eloquent!

    Now retired for some years, I was a teacher who refused to look past WHOM I was teaching. What I taught changed from one job to the next, but I always taught young people, and focussed on helping them break through patterns of routine dulling down.

    I paid for it in terms of the resistance from senior (more highly remunerated) management, but earned the respect and loyalty of even the roughest toughest kids.

    One thing I’d add to your account is the requirement to present learning materials inappropriate to children’s developmental age. Piaget identified in the 1940s that early years children learn to understand life through holistic experience, and that analytical tasks such as spellings and times tables are confusing to those who haven’t the the foundation of learning through play.

    Put more simply, requiring spellings and sums and times tables acrobatics from 5 year-olds is a form of intellectual and emotional abuse. This, along with so-called “zero tolerance” policies, places our schooling system in contravention of the European Convention on Children’s Rights, as well as the WHO Children’s Rights Charter.

    I hope you find this helpful. Please feel free to contact me if you wish.


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