A question of balance

Big questions

Robert Young looks at how the idea of the balanced curriculum is under further threat as a result of Covid-19.

The importance of a balanced curriculum

A central question for all of us engaged in education has been to do with the nature of the curriculum we offer children from the early years through to secondary education. What do we see as their minimum entitlement and how is that entitlement affected by age? Do we aim for breadth rather than depth? In what respects should we be working towards a curriculum which is owned by the children in the sense that they are actively engaged in shaping it, as well as experiencing it at first hand? Should teaching be framed through subjects as opposed to themes and how can teaching in one discipline be informed and enriched by teaching in another?

How can children’s learning, especially in the early years and the phase of primary schooling, take on greater coherence through a more integrated approach to the curriculum, embracing different forms of enquiry and expression rather than focussing on them as distinct entities? What is the case for a strong focus on the core disciplines of literacy and numeracy in the primary phase as a firm foundation for the secondary curriculum or conversely how can a broader approach in the primary years, embracing the arts, humanities and the sciences, provide a more robust and invigorating framework for children’s learning?

The dangers of ‘post-Covid catch up syndrome’

No one questions the fundamental importance of the development of core skills in both mathematics and literacy, but are they best nurtured through an approach which concentrates on their development as distinct areas of study or through a more holistic approach which emphasises the links between areas of study? The current lockdown being experienced across countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the significance of such questions, as teachers attempt to prioritise what is essential in educational recovery through a pedagogy largely dominated by distant learning.

We talk about the importance of catching up, but is this a justification for narrowing the curriculum at the expense of the arts and the humanities? Are the constraints being experienced in an on-line world such as to preclude curriculum in breadth and to pressurise the educational experience into a much more restricted space?

National Association for Primary Education (NAPE)

These are the kind of issues at the heart of debates currently being held by the National Association for Primary Education. NAPE is a non-political UK based association committed to represent the interests of the profession, is consulted on educational matters which affect the primary classroom and plays a co-ordinating role in promoting dialogue within the profession across a range of educational organisations. But perhaps its most important role is to contribute to staff development through its events.

You can join as a school or as an individual and membership is open to teachers working overseas, which can be especially valuable if you are from the UK or have worked there, and just want to keep up with the big issues being discussed there.

Membership of NAPE provides access to its publications and podcasts, another key vehicle for staff development, the best known of which is the journal, Primary First, published three times a year and written with an audience of primary teachers in mind and with a measure of academic grit.

Regular newsletters also serve the role of keeping the reader in touch with UK news and the work undertaken by the association to represent the principles which inform best practice in primary schools. We therefore see NAPE as potentially providing a valuable channel of communication for international teachers and we very much hope that you will want to find out more about us and the benefits NAPE membership will bring at https://nape.org.uk/

Balanced curriculum conference

The balanced curriculum debate is at the heart of an on-line conference being organised for Monday 8 March (4.15pm – 6.45pm, GMT) by the National Association for Primary Education (NAPE) in collaboration with the Primary Umbrella Group, a forum for representatives from organisations with a primary education focus, and Humanities 20:20, a group of on-line teachers/academics who share a concern for the place of the humanities in education.

It costs £10 to attend, and if an evening kick off in the UK is too late for your part of the world, you will receive access to a recording of the conference if you sign up!

Conference and international teachers

We are confident that the conference is tackling issues which will be of interest to primary teachers in international schools and that many of the curriculum ideas discussed could well be a source of professional inspiration. NAPE is delighted that through the virtual medium we are now in a position to open our doors to teachers working in settings beyond the UK shores. For further information about the Conference, including booking details, please refer to https://nape.org.uk/conference

Conference programme

Dr. Tony Eaude will be opening the conference with a key-note lecture, highlighting some of the critical issues, bound up with the conference theme, and considering some lessons to be learnt from the period of lockdown.

This will set the scene for four presentations, offering a window on innovation and quality in learning in the primary classroom: three highly respected headteachers will be talking about approaches adopted in their respective schools in the development of the curriculum and the fourth presenter, Alison Hales, from the University of Greenwich will be exploring learning opportunities inherent in local history.

Conference speakers 

[tabby title=”Tony Eaude”]

Dr Tony Eaude, who has published widely on a range of educational topics and is one of the most enlightened and articulate voices in the UK primary sector, will be opening the conference with a key-note lecture, highlighting some of the critical issues, bound up with the conference theme, and considering some lessons to be learnt from the period of lockdown.

[tabby title=”Naheeda Maharasingham”]

Naheeda Maharasingham, Head of Rathfern Primary School, Lewisham, will address the variety of ways in which social action is embedded in the curriculum and how the children are encouraged to become critical, active and engaged learners who understand and embrace their responsibilities as citizens to promote equality, social justice and change.

[tabby title=”Tina Farr”]

Tina Farr, Head of St Ebbe’s Primary School, Oxford will be sharing the thinking, principles and planning processes around the development of a curriculum which is as rich in humanity as it is in knowledge, explaining how their planning around inquiry questions engages children of all ages to think about the past, present and future of our planet .

[tabby title=”Rachel Ford”]

Rachel Ford, Head of Bannockburn Primary School, Royal Borough of Greenwich, will be focussing on the breadth of the curriculum through the experiences children are given in and out of school, using a variety of initiatives that reflect the school community such as: umbrella curriculum teams, pupil leadership groups, school values, whole school and community based projects.

[tabby title=”Alison Hales”]

Alison Hales, Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Greenwich, will explore ways in which ‘the local’ can be used to inspire and sustain learning. It will consider a sense of community and identity and how we can ensure that children, their families and community are reflected in the history curriculum that we offer. Alison is a co-author of Mastering Primary History  (2019) and a strong advocate for local history.


Joining NAPE

NAPE very much welcomes applications from International Schools and International Teachers. For more information see https://www.nape.org.uk/what-nape-does-for-its-membership

Robert Young, the General Secretary of the National Association for Primary Education, has a background in initial teacher education at the University of Greenwich. Now retired from the role as Director for Learning and Quality (Education), he remains active as a school governor and currently chairs the Primary Umbrella Group.



Feature Image: by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

Support Images kindly provided by NAPE