Discussion of the principal changes to the organisation of education over the past 50 to 60 years does not provide anything like a full picture of the experience of schooling. It might he argued that, if we want to understand education thoroughly we must look inside institutions like schools and colleges. One of the things that we might look at in schools is the formal curriculum: the kinds of things that are deemed to be essential for pupils to be taught and to learn.
Although the different kinds of secondary school discussed above offered different curriculums to meet the needs of their different kinds of pupils, changes to or interference with the curriculum by government and other agencies have been relatively rare. As McKenzie (2001) says, not until the 1980s was there any significant government involvement in what schools taught. Over the years there have been many consultations on the curriculum at a local and national level, but the business of what to teach has been left largely to the discretion of teachers, head teachers and LEA advisors. The capacity to make decisions about the content of children's learning has been seen as an important aspect of teachers' professionalism, to such an extent that the curriculum became referred to by many education commentators as 'a secret garden'. The implication was that only those on the inside really knew the details of the curriculum.
However, things in the garden began to change dramatically during the Conservative governments of the early 1980s. In 1982 the School Curriculum and Development Committee was established with a view to overseeing what pupils were learning in school Discussions at government level and within the Department of Education and Science (DES) about the possibility of a National Curriculum began to take place. Plans for such a curriculum, which would be centrally laid down, were taken further throughout the mid-1980s by the government's 'Task Group on Assessment and Testing' (TGAT), which reported in 1987. The work of TGAT paved the way for the 1988 Education Reform Act, which was perhaps the most extensive piece of education legislation ever introduced in this country.
Some commentators have argued that the National Curriculum differs little from what has always been taught in schools. This may be true. However, its significance rests in the fact that for the first time in the history of education in England and Wales, central government specified what children were to learn. By the end of the 1980s, central government was firmly inside the classroom, reducing the role of the teacher from that of professional who had previously made decisions about the curriculum to that of technician who merely delivered it.
• Central to the 1988 Act was the introduction into state schools of a National Curriculum for all children from 5 to 16 years old.
• For the first time, decisions about what children should learn and when they should learn it were taken out of the hands of teachers and head teachers.
• The National Curriculum identified core subjects (maths, English, science) and foundation subjects (geography, history, technology, modern foreign language, music, physical education, art), which were regarded as essential for all pupils to follow.
• As more detail was added to the National Curriculum by way of various subject groups that met and reported after the 1988 Act, the content of core and foundation subjects began to be closely specified, not only in terms of the knowledge to be conveyed to pupils but also in terms of when they should know certain things, by the identification of key stages of learning.
s Task 5.What is your attitude to the curriculum and its structure? What percentage of non compulsory subjects must there be in the curriculum? Do you support the idea of establishing the National Curriculum?
J Task 6. Role play.Task: you are invited to take part in the meeting where various problems in terms of education are discussed. Prepare a short speech and be ready to present it at the meeting and to answer some questions after your speech.
- students of the Sociology Department (2-3 students can conduct a short survey covering the advantages and disadvantages of the modern system of education in Belarus, whether the students are well-informed on the process of reforms, whether their aspirations coincide with the future changes in the educational process);
- the Rector of any Belarussian University (either a state or a private one) presenting his/her own solutions to the problems tackled in the article: curriculum, examinations, screening and selecting, hidden curriculum etc;
- a school-leaver, speaking about future educational and career perspectives, the importance of “learning for life”, his/her attitude to the conditions of the in-take;
- a University Professor, speaking about the difficulties of his/her work, of the functions of the University education, etc;
- a student presenting a report of the modern reforms of education in Belarus (possibly comparing with the reforms in other European countries).
- journalists (2-3 students) getting ready in advance a number of burning questions concerning the functions of education, debatable moments etc, addressed to the other group-mates.
Sub-Unit 3.3.: Comparing Coeducation and Single-sex Schooling
ÖTask 1. In the article suggested for reading and discussion the attention is focused on the gender composition of Irish schools. And according to it, schools are divided into coeducation (for both boys and girls) and single-sex (for either only boys or only girls) schooling. Three main aspects of gender composition of Irish schools are of the sociologists’ particular interest:
- Does coeducation result in poorer exam performance for girls and boys?
- Does it affect students’ personal and social development?
- What accounts for any differences between coeducational and single-sex schools in exam performance and student development?
After reading the article you will learn about the results of the survey conducted in the UK, but do you already have any ideas (anticipations) concerning possible answers? What about your personal experience in this sphere?
s Task 2. Look through the following words dealing with our topic and put them into the block you think they suit best of all. Explain your decision:
Better exam performance
Free take-up (choice) of subjects
Better school organisation
Wide use of innovations
Personal development (of what qualities?)
Social development (socialization – with peers? with teachers?)
Are characteristic of coeducation schooling
Are characteristic of single-sex schooling
Neither of them
Ö Task 3. Now read the text and compare your ideas with the findings of the survey conducted in Irish schools. How close were you to the conclusions of the British sociologists?