The Podcast Notes
Monday’s Blog was a big comprehensive statement.
These are the Notes from our Wednesday Podcast:
We don’t want people to invent a granola curriculum. This is Leonard’s term for the kind of curriculum in some schools where everything you teach is focussed through one overriding concept. There are many of these in North America: holistic in a variety ways. Curriculum in a box. We don’t want to put children in boxes. We aren’t necessarily criticising those people BUT
Our priority is just different: freedom.
We don’t even want altruistic designs on children.
We want them first of all to experience freedom in Democratic Community.
If we don’t offer children freedom we are not giving them the most basic existential skill of free individuals in a democratic nation.
The English National Curriculum
Why Core Curriculum ?
We offer students a reduced version of a curriculum that is already there in the world as the English National Curriculum. We have to be responsible enough as adults to offer kids some maths, science and language. We need to put these subjects in place or children will forget they even exist. We do not want to mislead students into thinking science has the same weight as home economics. ( For them in the world, or for parents or for ministries of education.)
We are NOT saying that the foundation subjects of the NEC … or that playing, independent learning, projects etc are not as important as the core to children. We ARE saying that the core offers a different position on the timetable.
Truthfully, if students leave our school not being able to read, that is a failure; if they leave not having done a lot of art, that is probably OK, especially when they have the free choice to engage with it if they want to.
We are looking at it from a practical point of view.
Students deserve practical Democratic Free Schools.
We are going to have core staff. They have a difficult job because, although we are saying that we want English, Maths and Science at the heart of the school’s formal reduced curriculum, we are not saying we want those teachers to be standard teachers trying to do everything in their National Curriculum specifications.
SO YES, even within the core we want to operate a reduced curriculum. For instance, at the Clubhouse Age they will only have three maths lessons, two English and two Science offered. No more.
We believe that children can develop by themselves.
Adults do not have to guide children in everything. Students will do things by themselves. Writing is a good example of something that we would not do in the same way that is proscribed in NEC documents. Kids do lots of writing that we will never see. (There is a crossover where literacy is going on all the time, although there is a difference between casual literacy and academic literacy.)
Our kids may have to go back into the mainstream and we have to be in pace with the outside world but there is a lot of evidence that a free curriculum without the bullshit teachery questioning is better. The French writer Daniel Pennac wrote about how, just by reading books to kids, they improved their skills. Something like History is the same. Being literate and having interest is more significant.
Re Entry Again
When kids go to free schools from the mainstream and then stop going to lessons for a while they forget a huge amount of what they were forced to learn. Retention is poor. The Reduced Curriculum has a greater flexibility in allowing children to re-enter the curriculum if they have been out of it.
Leonard talks about the experience of passing children up in maths to the senior school and that covering everything was never necessary. On flexible re-entry he said that is was better to begin with something like algebra rather than say times tables or other mechanical learning that may have stressed and demotivated them in the past. So teacher ‘re-entry’ skills are very important.
The foundation subjects of the NEC will be offered but:
These subjects will be carefully chosen tasters until the senior level. There will also be workshops that will allow kids to have deeper engagement with skills that are offered, learnt by themselves, shared and played with. Increasing excellence in jewellery making or sewing can be satisfying and teach many learning skills. Having an art room and woodwork room does not mean that those spaces are only open when there is a formal lesson going on.
We focus on using the formal curriculum in this chat:
- We are talking mostly about that part of the curriculum here but there is a lot more going on in the community, through free play and informal project activity.
- It is good for a school to look after the core because it is good for parents and inspectors.
- We do not have competing attractive activities at the same times as the formal core curriculum is on offer. We have to value the priority that we put on the core.
- We are not talking about freedom within a chaotic environment: if you offer free cookies at the same time as maths lessons it is a reduction of choice.
We do not follow the age levels of the NEC:
We think that 12.5 year-old kids are still kids and they can do all kinds of cool stuff through play and activity. They are not ready for a fully academic curriculum (and if they are it is pretty sad). We have seen disastrous policies where kids are forced into an excessively academic curriculum, especially when a school’s academic life is guided by GCSEs for example.