By Neil Carberry, Director for employment and Skills, CBI
This is a key moment for the education system in England. The consultation on the proposed National Curriculum from 2014 is closing and now the government will decide on its next steps.
Ministers are right that we need a more ambitious, academically rigorous curriculum built around English, maths and science. There is too much flabbiness in the current system. But we also need it to underpin long-term economic growth. Demand for engineering and technology skills has long outstripped domestic supply.
Yet for businesses, the proposals on the table don’t go far enough yet. The National Curriculum will still set a crucial benchmark despite the rapidly rising number of academies with the power to set their own syllabuses. If the UK is to compete in what ministers constantly refer to as “the global race” they need to beef up their plans.
Firstly, the proposed design and technology curriculum is out of step with the needs of a modern economy and workplace. It lacks academic and technical rigour and ambition. It fails to make the right links to maths and science. And it prioritises basic craft skills, even gardening and food preparation, at the expense of the core engineering and technical skills that will help businesses build long-term growth, create jobs and generate exports.
For all the talk from government, the curriculum as it stands risks reinforcing existing prejudices about applied subjects being second-rate. Design and technology is not a sideshow — it is the only exposure that every single child gets to basic engineering skills at school and lays the groundwork for careers in industry. Ministers need to buck up their thinking.
Secondly, the sheer scale of prescription in the science curriculum risks squeezing out practical, hands-on experiments — which are vital to stimulating children from an early age and bringing science to life. Instilling core skills is a no-brainer but in drafting the curriculum as they have, ministers risk cutting out any scope for teachers’ creativity, flexibility and innovation.
Thirdly, there needs to be more ambition on maths. We back Michael Gove’s ambition for the vast majority of students to carry on studying the subject up to 18. But it’s not going to happen on its own.
The National Curriculum stops at 16 but ministers can send a powerful signal by making a further two years of study compulsory. Whatever job young people are going into, they need maths skills. It is crucial they carry on studying at the level most appropriate to them, either to prepare for more in-depth courses at university or give them the basic skills they need for life.
Above all, the proposed National Curriculum is still focused on 16 being the culmination of each student’s education — rather than a stepping stone to further academic study or skills training.
Employers want a much more coherent education system from 14 onwards, which gives young people the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need for the world of work. While many of the proposals the Government is making are valuable, the overall approach is far too piecemeal and doesn’t pass the test yet.
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