[Education Secretary Michael Gove]
By Maurice Irfan Coles
The English education system as redesigned by Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is, in short, in chaos. Parents are now confronted by a bewildering array of school choice: free, academy, maintained, community, studio, foundation-the list goes on. Who runs the school and to whom they are accountable is equally diverse. Some must have trained teachers; other not. Some have to follow the national curriculum; others do not. Similarly, Gove’s proposals to fundamentally alter the national curriculum have received a barrage of criticism; a barrage that has largely fallen upon deaf ears.
A national curriculum should be just that – a curriculum in which all parties feel proud to participate; one that enhances everybody’s sense worth and self-esteem. Let us be clear. These proposals totally fail in that regard; nor do they help build a cohesive nation. Indeed, this curriculum is not national – it only apples to schools that are ‘maintained’ by the local authority and who in various ways are accountable to them. It is not even a curriculum in the proper sense of the word because it concentrates on the content/ knowledge at the expense of the skills, values and attitudes that underpin it.
Gove’s curriculum is knowledge heavy and aims to impart ‘the core knowledge that they (pupils) need to be educated citizens …’ But this leads to two key questions: Who chooses which knowledge to include and why only knowledge? An analysis of the subject areas might lead one to believe that the knowledge choice excluded so much human creativity and achievement of anybody other than white English men; whilst paying lip service to one or two women and one or two people of colour and one or two Muslims. Indeed, there appears no understanding at all of what is traditionally called the hidden curriculum that is the unintended outcomes of a curriculum that appears to omit so much of black, Asian, Muslim and working class contributions to our national development.
Granted, Gove has left the requirement for schools to promote Spiritual Moral Social and Cultural development intact but, nowhere in the document are these aims rendered in subject specific or cross curricular terms. Where for example, do Muslims see themselves in history, geography, science or even in the citizenship curriculum? How exactly will cultural development be promoted if one culture dominates at the expense of others?
Any curriculum should promote social cohesion and make all its children, regardless of background, proud to be British but also proud of their faith and heritage. Gove’s ‘national’ curriculum pays no more than a passing reference to the many and varied contributions that people of diverse heritage and faith backgrounds paid to the building of this nation previously; or to the dynamic and creative part we play in it presently.
The lack of recognition of the importance of faith as a tool for learning that is so relevant to Muslim pupils is conspicuous by its absence. For Muslims this is all the more important because our children are confronted by increasing levels of Islamophobic behaviours, which if not effectively addressed by everybody in the school system, including and especially non-Muslim pupils, will have the unintended consequence of increasing Islamophobia.
Crudely, this curriculum does not encourage schools to actively counter the myths and stereotypes that underpin Islamophobia which is damaging for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Gove’s curriculum will, of course, become law but we can only hope and pray that the next Secretary of State undoes the many harms that will be perpetuated by this one.
Maurice is CEO of the CoED foundation which aims to bring compassion into education, author of Every Muslim Child Matters and was previously Director of the Islam and Citizenship Education Project