Are children receiving a well rounded education?
The question as to whether children are receiving a well rounded education is not a new one. However since the pandemic, the so-called ‘catch-up curriculum’ has become more of a concern.
What is the catch-up curriculum?
At the height of the pandemic, school closures meant that children across the country were missing out on valuable learning opportunities. As a result, in July 2021 the DfE produced guidance advising schools that they would need to ‘substantially’ change their curriculums in order to help children catch up.
It is inevitable that the loss of face-to-face teaching caused by the pandemic will have negatively affected how much the children have learnt in the past two school years. But is a ‘catch-up curriculum’ the best way forward?
What impact has this ‘catch-up’ curriculum had on children’s learning and well being?
Many teachers agree that as a result of the catch-up curriculum, there has been more of a focus on core subjects, namely English and Maths. Because of this, teachers feel that there is less time dedicated to more creative subjects, subjects that allow children to engage in learning in a different way. This can be invaluable for children who struggle with core subjects. Some teachers would argue (myself included) that there was barely enough time to teach subjects such as Design & Technology and other arts before the pandemic hit, let alone now that teachers have to make sure children ‘catch-up’ on core subjects.
Creative subjects that have taken a back foot include the likes of Music, Art, DT and Drama. Such subjects can provide fantastic opportunities for developing a variety of skills, including for core subjects, and can provide fun 'hooks' for learning around a particular topic. Using Drama to plan and write a playscript, for example, or measuring pieces of wood for a DT project can give children the chance to develop the skills they need but from a more creative perspective.
As one teacher we asked put it:
“In some schools, foundation and creative subjects have taken a back seat which is a huge shame for those children who love them and perhaps struggle in other areas…those lessons are their time to shine.”
As former teachers at PlanBee, we have all had that child who glowed in Art and PE but retreated into their shell when fractions appeared on the board. Creative subjects such as these are especially important for children who may have additional needs. For example, children with dyslexia and dyscalculia benefit from creative learning opportunities. I speak from experience… Having been diagnosed with dyslexia during my own education journey, I became anxious whenever I was asked to read out loud, or embarrassed when I couldn’t spell a word; but put me in a gymnastics class or a singing lesson and suddenly the anxiety would dissipate and I was able to access the learning in the same way other children did.
Some teachers we spoke to commented:
“They miss those creative subjects. I work in a SEN school and being creative can be a positive release for students.”
“Children who are more creatively inclined, rather than having more of an interest in English/Maths, are being let down and excluded from having the opportunity to shine!”
Children, like adults, are all very different, with different interests and passions. Think about your job and a task that is tedious and dull, but you know it has to be done. Some of us “eat the frog” and get it done first thing, but imagine having to do that task all day long. Would you jump out of bed to go to work?
With children's mental health already being a concern as a result of the pandemic, could this catch-up curriculum be causing more harm than good? Often, children do best when they have consistency, a routine - knowing what will come next in the school day. Many of us will remember the relief felt at school, knowing our favourite lesson was next on the timetable - how would we have felt if our favourite lesson was no longer available? It is likely that this would have affected our enjoyment of school.
“Many aren’t wanting to come to school as there is a lot of pressure on them to learn ‘quickly’. A lot of anxieties about the classroom environments and learning resulting in some behavioural issues.”
Some would argue the catch-up curriculum has had some benefits for those children who find retaining information easier than others, and may indeed help plug the gaps.
“There is a small minority in my class who are thriving with the catch up curriculum but this is because they live to learn and learning comes easier for them.”
However other teachers warn that the benefits of the catch-up curriculum are dependent on how it is delivered.
“If it is done poorly then the children will lose their love for learning. If it is done well and with a range of subjects and learning opportunities, then it has the potential to enhance children’s enjoyment of school!”
Where next in Education?
Recent reports have called for a complete overhaul of the way we assess children. The Independent Assessment Commission (IAC) believes that the exam systems currently in place, in particular GCSE exams for 16 year olds, need to be scrapped. The report suggests a more adaptive approach is needed for each individual student, whereby students are able to demonstrate their learning and understanding when they are ready.
With this in mind, would a ‘catch-up curriculum’ be necessary? Or would teaching at the children’s individual pace lead to more enjoyment of learning and therefore more achievement?
“The pressure on our children is being felt by everyone, if they are to miss any type of school for whatever reason there is definitely a real fear of never being able to catch up, which may affect the outcome of exams. It's not a happy place currently.”