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The knowledge and skills debate in our curriculum

With many academies creating centrally planned curriculums, aimed at pleasing the inspectorate and surviving the ‘deep dive’, I’m starting to wonder if the skill of teaching is being diluted.

Many schools I have been working with have turned to a knowledge focused approach to education, which I feel is leading to a more didactic style of teaching. I am worried that pupils are becoming disengaged with content and are at risk of falling out of love with learning.

In my opinion, when considering a curriculum that is fit for our ever-changing society, we need to develop creative thinkers, with the skills to challenge and critique content. What seems to be missing from many curriculums I have worked on recently is the unification of: core knowledge being clearly outlined; the development of skills and the application of learning through meaningful outcomes which engage, motivate and inspire learners. To ensure that we are preparing our pupils for life as a 21st century citizen, we need to provide pupils with the opportunities to apply their learning through outcomes that are relevant to their social world.

The acquisition and retention of knowledge, although still very important, are not solely what is needed for a pupil to succeed out in the ‘big bad’ world. We are preparing pupils for jobs that do not exist yet - how does one acquire knowledge about that?

When having the ‘knowledge/skills’ debate we need to be specific about what we mean. I think many educationalists find it difficult to contrast the two. Knowledge and skills are intrinsically linked and there are instances where pupils will need knowledge to develop the skill. Education should be irresistible to our children. However I think learning needs to be made explicit.

Unfortunately, we are once again at a point where the inspectorate have got it wrong and schools are being reactive. We need a curriculum that prepares our pupils for a life that doesn’t even exist yet - we need our pupils to think critically and creatively. I worry that our new framework promotes a didactic style of teaching, centred around knowledge, which doesn’t give credit to the art of quality teaching, and doesn’t invite our pupils to think for themselves.

When planning, learning needs to be made explicit, teachers should understand what they want the pupils to know, and pupils should know what they are learning, and why. Pupils need to experience the wonder of science in a Science lesson and be awed by the complexities of our planet in Geography lessons. This does not mean that links across the curriculum can not be very powerful. I think when done well, pupils are able to make connections and the learning can be deeper. Importantly, I think that we should invite a more PSHE focused approach, encouraging pupils to develop empathy and think about their impact on the wider world. Perhaps then they will be more informed and equipped to critique and question information - perhaps even making better choices during an election when their time comes.

So why does it have to be one or the other? Knowledge or skills? Why can’t we just develop a complete curriculum that inspires learning, builds on prior knowledge whilst developing skills through application?


Ultimately every setting is different, every child is different and every teacher is different.


I would encourage you to do what your pupils need to do to make social, emotional and academic progress and most importantly to love learning

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