Are we teaching the wrong curriculum for the 21st Century?


Victorian Classroom

Victorian Classroom


If you look at what our ancestors studied at school in Victorian times (those lucky enough to go to school that is) it is quite surprising how little things have really changed;




English (reading, writing and spelling)



‘Technology’ (woodwork and

Technical drawing for the boys, cooking and sewing for the girls)



When you start thinking about how much the world has changed since Victorian times you do start to worry that maybe, just maybe, we are barking up the wrong tree with our current school curriculum and its obsession with testing knowledge of these subjects.

If we then think about what organisations like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have been saying for decades are the skills which young people and industry need to thrive in the 21st century;

Emotional     intelligence


Determination  Creativity

Team work         Critical Thinking

Communication                                IT skills

ability to learn     independently

Numeracy           Literacy

IT skills

You can see we have a major problem!!

Many of the ‘modern’ skills above are not easy to measure and many are embedded within what are seen as non-academic subjects such as the arts and vocational subjects. It fascinates me how arts subjects have been so down-graded in recent curriculum developments when they contribute so much to the UK economy;

“In 2009 the Creative Industries contributed £36.3 billion in ‘Gross Value Added’ to the UK (2.89% of the UK’s GVA). Publishing, Advertising and TV & Radio provide the greatest contribution to the UK’s GVA (£11.6 billion, £5.9 billion and £5.3 billion respectively). In 2010 the Creative Industries accounted for 1.50 million jobs, 5.1% of the UK’s employment.”

Pete Henshaw, editor of SecEd magazine like Jobbing Teacher, laments the obsession with constant testing of a narrow set of subject knowledge

 “While many other countries value skills as highly as knowledge in their education systems, the UK is stuck in a rut.”

 Pete argues why skills are just a vital as knowledge to our students’ futures. His main examples are;

Resilience – is this not the most important skill with which we must equip our students?

Risk-taking – do not all our young people need the ability to take risks in order to thrive in the modern workplace?

Problem-solving – has not the ability to think laterally and creatively become the trait most highly valued by employers today?

Handling failure – will we not all face failure in our lives and have to recover from set-backs?


 Why is it that none of these skills, vital to 21st century life, are being prioritised within our new curriculum?

Another question that is constantly on my mind is, if jobs are so scarce for young people why on earth are we not teaching enterprise and entrepreneurship in our schools? I have seen great projects in schools in the past but it seems to have been dropped from the curriculum like a ‘ton of bricks’. Why?

Is it too difficult to measure?

Or doesn’t it fit with the middle class ‘study and go to University’ image of many of our ruling classes?

Ian Smith, chairman of the enterprise education charity, has recently said: “The Department of Education is now adopting an alarmingly narrow focus on academic skills and exams.”


“What I see in the new Government’s approach is a lack of focus on the skills, attitudes and behaviours that young people actually need to be successful in their working lives; skills like teamwork, presentation, reliability, honesty, integrity, and punctuality, which employers look for in new recruits.”

Sir James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner entrepreneur, has also warned that an emphasis on core academic subjects could be to the detriment of practical skills:

“Britain has 37,000 engineering vacancies but produces just 22,000 engineering graduates each year. Young people should be encouraged into practical subjects like design and technology, which is at risk of being taken off the national curriculum – if we want a generation of problem-solvers this is a mistake.”

Many of the jobs that our children will end up doing have not been invented yet. If I think about my own children – yes, I want them to do well in examinations but if I am totally honest, I want them to be resilient, creative and have enough entrepreneurial acumen to create their own jobs if they need or want to in the future much more.

We keep being told that we need to look to countries like Singapore and other rapidly expanding economies and their school systems, but I noticed recently that Singapore have decided that all the focus on testing and examinations is not producing ‘good people’ so they are returning to a more ‘child-centered’ approach to education – well I never!!!

My final rant of the day is languages in schools!!

Why are we still forcing our children to learn French, German or Spanish?

According to 2011 figures, 154,221 pupils took a GCSE in French, a drop of 15 per cent in just 12 months. German entries dropped by more than 13 per cent to just 60,887 in 2011.

I can understand keeping German on the go as there are possibilities of future work for young people who can speak it in Germany (see previous post), but French and Spanish? Neither of these two countries have economies that are going to be providing multitudes of jobs in the future for British workers. So it raises the question for me, why are we not encouraging our children to study Mandarin or Urdu? Both China and India are two of the fastest growing economies in the world. Also, for the sake of community cohesion, why not add Polish, Latvian and Russian?

But that would take a truly ‘radical’ Education secretary wouldn’t it? And what would his true-blue party members say?

What do you think?






Posted in School Organisation Tagged with: , ,
One comment on “Are we teaching the wrong curriculum for the 21st Century?
  1. Couldn’t agree more, but if you want to see schools that are dealing with this problem have a look at the videos made by schools that have gained the Naace 3rd Millennium Learning Award –

    If these schools can provide such a wonderful education for their pupils, why can’t others?

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