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Draft Programmes of Study for the new curriculum

12 June 2012

One of the delightful things to enjoy in London in June every year is Open Garden Squares weekend. On the second Saturday and Sunday, many of the gardens, which are normally only open to residents of the squares, are opened to all. Garden lovers can have fun using the guide to see how many they can visit in a day.

A few non-square gardens also open, and it’s one of these which captivated me. A year or so ago, when I lived near Kings Cross Station, I peered into an area of the delightful building site which was my home territory, where a number of builders’ skips had been filled with soil and cultivated. Now, as the development has proceeded, the Skip Garden has moved and the young people’s project which forms the background to it has blossomed. The young people now come along to the Skip Garden not just to grow vegetables. They have created a cinema club and have beehives on top one of the nearby buildings. They also work with the University of the Arts making ceramics and extracting dyes from some of the plants, and they are even planning to go urban camping.

So, why am I describing this to you, just as the draft Programmes of Study for the new curriculum are finally released? And what is the relevance to science education? Well, I didn’t meet any of the young people at the project, but from a short conversation with their leader, it was clear that they set the agenda for the activities – and that these were diverse, fun and eclectic. It struck me that the choices made demonstrate precisely the qualities that employers and admissions tutors are desperate to see in their new intakes. 

So, the simple argument is, give young people the opportunity and choice, and not only do they have fun and engage in mind-developing activities, but they also develop in a way that employers and educators want them to. If we’re not really careful in schools, we can work against providing the opportunity for some choice in day-to-day schooling. By channelling all learning into rigidly developed subjects, the connection with what might naturally interest young people can be lost. The challenge, as we develop learning in the context of subjects, and particularly as we examine the proposals in the draft Programmes of Study, is to provide ownership of school learning to those who undertake it, in the way that the Skip Project does.

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