In Defence of Dame Sally Coates: Order and Clarity Unleash Creativity

Dame Sally Coates has recently called for specific content to be included in the National Curriculum, so that children across the land will have access to the same material at the same age, and should they move schools, their education will continue without so much disruption.

This is an eminently sensible idea, particularly as it is the most disadvantaged members of society who suffer most from our current incoherence, as E D Hirsch has pointed out. But to read some of the reporting and comment on her views, one would think Dame Sally were calling for an impossibly draconian degree of uniformity.

If you read the actual words attributed to her, it is clear that this is not the proposal she is making, but a distortion of her views so severe that one wonders whether it has been done deliberately in order to discredit them.

To call for order and coherence is not to insist on uniformity. It is establishing the rules of the game, so that people will be able to perfect their skill as they participate in clearly defined activities.

There are some very odd notions around these days about what constitutes freedom. Many people believe that freedom means the absence of rules. But it is rules which enable us to do anything. Because I know the rules of the English language, I can communicate with you. Because I know the rules of the road, I am able to drive with reasonable safety from A to B. Because Mozart absorbed the rules of tonal music so perfectly, he could compose with amazing fluency.

This must be part of what Dame Sally means when she mentions the creativity that a clearer curriculum could unleash. And clear, well defined content does not mean uniformity. Just because everyone is obliged to teach certain authors or eras of history in a certain year, it does not mean they will all have to go about it in exactly the same way. But above all, the scandal of denying poor children access to the best that has been thought and said, in the name of so called freedom, which really means incoherence and sloppiness, must stop.

Further reading:

On Curricular Clarity

National Testing Should Be Broader, Simpler and More Frequent

Independence and the National Curriculum

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