After a week of 'Gove Levels' , where England's Education Minister has advocated a return to that divisive two-tier system which failed so abysmally in the first place, it would seem strange to propose anything remotely revolutionary.
Abolish exams and replace them with school-based coursework. Get rid of Headteacher dictatorships and thoroughly democratise schools, so they're run by pupils and teachers. Scrap the costly and time-wasting Inspections and create a system of peer observation and hands-on advisors. Introduce freedom of choice in school clothes, so comfort and suitability replace militaristic uniformity.
All these are ideas I've mooted previously and tried to justify fully. I've been called hopelessly utopian, despite the fact that some of these have actually happened in the recent past, such as 100% coursework in English Literature and Language.
Now I'd like to add to these by suggesting that subjects should gradually disappear from the curriculum altogether.
This may seem like a crazy notion and many may say, why should this happen?
I believe that if subjects are replaced by themes or topics it will enable pupils to see the direct relevance of what they are studying far more clearly. I could not see any basis in reality in both Maths and Science when I did them at school, yet have discovered (through watching various series on tv) just how ubiquitous, practical and totally important they are to any perception of the world.
The extremely unhealthy division between practical subjects and academic ones would also be broken down , with each theme containing vital practical outcomes.In other words, making products, producing leaflets and dishes as a result of that chosen topic.
Above all, it would create pupils who are far more rounded individuals.
One of the most significant initiatives in the 6th form in the last decade has been the introduction of AS Levels, intended to encourage students to select a combination of subjects from arts and sciences, thus ridding A Levels of that almost sectarian division.
However, AS failed to do this in all but a few cases, because Universities continued to demand combinations of subjects confined to either arts or sciences and , moreover, schools found it very difficult to accomodate awkward subject choices.
While both the International and Welsh Bacc. do defy this and are far more wide-ranging and outward-looking, what I am putting forward is much more fundamental.
Ironically, this has been standard practice in Primary Schools for many years and, despite the pressures of the National Curriculum and, more recently, Key Skills, the thematic approach has prevailed and been very successful.
Historically, steps towards it at Comp. level have been tentative. However, one of my first job interviews was at a brand-new school in Telford. It was going to be run on a thematic basis, with pupils moving from area to area to pursue this.
I didn't get the job (maybe my hair wasn't long enough!), but it was one of the best interviews I've ever had, with a long chat down the pub lunchtime with the ex-hippy Head(who's probably now working for Ofsted!).
Later, at the Comp. where I taught in Merthyr I had responsibility for Language Across the Curriculum for a while and it promised to be a nascent form of what I'm discussing, but never delivered.
To make education more relevant and enjoyable, why not study themes such as Obesity or Unemployment , as each can be dealt with in most subject areas, from the science of nutrition to the mathematics of household management?
To give one example of something which will impact on many communities in the next decade, why not make Fracking one of the topics?
It certainly involves a detailed knowledge of geology and also an understanding of how it could pollute and cause earthquakes.
I can imagine debates and the study of portmanteau words in English, the experiences of N.American fracking in Geography , implications for energy bills in Maths and environmental ones in Science.
In History, why not a serious consideration of the Crown Estate which actually owns the mineral rights to most of the land due to be fracked for shale gas ( will the Green Carlo block these?).
This is only one example and some pupils could well say - 'Couldn't give a flyin' frack!'
Yet surely, the themes could be negotiated and decided by staff and pupils?
It's a system that wouldn't happen overnight. Initially it would have to be introduced into Year 7, so they become accustomed as they progress up the school.
Indeed, it's already happening in a tentative way and my young daughter studies 'Meddwl Dysgu Llwyddo' which incorporates Humanities, RE and Learning To Learn.
Certainly the themes should have relevance to the locality, so practical experience, visiting speakers and trips are integral. Although emphasis on the local would lead inevitably to Welsh literature (in both languages), history and geography, there would still be a need for a wider context and the Senedd should provide that.
ALL SUBJECTS GONE
We had this new Headmaster,
must've come from a school on Jupiter.
Everyone said he was off his head,
'I'm not a Head, I'm a body!' he said.
'From now on, all subjects will be gone!
Only themes in our curriculum!'
Our first was LOVE, in Maths we found
not 1+ 1, but a recurring number you couldn't count.
In Science, for all its reproductive skills,
we learnt how it too could be killed.
In Geography, we located the very places
where topography matched lovers' faces.
In History, it wasn't king and queens,
but couples struggling with death and disease.
In CDT, we made our own inventions
trying to determine desires and intentions.
In ICT. from spread-sheets of the heart
we tried to predict how it could start.
In Welsh, we rhymed 'Caru' and Cymru',
discovered no crime to love your country.
In French, we wrote letters with many a kiss
and listened to Piaf's sensuous voice.
In Games, we used arrows and bows,
dressed up in Cupid's scanty clothes.
In Art, we created colourful graffiti
with tags and love-messages bright and sparkly.
In RE, we found love of things unseen :
some thought it a fairy-tale, others a dream.
In Music, avidly followed the score
till notes flew off the page, became no more.
In English, we learnt it couldn't be defined,
no matter how many words we tried to find.
We came to love this revolutionary plan ;
'Next theme's CHANGE!' he declared, and I'm stepping down!'