Is the School Curriculum Serving the Right Kind of Education?

The UK school curriculum is often criticized for not catering to sufficient students and lacking engagement, but when it fails to engage students who are eager to learn... it's time to ask: What went wrong?

Published: Jul 29, 2023  |  

Medical secretary and concert enthusiast

School curriculum

School—some people love it, some people hate it … some people can even feel very indifferent to the whole experience.  I enjoyed it for what it was: An opportunity to learn. I did well enough in my GCSEs, and then again in my A-Levels and made close friends I wouldn’t trade for the world. I can do basic mathematics, string together an effective sentence, and can read and understand the written word. So why did I leave college feeling a certain degree of unease? Why did I feel some trepidation at the prospect of being left to my own devices in the big wide world?

What school doesn’t teach you

I think my reason for feeling slightly overwhelmed was due to the lack of teachings about what I like to call “real-world survival skills”. You know, budgeting, taxes … how life outside of the learning environment is so very different from the world of school and college. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to go to a good school and college and learn so much, and try to perfect my knowledge and skills, but I do feel slightly let down by the curriculum. 

The first lesson I had on the importance of budgeting in my entire school career was in my final year of college, as they were preparing students to head off to university. Like it was an afterthought rather than a necessary life skill.

There are so many of these skills and basic parts of everyday life that would be so beneficial for school students to learn from early on; lessons on being wise with money, accepting and catering to those who might have disabilities or difficulties such as hearing loss—something sign language lessons or even communication lessons from an early age would be helpful for. 

The primary school I attended started its students learning French or German very early on, so why not teach them sign language? According to RNID there are around 50,000 children in the UK who are deaf, so why aren’t we doing everything we can to help their peers communicate with them and vice versa? 

The power of not teaching to a test

There is also something to be said for encouraging students to focus on their strengths, rather than just ploughing money into making sure they pass their tests in their less confident subjects. I am by no means saying we should be dismissing their academic weaknesses—mine was always math, and had I not been helped through this by my teachers, I would be in no position to make any kind of decision involving numbers (and therefore money)—however, there has got to be room in the curriculum to guide students to truly master their strongest subjects without consequence. And this has to be true whether that is literature, music, math, physics, or hairdressing.

Those who wish to take more practical subjects, such as construction, plumbing, and beauty, should have the opportunity to do so—after all, some students might not have strengths in the traditionally academic subjects but will outshine their peers and find their futures in something else that benefits and contributes towards their wider community. It needs to stop being considered “less than” in the eyes of so many teachers, parents, and society in general.  

In my working life, I have heard many people talking about seeing “the bigger picture”. This is something that changes to the school curriculum could assist with. Teaching students to adapt and thrive under pressure would go a long way for not only their future working lives, but their experiences with universities and the application/interview process. School should not just be about learning the basics—it should be about the bigger picture of life and living in the world, and we should be supporting the upcoming generations with this wherever we can. 

These kinds of changes to the school curriculum might also motivate students to put their all into learning and studying and inspire them to build and work on their dream careers.  I know from personal experience that having that encouragement can make such a difference—my encouragement came in the form of an English teacher who took the time to discuss my passion for writing with me and gave me opportunities outside of the day-to-day lessons to develop my skills. Now, imagine if this kind of support was built into the actual curriculum… Not for grades. Not for testing. Just to encourage personal growth and experience.

I am not saying that the curriculum we have is no good at all—there are many things we all learn from school, both in the classroom and from the social side of the school environment, that are irreplaceable.  However, it is not perfect, and to be honest, I’m not sure it ever will be—but this does not mean that it can’t be updated to start reflecting at least some of the changes that are both important and necessary to society.  

At the end of the day, the world is constantly changing, and we need to be able to teach the next generation to adapt and change with it in order for them to live their lives to the fullest and to be as successful as they can be. 

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