In this chapter we seek to address what the current trends in primary curriculum seem to indicate about the future, as well as exploring some of the possible curriculum developments that may be needed to enable primary schools to make an appropriate response to the shape of the future world. There is little argument that developments since the time of the Plowden Report
(CACE 1967) have been inﬂuenced as much by ideology and politics as by research evidence or a considered response to social and technological change. While there has never been a time when literacy and numeracy were not seen as key elements in the primary school curriculum, nevertheless the wider setting in which these were located has varied markedly. In the post-Plowden era there was a strong commitment, amongst educationalists at least, to a child-centred curriculum based on children’s interests playing down the signiﬁcance of subjects (especially when contrasted with the secondary school curriculum). The major ‘turn’ came as part of the 1988 Education Reform Act, when ‘English’ and ‘mathematics’ became the home of literacy and numeracy, respectively. These two subjects were joined by science to become the core subjects within the school curriculum from 5-16 and were to have priority treatment alongside the range of ‘foundation subjects’. Since that time literacy and numeracy have re-emerged as skill-oriented curriculum components, with their prescribed pedagogies in the primary school, through the development of the literacy and numeracy strategies that emerged during the period of transition from Conservative to New Labour government in 1997. However, the purpose of this chapter is not to engage with that interesting history
but rather to assess current developments and what they may tell us about what is likely to emerge in the future. In so doing we will also comment on the wider policy context from which it is unwise to separate the primary school curriculum. We will also indicate some aspects of future scenarios that are worthy of attention. In setting about these tasks we oﬀer a review of some of the recent alternatives that have been oﬀered in part as a critique of dominant curricular approaches. These include schools that have established alternative curricula, new approaches that are being promoted within maintained (and other) schools, as well as reviewing recent developments in home schooling. There are two trajectories evident within recent curriculum reform: (1) a stronger
focus on individual ‘capacities’ and the development of core transferable skills (rather than subject content); and (2) a discernible ‘aﬀective turn’ evidenced in renewed interest
in the management of emotions. These developments do not take place in a vacuum but are shaped by broader political, cultural and economic inﬂuences and by the shifting relative inﬂuence of social and ‘psy’ disciplines in education. The changes described above intersect with two broader inﬂuences on teachers’ work: the re-conﬁguration or ‘re-professionalising’ of teachers’work in the last two decades, and the challenges presented by the perceived needs of an emergent ‘knowledge society’. The potential for reform of the primary curriculum cannot be dislocated from these complex contextual factors. In the following section, we consider the implications of the ‘learning society’ for the
formal school curriculum and suggest that the erosion of the transmission model has opened spaces for deliberation over the curriculum. We chart renewed interest in alternative approaches through a variety of forms – commissioned research reviews and targeted funding of a variety of local and national initiatives. We consider how alternative (‘progressive’) approaches with a long lineage are ‘mediated’ or ‘refracted’ in the contemporary policy ﬁeld. In particular we identify elements of ‘travelling’ curriculum policy and suggest ways in which some of the enduring themes of primary education are blended with new approaches to serve the speciﬁc needs of the contemporary context. We conclude by suggesting that the curriculum of the future is likely to be constrained by a concern with responding to the political imperatives of the present, not least an enduring emphasis on performance. Whilst we note that the resurgence of interest in aspects of alternative approaches is in part a growing acknowledgement of the limitations of curricular prescription – for either the professional development of teachers or the advancement of children’s learning – we suggest that transferring ideas from one context of practice to another is not straightforward. In the process of policy diﬀusion a re-ordering takes place in which the demonstration of individual competence is valued more highly than the processes of dialogue and collaboration involved in the social construction of understanding – core concerns of alternative approaches. From the late 1990s teaching has been subject to successive waves of reform, with an
explicit focus on classroom practice. The re-positioning of the teacher as ‘pedagogical technician’ has resulted in an emphasis on the acquisition of technical competence measured by compliance with performance criteria in professional standards. This reduction of the teacher’s role and erosion of the professional knowledge base of teaching leaves the profession vulnerable to external intervention. In the drive to raise standards through the identiﬁcation of ‘what works’, central government has strengthened its inﬂuence and drawn on the ‘expert’ knowledge of a ready pool of ‘policy entrepreneurs’ (Ball 1994). The ‘what works’ agenda has increased teachers’ and Local Authorities’ attraction to the problem solving skills traded by educational consultants and trainers. One consequence of this commodiﬁcation of professional knowledge is the conﬂation of the aﬀective and the performative; a process that has been referred to elsewhere as the ‘instrumentalisation of the expressive’ (Hartley 2003; Zembylas 2006). A loose coupling between emotion management and performance improvement has emerged from the intersection of child-centered education in the primary sector and outcomes driven assessment in the post-primary phase. We argue here that the contemporary ‘aﬀective turn’ creates a backwards glance to child-centered pedagogies and alternative education, but it does so in a ﬁeld where the management of the expressive is harnessed to equip individuals with the emotional resilience to cope in a system driven by the imperative of the ‘examination’. From this perspective the primary curriculum of the future remains inextricably inﬂuenced by the performative culture prevalent in secondary schooling.