The Covert Curriculum
Five things for us to worry about:
- Everyone went to school so everyone’s an expert
- Things don’t always go to plan
- I have courage but can’t seem to demonstrate it in the classroom
- They are doing learning walks again. Why am I never invited?
- Covering the curriculum
Five things we’d prefer to worry about:
- Are dinosaurs an invention of the Victorians?
- If we go through the wardrobe, what might we find?
- How do we safely sharpen our swords?
- What does it sound like when you walk on shells?
- At what angles do security cameras need to be placed in order to keep the old castle secure?
And five more……
- Generating awe and wonder
- Rehearsing children for real life
- Developing the active seeking brain
- Fostering independent learning
- Cultivated creativity and imagination
I once did a twilight Inset evening where the Head introduced me and promptly left the room. I felt pretty vulnerable because my remit was to deliver an hour on creativity and that very word alone is enough to send some colleagues over the edge. In this session, a gentleman sitting right in front of me threw his pen onto the table and proclaimed
The pen hit the deck and ricochets back up into the air and in my general direction. I dodged it in slow-motion-bullet-time-Matrix-style, and went to pick it up as the 50 or so staff watched in embarrassed silence. I wanted to berate the colleague with
‘Creativity is an essential part of the human condition and without it we are furniture, empty and wooden and devoid of humanity. Furniture shouldn’t be teaching children!’
Unfortunately I didn’t have the courage. I put the pen back on his table and resumed my talk, now with a rattled edge. Fortunately I’ve learned a lot since then. The thing is this: creativity is part of our teacher repertoire; it’s sitting there in our teacher kitbag, waiting to be applied appropriately and when needed. It’s also there in what Ofsted want to see in good and outstanding lessons. When we talk about creativity, I understand the pen-thrower’s response, because the default is to start thinking in the realms of Drama, Dance and Music and so on. We know that these artistic areas are absolutely the bread and butter of some colleagues, but for others, they are intimidating and to be avoided. What we need to do is unlearn this view of subjects as discrete entities and see them more with blurred edges melting into one another; or even better, find the curriculum within the work we are already doing. Try these for size. Where is the curriculum (literacy, numeracy and all the rest) in the following ideas?
- International Rescue
- The Sea
- Time Machine
As you read this little list, your professional repertoire kicks in and you get rummaging in your kitbag. Guess what? That’s you being creative. If the Secretary of State for Education announced tomorrow that all EYFS, KS1 and KS2 curriculum had to be delivered through the lens of TRAVEL, after the initial hand-wringing, we’d buckle down and find that actually it would be dead easy to do. We’d tip our hats to the great bubble of expectation we operate within (Government, Ofsted, Parents, Governance, Leadership) and navigate our way through the new focus placing our children at the centre of our planning; thinking about our classrooms, our displays and the potential learning adventures our children could enjoy. We’d also make sure we covered the curriculum as set out by the Government because that’s what we’re paid to do.
HOW we do that is up to us.
This is the bit that seems to be getting lost as the pressure of the bubble threatens to strangle the capacity of teachers to be creative. We should
- promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
- prepare pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life
Who wants to argue with that? So, how do the following situations meet these expectations, and where do you see the potential curriculum for the children you work with every day? Get a brew, and stretch your professionally creative muscles:
- If we are going to build a spacecraft to travel beyond our solar system, what’s the first thing we should do?
- What tools do we need in our kit bag that will enable us to get to the centre of the earth?
- How can we as a class sitting in a classroom in the middle of our town, help those in other countries who are suffering famine?
- How can we make sure the historic mill is not torn down to make way for new houses?
- What shall we say to the old man who needs to be moved from his house as it has become unsafe?
- What shall we put on the signs warning people not to leave or enter our village as we’re harbouring the plague?
- What rules do we need if we are going to rescue a beached whale?
- What do we need to say to the Mayor to encourage him to pay the Pied Piper?
- If we are going to rehabilitate the Big Bad Wolf, what’s the first thing we need to organise?
- How do we exhibit a Gorgon?
There are no answers to the task I’ve set you, so long as you’ve uncovered the curriculum you need to cover. This is where creativity and coverage collide. As Primary colleagues we need to ensure there is balance between these two entities and that the integrity of great learning never loses out to shallow, unchallenging task work lazily labelled as creative.
So, please Dance in Science, sing in Literacy, role play in Numeracy, nod at the bubble of expectation, stay true to the integrity of the learning, soundtrack the beach, paint the planet, cover the coverage and give way to the covert curriculum that your children reveal to you.
Five attributes of a great teacher (you can add another five to make your own Top Ten)
- Authentic Care
‘Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally’ by Hywel Roberts ed. By Ian Gilbert. Published by ITL Press/Crown House. Available from Amazon.