The attack on knowledge

Attendees at the Michael Young event

Professor Michael Young (Institute of Education, University of London)
Tim Oates as Chair (Cambridge Assessment)

Date: 25 Mar 2014 Venue: Cripps Court 1-3 Chesterton Road Cambridge England CB4 3AD
Type: Seminar Fee: Free to attend

The curriculum theory and curriculum policy debate in England has been highly polarised and confrontational with key figures and different schools of thought exchanging salvos in both the academic and popular press.

On 25 March, Cambridge Assessment Network welcomed nearly 100 educationalists, teachers, assessment professionals and policy makers in Cambridge who came to hear guest speaker Professor Michael Young of the Institute of Education, University of London, revive the concept of ‘powerful knowledge’ and its relationship with the national curriculum.

Professor Young opened his talk in ‘defence of knowledge’ by making two assumptions a) there is better knowledge in every field, and b) the root of all knowledge is differentiation: “For education the most basic distinction is between school curriculum knowledge and the everyday knowledge or experience that pupils bring to school. Curriculum knowledge is context independent knowledge unlike experience which is tied.”

Professor Young also called for a clear distinction between the concepts of curriculum and pedagogy. He said: “The curriculum is a resource for charting the teacher’s and the school’s goals, whereas pedagogy refers to how the teacher engages with the pupils prior experience to enable her/him to access concepts of the curriculum and see his or her experience in a new way.”

In response to the declined role of knowledge in education, Michael praised the pre 1988 system whereby school exams operated as the National Curriculum. He welcomed the current government’s idea of a common curriculum for all up to 16, yet criticised the country’s economic policies which are not set up for fair distribution of knowledge.

Professor Young concluded his talk by quoting a headteacher of a large comprehensive school and her take on powerful knowledge: “Knowledge is worthwhile in itself. Tell children this: never apologise that they need to learn things.” (10 things to remember for a knowledge-driven school)

Interviews with Russell Hobby (NAHT), Professor Michael Reiss (University of London), Tim Oates (Cambridge Assessment) and Professor Michael Young (University of London), are available as podcasts below.

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