Does New British Curriculum Focus on Cooking More Than Technology?

As one of the people looking at today’s students as future employees, BAE System Chairman Dick Olver believes that the new curriculum falls well short of the standards his company sets for its potential workers. He said that it was ridiculous that the key plank in the new curriculum appears to dedicate more time to home economics and horticulture than it does to technology and the hard sciences.

Both Olver and the BAE have strongly supported government efforts to overhaul the secondary education system to bring it more into line with market demand. Yet he believes that the latest moves taken by the Department of Education and Secretary Michael Gove have moved the whole process in the wrong direction.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published draft curriculums for 10 secondary school subjects. Teachers have until the middle of next month to suggest changes. They will be expected to teach the new curriculums from September 2014.

Olver, who is also chair of E4E, an organisation of 36 engineering institutions, said the draft proposals for design and technology did “not meet the needs of a technologically literate society”.

“Instead of introducing children to new design techniques , such as biomimicry (how we can emulate nature to solve human problems), we now have a focus on cookery. Instead of developing skills in computer-aided design, we have the introduction of horticulture. Instead of electronics and control, we have an emphasis on basic mechanical maintenance tasks,” he told a conference of educators earlier this month. “In short, something has gone very wrong.”

Olver’s concern stems from the fact that without a highly trained workforce, Britain stands to lose its position as the premier technology innovator in Europe. Instead of working towards doubling the country’s output of engineers and technologists, the UK is putting together a curriculum that will guide students towards liberal arts majors when they get to university – that is, if they get to university at all.

He also noted that the curriculum designers completely failed to take on board proposals and suggestions from working engineers when putting together the technology and engineering portions of the plan.

Olver is the latest in a long line of critics of the new curriculum. Last month, Steven Mastin, who stood as a Tory candidate in the last general election and is a history teacher, said the proposed curriculum fails to offer children a broad and balanced education. Presidents of the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association, the higher education group History UK and senior members of the British Academy have also criticised the draft.

Teachers unions have also weighed in to criticize the newly published curriculum, saying that its emphasis on rote memorization makes it useful for nothing but training up pub quiz champions. According to a teacher from Wandsworth, the new program strives to completely remove the personal touch from the classroom by turning teachers into nothing but recitation robots.