(Music: Artist - 'Drowning Pool" - "Let the Bodies hit the Floor")
The drama of the music attached to the video clip of fish thrashing for their lives in a shrinking pool perfectly illustrates a process that is coming to a head in school curricula.
For drying water, substitute shrinking curriculum time allocated to ever-expanding content and each traditional subject discipline, from the sciences through to the arts, tends to thrash around trying to justify why it, as opposed to all of the others, deserves its special protected room to breath in a restricted pool of time.
As a language teacher we have always had an issue with the need for curriculum space, especially in the secondary phase. As the one subject on the secondary curriculum that, prior to the primary MFL initiative, only began being taught in yr 7, we have had to build a fast-track to exam success in 5 years where other subjects had 9 or 10.
We have always argued that children need a daily dose of the language to make up for this lost time. In the schools I used to teach in, these pressures were recognised and time allocation for yr 7 was generous with even more overall time devoted to language learning accorded in yrs 8 and 9 with the introduction of a second language.
The picture is changing however. From everything I read on various MFL fora, school leaders have been re-modelling timetables in all kinds of fanciful ways that allow them more flexibility but with the effect that they can 'squeeze' subjects perceived to be of less value to their overall performance outcomes. This is a process that threatens many other subjects too.
Then we have various governments', often clumsy attempts, to intervene that throw plans further into confusion. Withdrawing MFL as a statutory GCSE subject, giving the subject more time in the primary curriculum to compensate, now possibly doing a complete about turn, suspending the Primary initiative (we simply don't know) and returning to MFL's inclusion in the Ebac at GCSE level, and you can forgive all of us for not knowing whether we are coming or going.
Wagging the dog is the exam tail, with a system currently at GCSE which sucks vast amounts of time out of actually teaching the subject in order to prepare for and manage the tests.
Add to all of this the perception of many MFL colleagues that successive governments, many school leadership teams, many parents, indeed an awful lot of children simply don't 'get' the need for studying languages, and I can understand why so many colleagues feel under immense pressure.
Out of this arises a sense that we have to unite around a common front to 'sell' the subject with one voice, to have a common understanding of why we deserve our breathing space in the pool as opposed to any other subject.
Whilst understandable, this worries me....greatly.
The fact that I can even write this blog post and that it can be seen and read by many people I will never know or meet, underlines the real context we are in.
I am a language teacher who isn't in a shrinking pool.
My pool of contacts, colleagues and collaborators expands every day.
Every day, somebody new gets to know me and the ideas and resources I have to share, even if I never realise that they do.
I am connected to colleagues from all over the world. My connections are expanding way beyond my traditional subject boundaries in a way I have never and could never have experienced before.
The pupils I teach live in wall-less classrooms that have the power to connect across the globe. Their learning isn't restricted to the hours between 9 and 4 and it doesn't all depend upon me.
So I am worried by any call that suggests a re-trenchment into traditional subject boundaries in order to preserve our status. The essence of the new connected curriculum that I believe is emerging is one based on a fundemental societal shift, that highly prizes collaboration and eschews competition.
Pressure, panic, worry, fear, concern, can all be good things. Because we naturally find it easier to conceive of and settle for what we already know rather than what is new, we sometimes need these negative feelings to jolt us into action and re-think.
Out of all of this pressure, I would love to see a curriculum where many of the traditional subject boundaries disappeared. I have taught in but have never understood a system that forces a child to wear a 'languages' hat for 1 hour, take it off, forget about it for the rest of the day and wear a 'PE' hat, then a 'Science' hat etc.
Why can't we have a curriculum where connections are being made to many subjects throughout a child's day, where in PE I'm reminded of what I was taught in Science or French? Why should cross-curriculum models still be seen as the prerogative of the quirky and brave instead of the norm?
Children love these connections and teachers love to make them. If you want more curriculum time for your subject, there it is, partner up with other subjects! Don't retreat into the temptation to laud the values of your own subject in an attempt to win curriculum space at the expense of other colleagues in other disciplines. That way lies disaster, division, dislocation, lots of DIs! And it flies in the face of every other social trend that is gaining momentum.
Finally, as a linguist who believes passionately that there is an intimate and incredibly powerful link between music and language acquisition, can I start by pleading with leaders in Music Education and leaders in Language Education to talk.
Can Heads of Music in Schools begin to talk to Heads of Languages and look at joint projects and units of study? I know it happens in some places. When it does, it is truly inspirational. If we want our children to be buzzing with excitement at learning a language the surest and only way to do it is to make these connections the norm.
Let's hope that they will hasten the death of the competitive curriculum.
As I have just found this, here is a link to Dr Jonathan Savage's blog writing about music and cross-curricula initiatives