Insights from Geoff Barton’s Whole Education keynote

CEOs, Headteachers and other Whole Education senior leaders from across the country gathered in London for the launch of our new programme of support for Secondary schools.

Whole Education launched its new programme of core support for secondary schools in central London on September 18th. This brought Headteachers from across the network together to think about the challenge of designing and effectively implementing a ‘whole education’ curriculum.


Geoff Barton opened the day with a keynote reflecting on curriculum, accountability, and social mobility.

Below, one attendee shares some reflections and challenges from Geoff’s keynote.

  • Ofsted taking more interest in curriculum is a good thing – but it needs to be done carefully, so it doesn’t lead to us imposing one set of values on others.
  • The English curriculum has historically been unique for the range and breadth of experiences it gives young people- with rich arts, languages, sports, trips and visits. We need to embrace that and use it to tell an optimistic story about our education- and government needs to protect it.
  • “What is English for in your school?”
    Could you answer that question? If the answer is ‘the national curriculum’ or ‘passing exams’, isn’t that missing the point? What is your curriculum intent?
  • The most powerful thing Ofsted could ask would be “What is distinctive about your curriculum?”. This would be liberating. It would mean schools could stop feeling like they were teaching a curriculum someone else has mandated and celebrate what they were doing on behalf of their children and their community.
  • Social mobility shouldn’t mean people leaving their communities. A school’s curriculum should celebrate the ultra-local (where have we come from? What is special about this place?) as well as the national and the global.
  • We need to move past skills vs knowledge. We want our dentist to know about teeth. We also want her to have the skills to put the drill in the right place! Skills underpin knowledge- like judgement about when, and how, to use knowledge.
  • How do we help children navigate the digital world?  If children are bullied at school, in the age of social media they will still be connected when they go home. Are their older peers the best placed people to help them tackle these challenges?
  • How do we help children judge what is real and reliable in a world of fake news?
  • Let’s stop accountability being external. Instead lets ask ‘how are we going to measure if we are successful or not?’ How do we then communicate that to parents, to governors, to trustees?
  • Accountability should help schools to tell the story of what makes them a good school, take pride in what made them distinctive and bring their particular missions to life. This might mean a dashboard of measures – inspectors could say “Show us one thing you’re particularly proud of”.

Three things that make a big difference for young people:

  • Speaking and listening underpin everything else: give young people opportunities to talk, in context, to people who don’t talk like them.
  • A love of reading: read in order to do something. Silent reading on its own will not build a love of reading. Having someone recommend a particular book for you, that they thought you might like, can make a difference.
  • Embrace- and let young people see- the messiness of writing. Don’t only let them see perfect, finished writing. Let them build it up. Ask them what a bad way of writing something might be, then ask them why it’s bad.

Views above reflect some key insights from Geoff’s speech- they should not be taken as verbatim.

You can watch a recording of the first part of Geoff’s keynote below

Parts two and three can also be viewed at the links.



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