The first topic we want to discuss is ‘The Purpose of Education’ which we believe is fundamental in steering the future of education policy in the right direction. We have posed a series of questions to stimulate discussion on this topic however, we want you to let us have your views. Please suggest a debate on this first topic by leaving your comments in the box on the right, or go to the debate page to see the topics already being discussed.

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    The curriculum

    On one side of the curriculum debate are those, including the government, who believe that the curriculum should be based primarily on knowledge. Do you agree? You will need to log in to vote and comment.

    The champions of a knowledge-based curriculum argue that acquiring knowledge helps students to remember new information, solve problems and improve their reasoning skills. Children who grow up in disadvantaged circumstances come to school with less knowledge so a knowledge-rich curriculum can help to compensate for what their peers from more advantaged backgrounds have.

    On the other side of the argument is the skills-based curriculum. Its proponents argue the demands of today’s society require “inquisitive, experimental, reflective and sociable” learners. As Professor Guy Claxton says, students who are more confident of their own learning ability learn faster and learn better. “They concentrate more, think harder and find learning more enjoyable. They do better in their tests and external examinations.”

    A third way comes from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which says that successful adults today need to be able to make connections between very different bits of information to create new knowledge. Therefore there are four dimensions needed in a 21st century curriculum: knowledge, skills, character and a “meta-layer” that is about learning how to learn).

    What are your views? Register or login and let us know what you think. Here are a couple of questions you might like to consider:

    • What should be the balance between knowledge, skills and character building?
    • Are different approaches needed for different phases of education?
    Phase I: The purpose of education
    Total replies: 22 Last comment: 19 Oct 16
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Agree (2)

Neutral (12)

Disagree (8)

  1. Latest comment ›

    Janet Rooney, Parent

    acquisition of knowledge is important, but making connections and applying that knowledge is intelligence.

    Comment on this Comment made: 19 OCT 2016

    Lesley Kirby, School/college leader

    The knowledge-is-all focus will surely damage learners who will be taught to memorise above all else. Of course they need knowledge to be able to begin to put a context to the world, but they also need to know why they need to know these things. This is especially important for children of families who do not care to talk about the world, their child's learning or have books or other sources of knowledge at home that they access regularly. Knowledge is already a big part of the curriculum - I am mystified as to why we are believed NOT to be teaching knowledge.

    Comment on this Comment made: 27 DEC 2013

    Rebecca Hanson, Academic

    I've written a free report on the new primary maths curriculum. It's available here:

    Comment on this Comment made: 11 DEC 2013

    anna, School/college leader

    The purpose of education is to equip young people to make their own way in the world. They will be entering a world very different to the one teachers and government ministers today grew up in. Therefore, they have access to knowledge at their fingertips, through digital media. This reduces the need to focus on knowledge transmission in the classroom. It also means that we definitely do need to focus much more how to handle information: how to find what you need; how to evaluate it; how to manipulate it / synthesise it / use it. There does need to be a core of knowledge learning - numeracy and literacy inter alia. This should also include a broad sense of human development, if part of our focus is to create socially-responsible citizens at a national and global level. This reduced core could then be delivered via meaningful exploration of skills and meta-learning, which would actually have some relevance and utility for students, unlike the current provision.

    Comment on this Comment made: 04 NOV 2013

    Rosalind Scott, School/college leader

    The curriculum needs to be broad and based on the full breadth of the purpose of education, therefore to include knowledge, skills, and developing their ability to envisage themselves as fully engaged adults. They need to learn to learn and to love learning. Most importantly, their curriculum needs to be flexible and personalised.

    Comment on this Comment made: 21 OCT 2013

    Jennifer Cross, Young person

    We need a basis of knowledge taught to enable our children to creatively express their skill. To what extent I am unsure, however the standardisation gene needs to be rid of

    Comment on this Comment made: 17 OCT 2013

    Carolyn Roberts, School/college leader

    We are the guardians of the young and whatever we do has to be for their benefit. As a society we should choose to educate them in they need in order to develop and take control of their own lives, and what builds up the common good. our young people have to know the best that has been thought and said and the subjects that make up our shared understanding and values. One of the aims of the NC used to be a 'just and sustainable democracy'. Our children need to understand the world so that they can change it for the better.

    Comment on this Comment made: 23 SEP 2013

    Mike Griffiths, School/college leader

    We need to give far more importance to the 'other stuff' that schools can do to enhance the lives and education of our youngsters. Of course knowledge is important. Of course skills are important. But state schools have been far too willing to abdicate responsibility for developing character traits such as resilience, leadership, perseverance, teamwork.... We need to put far more emphasis on the co-curriculum. We need young men and women of character as well as the knowledgeable and the capable....

    Comment on this Comment made: 22 SEP 2013

    1. Ellen Lane, Parent

      I think this comment identifies a root cause problem in state education. I can see it for myself as clear as day having one child in state school and another in a private school. The next challenge is identifying why this is so? Why aren't the state schools as good as the private schools? - Identify the things the state system finds difficult to match such as better facilities, lower class numbers, elitist selection of more talented students which creates a virtuous cycle for these schools. Then ask how much of the yawning gap is created by the self-serving attitude of those who run the state system with its entrenched vested interests (backed by unions), resistant to change and accountability?
      I find the debates on education very quickly become talking shops - with very little honest objective search for the root causes and without suggestions for actions which are proportionate to the scale of the problem.

      Comment made: 25 SEP 2013

    John Connolly, School/college leader

    This should not be an adversarial debate it should be about these areas of learning and development can work together. We need to take the politics out of education.

    Comment on this Comment made: 18 SEP 2013

    Tim Small, Governor

    Which of the questions are we being asked to agree to? I disagree that the curriculum should be based primarily on knowledge, but I agree to the idea of a balance between knowledge, skills and character building. There is some interesting research evidence that young people have come to view their schools as 'exam factories' now, with little or no investment in them as human beings developing their capacity to contribute meaningfully to a democracy.

    Comment on this Comment made: 17 SEP 2013

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