Princeton University

Purpose Of The Curriculum


The UK curriculum has undergone radical changes over the past few decades. Some of them are; inclusion, revision of the role of ICT and the introduction of national curriculum. However, there is a need to examine whether these changes were relevant in the achievement of overall curriculum objectives. This analysis will be conducted with reference to various subjects as illustrated below. (Vignoles and Machin, 2004)

The relationship between aims of the curriculum and the purpose of education

Purposes of education differ from individual to individual. Consequently, one can divide these schools of thought into six distinct categories as seen in the late eighties. These categories have helped to shape the present curriculum today. Old right advocates held the first perspective during that time. They asserted that the purpose of education is to divide students into a group of elites and underclass. Education was supposed to teach the underclass how to become submissive to the upper class. On the contrary, the elite were the rulers of land. They were supposed to acquire some managerial and social skills necessary for leadership. Additionally, the two groups had distinct cultures that separated them from one another.

According to this perspective, the curriculum should focus on traditional subjects, which are to be examined regularly. However, the manner of implementation would differ according to student type. The elite were supposed to be taught in separated environments in an efficient manner while the underclass was to receive mediocre knowledge. One should note that some members of the civil service and traditionalists hold this belief.

Education experts also hold another view with regard to the purpose of education. They believe that education should be tailored to meet the needs of the population. Consequently, a country will be able to sustain itself if their students meet this objective. Such an approach may not necessarily be compatible with traditional values and may require adjustments. This is because the economy is constantly fluctuating. In instances where there is a decline, then there should be greater flexibility to meet present needs.

The implication of such an approach on the present curriculum is a focus on science and technology. Besides this, a curriculum needs to practical in nature hence the need for vocational training. Furthermore, students should not learn independently in schools; there should be a link between the school environment and the corporate world. Consequently, the curriculum should accommodate greater levels of internships and attachments. (Ross, 2000)

Neo conservatives believe that the purpose of education is to inculcate traditional beliefs that had held society close over the years. Such adherents propose that education today has been plagued by diversity and fragmentation. Consequently, there is a need to bring back these values to the education system in order to stabilize it. The implication for the curriculum in this regard is the pursuance of traditional subjects with emphasis on the grammar school subjects. Such a curriculum is highly conservative in that there is little room for discussion on the kind of content taught. In addition, the public should not critically analyze such a curriculum. Margaret Thatcher was a known proponent and so were some new right conservatives in parliament.

Neo liberal proponents believe that the purpose of education is to provide individuals with a means of satisfying their needs just the same way that other commodities in the market do. In this regard, education can be treated as a good in the market place; the more value it possesses, the higher the demand. Proponents of this view strongly adhere to the belief that education has a price and that the market will determine this price. By treating education like this, adherents to this principle believe that they can establish higher levels of performance because schools will promoted to perform well in order to sustain competition. Consequently, such a view requires that education be tailored to suit the needs of specific individuals with regard to the following parties;

  • Employees
  • Parents
  • Other stakeholders

This implies that subjects need to be flexible. If implementation of these views is done well, then there will be greater level of participation. The Adam Smith Institute is one of the proponents of this view. (Ross, 2000)

Some groups believe that the purpose of education is to give students a chance to change their social status. According to them, education gives children born in underclass social strata a chance to improve their positions within society. This view is also known as the old left view. There are implications about the nature of such an arrangement on the curriculum; it favours a focus on traditional subjects. These subjects are measured through a common examination. Consequently, those students who pass these exams will demonstrate their ability to surpass the efforts of other students regardless of their social class.

Other proponents believe that the purpose of education is to establish some sort of platform for dealing with social inequality. Society is divided along ethnic, gender, class or financial lines. Consequently, education allows any child to gain equal advantage when pursuing success. Such an approach also implies that there ought not to be instances when education instils segragation. Therefore such proponents believe that private schools inhibit this purpose because they enhance separation of students. The implication on the curriculum for such a belief is the pursuance of an education free of stereotypes. Subjects should relate to the multicultural nature of society. Additionally, examples offered in class need to be pluralist in nature. There should be no biased messages.

Other proponents believe that the purpose of education is to provide the means by which society can secure its economy and its social values. Consequently, educational values need to reflect the changing social and economic environments. Implications of such a perspective on the curriculum include an emphasis on skills. Additionally, the curriculum needs to incorporate issues related to social life such as democracy, social participation and leisure. Such an approach helps students come out as all round individuals. (Ross, 2000)

Lastly, education acts as a platform for ensuring that students get to learn all they can in the most appropriate and apposite manner possible. This implies that learning should be made in such a way that it suits particular types of students. They all have different levels of understanding and this should be incorporated into their experience. Some of the implications of such an approach on the curriculum include more emphasis on the practical aspect of learning. This is because learning should be treated as a systematic process. The traditional approach of lumping up knowledge within various subjects is discouraged.

As it can be seen from the above analysis. There are two distinct groups. The first group members hold a conservative approach with emphasis on maintaining traditional values. However, the second group members hold the belief that education should reflect the needs for society. The latter group assert that the curriculum should focus on traditional subjects and be free of controversy while the latter group assert that the curriculum should be dynamic in nature. All these beliefs have been transmitted to the current curriculum in that it contains bits and pieces of each view. (Ross, 2000)

Extent to which these objectives have been achieved in relation to particular subjects

There are substantial improvements to the way the curriculum objectives have been achieved over the past few years. This is because there was the implementation of a national curriculum. However, there is still some room for improvement in particular subjects. Additionally, subject performance in specific schools differs according to the strength of the school. There is a huge gap between performance in strong schools and in weaker schools. This discrepancy needs to be addressed if all the aims of the curriculum are to be achieved.(Ofstede, 2005)

It should be noted that teachers play a crucial in achieving the aims of the curriculum. Their level of competency largely determines their performance and consequently, students’ achievements. Some subjects are particularly challenging to teachers because they lack ample training in subject knowledge. Such subjects include mathematics and geography. Additionally, such teachers may not go for further training while in the profession hence affecting their output. Some of them still lack the ability to apply subject principles within the conceptual framework.

The situation is worsened by giving teachers many subjects at a time. Ofstede dispensed some statistics showing this worrying result. It was found that subject performance was quite poor when one teacher was given multiple responsibilities in a variety of subjects. Some science subjects require deep levels of stimulation in order to enhance thinking skills. However, teachers who direct all their students’ tasks seem to be preventing these students from developing analytical skills. Tasks in technical based subjects need to stimulate students. However, because teachers lack expertise on how to achieve this efficiently, then they fail to develop that sense of inquiry within students. This impedes the ability of those students to achieve their overall potential. (Vignoles and Machin, 2004)

In most subjects like English, history and religious education, there is still much that needs to be done to prepare students for future challenges in life. One of the aims of the curriculum as stated earlier is to prepare students for future responsibilities and challenges in their adult life. This implies that students should be given all the knowledge needed to get them ahead in life. Consequently, the curriculum should make ample use of ICT to prepare students for their future working environments. However, this aim has not been fully achieved because teachers still lack adequate knowledge on how to implement this. The curriculum should be taught in such a way that it encourages incorporation of literacy and numeracy skills through information technology. There is a missing link on how these aspects can be merged together to produce all round students. When teachers try using ICT in the teaching process, they only ask simple questions using these programs. They have not yet learnt how to use ICT for complex and challenging tasks in the classroom.

In instances where schools are well coordinated, students gain vast amounts of knowledge in an efficient manner. Proper coordination entails giving subject coordinators ample training. It also involves employing resources towards weaker areas of the curriculum.  This normally involves disseminating adequate materials tailored for specific age groups. Practical subjects such as science need to be given high priority. The UK government created a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to coordinate the execution of this aim. If teachers work hand in hand with the QCA and also with their overall managers, then their students ought to perform well. This is because management guides them on how to apply resources in the most creative and effective way. (Pennell and West, 1999)

Teachers are rapidly incorporating the needs of modern society in their classrooms. For example, when South Asia was plagued by the Tsunami, geography teachers related the effects of an earthquake on the social, economic and political lives of the inhabitants within a geographical location. Additionally, history teachers have also played their part by using local media to teach students about their government structures and systems. However, there is still room for development in this regard, teachers lack the ability to link issues in one subject to another. This is especially in regard to subjects that fall within one cluster. For instance, ideas taught in history can be applied in religious education. Students need to develop an understanding of their dynamic environment and this can only be achieved if teachers relate a wide range of subject matters in one a coordinated way.

The curriculum should be utilised to create all round students who have the ability to change their world. This implies that all subjects in the school environment should be given equal precedence as they have their unique role to play in the school environment. Management seems to lack the ability to pull this off since most schools tend to marginalise certain subjects. There is too much emphasis on foundational subjects but subjects like art take up the periphery. Teachers may also be blamed for this because some of them may not have adequate knowledge to implement these principles. It is common to find teachers changing the timetable to accommodate subjects that they have greater confidence in. This eats onto the time left for the other subjects and students end up performing poorly in those subjects. In the end, it impedes their overall development with regard to that subject. (Pennell and West, 1999)

Authorities in local education do not have concrete roles in the school environment. Their duty is to identify each area and cause changes in those specific areas. However, it has been found that these authorities have very little influence. The same thing applies to subject coordinators. Most subject-coordinators have very little experience in the field. Therefore, they have failed to transform the teaching environment. They offer nothing new to the table and this implies that they cannot change management attitudes.

The curriculum can only be effective in achieving some of those specific aims if teachers build upon key stages in their development. There is a serious lack of coordination between key stages in the primary curriculum. While teachers may be very good at disseminating knowledge at certain stages of development but they lack the know-how on how to link these pieces of knowledge in later stages of life. For instance, teachers can direct children when playing to learn more about their environment during nursery classes. Upon reaching key stage 1, such children will have greater awareness of their world and will spare teachers from having to repeat this task. (Pennell and West, 1999)

Changes to the curriculum

The curriculum has undergone radical changes over the past few years. This is in response to the rapidly changing environment. An example is the free market reform that started in 1988 to date. It had been found that retention rates in the United Kingdom were dropping rapidly. Many students were leaving school at the age of sixteen with very minimal knowledge. This meant that they did not have the right background to help them survive in the outside world. Consequently, the government felt that there was a need to change the approach used in education to increase retention rates. They introduced free markets in 1988. Schools were given the mandate to compete for admission and the most suitable or the most competent would draw the highest numbers of students. This gave school administrators greater control over their expenditure. It also allowed parents to make a choice of the schools they would like. This greatly enhanced performance because school results were listed in media outlets in order to stimulate further competition. (Davies and Adnett, 2002)

The UK government has also introduced a national curriculum. In the past, it had been found that literacy and numeracy rates in the United Kingdom were not as high as they ought to be for a developed nation. This was especially prevalent among younger workers rather than middle-aged workers. The government realised that the quality of their curriculum in this respect was slowly deteriorating; something had to be done. There was the introduction of a national curriculum that required a uniform set of values during implementation. The government realised that it is not possible to recruit high quality, well trained teachers in all schools around the country. Consequently, the nearest alternative was to guide them on the things they taught. Alongside this, schools were required to set aside certain hours of the day for literacy and numeracy classes. The quality of implementation of this policy is assessed by giving tests to students in the key stages 4, 3, 2 and one.


The curriculum should prepare students for the challenges they will face in their adult lives. Teachers in the UK have improved with regard to this major objective although there is still much they can do. Some of the improvements in the curriculum include greater use of ICT and more emphasis on the practical aspects of particular subjects. However, there is subject imbalance in most schools with greater emphasis on foundation subjects. Additionally, teachers lack confidence in certain subjects and may not seek further training in. Teachers are not stimulating their students to become intellectually challenged or analytical.

Changes in the curriculum reflect the needs of that particular society at any one time. Consequently, the government introduced a national curriculum to improve educational quality. It also introduced free market reforms to encourage competition. This has enhanced student retention rates after the age of sixteen.


Davies, P. and Adnett, N. (2002): Markets for Schooling, London, Routledge, p 135

Vignoles, A. and Machin, S. (2004): What’s the Good of Education; Princeton University Press: Princeton, p78

Ross, A. (2000): Construction and Critique of the curriculum; London: Falmer. P 53 – 59

Ofstede (2005): Primary Education in England, 1994 – 1998; a report for Her Majesty 2005

Pennell, H. and West, A. (1999): Increasing equity, accountability and

Transparency in schools; British Journal of Education Studies, 46, 188-200

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