Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Opening Minds: A Threat or an Opportunity for Languages?

Created by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), Opening Mind is a radical approach in curriculum design aiming to concentrate on core competences, breaking down the subject barriers.
The report Opening Minds: education for the 21st Century (Bayliss/RSA, 1999) recommended a complete reworking of the curriculum. The RSA competences should become the outcomes of the curriculum, with the national curriculum subjects being the means to achieve these outcomes, changing the emphasis of the curriculum from content to process. The teachers’ and students’ roles would also change.
The RSA states that as a result of the programme:
  • pupils are more self-confident – in all situations and learning environments
  • classroom behaviour is better
  • cooperation between students has improved
  • relationships between teachers and pupils are much improved
  • students are more independent, in control of their own learning, and more able and willing to take responsibility for their own learning.

As might be expected, improved student motivation has had a positive impact on their achievement. A school in its second year of using the competences with Year 7 noted that there had been an improvement in spelling and reading ages that had not occurred through teaching the traditional curriculum. At this school there was a significant drop in the number of current Year 8 pupils on the special needs register – the pupils who had experienced the school’s Opening Minds curriculum in Year 7.

Although I can see that the study of a language would have a lot to contribute to the programme in terms of transferable skills: literacy, oracy, communication skills, cultural awareness..., it feels like trying to fit a circle in a square hole... I would also question the suitability of a competence-based curriculum for some students-Who is it aimed at?

From the description of the process at, the overall impression is that it is aimed at lower and lower middle ability students, the same students who are often being discouraged to study languages for statistics reason-league tables and school targets. How would such programme fit in with the statistics? This point could be essential in determining whether the programme can provide a "safe haven" for lower and lower middle ability students to develop foreign languages skills or not.

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