AN academy school says it will cut ties with the curriculum followed by all the other schools in Westminster in favour of a controversial teaching system pioneered in America.
Pimlico Academy, an independently-run secondary school set up in 2007, wants to open a primary school on its site in Lupus Street in September 2013.
Its principal designate told the West End Extra she will do away with the curriculum followed by all schools in Westminster in favour of a system based on ideas developed by American educationist, ED Hirsch.
Annaliese Briggs, 26, said: “We’re not going to be following the national curriculum, we’re going to be working with a curriculum that I’ve been developing for the past year with the school.”
Pimlico Academy, which is sponsored by Future, a charitable trust set up by venture capitalist and Tory party donor John Nash, will follow Hirsch’s plan for a “knowledge-rich” curriculum.
Hirsch’s ideas have been criticised as being too focused on facts.
The teaching approach has been adapted for this country by the independent think tank, Civitas.
Ms Briggs, a former Civitas employee, said Pimlico pupils aged four to 14 would follow a curriculum that focuses on giving children a grounding in factual knowledge and not only the skills to research. After Year 9, pupils would return to the national system of GCSE and then A-levels.
She added: “In the national curriculum they don’t specify what knowledge needs to be learnt and that leads to certain pitfalls. What’s prevalent is the idea that students can just Google it, so if they want to learn something they can just look it up, so it’s important to teach them how to look it up.
“What we understand is that it’s really important to know things.”
Ms Briggs was keen to emphasise that pupils will not merely be learning by rote.
She said: “We want pupils to be literate, to be able to problem-solve, to think critically and to reason, but we understand that those skills build on a very solid foundation on knowledge in different subject areas.”
Academy schools – a brainchild of New Labour – are government-funded but independently run.
They allow headteachers greater freedoms and can experiment with different styles of teaching.
Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, said: “This is a very dangerous step. It’s a reactionary form of learning that says that content is more important than understanding themes. This should be negotiated by the local community and that’s what we’ve lost because academies can just do what they like.”
Mr Smith is concerned that allowing the academy to open a primary school
will increase social segregation.
He added: “The whole model of academies is not about school improvement but it’s about building businesses in education.
When you create a market in education you get winners and you get losers and you’ll get further polarisation in schools.
“The children of the rich and middle classes have been well educated for years, we have a state education system administered by local authorities to provide equality of opportunity for every child.”