Internationalising the curriculum in a national context

While educationalists and politicians argue about what should be in the National Curriculum, globalisation may be making their concerns irrelevant.

Globe of international flagsThe curriculum has traditionally been grounded in national contexts. Denis Lawton’s (1989) description of the curriculum as a ‘selection from the culture of a society’ captured the essence of its role in preparing future generations for their adult lives. But as Alistair Ross (2000) has pointed out more recently, the increasing plurality of society, and of students’ cultural backgrounds, means that making such a selection is bound to be contentious. At the same time, the notion of the curriculum as a body of knowledge owned by adults for transmission to the next generation is increasingly challenged as children acquire knowledge from a growing variety of sources. And technological changes means that we can no longer predict what knowledge and skills today’s five-year old will need as an adult of 25.

The curriculum is also challenged by globalisation. Alongside growing diversity, especially in western societies, is an increasing recognition that the future for our children will be characterised by interdependence with other countries and cultures, and challenged by the effects of events in other parts of the world. It will be influenced by the necessity to develop what Hayward (2002) describes as ‘intercultural literacy’, essential even for those with no intention of moving beyond their national boundaries as adults.

A growing number of UK schools are responding to this changing environment by introducing an international element to the curriculum. Resources to support them have been provided for some time, for instance by Oxfam (2006), the British Council International School Award (2013) and the Global Gateway (now available via British Council Schools Online, 2013). The Department for Education and its predecessors have provided material that encourages the incorporation of an international dimension into the curriculum. The aim is the preparation of young people ‘for life in a global society and work in a global economy’ (Department for Education and Skills, 2004).

In addition, more and more schools are opting to introduce specifically international programmes, under titles such as global education, global citizenship education (see, for example, Marshall, 2011) or international education. The three International Baccalaureate programmes (Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme and pre-university Diploma Programme),  traditionally associated with international schools catering for globally mobile expatriates, are now being offered in 13, 11 and 189 UK schools respectively (International Baccalaureate, 2013). While some of these are international schools, located in or around London, the majority are not.

More notably, the vast majority of the 1100+ UK schools now offering the International Primary Curriculum (launched as recently as 2000) are state schools that see the benefits of combining the IPC with their statutory delivery of the National Curriculum. The IPC sibling International Middle Years Curriculum (launched in 2011) is already being offered by 10 UK schools. And three different versions of the International GCSE are now offered in the UK. The largest and most well-established is offered by Cambridge International Examinations and is found in over 900 UK state and independent schools (Cambridge International Examinations, 2013). It has recently been joined by others from Edexcel and AQA Education.

Given the growing number of Free Schools and Academies that are under no obligation to offer the National Curriculum, international programmes such as these may well become increasingly attractive in the UK. Reasons for the growing interest in such programmes are complex (see, for example, Hayden, 2012). But they include a growing awareness of the effects of globalisation, and of educational responses to it. This suggests an increasing appreciation of the role that international programmes can play in preparing today’s youth for an adulthood which is likely to be very different from that of today’s curriculum developers.

While policy-makers, teachers and school leaders debate the detail of what should and should not be included in the National Curriculum, perhaps they should also consider the rapidly-growing interest in new forms of education which have been developed in a broader context, and which are already challenging the very concept of a national curriculum.

Dr Mary Hayden is senior lecturer and director of the Centre for the study of Education in an International Context, University of Bath.

  1. British Council Schools Online (2013). Last accessed 1 April 2013.
  2. Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) (2013). Last accessed 1 April 2013.
  3. Department for Education and Skills (2004). Putting the World into World Class Education. London: DfES.
  4. Hayden, M. C. (2012). A Review of Curriculum in the UK: internationalising in a changing context. Curriculum Journal, 24(1), 8-26.
  5. Hayward, M. (2002). From international to intercultural: redefining the international school for a globalized world. Journal of Research in International Education, 1(1), 9-32.
  6. International Baccalaureate (2013). Last accessed 1 April 2013.
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  10. Marshall, H. (2011). Education for Global Citizenship: reflecting upon the instrumentalist agendas at play. In R. Bates (Ed.), Schooling Internationally: globalisation, internationalisation and the future for international schools (pp. 182-199). London: Routledge.
  11. Oxfam (2006). Education for Global Citizenship: A Guide for Schools (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxfam.
  12. Ross, A. (2000). Curriculum Construction and Critique. London: Routledge.

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