Skin Deep

A big worry about the curriculum in our schools currently is that it isn’t  promoting real, deep learning.   That it only supports shallow learning, a recall of facts, memorisation.   We seem to be stalling at the lower end of Bloom’s taxonomy.  The ability to remember a range of unconnected chunks of information beyond the tests they were originally presented for might be useful in a pub quiz but it won’t be particularly helpful in the workplace of the future.   We live in an age where access to knowledge is more immediate than ever.   Children can find out what they need to know at the touch of a button or screen, from an early age they know how to search for information.   We need to develop their ability to think critically about the answers they are presented with, to help them understand that everything they read isn’t from a trusted and reliable source.  We ned to encourage them to challenge and question, put simply we need to teach them to think.

In school we need to go beyond the skin deep learning experience, as this doesn’t help develop children as thinkers.   The skin deep curriculum, where presentation and recall of facts and passive acceptance of truths hold sway offers only a shallow learning experience unlikely to appeal to the masses.   We want our learners to be inspired, excited by possibilities, actively engaged in challenges that prepare them for the uncertain future.  Guy Claxton surveyed a number of teachers for his book ‘What’s the Point of School?’ They thought a curriculum to prepare learners for the future should include a range of qualities, traits, values and habits of mind – things that have previously been pretty much left to chance, something to be picked up by osmosis perhaps, or learned from families and friends outside of school.  Our approach to the curriculum has to encompass such ‘learning experiences‘ if it is to be relevant and meet the needs of tomorrow’s society. We have to make this ‘stealth learning’ conspicuous, visible to all and a necessary part of education.

It seems obvious that today’s learners need more than a shallow pedagogical experience and we would be failing them if we let them leave school armed with no more than this, for as Eric Hoffer said:

‘In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.’


About smichael920

Headteacher of a large primary school in North West England. Helping me to blur the distinction between work and home, I am also father of five, covering most phases of education thus giving me the lowdown from within and without. Education is about enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow. This can't be done using the tools of the past. View all posts by smichael920

5 responses to “Skin Deep

  • Julia

    I so agree with you that more than ever our youngsters need to look att hings critically & make judgements rather than turning out the same facts that can be found anywhere!

    • smichael920

      Hi Julia and many thanks for your comments. It’s a growing concern in this age of easy access to a world of information (some of it unreliable). We’re looking closely at how we can develop a more critical, thoughtful approach to learning – will keep you posted. All the best, Michael

  • Robyn

    Have you had a look at the New Zealand Curriculum? In schools that have taken it on board properly some exciting and innovative things are happening. I was at a school last week (primary – Yr 1 -8) that has an olive grove, lemon grove, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. They press their own olive oil and are now making beauty products using traditional Maori medicines. They are having a commercial kitchen built plus a shop that the kids will run. AMAZING! Unfortunately they dont have a website. has a great school curriculum.
    A completely different school, Mission Heights have just had an Education Review office review and were told they were a ‘dream for 21st Century education’.
    There are some great stories about how our schools are coming on board with the new curriculum at

    • smichael920

      Hi Robyn and many thanks for your comments and these links which I am going to check out. I met a couple of NZ Headteachers over here last year, they visited school and had some great ideas to share. I hope to keep the links alive and learn from what you are all doing. All the best, MIchael

  • Idrotherapy Anti Aging

    You are so cool! I don’t think I have read through something like that before. So great to find someone with some original thoughts on this subject. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that’s needed on the web,
    someone with a little originality!

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