The DfE vs the Experts

Sometimes I get annoyed by the dismissive attitude of the DfE towards the experts in its field – the teachers and school leaders up and down the country. But I suppose that’s politics. What has really surprised me though is their clear disregard for the experts they appointed themselves!

In 2010, shortly after coming to power, Nick Gibb met with selected individuals to make arrangements to set up an “Expert Panel” to advise on changes to the National Curriculum. In December 2011 they published their final report – and soon after each of them made clear that they were unimpressed with the direction later taken by the DfE. But quite how far the department has departed from the expert advice that it sought is remarkable.

In their final report¹, the four experts – Tim Oates, Andrew Pollard, Mary James and Dylan Wiliam – did not over-simplify their recommendations, but did nonetheless collate a broad overview of them. Here I have attempted to compare their recommendations to the final outcomes of the National Curriculum draft Programmes of Study².

1. On Aims and Purposes of the Curriculum, the Expert Panel said:

We recommend that aims should be expressed at the following levels:
Level 1: Affirming system-wide educational aspirations for school curricula 
Level 2: Specifying more particular purposes for schools and for their curricula; and
Level 3: Introducing the goals for the Programmes of Study of particular subjects.

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of Study says:

it is arguable that the detailed subject-level aims set out in each programme of study are unnecessary, and that the purpose of study for each subject and the content should be sufficient to guide teachers in designing their curricula.

Expert Panel Advice Disregarded

2. On the structure of the school curriculum, the Expert Panel said:

The Basic Curriculum should however be expanded to include some subjects that we recommend should be removed from the National Curriculum, in order to slim it down.

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of study says:

We will therefore retain the current subject composition of the National Curriculum, with the addition of foreign languages at Key Stage 2

Expert Panel Advice Disregarded

3. On Subjects in the Curriculum, the Expert Panel said:

we recommend that some subjects and areas of learning should be reclassified so that there is still a duty on schools to teach them, but it would be up to schools to determine appropriate specific content.

We believe that at Key Stage 4 there should be greater breadth than there is in the current system.

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of study says:

We will therefore retain the current subject composition of the National Curriculum, with the addition of foreign languages at Key Stage 2

We do not believe that further compulsion at Key Stage 4 is necessary or appropriate

Expert Panel Advice Disregarded

4. On the structures of Key Stages, the Expert Panel said:

We recommend that the present Key Stage 2 be split in two to form two new key stages, each of two years’ duration.

We have therefore been considering the benefits of reducing Key Stage 3 to just two years to enable Key Stage 4, and GCSE preparation, to expand to three years […] Consultation with others is necessary before a decision on this can be made.

We do not support use of the established key stage structure, without modification, to present new Programmes of Study

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of study says:

We do not plan to make any changes to the key stage structure.

Expert Panel Advice Disregarded

5. On the presentation of Programmes of Study, the Expert Panel said:

We have agreed that we will not recommend year-on-year specification (with the possible exception of mathematics in primary education).

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of study says:

The programmes of study for English are set out year-by-year for Key Stage 1

The programmes of study for science are set out year-by-year for Key Stages 1 and 2

Expert Panel Advice Disregarded

6. On the use of Attainment Targets, the Expert Panel said:

We suggest a new approach. Programmes of Study should be stated as discursive statements of purposes, anticipated progression and interconnections within the knowledge to be acquired, with Attainment Targets being stated as statements of specific learning outcomes related to essential knowledge.Programmes of Study could then be presented in two parallel columns. A narrative, developmental description of the key concept to be learned (the Programme of Study) could be represented on the left hand side. The essential learning outcomes to be assessed at the end of the key stage (the Attainment Targets) could be represented on the right hand side. This would better support curriculum-focused assessment

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of study says:

The new National Curriculum has detailed programmes of study for primary English, mathematics and science. These programmes of study specify the core knowledge.

In other subjects and key stages we are […] focusing only on the essential knowledge to be taught in each subject.

A single statement of attainment that sets out that pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study will encourage all pupils to aspire to reach demanding standards.

Expert Panel Advice Disregarded

7. On methods for assessment & reporting, the Expert Panel said:

high-performing jurisdictions focus on fewer things in greater depth in primary education. We believe that the focus should be on ensuring that all pupils have an appropriate understanding of key elements prior to moving to the next body of content

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of study says:

Approaches to the assessment of pupils’ progress and recognising the achievements of all pupils at primary school will be explored more fully within the primary assessment and accountability consultation which will be issued shortly

Jury Out

8. On the importance of Oracy in the National Curriculum, the Expert Panel said:

We are strongly of the view that the development of oral language should be a particular feature of the new National Curriculum.
 This should include using overarching National Curriculum statements, retaining discrete and focused elements within the Programme of Study for English, and introducing statements about oral language and its development into each Programme of Study for all core and foundation subjects.

The consultation document from the DfE on the new Programmes of study says:

Nothing. There is no mention at all in the consultation document.#

*It is fair to note that Spoken Language does get mentioned in the overview of the core subjects, although it is not mentioned at all in the foundation subjects. There is no discrete or focused element within the Programmes of Study for English at Key Stages 1 and 2.

Expert Panel Advice Disregarded

There were two additional chapters in the report, from which no specific recommendations were given. Thus it appears that the DfE has chosen to ignore almost all of the advice given by its own Expert Panel.

It makes for an interesting approach to evidence-based governance, certainly!

ADDENDUM – 22nd April 2013

Following a FOI request to the DFE it emerged that £287,619 was spent on the expert panel report. A quarter of a million pounds essentially discarded.

¹ The Expert Panel report can be downloaded from https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/NCR-Expert%20Panel%20Report.pdf
² The consultation documentation can be downloaded from http://www.education.gov.uk/nationalcurriculum

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3 thoughts on “The DfE vs the Experts

  1. Ian Lynch 1 March 2013 at 5:22 pm Reply

    Sometimes experts do get bogged down in so much complexity that they can’t see the wood for the trees. The snag is a non-expert is just as likely to see wood and think it’s plastic🙂 Imagine a politician planning to build a house – after all they live in one so they will know as much as the architects, surveyors and building inspectors won’t they? The national education system is a lot more complex that a house, in case anyone hadn’t noticed.

  2. […] I fear that the proposed curriculum is “extremely narrow”, and that it shows that the Education Secretary has repeatedly ignored expert advice. Like them, I happen to feel that the CBI – hardly a bastion of leftist thinking – was […]

  3. […] However, what we saw in the last few weeks proposed by the DfE for assessment at the end of each Key Stage, and implied for the intervening years, was a replacement of levels with scaled scores. Rather than moving from broad assessment focuses to specific one, the direction of travel has been reversed, moving from broad descriptors to unrelated figures. One can only presume that the members of the expert panel have long side given up any hope of their words being heeded, since so many of their recommendations have already been disregarded. […]

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