London is a long way from the Sussex coast*. Especially by train. And believe me, the peace and quiet of Sussex countryside has nothing on the silence of a London tube station lift!
But these facts aside, I ventured up to @hgaldinoshea‘s excellent Pedagoo London event to offer my two’penneth on the new National Curriculum. I was also hugely relieved to find that others had made similar journeys in an effort to come and listen! I won’t blog about the whole thing in detail, as much of what I said can be better illustrated by other posts, but I thought I’d throw up a few words.
I spoke about three main areas:
- Key changes for the new curriculum
- Planning for Progress
- Assessment without levels
The PowerPoint from the presentation is at the end of the blog if you’re particularly interested.
Key Changes for the New Curriculum
I have written about this previously, and recommend a few blogs if you’ve not already seen them:
- 5 steps to introducing the new Primary Curriculum
- Headline changes for the Primary Curriculum
- New Curriculum? What new curriculum?
The broad message is: don’t panic! Many of the foundation subjects are now so brief in the new National Curriculum that anything schools are doing at the moment can probably continue. The main changes I suggest schools need to tackle are the higher expectations and the matter of progression in English grammar, and fractions in mathematics.
I also mentioned the use of the Singapore Bar Model for teaching of fractions. If you’re not familiar with the model then I strongly recommend looking it up – there are some great YouTube videos – or checking out the materials at www.thinkingblocks.com which show the use of bars model modelling.
Planning for Progress
I have written recently about the importance of curriculum design, and my presentation today built on that. Traditionally, primary school planning has often been based around the topic web design, with a common theme at the centre, and links of various quality drawing in other subjects.
What I propose is a change in emphasis from thematic links to skill-based links. The specific example shown in the presentation is that of a Victorians topic, where the writing activities throughout the unit are all linked by the theme of influencing the reader. The intention is that rather than children relating all their work to the key idea of “Victorians”, they are able to build up a cohesive understanding of a clear aspect of reading and writing. It makes it much easier to focus both teaching and assessment, and also secures a clear hook for children. Often when we want children to think back to previous learning we find ourselves referring to an incidental aspect: for example, we might say that we want children to think about the persuasive writing they did in the Tudors topic. The problem is that the Tudors is what the children remember, not the persuasion. Or worse, they see persuasive techniques taught in the Tudors topic as unique to the Tudor-themed pieces.
By creating topic-led planning, we often think we are creating cohesive links and enabling children to develop learning through a spiral curriculum. We perceive a coherent whole, with each brick slotting into place to build the wall. But what is more likely to happen is that children focus on the commonality (i.e. the over-arching theme) rather than the progression in the learning.
Assessment without levels
One of the challenges facing schools is how to tackle the removal of assessment levels. What I tried to convey in my presentation is the important revelation that actually teachers already know how to assess, levels or not!
I highlighted the fact that the new National Curriculum is pretty explicit in its expected outcomes in some subjects, such as Maths and Geography. Where it is perhaps less clear is in English, where the programme of study is generally quite broad.
I’ve never been a fan of APP, and certainly not of sub-levels, but I can see that people are familiar with them. However, I think that most experienced teachers can assess – even to the point of levelling – without the national criteria. Any half-decent Year 6 teacher can quickly identify the work of a Level 4 writer, with or without an APP grid. One task I set the attendees of my presentation was to quickly discuss what aspects they considered to be key in identifying writing at Level 4.
The APP criteria for Level 4 run to over 300 words. I reckon I could summarise it in barely 20:
• Accurately-demarcated sentences• Some variety in sentence structure• Starting to use paragraphs appropriately• Consistent and accurate tense• Writing broadly suits its purpose
Evidently it lacks some of the nuance of the APP grid, but it also removes some of the waffle, and demonstrates the key strands of what makes a secure writer in Year 6. If schools draw on the experience of their highly-trained and highly-qualified staff, then they can probably devise their own assessment tools that are far more teacher-friendly, pupil-friendly, and significantly parent-friendly too.
I happily draw anyone’s attention to the excellent materials from the 1999 Numeracy Framework for various reasons, including the exemplification pages, but on this occasion particularly to note the old Key Objectives.