I have a lot of time for the people who work at the Department for Education. Apart from anything else, I feel for them when they get much of the flack that really ought to be aimed at ministers. However, as is often the case, I am using DfE here as the shorthand for the department and its ministers as a collective.
And they need to get their act together.
It was clear that Michael Gove wanted to see a transformation of the National Curriculum back in 2010 before the General election. So why is it that we’re still waiting for clarity on so many things?
Schools have been arguing throughout this process that the change has been too rapid. At every stage, we have pointed out that the expectations being placed on schools have been unhelpful. A finalised curriculum didn’t arrive until less than 12 months before it became statutory. For several weeks in the autumn of 2013, several year groups had no curriculum documentation at all. Yet schools have been required to put the whole curriculum in place – with no additional time or funding – and will be judged by Ofsted for it.
Plans for the assessment of the curriculum still remain unclear. We finally received sample KS2 papers, less than 12 months before the next cohort of children will be tested, when schools will be held accountable for the teaching of a four-year programme of study that has been published for barely two. Yet schools have been forced to put their own arrangements in place, and will be judged by Ofsted for it
The lack of clarity about the removal of levels led to the introduction of the Assessment Commission, which itself set out its intention to publish its final report before the end of the summer term. Well schools in Leicestershire closed for the summer on Friday, but the report remains unpublished. Yet schools have been made to set up their own arrangements and will be judged by Ofsted for them.
None of this would be quite as bad if it weren’t for the fact that this rushed timetable that puts such unhelpful and challenging pressure on schools and their leaders was all set out by the department and its ministers. Yet at every stage, despite the best efforts of schools across the country, it is the department which has failed to provide content of a suitable quality within the needed time again and again and again. It seems that it’s one rule for ministers and another for school leaders.
I understand that developing a new curriculum and assessment framework takes a huge amount of time. That’s what we’ve been saying all along!