Monthly Archives: August 2015

10 words on the foundation subjects

Over the past few days, inspired by a single tweet about conjunctions (!), I have published three articles on key changes that secondary colleagues might not be aware of in relation to the new primary curriculum. These three articles can be found here:

I realise that teachers of other foundation subjects get scant enough information about what is taught in primary schools, so I would love to be able to offer the same level of depth article for everything from Art to PE. Sadly, the reality is that the content of the curriculum is now massively weighted in favour of just English and Maths, and so the best I can offer for the other foundation subjects is a 10-word (slightly tongue-in-cheek) summary of each to assist our secondary o̶v̶e̶r̶l̶o̶r̶d̶s̶  colleagues.


Art & Design

There’s hardly any content in the curriculum, so who knows?!

Computing

Less typing, more programming. Expect Scratch to become near universal.

Design & Technology

Probably as erratic as before, with some cooking thrown in.

Geography

More factual knowledge: countries, biomes (but no Africa or Asia!)

History

They’ll all cover the same periods – in wildly varying depth.

Foreign Languages (note, no “Modern” in KS2)

If you thought they had varying abilities before… prepare yourself!

Music

Staff notation is in, and some history of music apparently.

Physical Education

More of the same, but with a little more competition.


The good news for teachers of the other foundation subjects is that the statutory curriculum at KS1 and KS2 is very briefly set out, so you could read it in a few minutes by visit the Primary Curriculum website here: www.primarycurriculum.me.uk

5 things you might not have realised about the new Primary Science curriculum

Other posts in this series:


I always feel sorry for Science. A core subject by name, but always the poor relation in the core triad. They do say, two’s company… Anyhow, hot on the heels of my posts about English and Maths, it seems only fair to give Science its turn, although as if to emphasise the point, it only gets 5 main points. The first explains why.

1. Not that much has changed really.

One of the saving graces of the focus on English and Maths is that you get the feeling that the Science team were left to get on with things without so much ministerial interference. The result is that most of the changes to primary Science are reorganisations of existing content, with some things moving year group, and quite a bit being removed from KS1 to save repetition.

2. Evolution is in.

This one worries me slightly. Evolution is a tricky concept to get your head round, and I sometimes wonder if some of our 10-year-olds might lack the sense of scale required to understand the impact of minute changes over massive periods of time. I fear we might see plenty of children arriving at secondary school with the misconception that animals chose to adapt their features over time. Neverthless, it appears as statutory content aimed at Year 6, so expect to see evidence of it coming to a school near you soon.

3. ‘Factors’ will take a while to kill off.

A few years ago the official vocabulary of primary tests was changed from using ‘factors’ to ‘variables’ to describe… well… variables. Then they scrapped the tests and so the importance of the change was rather lost on the sector. The new curriculum does refer to variables, but expect it to take a while to train thousands of primary teachers out of old habits.

4. They might learn about scientific history.

But they might not. There are lots of mentions in the non-statutory notes about finding out about the likes of scientists from Copernicus to David Attenborough and the significance and impact of their work, but it’s not really mentioned in any of the statutory content. Some schools will go to town on such things; others will ignore them.

5. Good luck ascertaining their ability!

Until relatively recently, for all their flaws, secondary schools could receive nationally-assessed data about the pupils’ abilities in Science based on the national tests. Then when they were scrapped, transition information was limited to the more questionable Teacher Assessment levels. From 2016 even they will have gone. The latest proposal for Teacher Assessment was a simple “Yes/No” statement as to whether or not a child had met the national expectations. There is no official way to identify the highest fliers or those most in need of support. And even those descriptors haven’t been finalised, so watch this space!


Secondary teachers may find it informative to take a glance through the expectations of the new primary curriculum. You can find it all set out by year group at www.primarycurriculum.me.uk

10 things you might not have realised about the new Primary Maths curriculum

Other posts in this series:


Having produced a list of key changes for Primary English aimed at secondary English teachers, I thought it was worthwhile creating a similar list for Maths. It strikes me that the maths changes have been more widely publicised (perhaps because they’re easier for the press to understand), but there may be one or two things here that have slipped people’s attention.

1. Mental Arithmetic has lost its hallowed place.

From 2016 there will no longer be a mental arithmetic test in Key Stage 2. Instead, a written arithmetic test has been added both for 7- and 11-year-olds. It’s not really clear yet what difference this might make to outcomes, as the increased focus on knowledge of number facts may make up for it, but it will certainly lead to a change in the tests that are practised throughout Year 6.

2. Written methods are set in stone.

Many secondary colleagues will welcome this, as I would have done when I was teaching KS3. No longer will there be a free-for-all on methods used for standard calculations. The expectations of the curriculum clearly set out that by Y6 all children should be taught the standard written methods of column addition & subtraction, and short and long multiplication and division. In fact, on the written arithmetic test, where questions imply the long methods of multiplication or division, no method marks will be available if any other method is used.

3. History becomes cross-curricular.

After years of trying to crow-bar maths into History, the historians have got their own back. Now at primary school pupils must be taught about Roman numerals into the thousands, conversions between imperial and metric measures, and to know an approximate factor to convert between miles and kilometres.

4. And calculators are history!

For the past few years, calculator tests have been restricted to the highest-attaining pupils aiming for level 6. As the extension papers are removed, there will no longer be any calculator test at KS2, and so the already small amount of calculator-use teaching will quickly diminish.

5. The averages confusion may dissipate.

One of the trials of Year 7 often used to be trying to unravel the confusion between mode, median and mean averages. Perhaps in an effort to avoid such misconceptions, only the latter is expected to be taught at primary level now. Of course, primary teachers love a mnemonic rhyme, so it may still crop up in many classrooms.

6. Probability is gone.

It was always a slightly odd feature of primary maths, given that the expectations for level 5 in probability were quite limited. As such, it was often an easy way of gathering evidence or picking up marks to imply the higher level where perhaps it wasn’t justified. That problem disappears now as probability disappears from the KS2 curriculum.

7. Fractions are very much there.

In the old attainment descriptors, all a child had to do to with fractions to reach level 4 was to use simple fractions to describe approximate proportions of a whole. In the new curriculum, that’s expected in lower Key Stage 2. By year 6, to reach the new expected standard pupils will be expected to become more confident with addition and subtraction of fractions along with a range of other fraction skills. Expect the bar model slowly to gain currency here. But very slowly.

8. They still won’t be able to draw graphs

As a Year 7 maths teacher, I once complained to Y6 colleagues that children seemed to have no idea about how to construct a basic set of axes to plot a graph. The explanation was, of course, that it would never occur on a test. That remains the case, and in fact the new curriculum focuses most of its statistics attention on interpreting rather than presenting data. There is some mention of plotting graphs in the (untested) Science curriculum.

9. Some things have been left until later

There’s been a lot of hype about things being moved earlier (tables secure by Y4, etc). But there’s also a whole vat of content in the new Year 6 maths curriculum. Much of it is is familiar; some represents the new higher expectations – including introductory algebra for everyone. But in addition, there are some elements that previously were more spread across the Key Stage. Ratio hardly gets a look-in before Year 6, yet in the Year 6 Programme of Study pupils will be expected to solve ratio and proportion problems.

10. Nobody’s too sure about the ‘mastery’ thing

The word has become almost ubiquitous, and yet seems to mean different things to every user. In some schools, mastery has become a descriptor for the highest-attainment pupils, in others it relates to the old Ma1 Problem-solving type tasks almost exclusively. In essence, don’t put too much weight on any judgement a school makes about mastery – they may not mean what you think they do! (I have written about this in some more detail on the Rising Stars blog)


Secondary teachers may find it informative to take a glance through the expectations of the new primary curriculum. You can find it all set out by year group at www.primarycurriculum.me.uk

10 things you might not have realised about the new Primary English curriculum

Other posts in this series:


Having yesterday posted a very brief comment on Twitter about connectives, I’ve finally got around to writing a post that’s been at the back of my mind for a while. Aimed really at secondary English teachers, it may well be of use to primary colleagues and others. Let me state from the off that I’m not trying to tell anybody how to do their job; I just think that the more we share knowledge and understanding between the two sectors, the less likely we are to fail the children who make the move between us.

So here we go: ten things that secondary colleagues might not be aware of.

1. English is back.

Strictly speaking, it never went away, but for over 15 years now, the label ‘Literacy’ seems to have stuck in primary schools. Some of us have been fighting this battle for a while, but slowly and surely the subject name is returning to its proper use. Happily, the even less likeable ‘Numeracy’ label seemed to die off much more quickly.

2. Speaking & Listening is … confused.

Most primary teachers will attest to the importance of speaking and listening. However, the new National Curriculum doesn’t offer much clarity on this. The statutory document offers 86 pages on the primary English Curriculum. Spoken language gets one page – and just 12 objectives across the whole of KS1 and KS2.

3. Grammar matters.

If grammar is not your thing, then it’s time to start brushing up: grammar is back in a big way in the new curriculum. I met many a Year 7 child who couldn’t confidently identify nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs; now that content should be taught to Year 2. By Year 6 children are expected to have learned about noun phrases, relative clauses and even the subjunctive form (although that’s likely to be limited to common phrases in many cases, I’m sure).

4. Connectives are out.

I’ve never quite understood why the label ‘connective’ so easily took hold. It seemed to be introduced by the Literacy Strategy, which itself contained a clear definition of the difference between conjunctions and other connectives, yet somehow we ended up with one ‘job lot’ label. The class of ‘conjunction’ is now to be taught in Year 3 (along with preposition, followed by pronouns and determiners in Year 4), so there is really no excuse for the vague labelling any longer.

5. Class Readers are back.

I’ve always loathed the Guided Reading carousel approach that was brought in by the Literacy strategy: twenty minutes is no time to do anything. Now the curriculum is quite explicit that children should have access to reading experiences including the reading aloud of whole books at a higher level of challenge than their own decoding ability.

6. Spelling may improve.

The expectations of spelling in the new curriculum are significantly higher than in the past. Many words that secondary English teachers will recognise from the Y7 Spelling Bank word lists (actually, business, caught, decide) now appear in the required lists for Year 3 and 4. Year 5/6 children are expected to be taught words such as mischievous and profession. Of course, things won’t change overnight – but hopefully things may improve in the coming years.

7. Authorial Intent is clearer.

One of the reasons I think primary schools have long struggled to get children anywhere near reaching Level 6 in reading (aside from the fact that it has always been too easy to get Level 5 in KS2) has been the lack of teaching of authorial intent. Most primary teaching has focussed on the old AFs 2 and 3 – retrieval and inference/deduction. Now the teaching of the craft of the author is much more explicit, particularly in upper Key Stage 2. (Beware: PEE will spread through primaries like a rash in the next year or two)

8. Text types are on the wane.

Another of the Literacy strategy’s legacies is the endless treadmill of text types being taught in primary. Schools crow-barred in umpteen different ‘genres’ or text types each term in an effort to complete the set. None of those are specified any longer, and schools now have the freedom (which personally I hope they’ll use) to focus on fewer types in more depth.

9. Poetry is popular.

In the past, much of primary poetry has been about simple forms (limericks, haiku) or dreadful things like shape poetry. Although these won’t go away, there is now a much clearer expectation (probably driven by Gove himself) that children should be introduced to more published poetry, and – from as young as age 5 – should be learning to recite some poems by heart.

10. It’ll all take a while to filter through.

If you thought picking up children from different feeder schools was tricky before, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The new curriculum has been rushed (much like the changes at secondary) and too little time has been given over to preparing teachers and schools. Those that were on the ball started making changes two years ago; others may only now really be waking up to the new demands. Expect to see some wide variation, particularly in newer aspects of the curriculum such as grammar and poetry. But who knows, maybe in a few years’ time you’ll be able to more reliably predict the knowledge your children will arrive with.  Maybe.


Secondary teachers may find it informative to take a glance through the expectations of the new primary curriculum. You can find it all set out by year group at www.primarycurriculum.me.uk