Category Archives: secondary

I love you secondary teachers, honest!

You know you haven’t made your point clear enough when Laura McInerney – Queen of Nuance – starts rebutting an argument you haven’t made!

Late last night I posted a tweet asking how many secondary schools (note: not teachers) had contacted feeder primary schools over the past few weeks. Inevitably it became a bit of a them-and-us squabble which was never my intention.
Rather, my intention was to raise the possibility in teachers’ minds – especially those with pastoral responsibility. This wasn’t because I think secondary school teachers are negligent; it was because I genuinely think it doesn’t always cross the minds of busy staff.

However, the responses I got, including from the always-very-reasonable Laura, all centred around the same few points:

× “we did it all before the summer”
× “teachers are too busy teaching”
× “we talk to parents and students”
× “we’ve got 300 students…”

The latter of these was the most frustrating, because it struck me as a way of saying that individuals weren’t important enough. It’s something I hear primary teachers imply too often about secondary schools and I don’t think it’s true at all. But using the argument of numbers implies it just as much. What quickly became clear was that people really meant that they couldn’t ring about every one of 300 students… And I never suggested that they would.

I’ve written before about the importance of conversations, but the focus on pre-transition work worries me. We know that some kids will find the transition hard. Sometimes we can predict who might find it tricky, but other children surprise us – and they are often the hardest to crack. All I want to suggest is that when a child crops up who seems not to have any prior note of difficulties, it would make sense to get in touch with the relevant primary teacher. Not because we can fix things, but because we might just shed some light. Maybe we know something because of a younger sibling; maybe we know something from years past that we thought was dealt with; maybe we just screwed up and forgot to mention something in our previous conversations. We’re not perfect.

Of course, in most cases kids settle well and thrive. I like to presume that no news is good news. The trouble is, I know sometimes that’s not true. I know of the child who was put on a part-time timetable in their first year of secondary because of attendance issues (!), yet no-one ever asked what we’d done to improve their attendance from around 40% to 88% in their time with us. I know, too, of the girl who was suspended in the Spring term having never had any bother in primary school. Only when I heard on the grapevine did I get in touch and point out what I knew had happened with the family over the summer months. The cases are few, but the consequences can be enormous for those few – and the effort to contact one or two primary teachers each year is surely negligible by comparison?

I don’t blame secondary teachers for being busy. I don’t blame them for asking students and parents first. I don’t blame them for focusing on pre-transition arrangements. I dint expect every subject teacher to be in touch. But I also don’t think it’s acceptable to spend so much time and money on promotional events for new students each autumn, while ignoring the individuals among the 300 who have just arrived. Sometime must surely have overall responsibility for the care and well-being of these children – I’m just offering them an extra tool. And for free. With a smile!

I don’t want to hear about every child. I don’t need to hear about every problem. I just want secondary colleagues to know that if one of those few cases crops up, any primary teacher in the land would be only too happy to help if we can. And sometimes we can’t, but it might be worth making that one call just in case. It could transform a child’s life chances, and save you a while lot of bother in the long run. And even if it didn’t… Wouldn’t it be great if we all just chatted from time to time anyway?

(It’s worth noting that primary teachers are not exempt from this call: as Starlight McKenzie pointed out on Twitter, primaries are not that always great at calling other primaries when kids transfer between them either)

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“Key Stage 3: the wasted years?” – the wasted report?

I had no idea that Ofsted was preparing such a report, and when I first commented on its existence, I’d not even seen the full document, so I was aware that it would be unpopular, if not exactly how and why.

As it is, I think a good many more schools than I originally imagined would have reason to be disappointed – including primary schools. And I’m not convinced that the report has done much to improve the landscape.

The reality is that Key Stage 3 is patchy. There are some schools that use it well, work well on transition and should probably be praised for it. There are some where it is neglected, undervalued and wasted. The vast majority of schools probably fall in that middle ground, so it is unhelpful to tar all with the “wasted years” brush.

Moreover, the report is such a wasted opportunity, as it could have offered so much more clarity, direction and purpose, without rubbishing the entire sector.

But first, let’s face facts: in too many schools, transition is weak and KS3 is the poor relation. For too many school leaders, transition is a synonym for promotion: events and activities are organised to attract an increasing roll, rather than to support the progression of learning; too much energy is invested in the months around the admissions submission date, while the key early weeks in Year 7 are neglected; too much focus is on engaging enthusiastic parents, rather than dealing with the professionals who have been working with the new students for some years.

And in Key Stage 3, there can be a perception that any teacher will do; that Year 7 English or Year 7 Maths can’t be that hard to teach. That opinion still holds water in too many schools, and leaves unqualified and incapable teachers, delivering lessons rather than teaching for learning.

But what Ofsted neglected to note was the pressures and challenges that secondary schools face: increasingly – as a result of parental choice among other things – schools are dealing with tens rather than a handful of feeder schools; increasingly – as a result of a whole host of external factors – schools are struggling to recruit sufficient teachers for those vital KS3 classes; increasingly, intervention and effort is necessarily focussed on KS4 and KS5 as government change after change affects courses, modules, curriculums and punitive accountability structures.

None of that negates the issues, but they are all factors which ought to borne in mind.

I’m the first to say that transition is rarely as effective as it ought to be. The improvements in pastoral arrangements are tangible; the issue of trust between primary and secondary sectors is still significant. But the solution cannot simply be to say “do it better”. What’s more, on this occasion the report seems to acknowledge the issue of a lack of faith in KS2 results, but then does little to suggest any solution or explanation.

Let me state again, as I have done many times in the past, that as a Key Stage 3 teacher of many years, I had no issue with KS2 test results in Mathematics. I found them a very reliable indicator of broad ability, and a good predictor of future outcomes. They don’t tell you the ins-and-outs of what a child can do, but they’re a good starting point. Reading test data, on the other hand, was hopeless for anything other than a broad indication of those falling well below standard. Level 5 Reading results in KS2 were close to meaningless for a secondary teacher, and this long-standing problem was never addressed. And I have no doubts that too many schools have worked in ‘mysterious ways’ to achieve the best possible writing levels in Year 6, without much regard to the reliability of the data. But nor will the scrapping of levels resolves those problems.

In fact, the current shambles of KS2 assessment arrangements will only make things worse in the short term. And crushing financial settlements will do nothing to enable secondary schools to improve the work they do in liaison with primaries, any more than slating them all will. Too many teachers will be irritated by the tone, will continue to blame unreliable KS2 data, and little will change.

The truth is that effective transition that encompasses academic information takes time and people, both of which cost school budgets dear, and neither of which is in easy supply. So while it’s true that transition isn’t yet good enough, and progress in KS3 could be better, slating schools without acknowledging the myriad external factors only serves to make Ofsted appear as a bogeyman once again.

There are some creditable strategies in the accompanying good practice guide – and some very dubious ones too – but what schools really need is guidance on what is really needed, and the time and money to get it right. And I’m pretty sure that Ofsted can provide neither.

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

Getting started with Twitter

Whenever I speak at conferences or Inset sessions, I always drop in a recommendation that teachers and school leaders should sign up to Twitter. Naturally, it’s not the main thrust of my presentation, and so I move on, but I thought it would be useful to have a post to direct people to, with suggestions for getting started.

Because of the work I do, the suggestions are probably more useful for school leaders, but for classroom teachers getting started I’d also recommend Mrs P Teach’s blog on inspirational teachers to follow.

Firstly, some words to reassure:

  • You can register completely anonymously
  • You don’t have to ‘say’ or ‘tweet’ anything if you don’t want
  • It’s nothing like Facebook

The main reason I recommend school leaders in particular to sign up for Twitter, is the ability to keep track of changes in education, which no-one can deny are frequent and rapid. Often now, news of significant changes is available on twitter well before it reaches the usual channels via Local Authorities or even proper press releases. If nothing else, leaders would be wise to have access to the main threads of key organisations.

Below is my guide to getting started in brief, with some key recommendations for individuals and organisations to follow to keep up to speed with the latest changes in education. For each of the main steps I have also provided access to a step-by-step guide for those less confident with technology and those particularly concerned about privacy settings.

Getting Started

The first step is to sign up. It’s dead simple and all you need is an email address. If you’re particularly concerned about anonymity, then you can sign up with an anonymous username and never add a picture, but I’d recommend signing up with your personal details and then protecting your account.

One thing I do suggest is ignoring all the recommendations that Twitter makes for you. It’s too easy to end up following 40 people you’re not interested in and then having to wade through rubbish to find the important details. Instead, once you have signed up and the recommendation lists appear, simply redirect your browser to twitter.com to see your main page. At first it will be be fairly blank, but that’s just how we want it – that way you can choose the content that you want to see rather than just what Twitter thinks you might like!

Download the step-by-step guide to setting up a Twitter account

Securing your privacy

I suspect that a large number of teachers and leaders avoid social media because of the fear of causing an accidental stir somehow, or opening up unwanted communication channels. That’s easily avoided on Twitter by protecting your tweets – even if you don’t intend to post anything ever (and that may well change!). Do this straight away to give yourself some reassurance.

Once you’ve signed in to Twitter, simply click on the egg next to the Tweet button (or on your photo if you’ve added one) and choose the ‘Settings’ option. On that page is a section for Security & Privacy which will allow you to tick the ‘Protect Tweets’ option and look at other options for securing your account.

Download the step-by-step guide to altering Twitter privacy settings.

Following useful streams

To me, the key advantage of twitter is being able to keep up to speed with things that affect my role. To that end, I recommend following the ten accounts I list below to see new information when it first appears. (see the link at the end for the easiest way to follow them all)

DfEtwit

Department for Education
The department is actually a very good user of Twitter for publicising new information, consultations, etc. They are also reasonably good at responding to requests for information & clarification.

ofstedtwitOfsted News
Another organisation that is beginning to learn the power of Twitter. The main feed itself provides the key information as frameworks change, but is not yet used for responding to queries very much. For that, see below:

harfordtwitSean Harford
Mr Harford is the recently-appointed National Director for Schools at Ofsted. He is an active user of Twitter and is often seen engaging with discussion & debate about the inspectorate’s work.

myatttwitMary Myatt
Mary is another member of the Ofsted world, this time a practising lead inspector. She offers an honest and open view of inspection from ‘the other side’ and also updates on changing frameworks. Mary also does a good job of re-tweeting useful blogs.

nahttwitNAHT News
The NAHT is a useful source of information for primary school leaders particularly. It also references other blogs and information sources that might be of use, and so is a great starting point.

c2gtwitShena Lewington (Clerk to Governor)

If you’re not already familiar with the www.clerktogovernors.co.uk website, then bookmark it now. Shena is an invaluable mine of information about governance matters of all sorts.

sdtwitSchool Duggery (Education Matters)
This feed does a great job of keeping on top of announcements and changes in education, and holding those in power to some account with accuracy and precision. Well worth following.

bytwitBeyond Levels
In the ever-changing ‘life-after-levels’ landscape, it’s good to have an eye on what’s happening elsewhere in the sector. This account provides links and references to what’s going on in schools nationwide.

ajjtwitAndy Jolley
One of the headaches of school leadership is changes that appear in non-educational areas such as food standards! Andy has done a great job in holding the government to account over UIFSM and provides regular updates on related matters.

michaelt1979twitMichael Tidd
I couldn’t not include myself! If you’re a primary leader with any need for information on curriculum, assessment or on-going changes from the department, I do my best to keep people informed and engaged!

list

The easiest way to start following all 10 of these people (and to see some other recommendations I’d make), is to access my list at this page. This will present a list of over 20 recommendations, including those above, each with a handy “follow” button next to them to allow you to add them to your account.

So now you’ve no excuse!

The reality sets in (relaxing the privacy)

The chances are, some folk who read this will set up an account and then never access it again. Others will use it to follow and never interact. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a small majority end up hooked and find themselves taking part in conversations, or asking occasional questions. Remember that if your account stays protected then people can’t see your posts or questions, so you may want to choose to relax that in future. My experience has been fine – a few pupils have found my account, one even followed me for a while once. But the reality is expressed well by the conversation I overheard in school as one Y6 child told another of her discovery: “I found Mr Tidd’s page on Twitter… yeah… it’s really boring!”

Why is secondary education so expensive?

No teacher is ever happy about the amount of money spent on their school, but I was interested to see these figures shared by Guardian education editor Richard Adams today:

[tweet https://twitter.com/RichardA/status/530404555868348416 hide_thread=”true”]

It once again raised a question that I have long wondered about: why do we accept that secondary education costs so much more than primary?

I don’t have any more detail on the figures (yet), so it’s hard to know exactly what is being compared here. It could be a substantial difference in pupils numbers if comparing compulsory primary to compulsory secondary, particularly given the bulge in primary numbers at the moment, but either way it must almost certainly represent a greater number of primary school pupils for 75% of the cost of secondary.

Now, I’m not arguing that there should be no difference. I do recognise that there are some additional costs in resourcing secondary schooling, but are the costs really so much greater that the sector warrants an additional 33% or more spending?

When I queried this on Twitter, various possibilities where put forward, of varying degrees of justifiability to my mind, such as:

  • Exam boards costs
    This seems reasonable to me, although I cannot believe they account for much of the difference
  • Equipment (especially for practical subjects)
    Again, I agree to an extent. However, many of these costs are rarer spends, and are then spread across hundreds of pupils. Primary schools, on the other hand, often have to buy resources for relatively small numbers (and I challenge anyone to look at the costs of resources such as Numicon without their eyes watering)
  • Staffing
    This is the big one, understandably. And clearly secondary schools need more staff, but do they need so many more staff than a typical primary on a “per head” basis? And it’s true that they have larger staffs and so more leaders per school, but does that still hold per pupil? For example, one secondary head can often be responsible for 2000 students, a number that would commonly be shared between up to 10 primary heads. Similarly, an admin team might necessarily be larger for a large school, but are the costs necessarily higher than the equivalent admin support across 5-10 primaries? And if so – why?

It is true that small extra costs here and there soon add up, but what if the discrepancy hadn’t previously existed? Would so many secondary teachers have TLRs compared to primary colleagues?

Take for example a smallish 800-place secondary school without sixth form. It wouldn’t be uncommon for there to be a TLR for a Head of Year post – or perhaps someone on the Leadership scale, and perhaps even a deputy head of year on a TLR. Alongside this it would be normal to have Heads of department on a range of TLRs, and in many cases second in department and other roles.

Now take an equivalent size of primary school. Again, it might be common to have paid heads of year, although often on the lowest TLR. These same staff would be expected to take on curriculum leadership roles, too. And often on a far fuller timetable than their secondary colleagues.

Is that because such roles are inherently more costly in secondary schools, or just because the money is more easily available for it?

I genuinely don’t know the answers. There are almost certainly costs of secondary schools that I haven’t considered. There are probably some diseconomies of scale that counter some of the presumed economies. But can any of that really justify spending 33% more on secondary pupils than their primary counterparts?


I have deliberately avoided getting into the details of post-16 and pre-compulsory education. I recognise that there are greater costs involved at either end of the system, particularly on the literal number of staff required, but I’m not persuaded that those factors affect the bigger picture substantially.

What should the primary curriculum really look like?

Or: What is the point of teaching them all this stuff anyway?

I’m firmly of the belief that a majority (perhaps the large majority) of primary teachers share the same view: that we force-feed the kids in our classes a diet of breadth over depth because the curriculum, or the tests, or Ofsted, or SLT’s demand it. I think most primary teachers – particularly in infants and lower juniors – find themselves teaching things that they think are being delivered ‘too soon’ for the children in their care.

This is not an argument for the molly-coddling of children, or the lowering of standards. Rather it is an argument for a rationalisation of what we try to teach.

Coming from a middle school background, I have long wished that the 9-13 Middle Schools of the 70s had really taken off. I wish that the National Curriculum from its first inception had been built around the three main phases of first, middle and upper schools. Then, we might perhaps have had a different approach. Perhaps not in 1988, but maybe by now we might have recognised that very little really matters in the curriculum for children under 9 unless they are already confident with number and language.

I raise this point because of a brief discussion I had with Heather () on Twitter this evening. She quite rightly pointed out that starting to teaching persuasive writing in Year 1 didn’t seem to be contributing to a significant growth in the transferability of such skill at GCSE level. And if the skills aren’t transferable after 10 or 11 years’ teaching, then what’s the point? My response was both complete agreement and disagreement.

I disagreed because I think the point of teaching persuasive writing at KS1 is not to enhance the persuasive writing skills of 16-year-olds. In fact, I think the only purpose for any form of writing at KS1 is the practice of the basic skills of writing itself: the building of sentences; the use of capital letters; the simple formation of the symbols. However, I agree that expecting the teaching of varied genres at KS1 to have much impact on the ability of children to write for different purposes is frankly erroneous.

So, what then, is the point of any such work?

Looking back at the three-tier model, I’d be quite happy to see a curriculum substantially different to the one we have in place at the moment. This links in with Michael Fordham’s (@mfordhamhistorypost on an altered Secondary curriculum (which is well worth a read). In it, Fordham argues that English as a separate subject (as distinct from Literature) ought to be removed from the curriculum and its various aspects be properly addressed in domain-specific subject lessons. A genuine approach to Literacy across the curriculum. I’d be happy with that model, and what’s more, I think that it should be balanced by the inverse approach at first school age.

Given the choice, I’d happily see a three-tier curriculum (as in first, middle and upper stages) that broadly followed this pattern:

First School (age 5-9): Only English, Maths and Modern Languages would be statutorily prescribed programmes of study. All other subjects currently in the National Curriculum would become part of required areas of study (Arts, Humanities, Sciences, etc.) which were intended to provide breadth of experience and support the core subjects. Physical Education would also remain statutory, with no programme of study.

English and Maths programmes of study would be re-shaped to focus on Literacy and Numeracy. That is, all children would be expected to focus on developing oracy, and reading and writing basics (comprehension, building sentences, vocabulary, paragraphs, etc.), without concern for genres or required areas of study.That’s not to say that children wouldn’t meet other genres, or contexts, but that these would merely be to support the core teaching aims, rather than becoming additional goals in their own right.

Similarly, in Maths the requirements would focus largely on number work with relatively brief forays into shape as appropriate. To be fair, the new Maths curriculum has moved a good way towards this. I have often heard many secondary maths teachers say they’d be happy to teach Y7s who came to secondary secure with number bonds and tables and relatively little else. I’d agree, but think we could move to that sooner. Let’s have all 9-year-olds ready for the next level.

By removing the requirements to study particular programmes of study in all areas, it ought to be possible to move towards a system where the current Level 4 expectations could be met by the majority of 9-year-olds, rather than 11-year-olds. As Mark McCourt (@EmathsUK) said this weekend at the maths conference: Maths is like Jenga – pupils don’t fail because of weaknesses in the blocks at the top!

Middle School (age 9-13): The current subjects of the National Curriculum would remain, although English and Maths would be radically re-shaped to reflect the changes in the first school range. English could now begin to focus more on literature, although as Michael Fordham suggests, ought not to need as much curriculum time as at present (often 7.5+ hours a week in primary schools) as literacy should be mastered by age 9. There would still be study of language and some genre-linked ideas, but the shift towards domain-specific writing should be reflected in a shift in timetabled hours. I would argue that Middle Schools used to do this, until the KS2 SATs demanded that they narrow their timetables to focus on meeting the odd demands of the tests.

This model should leave more time in this phase for the study of subject knowledge. It would be far more sensible, for example, to begin a study of chronological history at age 9 and maintain it until at least age 16, rather than the current 7-14, and would be far more successful if students had already mastered the required literacy skill. Of course, this also would be combined with the middle school approach to specialism. We should expect all teachers of first school-age children to be expert in the teaching of early reading, writing and mathematics. We simply cannot expect that to apply right up to the age of 11 any more. It isn’t working.

Upper School (13+): The model that Michael Fordham suggests seems to make a good deal of sense to me here. By this stage children should have a broad experience of all the subjects, underpinned by their ability to access and use texts and a secure knowledge of number work. Ideally I’d argue for greater breadth until the age of 18 as well

 

Of course, none of this is rocket science. Indeed, most of it fits with what many primary teachers already think: if we spent less time ploughing through genres, or tackling history concepts with 8-year-olds, we could focus more on the things that really matter, and give those kids the freedom to access all matter of higher level material as they got older. Surely that’s got to be better than the current system which tries to build all curriculum areas from age 5… and too often leaves interventions at 16 to try to plug the gaps the system leaves?


Addendum: I ought to note that it wouldn’t necessarily be a requirement to change the whole system to a three-tier model. But I would argue quite strongly that expecting any primary teacher to be an expert in all areas of the curriculum up to Y6 level is never going to provide us with the best system; middle schools present a good solution to this; specialisation in small primaries is much harder.

 

Dear Secondary school teacher…

Dear Secondary school teacher,

Hello, I know you don’t really know me, but I was the primary school teacher who spent  a year of my life helping to get those first-years ready to come to you. I know… I didn’t do a perfect job, did I? That pains me more than it does you, believe me. For every 90 minutes you spend having to struggle with Ethan, remember I probably spent nearer 1000. Maybe if you’d seen how he was doing a year ago, you might feel differently? I know I did! You have no idea how proud I was of what he and I achieved last year, nor how scared I was about sending him off unguarded into your territory. I hope that his fears were as unfounded as I promised him they were.

But that’s not why I’m writing. Every cohort will have its Ethans, and I’m sure that this time last year I was tearing my hair out, too, wondering what had been happening over the past few years for him along with others. Such is life.

I am a bit concerned, though, to hear that you’ve re-tested every student we sent to you. You see, it just seems such a great demand on your time – after all, you could have been using that time to get to know those kids, and to start teaching them, and I’m sure you’d rather have been planning exciting lessons than marking tests, wouldn’t you? It seems a shame for the kids, too. I’ve spent a year telling them about the opportunities that secondary school has to offer, and the options that will be open to them. And your colleagues gleefully came to tell them all about the hour-after-hour of excitement and engagement that you were going to offer them, so it seems a bit harsh to bombard them with assessments in week one.

Rumour has it that you feel you have to do it. After all, Ofsted are breathing down your neck and you’ve got to demonstrate progress. But no-one has explained to me yet what the baseline testing is meant to achieve. After all, Ofsted will look at the KS2 data whether you like it or not, won’t they? So, I’m not sure what the rush to test is for?

Perhaps you’re worried that our results aren’t reliable. Well, to be honest, so am I! I’ve seen the quality of marking sometimes, but we’ve also tackled it where necessary. And it’s true, there are a couple of results that raised eyebrows with me when they arrived too. I never thought Callum would achieve Level 5 in Reading, but that test paper all about Pokémon rather played into his hands. But then, I did explain that to the Head of Year who came down to meet me. Did those notes ever reach you? I must admit, she didn’t seem to note much down as I was explaining, but I did give her my detailed information about each of them so if you take a look at Callum’s you’ll see it there. I also explained to her that we were disappointed that no-one from your English department was available to support our moderation of Level 5 and 6 writing. We did draft someone else in eventually, but hopefully next year, eh? It’d be good to finally get that transition programme you keep mentioning on the open evenings really underway, wouldn’t it?

While I think of it – did you sort out that problem with Anna? Her mum explained to me the confusion the other day. Again, I did tell the Head of Year who came in about her absence during the tests, but I suppose it’s understandable that a missing score gets counted as a zero on your system. Hopefully you’ve managed to pull her out of the SEN maths set and put her up in the G&T group where she belongs. Mrs Carter said she only noticed it when you sent home her targets and said she was on track for a grade D. It seemed a bit odd since she’d got enough marks in the Level 6 test to get that, if it hadn’t been for the wretched broken leg that morning.

Well, as ever, like I’ve said to every member of staff who’s ever deigned to speak to me from your place: if you ever want any background information on any of the children we’ve sent to you, I’m always at the end of the phone, or you can drop me an email. Or I’d still be happy to come up, like I said. I suppose it’s hard to imagine being prepared to do that when you only see them for a few hours a week, but do remember, they were my focus five days a week last year. I know them inside out and miss them hugely. I’d be only too happy to help you in moving them on as quickly as you can.

After all, I suppose really, we’re all working towards the same thing.
Aren’t we?

Best wishes
Michael

I’m not quite like the rest of you…

I’m a middle school teacher by training and trade, and that makes me different. It also makes me part of a rapidly decreasing breed and has always left me feeling a bit separated from other things going on in schools.

I have been a great fan of Twitter this past year or so, and have found it informative, educational and useful in many ways, but increasingly I’m also becoming aware of a further divide between the two sectors of our system: primary and secondary.

The divide manifests itself in many ways. Firstly, I try to keep up to speed with a fair few blogs. I notice that blogs from primary teachers are rarer, but also that they tend to take a different tack. There are far more blogs from primary teachers about displays, or resource ideas, role play areas and the other paraphernalia of the primary classroom. Naturally these have their place, and I am grateful for those teachers who are expert in these areas and from whom I might learn a thing or two. But they’re not the things that get me animated about my profession.

Increasingly, my awareness of secondary teacher blogs is their focus on research (with debate of varying quality), the ‘big issues’ of teacher improvement, observation, use of data and effective leadership. I think these are important issues, but often what applies for a teacher of sixth-form Sociology is less directly relevant to the teacher getting their head round how best to teach column addition.

What concerns me most is the lack of overlap between these two. Not only because as a middle school teacher I am always concerned about the lack of understanding between the two sectors, but also because of the divergence of the profession more generally.

A classic example is this tweet this morning from @johndblake:

I happen to agree. Up to a point. But there is a massive difference between, say, the secondary school RE teacher who has perhaps 400 students to teach each week at various stages of their education career, and the primary school teacher with a class of 24 8-year-olds with whom she spends over 20 hours a week. The data just cannot have the same impact for those two people. The difference between the two sectors is hugely significant in this case, and a lack of understanding between the two can lead to disagreement, argument and too often a lack of respect, without furthering the case on either side.

This is why I worry about the prevalence of secondary teachers both in twitter, blogs and more widely – or rather the dearth of primary colleagues.

I have been reading Hattie’s Visible Learning lately, and while I recognise the value of much of what he says, it is harder for me to translate that thinking into primary practice than it might be if I were considering my GCSE History class. And I don’t see widespread discussion of those ideas among primary teachers as I do our secondary colleagues.

Lastly, let me stress that this is not to argue that primary teachers are not thinking of these big issues; merely that they are not finding their way into national discussions in the way that they seem to be among secondary colleagues.

I have seen several people comment about the need to get more teachers engaged in twitter and its surrounding debate. I couldn’t agree more, and the case is especially strong for recruiting more of our primary colleagues to tackle these issues in the many different ways they affect us.