Tag Archives: curriculum

Dear Parents…

Dear Parents,

When you receive your child’s report this year, things might not look as clear as they once did. Having spent years getting your head around levels and sub-levels, I’m afraid they are no more. And as much as this might come as a shock to you, believe me, we as a profession were no more prepared for it.

It comes at a time when – as you’ll know – so much else has changed in our schools. Teachers the length and the breadth of the country have been doing our utmost to provide the smoothest and most effective transition for your child as we move from one national curriculum to another, but it hasn’t been easy.

It means that when you receive the report on the attainment of your child at the end of this academic year, the picture may look very different from the past. Children who were comfortably on track for their age will suddenly and unexpectedly appear to be falling behind. Those who were flying high may seem no longer to be.

Your child’s school may well try to explain this in its covering letter. Please be reassured that they are not simply covering their backs, or trying to paper over cracks. The reality is that the goalposts have moved so significantly that it has been impossible to keep on track. Your child may well have made excellent progress this year, and yet still be showing as not yet attaining the required standard.

Treat that with the caution it deserves.

Let me illustrate with an example. In the past, KS2 children who were achieving well in maths might have explored the notion of probability, allocating fractions to likelihoods of events and working out the chance of things occurring. All of that work is now ignored: the new curriculum does not include it, and so the attainment scores will not recognise it. That your child may well have excellent knowledge and skills in this area would count for nothing.

Instead, those same children are now expected quickly to fit in three years’ worth of fractions work that never previously existed. Content that was previously covered in Year 7 and 8, is suddenly now expected of our 10-year-olds. The issue is repeated for aspects across the subjects, and age ranges.

Be reassured too, that as a profession we don’t warn you of these things because we have low expectations or don’t want to strive for these new challenging goals. Already schools are doing their utmost to fill those gaps, to adjust their curricula, to provide the extra direction and support pupils need. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. And similarly, a four-year Programme of Study cannot be covered in 30 weeks.

In time, all of our children will work through the national curriculum at the expected rate, and numbers  of children working at the expected standard will rise. This won’t be a reflection of some brilliant work achieved by the government, but rather of teachers adjusting what they teach to meet the new requirements.

So apologies, parents. We recognise that it’s confusing, indeed worrying in cases. We’ve been confused and worried too. Doubtless your child’s teacher will be able to reassure you of the progress they have made this year, and their school will be able to explain how they’ve set out to change things to meet the new requirements.

But this year more than ever, I’d urge you not to panic when you see the score, or tick-box, or highlighted grade. Take time to read the paragraphs so carefully drafted by your child’s teacher that highlight what your child has achieved and where they need to go next.

There is no need to presume that anyone has failed your child. As ever, teachers will be doing the best to provide the best possible education within the parameters set by the government. If you have worries, then of course, ask. As a profession we don’t yet have all the answers (we’re still waiting, too!) But the teachers who work with your child know much more about them than any grade, score or tick-box will ever tell you.

So read the report, take note of the assessments, but most importantly, think back to how your child has grown this year, and what they now know and can do that is new to them and you. And share your pride with them of what they have achieved.

Let us do the worrying about how we pull together the curriculum to meet their needs: we promise – we’re experts at it.



Teachers tackling the new curriculum and its assessment may find my free resources useful.

Advertisements

Whose History curriculum is it anyway?

After months of secrecy – for no clear reason – at the DfE, I got surprising response to my FOI request this month. I had expected to be told that the names of the people whose advice was sought about the re-drafting of the curriculum would be withheld, so it was quite a shock to see them set out before me.

Since the list was published, others have taken a great interest in it, and our enquiries are now greatly supported by the efforts of Marina Robb (@MarinaRobb) who has taken the time to try to find out some brief details about each of the panel members. The work below is all hers (save for the formatting):


1. Scott Baker:  Head of History at the Robert Clack School in Dagenham and History rep Academic Steering Group of The Prince’s Teaching Institute(Secondary Education)
2. Lord Bew: Professor of Irish Politics (Higher Education) [Politics/Stance:NeoCon Henry Jackson Society]
3. Professor Jeremy Black:  Professor of History at the University of Exeter (Higher Education) [Politics/Stance: Conservative]
4. Professor Arthur Burns: Professor of History at KCL and  Vice President of Royal Historical Society – specialist in the History of the Church of England (Higher Education/History Advocacy)
5. Jamie Byrom: Schools History Project (Schools Consultant/History Advocacy)[Politics/Stance: Thematic Enquiry Based Learning]
6. Daisy Christoudolou: Briefly an English Teacher now an Education consultant (Secondary Background: English) [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
7. Christine Counsell: Senior Lecturer PGCE History Cambridge, former Secondary School teacher (Higher Education/Secondary Education)
8. Jackie Eales: Professor of early modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University and president of the Historical Association (Higher Education/History Advocacy)
9. Rebecca Fraser (?): Author “A People’s History of Britain” (History Author/Writer) [Politics/Stance: Conservative]
10. Dr. David Green (?): Head of Civitas [Politics/Stance: Right of Centre)
11. Elizabeth Hutchinson: Former head of history, Parkstone Grammar School, Poole Contracted by DofE to draw up GCSE History subject content (Secondary Background)
12. Matthew Inniss: Subject Leader for History and an Economics Teacher at Paddington Academy in Westminster. (Secondary Education)
13. Dr Seán Lang: Senior Lecturer in History, specialising in the history of the British Empire, Chair of the Better History Group (Higher Education/History Advocacy) [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
14: Jennifer Livesey (?): Primary Teach First (Primary Education)
15: Chris McGovern: Campaign for Real Education, former History teacher, Prep School Head (Secondary Background/Education Advocacy)  [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
16: Dr Michael Maddison: Ofsted Lead Inspector for History (Schools Consultant/History Advocacy)
17. Andrew Payne:  Head of Education & Outreach at The National Archives
18: Robert Peal: Former Secondary School History Teacher (2 years), then Research Fellow at right=of-centre Civitas (Secondary Background/Education Consultant) [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
19: Katherine Rowley Conwy: Head of Sixth Form Highbury Fields School (Secondary Education) [Politics/Stance: Seems to be British History focus]
20: Rebecca Sullivan: Chief Executive at The Historical Association previously Senior Humanities Publisher at Pearson Education (History Advocacy/Education Consultancy)
21: Professor Robert Tombs: History fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge and Politeia (Higher Education/Political Think Tank) [Politics/Stance: Right of Centre]
22. Jonny Walker: Teach First Primary
23: Dr Nick Winterbotham: Chairman, Group for Education in Museums (GEM) and runs Winterbotham and Associates Leadership advice, marketing and entrepreneurship, etc. (Education
Consultant) (Education Consultant)

Curriculum overview for Early Years

eyfsjigsawthumbnailA couple of weeks ago I reported how, in discussions with the DfE, it had emerged that schools are required to publish their curriculum online for Reception classes as well as statutory-age classes. Since then someone got in touch to ask if they could adapt my curriculum jigsaws template for the Early Years.

I’ve taken a look at the EYFS framework (in which I am, by no means, an expert) and have attempted to create an equivalent page for the Early Years phase. As it is relatively stable, I have also included an editable word version.

If it’s of use to you, please use it! If you do choose to use the editable version, please do leave on the footer that credits the work on the template to me/primarycurriculum.me.uk

Curriculum Overview for EYFS (PDF download)

Curriculum Overview for EYFS (editable Word document)

Levels as a common language? It seems not.

One of the arguments that often comes up for maintaining levels is that everyone understands them (even parents) and so we have a “common language”. To test this theory I took four statements from the old Writing attainment targets and asked people to say what level they thought they came from. I chose writing because all writing is now teacher-assessed at KS2, and so it seems that it would be the area that teachers could reasonably be expected to know best. So, how did people do in my fairly unscientific survey?

Statement 1: Handwriting style is fluent, joined and legible.
question1Actual level: Level 4

Around 60% of people got this right. Perhaps it’s reasonable that the figure wasn’t too high, given that handwriting tends to be less of a factor in most people’s assessments.

Most underestimated it, suggesting that we perhaps have slightly higher expectations for our students than the National Curriculum does! Or at least, that teachers are aiming high for their students.


Statement 2: Simple and complex sentences are organised into paragraphs.
question2
Actual level: Level 5

Again, 60% of responses thought it was a level 4 criteria. Only 1/5th correctly identified that paragraphs are actually only required for national curriculum level 5.

This is probably a confusion caused by the widespread use of APP and other criteria which don’t quite match up to the original attainment targets, it seems.


Statement 3:  Full stops, capital letters and question marks are used correctly, and pupils are beginning to use punctuation within the sentence.
question3Actual level: Level 4

Given that Level 4 is the core business of upper Key Stage 2, and punctuation is a key element of writing, it would seem that this should score very highly.

In fact, 3/4 of respondents thought it was a level 3 criteria, presumably because they’re used to using a wider range of punctuation in writing with their students.


Statement 4: Paragraphs are well constructed and linked in order to clarify the organisation of the writing as a whole.
question4Actual level: Exceptional Performance (beyond Level 8)

It’s fair to presume that most primary teachers wouldn’t be too familiar with statements of this high level. That said, it seems rather surprising that a large majority thought that this statement that is intended to describe exceptional performance was considered to be the norm for around 1/3 of 11-year-olds each year. Perhaps this system isn’t as clear as people like to think.


So, far from a common language, it appears that we’ve actually got a vague and unhelpful set of guidance that few people have fully grasped.

It’s time to move on!

Five myths about the old National Curriculum levels

So here we are, four weeks into the new National Curriculum and what’s everyone doing with assessment? In primary schools, it seems that the ostrich approach is the most popular. The temptation to stick with what we know is understandable, but I want to clear up some of these common myths about the old levelling system.

Myth 1: The government set out the assessment programme for schools

Plenty of teachers are concerned that the DfE is no longer going to tell schools how it should assess progress during the Key Stage. In fact, it never did. There was never any statutory requirement for schools to use levels, much less sub-levels, to track progress during the academic year. In fact, the only statutory requirement was to assess using whole levels at the end of Key Stage 2 (and admittedly later using 2c/2b/2a at KS1). Everything else schools did using optional tests and APP and the like was not legally required. Of course, Ofsted expected schools to be tracking progress, and levels worked as a way of doing it, but it would have been perfectly legal to create another system. So in fact, the legal situation hasn’t changed; all that has is the clarity that schools are now free to choose their own approaches to suit their own curriculums.

Myth 2. Parents understand them

I think this is a common misunderstanding of what it means to understand the levels. It’s probably true to say that parents had come to understand the progression of sub-levels (i.e. that 4c comes above 3a, but below 4b) and perhaps even the expected ranges (i.e. that a Y4 child should be around L3), but there were very few parents who had any idea about what that meant in terms of attainment. Even fewer could take anything from the information to support their child’s learning.

Myth 3. They aid transition

I can see how this one came about. In the absence of any other information, I’d be grateful to receive sub-levelled information if a new child joined my class. But receiving a child who had been graded as a 4b writer told me relatively little. It doesn’t explain whether their use of in-sentence punctuation is secure; it doesn’t explain if they can paragraph appropriately; it doesn’t give me any clue about the strength of their spelling. In essence, it just tells me that they’re broadly average in my Y6 class. Perhaps we could all save time by just passing on below/above or around average as indicators.

Equally, for the transfer between schools we know only too well how little agreement there was about levels. It’s beyond a myth to suggest that receiving schools took anything more than cursory note of levels provided at transfer.

Myth 4. They helped measure progress

It’s true that levels, and their evil sub-level counterparts, gave us a nice comfortable system for implying progress. However, we’ve already noted the discrepancies between key stages. And the suggestion that the levels provided some sort of smooth indication of equally-sized steps is laughable. Certainly on tests we were able to divide level thresholds by 3, but consider the relationships between them at KS2: in maths the difference between the 3a and 4c thresholds could be around 10 or 11 marks; in reading the same thresholds were often as little as 2 marks apart! How could these possibly demonstrate equal steps of progress? Even within Reading itself, the gap from 3a to 4c could be 2 marks, yet the gap from 4c to 4b would be 6!

Certainly the steps could give an indication of tracking towards outcomes at KS2, but that’s not the same as being a reliable measure of progress!

Myth 5. They can be adapted for the new curriculum

This is perhaps the most dangerous of the myths. Because of the widespread mis-information from the DfE that the new expectations would be broadly in-line with the current level 4b requirements, many schools have presumed that the levels could be retained and ‘tweaked’ to provide an adequate assessment system.

One look at the fractions requirements of the new Y6 curriculum makes the flaws in this argument clear. This section shows the new requirements, with an indication of the approximate level from the old curriculum, based on APP statements:


  • use common factors to simplify fractions; use common multiples to express fractions in the same denomination (L5/6)
  • compare and order fractions, including fractions >1 (L5)
  • add and subtract fractions with different denominators and mixed numbers, using the concept of equivalent fractions (L6)
  • multiply simple pairs of proper fractions, writing the answer in its simplest form (L7)
  • divide proper fractions by whole numbers (L7)
  • associate a fraction with division and calculate decimal fraction equivalents for a simple fraction (L6)
  • recall and use equivalences between simple fractions, decimals and percentages, including in different contexts. (Level 5/6)

The same approach could be applied to comparing the new grammar requirements, or looking at expectations in arithmetic strategies. The reality is, the new curriculum is not only substantially different in its organisation and content, but also in its expectations. And while it may be true that a similar number of children are expected to “pass” the new tests, as currently score enough points to achieve 4b or higher, it is clearly not the case that knowing the content that would currently attain 4b would be enough to “pass” the KS2 tests in 2016.

Answers from the department (that raise more questions)

By complete chance (one presumes), today I received two responses from the Department for Education on entirely unrelated matters.

Firstly, to the matter of the Curriculum Cock-Ups I mentioned last month.

It turns out, the inclusion of the 900-1300 dates in the Benin listing in the new National Curriculum wasn’t so much a cock-up as a bodge job! The department passed on a comment from “the chair of an expert group” set up to examine the first draft, and suggest improvements. This stated that the reason for the inclusion of Benin at all was “to show schools that already study Benin that they can continue to do so”. The reason, though, for the selection of the (frankly quite dull and hard-to-teach) early 900-1300 period was an attempt “to preserve the chronological structure of the programmes of study”

In essence, it wasn’t a mistake… it was just a bad compromise. Just what we need for a statutory curriculum for our nation’s schools.

The response also points out that schools are free to teach beyond 1300, which rather emphasises the nonsense of specifying the period in the first place.

So now we know.

In another matter, it seems that further evidence of ill-thought-through legislation has left a bit of an unclear area in expectations for school websites. From this month schools have been required to publish the curriculum for every year group online. It has never been clear what form or what level of detail is required, but also the documentation was unclear whether this related only to National Curriculum year groups, or whether it would need to include the Reception/Early Years phase.

My second response from the DfE indicates that they hadn’t really thought it through themselves. The response from the DfE lawyers states that “there is nothing in the drafting to indicate that this is restricted by age or year group” and that therefore they “think the requirement under Regulation 10 would also apply to that Reception year” (my emphasis)

Of course, this fails to take into account that the regulations actually specify that what should be published is “the content of the curriculum followed by the school for each subject” (my emphasis again). Now, aside from the fact that the Early Years curriculum is much harder to pin down than the content of the National Curriculum, it seems to overlook the fact that there aren’t officially “subjects” in the EYFS, so quite what is meant to be published isn’t clear.

What’s more, if the requirement probably extends to Reception, then should it also apply to maintained nurseries? Does it also extend to sixth forms?

Or had the department not really thought it through before announcing that it would happen?

Key Objectives for KS1/2

The Key Objectives for Reading, Writing, Maths and Science for KS1/2 can now be found in the Free Resources section.

Curriculum Cock-Ups?

Teachers, school leaders and experts across the land have been only to keen to point out that the latest changes to the National Curriculum seem rushed. Only this week we saw the ATL survey showing that eight of ten teachers don’t feel they’ve had enough time to prepare for it.

What is becoming increasingly evident is just what an impact such a rush has. I present just three examples of what I consider to be cock-ups that should have been ironed out before the curriculum documentation reached its final stage.

Exhibit A

The first is my particular favourite. At first glance, the spelling requirements for Y5/6 English don’t seem too ridiculous, until you look more closely at the fifth and sixth bullet points:

dictionariesI have yet to find anyone who can rationally explain to me the difference between these two requirements. Clearly, the wording is different, but is it only me that feels that this is just an error where someone forgot to delete one example?


Exhibit B

Now, I’m no history expert, so I’ve been trying to pull together some history ‘Cheat Sheets’ to help both me and others with the new strands of the curriculum. The area which has presented most challenge has been the new Non-European Study section. By far the most popular option has been the study of the Mayan Civilization, but some schools – particularly those with many West African students, or with some expertise in the area – would reasonably opt for Benin. A quick glance at the Wikipedia article for the kingdom suggests that it was at its most significant from 1440, yet for some reason the National Curriculum proposes that we study an alternative period:

benin

This seems all the more strange when you consider that, as the Historical Association says: “Benin didn’t really exist in 900 AD” and that the most famous of historical artefacts from Benin – the Benin Bronzes – date from the twelfth century onwards, with the most significant falling in the fifteenth century, well outside the proposed period.

So what was the rationale behind the very precisely defined 900-1300 period? Just another cock-up?


Exhibit C

Given that the new curriculum is meant to be “the best which has been thought and said“, you’d think that plenty of experts would have been involved in the development of the programmes of study. And given the great interest in the content of the History curriculum, perhaps none moreso than in this subject. Yet it was here that I found a further error. Again, to the untrained eye nothing seems amiss with the third British History unit:

scots

However, the most precursory research into that second bullet point – about the Scots invasions – suggests that perhaps too few experts were involved. For some time now, there has been much doubt about the idea that the Scots ever “invaded” at all. In fact, it seems more likely that the Gaels on the Scottish west coast were part of the same group as those in Northern Ireland; there is no archaeological evidence for an invasion. It is, at best, a contested issue.

Interestingly, when I raised the point with Scottish historian, Mark Jardine, he described it as a classic “myth history in chronicles vs. history” debate, and “way, way too complex” for lower KS2!


Of course, it could be argued that these mistakes are not errors at all, just… unusual choices. But given the very short time period allowed for drafting, redrafting and publishing the curriculum, is it any surprise that errors slipped through? Doubtless there may be more in the Secondary subjects which I haven’t even begun to look at.

Can they seriously argue that this wasn’t rushed?

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.

 

Northern Rocks Presentation: Opportunities in the New Primary National Curriculum

Conferences should always leave you knowing more than when you arrived. If nothing else this weekend I could have at least learned quite how much ‘north’ there is in the UK. Fortunately there was a lot more to Northern Rocks 2014, which made it a great day. Hopefully Emma and Debra will continue their fantastic work on the event and will be publishing videos of the various speakers, and I’m sure many more will blog, so I’ll leave the generalities of the day, but thought I would share the outline of my presentation for the many people who weren’t able to make this booked-out event.


Opportunities in the New Primary National Curriculum

I wanted to try to present the idea that although the new National Curriculum at first seemed horrendous (indeed, in its first draft, it was!) and even now seems weighty, that there are some opportunities there for the taking. Despite claims about a slimmed-down curriculum, we ended up with a 200-page document just for KS1/2, and so it’s hard to see the freedoms at first, but there are some glimmers of hope. Firstly, I pointed out that of the 50,000 words, barely 1/3 of the content is actually statutory.

ppt1

Most primary teachers would agree that the core subjects should be very much at the heart of what we do, so it seems to me reasonable that a good chunk of the statutory content should come in those areas. Of the non-statutory stuff, a lot of it is actually very good guidance and support for teachers. And of the foundation subjects, the freedom is evident. There are fewer than 200 words of content for primary music. The document in effect says to primary schools: ‘teach some art, teach some music, but most importantly, get the basics right’. I think we’d all agree with that, and actually the new document supports that aim. Schools are largely free to choose their ‘content’, as long as they get the maths and English skills sorted.

Even the History that gets such as bad press isn’t awful. It is broadly the same as presently at KS1, and has just 9 topics to cover at KS2, which you can cover in a level of detail of your choosing. Take the freedom and make it work for your school!

It’s true that the English content is far more detailed, but we ought not to forget what has gone before. I posted this image on Twitter a few days before the conference and the reaction was almost panto-like hissing and booing. And rightly so. For the uninitiated among you, the clock was the prescribed structure for every daily Literacy lesson, and the list on the right is the first page of objectives for a single term in Year 5:

ppt2ppt3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ought not forget where we have been before when we look at the content we’ve been offered now. In comparison to the strict structure of the Literacy Hour and its many objectives, the new document generally is more light-touch. Although the strategies were never statutory, most schools followed them as thought they were; the new structure is very clear about what is statutory and what is not, and schools must take that as face value and make the most of it.

Opportunities in Planning for Progress

One of the big advantages of the new curriculum, I think, is in the moving away from the strategies, in fact. For too long as schools we have fitted our curriculum around the dictations of documents and DVDs from the department. And while many of these were well-intentioned, I think it has left us in a situation which is less than ideal. After the Literacy and Numeracy hours came ‘Excellent and Enjoyment’ and then the renewed frameworks. It has left schools with two main models of planning and teaching, both predicated on the same broad idea that if we keep revisiting topics that the kids will keep making progress. My concern is that we never give the children long enough on any one idea to allow them to secure it, and we’re not good at making the right sort of links. Take a look at these two examples:

ppt4appt4b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left is the model for the primary Numeracy framework with units A1 to E3. I never mastered it. I’ve never understood the supposed sequence, and I don’t see how it is meant to help children to create any sort of coherence to their learning. On the right is a fairly typical primary school topic-planning model. I think in recent years – particularly since Excellent and Enjoyment – in primary schools we have persuaded ourselves that we’ve done well with this approach: we’ve moved away from the forced links of the past, and only create ‘meaningful’ cross-curricular links. My concern is that we’ve sometimes elevated the cross-curricular links above the links within a subject, particularly in English. We tend to favour genres of writing that link to the topic, rather than those that link to each other. So we still follow the strategies model of a week on, say, biography, followed by a week on newspapers, followed by a week on poetry, etc. without attempting to make any link between these ideas. I’d argue that we need to look to a model which spends longer on linked ideas, particularly in Writing, that allows children to develop their understanding in greater depth. I’ve tried a model this year in my school where we grouped writing genres by purpose, and focussed on a group of styles over a half-term. It’s not perfect, but it has allowed us to spend longer building up a coherent picture of writing styles before moving on:

ppt5

In doing this, I think we genuinely allow children to build up a meaningful map of concepts around a model, rather than just throwing separate objectives at them day after day. It also makes target-setting more meaningful (since they will actually get a chance to tackle the target) and can make really good use of good classroom strategies such as learning walls over an extended period.

I have written more about this mastery approach for English and also for KS2 Maths.

Opportunities for Meaningful Assessment

Most primary teachers would agree that too often assessment has driven the curriculum. I have written before about how Assessment is not Tracking. The current system of levels does conflate the two, and too often it’s the latter that has been prioritised over the former. I proposed to the audience in the room that actually teachers have the knowledge to carry out meaningful assessment, and it doesn’t need to use pages and pages of highlighted bullet points.

Take Level 4 Writing – that golden goal of primary teaching. On the APP grid there are 22 bullet points to highlight against Level 4. Personally, I think it could be simplified to 5. Of course the nuance is important for target-setting and identifying next steps, but the big picture is far more important than the minutiae. For those of you who have taught in KS2, I set you a challenge. Spend just one minute thinking of what makes a good level 4 writer. Then click on the image below to see how well it matches what I came up with:

ppt6

 

Click on the image to see my 5 suggestions

 

 

Perhaps what’s most important about this model is that schools can own it. Working together with partner schools or even across whole authorities, teachers can use their wide-ranging professional knowledge and judgement to design an assessment model that works for them.

I genuinely think that among some concerns, there are lots of opportunities in the new primary curriculum, and it is now for schools, leaders and teachers to take those opportunities for themselves to build a meaningful curriculum for their students.

As Mick Waters said at Northern Rocks: it’s time we stopped dancing to the tune of Ofsted or the department. I say, it’s time we make our own music!