Posts Tagged With: learning

Our meeting with the DfE

Meeting with the DfE and @emmannhardy, @heymisssmith, @educationbear, @debrakidd, @cherrylkd, @imagineinquiry and @theprimaryhead

 

Wow –we were invited to the DfE to talk about the new curriculum – came like a ‘bolt out of the blue’ and a sense of ‘at last they’ll listen to us’ pervaded our thinking. We soon calmed down though, but the thought of attending a meeting with a bunch of passionate bloggers and tweeters can never be turned down. The thought of meeting Elizabeth Truss was also exciting, perhaps we were getting a little ‘star-struck.’

Despite knowing we would be meeting about the national curriculum we knew little else. Like swatting students we downloaded the National Curriculum ‘APP’ and ensured we could talk about it with some authority. However we were not naïve enough to think that a bunch of educational bloggers would not be forcing their own agenda – And why not!

We arrived in London the evening before (From sunny Staffordshire) and stayed at the YHA near St. Paul’s Cathedral (I promised I’d give them a plug – they’ve got some excellent rates for school parties! Ask for ‘Matty’). On the morning of the meeting we ambled (with a few diversions) across to Westminster for our meeting scheduled for 2pm.

Finally, the time had come and we went to the reception area of the DfE and eventually we were escorted through to the meeting room and off we started.

Curriculum

The precise content of the curriculum was never going to be the focus. Many of us felt that in reality there is little change with relation to content and we pointed out that given any curriculum, talented leaders and practitioners have the ability to create a fantastic learning journey for their pupils. We did point out that whilst the English primary curriculum is 88 pages in length (including appendices), many other subject areas are only three pages in length; on the face of it, this doesn’t suggest a broad and balanced curriculum will be insisted upon.

 

A key weakness in ‘the system’ that was highlighted was the lack of support for implementation, both from the DfE and the LAs. Elizabeth Truss made the point that ‘Teaching Schools’ should be taking on this role, but as @cherrylkd highlighted, teaching schools are only just getting to grips with changes themselves. Overall the group felt the curriculum content wasn’t a major issue but the timeframes and support for implementation were a big challenge.

 Assessment

We spoke a lot about assessment and we came away from the meeting with an ever increasing sense of uncertainty. The policy advisers were unsure how the curriculum would be assessed. Their thoughts were that English, Maths and Science would be formally assessed at KS1 and KS2 but what these would look like remains a bit of mystery. When pushed, some mumbled response about pupils having a standardised score might be an option, where a score of 100 is the ‘Expected’ outcome. This really concerns us: whilst schools/clusters of schools are creating new assessment systems, some at a considerable cost; financially and time; the government plans to bring in a national standardised test for pupils at the end of Y2 and Y6. Should this happen, we’ll be back to ‘square one’ – schools will ‘re-build’ there assessment systems to fit around ‘National Assessments’ and pupils will be funnelled in to a curriculum where Maths and English scores rule. Pupils who have score of ‘100’ in Y3 will be targeted to get a score of ‘103’ in Y4, making accelerated progress (sound familiar?) Where a score of 100 will be acceptable for Ofsted to begin with, before long, a score of 103 will become the new ‘expectation’ and Gove will pull out his favourite line of “We make no apologies for raising expectations.”(Sound familiar?) At the meeting the rationale behind removing levels was so avoid labelling pupils; but really, what is the difference between ‘John Smith’ being a level 3a or having a score of 98? Both systems are still ‘Carrot and Stick’ and they both attach a score, tattooed into the psyche of teachers, parents and pupils!

Ofsted

No educational debate is complete without the mention of Ofsted. What was very interesting at the meeting was the luke warm response from the DfE with regard to Ofsted. Rather than defend their ‘trusty’ (though independent-ish) foot-soldiers, Elisabeth Truss seemed keen to know more about their impact on teachers/schools, with particular reference to workload and moral. We talked about the vast swathes of marking expected of teachers and the vast array of differentiation we’re expected to provide. We were met with “Where did this message come from?” – Truss was clearly unaware of the pressure from SLTs, LAs and Ofsted to jump through these hoops. Truss was keen to point out that the government does not have a policy of differentiation and she seemed genuinely surprised at the level of marking required. Our key point was that when the Ofsted handbook changes so does educational policy; the question remains; who is charge of education? The DfE or Ofsted? And we think this is where the battleground lies!

There was clearly an undercurrent of disquiet towards Ofsted, whilst this was never mentioned explicitly, the policy advisors and Truss made no attempt to defend them.

 

The ‘Gang’ #DfEgreight

Whilst no-one could really deny that an invite from the DfE is a great opportunity to share views, the most positive part of the day was the opportunity to meet with an eclectic group of bloggers from around the country, each with their own point and style. During the meeting the views were delivered thoughtfully, passionately, honestly and sometimes angrily, but every view had its own merit. For us, it was great to hear such a range of perspectives about Education. Ultimately the visit wasn’t for ourselves, we all went to the DfE to get a better deal for the pupils we nurture and educate. Let’s never lose focus of that.

 

The Thought Weavers.

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Effective Feedback – PAIR marking

Effective written feedback – PAIR marking

 

I don’t remember much of the marking from my school days; but one ‘grade’ does stick in my head – I once got a D+ for a piece of work in geography. I was gutted, I worked hard in geography and Mr Machin, my teacher, seemed pretty decent or “sound” as I might have said then.

So why does this piece of marking stick so vividly in my head? Well, for one reason it damaged my fragile teenage ego (But really that’s just tough!) but the other reason is simple; there was no explanation for it – I didn’t know why the grade was so low and I didn’t know how to improve it. It was poor marking!

 

I’ve read a few blogs about marking and the first point I note is that marking really should be called feedback. The purpose of marking is to give feedback to learners to help them assess their progress and make improvements.

 Prof. John Hattie highlights the importance of feedback in his book ‘Visible Learning’ and the Sutton Trust ‘Teacher Toolkit’ corroborates this evidence. The key to feedback though is to get it right. Poor feedback doesn’t help learners and wastes the time of the teacher who writes it.

 

So what does ‘effective’ feedback (in the guise of marking) look like?

I’ve introduce PAIR marking at my school. PAIR is an acronym, not to be put into books, but as a guide to structure effective feedback.

 

The P stands for:

PRAISE – this is the most ineffective aspect of marking I see. ‘Good work,’ Well done,’ and ‘Brilliant’ are vague terms that offer no useful feedback to learners. There are some who argue that effective feedback has no room for praise, and to a point, I’m sympathetic to that view. However, praise can be highly effective when it acknowledges personal attributes. To justify this I would point to the work of Carol Dweck who explains that praising for effort and tenacity develops a growth mindset; a belief that you can get ‘brighter.’ Praising the thinking behind the learning can also acknowledge the mental effort afforded to the task.

 

The A stands for:

ASSESS assessment of the learning (not the task) is critical if the learner is to use the marking to gauge their progress. It is essential that the feedback is accurate and explains reasons behind it; for example – This is effective writing BECAUSE… is better than scribbling  ‘Great writing.’

 

The I stands for:

IMPROVE – This aspect of PAIR marking presents the student with an opportunity to improve their learning. The teacher offers guidance about improvement so that the student can reach the next step. Phrases such as ‘your next step is,’ and ‘to improve…,’ provide useful starters. I often pose questions to pupils, encouraging them to think about their learning and how they might improve it. Questions are particularly powerful for learners who find it difficult to reflect on their learning by themselves. Short ‘improvement’ tasks to address weaknesses/misconceptions can also be set to be completed at the start of the next lesson. Improvement can be explicit (e.g. ‘to improve…’) or implicit, where a question is posed to promote further thought.

 

The R stands for:

RESPOND – This is a great strategy to make feedback ‘Stick!’ The chance for the pupils to have their say! Pupils can respond in a number of ways; a signature to acknowledge they’ve read feedback; answer a question posed by the teacher; complete the short ‘improvement’ task; agree or disagree or maybe just a personal response. When pupils respond to marking this creates a learning ‘dialogue’ between the teacher and the learner; highly effective AfL!

 

What does pair marking look like?

Here is an excellent example of PAIR marking I saw in an English book the other day:

 

         Great resilience today. As a reader I was ‘hooked in’ because you varied the sentence starters. To improve vary the length of sentences.

‘How can I ‘PAIR’ mark every piece of work?’ 

A very sensible question and that’s never the expectation. I would recommend that 1/3 pieces of work should have every aspect of PAIR marking and for the others pieces use ‘PAR.’

My final piece of advice about marking is to keep it short, precise and meaningful as in the example above.

 

The Thought Weavers

 

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The Mini-Plenary – Friend or Foe?

It wasn’t until a couple of years into my teaching career that I’d heard of a ‘mini-plenary.’ According to the local authority my lessons should have one. When I asked what that might ‘look like’ in the classroom I was given a garbled response about checking progress half way through the lesson.

“But what if I know that the children are doing just fine – why would I want to stop them?” I asked. The reply was short and sweet and straight to the point; “Because Ofsted want them!”

The ‘mini-plenary’ is very en-vogue at the moment, it’s a bit of an educational buzz-word (phrase) and I can’t remember the last time I made a lesson observation and didn’t see one (Or at least an attempt at one)

The problem with ‘Buzz-words’ in education is that they become so familiar to practitioners that they lose their meaning. They become the Boweneque “super, smashing, great,” feature of the educational world; said so many times the meaning is lost.

Getting back to ‘Mini-Plenaries’ then; they can be very useful. It is however, important to remember the purpose of a ‘Mini-Plenary’ is to:

 

  1.   Enhance the assessment of the teacher; ensuring the learning is meeting the needs of the learners
  2. Give the learners the opportunity to ask “How am I getting on?”
  3. Challenge the thinking of the learners.
  4.  Assist learners in target setting.
  5. Address whole class patterns of misunderstanding 

 

Too often Mini-Plenaries are for show; little thought is given to their timings, they become a show and tell session with little evaluative significance and are not intellectually demanding. Even worse, they become a trick to ‘show progress’ to an inspector every ten minutes; if we believe that pupils make progress this often and at this rate then we’re either exceptionally gifted educators or deluded.

Assessment for learning during the lesson should be ongoing; it doesn’t necessarily need a whole ‘slot’ with a ‘wizzy’ name to be useful. Assessment takes place at every stage in the lesson, whether it is with one pupil, a group or the whole class.

 

Effective Mini-Plenaries

The best Mini-Plenaries (for want of a better phrase) are intellectually demanding;  ask challenging questions of the pupils and ensure that when the learners get back to their task, they apply their new skills and understanding with greater authority and confidence.

 

 Ideas for the classroom:

  1. ‘Plenary’ questions display – great prompts for the teacher. The students will know they will be expected to respond to them as some point in the lesson – raising expectations.
  2.  Pupil led Mini-plenary – put the ‘Plenary’ questions on to key rings/cards with a ‘group’ leader who will then guide the discussion on each table.
  3. Review the success criteria – Are the prompts effective? How could we make them better?
  4. Peer assessment – students to pick one aspect of the success criteria for their partners/peers to work on.
  5. True or false statements related to the learning. Ask the pupils to move to a specified area of the classroom based on their response. Demand reasoning here!!

Mini-Plenaries are not a foe; the phrase is just over used (We suspect due to Ofsted ‘game’ playing) All of the above ideas should be part of learners’ experience in class, they don’t need a label; reflection is part of the learning process. Ultimately ‘Mini-Plenaries’ are for the benefit of the pupils, not just another box to tick on an observation form.

 

The Thought-Weavers

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Preparing for Ofsted 2013

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for. I then created a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted visited my school. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson/preparing-for-ofsted-2013-v2&#8243; title=”Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2″ target=”_blank”>Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson&#8221; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a></strong> </div>

The Though_Weavers

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The Ofsted Effect

I visit many schools and talk to hundreds of professionals all of the time. Never far from the conversation is Ofsted. Ofsted worry schools to the point that the whole ethos is to please Ofsted. This is wrong because a school’s ethos should be built around its pupils.

I was listening to Mick Waters just the other week and he talked about ‘Game Theory;’ the idea that organisations adjust their practices because of the coercion of others. He gave the example of the railways. Since privatisation, the government has set train operating companies punctuality targets, in response to this the timetables have been adjusted to allow for more ‘slippage;’ the outcome is simple, journey times are longer but targets are met. A classic case of:

“Hitting the target but missing the point”

Schools are in danger of doing precisely this! The Ofsted game has led to some dubious practices; below are just a few that come to mind:

The learning objective must be shared.

We’re not saying it should never be shared, but for every lesson? Surely great learning is great learning and pupils will know this! We shouldn’t forget that learning is never ‘objective!’ It’s a personal process, it belongs to individuals and groups; it is therefore subjective!

The mini-plenary.

Of course great learners need time to reflect, to think about how it might be used; a chance to ponder. However, I heard a story the other day of a class given just 1m 40s before the first mini-plenary was delivered. Pupils need time to question, discuss and just to get on with learning; they don’t need the teacher stopping them every five minutes to check progress.

The end of curiosity.

I’ve seen too many lessons in the past 5 years where the learning outcome is measured in levels. The message is clear; “no need to be curious or inquisitive, I’ve given you the outcome using an arbitrary numerical level and that’s where we’re all heading.” What happened to wonder? Wondering what the outcome might be, the chance to play, to experiment and take risks. I asked a learner in July what he needed to do to get better at maths and he replied “Get a level 5.” Earlier this year I asked a girl what she was learning in English and she replied “AF5” – she could tell I was bemused. I then asked her why and she replied “to get a level 4.” Needless to say writing for pleasure is not one of her pastimes!

Tick Box Teaching

The arrival of the ‘lesson observation grids’ has done great damage to teaching. Instead of teachers, the danger is we become technicians; just ticking the boxes as we go along and ticking as many boxes as possible when an observer is in. Of course there should be guidance, hints and tips, strategies shared and practice observed but when you’ve seen practitioners shower praise like confetti, include a dozen mini plenaries and share enough differentiated learning outcomes for the entire population you know it’s ‘Tick box Teaching.’

Teaching to the tests.

Ofsted predominantly measure a school by their ‘standards.’ Some argue this is not the case, but I’ve yet to come across a school with 100% level 4s at KS2 who’ve been put into special measures. So along comes the ‘SPaG’ test and hey presto, grammar lessons are back on the menu, the ‘how many pieces of punctuation can you fit in a sentence’ game is played and spelling tests, lots of spelling tests! Some argue that children should have this type of experience, but if they felt so strongly why weren’t they doing it last year?

If we continue down this ‘Game,’ education will lose its heart, writing will be a technical experience marked with levels, learning will become boxes to tick and teachers will become robots who simply deliver the packages of contents…And pupils…I fear for them…

So please, follow your philosophy, don’t be compliant and ensure the children in your class/school enjoy an education fit for their futures.

The Thought Weavers

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WHEN TEACHERS LOSE THEIR MOJO!

WHEN TEACHERS LOSE THEIR MOJO!

“What’s the difference between a rut and a grave?”
Answer: The depth of the soil,
This phrase was rather eloquently coined by the American Novelist – Ellen Glasgow in the early 1900s; although it’s over a century old the sentiment is still as fresh as the day it was first written.

Those of you who are teachers will know that the job can sometimes be a series of extreme highs and lows.

The highs occur when the light flickers within the eyes of a child and they say:
“Oh I understand now!”
That ‘Bing’ moment when the imaginary light bulb appears above their head. An additional high point can be when you bump into a former student/pupil and they inform you that their chosen career path was all down to a comment or a bit of advice that you gave them when they were younger. (As you can imagine this can also work the opposite way round and become one of your low points.)

The lows are, all too, familiar to many teachers that I speak to:
An ever increasing workload.
High and sometimes unrealistic expectations of parents.
Demands from the Head Teacher and Senior Management Team.
The ever changing nature of education due to change in government.
Unsupportive colleagues.
‘The Class from Hell!’
Ofsted.

So the question is: How can we stay out of the rut, or better still how do you get out of the rut once you have fallen in? Here are a few Thought Weaver suggestions that may help.

1. Talk to colleagues.
Many of the old sayings that our grandparents came out with still ring true today:
‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’
Perhaps if we share the problem a second time that would take care of the remaining half; therefore the problem would be dissipated. It’s always good to get the opinion of another professional whether it be in your own school or another.

2. Try some summer reading.
Some of you may think that books about education are high brow and too academic. There are many out there which are exactly that. However, if you choose wisely you’ll be in for a treat. Here are a few suggestions, they are great for a read or something you can just dip into:

GUY CLAXTON: What’s the Point of School?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Whats-Point-School-Rediscovering-Education/dp/1851686037/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221064489&sr=1-2
This book will help practitioners to reflect on what they feel the purpose of school really is!

IAN GIBERT: Essential Motivation in the Classroom.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Motivation-Classroom-Ian-Gilbert/dp/041526619X
A book of brilliant and inspirational ideas to promote intrinsic motivation in the classroom.

IAN GILBERT: Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Need-Teacher-When-Google/dp/0415468337
A forward thinking book, considering the changing role of the teacher within 21st Century education

SIR JOHN JONES: The Magic Weaving Business:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Magic-Weaving-Business-Learning/dp/0956376002
Inspirational stories that help capture the essence of why we do what we do!

3. Get on Youtube and be inspired; here are few of the gems we have found!

SIR KEN ROBINSON: Changing paradigms.

SIR KEN ROBINSON: Do schools kill creativity?

NICK VUJICIC: I Love Living Life. I Am Happy.

MATT HARDING: Where the hell is Matt?

BOBBY McFERRIN: A demonstration of the power of the pentatonic

DAVID HOLMES: The Rapping Flight Attendant – Try to love your job this much!

4. Get on Twitter!
We assume that by reading this blog you are already aware of Twitter. However, if you received this link from another source, and as of yet you haven’t got a Twitter account, we strongly suggest you set one up. From our perspective it will be the best continual professional development tool you’ll ever use! It’s easily accessible 24/7, user friendly, highly informative, humorous and more importantly its FREE!

The Thought Weavers.

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Preparing for Ofsted!

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for and produced a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted paid my school a visit. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due!

Preparing for Ofsted! 2013

<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_12069324″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson/preparing-for-ofsted-nec-2012&#8243; title=”Preparing for ofsted! nec 2012″ target=”_blank”>Preparing for ofsted! nec 2012</a></strong> <div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/thecroaker/death-by-powerpoint&#8221; target=”_blank”>PowerPoint</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson&#8221; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a> </div> </div>

Lee of the ‘Thought Weavers.’

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What Kind Of Restaurant Is Your Classroom?

Myself and David (AKA the Thought Weavers) love to play around with analogies, sometimes they help us get a point across and at other times people look back at us with glazed eyes. However, we really feel this one works and will hopefully help you think about your practice.

So here goes.

We think classrooms are like (or perhaps even should be like) a good restaurant. However, this is not always the case, sometimes they are more ‘fast food’ than ‘gourmet’

Let me explain some of the classic features of a ‘fast-food’ model of the classroom:

  • Pupils walk in with no-one to greet them
  • Adults talk really quickly; they’re impatient and want answers quickly.
  • The menu is always the same.
  • A diet of uninspiring food learning is supplied daily. (it does however hit all of the APP outcomes)
  • Pupils will never remember their favourite or lesson when they’re older
  • Standards are high because the criteria for judging them is so narrow. The ‘fast-food’ restaurant makes and healthy profit and the classroom produces high ‘standards’
  • The tables and chairs never move.
  • All posters and displays are professionally made by adults.
  • Differentiation is made by the words ‘small,’ ‘regular’ or ‘large,’ or in classroom speak; ‘poor,’ ‘average’ or ‘bright.’ (Although occasionally ‘G&T is on the menu)
  • Sometimes special menus/promotions are created, in schools these are known as ‘theme days,’ this is the only time when the menu is slightly more interesting.
  • Feedback is standardised and irrelevant. In the classroom this might be ‘Good Work’ or ‘Well Done’
  • No tips are given; the children will never go the extra mile.
  • Customers can never change the menu and ask for something a little different; in the classroom children get what they’re given.
  • There is no overt way of expressing pleasure or disappointment at the service provided.

On the other hand, a gourmet restaurant (or perhaps country pub!) model for the classroom might read as follows:

  • A friendly smile when you walk in.
  • Small talk at the table with staff.
  • The menu changes regularly and there are lots of daily specials
  • The meals (learning) are well deigned by experts who truly know what they are doing.
  • Great memories are created by the quality of service and friendly atmosphere.
  • Relationships with all adults and children are positive.
  • ‘Difficult’ customers are treated with dignity and respect
  • Standards are exceptionally high, because of the attention to detail at every step of the process.
  • If something special is required or someone wants to deviate from the menu it is celebrated and explored
  • Differentiation is the choice of the customer/pupils; there is a wide variety of activities/meals set out in a variety of ways.
  • Feedback is personalised and unscripted, it feels natural but authoritative.
  • Plenty of tips! Children bring in masses of things from home because they’ve been inspired in school.
  • Pupils can personalise the menus, giving feedback to the lead adult about their performance.
  • Pupils are encouraged to think about their decisions; they have time to evaluate the menu before making a decision

And so on…

Let’s make it clear. Classrooms are not restaurants and certainly shouldn’t be run as a business; pupils are not our customers, they are learners and we should be proud to facilitate their progress.

But, we feel the comparisons can be made. We believe that too often, the standards agenda pushes schools into a ‘fast-food’ model of education. Children deserve better! Whilst a ‘Gourmet’ classroom means hard work, it does mean that the children are the most important people and they will remember their experiences.

So how do you make your classroom ‘Gourmet?’

The Thought Weavers

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Curriculum change!

The Thought Weavers at the BETT show.

Curriculum change is a hot topic in education at the moment and we had the privilege of taking part in a panel discussion at the ‘Educational Leaders’ conference as part of the BETT show. The topic for discussion was curriculum change. Prior to the discussion we were also lucky enough to hear the views of Tim Oates, the chair of the expert panel on curriculum review. This post represents our reflection on the curriculum review based on our prior understanding and our thoughts following the BETT show.

Before we offer our thoughts we have tried to make the following assumptions in an attempt to make our views as sensible and ‘objective’ as possible.

  • The review panel have the best interests of children when considering the new curriculum.
  • The new curriculum will be an attempt to give more freedom to schools (This is stated in the DfE website and in the interim report)

Prior to the show we both read the expert panel review report. We were heartened that it does mention extra freedom, learning to learn approaches and having a ‘school curriculum’ that is not prescribed by the new curriculum.

However, when we got into the ‘nitty gritty’ of the report, such as curriculum design, subjects and the organisation of key stages it soon became clear that this curriculum would have much more prescription than the current document. The irony of a 70 page report to inform us that we will have extra freedom was also not lost on us.

When we heard Tim Oates speak, this reaffirmed our worries. He quite openly told us the new curriculum will be thicker with more detailed learning outcomes. He also reaffirmed that assessment would be tightly linked to the curriculum to assessment, whilst this seems to make common sense, we think it reinforces the ‘teaching to the test approache’. He also mentioned that pupils should not be able to move on until one ‘block of content’ was secure; does this mean children will be held back as in the USA?

From the report and hearing Tim Oates speak we came to the following conclusions:

  • There is an assumption that pupils learn in a linear way, with one block of content being learned so that they can move onto the next block of content. Just how does that really work? For some pupils fractions are much easier than timetables, for other it’s the opposite, for some children using commas is much more developed than using full stops. How will they decide the order for these ‘blocks of content?’ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children learned in systematic way? – But they don’t!
  • Another assumption is that other countries systems of curriculum design are better than ours. To begin with this assumption is based on narrow tests (e.g PISA) to evaluate maths, literacy and science; so where the does the ‘broad and balanced’ argument fit in? We feel they are just ‘cherry picking’ parts of other countries curriculum to support their own arguments. Tim Oates also stated that whilst we should look at other countries curriculum design we should not try to copy them. This is confusing.
  • Our other concern is the manner in which Tim Oates delivered his speech. In education, when children have one chance, passion is vital. We didn’t get a sense of passion from him, most questions were answered using reference to academic research. We have the feeling that the expert review panel are themselves frustrated under the intense pressure from government to produce a curriculum based on the ideals of Michael Gove.

When we took to the stage to sit with our panel, Tim Oates took his place in the audience. We discussed curriculum change and took questions from the floor. With regret Tim Oates was not able to stay for the whole panel discussion.

The key points raised by ourselves and the panel were:

  • With a narrow assessment system, no matter how schools are encouraged to have more freedom over the curriculum, children’s learning will always be channelled to towards getting the grades.
  • Ofsted’s remit is too wide. They seem to have the power to do what they like. Most of the panel agreed that it is Ofsted that set school policy, not the government.
  • Children’s learning should not be standardised
  • The curriculum review seems to have little direction.
  • The new curriculum will be more prescriptive than the current one.
  • A perhaps cynical point of view was that the curriculum review was an attempt to push schools into academy status.

The expert panel into curriculum change have been given a very difficult job. There remit is to design a core and foundation curriculum that will suit every student in England. The very idea of this, in our view is impossible.

Final thoughts…

With around 20,000 schools in England and many wonderful, creative and focussed professions, the following questions popped into our heads…

Why do we need a curriculum written for us?

Can’t we be tasked with creating our own curriculum, our own success criteria, our own pedagogical approach based on the needs of children we know very well within a community of which we are part?

Does the head of science need to be told what essential knowledge should be taught?

Would a new curriculum create a whole new wave of commercial products to support it?

Who really are the experts in education?

Can we really have personalised learning with a standardised curriculum?

To finish on a positive – no matter what the outcome of the curriculum review, nothing is more powerful that teachers doing what they do best; helping children to learn. The online collaboration through twitter and facebook etc will always be a more powerful force than any formal written document. When teachers collaborate and debate, children will always benefit.

Lee and David.

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Adapting to Curriculum Change. (BETT conference notes)

Perspective 1.

The ‘soft skills’ of learning…

The biggest change as a result of curriculum change should be the mindset of school when delivering the knowledge and facts contained within a proposed new curriculum.

We are always reminded that built into its design is the ‘extra freedom’ it will allow. This is what schools should hook onto. In it’s previous (still current) guise the national curriculum was seen as the end. The entire day had to be built around it (this was never the intention) – school should move away from this model and more focus should be given to the ‘Hidden curriculum’ – which ironically, if schools interpret curriculum change appropriately will not be so hidden.

When I speak of the hidden curriculum, I mean the aspects of learning that builds resilience, that promotes curiosity, encourages learners to be independent and helps all of us develop our role within society – recent years have seen a surge in this type of focus (PLTS / BLP); these have great potential, they are however hampered by the current assessment framework – the idea that if its not measurable its not worth teaching.

With relation to Academies and Free Schools, who will have greater freedom over their curriculum, my hope is that these organisations won’t simply use the ‘Safety net’ of the national curriculum as a basis for their pupils education and be innovative and brave; designing their very own! In reality however, because the summative assessment framework will be based on the national curriculum, I believe it likely that most schools use the new framework.

On the one hand autonomy is promoted whilst on the other it is hampered!

 

Perspective 2- Leadership

If the new curriculum does allow schools more freedom to plan their own approach and schools are willing to take the risk (as I believe they should)  this has implications for leadership.

The role of the curriculum leader would be one of real expertise, they would be leading a curriculum that reflects the local, national and international issues of the day and the decisions made must be based on evidence available rather than simply subscribing to a scheme. The freedom to also deliver a curriculum in a way the school chooses, adds to this autonomy.

Curriculum leaders in school therefore need to be social commentators, interested in the latest research and confident enough to say that the approach the school is taking is the right one. The school would become an ‘intellectual community.’

The word ‘expert’ is not used enough in schools. Teachers are (and should consider themselves) experts in their field, in the same way a doctor is an expert in medicine and solicitor is an expert in law. Curriculum leaders would be expected to be leading experts, to be clear about their methodology, to read/promote/apply/challenge up to date pedagogical research, be brave enough to say some things are not appropriate for their schools and to have a clear rationale for everything they lead.

This would represent change because currently the all encompassing National Curriculum is a safety net – as long as there is ‘coverage’ then there is no issue. If, as seems likely, the new curriculum will explicitly say that it should not be all encompassing, then the only ‘safety net’ is the secure knowledge and understanding of the leadership team, the expertise of all staff and a clear vision of where the school is going – an expert community.

This would have implication for school inspections, as each school will have a mildly different curriculum, one they will have to justify and communicate clearly to a range of inspectors; this represents even greater accountability. Inspectors will have to make judgments on an unfamiliar curriculum and give reasons for it; very difficult! The evaluation schedule would need to be different.

What I believe will happen is that under the new curriculum, the very best schools will prosper, the expertise of the staff will shine through and ultimately the pupils will benefit greatly; many schools are ‘ahead of the game’ and curriculum design expertise is part of their fabric. In other schools, where a rigid curriculum ( or bought in ‘creative curriculums’) has been employed for many years, curriculum change will be a huge challenge; without confident leaders, who have a deep understanding of curriculum design and learning processes, the results could be catastrophic.

The one thing that will hold back innovative and relevant curriculum design is the assessment framework. True freedom would not only be curriculum design, but also to decide the criteria for success.

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