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.
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.
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!
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.