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UEA Professional Development Programme

Module by: David Bishop. E-mail the author

Summary: Briefing paper on changes and anticipated changes connected to the English educational secondary curriculum.

The 14-19 Curriculum

England's national curriculum review, which is to produce a new map of "core knowledge" that millions of five- to 16-year-olds must be taught from September 2013, has been relatively low-profile so far. But this seems about to change, with potential arguments about major changes likely to come out into the open.

Already there has been a delay in the planned "pre-release" of the new curriculum for English, maths, science and PE, as experts and ministers grapple with the details. The reforms are also likely to herald a radical and controversial change in how pupils' progress is directed and assessed.

Note: Background to the National Curriculum:

England's national curriculum dates back to 1988, when the Conservative government judged that our traditional system of leaving teachers and local authorities to decide what pupils should be taught had to be replaced. The current review, the fifth, aims to address the perennial criticism that it is overloaded with content. The plan is to define only "core knowledge" and concepts expected of pupils. This is widely known and has proved relatively uncontroversial so far.

But what is expected of pupils by way of mastering these concepts, and particularly how these expectations are expressed, is poised to change radically. And this is where contention may begin.

Note: National Curriculum Levels:

National Curriculum Levels to go?

For the review, which began in January, has been considering plans to scrap the system of national curriculum levels – the eight-point scale through which millions of children have progressed in their learning since 1988 - in favour of a new structure. This would lay down expectations of what all children should know as they get older. The review is likely to propose setting down year-by-year expectations.

Note: Key Difference:

Key Difference and change from previous National Curriculum

The key difference is that the current structure is not directly age-related: a child can be deemed to have reached level 3 in reading, for example, at the age of seven or at the age of 14. Children are therefore supposed to progress through the levels at different rates according to their abilities. The philosophy behind the new system would be that all children should be mastering key aspects of each subject at specified points.

Tim Oates, director of research at the exams group Cambridge Assessment, who is leading the review, gave a flavour of the thinking at a conference in Bournemouth last month. He said the levels system, though set up with good intentions, had become "defective". He argued that the numerical levels did not communicate meaningful information – to pupils or parents – about what children actually understand.

Oates believes the very act of assigning individual levels to each child can serve to lower teachers' expectations of many pupils, especially low-achievers. The review is looking at international evidence, and Oates contrasted the English approach of focusing on individual levels with that in Asian countries such as South Korea, where teachers concentrate on the whole group making progress together.

This philosophy is cautiously backed by some teachers. Alison Peacock, head of Wroxham primary in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, says that primaryschools have long grouped pupils around tables according to their national curriculum level. She likes the idea of stressing high expectations for all, rather than gearing expectations according to pupils' perceived abilities.

She says: "Ability groupings quite often put limits on what children can do. As soon as you are assigned to a group, it is natural for children to just work to the level that they are expected to work to."

However, the review is not going to advocate completely undifferentiated teaching – teachers will still need to tailor provision for those above or below the national expectations.

The proposed system is already provoking debate. One source says: "This will effectively result in uniform targets for pupils for the end of each year, with children possibly adjudged either to have passed or failed them. There are going to be quite a lot of kids failing all of them one year, then the following year, and so on. The effect of that needs to be considered."

Subject teaching experts are wary of the influence of Nick Gibb, the traditionalist minister for schools. He is said to be keen on the teaching of long division in primary schools, despite near unanimous opposition from maths teaching experts consulted by the review. Another source said the teaching of speaking and listening looked like it would also have a traditionalist flavour, emphasising "standard English". Questions are being asked about the right of a review influencing the education of millions to be shaped by the personal views of one minister.

Timing is another problem. In June, Michael Gove, the education secretary, pledged that first drafts of the programmes of study in English, maths, science and PE would be sent to teachers' subject associations in August. This was put back until early October, and now apparently until later in the autumn. A notice on the website of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics said last month: "The department has decided to delay this pre-consultation phase until the programmes of study have been developed to a more advanced stage."

Formal consultation on the draft curriculums for these subjects is scheduled to begin in January 2012, with the details finalised with schools in September, for first teaching a year later. A new curriculum for other subjects will follow a year later.

Oates, who says a well-designed curriculum should last 30 years, concedes that the implementation timeframe is tight, and it it is still unclear how the curriculum is to be phased in: whether all school years will begin it from September 2013, or whether some will start later.

Annette Smith, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, says decisions need to be made very soon. "Is it going to completely wipe out the old [science] curriculum from 2013, in which case it would be a huge change for schools, or not?" she asks. "These decisions need to be taken urgently because of the support that will need to be put in place to enable schools to make the transition. We do not, either, know the nature of the support that is going to be made available to teachers. This concerns us a great deal."

With many other issues for the review to consider, including the relationship between the curriculum, assessment and league table pressures on schools, the coming months are going to be challenging for Oates and his team.

Source The Guardian 3 October 2011

Proposals of the Wolf Report

The Wolf Report proposes the following changes in vocational education:

Anyone who fails to achieve at least a ‘C’ in GCSE English or maths must continue to study those subjects post-16

  • Anyone who fails to achieve at least a ‘C’ in GCSE English or maths must continue to study those subjects post-16. This would apply to about half the annual cohort
  • Remove the perverse incentives, created by the funding system and performance tables, to enter pupils for low-quality qualifications. High-quality vocational qualifications can and should be identified by the government. Only those qualifications – both vocational and academic – that meet stringent quality criteria should form part of the performance management regime for schools. However, schools should also be free to offer whatever other qualifications they wish from regulated awarding bodies
  • Make performance measures reinforce the commitment to a common core of study at Key Stage 4, with vocational specialisation normally confined to 20% of a pupil’s timetable; remove incentives for schools to pile up large numbers of qualifications for ‘accountability’ reasons
  • Make funding be on a per-pupil basis post-16 as well as pre-16
  • Ensure regulation moves away from the accrediting of qualifications towards the overseeing of awarding bodies
  • Remove the obligation for qualifications for 16-19 year olds to be part of the Qualifications and Credit Framework
  • Increase continuing professional development (CPD) for maths teachers
  • Allow 14-16 year olds to be enrolled in colleges so they can benefit from high-quality vocational training available there
  • Ensure employers are directly involved in quality assurance and assessment activities at local level, which is the most important guarantor of high-quality vocational provision
  • Recognise that high-quality apprenticeships offer great opportunities, but that there are problems with the system. The DfE and the Department for Business, Innovation and Science must work together to fix the funding and other problems
  • Subsidise employers if they offer 16-18 year old apprentices high-quality, off-the-job training, and an education with broad transferable elements

... all of the recommendations have been accepted by the secretary of state

All recommendations accepted by the DfE

The DfE published a response to the report on 12 May 2011. It says that all of the recommendations have been accepted by the secretary of state.

Michael Gove said that the government will:

  • Ensure all young people study maths and English to age 18 until they get a good qualification in those subjects. Ideally this will be a C or better at GCSE but high-quality alternatives will be identified following a consultation this summer
  • Reform league tables and funding rules to remove the perverse incentives that have devalued vocational education. This will mean more young people take the high-quality qualifications that lead to university and good jobs
  • Consult with employers, schools, colleges, universities and Ofqual this summer to define the criteria that the best vocational qualifications must meet
  • Introduce a new measure to assess the performance of both higher- and lower-attaining pupils. This will ensure schools and college do not focus only on students on the C/D grade borderline
  • Consider paying businesses which take young people on to high-quality apprenticeships. Apprenticeships will also be simplified and made easier to offer
  • Support 14-16 year olds enrolling in colleges so they can benefit from the excellent vocational training available there
  • Offer training to maths teachers so they continue improving and learning once qualified. This will be in place by this autumn

When Professor Wolf published her review, the Department immediately accepted four recommendations:

  • To allow qualified further education lecturers to teach in school classrooms on the same basis as qualified school teachers. This requires a change in the law
  • To clarify the rules on allowing industry professionals to teach in schools. This will be ready for the coming academic year
  • To allow any vocational qualification offered by a regulated awarding body to be taken by 14-19 year olds
  • To allow established high-quality vocational qualifications that have not been accredited to be offered in schools and colleges in September 2011

"While system change on this scale cannot happen overnight, we are determined to act as quickly as possible"

Mr Gove said:

The weaknesses in our current system were laid bare by Professor Wolf’s incisive and far-reaching review. The changes we will implement as a result of her report will take time but will transform the lives of young people.

Professor Wolf has taken on a formal role within the Department to help implement these recommendations

Source: The Key A Resource for School Leaders

Note: References:

The following references have been used in producing this document: The Guardian Newspaper The Key: A Resource for School Leaders

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