Thursday, 22 December 2011

National Curriculum Review: A Teachers Opinion

The Department for Education's recent review includes a number of recommendations for big changes to England's National Curriculum, which will have a massive effect on the shape of education in this country for many years to come. Here are some of my thoughts on something that will effect me and thousands of teachers like me in the delivery of our subjects.

Was a review necessary?
Yes, absolutely. It's always good to check you're doing the right thing and personally, I'm not sure we were. The government has delayed any changes until 2014 so we have time to debate the ideas put forward, which is also a good thing.

What are they key recommendations?
There are quite a few, but the ones that are most interesting to me are;
  1. The restructuring of key stages
  2. The moving about of subjects between national and basic curricula
  3. The removal of 'levels' for assessment
The restructuring of key stages
Currently as a secondary school teacher, I notice that in year 8/9 students become somewhat demotivated as what they are doing doesn't seem to be going anywhere or worth anything and this 'KS3 Dip' is well reported phenomenon. Some schools have already started their students on GCSE courses in year 9 to help combat this. One of the recommendations is that KS2 is split into an upper KS2 and lower KS2 - whilst this sounds sensible (if not particularly revolutionary) I can't really comment on this as I don't teach primary students, however they've also proposed two different models for KS3/4.
  1. 7/8 as KS3 and 9/10/11 as KS4 (2 year - 3 year approach)
  2. 7 as secondary reception, 8/9 as KS3, 10/11 as KS4 9 (1 year - 2 year - 2 year approach)
At our school, we currently have a different curriculum for year 7, based on 'learning to learn' where students learn skills rather than knowledge. It's something that's worked well at times and it's been tried and tested in many other schools. The problem is that students coming into year 8 can have a big gap in their knowledge in some areas and students (particularly those who already have those skills) may see it as a bit of a pointless year.

The second option proposed simply moves year 9 into KS4. This would help with motivating students in year 9 as they'd be working towards something, however you may still see a dip in year 10, if there is only a final assessment at the end of the course (which is what has been proposed). I'd also be very concerned that students at the end of year 8 would have a hard time picking the right subjects for themselves.

Of the two options above, and the existing system, I'm still not sure which one is best. I very much like the idea of starting students on a more meaningful course in year 9 however, and if they had the chance to specialise further in year 10 within schools this might be a good option.

Regardless of the structure at KS4 (2 or 3 year), how about GCSEs becoming more like degrees and A levels, where each year counts for a percentage of the final GCSE?

The death of ICT and D&T?
The National Curriculum defines what subjects should be taught and what content within those subjects is compulsory, through the Programmes of Study and Attainment Targets. The Basic Curriculum defines what other subjects are compulsory, but the content is not prescribed. The proposals are that Design and Technology, ICT and Citizenship move from the National Curriculum to the Basic Curriculum. 
Taken from the National Curriculum Review

Citizenship is something that many students and teachers don't really value - every teacher would say that students should learn about citizenship in some form, but personally I'm not worried about it being moved into the 'basic' curriculum, where it could be taught within other subjects.

Design and Technology is quite a big thing to be moving however - which includes food tech, resistant materials, electronics, textiles etc. Most schools have a large D&T department and this could be a very worrying development for those teachers. Personally, I think every child should be able to do some basic DIY, cook and sew and whilst I might happy teach my own son or daughter these things, some parents wouldn't.

I'm an ICT teacher, so for me the biggest worry is the moving of ICT to the basic curriculum. This runs a real risk of ICT teaching being moved to other subjects and ICT teachers losing their jobs. As I discussed in a previous post, many non-specialist teachers will not be able to teach ICT to the same depth as subject specific teachers so students could really loose out here. The only 'but' here is that the review does mention that computer science should be considered;
  • "We have also noted the arguments, made by some respondents to the Call for Evidence, that there should be more widespread teaching of computer science in secondary schools. We recommend that this proposition is properly considered."
This is also against a background of a lot of noise about the subject, including comments from Michael Gove, Google and Microsoft. I can only hope that the idea is to change ICT, rather than remove it.

No more levelling
Some teachers love them, some hate them. I'm more with the latter - I think it's absolutely right that students should know where they are and how to improve, I just think that to any kid, getting a level 5 actually means very little. I also think that because in many subjects (like ICT) assessment is solely teacher based, they are very inconsistent across schools anyway. The review recommends that they should be abolished, and replaced with a 'mastery' system that refers back to the content of the curriculum more. 

Reading the report, the proposals seem to relate to APP a bit, where the curriculum into specific elements to assess. The crucial thing here is that there is no overall general level for a subject - no more saying Jimmy is a level 5 student, but rather Jimmy has mastered Programming (for example) but needs to work on his Spreadsheets and Modelling.

I expect for the sake of statistics and comparisons, we'll still work out averages, but I still really like it in principle.

Any review is going to spark debate and this one certainly raises a lot of questions. The reasons for doing the review are absolutely correct - it's not nice to see the this country falling behind others in anything, let alone education. I'm very concerned but the notion of D&T and ICT becoming part of the basic curriculum, however it's definitely time we started talking about changing things significantly to put ourselves amongst the global leaders of education again.


  1. A good balanced summary.
    I am also worried about ICT in KS2. I can see a real dumbing down which leaves even more to be done at KS3.
    Primary Schools that have moved ICT into fully integrated models concentrate too heavily on Wordprocessing and desktop publishing. I would have liked to see the more meaty aspects of ICT especially those with elements of programming expanded in upper KS2. If the government are really concerned with improving economic viability of this County reducing the status and dumbing down content is not the way to encourage more computer scientists.

  2. The point about KS2 is a good one - although in my experience primary schools have been (on the whole) excellent at using ICT with their students across their curriculum. There should definitely be some kind of control/programming at upper KS2 - something like scratch would be perfect.

    The real problem for me comes when schools try to integrate ICT at secondary level where the majority of non-specialists don't have the depth of knowledge.

    I'm hoping that our worries are unfounded at what will end up happening is ICT will be recreated as Computer Science. It's definitely very worrying for us all though at the moment.