NC05: Memorandum submitted by Sara Wernham

 

Summary

The National Curriculum in its present form is too detailed and complicated, leading it to become embroiled in argument over method and in need of constant revision.

 

It should contain only a broad outline of topics / subjects to be covered in a particular subject / year group.

 

The NC and all of its accompanying strategies and policies are undermining the professionalism of teachers by denying them the ability to react to the actual needs of the children in their class.

 

The testing (SAT's) is subjective and not rigorous, thereby making the results useless and worthless.

 

The government should be concerned with ensuring rigorous and objective testing to ensure standards in, and quality of, education for all.

 

The current (and proposed) policies and strategies are disjointed, and in many cases provide contradictory guidance and instruction.

 

Introduction to the submitter

I have been a Primary Teacher for 18 years, with experience in Reception - Year 4.

For the last 5 years I was SENCo in Woods Loke County Primary School, Lowestoft.

I am the co-author of the Jolly Phonics programme, a very well known Synthetic Phonics programme, widely used in the UK and overseas.

I also go to schools and give training and advice in the use of Jolly Phonics, and Synthetic Phonics in general.

 

Submission

1. I started my teaching career 18 years ago as the National Curriculum was just being introduced. Since then the NC has been changed on numerous occasions and has had a huge impact on the work of the classroom teacher. This is particularly true for the amount of time spent planning and filling in paperwork. More and more 'Strategies and Frameworks' have been introduced, some statutory some just advice, to create a complex multi-layered muddle. Nothing is ever withdrawn everything just has to be 'fitted in'. The government has stated that the Renewed Frameworks for Literacy and Mathematics build on the previous strategies and so teachers should not have to spend weeks on re-planning lessons. However in reality this is not the case. While there is some crossover between the Renewed Framework and the previous National Literacy Strategy, it is time-consuming for teachers to find where that crossover is and then, if possible, try to use their existing planning alongside the new materials.

 

 

2. The advice has become more and more detailed. It has undermined the professionalism of teachers, who are pressured into following the latest advice, or who have no experience of not following such detailed guidance. The 'Numeracy Strategy' is a case in point. When it was published it contained details not only of what to teach in each year group but also how many days each topic should be taught for. How could someone who had never met my class possible know that 3 days were enough to teach them to tell the time to the half-hour? That sort of decision should be made by the teacher or school, who know the ability and needs of the children being taught.

 

3. The Numeracy Strategy and NC have an underlying assumption that children always know something thoroughly if they have been taught it once, and so can continually move on to the next stage. In reality what happens, as with the 'Numeracy Strategy', is that the bright pupils do pick things up but the others in the class struggle with the constant movement from topic to topic, and the poorest get lost after the first week. All just as the experienced teachers in the school had predicted, as soon as they had read the strategy. However they have been pushed into following the various NC documents and not allowed to plan according to their knowledge of their class's needs.

 

4. It would be better to have broad topic areas giving subjects, eg 'add and subtract' or 'time', and a limited number of statements as to where children in particular year groups should be achieving, eg 'by the end of Year 1 children should be able to add and subtract numbers to 100', or 'tell the time using o'clock and half past' etc. It would cut the amount of documentation down enormously, and would also allow the teacher to decide how and by what time scale the children in the class are best going to achieve these statements.

 

5. The government should be ensuring that all schools and children reach certain standards, and not that teachers follow certain programmes of study. It should certainly not become involved with the minutia of daily planning. Short term and daily planning should be left to the teachers, schools and even to independent publishers. At least the work of the publishers will have to be tested by market forces, whereas anything published by the Government is taken as being obligatory and something that has to be done however good or bad it may be.

 

6. The SAT's are given and marked by the same people who have taught the children, and who are going to be assessed on the results. These same teachers are under pressure to ensure the predicted grades and targets are met. This cannot be right. In 18 years of teaching I am not aware of one instance where any independent check has been made on all the marks and papers in the school. In our county there is a 'moderating' meeting where each Y2 teacher takes 3 pieces of work - one above average, one below average and one average. As you can imagine all teachers take pieces of work they are fairly certain are at the right grades. The SAT's are in schools for some time before being given to the children and, in virtually every school I know of, the Y2 teachers spend most of the Spring term practising the tasks that will be on the SAT's. This cannot be an effective or even useful way of assessing the children, the teachers, the schools or the National Curriculum.

 

 

 

7. All the documents for the various strategies are overly complex, difficult to follow and continually amended. The New Framework for Literacy and Numeracy has not been published fully in paper form but on the DCSF website. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find all the information needed. Teachers have had to spend hours and hours trawling through the website-based materials. It has also come out in several stages. The book we were all given initially, at the beginning of 2007, only had part of the framework in. Other bits were going to be available online only - eventually - and the bit reflecting the findings of the Rose Report ('Letters and Sounds') was only published half way through the summer term, 2007. Access to curriculum information should not be based on a website with teachers printing out what they can find. The information should be clear, accessible and supplied in full, preferably in a printed format ready to use.
Please see Supplementary A an article I wrote about my experiences with the New Framework for Literacy and Numeracy, which was first published in 'Teaching and Learning' Magazine Nov 2007 and subsequently re-published on the 'Teachingexpertise' website Jan 2008.

 

8. The advisers seem to be unsure about what is new in the framework and what has changed or been replaced from the old one. For example, I have been assured that the old 'searchlight strategies' for reading are all still in there, embedded in the text, and that we should still be teaching with them. When I said I understood that they had been replaced by the recommendations in the Rose Report and the 'simple view' of reading, I was then assured that I was right they have been. However, both statements cannot be correct and many advisers seem to be carrying on giving exactly the same advice they did before the renewed framework came out.


9. The NC although meant to ensure continuity of education (with the new act in Sept 2008, from birth) does not flow within its (many) constituent parts. For example The New Literacy Framework should be taught in the daily Literacy Hour through the various strands, units and themes. This hour we are told should include all of the literacy being taught. However the 'Letters and Sounds' document states that phonic instruction should take place in discrete daily sessions of 20 minutes. I am repeatedly asked when training in schools if the 20 minutes is part of the Literacy hour or separate to it. No-one seems to be able to give an answer.

 

10. The Foundation Stage curriculum does not flow into the National Curriculum. The objectives and goals in the Foundation Stage do not match those in the NC which the children then move on to. The Reception teachers are being asked to work with 4 different documents, The National Curriculum, Letters and Sounds, The Primary Framework and the Early Years Foundation Stage. Also pity the poor Year 1 teachers caught between the play based ethos of the Early Years and the Year 2 teachers and schools who want good SAT results. Many of them are now trying to put two years work into one.

 

 

 

 

 

11. The Reception Year is being absorbed into something called 'The Early Years', which seems to cover everything under Year 1. It is however the first year of statutory full-time schooling and yet the advice it is being given is the same as that for pre-school and Nursery, where children do not have to attend at all or are often part-time. How can the advice possible be relevant to both situations? There is no separate section for Reception in the New Framework for Literacy and Mathematics. The Reception year should be a bridge between the nursery / pre-school and Year 1, not just another year of nursery.

 

12. Huge amounts of time are spent filling in EY Profiles, which though wonderful documents tell the next teacher little they need to know. These documents can be as many as 30 pages per child. The Year 1 teacher does not have the time to read 30 of them, and certainly cannot retain the detail of information.

 

13. The introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage and its ethos of play based / discovery learning has had a massive effect on both standards and behaviour in schools. The children are not developing key learning skills, such as listening, focused concentration and quality of work. They continually move from activity to activity, only really getting anything from activities where an adult is present to help them. These activities take a huge amount of planning, setting up and monitoring, when the time would better be spent with the children. Far more time is now spent assessing the children rather than teaching them.

 

14. Again teacher's professionalism is being undermined as they are forced to work in a particular way enforced, and soon to be enshrined, in government documentation. The teacher is no longer able to organise their class and classroom as they would like, or to teach in the way they feel most comfortable with, or that they feel is appropriate to the children's needs. We are constantly being told children have different 'learning styles' (for which there is little evidence), but as teachers we are not allowed to have different teaching styles.

 

15. In short, the NC should provide broad based guidance and topics of study only. It should provide an expectation of achievement in the different year groups, and have an effective method of testing to ensure standards are met and maintained. It should acknowledge teacher's professionalism and leave them to teach and plan for the children in their care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix A

 

First published in 'Teaching and Learning' Magazine Nov 2007 and subsequently re-published on the 'Teachingexpertise' website Jan 2008.

 

From September 2007, all primary schools in the UK are working to the Renewed Primary Framework for Literacy. According to the government, 'the renewal of the Primary Framework for Literacy (and mathematics) offers everyone involved in teaching children aged from 3 to 11 an opportunity to continue the progress made in raising standards by embedding the principles of both Every Child Matters: Change for Children (2004) and Excellence and Enjoyment: Learning and Teaching in the Primary Years into practice'.

Changes in the structure and content of objectives, along with core guidance, are significant, and schools and settings are 'encouraged' to understand the changes and to 'move towards' implementation rather than to rely upon the original Framework. Developments in the teaching of early reading have been incorporated as a consequence of both research and the findings of the independent review of the teaching of early reading - the Rose Report.

The government has stated that the Renewed Frameworks (for literacy and mathematics) build on the previous strategies and that teachers should not have to spend weeks on re-planning lessons. However, many of you will be discovering that in reality this is not the case. While there is crossover between the Renewed Framework and the previous National Literacy Strategy, the time-consuming challenge for teachers will be finding where the crossover is and then using existing materials alongside new materials (if possible).

Like most other teachers I received a copy of the Renewed Primary Framework for Literacy last year. I flicked through the documentation and put it on the shelf, waiting for the training that we were assured would come over the course of the next year.

Training

Our professional development day in January of this year (2007) was supposed to be the first training day for the renewed frameworks and all schools in our area had to attend one of the sessions. This was it, we were off.

Unfortunately the advisory teachers giving the training seemed to have done the same thing - put the stuff on the shelf and not looked at it. Supposedly they had received training already, which they were going to pass on, down to us at the classroom level. The training session was so bad it is the only course I have ever attended where teachers actually walked out, and believe you me I have sat through some drivel masquerading as training in the past. No more training has been forthcoming and now it is too late!

The advisers seem to be unsure about what is new in the framework and what has changed or been replaced from the old one. For example, I have been assured that the old 'searchlight strategies' for reading are all still in there, embedded in the text, and that we should still be teaching with them. When I said I understood that they had been replaced by the recommendations in the Rose Report and the 'simple view' of reading, I was then assured that I was right they have been. However, both statements cannot be correct and many advisers seem to be carrying on giving exactly the same advice they did before the renewed framework came out.

As per usual, it seems that training to support new initiatives from the government is patchy (to say the least) and teachers are essentially expected to work everything out for themselves.

Documentation

As ever, the documentation that the government has produced is overly complex, and has come out in several stages. The book we were all given way back last year only had part of the framework in. Other bits were going to be available online only - eventually - and the bit reflecting the findings of the Rose Report ('Letters and Sounds' as it turned out to be called) was only published half way through the summer term (2007).


The 'Letters and Sounds' documentation is itself something of a challenge to digest and Teaching & Learning will be examining this document and synthetic phonics in more detail in a future issue.

Assessment and planning

According to the government, assessment and planning was going to be easy as there was an online tool that teachers could all access and use. Now, as we all know, this government has an appalling track record with new software and, true to form, this one is no different.

It is called the interactive planning tool and it is little more than a glorified 'copy and paste' tool that offers less functionality than Microsoft Word. First no one could get it, then it didn't work properly, and the problems it still has mean that most comments I'm hearing (and seeing on various website message boards) about it are 'I can't get on to it' or 'Don't use it, it's quicker to do your own'.

So what's in the Renewed Literacy Framework?

For literacy the government has condensed what the children need to know into 12 strands.

1. Speaking

2. Listening and responding

3. Group discussion and interaction

4. Drama

5. Word recognition

6. Word structure and spelling

7. Understanding and interpreting texts

8. Engaging with and responding to texts

9. Creating and shaping texts

10. Text structure and organisation

11. Sentence structure and punctuation

12. Presentation

Four of the strands are concerned with speaking and listening, three with reading and five with writing. All the literacy is supposed to be taught through these 12 strands.

Just to help further (!), when 'Letters and Sounds', concerned with the teaching of reading and spelling, was finally published, the advice in it was set out across six phases. These phases run across the strands, the year groups and the objectives, apparently. Also, while the renewed framework advocates everything is taught through the 12 strands, delivered via the units it recommends (more on them later), 'Letters and Sounds' recommends that the teaching in it is done in 'discrete daily sessions of around 20 minutes'.

One of the first things I realised when initially reading the renewed framework was that, although a much slimmer document than the previous one, it really is even smaller, as all the objectives are repeated. They are presented once by strand, and then again by year.

Unless you are in the Reception Year, which has disappeared in a puff of smoke! The renewed framework goes straight from the Early Years to Year 1. I kept thinking I'd missed it, or had a page missing, but, no, the first and very important year of a child's statutory school life does not warrant its own section. Personally I find this very strange, and I'm not alone.

The objectives from the renewed framework have been further re-arranged so they are 'clustered' into three major themes:

narrative (and plays and playscripts)

non-fiction

poetry

These 'themes', (or 'blocks' as they are also referred to), have been divided into units. The units are made up of a 'cluster of related objectives'. So for example, in Year 1, there are four units for narrative, five for non-fiction, and three for poetry. Each unit has a heading, and a recommended time scale. So for Year 1 - Narrative - Unit 1 it is 'Stories with familiar settings', which should take four weeks or two x two weeks.

Finding the framework

OK, still with it so far? Next I looked for these units to see what was in them. Search through document... can't find anything else about them. Check with head and literacy coordinators... no, they haven't got a copy of them either, as apparently they have to be accessed through (doom-laden music!) the 'electronic framework'.
Again, according to the DCSF, 'the structure of the electronic version of the Primary Framework for literacy and mathematics aims to provide practitioners with ready access to a broad range of appropriate guidance and resources to support planning and greater personalisation to ensure that the needs of all children are met.'

With a sense of dread I dutifully turned on the computer and went to the DfES (now DCSF) website. To access specific objectives you have to log into the website, select the year you want, then block (narrative, non-fiction or poetry), then the specific unit. You are then offered some teaching sequences or phases. In addition to the information offered for each unit, there is a raft of progression papers, guidance papers and information relating to the use of ICT (all offered as pdfs that have to be printed or downloaded). To gather all the information you need, you end up clicking through link after link on the website - resulting in the detail of the framework becoming something of a moveable feast. You never really know where it will end - and it is also quite possible to forget where you started!
I trawled through what seemed like hundreds of pages and could not find the units. Eventually - eureka! I found them. Then several hours, a couple of ink cartridges and a small wood of paper later, I possessed copies of all the units needed for one year group. Hooray! However, I could not face reading them all, so stored them safely for when I felt strong enough to face this task.

The fact that the Renewed Frameworks for Literacy and Mathematics are only fully available via a website-based electronic version is laughable. Who has hours and hours to spend trawling through website-based materials? Access to such information should not be based on a website connection and teachers should not have to print everything out for themselves. The information should be supplied in printed format, ready to run with.

In conclusion

When looking over the original document and the objectives in it, we were not too concerned about the effect it would have on our planning and teaching. We are a reasonably good school, with conscientious teachers who have planned carefully and kept our eyes on the latest developments and research. There was nothing unexpected in the objectives in the renewed framework. We would cope as usual by checking that our planning met all the objectives and add in anything that might have been missing.

However, having seen and read through all these units, our hearts sank. It was obvious we would once again be asked to rewrite all our perfectly good planning and schemes of work to fit in with this.

Despite the lovely little sentence in the document that reads, 'It is for teachers and practitioners to decide to what extent this guidance is used', there is little question that the pressure will be on teachers to use it. Teachers in every primary school, in every year group will be rewriting their plans, regardless of whether they need to, and regardless of how effective their old ones may have been. Yet again we say, hopefully this will be the last time, They can't change it all yet again, can they? Personally I wouldn't put one penny of my hard-earned cash on it!