NC05: Memorandum submitted by Sara Wernham
· 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.
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 Nothing is ever withdrawn everything just has to be 'fitted in'.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.
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.
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.
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'.
2. Listening and responding
3. Group discussion and interaction
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
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.
· narrative (and plays and playscripts)
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.