NC07: Memorandum submitted by NUT

 

 

A Summary of the NUT's Proposals

 

1. A National Curriculum which is part of an effective education system and which focuses on achieving equality of opportunity for all children and young people has a positive, indirect influence on standards and performance. The National Curriculum should be recognised by teachers as supportive of their work and supportive of school improvement.

 

2. Rather than provide a bench mark for parental choice, the National Curriculum should provide a bench mark for a common entitlement to a balanced and broadly based curriculum for all children and young people. In this context the Governments promotion of Academies' freedom from the National Curriculum is puzzling. The purpose of any common National Curriculum should be to encourage removal of covert and other forms of discrimination against groups of pupils, including those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

 

3. The National Curriculum assessment and testing arrangements are not an inevitable consequence of the National Curriculum's current or future conceptualisation. The NUT believes that the current assessment arrangements undermine the intentions and effectiveness of the National Curriculum itself.

 

4. There should be an independent review of the 5-14 curriculum which should focus on restructuring the National Curriculum as a statutory framework. This would mean that the content of the curriculum would have an advisory status in relation to the statutory framework. Accompanying the framework curriculum should be guidance on curriculum content to which schools should be required to have regard.

 

5. The present distinction between the core and foundation subjects should be replaced by a statutory framework describing a common curriculum entitlement which would support young people's learning.

 

6. The framework curriculum should provide the scaffolding for the development of teachers' creativity and enthusiasm both for their pupils' and their own learning. It should describe a range of statutory entitlements for children and young people including literacy, numeracy, science and technology, the creative arts, the humanities including a knowledge of global developments, information and communications technology and modern foreign languages.

 

7. The framework should describe the essential skills knowledge and experiences which children need. It should identify to the stages of children's development.

 

8. The statutory framework should encourage new approaches to cross curriculum learning, such as thinking skills, environmental learning, the impact of religious and secular beliefs on society, learning about industry and manufacturing, citizenship and personal and social education, including healthy living and the importance of physical exercise.

 

9. Exemplifications of cross-curriculum work should be included on a non-statutory advisory basis within a National Curriculum framework. The curriculum framework should be based on an approach which would put the professional judgement of teachers at its centre. It should advise that it could be adapted to the needs of pupils.

 

10. Integral to the new framework should be specific references to the needs of young people from minority ethnic backgrounds. The needs of children from socially and economically deprived backgrounds alongside those with special educational needs and disabilities would be integral to the new framework.

 

11. The new framework curriculum should encourage teachers to adapt curriculum content to meet the specific needs of pupils without teachers having to demonstrate artificially through post-hoc curriculum mapping that they had covered the content of the National Curriculum.

 

12. Such an approach should highlight the need for school communities, with pupils from a diverse range of backgrounds, to understand the history of their local communities and the connection between that history and the local communities as they are now. This would be particularly vital in areas which have experienced significant demographic change and vital also for indigenous as well as new communities.

 

13. The framework should contain advisory signposts which would point to non-statutory curriculum advice and to trigger the new ideas and projects. The signposting approach should be a vital part of a new framework curriculum. It should signpost opportunities to educate for equality and should encourage the promotion of respect for cultural diversity.

 

14. It is essential that the primary and secondary curriculum phases are part of a continuum and that the signposts within the curriculum framework point to specific non-statutory guidance and permissions which secure curriculum continuity between key stages two and three.

 

15. A framework National Curriculum should contain signposts which encourage personalised learning and tuition through the publication of practical exemplars drawn from examples provided by schools.

 

16. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the framework being structured on the basis of National Curriculum levels, such an approach is inevitably compromised by the ease with which levels are co-opted by the current high stakes testing arrangements.

 

17. There are now eleven specifications which apply to the review or the Primary Curriculum. The Children's Plan statement that the Primary Curriculum Review will raise standards for all pupils according to those specifications, detracts from the promise that there will be a root and branch review of the Primary Curriculum. In contrast, Robin Alexander's review of primary education appears to be opening up the necessary debate on the review of the Primary Curriculum.

 

18. The specifications for the Primary Curriculum Review, set out in paragraphs 3.86, 3.90 and 3.92 of the Children's Plan, should be converted into key but not exclusive questions to be asked within the Primary Curriculum Review.

 

19. A specific commitment should be made by Sir Jim Rose and the QCA to evaluate the research studies and emerging findings of Robin Alexander's review of primary education.

 

20. The successor body to the QCA should remain an independent authority for the curriculum and not become simply an agency. The power should remain in place for the successor body to review regularly the curriculum without it necessary having to having to have a ministerial remit to do so.

 

21. Developments in pedagogy and the curriculum are now so complex that a Government department cannot be certain that it knows what it wants in terms of advice.

 

22. The Government should provide funding support for the development of a pedagogic bank to which teachers can contribute, draw on and feel is their own.

 

23. The National Curriculum should outline the entitlement of teachers to access and own high quality and professional development.

 

 

THE INQUIRY OF THE CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE INTO THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM - A SUBMISSION BY THE NATIONAL UNION OF TEACHERS

 

24. The National Union of Teachers welcomes the decision by the Children, Schools and Families Committee to undertake an inquiry into the National Curriculum. While the NUT represents both teachers in England and Wales, this submission, given devolved powers to Wales for education, will focus on the National Curriculum in England.

 

25. Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, the NUT has carried out consistent, in-depth work on the curriculum. The NUT was the first teacher organisation to respond to the original National Curriculum. Its policy document, 'A Strategy for the Curriculum' was published in 1990. It contained a range of policy proposals and a section on the origins of the National Curriculum which Committee members may find helpful as a reference document.

 

26. It is 20 years since the passing of the 1988 Education Act; the Education Reform Act. The introduction of the National Curriculum created great debate across very many sections of society. Inevitably, the debate was greatest amongst teachers and their organisations. Prior to the 1988 Education Reform Act, it is fair to say that the NUT was opposed to the idea of any nationally prescribed curriculum but the intense debate created by the 1988 Act hot-housed the Union's thinking about what a curriculum should be for.

 

27. Between 1990, when the first pilot National Curriculum Standard Assessment Tasks were introduced, and 1993 when the teacher organisations boycotted the then National Curriculum testing arrangements, the teacher organisations and the National Curriculum Council met almost weekly to thrash out a new settlement for the curriculum. The template for discussions between the teacher organisations and the National Curriculum Council was the National Union of Teachers' 'A Strategy for the Curriculum'. Although the boycott focused on the tests, its effect on the National Curriculum was as equally profound.

 

28. The results of the negotiations with the NCC and Government on the curriculum led to a reduction in the amount of paper within each of the infamous subject ring binders which had been rightly and mercilessly satirized by Ted Wragg.

 

29. Since then, there have been a number of further reforms to the National Curriculum. They include the reforms to the National Curriculum in 1996 and further reforms to the curriculum at all key stages in 2000. A new secondary National Curriculum has recently been introduced. The Education Act 2002 extended the National Curriculum to include the newly established Foundation Stage for three to five year olds, which was subsequently reversed by the Childcare Act 2006

 

30. The numerous changes to the National Curriculum over the last 20 years show that its role, purpose and influence remains very much at the centre of debate not least because the National Curriculum not only provides a framework for what is taught in schools but because it acts as a proxy for a continuing public debate about the country's beliefs, values and history.

 

The National Curriculum and its Fitness for Purpose

 

31. Most countries have forms of a National Curriculum. They are either outlined as broad expectations or are extremely detailed. Some have no National Curricula, partly because of their federated nature. The fact that neither Canada nor the United States have National Curricula seems not to have had an impact on the overall outcomes for children and young people in either country. According to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, Canada's individual states manage to achieve high outcomes for practically all of their children and young people and, in contrast, the United States has one of the longest tails of pupil underachievement of any industrialised country despite its very high levels of per pupil spending on education.

 

32. It could be argued, that each country gets the National Curriculum it deserves (or not) since the National Curriculum reflects national aspirations. It could be argued also that a detailed National Curriculum is a direct driver for school standards, particularly in countries where standards are considered to be uneven (a view taken by Michael Barber, e.g., TES, 13 April 2007). Such a view, however, is highly contested. There are countries with highly detailed curricula, such as France, which do not perform well relative to other industrialised countries. The PISA evidence (2000, 2003 and 2006) also makes it clear that the devolution of curriculum decision-making is a positive factor in achieving high outcomes for all children and young people.

 

33. What is probably the case is that a National Curriculum relevant to and part of an effective education system focusing on achieving equality of opportunity for all children and young people has a positive, indirect influence on standards and performance. Just as high levels of funding are a vital and positive background factor in achieving an effective education system for all, so is a National Curriculum, which is relevant to and supportive of teaching and learning.

 

34. In short, the foundations for a successful education system are not found solely in the curriculum itself but in the quality of each country's teachers and the background factors which help and support teachers in their work. Those background factors obviously include class sizes, sufficient resources, consistent high quality professional development, a self teaching profession and a National Curriculum which is of use to schools. There is therefore a strong argument for a National Curriculum which is recognised by teachers as supportive of their work and supportive of school improvement. What that National Curriculum should look like will obviously be the focus of the Select Committee's inquiry.

 

35. Teachers have a significant impact and influence on the children with whom they work. Research has shown that qualified teachers are among a school's most valuable resources. The Programme for International Student Assessment[1] asked school leaders to indicate the percentage of teachers with a university-level qualification in their respective subject area. Having more of these teachers was associated with better student results. For example, in reading, a 25 percentage point increase in the proportion of teachers with a university-level qualification in the relevant subject was associated with an advantage of 9 points on the reading literacy scale, on average across OECD countries.

 

36. Teachers who are treated as professionals and who have the confidence and skills to make professional judgements based on research, evidence and experience are well placed to manage and influence a flexible curriculum.

 

37. The DCSF and the Government must ensure that teachers are given back this freedom and confidence in order for the personalisation agenda to work effectively for all children and young people.

 

38. The question of who should have responsibility for differentiating the curriculum for pupils, particularly pupils with special educational needs is a key one. The University of Cambridge's study for the NUT, 'The Cost of Inclusion'[2], contains some disturbing findings about the use of support staff for the inclusion of children with special educational needs:

 

"It is widespread practice for teachers ... to give special needs pupils almost entirely into the care of Teaching Assistants who are often regarded as the "experts", although very few TAs have any qualification or background in special needs ... Without expert support they lean more to a nurturing than a learning role and find it difficult to extend challenge and risk taking .... Differentiation of the curriculum is typically left to the discretion of TAs. Their care and concern in assuming these responsibilities (very often in their own time) is not matched by the expertise needed to make a classroom lesson relevant or accessible to a child with special needs."

 

39. A key recommendation from the report is that teaching assistants should not carry responsibility for differentiating the curriculum but work under the supervision of teachers to plan whole class strategies for support.

 

40. The lessons of 'The Cost of Inclusion' apply across all areas of teaching and learning, as so often with lessons that are learnt from the developments of special educational provision. The danger of such an approach is that it can lead to a hierarchy of provision, with those who have the greatest needs being tutored by staff who are the least qualified to carry out the task.

 

41. The NUT's 'A Strategy for the Curriculum' set out strong arguments for an entitlement curriculum. As the NUT's section on the origins of the National Curriculum demonstrates such an idea is not new but what was new in the NUT's document was the view that the National Curriculum could combat educational disadvantage. Rather than providing a benchmark for parental choice, the National Curriculum should provide a benchmark for a common entitlement to a balanced and broadly-based curriculum for all children and young people. Implicit in all the NUT's thinking since 1990 has been the argument that if the National Curriculum is to do anything, it should enhance equality of access to high quality teaching and learning for all children and young people.


 

42. This is why the NUT finds the Government's promotion of Academies' freedom from the National Curriculum so puzzling. Surely the purpose of any common National Curriculum should be to remove covert and overt forms of discrimination against groups of pupils, particularly those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

 

43. In arguing for an entitlement curriculum in 1990, the NUT said the following:

 

"The Union favours a nationally agreed view of the curriculum which gives considerable scope for local initiative and decision making. It should provide all pupils with the knowledge, skills and understanding to which they are entitled and encourage and develop attitudes which will enable them to learn and take a full part in society."

 

44. Just what the entitlement curriculum would look like was fleshed out in subsequent submissions by the NUT to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's reviews of the curriculum and refined within the NUT's policy documents, 'Bringing Down the Barriers' (2004) and 'A Good Local School for Every Child and for Every Community' (2007).

 

45. The National Curriculum's assessment and testing arrangements are not an inevitable consequence of the National Curriculum's current or future conceptualisation. Along with practically every other organisation which submitted evidence to the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee for its review of testing and assessment, the NUT believes that the National Curriculum's assessment arrangements have undermined the intentions and effectiveness of the National Curriculum itself. Evidence from the NUT's commissioned Cambridge University studies of the lives of primary (2002), secondary (2004) and special education (2006) teachers demonstrate, alongside a whole swathe of other research evidence, that National Curriculum high stakes testing is skewing and narrowing the curriculum offer to children and young people, particularly at the ages of 11 and 14.

 

46. The other detrimental effect of the current assessment arrangements have been that teachers' ownership of assessment for learning has also been seriously undermined; a fact demonstrated in the evidence received by the Select  Committee. Indeed, the NUT believes that the current 'Making Good Progress' pilot is also in danger of foundering because of the high stakes outcomes of the tests.

 

The National Curriculum - Constraint and Innovation

 

47. The Department for Education and Skills has conducted an investigation into the relationship of primary schools to the National Curriculum. This Select Committee may wish to ask the Department to provide them the results of that investigation. The NUT received only an oral briefing at the time. The investigation showed that there was a very great variation between primary schools in the level of their adherence to National Curriculum requirements. The least confident schools stuck assiduously to the National Curriculum and continued to engage in the debilitating activity of post-hoc curriculum mapping which consists of identifying the programmes of study which have been covered during any lesson. In contrast, other schools had the confidence to cherry pick the Primary Curriculum and use it as way of informing lesson planning and projects.

 

48. It was clear to the NUT at the time that many primary schools continued to see the National Curriculum as an imposed requirement rather than as a stimulus to more effective teaching.

 

49. The evidence that this sense of imposition remains can be seen from the responses on the TES website to the Government's otherwise positive proposals to introduce five hours per week of cultural activities to schools. The argument made by ministers that schools had the freedom to integrate the offer is not something which many teachers have recognised.

 

50. Ten years ago, the Government introduced the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies using a top down roll-out model which alienated many head teachers and teachers alike. The NUT sought and achieved Government agreement to suspend the requirement for primary schools to implement the foundation subjects of the National Curriculum through a temporary order which said that schools need only "have regard" to teaching those subjects.

 

51. The NUT argued that, irrespective of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, this presented a golden opportunity for primary schools to shape their own curricular offer without the constraints of following every aspect of the programmes of study. Perhaps unsurprisingly most schools did not use the temporary flexibilities available to them. The accountability structures had not changed and the imposed nature of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies contradicted any understanding that there were increased flexibilities elsewhere in the system.

 

52. The NUT believes, however, that there is a greater sense of freedom in a number of primary schools now than there has been but that such a sense of freedom in relation to the curriculum is not felt by all. Unpublished research for the NUT by Cambridge University (2008) describes this mixture of uncertainty and sense of freedom.

 

53. The revised National Curriculum that will be introduced by secondary schools from September 2008 contains, potentially, very many of the flexibilities that the NUT has argued for. The exemplifications of those flexibilities currently being published by QCA, such as the practical materials illustrating the global dimension of the curriculum, have the capacity to give to secondary schools the permissions to be creative which should be the purpose of any National Curriculum.

 

54. The real challenge for secondary schools is whether the curriculum innovations promised by the new Secondary Curriculum will be evaluated in their own right by OFSTED and local authority inspectors. Secondary school teachers may well continue to ask themselves whether it is possible, in initiating curriculum innovation, to make the inevitable mistakes which arise from innovation, without being criticised by school inspection reports.

 

55. Secondary schools may feel constrained also from exploring and making best use of the flexibilities of the new National Curriculum for secondary schools, and the opportunities which are presented, as a consequence of the weight of reform facing secondary schools from 2008 onwards, especially in relation to the reform of 14-19 education.

 

56. Because the new 14-19 Diplomas are not yet established in schools and colleges, it is too early to evaluate the way in which they may impact upon the provisions of the National Curriculum for young people aged 14-16 and how well they build upon and provide continuity from the National Curriculum 5-14.

 

57. In contrast to the relatively open manner in which QCA conducted the review of the Secondary Curriculum, and in particular its involvement of teachers and their organisations in the process, the 14-19 Diplomas were initially developed in a way which excluded teachers and their representatives. With the introduction of Diplomas, the concept of a common curricular entitlement for all young people at least to 16 could become increasingly blurred. The NUT believes that the establishment and maintenance of links between the National Curriculum and the Diploma lines of learning could be better identified and developed.

 

58. It is vital that the secondary National Curriculum, particularly at Key Stage 4, continues to seek to guarantee a minimum entitlement to the wider skills necessary for full participation in adult life, family life, 'citizenship' and lifelong learning. Such an entitlement must apply regardless of the learning routes post-14 if social justice and equality of opportunity are to be achieved.

 

59. The NUT believes that, within a new, more flexible Secondary Curriculum, a place could have been found for a guaranteed entitlement for all pupils to humanities, creative arts and modern foreign languages learning within Key Stage 4. While there is a strong argument for ensuring that the National Curriculum does not become overloaded at this, or any Key Stage, a flexible approach to the curriculum which provides statutory entitlements within a more flexible framework of areas of the curriculum to which schools would be required to have regard could facilitate an approach which did not mean the wholesale removal of modern foreign languages from the statutory curriculum.

 

60. One problem with the new national Secondary Curriculum is that it has not emerged as part of a review of the whole statutory curriculum. It is commonly acknowledged that the primary/secondary divide, particularly in terms of the curriculum offer available between the two phases, undermines liaison in securing a smooth transfer of children from primary to secondary schools. The fact that two reviews have been conducted consequentially and separately; one for secondary and then one for primary can only serve to exacerbate the primary/secondary divide rather than enhance a smooth continuum of education for children moving from primary to secondary school.

 

61. In addition, it was disappointing that the opportunity presented by the revision of the National Curriculum was not used to ensure that the Primary Curriculum was built from the Foundation Stage upwards rather than from the secondary stage downwards. The ad hoc manner in which the curriculum appears to evolve, rather than be subject to systematic review, is typified by the DCFS's review of the Primary Curriculum, which will be launched six months before the Early Years Foundation Stage is due to become statutory in September 2008. In order to avoid the curricular inconsistencies noted elsewhere in this submission, an essential principle for curriculum development in the future should be that the National Curriculum should be scrutinised as a continuum, rather than as discrete 'chunks' relating to the various phases of education.

 

62. The Primary National Curriculum is overloaded. It contains too much content, is still too prescriptive, remains unmanageable and is not sufficiently matched to classroom realities. The current primary National Curriculum particularly restricts access to new areas of knowledge and the capacity to construct imaginatively areas of teaching and learning which cross traditional subject barriers. There is little in it which encourages an entitlement to educational experiences outside school. Such views were expressed frequently by respondents to an NUT survey on the future of the Primary Curriculum in 2005. The survey report is attached for the information of the Committee.

 

63. The National Curriculum has limited the ability of some small schools to provide locally relevant curricula. Small age cohorts often necessitate the use of mixed age classes. This places greater pressure on teachers in the planning and delivery of teaching. Many small schools lack school halls which can limit opportunities for PE, drama and dance and practical activities in science and technology.

 

64. The problems of mixed age classes are compounded by the fact that major initiatives such as the National Literacy and National Numeracy strategies and QCA schemes of work were designed for single age year groups. National initiatives are also often tailored to an urban environment. The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies seemed to be designed to, for example, be implemented in schools where the head teacher did not have class teaching responsibilities. A number of initiatives have assumed that schools can provide before and after school activities or enable meetings with parents in relatively easily.

 

65. These factors above which affect small schools need to be taken into account within the review of the Primary Curriculum.

 

66. The arguments used by the DCFS in reply to critics of the burden of the current Primary Curriculum are revealing. It says that these arise due to schools misunderstanding the status of the National Curriculum Schemes of Work. This 'misunderstanding' arises not from schools' inability to understand the National Curriculum documentation, but rather typifies schools' anxieties about accountability. In the same way that 'optional' tests are now used by over 90 per cent of primary schools as a means of demonstrating that they are focused on raising achievement and meeting their targets, schools feel obliged to use the 'optional' schemes of work to demonstrate to OFSTED they are covering the curriculum.

 

67. The subject-defined curriculum combined with content overload presents barriers to flexibility and innovation particularly for primary schools where classes are vertically grouped. In light of such a cultural climate, therefore, the capacity of schools to introduce curriculum innovation or to take advantage of current flexibilities, particularly in relation to cross-curricular working, within the curriculum must be called into question.

 

68. Personalised learning is not about a "one size fits all" approach to learning and teaching. Securing a balanced and broadly based framework curriculum and assessment for learning which diagnoses children's needs would provide the best form of creative scaffolding for responding to each child's needs. The introduction of smaller class and group size with more flexibility in the timetable for reflection and adaptation of learning techniques, styles and methods is essential for the appropriate introduction of an effective personalised learning approach in schools.

 

69. Currently, with falling pupil numbers in schools, the Government has the opportunity to both increase the numbers of teachers in schools and reduce class sizes. For the personalisation of teaching and learning for all children to be effectively implemented this measure is essential and now is the right time to do it. Falling pupil rolls should present an opportunity not a threat. They represent the opportunity to improve the ability of teachers to meet the individual learning needs of children and young people.

 

70. For personalised learning to be effectively implemented there are a number of factors which should be addressed, one of which is the restructuring of the curriculum.

 

71. In order to meet the needs of all of the pupils it serves, every school should enjoy greater freedom to determine its curricular and pedagogical approaches.

 

72. There is an as yet unresolved tension between the implicit assumption underpinning the concept of personalised learning, that teachers have the freedom to decide how they teach and to introduce curricular innovations and the desire by Government to ensure that schools are properly accountable. This tension could undermine any school-determined innovation designed to personalise learning for its pupils. Innovation necessarily involves a degree of risk and needs time for it to be refined and become embedded in the school, in order to test out whether a particular strategy would work for the individual school. With the current stringent accountability mechanisms, in particular the Government's commitment to intervention where standards are 'at risk', it is unlikely that many schools will feel able to be innovative in approaches to personalised learning.

 

73. Indeed, the Innovation Unit is constrained by the DCFS from recommending disapplication of end of Key Stage tests and Government itself has not sought to disapply end of Key Stage tests in the 'Making Good Progress' pilot. This has led to the absurd situation where schools in the pilot have to conduct both sets of tests. Although the national bodies such as QCA urge schools to become more creative in their curriculum provision, schools feel unable to undertake experimentation without punitive high stakes consequences if the experiment fails.

 

The Principles, Content and Structure of a New National Curriculum

 

74. The NUT believes that there must be an end to imposed curriculum and assessment change. If the curriculum is to change, then it must be supported by teachers and school communities. The processes involved in achieving the new Secondary Curriculum provides something of a model for how curriculum change should take place in future. What must not happen is that the review of the Primary Curriculum is artificially constrained by Government intervention during the consultation period.

 

75. There should be an independent review of the 5-14 curriculum which should focus on re-structuring the National Curriculum as a statutory framework. This would mean that while the content of the new Secondary Curriculum would not change, much of it would stand outside the statutory framework.

 

76. The present distinction between the core and foundation subjects should be replaced by such a framework which would describe a common curriculum entitlement, the purpose of which would be to support young people's learning.

 

77. The framework curriculum should provide a scaffolding for the development of teachers' creativity and enthusiasm both for their pupils' and their own learning. It would describe a range of statutory entitlements for children and young people including literacy, numeracy, science and technology, the creative arts, the humanities including a knowledge of global developments, information and communications technology and modern foreign languages.

 

78. It should also describe a core of essential skills, knowledge and experiences which children need. The framework should refer to the stages of children's development.

 

79. A statutory framework should encourage new approaches to cross-curricular learning, such as thinking skills, environmental learning, the impact of religious and secular beliefs on society, learning about industry and manufacturing, citizenship, and personal and social education, including healthy living and the importance of exercise.

 

80. Such an approach, indeed, has been partially reflected in the new secondary National Curriculum, which includes 'curriculum lenses', a personal learning and thinking skills framework, and four 'curriculum dimensions' (the global dimension, enterprise, creativity, and cultural understanding and diversity).

 

81. Exemplifications of cross-curricular learning should be included on a non-statutory advisory basis within a National Curriculum framework. The curriculum framework would be based on an approach which should put the professional judgement of teachers at its centre. It should emphasise that it could be adapted to the needs of pupils.

 

82. Integral to the new framework should be specific references to the needs of young people from minority ethnic backgrounds. The needs of children from socially and economically deprived backgrounds alongside those with special educational needs and disabilities would be integral to the new framework.

 

83. The new framework curriculum should encourage teachers to adapt the curriculum to meet the specific needs of pupils without teachers having to demonstrate artificially through post-hoc curriculum mapping that they had covered the content of the National Curriculum.

 

84. Crucially, such an approach could highlight the need for school communities, with pupils from a diverse range of backgrounds, to understand the history of their local communities and the connection between that history and the local communities as they are now. This is particularly vital in areas which have experienced significant demographic change and vital also for indigenous as well as new communities.

 

85. The framework should contain advisory 'signposts' which would point to non-statutory curriculum advice and to triggers for new ideas and projects. The signposting approach should be a vital part of a new framework curriculum. It should, signpost opportunities to educate for equality and should encourage the promotion of respect for cultural diversity. It could signpost opportunities for pupils to understand the nature and consequences of racism; sexism; homophobia; disablist bullying; discrimination on religious grounds, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia; and other forms of discrimination.

 

86. The current structure of Key Stages 2 and 3 does not encourage curriculum continuity between primary and secondary schools; neither is there a recognition in these two key stages of the different ways primary and secondary schools are organised. A curriculum should support flexibility in the organisation of teaching such that primary schools are able to introduce specialist teaching alongside class teaching and secondary schools can provide specific support for pupils in Years 7 and 8 who are not ready for a full curriculum range. It is essential, therefore, that the primary and Secondary Curriculum phases a part of a continuum and that signposts within the curriculum point to specific non-statutory guidance and 'permissions' which secure curriculum continuity between Key Stages 2 and 3.

 

87. Such an approach ties in with the promotion of personalised learning. The NUT has consistently called for practical approaches to the development of personalised learning. It said within its 2004 document, 'Bringing Down the Barriers' that:

 

"Personalised learning has a long history based in part on child centred learning and the need to differentiate teaching according to needs. Meeting the individual needs of each child and young person is an aspiration which all those involved in education can sign up to. The NUT believes that two conditions need to be established for personalised learning to succeed. A fundamental review of the National Curriculum and its assessment arrangements is essential to meeting the aspirations of personalised learning. Young people need to be able to experience, and teachers need to be able to provide much more one-to-one teaching."

 

88. In its latest policy document, 'A Good Local School for Every Child and for Every Community', the NUT said the following:

 

"The Prime Minister's recent announcement that for every secondary school pupil, there will be a personal tutor throughout their school years - starting with 600,000 pupils, small group tuition too, is a welcome development. If such tuition is to make a real impact on children's confidence and learning, then all tutors should be qualified teachers, as they are in the 'Making Good Progress' pilot. One-to-one tuition should be available for all the young people who need a boost in their confidence and learning."

 

89. A framework National Curriculum should contain, therefore, signposts which encourage personalised learning and tuition through the publication of practical exemplars drawn from examples provided by schools.

 

90. Finally, while there is nothing inherently wrong with the framework being structured on the basis of National Curriculum levels, it must be recognised that such an approach is inevitably compromised by the use to which levels are put within the current high stakes testing arrangements.

 

91. The NUT believes, therefore, that the National Curriculum should be structured on the following basis.

 

The National Curriculum should be explicitly described as an entitlement curriculum.

 

It should contain core descriptions of the knowledge, skills and understanding to which children and young people are entitled and the attitudes which will enable them to learn and take a full part in society.

 

Accompanying the framework curriculum should be guidance on curriculum content to which schools would be required to have regard.

 

The framework curriculum would contain curriculum signposts which would encourage creative interpretation of both the core statutory framework and the wider guidance. The framework curriculum would provide a scaffolding for encouraging teachers' creativity and enthusiasm both for their pupils' and their own learning.

 

Curriculum signposts would highlight the need to tailor or personalise the curriculum for children and young people, particularly for those with specific needs including those from minority ethnic groups and those with special educational needs.

 

THE MANAGEMENT OF THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM

 

The Impact of the Current Testing and Assessment Regime on the National Curriculum

 

92. The NUT has argued consistently that the current testing and assessment regime has narrowed the experience of the National Curriculum, particularly for primary children as they approach the end of Key Stage 2. The findings of 'A Life in Teaching: The Impact of Change on Primary Teachers' Working Lives'; Cambridge University (2002) made it quite clear that:

 

"the amount of time available for teaching each day does not allow for a broad and balanced Primary Curriculum... art, drama, music and ICT are being squeezed and are only partially covered by lunchtime and after school clubs... the decline in curriculum time available for these creative subjects is matched by the decline in teachers' own sense of creativity. ...The erosion of the Education Reform Act's ideal of a broad and balanced curriculum has taken place despite the fact that schools have managed to maximise the amount of the school day devoted to teaching."

 

93. In secondary schools curriculum overload and the impact of the Year 9 tests on pedagogy itself were an issue with teachers. 'A Life in Secondary Teaching: Finding Time for Learning' by Cambridge University (2004) identified more subtle impacts on the nature of pedagogy itself, particularly at Key Stage 3.

 

"Where exploration precedes instruction,... (it develops) deeper understanding so that pupils can adapt the knowledge gained to new situations... (alternatively) pupils are coached to deal with the specific demands of the test... this requires a single lesson and a certain amount of revision and practice nearer the time of the test. ...There is strong evidence that pupils, particularly the more able, find the first approach more to their liking."

 

94. Cambridge University's secondary study found that, because of the impact of the tests and the demands of the examination specifications, the time for exploration of ideas and knowledge by pupils with teachers, rather than transmission of knowledge by teachers to pupils, was limited. It found that:

 

"many of the participating teachers (in the study) felt powerless to modify existing practice in the current climate of testing, target setting and inspection."

 

95. In its evidence to the Select Committee on testing and assessment and within its policy documents, 'Bringing Down the Barriers' and 'A Good Local School for Every Child and for Every Community', the NUT has set out a strategy, which it believes will remove the negative impact of high stakes testing on a balanced and broadly based curriculum and on innovative teaching.

 

96. The NUT has welcomed the opportunities provided by the introduction of the 'Making Good Progress' pilot. In particular, the NUT has welcomed the expansion of one-to-one tuition for young people who need it as a real and positive step in making personalised education a reality. If, however, the additional support is simply aimed at pushing pupils to progress through a too rigid National Curriculum testing regime in order to meet government targets any benefits will be negated.

 

97. The NUT has deep concerns about the potential outcome of the single level tests. The initial, generally positive, response of teachers involved in the pilot could change, particularly if the single level tests are rolled out nationally, with a rejection by teachers of a perceived increase in high stakes testing.

 

98. The message from the NUT's early survey of members in the 'Making Good Progress' pilot is that, despite the relative flexibility given to schools in applying the tests, teacher assessment remains the preferred option for assessing progress in the National Curriculum. The pilot raises the question of whether continual adjustments will be made to the position of schools within the performance tables.

 

99. The evidence from the NUT's research is that, if school performance tables are retained and test results remain a key trigger for an early OFSTED inspection, then the distorting effects on the curriculum, identified by the Cambridge University studies, will be increased exponentially. The ideal of a balanced and broadly based curriculum delivered flexibly and with creativity by teachers will be even less likely to be achieved, if the current national accountability arrangements remain.

 

100. In relation to the assessment of the National Curriculum, the NUT urges the Select Committee to consider also the potential benefits of the system of assessment devised in Wales following the review conducted by Professor Richard Daugherty, on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government, which resulted in the discontinuation of statutory tests which were of the type which continue in use in England. The system now established for Wales is one more closely based on moderated teacher assessment.

 

101. The NUT has argued consistently for a fundamental review of the Primary  Curriculum as indicated earlier in this submission. Yet what promised to be an inclusive review and one which was open to debate, argument and evidence about the Primary Curriculum in 21st century now seems constrained by the criteria for the review set out in the Children's Plan. The criteria include specifications relating to, 'The Strong Focus on Literacy, Numeracy, Scientific Understanding, and the Effective Use of ICT' and to, 'Examining How Best to Introduce Languages as a Compulsory Subject in Key Stage 2 as recommended by Lord Dearing'.

 

102. In addition, the Children's Plan proposes for the Primary Curriculum Review a "primary profile recording a wider range of achievements" and "a review with OFSTED of the scope for strengthening the extent to which the assessment and accountability framework gives recognition to schools' performance in the area of children's personal development".

 

103. In short, there are now 11 specifications which apply to the Primary Curriculum Review. Although a number of those specifications could be converted into the right questions to ask of those who conduct the review and its consultation, the Children's Plan's statement that the Primary Curriculum Review will raise standards for all pupils according to those specifications detracts from the promise that there will be a 'root and branch' review of the Primary Curriculum. In contrast, Robin Alexander's review of primary education appears to be opening up the necessary debate on the review of the Primary Curriculum.

 

104. The NUT, therefore, believes that the Select Committee should propose:

 

that the specifications for the Primary Curriculum Review set out in paragraphs 3.86, 3.90 and 3.92 of the Children's Plan should be converted into key, but not exclusive, questions to be asked within the Primary Curriculum Review; and

 

that a specific commitment should be made by Sir Jim Rose and the QCA to evaluate the research studies and emerging findings of Robin Alexander's review of primary education.

 

105. In addressing the issue of greater continuity between the EYFS and Key Stage 1 the NUT believes that the Primary Curriculum Review team should include in their proposals the suggestions for smoother transition outlined in paragraphs 3.51, 3.52 and 3.53 of the Children's Plan. The proposal should also include a recommendation that all Key Stage 1 staff receive training on the play-based principles and practice of the EYFS.

 

106. The NUT believes that the implementation of the suggestions outlined by the Secretary of State in his remit for the Primary Curriculum Review sent to Sir Jim Rose, for a widening of curriculum opportunities for child-initiated and play-based activities would significantly improve the learning experience of children in the early years bringing the model more in line with that of successful Scandinavian countries such as Finland.

 

107. Currently, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is an independent authority for both qualifications and the curriculum. The NUT believes that the successor body to the QCA should remain an independent authority for the curriculum and not become simply an agency. Of course, the new body should be a source of expertise for ministers and its advice should be confidential up until ministerial agreement to publish. The issue is whether the power should remain in place for the successor body to review regularly the curriculum without it necessarily having to have a ministerial remit to do so.

 

108. The NUT believes that the successor body should retain that power. The developments in pedagogy and the interface between teaching, curriculum development, developments in societal change, changes in skills and knowledge demands, cultural and geographic changes, and advances in understanding how the brain works, are so myriad and various that a Government department cannot be in an exclusive position to know what it wants in terms of advice. A strong curriculum authority with the resources to gather, with school communities, the latest intelligence on the need for curriculum change and to advise Government on it, is the best way of enabling schools to be at the edge of curriculum development.

 

109. The two questions asked by the Select Committee Inquiry on the effectiveness of National Strategies in supporting the National Curriculum and on the role of teachers in the future development of the National Curriculum are integral to each other. There is every argument for consistent professional development to be an entitlement for all teachers, particularly in relation to any agreed National Curriculum. The history of the National Strategies since 1997, has, however, been one of rolling out national programmes irrespective of the views of teachers and head teachers. NUT research evidence shows that while many teachers have found aspects of the Literacy Strategy and, in particular, the Numeracy Strategy helpful and useful to their teaching, the full potential of the strategies and teachers' professional contribution to their development has been limited by the erroneous message that the strategies are a requirement.

 

110. Indeed, for many teachers, the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies appear to be a complementary and much more detailed curriculum to the current National Curriculum. In many schools, the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies have been adapted by teachers working together and developing them to address the particular needs of their pupils. Many have welcomed the content of the programmes, the work of literacy and numeracy consultants and the additional resources the programmes have bought.

 

111. The NUT questions, however, the sustainability of the strategies due to the 'top-down' approach to the implementation of the strategies. Teacher professional development in Numeracy and Literacy has been heavily concentrated on the strategies and has acted as an imposition upon teachers rather than an entitlement.

 

112. Teachers have reported that the skills-based nature of the National Literacy Strategy framework has prevented them from addressing other, equally important aspects of children's learning. Fostering enjoyment or reading or developing sustained writing, providing opportunities to foster pupils' speaking and listening skills or drama, are among such neglected aspects of children's learning. As reported in the 2005 research conducted by OFSTED, teachers' inflexibility in using the NLS framework hinders improvements in teaching English.

 

113. When the strategies were introduced, OFSTED notified schools that the strategies were not a requirement. That message needs repeating. The strategies are not the National Curriculum or, indeed, an alternative curriculum. They are professional development programmes related to key points of the National Curriculum subject orders and should be described as such.

 

114. Up until recently, teachers have had a minor role in changes to the National Curriculum. They have also had a minor role in contributing good practice and creative ideas to the development of the National Strategies. Both, the development of the National Strategies and the National Curriculum have been very much 'top down' rather than 'bottom up'. The NUT's policy document, 'A Good Local School for Every Child and for Every Community' emphasises that teachers at the edge of developments in their subjects and in their pedagogy are likely to be good teachers. Teachers' enthusiasm about their learning and development is an essential building block for encouraging young people's enthusiasm for their own learning. Whatever the merits or demerits of the National Strategies, few could say that teachers have been in control of the development of pedagogy practice. Teachers do not have a sense that their own innovations in pedagogy can be valued or fed into a continuously evolving bank of national practice.

 

115. The NUT's CPD programme and, in particular, its TEACHER2TEACHER strand, has demonstrated that teachers are keen to become involved in pedagogical and curriculum development in their own schools and settings. Courses such as 'Integrating ICT Across the Primary Curriculum' and 'Learning Through Drama' have enabled teachers across the country to have more autonomy in the classroom and to develop exciting and creative approaches to teaching the curriculum.

 

116. For the reasons above, the NUT proposes the following.

 

The successor curriculum body to the QCA should have a specific remit to draw on the experience, knowledge and good practice of teachers and schools.

 

The Government should provide funding support for the development of a pedagogic bank to which teachers can contribute, draw on and feel is their own.

 

Professional development, including the professional development provided by the strategies, should be defined as an entitlement, not as a quasi requirement. The National Curriculum should outline an entitlement to a balanced and broadly based curriculum for all children and young people and also the entitlement of teachers to access and own high quality professional development.

 

 

 

10 March 2008

 



[1] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Knowledge and skills for life - First results from PISA 2000, OECD, 2001.

[2] Galton, M. and MacBeath, J., The Cost of Inclusion, University of Cambridge/NUT, 2006.