NC33: Memorandum submitted by the General Teaching Council for England (GTC)

 

Executive Summary

 

A national curriculum that focuses on delivering learning experiences that will be relevant for the future and engaging for pupils, and that will develop their creativity, thinking skills and social and emotional development and standards of achievement for all

 

a centrally designed, but not standardised, national curriculum, which sets out the learning outcomes that all children should expect

 

a smaller core curriculum with schools and teachers having more scope to reflect and adapt towards their local contexts of learning and the needs of pupils

 

more evidence-based resources to support teachers' understanding and use of strategies for personalised learning, specifically for curriculum design, assessment for learning, the use of new technologies and ways to enhance the influence and participation of children in their learning

 

an assessment system that places more emphasis on identifying children and young people's next steps, rather than the production of data for monitoring of schools

 

a curriculum supported by a sustained, enquiry-based model of teacher learning.

 

Embedded learning and development opportunities for teachers and school leaders to respond to changes to the national curriculum.


Introduction

 

1. The GTCE is the independent professional body for the teaching profession. Its main duties are to regulate the teaching profession and to advise the Secretary of State on a range of issues that concern teaching and learning. The Council acts in the public interest to contribute to raising the standards of teaching and learning.

 

2. The GTCE welcomes the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee (CSFSC) inquiry into the National Curriculum. We would be pleased to amplify the proposals contained within this memorandum in oral evidence if the Committee found it helpful.

 

3. The Select Committee's inquiry into the National Curriculum joins Sir Robin Alexander's Primary Review and the independent Cambridge Primary Review in considering the future of the curriculum. The changes, as a result of the Secondary Curriculum Review, are due to be implemented in September 2008 and the first of the 14-19 Diplomas start in September 2008. The Council suggest to the Select Committee that they might benefit from revisiting the subject of the National curriculum once these reviews have been fully reported and once data from the first year of implementation of the new secondary curriculum and 14-19 Diplomas is available. There is insufficient evidence currently, to support any robust response to the Select Committee questions on those areas.

 

4. In this memorandum the GTCE proposes to focus on the principles and broad themes it believes should underpin a National curriculum that would support the process of improving standards of teaching and learning and deliver the broader range of outcomes of a 21st Century education for all.

 

Vision for the National Curriculum

 

5. The GTC believes that the National curriculum should focus on delivering learning experiences that will be relevant for the future and engaging for pupils, and that will develop their creativity, thinking skills and social and emotional development. It should reflect more closely the outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda, in addition to the knowledge, core skills and attributes children will need for life and work. The newly constituted Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) should have responsibility for developing the detail of the National curriculum and curricular practice, in partnership with schools and teachers. The role of Government should not stretch beyond setting the broad framework and principles for the National curriculum.

 

6. The GTCE believes that an approach to national curriculum design that moves the focus away from detailed content specification and towards an integrated, broad and balanced curriculum will better serve the needs and aspirations of learners. The aim should be a centrally designed core curriculum, which sets out the learning outcomes that all children should expect. It should be the role of teachers and schools to define the processes through which children will reach these outcomes.

 

7. The curriculum should be a means to engage and inspire pupils, encourage them to enjoy learning and give every child and young person the opportunities and experiences they need to achieve their potential. It should form the basis on which teachers and school staff exercise their expertise, creativity and dedication and offer a manageable, clear and stable system for schools over the long-term. This is echoed in the findings of the 2007 GTCE Teacher Survey, which asked teachers for their views on what constitutes pupil achievement. The survey found that teachers do not take a narrow view of attainment, as measured by national tests. Instead they wanted to see more emphasis on creativity, becoming a life-long learner and on pupils becoming active citizens.

 

8. The national curriculum should provide a balance between a core entitlement for pupils and the flexibility for schools, with due governance and in partnership with parents, to respond to their local context and their pupils' needs. A recent report from researchers acting on behalf of the Primary Review[i] found that in international comparisons, the curriculum in England has moved towards increased standardisation and uniformity. The researchers also found that the curriculum in England has pursued an increasingly instrumental curriculum, whereas other countries show more interest in children's all-round development and understanding.

 

9. This evidence suggests that the current Primary National curriculum is over-prescribed in terms of content and knowledge, and the GTCE would like to see a move to a smaller core curriculum with schools and teachers having more scope to reflect and adapt towards their local contexts of learning and the needs of pupils. A smaller core curriculum would also give schools and teachers greater scope to find creative ways to tackle inequalities in learning, support and support children at risk of underachievement.

 

10. The Government and its agencies should also provide more support to teachers and schools to support them in identifying and making the most of existing flexibilities in the curriculum, a model for supporting implementation that has begun to develop in relation to the start up of the revised secondary curriculum. School leaders also have a key role to encourage teachers to utilise existing flexibilities in the curriculum.

 

11. The GTCE does not underestimate the task of reducing the core prescription. In a crowded curriculum where subjects and skills compete for priority the content of the National curriculum is under constant pressure to expand. The Council encourages the Select Committee to consider the subject balance at each stage of the curriculum, as well as the extent to which the curriculum balances academic subject knowledge (i.e., content designed to lead learners towards specialising in a subject at university) alongside general skills, knowledge and attributes that learners will need for life and work.

 

12. The Secondary Curriculum Review has aimed to increase flexibility and reduce prescription in the National curriculum. This is a welcome development, and since the new secondary curriculum will be introduced from September 2008, the Council would recommend that the Select Committee revisit the effectiveness of the revised secondary curriculum once data from the first year of implementation is available.

 

Teaching approaches

 

13. A well-designed National curriculum should be complemented by teachers who command a broad teaching repertoire and can adapt their practice to their children's needs. The GTCE wishes to see more resources to support teachers' understanding and use of strategies for personalised learning, specifically for curriculum design, assessment for learning, the use of new technologies and ways to enhance the influence and participation of children in their learning.

 

14. Teachers should be entitled to receive structured opportunities to develop their practice in designing curricula, in particular relating to cross-curricula learning and how technology can be used to support learning.

 

15. The GTCE also believes that the primary curriculum should incorporate the role of play-based activities in engaging pupils in learning. In particular, this should consider whether teachers have sufficient scope to introduce play-based learning with the current curriculum, using principles from the role of play at Foundation Stage.

 

Assessment Reform

 

16. For curriculum reform to succeed, pupils need an assessment system that places more emphasis on identifying their next steps, rather than the Government's emphasis on generating data for the national monitoring of schools. The current arrangements mean that the curriculum serves the assessment system instead of vice versa.

 

17. The system currently encourages schools to teach a narrow curriculum, hindering the true progress of pupils and is an obstacle to flexible, tailored learning in schools. The GTCE has proposed, to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee inquiry into Testing and Assessment and elsewhere that the system needs to shift its emphasis towards the needs of pupils and away from national monitoring[ii]. The GTCE proposes:

 

a shift towards formative teacher assessment through embedding assessment for learning in schools

an accountability model that gives schools more responsibility to provide enhanced information for parents that would supersede the current publication of comparisons between schools

a system of cohort sampling to monitor national progress in pupil achievement.

 

18. The Council also has concerns about the assumptions about pupil progress which lie behind the Making Good Progress pilots. The Council does not believe that these pilots can support personalised learning or reduce the negative effect of the assessment system. Instead, the twice yearly tests are still dictated by the monitoring needs of the system and will contribute to the further narrowing of the curriculum.

 

Transition to and delivery of the 14-19 Diplomas

 

19. Although it is anticipated that enhanced flexibility in the secondary curriculum from September 2009 will support transition towards Diplomas at 14-19, it will not be possible to offer supporting evidence until the new curriculum is underway. In terms of curriculum delivery at 14-19, the new Diplomas have fundamental implications for teachers' approaches to addressing individual learning progress and relationships with pupils and parents as well as the new group of learning advisers in schools, colleges and work related settings. These issues were, of course, the subject of a Select Committee Inquiry into 14-19 Diplomas, which was published in May 2007.

 

Teachers' capacity to design and apply the curriculum

 

20. One casualty of how the National curriculum has developed since its introduction is the removal of teacher involvement in curriculum development. It is deeply unfortunate that too many teachers view the National curriculum as something externally imposed over which they have no influence and can exercise little professional judgement.

 

21. Evidence consistently demonstrates that the most effective continuing professional development for teachers in improving standards of teaching and learning is research based, involves collaboration with peers and others and is rooted in and relevant to the teacher's own school and classroom practice. Just as achievement is enhanced by the personalisation of pupil learning, teachers' capacity to raise standards of teaching and learning is increased by access to and participation in "personalised"; that is, effective, relevant and sustained, continuing professional development.

 

22. Teachers and school leaders will need embedded learning and development opportunities to respond to changes to the National curriculum. The curriculum will be most successful when it is supported by a sustained, enquiry-based model of teacher learning. By developing their professional expertise, teachers will be better placed to adapt their practice and apply a flexible curriculum and will have a greater impact on the learning and achievement of children and young people, as well as on their colleagues and peers. This applies not only to curriculum and lesson design, but also subject knowledge.

 

23. This approach has tangible expression in the GTCE's Teacher Learning Academy (TLA). Participation in the TLA is open to all teachers registered with the GTCE, and offers teachers the opportunity to undertake enquiry-based learning based on a robust framework, and gain recognition for their work. Teachers focus on projects of relevance in their school or classroom where change and improvement can be clearly demonstrated, and curriculum design and application are clear issues of interest.

 

Conclusion

 

24. The GTCE welcomes the Select Committee's inquiry into the National Curriculum and believes there are clear areas in which the Committee can recommend improvement. Firstly, the vision for the National curriculum needs to support the development of learners' thinking, creativity and social and emotional development, alongside core knowledge and skills. Secondly, attention needs to be given to the balance and mix of subjects and the extent to which the National curriculum is over-prescribed, in particular at primary level. And finally, any National curriculum will only be effective where it is supported by a system that gives teachers more flexibility and opportunities to develop their capacity to design and apply the curriculum to meet their learners' needs.

 

March 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] The Primary Review (2008), The structure and content of English primary education, Overview of research briefings 3/1, 3/3 and 9/1.

 

[ii] The General Teaching Council (2007), Evidence to the Education and Skills Select Committee on Assessment and Testing